Dalai Lama’s Meddling in the Recognition of Tulkus

Tulku” literally means “Emanation Body” in Tibetan and refers to a fully enlightened being that takes rebirth with the sole purpose of benefitting sentient beings. This took on special meaning as Buddhism reached maturity in Tibet with the development of generations of Tibetan monks, yogis, scholars and great masters. A whole institution to recognize the reincarnations of great masters, who displayed mastery of the teachings and of their death and rebirth, was even established.

As Buddhism seeped deeper into Tibetan culture, devotion for these Tulkus became ever more established in the Tibetan psyche. Hence the Tibetan leadership, in an effort to wield greater control over the masses, sought to regulate the recognition of Tulkus in order to achieve this aim. The government has even gone to extreme lengths of banning and sometimes concealing certain incarnations for political reasons.


Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen: Unbearable Jealousy

Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen was an eminent lama of the 17th century, equal in stature to and possibly more popular than the Great 5th Dalai Lama. The assistants of the 5th Dalai Lama were unhappy with Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen’s popularity, and plotted to assassinate him.

After Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen’s death, the Tibetan government erased from the annals of history the name of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen, the previous life of Dorje Shugden, and his incarnation was banned from being recognized. The ladrang of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen was even levelled to the ground and all of his properties seized.


Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche: Political Convenience

Another casualty was none other than Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche, who was denied his rightful recognition as the tulku of the Changkya line of incarnations. Changkya Rolpe Dorje, Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche’s previous life from the 18th century, was closely associated with the Chinese Emperor Qianlong and the Qing dynasty. In fact, the Changkya name was a Chinese title bestowed by the emperor himself.

This association with China was most unwelcome and hence, the illustrious incarnation of Changkya Rolpe Dorje was instead recognized as a tulku of the obscure Pabongka monastery. Nevertheless due to his attainments and previous life imprints, Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche achieved greatness just like his predecessor and had extremely influential disciples like Kyabje Reting Rinpoche, Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and so forth.

Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche should have been recognized as the incarnation of Changkya Rolpe Dorje, but the Chinese affiliation with that name was unwelcome


The Karmapa Controversy: Divide and Conquer

More recent examples of the Tibetan administration’s meddling can be seen in the 1990s, involving the recognition of the 17th Karmapa. The Karmapa is the head of the Karma Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhist and was one of the very first tulkus to establish a line of incarnations. The four great regents of the Karma Kagyu School are the Shamarpa, Tai Situpa, Jamgon Kongtrul and Gyaltsab Rinpoche, and all four were students of the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje.

The 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje

The Shamarpa is largely regarded as the second most important tulku in the Karma Kagyu tradition and is traditionally one of the main lamas to search for the Karmapa’s incarnation and enthrone him. However, after the parinirvana of the 16th Karmapa, Tai Situ Rinpoche overstepped his position and claimed to have discovered the 17th Karmapa in the form of Ogyen Trinley Dorje. Shamar Rinpoche was temporarily sidelined.

The 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje recognized by the Shamarpa

Eventually, the Shamarpa conducted his own investigations and found Trinley Thaye Dorje, whom he enthroned as the 17th Karmapa in accordance with tradition. However, the politically astute Tai Situpa had garnered the support of the Dalai Lama for his recognition of Ogyen Trinley Dorje. The Dalai Lama was even said to have had a dream that confirmed the recognition of Ogyen Trinley Dorje.

Given that the Dalai Lama’s word is law, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) thereafter acknowledged only Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the 17th Karmapa, inviting him to official events and so forth while Trinley Thaye Dorje was sidelined and practically ignored. Henceforth, a rift appeared in the Karma Kagyu school and its lamas and followers were polarized between the two Karmapas, weakening the strength of the Karma Kagyu school at a time when they were not in favor with the Tibetan administration.

The 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje endorsed by the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama support and endorsement for one Karmapa candidate over another is unprecedented, against tradition, and drew heavy criticism from many Karma Kagyu followers, particularly from the Shamarpa who wrote an open letter to famous author and Dalai Lama supporter, Robert Thurman stating that:

No Shamarpa has had to ask for approval or provide proof to the Dalai Lamas or to the Tibetan government.

As a result, a feud broke out between the followers of the two regents, Shamarpa Rinpoche and Tai Situ Rinpoche, which has not yet been resolved to this day. Rumtek Monastery, the traditional seat of the Karmapas, became the center of the controversy, coming under siege by lay practitioners and even monks of both parties.

The feuding eventually culminated in the Indian authorities banning Tai Situpa in 1994 from entering India on counts of anti-India activities. It has been speculated that the Shamarpa was behind this, having close ties with the Indian police. Even when Tai Situ Rinpoche was allowed back into India a few years later, restrictions remained as to where he is allowed to travel within the country. Today, there continues to be two Karmapas, with two distinctly different groups of followers, and a hole torn in the heart of a weakened Karma Kagyu tradition.

Rumtek monastery is at the heart of the feud between the followers of the Sharmapa and Tai Situpa


The 3rd Domo Geshe Rinpoche: Reward for Obedience

The previous Domo Geshe Rinpoche Ngawang Gyalten Jigme Chökyi Wangchuk

Domo Geshe Rinpoche is a high lama of the Gelugpa school that propagated Dorje Shugden’s practice far and wide in his previous life. When the previous Domo Geshe Rinpoche passed away, his students had initially requested the Dalai Lama to compose a prayer for his swift return. However, the Dalai Lama refused on the grounds that he was still practicing Dorje Shugden when he entered clear light. Therefore, the students of this great lama turned to Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche for their assistance.

Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche recounted that he had a dream on the day Domo Geshe Rinpoche passed away. Domo Geshe Rinpoche had appeared in his dreams and told him that their meeting in the future would depend on him. After Domo Geshe Rinpoche left, Trijang Rinpoche next dreamt of monks fighting and realized that he had to be the one to recognize the new incarnation of Domo Geshe Rinpoche. Trijang Rinpoche eventually found the unmistaken incarnation of Domo Geshe Rinpoche and the young tulku, Domo Chocktrul Rinpoche Losang Jigme Nyak-gi Wangchuk, was recognized and accepted by six out of the seven monasteries of the previous Domo Geshe Rinpoche.

The yangsi of Domo Geshe Rinpoche, who was recognized by Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, Kyabje Pabongka Rinpoche and the Dorje Shugden oracle, was not accepted by one of Domo Geshe Rinpoche’s monasteries

The only monastery that would not recognize the young tulku was Tharpa Choling Monastery in Kalimpong, a monastery founded by the 1st Domo Geshe Rinpoche Ngawang Kalsang in 1912. Even though they had joined the other six monasteries in requesting for Trijang Rinpoche’s help, Tharpa Choling broke away, searched for their own candidate and brought him to the Dalai Lama to be recognized. To please the Dalai Lama, Tharpa Choling also swore to give up the practice of Dorje Shugden, one of the heart practices of the previous Domo Geshe Rinpoche.

The Dalai Lama accepted and recognized Tharpa Choling’s candidate, Tenzin Jigmey Lhundup, his involvement once again flying in the face of tradition as the search and recognition of tulkus is traditionally left to the lama’s ladrang. The Dalai Lama’s siding with Tharpa Choling has created yet another rift in Tibetan Buddhism, this time between the students of Domo Geshe Rinpoche in the Gelugpa school.

This Domo Rinpoche (left) was recognized by the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama’s support has also emboldened the renegade Tharpa Choling monks, as their recent forcible occupation of Gaden Choling Monastery shows. Till today, neither the Dalai Lama nor CTA have reprimanded the actions of Tharpa Choling thus indirectly condoning their violent actions.


The 13th Kundeling Rinpoche: Discrediting the Enemy

The line of Kundeling Rinpoches is traditionally one of the four regents of Tibet, chosen during the interim period when the Dalai Lama has passed into clear light or has not yet reached maturity. The 13th (current) incarnation of Kundeling Rinpoche is Lobsang Yeshi Jampal Gyatso, born in 1959 in Kolkata, India and unofficially recognized by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, Kyabje Zong Rinpoche and the oracle of Dorje Shugden.

The 13th Kundeling Rinpoche

His recognition at that time did not prompt any opposition from the Dalai Lama or CTA. However, the 13th Kundeling Rinpoche later became a thorn in the side of the Dalai Lama and CTA after the implementation of the ban on Dorje Shugden’s practice, becoming an outspoken figure at the forefront of the opposition against the ban.

In 1995, approximately 30 objection-less years after the unofficial recognition of the 13th Kundeling Rinpoche Lobsang Yeshi Jampal Gyatso, a young boy Tenzin Chokyi Gyaltsen was officially recognized by the Dalai Lama as the 13th Kundeling Rinpoche. He is currently pursuing his monastic education at Drepung Gomang Monastery in Mundgod, India and occupies the traditional seat and holdings of the previous incarnation. Once again, the Dalai Lama’s and CTA’s meddling has resulted in the recognition of yet another an alternate tulku, Kundeling Rinpoche.

The other Kundeling Rinpoche, recognized by the Dalai Lama


A Ladrang’s Worst Nightmare?

Kyabje Zemey Rinpoche

Given the Dalai Lama’s inclination to meddle in affairs that do not concern him, and the historical precedence of multiple tulku recognitions and the strife that follows, many ladrangs and students searching for their Lama’s incarnations are often fearful of the Dalai Lama’s involvement. This is especially so if the high lama in question was an ardent practitioner of Dorje Shugden.

After the passing of Kyabje Zemey Rinpoche, Zemey Ladrang monks were fearful that the meddling of the Dalai Lama would result in two Zemey Rinpoches. Therefore, the main assistant of Zemey Rinpoche informed Geshe Thupten Jinpa, the personal translator of the Dalai Lama (and a member of Zemey Ladrang) not to get involved in the search for and recognition of Zemey Rinpoche’s incarnation, as the ladrang had already made prior arrangements to do so.

Thupten Jinpa, the personal translator of the Dalai Lama is also a student of Kyabje Zemey Rinpoche

The foresight of Zemey Rinpoche’s assistant could not have been more timely as shortly afterwards, the Dalai Lama indicated to Thupten Jinpa that he would like to assist in the recognition process but was told that the arrangements had already been made. Naturally, the monks of Zemey Ladrang kept all the auspicious and indicative signs confidential until the young tulku was found in China (Tibet) and enthroned there. In this way, Zemey Rinpoche’s students successfully avoided the problem of having two Zemey Rinpoches and any potential conflict that would have otherwise arisen.

The current incarnation of Zemey Rinpoche (left) with H.E. Yongyal Rinpoche

Following the example of Zemey Ladrang, the students of Denma Gongsa Rinpoche and Dagom Rinpoche also made special effort to avoid the Dalai Lama’s involvement in the search for the incarnation of their teacher. Denma Gongsa Rinpoche has since been enthroned and till this day, the location of Dagom Rinpoche’s incarnation is still kept under wraps. Sadly, it is none other than the Dalai Lama himself that the ladrangs feel they need protection from, and this sorry state will surely lead to the further decline of Tibetan Buddhism unless the Dalai Lama stops sowing the seeds of confusion and all political machinations, including the ban on Dorje Shugden, all of which breed discord instead of unity.

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13 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Thank you for this synopsis regarding the ‘tulku’ system in Tibet.As you will know,the Sharmapa passed away very recently when he was travelling Europe.His open letter to the Dalai Lama concerning the Karmapa Controversy was a significant factor in the deepening of my understanding of the current Dalai Lama’s wielding of enormous unchecked power within other schools of Buddhism.In effect he now controls the official ‘Karmapa’,

  2. Wow ! So much drama, just like stage plays ! If so much controversy can take place in such high level hierarchy of Tibetan Buddhism, this world is truly degenerating. More time and effort should be spent on teaching the Dharma, propagating peace and happiness; not creating more confusion and insecurities.

  3. I also feel afraid of the Dalai Lama, and want to be safe from him; for this reason, among others, I go to refuge to Buddha Dorje Shugden, because he protects us from politics in our dharma. I would like the ban to come down, and the Dalai Lama to start practicing again; maybe then he would not meddle in the affairs of other schools.

  4. Reading this post reinforces my belief in reincarnations of High Lamas who life after life come back with more wisdom to teach sentient beings towards attainments and enlightenment.

    This is illustrated by the intent of the 5 Dalai Lama during whose time was Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen (the previous life of Dorje Shugden) and how his reincarnations are totally erased from the system.

    The good thing in my observation is that whatever is happening, Dorje Shugden continue His Holy ways to protect and help those who prays to Him. His conduct and way of His compassion to sentient beings never wavered since the 17th century.

    The reincarnated Dalai Lamas since the 5th, all seem to be in favour of worship to Dorje Shugden until the 14th who now restart the conspiracy against Dorje Shugden. A follow through of the 5th Dalai Lama? To me it looks like that.

    So what is the moral of this very long history of the BAN, which is not so recent as in the 1980s but planned way ahead in history.

    Do we Shugden followers seeing the truth in all the controversies be deterred in our reverence to such a great Protector and Buddha? Personally as I can see the deeper conspiracy, the more I believe we hold fast to our practice and trust and the goodness of Shugden practice will prevail against all odds even to the chaos created by the Dalai Lama of double versions of Karmapas, Great Lamas and so forth.

    We must be steadfast for the BAN to be down as there is too much ”wickedness” towards this Great Protector and the light at the end of the tunnel is near.

  5. Interesting yet sad for the Tulku’s reincarnation. Since when political issue has control over enlightened beings? It seems so ridiculous however it is happening right now. I was wondering the “fake” or the incarnation recognized by HHDL is actually another emanation of the real Tulku? I heard enlightened beings can have few emanations namely body, speech and mind. The mind emanation would be the main emanation. Am i correct?

  6. All these controversies and problems is created by the Dalai Lama. Any man can see that the tulku recognition is thrown into disarray and so many confused
    students about who to look to for guidance.

    So despite the Dalai Lama being so blatantly being responsible for so much dispute about the who the real reincarnate lamas why does the CTA not stop or advise the Dalai Lama. Are they sheep? Don’t they have a mind of their own.

    Surely it is permissible to ask the Dalai Lama’s motivations for creating a rift between practitioners and students.

  7. I respect your position on Dorje Shugden, but I think it is insane insulting the Dalai Lama at the expense of the Tibetan people. His Holiness showed only a recommendation to this deity and never suppressed religious freedom.

  8. WOW. Now everyone is trying to avoid HH Dalai Lama’s involvement in recognising the reincarnation of a tulku. His Holiness not only created confusion between people but also disharmony is the school. Having two recognised tulkus in the same school will indeed bring many confusion to people outside. Who do we seek guidance? Thank you dorejeshudgen.com for providing us with these informative articles and we have an insight on what’s happening with all these political issues. All of us should be aware of what’s going on out there and what has HH the Dalai Lama created between the schools.

  9. To split and divide, it is an effective way to confuse one’s opponents and to garner support from external parties. People who are unaware of the traditional practices of the Tibetan Buddhist schools will fall for the antics of the laughing, smiling and peace-loving Dalai Lama. His Holiness speaks about modernisation and democracy but by doing so, he is elevating himself to a place of importance when in the past, religious decisions that were duties of the head of each of the four lineages are now conveniently snatched by the Dalai Lama.

    Democracy is not a one-man-show even if he is a Buddhist monk in exile that wins a Nobel Peace Prize.

  10. The Dalai Lama is dipping his finger in every pie and creating havoc with the creation of duplicate tulkus. His involvement brings about division and dissension in Buddhism and the Tibetan society. Why on earth does Chenrezig wants to flex his muscle in the role that is not called for traditionally?

    I believe China will pick its own 15th Dalai Lama when the time comes and I hope that it will not clash with the choice that will be recognised by CTA. This will mean there will be double 15th Dalai Lama and this will be the beginning of another huge issue.

  11. All these high Lama recognition suppose to have no any mistake but because of the ban there is always has conflict between the practitioner pro DS and pro Dalai Lama . As we can see there is no unity between the Tibetan so is very difficult for the lineage to grow for the dharma to spread.

  12. I always thought that the recognition of the various tulkus did not rest on any one person but rather to the last incarnation’s clues given and a committee armed with the clues as well as traditionally recognized methods. I thought this was such that their would be no controversy on the recognition. Looks like that was a very erroneous thought.

    It starting to look like a free for all. Maybe that’s why the Theravadians do not have tulkus?

  13. What will happen once the Dalai Lama enters into clear light? Whatever it is, at the end of the day, the incarnation of the Dalai Lama still has to go through the golden urn draw to identify THE ONE. It is a tradition that has been followed since Qing dynasty. Most importantly, this selection procedure was accepted by the Tibetans.

    It makes no sense to have two Dalai Lama, it will make people lose confidence in Gelug lineage, like what is happening in Karma Kagyu tradition now. We are in a generated era now, it is important to do what we can to preserve the lineage. If the CTA really treasure the precious Tibetan Buddhism, they should find ways to come to an agreement with the Chinese government and stop go against them.

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.…Instead of turning away people who practise Dorje Shugden, we should be kind to them. Give them logic and wisdom without fear, then in time they give up the ‘wrong’ practice. Actually Shugden practitioners are not doing anything wrong. But hypothetically, if they are, wouldn’t it be more Buddhistic to be accepting? So those who have views against Dorje Shugden should contemplate this. Those practicing Dorje Shugden should forbear with extreme patience, fortitude and keep your commitments. The time will come as predicted that Dorje Shugden’s practice and it’s terrific quick benefits will be embraced by the world and it will be a practice of many beings.

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