Rebuttal to Lea Terhune, author of “Karmapa – The Politics of Reincarnation”

Posted on Posted in Letter


September 2, 2005

To follow on previous statements on the Karmapa issue at this web-site, here are further ‘proofs’ supplied by none other than our detractors themselves: proofs to the effect that the whole controversy was conceived and put in motion by Mr. Juchen Tupten in the Tibetan exiled government, to subvert our rights to recognize the Karmapa from within; to bring Karma Kagyupa to its knees till it became a vassal to Dharamsala.

The proofs that I am speaking about today are entirely consistent with what Shamar Rimpoche told us at the IKKBO conference at Kathmandu in April 2000. According to Shamar Rinpoche, a group of Kagyu Lamas had betrayed our Lineage to the Tibetan exiled government by supporting its choice of the Karmapa candidate with total disregard of Karma Kagyupa protocol and tradition that is our unwritten constitution. The master-mind of this renegade group of Lamas was Thrangu Rinpoche, the oldest and most knowledgeable in the ways of the world, followed by Situ Rinpoche and Gyaltsep Rinpoche: like a pack of hyenas attacking a buffalo; with six more junior Rinpoches at their heels like coyotes picking up the leftovers.

The proof of betrayal is given by Thrangu Rinpoche’s own intransigence in a court case he pursued in 2004. In characteristic contempt of the truth, he submitted anaffidavit to the court at Auckland , New Zealand — in contest for a property run by Beru Khyentze Rinpoche as a Karma Kagyu Buddhist center — which says that Urgyen Trinlay was the titular head of the Karma Kagyu school. What the whole thing boils down to is this question: Is the Dalai Lama’s authority really needed to institute a new Karmapa incarnation? Yes, according to Thrangu Rinpoche. And to prove it, his affidavit states to the effect that in all Tibetan history the Karmapas are recognized or authenticated by no one except the Dalai Lamas.

But that was a bold lie in the face of the presiding judge at Auckland . It obliged Chodrak Tenphel, Khenpo of Rumtek Monastery, to submit an affidavit to the effect that none of the Dalai Lamas at any time in history have in fact been required to render such services to the Karma Kagyu lineage. And guess who won? Beru Khyentze Rinpoche, of course. But how exactly?

Because Khenpo Chodrak Tenphel’s affidavit was endorsed by independent expert Geoffrey Samuel, a renowned historian and rabbi whom the court had appointed to the case. With relevant documents at his disposal, Mr. Samuel testified at court that none of the previous Dalai Lamas had anything to do with the recognition of the Karmapas and, by inference, the present Dalai Lama’s claim of having any authority, spiritual or legal, over the recognition of the 17 th Karmapa is simply a falsehood.

Another detractor, Lea Terhune, is the author of “Karmapa – The Politics of Reincarnation”, published last year. By her account, ‘the Black Crowns’ (note the plural) means “the original one given by Yung Lo ….. and a copy, made a few hundred years later …..” But it is well known and generally accepted that there is only one Black Crown. Had Terhune wanted to surprise the world with ‘a copy’, she obviously had not thought it wise or appropriate to match the report’s eccentricity with a good explanation. The fact is that, for the majority of the Karmapa’s disciples and devotees this bit of revelation would mean searing a big question mark right into their hearts, forcing them to wonder whether they had been deceived by the fake article. By flashing the Two Black Crowns card in front of the public, she has undoubtedly damaged the Karmapa, his name and his lineage.

Terhune also has much to say about the previous Shamarpas, the Sixth Shamarpa in particular; for example:-

“……unlike the Karmapas the Shamarpas gravitated toward politics. The political maneuverings of the Sixth Shamarpa Chokyi Wangchuk and his patron, the king of Tsang, provoked hostility among Kagyu lamas who opposed sectarian rivalry and created tension between the Karmapa and Shamarpa……”

For almost ten centuries Karmapa is a unique spiritual personage. So, for a serious work such as her “Karmapa” claims to be, it has no justification for leaving unmentioned the far more substantial and crucial history of the close and famous guru-disciple relationship between the Sixth Shamarpa (the guru) and the Tenth Karmapa (the disciple); a relationship so exemplary that it is exceptional by any standard in the history of Tibetan Buddhism; a fact that is accepted by all regardless of sectarian origins.

This is further proof that, given the kind of people that they are, our detractors will distort history to malign Shamar Rimpoche: just because he refuses to bow to politicians who use Buddhist Dharma for politics.

Whatever Terhune may have said, the Sixth Shamarpa unfortunately had died in 1633, many years before war broke out (in 1642) between the Gelugpa and Kagyupa forces. As for the Sixth Shamarpa himself, generations of practitioners are beholden to the Sixth Shamarpa for having rehabilitated or reorganized, at a critical juncture and almost single-handedly, a vast treasury of Kagyu texts and transmissions that had been passed down from Marpa’s time and so saved them from disappearance forever. Thus he was able to pass these transmissions on to the Tenth Karmapa and others. Many Tibetan histories (in the original Tibetan texts) acknowledge these critical contributions.

But Terhune would have no business with fair-play in what is, at least nominally, an account of Tibetan history. Instead she dug up the Sixth Shamarpa to ‘explain’ the Shamarpa of four centuries later in what is a gross fudging of causes and effects. It may have dramatic value, and it may fool an unsuspecting reader now and then. But this distortion of the Sixth Shamarpa is clear to anyone who knows anything about Tibetan history. Yet, if she managed to brand the Sixth Shamarpa as a war-monger, it might follow that all these Kagyu transmissions might be discredited, and with them the integrity of the entire lineage. This then is precisely the plan of the Rinpoches, Situ, Gyaltsep and Thrangu.

Terhune is an American writer and therefore she is relatively free to publish anything she wants and claim innocence or ignorance afterwards if necessary. But, this book is not written in a vacuum but under the close tutelage of the Situ and Gyaltsep rinpoches, a fact she admits in the introduction.

However, all of this is in complete accord with what

Shamar Rimpoche told us in 2000 at the IKKBO conference at Kathmandu, namely about the grave dangers that were (and still are) facing our lineage: Pressure from outside, and betrayal from within, to destroy the identity and independence of Karma Kagyupa, in effect to terminate it for good. But no doubt the sham of these lamas will peel off layer by layer with our continual efforts to unmask them on this website.

Good-bye and good luck!

Khenpo Ngawang Gelek
U.S. spokesperson for IKKBO