a writer relies on poorly informed or untrustworthy sources, it
is not surprising that he or she may get some facts wrong. Unfortunately,
Brown gets many facts wrong and constructs a faulty argument as
a result. Here, I would like to point out some basic errors of fact
that Brown makes in his book. These are not the most significant
errors. Those would require more space to explain than I have here.
We will provide these explanations in our forthcoming book on the
now, let me just detail some of the many small errors in Brown's
book, up to page 80 only, so readers can judge for themselves whether
this book is credible on the larger positions it takes.
Trinley s Alleged Escape from China
page 5, following the standard account crafted by Situ
Rinpoche and his allies, Brown portrays Orgyen Trinley s trip
from Tibet as a dramatic escape with much heroism and derring-do
in the face of mortal danger. He describes the boy s arrival
the group, this was the end of a journey that had begun either
days earlier in Tsurphu monastery, some fifty miles from the
Tibetan capital of Lhasa, and which had brought them 900 miles
across the desolate, mountainous regions of western Tibet, into
Nepal, and thus to northern India, risking death and capture
by Chinese forces.
believe that Brown has been taken in by this tall tale. The IKKBO
has maintained that in reality this alleged escape was staged by
Situ Rinpoche and his supporters, who convinced the Chinese government
to look the other way when their Living Buddha left the country.
Let me explain here how the major details of the case support this
before his departure, Orgyen Trinley left a letter for the Chinese
saying that he had not betrayed his government but was just going
to India temporarily to get some religious relics to bring back
to Tibet. Orgyen Trinley s followers accept that this statement
was not concocted by the Chinese but is a genuine letter written
by the boy.
the event, Orgyen Trinley told a tale of his escape that is very
hard to credit. For example, he said he jumped out of his window
at night and jumped to the ground an incredible fall of four
tall stories, between sixty and seventy feet high. Such a fall would
surely kill anyone who would attempt it. Unless of course such a
person could fly but then what need to be afraid of any guards?
Orgyen Trinley and his party said they had made a journey of eight
days on foot covering 900 miles. Many journalists in India have
ridiculed this. Perhaps in response, later Orgyen Trinley changed
his story, knowing the short memory of journalists in general and
westerners in particular. His second version added some horses and
vehicles for verisimilitude. But Tibetans and Himalayan Buddhists
did not forget how implausible was his original story.
followers of Orgyen Trinley changed the boy s story a third
time. In response to a report by Japanese professor Shimai Tsui,
who published a thorough investigation of the details of the boy s
journey, the boy s administrators adopted the version of the
story published by Lea Terhune in her recent book, Karmapa:
The Politics of Reincarnation (Wisdom, 2004).
Shamar Rinpoche has asked his students not to attack Orgyen Trinley
personally, I do not want to say too much here and will not do so
in the future unless I am forced to do so by continuing misinformation
coming from his administration and supporters.
page 30: Brown says that the 6th Ponlop Rinpoche,
a close disciple of Karmapa, died in 1952. Two things are
wrong here. First, Ponlop Rinpoche not was a close disciple of Karmapa.
In fact, he was Karmapa s younger brother and the second-ranking
lama of Dzogchen Monastery, which made him a lama of the Nyingma
school. He was raised from childhood by Dzogchen lamas at their
monastery, and did not study with the 16th Karmapa at any time.
Only when the Red Army took over Dzogchen Monastery in early 1952
did Ponlop Rinpoche flee to Tsurphu to be with his brother, Karmapa.
This story is verified by Ponlop Rinpoche s three nephews,
Shamar Rinpoche, his brother Jigme Rinpoche as well as the late
Topga Rinpoche. Though Mick Brown met Shamar Rinpoche, he talks
as though he knows more about their uncle than his two living nephews.
In addition, Ponlop Rinpoche did not die in 1952 as Brown said,
but in 1962. I will give Brown the benefit of the doubt here and
hope that this was a typographical error.
page 32 Brown says that Tsurphu Monastery is located in
eastern Tibet, which anyone familiar with it would
know is not true and which contradicts Brown s own statement
earlier. Tsurphu is located in Central Tibet, near Lhasa, as Brown
notes on page 5. Then Brown goes on to say that the 5th Karmapa
Dezhin Shegpa predicted that while Tsurphu would be destroyed
and rebuilt many times, this monastery will be in existence
until the end of the world. This is incorrect. The
prophecy predicted this fate for Sachod Karma Gön monastery,
which, unlike Tsurphu, is indeed located in eastern Tibet.
Black Crown of the Karmapa
page 34 Brown s description of the Black Crown contains
two serious errors. First, his description is inaccurate. But more
importantly, he incorrectly states that there is some confusion
about whether the 16th Karmapa brought the real crown or a replica
out from Tibet:
the seventeenth century, the 10th Karmapa s pupil, the
Emperor 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
last part is a bold lie. There is no doubt about which crown Karmapa
brought from Tibet, the original given by Yung Lo. This is documented
very precisely in records kept at the time by Karmapa s administration.
Brown tells this particular lie is extremely troubling, because
it seems to indicate that Brown may be attempting to provide cover
for the lamas he sympathizes with, Akong Tulku and Situ Rinpoche,
who may have stolen the Black Crown from Rumtek and replaced it
with a fake.
me briefly recount the story of the Black Crown. When the Emperor
Yung Lo met the 5th Karmapa Dezhin Shegpa numerous miracles and
signs appeared in the sky for the 18 days that Karmapa gave public
teachings. Famous Chinese painters and calligraphers of the period
copied these signs daily and wrote descriptions of them in the four
main languages of the Chinese Empire Mongolian, Mandarin,
Tibetan and Turkic. They form the basis of our understanding of
how the Emperor came to give the Black Crown to the Karmapa.
several days of teachings, the Emperor said to Karmapa, Whenever
you perform a ceremony of blessing, you always appear to me in a
special way. Your body is in the form of Vajradhara and you are
wearing a kind of black turban or crown on your head.
responded that it could be that when the body of a great bodhisattva
is teaching in human, or nirmanakaya form, this body can also be
simultaneously manifested in sambhogakaya, or ethereal form. To
further answer the emperor s question, Karmapa explained that
many eons in the past, in a previous life as a cave-meditator, Karmapa
attained the eighth bodhisattva bhumi. Then, a hundred thousand
wisdom dakinis cut their black hair and offered it to Karmapa as
an offering. They manifested their hair as a crown that they placed
on his head and enthroned Karmapa as a Buddha for their sambhogakaya
land. The 5th Karmapa said that the 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khenpa was
an emanation of that sambhogakaya Buddha for our world.
emperor marveled at this story, and in his devotion offered to have
a replica of this crown made for Karmapa: If I make a similar
crown and offer it to you, can you give the blessing of the sambhogakaya
Buddha to sentient beings?
responded, Yes, the bodhisattva s blessing depends
on his having attained the wish paramita--that whatever he wishes
for sentient beings will come true--so this is possible.
emperor was very pleased. He left Karmapa, and ordered the most
skilled craftsmen to make a crown studded with precious stones and
crowned by a rare ruby the size of a human fingertip. The 5th Karmapa
accepted this gift and began the tradition of the Black Crown Ceremony.
Since then, when any Karmapa performs this ceremony, he meditates
in the form of a sambhogakaya Buddha and thus gives a unique empowerment
of samadhi and wisdom to those in attendance. Karmapas from the
5th through the 16th wore this crown and gave this blessing through
during the time of the 10th Karmapa, the King of Li Jiang, a kingdom
bordering Burma, made a duplicate of Yung Lo s crown also
with valuable stones, as a gift for the 10th Karmapa.
I said above, it is just a lie to say that the 16th Karmapa was
confused about whether he brought the original or duplicate crown
from Tibet in 1959. His administration officially documented that
the older crown given by Yung Lo was brought and the one given by
the King of Li Jiang was left behind at Tsurphu. The paperwork exists
today to prove this.
is no reason whatsoever for doubt on this score. So why does Brown
seem to be sowing doubt about the crown? This makes me very suspicious
of Brown s motivation. I cannot imagine where he would have
gotten such an idea except from Akong Tulku at Samye Ling, from
whom we have heard this kind of talk before. So yet again, it is
clear that Brown speaks with his master s voice
and, in this situation at least, is just a mouthpiece for Akong
suspicions increase when I relate what Brown says here to an event
that occurred just after the District Court in Gangtok issued the
order for an inventory of the moveable valuables held at Rumtek.
At that time, it was known that the supporters of Situ and Gyaltsab
became extremely nervous. They acted as if they had some crime to
conceal. The directors of the Karmapa Charitable Trust started to
worry that Situ and Gyaltsab had stolen the jewels in the Black
the inventory was underway, it did not appear that Situ and Gyaltsab
and their group cared much if most holy objects, including thangkas,
statues, and ritual objects were examined and catalogued. But when
it came time to examine a large old thangka, an artwork by an early
Karmapa and the Black Crown, their group became quite agitated.
Their behavior made the court so suspicious that it immediately
sealed the Rumtek reliquary to preserve it for investigation after
the court proceedings could be concluded.
light of this suspicious behavior on behalf of the lamas that Brown
appears to sympathize with, we believe that Brown s account,
which contradicts the statements of the 16th Karmapa, is actually
a the first step in creating a story to cover Situ s group s
theft of the Black Crown itself, or perhaps its priceless jewels.
History: Ruling Dynasties and Lama Tsongkhapa
page 35 Brown says: With the waning of Mongol influence,
Tibet came under the control of a succession of Tsang kings who
patronized the Karma Kagyu school of the Karmapas.
has his Tibetan history quite confused here.
under Kublai Khan, the Sakyas did indeed rule Tibet. Then, three
dynasties followed each under the influence of the Kagyu school.
First came not the Tsang kings, as Brown says, but the Paldru Dynasty.
And these kings did not follow the Karma Kagyu but rather the Paldru
Kagyu. After the Paldru Dynasty came the Rinpung Dynasty and then
the Tsang Dynasty (4 kings), both of which did follow the Karma
Kagyu. Mick Brown tried to recount some of this history but he didn t
do very well, perhaps because he was depending on the verbal recounting
of someone without much knowledge, such as Akong Tulku.
also on page 35, Brown talks about Lama Tsongkhapa,
the founder of the Dalai Lama s Gelugpa school.
a monk, Tsongkhapa studied with teachers from both the Kagyu
and Nyingma schools, but he became disillusioned with what he
regarded as the corruption and laxity among the established
Buddhist orders, and set about founding a new order that advocated
a return to pure Buddhism, emphasizing celibacy
and scholasticism as prerequisites to the more advanced Tantric
practices. It was not until after Tsongkhapa s death that
this order would take the name of the Gelugpa, or virtuous
ones ( Gelugpa meaning those of the
Gelug school ).
Though Tsongkhapa studied with lamas from all schools, and as a
teenager he was even given genyun vows by the 4th Karmapa, it is
not accurate to imply that his main teachers were from the Nyingma
and Kagyu. Whatever other teachers this highly learned lama may
have had, Tsongkhapa s main guru was always Redawa Zhonu Lodro
from the Sakya school.
also claims that Tsongkhapa became disillusioned with the laxity
of the other schools, and implies that is why he founded his own
school. What really happened was that Tsongkhapa began giving many
public teachings and so developed a large following. Being a scholar,
he then founded Ganden Monastery outside of Lhasa as a Buddhist
university devoted to rigorous scholarship and to propounding his
particular view of the Madhyamaka philosophy, which differed on
some points from that of the other three Tibetan schools. The monastery
name Ganden later morphed into the form Gelugpa,
by which Tsongkhapa s school would be known. It is a misconception
to say that Tsongkhapa meant to found a school whose goal was to
be especially virtuous.
shows clearly that Mick Brown is not very learned on Tibetan history,
politics and religion. We suspect that in these areas he was largely
repeating what he heard from his sources, Akong Tulku and his brother
Jamdrak (Lama Yeshe), two lamas who received very little formal
education. Brown makes many other historical mistakes, but we will
not rebut all his historical errors outside of the examples here.
Role of Lama Yeshe
page 49 Brown says that Akong s brother, Lama Yeshe,
was a translator for Karmapa. He repeats a story about Karmapa s
visit to Bodh Gaya in 1956 as if he had been there personally. This
however would have been very unlikely. In 1956 Lama Yeshe would
have been a 12-year old boy named Jamdrak living in Tibet who had
not yet met Karmapa. Yeshe became translator for Karmapa only in
1967 and spent only a few months with Karmapa in his whole life,
when he was in his twenties. So Brown should have made it clear
that Yeshe s story here was not an eyewitness account, but
this same page, Brown then says that the Ashok family
became rich on hotels. But the real Ashok Burman came from a family
whose wealth derived from the era of the British Raj and a thriving
business in Ayurvedic medicines. Of course, Brown s source,
Lama Yeshe, can say that he heard this, but it is incorrect for
him to recount this story as if he were there, which would have
Relative Ages of Jamgon and Situ Rinpoches
page 51: Brown says that Jamgon Rinpoche was the youngest
of the four rinpoches on the Karmapa search committee, and thus
younger than Situ Rinpoche. But in reality he was born in the year
of the horse, so would have been a few months older than Situ.
the second part of this installment, I will detail further errors
in Brown s text, including his discussion of the funeral of
the late Karmapa.