has sown the seeds of discord and acrimony among dharma students.
And it has generated numerous discussions among those interested in
Tibetan Buddhism around the world.
The latest development in the controversy
is the appearance of a new book. Entitled Karmapa: the Politics
of Reincarnation, the book was written by Tai Situ's long-time secretary,
Lea Terhune and published by Wisdom Publications in Boston. Some
have greeted this book as a fair and balanced discussion of the
main issues in the controversy over the identity of the Seventeenth
couldn't disagree more. In our estimation, this book is indeed quite
unfair and unbalanced. It contains numerous inaccuracies. Its primary
assertions are unsupported by the facts of the case as they are
widely known. And its retelling of history is biased towards a particular
view of the role of the main players in this drama. We do not exaggerate
when we say this book fails to meet even the minimum requirements
of responsible non-fiction or journalism.
also feel that there's very little new here. The main claims that
Terhune makes in this book to support the candidacy of Urgyen Trinley
were already made by Tai Situ and Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoches in 1992
when Situ Rinpoche first produced his letter. We have already produced
original source documents to refute all of these claims in our book
The Karmapa Papers, published in September 1992. To our minds, Terhune
is simply rehashing old misrepresentations. Indeed, it reminds us
of the classic rhetorical technique, much favored by authoritarian
politicians, known as the "Big Lie"-that if you repeat
the same unfounded claims 100 or 1,000 times then people will start
to accept them as truth. Or perhaps, Terhune hopes that people in
western countries are so focused on the present time that they easily
forget what has been said in the past.
Terhune's book is not only old wine in new bottles. Or we might
even say old vinegar, for her vitriol is barely disguised by a pseudo-journalistic
tone that attempts to imply much more objectivity than Terhune is
capable of. To be fair to Terhune, she has inserted some novel and
quite bold misstatements. For example, Terhune says that the Sixteenth
Karmapa was angry at the Danish Lama Ole Nydahl for giving initiations
in Russia. This claim is easy to refute by simple chronology. We
only need remember that the Sixteenth Karmapa passed away in 1981.
At that time, the Soviet Union was still governed by the Communist
Party. Obviously, under its official atheist ideology, the chance
for a Tibetan lama from a western European country to teach Buddhism
in the Soviet Union was nil.
Ole did indeed go to Russia to teach, but only in 1989, after the
government of Mikhail Gorbachev had begun to open up the country
through Perestroika. But this was eight years after the death of
the late Karmapa.
some experience with her style of writing, we are not surprised
at Terhune's obfuscation. But we do wonder how Terhune's editors
and the fact-checkers at a reputable Buddhist publisher like Wisdom
would let such an obvious error slip through.
is just one of several new misrepresentations that litter Terhune's
text. We will identify these and answer them one-by-one, we will
respond to them in detail, and we will offer documentation and evidence
so that people can judge for themselves.
the outbreak of the controversy, Shamar Rinpoche has always encouraged
his students to focus on their dharma practice and leave sectarian
politics to the lamas who are responsible for creating this issue.
However, in light of the strong misrepresentations made by Terhune,
and to prevent the spread of further confusion, we feel duty bound
to respond in some detail to the assertions she makes in her book.
Shamar Rinpoche has also been reluctant to respond himself or have
his students respond to claims made by Tai Situ and Goshir Gyaltsab
Rinpoches. So, while these two lamas have aggressively promoted
their cause through the news media in an attempt to win the war
of public opinion, especially in the West, Shamar Rinpoche has preferred
to work quietly through the Indian courts. In this way, he has hoped
to establish a legal basis for control of the main seat of the Karmapa
at Rumtek monastery in Sikkim and thus settle the question of legitimacy
in a more sober venue.
have been many calls on Shamar Rinpoche to respond to the well publicized
assertions of Urgyen Trinley's followers. Perhaps the most insistent
of these calls came at a March 2001 conference in Kathmandu sponsored
by the IKKBO. At the conference were high lamas of the Karma Kagyu
lineage along with students from centers around the world who follow
Sharma Rinpoche. The conference passed a resolution calling on Shamar
Rinpoche and the IKKBO leadership to compile and release a list
of the main misrepresentations made by Situ Rinpoche's group.
Shamar Rinpoche still remained reluctant to enter the fray. In the
end, the IKKBO leadership postponed releasing this list of misrepresentations
pending further developments in the courts and in the news media.
at the end of 2002, the IKKBO received an inquiry over the internet
asking when we were going to release our list of misrepresentations.
At that time, we responded that we had learned that Terhune's book
was pending and that we wanted to wait until its publication so
that we could provide a comprehensive response to the claims of
Situ Rinpoche's group. We posted both the text of the email query
and our response on the website we had set up to present information
relating to the whole controversy, www.karmapa-issue.org.
long after this, and apparently in reaction to our statement, Terhune's
publisher, Wisdom Publications, released a public statement saying
that they were canceling publication of Terhune's book. Though we
looked forward to offering our response, we were actually quite
relieved to learn that this book would not be released after all,
since we suspected that it would simply add fuel to the fire of
this unfortunate disagreement and deepen the confusion of dharma
students and interested people, particularly those in western countries.
In light of the publisher's announcement, we decided that it was
unnecessary to reveal the documents and information that we had
ready to counter the claims of Urgyen Trinley's advocates.
after her publisher's statement, you can imagine that we were very
surprised to see the release of Terhune's book by Wisdom in early
raised questions for us. Were Situ Rinpoche and his group not afraid
of our response after all? Did they think we would not respond?
Or, was publishing this book and risking a response from us that
could greatly embarrass them and discredit their cause an act of
is good reason to believe so. In the spring of 2003, the high court
in Sikkim made a landmark decision in the long-running case for
control of the Karmapa's seat at Rumtek Monastery. This decision
was favorable to the Karmapa Charitable Trust associated with Shamar
Rinpoche and against the claims for possession of Rumtek made by
Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches. Did these lamas perhaps believe that
since they were losing the battle in the Indian courts that they
might as well move the fight to the public relations front? Perhaps
releasing an error-filled book might be considered irresponsible
by more calm minds. But to the frightened man who feels he has nothing
to lose, perhaps such a rash act seems like just the bold stroke
needed to prevent disaster?
is fruitless to try to fathom the motivations of others, especially
in a case as complex as this one. Let it suffice to say that we
now believe that we now have no choice but to provide the clarification
that so many have demanded.
that end, we have decided to develop short, specific statements
of correction to the many significant misrepresentations that we
have found in Terhune's book. We plan to release these statements
on a regular basis over the coming months. We intend to present
the facts along with enough documentation to allow people to judge
Rinpoche has always said that it would be best for everyone if we
could leave the Karma Kagyu controversy to the leaders of the two
parties to solve. Wouldn't it be nice if Buddhist practitioners
could focus on their dharma practice of developing wisdom and compassion
without having to concern themselves with an arcane controversy
or judge teachers and teachings on "our side" from those
on "their side"? But unfortunately this issue has developed
an almost irresistible fascination to dharma practitioners at all
levels who have started to follow it as if it were some kind of
religious soap-opera. Rinpoche believes that this is just another
distraction and that it merely deepens the confusion in which we
dispel this confusion once and for all, Shamar Rinpoche has agreed
to let the IKKBO set the record straight now. Therefore, we will
take the opportunity to challenge the claims of those who present
partisan opinion as good journalism and ungrounded assertion as
with lamas is a new experience for many Buddhist students from countries
outside of Tibet such as China or the nations of Europe and America.
In our experience non-Tibetans are sometimes too quick to accept
questionable behavior and assertions from lamas. Perhaps the reason
for this is that these new dharma students misunderstand the nature
of the bond of samaya established between teacher and student in
the Vajrayana tradition. Perhaps these students feel that if they
have taken an initiation from a teacher, that they are obliged to
accept everything this teacher may say as truth, no matter how far-fetched
or ungrounded. These students think it is their duty only to blindly
believe, and not to judge for themselves.
is not our understanding of proper conduct. Didn't the Buddha call
on every person to think for him or herself? We intend to present
the facts so that anyone with an interest in this issue can do just
will present the facts in the coming months. We will systematically
challenge assertions by Terhune, Situ Rinpoche and others that we
believe to be false. And, at some point in the future, we will release
court documents that show serious inconsistencies in the case made
by followers of Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches. Indeed, we believe
that their group has been unsuccessful in the Indian courts because
they have amassed a history of legal filings that are inconsistent
with each other.
the course of the decade that this case has dragged on, Situ and
Gyaltsab Rinpoches have filed petitions that contradict what they
said in earlier petitions. Is it possible that they have forgotten
their own story? If you are telling the truth of course, it is much
easier to remember your story, no matter how much time passes. By
contrast, a perusal of the court documents will show that Karmapa
Charitable Trust has been rigorously consistent in its statements.
The courts seem to have recognized this in their recent rulings
favorable to the Trust.
illustrate this point, in the near future the IKKBO will release
copies of these court documents for the historical record. It is
our hope that non-Tibetans, who may not be familiar with the behavior
of some lamas who have been less than forthright, will be disabused
of the idea that all lamas are trustworthy and that they never engaged
in politics for their own gain.
first, we will begin with responses targeted to the misrepresentations
that Terhune makes in her book. Please check back to this website
on a regular basis as we set the record straight.
the meantime, we welcome your comments and questions.
International Karma Kagyu Buddhist Organization New Delhi, Hong
Kong, Washington, DC