Response from Lama Karma Wangchuk to Mick Brown

Posted on Posted in Letter

Date: 07.08.2004

Mr. Mick Brown
c/o Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
38 Soho Square
London WID 3HB
United Kingdom

July 29, 2004

Dear Mr. Brown:

I am writing to thank you for your letter of 7 July 2004. I appreciate your kind response to my open letter to you of June 2 concerning your book The Dance of 17 Lives. I realize that your time is valuable, and I appreciate the effort you generously invested in your reply to me.

I have no wish to involve you in a protracted exchange of letters. I just have two points in response to your reply that I would like to share with you here.

Your Relationship with Akong Tulku

You write that you are not a Buddhist and that you are not now and have never been a student or devotee of Akong Tulku, the head teacher at Samye Ling Tibetan Centre in Scotland. I appreciate you clarifying this point.

Yet, as a reader of your book who is familiar with the biography of Akong Tulku, I cannot help but remark that your text seems to exhibit a sympathy with Akong more appropriate to a devotee than to a journalist.

Firstly, I wonder how closely you checked the facts of material you got from Akong Tulku. To anyone who knew the late Karmapa well, Akong’s account of events in his life is highly implausible. In particular, Akong’s story of Karmapa’s attempt to reconcile him with Trungpa Rinpoche (p. 80 of your book) sounds like pure fiction. It was well known that Akong was a very low-ranking lama, merely the attendant of Trungpa Rinpoche. His role at Samye Ling did not change his status in Karmapa’s eyes. Simply put, the late Karmapa would never have called Akong and Trungpa to his deathbed to reconcile them and would certainly never have said, as you quote Akong, “I consider both of you as my sons.”

You relate dozens of other episodes from Akong that seem just as off base as this one. This makes me wonder why you rely so heavily on Akong Tulku and his brother Jamdrak (later known as Lama Yeshe) as sources for the life of the 16th Karmapa, given that these two men are hardly informed sources on the late Karmapa. They spent little time with him and were never on close terms with the 16th Karmapa. And Akong in particular had at best an ambivalent relationship with the Karma Kagyu leader. You could have found dozens of other sources who were much closer to the late Karmapa and could have given much more authoritative accounts of his life.

All of these things together make us think that you must have some reason, besides journalism, to quote Akong and his brother so extensively and to portray Akong in such a positive light. It is difficult for us not to surmise that you sympathize with this lama and are trying to help him advance his career at the expense, of course, of the objectivity of your own narrative.

Your Omission of the Rumtek Case

In your letter, you write that it was never your “intention to explore in depth the issue of the ownership of the monastery-the book would have been a third as long again if I had done so.” I could comprehend this rationale if the issue of who legally owns Rumtek were a minor point incidental to the Karmapa controversy.

However, this is not the case with Rumtek. Rumtek is not just a building. It is a place charged with symbolism for Karmapa followers. Both sides in the controversy know that the boy who sits on the throne of the 16th Karmapa and wears his Vajra Crown will be, in the minds of many, the real Karmapa. Your approach seems akin to writing a book about the French Revolution and not mentioning the Bastille.

If you did not have space to write about the issue of who has the right to occupy the seat of the Karmapas, then I wonder why you wanted to write a book about the Karmapa issue at all?

Legal possession of Rumtek has been the most important issue since this unfortunate controversy began. Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches put much effort into taking over the monastery in 1993, preparing the groundwork for months or even years in advance. Since then, their group has fought hard in the Indian courts to gain legal sanction for their control of Rumtek. At each stage, they have been unsuccessful. Indeed, they appealed the verdicts against them all the way up to the highest level.

I appreciate your fair-minded offer to write about Rumtek once the case is finished in the courts. Fortunately, you will now have your chance. On July 5, the Supreme Court issued its verdict, finding against Orgyen Trinley’s group. So, we do hope that you will be as good as your word and devote the attention to this issue that it deserves. As to your wish to interview the trustees of the Karmapa Charitable Trust, I would encourage you to contact the Trust directly.

I am grateful for your good wishes for our troubled lineage. I thank you for joining our prayers that the divisions that have afflicted the Karma Kagyu are soon healed. In the spirit of fairness, I will honor your request and post your letter on our website once sufficient time has passed for this letter to reach you by postal mail. In addition, I will post this response along with any reply you care to send us as well.


Lama Karma Wangchuk