Dear Ms. Hilton,
I was recently given your March 12, New York Times Magazine article, along with both a letter to you from Khenpo Tenzin raising some questions, and your reply. After reading this all very carefully, I feel that it would be beneficial to further explain the complex issues pertaining to Ugyen Trinley’s “escape.” H. H. 16th Karmapa sent me to France in 1974 and charged me with the responsibility for all Karma Kagyu activity in Europe. I am also H. H. Shamar Rinpoche’s elder brother.
Therefore, it is my duty to help set the record straight. I am sure that the truth of your reporting is as critical to you, as a professional journalist, as it is to members of the Karma Kagyu. In hopes that future accounts of this issue will be more balanced and accurate, I will try to further clarify the issues for you.
I. Regarding Chogyur Dechen Lingpa’s dream, you respond: “As far as the many possible interpretations of the dream are concerned, the point of mentioning it in the story was to illustrate Ugyen Trinley’s reasons for leaving. The only relevant interpretation therefore, in this instance, was the one that he perceived, which was the one I wrote about.”
A. You site Ugyen Trinley’s motivation to flee as being his interpretation of the dream. However, his interpretation is counter to three of the most highly respected leaders in 2 lineages, H. H. Karmapa Rangjung Rigpai Dorje, the 11th Situ Rinpoche and H. H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. It may well have been Ugyen Trinley’s interpretation, but by reporting his view exclusively and out of context of the other authoritative conclusions, you lend credence to his claim.
It is interesting that Ugyen Trinley and Situ Rinpoche had to rely on such a misinterpretation to obscure the true reasons for flight: Ugyen Trinley was losing credibility outside Tibet. (See point II-D.) To support this point, I must first explain the established interpretation of the dream. In the scene depicted in the dream, the late Karmapa Rangjung Rigpai Dorje is with the 11th Situ Rinpoche, his tutor. To understand this, we must examine the recent counting order of the Karmapas.
At the time of the search for the 15th Karmapa, a baby was recognized. After he was officially recognized, but before he was officially enthroned, the baby died at age three. Hence, the next Karmapa was the 16th Karmapa by rebirth, and the 15th throne holder. Karmapa Rangjung Rigpai Dorje was the 17th Karmapa by rebirth and the 16th throne holder. For the last hundred years, this discrepancy was not a problem because there was no controversy that necessitated exactitude. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. Karmapa Rangjung Rigpai Dorje and the 11th Situ Rinpoche were together at Pang Thug Monastery in Lithang Province in eastern Tibet where Karmapa received profound Mahamudra instruction from the 11th Situ Rinpoche.
Together, they also did a very special puja in a setting exactly as the one in the dream‹ large rock, pine trees, etc. At that time, both Karmapa Rangjung Rigpai Dorje and the 11th Situ Rinpoche proclaimed that this wonderful event was the scene depicted in Chogyur Dechen Lingpa dream. Later, when asked about the dream, Karmapa Rangjung Rigpai Dorje verified this to H. H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, telling him that the scene was in the past. Khyentse Rinpoche repeated this to many people in Kathmandu.
B. The present Situ Rinpoche maintains that the dream’s incident pertains to himself and Ugyen Trinley, and Ugyen Trinley has said that the scene looks like Rumtek monastery. However, Rumtek does not look like the scene in the painting. There is no such prominent rock at Rumtek.
C. If Ugyen Trinley’s recognition as a Karmapa had not been politically motivated, and if Situ’s recognition had been according to traditional Karma Kagyu methods, we would not bother to correct their interpretation. We would not believe it, but we would not object. However, Situ’s recognition of Ugyen Trinley is highly political and contrary to Buddhist principles because he refuses to allow the dubious prediction letter to be forensically tested. ShaMar Rinpoche and the legitimate monks of Rumtek Monastery have repeatedly requested this, to no avail. Furthermore, to prevent this test from happening, Situ¹s organization attacked Rumtek Monastery and overthrew its legal administration and monks on August 2, 1993. The attack is a matter of public record. It is clear that this violent behavior at Rumtek is contrary to the pure and holy scene depicted in the dream. Such behavior is not holy. If the scene were about Situ’s monastery Sherab Ling, why was the brutal takeover of Rumtek necessary? Nothing matches Chogyur Dechen Lingpa¹s dream.
II. Regarding the point of your article, you respond: “The point of this article was not, as you know, to analyze the internal dispute in the Karma-Kagyu. That has been done in print in extenso by others. It is not, frankly, an issue that greatly engages the interest of anyone outside the Karma-Kagyu. That is why the details — all of which are disputed, as you know — were not relevant to the story.” In your original article, you chose to include an account of the dispute. Once included, it is your responsibility to report the issue in a balanced manner. There is extensive evidence proving the “disputed details,” all of which is available to you. You chose to include some points‹generally from Situ Rinpoche’s perspective‹and ignore others.
Unless you fully understand and analyze the details and chronology of the events, your story is misleading. For example:
A. There is a serious shortage of time between when Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche died (before his agreed upon trip to Tibet to investigate the boy indicated in Situ Rinpoche’s forged prediction letter) and when Ugyen Trinley was “found” in Tibet. Only two weeks passed between Kongtrul Rinpoche¹s death and the announcement of Ugyen Trinley‹ a two-week period where, conveniently, ShaMar Rinpoche was far away at a Buddhist conference in the United States. It was not possible to decipher the letter, travel to Tibet and determine who the correct child was so quickly, in a country as large and as difficult to travel in as Tibet. Obviously, Situ Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche, in collusion with the Chinese Government, had already selected a boy before they presented the letter to ShaMar Rinpoche and Kongtrul Rinpoche in March 1992.
They selected a boy, then forged the letter. The rest was a charade.
B. In 1992, Situ Rinpoche worked jointly with the Chinese Government to enthrone Ugyen Trinley as the Karmapa at Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet. This is curious considering the role of the Chinese in Tibet since 1959. Ugyen Trinley’s enthronement took place shortly after the Tienaman Square massacre. No Tibetans trusted the Chinese at that time, but Situ and his supporters cooperated with them to establish an innocent boy in China.
C. Situ was a frequent visitor to China until his expulsion from India. Only then did he stop going to Tibet. Why? The answer requires further analysis of Situ’s banishment. He was forbidden entry into India upon returning from Tibet. At that time, he easily could have turned around and reentered Tibet where he was highly respected.
If being Ugyen Trinley’s spiritual teacher were of primary importance to Situ, why didn¹t he return? Instead, he chose to go to his monastery in Scotland. Situ maintains that this was because the Chinese government refused him entry to Tibet. But he had just been there and nothing had changed. The Chinese did not ban him from entering Tibet. He chose to go elsewhere to establish the fabrication that he was not welcome in China. He did this in order to convince the Indian government that he was not an ally of China so they would lift his ban.
D. That his teachers could not travel to see him became one of the excuses for Ugyen Trinley’s flight from Tibet. In fact as I stated above, his teachers could go to Tibet to see him, but they chose not to. The true reasons for his flight are more complex:
1. Situ Rinpoche’s candidate for Karmapa was losing credibility outside of China. In late 1999, H. H. Karmapa Thaye Dorje’s made an extremely successful trip to Singapore, Taiwan and Malaysia. There, many thousands of people saw first hand his remarkable spiritual qualities and were highly impressed. In addition, he planned to visit Europe next, which would continue to erode support for Ugyen Trinley.
2. In the court case over Rumtek Monastery, preliminary decisions were handed down in favor of the Karmapa Charitable Trust as the legal trustees of the monastery. When final, such a decision will mean that Situ Rinpoche’s “monks,” the brutal men who attacked the monastery in 1993, will have to leave. If Ugyen Trinley had remained in Tibet, Situ and his supporters would lose everything. It was imperative that they get him out in order to make a final attempt to secure Rumtek.
3. Ugyen Trinley’s alleged escape was portrayed as a flight for religious freedom. However, as stated above, this was a tactic to fool the Indian Government. There is solid evidence that the entire plan was devised by Situ Rinpoche and Ugyen Trinley to gain possession of Karmapa’s Black Crown which is at Rumtek Monastery. Once Ugyen Trinley obtained the crown, the plan was for him to return to China. Ugyen Trinley has confirmed this himself by complaining bitterly that he was promised that he could go to Rumtek, get the crown and return to China, which is not happening. Obviously, for Situ’s strategy to work, it had to look like a genuine escape, not a maneuver sanctioned by the Chinese. Otherwise, there would never be a chance that the Indian Government would allow Ugyen Trinley to enter Sikkim.
III. Regarding Kongtrul Rinpoche’s thoughts, you respond: “Kongtrul Rinpoche’s thoughts are a matter of conjecture which would have been be inappropriate and partial to indulge in.” In Khenpo Tenzin’s letter, Kongtrul Rinpoche’s thoughts were not the point. The point as stated was: “Šit doesn’t matter if one or one hundred disagreed. All doubts could have been assuaged, had Situ Rinpoche allowed the letter to be forensically tested.”
IV. Regarding H. H. ShaMar Rinpoche’s position in the lineage, you respond: “ShaMar Rinpoche’s position vis a vis Situ Rinpoche’s position is also a matter of dispute on which it would be inappropriate for me to arbitrate. That he is the nephew of the late Karmapa is fact. I did not imply or state that it formed part of his motivation.”
You say you referred to ShaMar Rinpoche as H. H. 16th Karmapa’s nephew because that was the only factual description of him, which fit the situation. Whether you imply ShaMar Rinpoche’s motivation or not, using only his relationship as nephew misleads an uninformed public regarding his official stature and responsibility. There is extensive proof that ShaMar Rinpoche was and is now, the second highest lama of the Karma Kagyu.
A. Pawo Tsuglag Phringwa, the leading and most respected historian of Tibet, clearly refers to the ShaMar Rinpoche as the second reincarnating lama of Tibet and the second highest lama of the Karma Kagyu. He in fact, relates the second Karmapa’s recognition of the ShaMar Rinpoches as “identical to the Karmapa.” That the ShaMar Rinpoches are the second highest Kagyu lamas is undisputed in all of Tibetan history.
B. The 8th Situpa wrote in his history that ShaMar Rinpoche is identical to Karmapa. He also refers to ShaMar as the second highest Kagyu lama in his own autobiography.
C. Most relevant to this article, H. H. the 16th Karmapa created and signed a chart ranking the present generation of Kagyu Lamas which clearly puts ShaMar Rinpoche second only to himself. Certain Kagyu lamas lost status after this ranking and after H. H. the Dalai Lama lifted the ban on the office of ShaMar. (See V-B.) These lamas can resent Karmapa’s clear ranking of ShaMar Rinpoche, but they cannot dispute that he is the second highest lama of the Karma Kagyu, both historically and by appointment of the 16th Karmapa. They can only try to undermine his authority and ignore the special relationship between the ShaMarpas and Karmapas.
V. Regarding the internal process of the Karma Kagyu, you respond: “Obviously the internal process is important or you would not be riven by this dispute. Never-the-less, I take it that, on this occasion, you do not dispute that the Dalai Lama was consulted by telephone when he was in Rio de Janeiro or that ShaMar Rinpoche subsequently discussed the dispute with the Dalai Lama –or indeed, that the Dalai Lama’s permission was sought on the occasion of the recognition of ShaMar himself, because of the situation that arose with a previous incarnation of ShaMar Rinpoche and the displeasure of a previous incarnation of the Dalai Lama.
Nowhere in the article is there any discussion — positive or negative –about the independence and integrity of the lineage.” Your unfamiliarity with the details of the events you site has led you to some erroneous conclusions. You believe that the telephone call to the 14th Dalai Lama in Rio and the approval of ShaMar Rinpoche’s present incarnation prove the Dalai Lama¹s authority in such matters. The facts do not support this conclusion. A. Regarding the telephone call to Rio, both history and the current situation must be examined. Historically, never in the Karmapa’s first 16 incarnations, nor in the entire history of the Karma Kagyu School, has a Dalai Lama recognized or approved an incarnation of the Karmapa. This was never required nor done.
In spite of political differences between the Gelugpa and the Karma Kagyu, the Dalai Lamas always respected the Kagyu¹s spiritual independence. Even the Great 13th Dalai Lama withdrew his “candidate” when the administration of Tsurphu Monastery disagreed. When the Tibetans came to India in exile after the Chinese invasion, the Tibetan Government in Exile developed the strategy of forming a united front against the Chinese to promote Tibetan independence. Before the Chinese invasion, the government of Central Tibet had virtually no authority in Kham, Amdo, and many other regions of greater Tibet. In fact, they were often resented and ignored in these areas. Once in exile, they had a common enemy and a common fate, so refugees of these regions naturally joined the Tibetan Government in Exile under the Dalai Lama¹s political leadership.
This was a political strategy. After consolidating this political coalition, the Tibetan Government in Exile then attempted to bring all the lineages of Tibetan Buddhism under the spiritual leadership of the Dalai Lama. While there may have been sound political reasons for this move, the other three lineages mistrusted the policy. The 16th Karmapa became the spokesperson for the three other lineages, and successfully resisted this plan. This is the root of the well-known split that developed between the 14th Dalai Lama and the16th Karmapa. >From the first through the16th Karmapa, the Dalai Lama had absolutely no authority over the internal affairs of the Karma Kagyu and no role in the discovery of the Karmapas. This was unilaterally changed by Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoche. They and their dubious letter started a chain of events that involved the Dalai Lama and surrendered Karma Kagyu independence.
Confidence in the veracity of Situ Rinpoche’s prediction letter was so low in June1992, that Situ and Gyaltsab were forced to seek legitimacy elsewhere. This was especially important to them, as they were terrified that the letter might actually be submitted to forensic testing, which would totally discredit them. They needed to create some legitimacy and cover for their position. Desperate, Situ and Gyaltsab asked the Dalai Lama for his approval of Ugyen Trinley. Please read the text of His Holiness reply, which is quite limited and says only that if everyone else agrees, he will go along. Even he did not assert his authority at that time, and was quite cautious about the recognition. This act was not proof of the Dalai Lama’s authority, but merely an illustration of Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoche’s unilateral surrender of this authority to him in exchange for his approval.
Therefore, in addition to promoting a candidate for recognition selected in a political process and supported by a dubious prediction letter, Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoche compounded their damage by relinquishing the independence of the lineage. Their action overturns eight centuries of Karma Kagyu independence and is totally contrary to the 16th Karmapa’s (their root gurus) strenuous resistance to the Dalai Lama’s claim to authority over the Kagyu, Nyingma or Sakya Lineages. As the ranking leader of the Karma Kagyu qualified by his special relationship to the entire line of Karmapas, ShaMar Rinpoche must defend his lineage and its members. We do not dispute that the Dalai Lama was called in Rio, but the conclusion that this call was obligatory and validates his participation in the Karmapa¹s recognition process, is erroneous.
B. You have misunderstood the history of the ShaMar incarnates by concluding that the 14th Dalai Lama’s “recognition” of the present ShaMar supports His Holiness¹ claim to authority over the recognition process of Karma Kagyu reincarnates. Briefly, the history is as follows: During the time of the 10th ShaMar Rinpoche, a regent of the Tibetan Government, Kunde Ling Lama, received an order from the Emperor of China to ban the ShaMar reincarnation. This was ordered because the 10th ShaMar allegedly cooperated with Nepal during a time of war with Tibet. The Tibetan Government imposed a prohibition on the position of the ShaMar Rinpoches for political reasons. The Gelugpa School then confiscated his monasteries. The next three ShaMar incarnations were recognized, educated, and protected by Karmapas, but they remained anonymous. The 11th ShaMar Rinpoche was the elder brother to 14th Karmapa. The 12th ShaMar Rinpoche was the son of the 15th Karmapa. The 13th ShaMar Rinpoche, recognized by the 16th Karmapa, died when he was only two years old. The current 14th ShaMar Rinpoche is the nephew of the 16th Karmapa. The16th Karmapa recognized the 14th ShaMar Rinpoche in Tibet, and brought him to India in 1959.
At that time, the Tibetan government had no legal authority in India, so H. H. Karmapa made his existence public. Although the Tibetan Government in Exile had no legal authority, as a gesture of friendship to the Karmapa, the Dalai Lama agreed to a ceremonial removal of the political prohibition on the office of the ShaMar Rinpoches. This should not be confused in any way with the spiritual recognition of ShaMar Rinpoche or any other Kagyu incarnation. It was strictly part of a political process and had nothing whatever to do with the spiritual affairs of the Karma Kagyu. Nor does this imply that the Tibetan Government in Exile or the Dalai Lama has authority over the spiritual affairs of lineage– especially the process of recognizing a Karmapa.
VI. Regarding the Rumtek Monastery and its treasures you responded: Thaye Dorje is still a minor. You may read an interpretation of ShaMar Rinpoche’s motives into what I wrote. I was merely stating a fact. The court case continues, as does the battle for control of the monastery. The outcome is important for both Thaye Dorje and Ugyen Trinley. Rumtek Monastery is held in trust by the Karmapa Charitable Trust. Both ShaMar Rinpoche and Situ Rinpoche are among the trustees. The majority of the remaining trustees believe that Thaye Dorje is the authentic Karmapa.
VII. Regarding evidence of anti-Indian activities, you respond: “I myself have not seen any hard evidence of Situ Rinpoche’s “anti-Indian activities”. Correct me if I am wrong, but as I understand it, ShaMar Rinpoche also suffers from the restriction that he is not permitted to visit Sikkim. A. Although there is not a shred of proof of illegal activity by ShaMar Rinpoche, you are correct, he was prevented from entering Sikkim.
However, he was not stopped by legal authorities. Instead, the Sikkimese political group, the Joint Action Committee, infamous for taking large sums of money from Situ Rinpoche, blocked his entry. Not only did they stop ShaMar Rinpoche they were also responsible for the takeover of Rumtek Monastery in 1993 and the expulsion of Karmapa’s official monks. The corrupt former Chief Minister of Sikkim, N. B. Bhandari, controlled the Joint Action Committee. In the 1980’s and 1990’s when N. B. Bhandari was in office, he was a powerful dictator, operating without regard or restraint of law, and the police did his bidding. It has been proven that N. B. Bhandari took money from China to promote their interests in Sikkim. For this and his involvement in the illegal take-over of Rumtek Monastery, the Indian Government pressured for his removal from office.
This misuse of power is the basis for the Rumtek court case, which is now under litigation. We have thoroughly documented evidence to support this allegation. Today, ShaMar Rinpoche has elected to stay out of Sikkim to keep the peace, not because he is prohibited from entering. B. Regarding Situ Rinpoche’s banishment from India and the subsequent restrictions on his movements in eight north eastern Indian states, this is a matter for the Indian Government and the Central Bureau of Investigation. You have taken the word of one government official, but have not contacted the CBI to determine what their reasons might have been. The fact that the CBI took this forceful position in spite of powerful pressure from Situ Rinpoche¹s hired lawyer, Ram Jetmalani, who later became an influential Law Minister, indicates that the government had convincing reasons for their actions.
VIII. Finally, regarding your regret, you respond: “It is a matter of regret, in my personal view, that such a respected school of Tibetan Buddhism should be wasting its energies in an internal dispute involving men who are supposed to set an example of wisdom and compassion. I only hope that both sides can find a way of resolving it in the near future.” I too, sincerely hope that this issue will be resolved in the near future. Rigorous and thorough research and analysis, and balanced reporting of the facts will help gain this objective. Thank you for your time.
Sincerely, Jigme Rinpoche