Article #6: “His Master’s Voice”

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by Jay Landman

This is the sixth article in a series of responses to Mick Brown’s The Dance of 17 Lives: The Incredible True Story of Tibet’s 17 th Karmapa (Bloomsbury, 2004).


From the Washington Post Book World

Sunday, August 1, 2004The 17th Karmapa

It is a disappointment that Jeffery Paine’s review of The Dance of 17 Lives: The Incredible True Story of Tibet’s 17th Karmapa by Mick Brown (Book World, June 27) fails to investigate the validity of that book’s conclusions before giving it an endorsement.

The book by Mick Brown
Paine fails to mention that the letter recognizing Orgyen Trinley as the Karmapa is likely a forgery. The letter’s handwriting and style are surely those of Situ Rinpoche himself. Yet Situ has refused to release this letter for scientific testing, claiming that such testing would be disrespectful to a “holy object.” Brown uncritically accepts this rationale, even though it runs directly counter to the show-me skepticism traditional of Tibetan Buddhism and creates much cause for doubt.

Second, Paine accepts Brown’s assertion that Orgyen Trinley’s candidacy is somehow more valid because the Dalai Lama supports him. In fact, under Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the Dalai Lama does not have authority to approve head lamas for any other school of Tibetan Buddhism besides his own Gelugpa lineage. His role as political leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile does not grant him spiritual authority over the three autonomous Tibetan Buddhist schools outside his own. HH Dalai Lama is not authorized to recognize the Karmapa, who is the leader of the Karma Kagyu school. Only the administration of the late 16th Karmapa is authorized to validate his reincarnation.

Finally, Paine incorrectly implies that because Mick Brown is not a disciple, he must be objective. While Brown may indeed employ a “neutral journalistic tone,” his narrative betrays obvious bias toward Orgyen Trinley and the lamas who support him. In particular, through details large and small, Brown offers flattering descriptions of Situ Rinpoche and Akong Tulku that contrast starkly with his denigrating portraits of supporters of the other candidate, Thaye Dorje.

Paine did your readers a disservice by failing to note this bias and failing to point out that Brown uncritically accepts the accounts of Orgyen Trinley’s supporters, and perhaps as a result of this bias, producing many errors of fact and conclusion in his book. Interested readers can find a detailed discussion of Brown’s errors at LANDMANDirector, North America Office InternationalKarma Kagyu Buddhist Organization

Natural Bridge, Va.

Jeffery Paine replies:

Jay Landman’s charges about the Dalai Lama and especially about the forged letter are exhaustively refuted not only in Mick Brown’s The Dance of 17 Lives but also in the other major books on the subject, Michele Martin’s Music in the Sky and Lea Terhune’s The Politics of Reincarnation.

Mr. Landman represents the position of Shamar Rinpoche, whom, unfortunately, all three books paint as doing the Tibetan cause harm in order to secure the profits from the Karmapa’s holdings for himself. I hope, and would like to believe, that there are honorable motives for Shamar Rinpoche’s actions that all three books have overlooked.



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