your book, you have written about the Black Crown of the Karmapas:
the seventeenth century, the 10th Karmapa’s pupil, the Emperor
[sic] of Jang, presented him with a replica of the Black Hat
that had been presented by Yung-Lo. From then on, the original
Crown was kept at Tsurphu, and the Karmapa carried the replica
when he traveled. It is not known which crown the 16th Karmapa
brought with him when he fled from Tibet into Sikkim in 1959.
(Dance of 17 Lives, 34.)
one of the best living authorities on the Black Crown, I can say
without a doubt that you are mistaken here Mr. Brown. I am not sure
who your source for this story is, but for those of us who packed
the Black Crown at Tsurphu and helped His Holiness the sixteenth
Karmapa bring it into exile, there is no doubt whatever that we
brought the older crown from the Chengzu (Yongle) emperor and not
the newer crown from the king of Li Jiang (who was, in contrast
to the Chinese ruler, not an emperor, but merely the ruler of a
small state between China and Burma that was a vassal of the Chinese
emperor). I am concerned that you have received misinformation on
this subject and I would like to help you understand the truth.
me introduce myself and then tell the story of how we packed and
transported the Black Crown for the late Karmapa.
name is Thubten Gyaltsen and I am now 81 years old. I am a monk
and I served under the late sixteenth Karmapa during his lifetime.
I was born in the area near Tsurphu monastery in Tibet and I became
a monk at Tsurphu monastery at the age of eight. I was a monk there
even before the sixteenth Karmapa was recognized and enthroned.
When I came to the age of 22, I was given the position of coordinator
(Dronyer). My responsibilities were, first, to be in charge of all
the religious relics, located in the Karmapa’s room, including the
Vajra Crown. Second, I packed black pills make protection cords
for the Karmapa to hand out to devotees. Third, I was responsible
for keeping the Karmapa’s calendar and daily schedule of meetings
older brother, Damchoe Yongdu, was the general secretary of Rumtek
until his death in 1982. And my younger brother, Lekshe Drayan,
has been an official of the Karmapa for his whole adult life as
I have, and later he served as an assistant secretary of the Karmapa.
the sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa decided to escape to India, the decision
was made in secret to prevent officials of the Preparatory Committee
for the Tibetan Autonomous Region (PCART), the Chinese administration
of Tibet in Lhasa during the fifties, from discovering and stopping
our escape. At that time only staff who the Karmapa deemed trustworthy
were assigned to pack the relics to bring out with the Karmapa’s
party. I myself was in charge of packing the relics located in the
Karmapa’s rooms, including the Vajra Crown, as well as other valuable
relics. Since the seventeenth century, the Karmapas had two Black
Crowns. The first was given by the Ming emperor Chengzu (Yongle)
to the fifth Karmapa Deshin Shegpa (1384-1415) in the fifteenth
century. The second was an approximate copy given by the King of
Li Jiang to the tenth Karmapa Choying Dorje (1604-1674) in the seventeenth
century. The older crown was considered more valuable.
the religious statues and other relics were also carefully sorted,
and only the most precious and easily transportable ones were packed
for our journey into exile. Some quite valuable large statues were
left behind, with numerous smaller ones of lesser value. The Karmapa
decided that it was not worthwhile to take both Black Crowns, so
he instructed us to pack only the older, more valuable one given
to the fifth Karmapa Deshin Shegpa by emperor Chengzu. Obviously,
the sixteenth Karmapa wanted to bring the more precious crown. He
was quite particular about this, and neither I nor any member of
the Karmapa’s staff had any doubt that we had indeed packed and
brought the older, more valuable crown with us as we fled Tibet
and left the newer one behind at Tsurphu.
party left Tsurphu and eventually left Tibet by crossing into Bhutanese
territory. Once we were settled in Bhutan , we sent word back to
Tsurphu for another party of refugees to join us in exile and bring
another cache of valuable relics with them. At Tsurphu, Dechang
Kunchog Norden, one of the officials that the Karmapa had left behind,
sent the second escape party on to meet us with two giant embroidered
silk thangkas and about 300 silk costumes for the tantric lama dances,
all antique silk from China, and some very precious. The group successfully
evaded Chinese People’s Liberation Army patrols and arrived in Bhutan
with their boxes of valuables.
fled Tibet in the party of the sixteenth Karmapa in 1959 and settled
with him in exile in Sikkim, at Rumtek monastery in the early 1960s.
From that time until the late Karmapa’s death in 1981, I performed
these same functions as Dronyer at Rumtek.
the early sixties, the Karmapa moved all these valuable items into
Rumtek monastery. They remained there in safekeeping under our control
until Rumtek monastery changed management in 1993. On August 2 of
that year, Sikkim government police and special forces, along with
Situ and Gyaltsap Rinpoches and a large group of their lay followers
from Gangtok and elsewhere arrived at Rumtek and took over the monastery
by force. Afterwards, the new management prohibited me from going
to any important rooms in the monastery but I was allowed to work
in the office assigned to the Dronyer for some time.
June 10, 1994, while Tsultrim Namgyal, the late Karmapa’s attendant,
and I were working in the Dronyer’s room, at the order of Situ Rinpoche
who was still staying in the room of the sixteenth Karmapa, more
than 40 people, a mixture of laypeople and monks, entered my office
and demanded keys to all the relic boxes. Gyurme Tsultrim, a khenpo
from Sherab Ling, Situ Rinpoche’s monastery in Himachal Pradesh,
led the group, and announced that they had arrived on the orders
of His Holiness Situ Rinpoche to get the keys for the valuables,
presumably to give them to another staff member.
determined to let them beat or kill me before I would surrender
anything. I replied that, as one of the top officials of the Karmapa’s
labrang, I knew that Situ Rinpoche had no rights to appoint a Dronyer
or any other staff for Rumtek, which was under the administration
of the Karmapa’s labrang, not Tai Situ’s labrang. In response to
my resistance, Gyurme encouraged the crowd to beat Tsultrim and
me. The crowd was just about to fall upon us when a curious event
stopped them. In the monastery courtyard, several wandering dogs
who usually lie there quietly stood up and positioned themselves
in a line facing the room where Situ was living. The dogs began
to howl in unison. This strange occurrence shocked the crowd into
silence. Then, an older man named Lodro broke the silence and spoke
up, calling on the crowd to depart. He did not seem to be afraid,
but I believe that the dogs barking had shocked him and changed
his mind. The mob followed him out.
few minutes after the crowd left, a Sikkimese policeman came into
my office and started interrogating me, taking down my name and
other personal information. Since that day, Tsultrim Namgyal and
I were prevented from re-entering Rumtek.
later, in 2001, an inventory was conducted by the State Bank of
India at Rumtek, by order of the District Court in Gangtok. The
Karmapa Charitable Trust nominated me to attend the inventory as
one of its representatives, since I was in charge of relics at Rumtek
before 1994. However, the lawyer representing defendant #3, Gyaltsab
Rinpoche, opposed this in court. In response, the judge in the case
decided that one or two members of the Karmapa Trust board should
attend instead. The best choice among the trustees was Shamar Rinpoche,
who had knowledge of the relics, though not as much as I did. But
the state government of Sikkim prevented him from participating
in the inventory by banning him from entering the state. That left
only two laymen from the Karmapa Charitable Trust to represent the
Karmapa Trust at the inventory.
I am very old and my vision is poor. If the inventory cannot be
conducted before I die, then there will not be many good witnesses
left alive who know the relics. Next to me, my younger brother Lekshe
Drayan, 78 years old, has good experience, and he even repaired
the crown on one occasion when the tip holding the uppermost ruby
was bent. Tsorpon Tsultrim Namgyal also handled the crown also has
personal experience with it. Besides them, Shamar Rinpoche and Khenpo
Chodrak Tenphel saw the crown up close many times, but as high lamas
they never had occasion to handle the crown. So my brother Lekshe
Drayan is the best witness next to myself.
are the best authorities on the Black Crown alive today. I do not
know why you did not speak to us before claiming falsely that there
was some doubt. You could have saved yourself from making this error
and from the embarrassment of having to correct it.
your unfounded claim makes me very suspicious. I can only speculate
that this story about there being “doubt” about the crown comes
from the current, illegal Rumtek administration of Situ and Gyaltsap
Rinpoches. I believe that you interviewed Tai Situ, Akong Tulku,
Tenzin Namgyal and others of their group extensively, and I would
not be surprised if you got this story from them. I am concerned
that they may have begun to circulate this story to perhaps cover
up some mistreatment of the crown. The same unfounded claim that
appears in your book also is found in Lea Terhune’s earlier book,
Karmapa: The Politics of Reincarnaion (Boston: Wisdom,
2004). Perhaps the whole crown or its valuable jewels have gone
missing from Rumtek? We should try to discover the fate of the crown
as soon as possible.
these reasons, I hope that the court will decide to re-start the
inventory soon. Meanwhile, Mr. Brown, I will hold you partially
responsible if anything has happened to the Black Crown of the Karmapas.
As an investigative journalist, you should have known better than
to spread doubts about something without speaking to those with
authority to speak on it. You did not speak to me or any others
who knew that the Black Crown brought from Tibet was the original.
hope this was just an accidental omission on your part. But if there
was some intention in spreading unfounded doubt about the Black
Crown, perhaps to cover up some theft or damage to the crown, then
those who have spread this doubt have, in effect, created an alibi
for theft. And I believe that creating an alibi for a crime makes
one a type of accomplice in that crime. Perhaps you were misinformed
in this case. I do hope so. And if that was true, then we would
be pleased to assist you in writing a correction and apology.