Answer to Allison from Chicago

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Dear Shamar Rinpoche,
I am Allison from Chicago. I had the good fortune to meet personally with the 16th Karmapa, with you and Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche during my present life. Please be so kind and clarify the following question, which is important to me. You said that Mick Brown’s Book “The Dance of 17 Lives” is slanderous and inaccurate. Contrary to your statement Professor Jeffery Paine judged this and Lea Terhune’s book “Karmapa The Politics of Reincarnation” to be good and informative.

Please explain the contrasting views.



Dear Allison,
Thank you for your question. Mr. Paine wrote a positive review of Mick Brown’s book The Dance of 17 Lives (Bloomsbury, 2004) for the Washington Post Book World. Believing that Mr. Paine’s review was too gentle on Mr. Brown, The North American Director of the International Karma Kagyu Buddhist Organization, Jay Landman, wrote a letter to the Post pointing out significant problems with Mr. Brown’s book. In response, Mr. Paine challenged Mr. Landman’s perspective, saying that it had already been “proven” wrong by three existing books.

I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Paine’s response for two reasons. First, any student of basic logic can see that Mr. Paine’s argument is partially a circular one. That is, he says that Mr. Brown’s book is right because three books agree with it—including Mr. Brown’s own text. Of course, you cannot use a book to prove itself. Mr. Paine would have been more consistent if he had claimed thattwo books support Mr. Brown’s points.

Then, unfortunately, it appears that Mr. Paine is not very familiar with those two other books. The first one, Michele Martin’s Music in the Sky (Snow Lion, 2003), does not make any argument at all about the identity of the Karmapa. Ms. Martin just assumes that Ogyen Trinley is the Karmapa, without giving any support. This is really not a problem for her book, because she is frank that she is simply writing a tribute to the young man. There is nothing wrong with that—but it does not support the argument that Ogyen Trinley is the Karmapa nor does it help prove Mr. Brown’s arguments.

That leaves Mr. Paine with just one single book to support his claim, Lea Terhune’s Karmapa: The Politics of Reincarnation (Wisdom, 2004). Without being too direct, I must say that I find very little value in this book. I have some personal experience with Ms. Terhune, as she spent time at Rumtek in the eighties as a translator and served for a brief period as a secretary for the Karmapa Institute in Delhi, until she was relieved of her duties by the administration. In my experience, Ms. Terhune has always been very closely associated with Situ Rinpoche and I believe that for a decade or more she has served as his private secretary. You are probably aware that Situ Rinpoche has been the main driving force behind the recognition of Ogyen Trinley as the 17th Karmapa and the illegal violent takeover of Rumtek monastery in August 1993. I have made my opposition to these actions clear for the last thirteen years as I have strived to protect the integrity of the Karma Kagyu school and locate, install and support the genuine 17th Karmapa, Thaye Dorje.

After having explained to you the close relationship between Ms. Terhune and Situ Rinpoche, I can say that I find that her book fails to meet the basic standards of journalistic integrity and displays a clear bias towards the viewpoint of Situ Rinpoche. One example will demonstrate the bias of her book. There are numerous other errors of fact and misrepresentations in her book that are more significant, but here I will share a simple example so you can easily countercheck the actual facts yourself.

In 1607 the 6th Shamarpa Mipham Chokyi Wangchuk and the 4th Dalai Lama Yonten Gyatso both wished to meet near Gongkar in Tibet for the purpose of finding a solution to the rather poor relationship between the Gelugpa and Karma Kagyu sects. This meeting unfortunately never took place because the attendants of the Dalai Lama prevented it. The story is told by Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa in his book Tibet: A Political History(Potala, 1984, p. 98). Shakabpa is a former minister of the Tibetan government run by the Dalai Lama before 1959 and his book is considered a standard account of Tibetan history. The title is currently out of print, but is available in many libraries.

In her book, Terhune retells this episode but alters a crucial detail, with the effect of deleting the Shamarpa’s role as peacemaker. Terhune paraphrases Shakabpa’s book incorrectly: “Shakabpa says that there are evidentiary letters that show the Karmapa and the Dalai Lama corresponded about meeting to sort things out. Such a meeting might have ended the rivalry, but their attendants scuttled the plan” (Terhune, p. 88). Compare this to what Shakabpa really says, referring to the Shamarpa as the “head lama of the Kar-ma-pa Red Hats”:

The head lama of the Kar-ma-pa Red Hats was living near Gongkar, and correspondence was exchanged between the two lamas which might have led to a meeting. Such a meeting might have ended the rivalry between the Ge-lug-pa and Kar-ma-pa sects; but the attendants of both the Dalai Lama and the Kar-ma-pa Lama did not want a truce, and the Dalai Lama’s followers hurried him away to the Drepung monastery. People who came to have audiences with the Dalai Lama were searched for messages from the Kar-ma-pa Red Hats. Poems written at the time blame the attendants on both sides for preventing a
meeting which might have led to a reconciliation between the leaders of the two sects. (Shakabpa, p. 98)

Ms. Terhune misinforms her readers in her book by removing the “Kar-ma-pa Red Hats” from this story and at the same time inserting “the Karmapa,” presumably the 10 th Karmapa Choying Dorje. It is clear that this is a mistake, and that Shakapba did not mean to refer to the 10 th Karmapa here, since elsewhere in his text he refers to the Karmapa as the “Black Hat Kar-ma-pa Lama” to distinguish him from the Shamarpa, the “Red Hat Kar-ma-pa Lama.” Thus, Ms. Terhune appears to find it convenient to accuse the 10th Karmapa of having prevented the peacemaking meeting. Perhaps this is just an honest mistake? Unfortunately, Ms. Terhune’s book is so full of misstatements that minimize the role of the Shamarpas or put them in a bad light that they appear to me to be intentional. For this reason, I have reluctantly taken the step of seeking redress in the civil courts of India against what appears to be an intentional effort by Ms. Terhune to malign my reputation.

The IKKBO has extensively critiqued Ms. Terhune’s book on its website, I believe that an open-minded reader will find that these critiques successfully demonstrate that Terhune’s book has little value. Such a reader might then conclude that Jeffrey Paine’s claim that three books support Mick Brown’s arguments has been whittled down to, well, zero books.

But you may still wonder if Mr. Brown’s book can stand on its own, even if the other two books do not prove its truth. So let me give you another example from Brown’s book itself. Again, this is not a significant claim, but a simple one that you can easily check. Mick Brown writes in his book that the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje had cancer and traveled to Singapore for an operation. But history shows that His Holiness the 16th Karmapa never went to Singapore for an operation. Instead he had an operation in New Delhi, which Indian newspapers extensively reported about at that time. Later he had a second operation at Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong, before he finally traveled to Chicago where he died at a hospital in Zion, Illinois.

I do not expect Mr. Paine to be familiar with all political and religious Tibetan affairs of the past and the often difficult relationship between the Tibetan Karma Kagyu and Gelugpa sects. Therefore I selected two very simple examples in my reply to you to show that the books by Ms. Terhune and Mr. Brown are marred by errors. On the other hand I do expect Mr. Paine to notice or to check out at least the very obvious and simple mistakes of the stated books before judging these books to be accurate and informative. But I believe that Mr. Paine has less interest in accuracy than in making a political point.

I have always admired the devotion of Western journalists to truth and independent investigation. But it appears to me that the formerly high standards of investigative reporting and thinking for oneself have fallen down in recent years. In particular, when it comes to dealing with Tibetan Buddhism, there appears to be no shortage of writers and teachers in Western countries today whose research is limited to repeating what the Dalai Lama has said. Thus, the Dalai Lama has said that Ogyen Trinley is the 17th Karmapa, so many automatically believe it, even though there is much compelling evidence to the contrary. Any student of history can see that the Dalai Lamas have never had a role in recognizing the Karmapas. How could they, since the Karmapas came along three hundred years before the Dalai Lamas? But I’m afraid that most Western writers do not bother to read much history before presuming to write about Tibetan affairs. Mr. Paine appears to be one of these writers.

The Dalai Lama is a great man, but his word is not final on all matters concerned with Tibetan Buddhism. He owes loyalty to his own Gelugpa school. And he must run the Tibetan exile government, which is an exile government like any other, rather than an enlightened kingdom out of some mystical Pure Land. As a result, the Dalai Lama must concern himself with issues that are not purely spiritual—political power and how to get it and keep it. Yet, the Dalai Lama’s reputation and stature in the Western press clearly encourages some journalists to drop their normal skepticism and descend into flattery. I believe that Mr. Paine has made this error.

Ms. Terhune and Mr. Brown are fully aware of this fact and seem to take advantage of it. They use the Dalai Lama’s positive reputation to provide cover for their own sloppy, biased reporting. I believe that their books represent deliberate discrimination against the Karma Kagyu school. At the same time I beg to point out that people who occasionally disagree with the Dalai Lama are normally dealt with very harshly in the Western media. I certainly encourage everyone to respect His Holiness the Dalai Lama for his role as a great Buddhist teacher and courageous leader of Tibetans in exile. At the same time I would like to urge Western writers and teachers to more carefully investigate the facts and historical context before criticizing those who may disagree with the Dalai Lama on certain issues. Widespread hero worship of the Dalai Lama in Western countries makes it difficult even for well-intentioned people to see the truth on complex issues related to Tibetan Buddhism.
best regards,

Shamar Rimpoche