Author Lea Terhune accused in spreading false information solely to harm Tibetan Buddhist leader and lineage
By the International Karma Kagyu Buddhist Organization, New Delhi
This month saw the release of a new book on the Karmapa, Wrestling the Dragon: In Search of the Boy Lama Who Defied China (Random House, 2004). Written by novelist and Tibet activist Gaby Naher, the new book is the fourth title published on the Karmapa since 2003.
In the wake of the publication of Naher’s book, the International Karma Kagyu Buddhist Organization is announcing that Shamar Rinpoche has filed a defamation suit against the author of an earlier book of the Karmapa, Lea Terhune. Her book, Karmapa: the Politics of Reincarnation, was published earlier this year by Wisdom Publications, also a defendant in the suit.
Shamar Rinpoche, the complainant in the case, filed the suit on June 23, 2004 in the High Court of New Delhi. The suit claims that Terhune’s book was “written with the sole intention of maligning the reputation of the Complainant along with undermining the sanctity of his position as the second most respected person in the Karma Kagyu Sect of Tibetan Buddhism.”
“Though I am filing this case in my own name, as a Buddhist teacher I am not primarily concerned with my own personal reputation,” Shamar said: “Instead, I have filed this suit to protect the Karma Kagyu lineage, defend the others criticized in this book, and set the historical record straight for future generations.”
The current suit makes several complaints against Terhune’s book. In addition to intentionally harming Shamar Rinpoche and the Karma Kagyu lineage, the book casts ungrounded aspersions against Karmapa Thaye Dorje and falsely projects Ogyen Trinley as the true Karmapa; makes unsupported insinuations against the Indian government and Indian officials; passes “loose remarks” about Shamar Rinpoche’s parents and relatives; and promotes factionalism within the Karma Kagyu school.
In particular, the suit singles out six chapters in Terhune’s book containing significant errors. Shamar Rinpoche has asked the court to require author Terhune to prove the allegations she repeats against him and his family, that:
- Shamar Rinpoche was behind the death of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche in an automobile accident in 1992;
- Along with Topga Rinpoche, Shamarpa sold off a monastery of the 16th Karmapa in Bhutan, Tashi Choling;
- He illegally appropriated for himself the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute in New Delhi;
- He tried to install a prince of Bhutan as the Karmapa;
- He bribed the Indian government to stop Ogyen Trinley from going to Sikkim;
- And, his father was an alcoholic and his step-father a CIA spy.
Based on these charges, the suit claims that Terhune’s book has done irreparable damage in India and around the world to the reputations of those she has attacked. Accordingly, if she cannot prove the truth of her allegations, the suit requests that the court order that Terhune’s book be removed from sale in India; that Terhune make a formal apology for her defamatory remarks; and that she pay financial compensation for the loss of reputation that she has caused.
“Given her background, it is not surprising that Terhune would write such a book,” said Lama Karma Wangchuk, secretary of the IKKBO in New Delhi. “She is not an objective journalist, as her book implies, but a close confidante of a major partisan in the Karmapa controversy.” Since 1983, Terhune has been the personal secretary of the chief supporter of Ogyen Trinley, Tai Situ Rinpoche.
In addition, there are numerous other erroneous allegations against Shamar Rinpoche and other Karma Kagyu lamas that are not detailed in this lawsuit but that mar Terhune’s text. The IKKBO has already answered many of Terhune’s charges in our recent series of Internet articles on her book. Here, we will only discuss one particularly egregious error in Terhune’s text, an inaccurate account of a conflict between the Dalai Lama’s Gelupga school and the Karma Kagyu school of the Karmapas and Shamar Rinpoches that occurred in the 16th century. Terhune’s retelling of this story appears to try to disparage the current Shamarpa by misrepresenting his predecessors.
A Story from Old Tibet, Badly Re-told
It is an error to believe the Shangri-La myth that Old Tibet was an exception to the history of nations, an exceptional land where leaders and citizenry alike followed the law of karma and eschewed conflict as a means to political power. Serious students of Tibetan history know that this former nation, like any country, had its share of power struggles that sometimes erupted into violence. And since religion was so strong in Tibet, it is natural that monasteries, lamas and leaders of the different schools of Tibetan Buddhism each played a prominent role in the politics of their day.
In addition, many people, especially in Western countries, may think that the Dalai Lamas always ruled over Tibet. This is not the case. The rule of the Dalai Lamas only began in the 17th century, when the Great Fifth Dalai Lama assumed the throne of Tibet. Immediately before that time, the country was under the rule of well loved kings who followed lamas of the Karma Kagyu, the school of the Karmapas. Under the rule of these kings, a conflict arose between the three main monasteries of the Dalai Lama’s school and the royal government.
The 4th Dalai Lama and the 6th Shamar Rinpoche, Karma Chokyi Wangchuk (also called the “Red Hat Karmapa” and the 6th Garwang Tulku) tried to arrange a meeting to solve the misunderstanding between the monasteries and the government—in essence, a conflict between the Dalai Lama’s Gelugpa school and the Karma Kagyu school that provided the gurus to the royal house. However, some of the Dalai Lama’s officials successfully plotted to prevent this meeting, to further their own interests. Thus, the conflict continued, with increasingly acrimonious relations between the Dalai Lama’s school and the royal government, ultimately leading to the overthrow of the Tibetan king. Later, historians, scholars and even the 5th Dalai Lama himself would criticize the self-serving officials who killed this chance for a peaceful resolution to this conflict.
The best known history of Tibet in English, Tibet: a Political History by Tsepon Shakabpa, an official of the Dalai Lama’s government until 1959, describes these events. Shakabpa even refers to Shamar Rinpoche by the name “Red Hat Karmapa,” a traditional term indicating his close alliance with the Karmapa.
Lea Terhune recounts these events as well and takes her version from Shakabpa. However, she makes one crucial change. Instead of mentioning Shamar Rinpoche as the peacemaker in this conflict, she names the Karmapa. She also omits Shakabpa’s reference to Shamar Rinpoche as the “Red Hat Karmapa,” apparently embarrassed that Tibetan history placed Shamarpa and Karmapa so close together. Elsewhere, Terhune even claims that the 6th Shamarpa and the 10th Karmapa fought against each other, an allegation that has no basis in the written history of Tibet. Indeed, historians consistently mention these two lamas as the archetype of a close relationship between teacher and disciple.
A Frenzy of Publishing
Terhune’s book represents the second of four volumes published since 2003 about the Karma Kagyu lineage and its chief lama, the Karmapa:
- Music in the Sky: the Life, Art and Teachings of the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje (Snow Lion, 2003) by long-time disciple Michelle Martin is a biography of Orgyen Trinley;
- Karmapa: the Politics of Reincarnation (Wisdom, 2004), Terhune’s book, presents the Karmapa controversy from the viewpoint of a partisan of Orgyen Trinley;
- Mick Brown’s The Dance of 17 Lives: the Incredible True Story of Tibet’s 17th Karmapa (Bloomsbury, 2004) came out after Terhune’s volume, and deals as Terhune’s does with the controversy;
- Wrestling the Dragon: In Search of the Boy Lama Who Defied China (Random House, 2004) by Gaby Naher is a combination of personal memoir, biography of Ogyen Trinley and history of Tibet and the Karmapa controversy.
The authors of all four of these books support the candidacy of Ogyen Trinley for the title of 17th Karmapa. Ogyen Trinley has also been recognized by the Chinese government and by the Dalai Lama. Shamar Rinpoche opposes the recognition of Ogyen Trinley and supports his own contender chosen according to religious tradition, Thaye Dorje.
“Supporters of Ogyen Trinley have been involved in a frenzy of publishing recently,” said IKKBO Secretary Wangchuk. “We are not certain whether this is merely a trend or part of a coordinated publicity plan. Either way, they must be publishing so much or encouraging others to publish now because they are trying to win in the court of public opinion what they have been losing in the courts of law.”
Since 1993, supporters of Ogyen Trinley have been defendants in several legal actions brought against them in Indian courts by supporters of Thaye Dorje. Concerning the major action, a dispute over possession of the monastic seat of the 16th Karmapa, Rumtek Monastery in India’s northeastern Sikkim state, three levels of the Indian court system have found against the supporters of Ogyen Trinley. In the most recent decision, on July 5, 2004, the Indian Supreme Court found that supporters of Ogyen Trinley have no jurisdiction over the monastery. The IKKBO has released the full text of the Supreme Court’s decision at www.ikkbo.org .
Followers of Ogyen Trinley have also been convicted of criminal offenses, in particular inciting violence at the enthronement ceremony of Thaye Dorje held in 1994 in New Delhi.
“In my opinion, if someone sues another person only for revenge or to realize some financial gain, then this is wrong action according to Buddhist ethics or any ethics that I am familiar with,” Wangchuk said.“By contrast, if it will prevent some harm, then it is proper to defend oneself. And in a civilized society, the way to defend oneself is through legal channels.”
The first hearing in the case over Terhune’s book took place at the High Court in New Delhi in July, 2004. At that time, the court ordered Terhune to appear at the next hearing scheduled for October. The IKKBO will post updates concerning this case as they become available at its website, www.ikkbo.org . Meantime, a detailed discussion of the errors of Terhune’s book as well as a statement on Gaby Naher’s new book is available on this website at www.karmapa-issue.org.
About the Karmapa Lamas
The Gyalwa Karmapa, like the Dalai Lama, is one of the highest leaders of Tibetan Buddhism. The Karmapa is the oldest line of reincarnate lamas in Tibet, and Karmapas have been reincarnating since the 12th century. The current holder of this title, 21-year-old 17th Karmapa Thaye Dorje, is the head of the Karma Kagyu tradition, one of four independent schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The young lama is spiritual director of more than 640 Buddhist centers in 51 countries. More information can be found online at www.karmapa.org.
About the IKKBO
The International Karma Kagyu Buddhist Organization, based in New Delhi is dedicated to educating the wider public on issues relating to the disagreement over the identity of the Karmapa. The IKKBO and a variety of supporting materials on the Karmapa controversy can be found online at www.ikkbo.org.