Date: 4 January 2005
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
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.
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 that two books support Mr. Brown’s points.
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.
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.
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
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”:
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,
www.karmapa-issue.org. 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,
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.