True Spiritual Leadership: Karmapa vs Dalai Lama

The late Shamarpa with H.H. the 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje

On 11 June 2014, the world lost a light when news of the passing of Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche Mepham Chokyi Lodro surfaced. Devotees from all around the world mourned and prepared for the final rites of H.H the 14th Shamarpa, which the late master himself had indicated should be performed in Nepal.

The proper legal procedures were observed and the appropriate permits obtained in preparation for the final journey of Shamar Rinpoche’s holy kudung (physical remains) from India to Nepal on July 13, 2014. An unforeseen complication arose however; the government of Nepal suddenly withdrew their approval for Shamar Rinpoche’s kudung to enter the country.

While high lamas and disciples from near and far gathered in Shar Minub monastery in Kathmandu in anticipation of the final rites, Shamar Rinpoche’s kudung remained enshrined in the Diwakar Vihara Buddhist Academy in Kalimpong, India and his administration worked around the clock to resolve the concerns of the Nepalese government.

As the end of July approached, permission was still not granted even with students and relatives petitioning the government and making heartfelt appeals to the Prime Minister of Nepal. One can only imagine the anger, frustration, disappointment and emotional outcry during the fight to bring Shamarpa’s holy kudung back to Nepal, the place with which his line of incarnations has a strong karmic bond and where he had been actively spreading the Dharma.

A report from the Shamarpa’s official website (click to enlarge)

With the situation deteriorating and tempers flaring, the spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu sect, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje rose above all to guide his people, stating and advising them:

This is a time for wisdom and responsibility. We must guard ourselves from any thoughts, words and actions that could lead to harm or unnecessary karma. ~ H.H. the 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje

This is a strong, apt and powerful statement from the Karmapa, befitting a true spiritual leader, to forewarn his disciples of the karma they can create for themselves should they be misguided by anger and frustration thus leading to violence or unfavorable actions.

Leaders should always look out for the welfare of those under their guidance, and this is even more necessary when it comes to spiritual leadership. It is clear that the Karmapa does as he preaches, that the welfare of all his disciples are in his consideration, and his statement alone as Spiritual Head of the Karma Kagyu lineage did much to prevent his followers and those of the Shamarpa from creating harm for others and themselves.

H.H. the 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, considered by many to be the leader of all Tibetan Buddhists. Knowing full well that hatred and discrimination is running rife amongst his followers and the Tibetan citizenry, the Dalai Lama does nothing to advise them against the violence shown towards Dorje Shugden practitioners.

As the temporal and spiritual leader of Tibet, there is no doubt that news of the attack on Gen Chonze of Trijang Ladrang, the ruthless occupation of Domo Geshe Rinpoche’s monastery not once but twice, and the aggression of Dalai Lama supporters towards peaceful demonstrators in Europe, amongst many other unjust events, would have reached the Dalai Lama’s ears.

One would expect nothing less of a spiritual leader (and a Nobel Peace Prize winner to boot) than to put a stop to such actions that accomplish nothing but to divide and separate the community further. Most bizarrely however, the Dalai Lama has done nothing of the sort – no reprimand or advice has crossed his lips, and the violence and discrimination against Dorje Shugden practitioners continues unabated.

Why has the Dalai Lama remained silent regarding the widespread and proven incidents of violence perpetrated by his supporters? One need only compare his actions to those of the Karmapa, who endeavors to protect his followers from performing any sort of harmful action, even before it has happened.

The Central Tibetan Adminstration (CTA) has even published a hit list of Dorje Shugden practitioners. Why has the Dalai Lama kept silent about the actions of his own administration, unless its publication was also approved by him?

H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama is famed for his advice on inter-religious tolerance and peace, except when it comes to Dorje Shugden practitioners

The tenets of Buddhism do not encourage the harming of others, let alone acts of violence. The Dalai Lama himself has quoted this in his recent plea to Sri Lankan monks to stop their acts of violence against minority Muslims, even asking them “to imagine an image of Buddha” before committing anti-Muslims crimes.

If the Dalai Lama can advise Sri Lankan Buddhists against harming those from different religious beliefs, why does he not give the same advice to his people who are squarely against Dorje Shugden worshippers, who also happen to be fellow Buddhists? Doesn’t his tolerance and consideration apply to Dorje Shugden practitioners too? In fact, the Dalai Lama’s silence is an indirect form of approval and encouragement of violent behavior towards Dorje Shugden practitioners.

The Dalai Lama has also spoken out against caste-based discrimination, but in effecting the ban on Dorje Shugden, he has in fact further segregated his own people. Shugden practitioners are not allowed in the three great monasteries of Ganden, Drepung or Sera unless they swear to give up his practice, they are not allowed to attend the Dalai Lama’s teachings, nor do they have equal opportunities and access to education and medical care. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), the Dalai Lama has also done nothing about these acts of discrimination within the Tibetan monastic community.

A spiritual leader’s role is to dispense advice and to teach by example. The 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje is doing that very well. The Dalai Lama would do well to follow his lead rather than silently endorsing atrocities of human rights abuse.

NOTE: The Nepal government eventually relented their stance and allowed the Shamarpa’s kudung to enter Nepal. Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche’s kudung arrived at Shar Minub monastery on 29 July 2014, and the final cremation ceremony took place on 31 July 2014.

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10 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Rejoice in the 17th Karmapa stance in protecting his people, in corporate terms we call it taking ownership. Looking forward to hear more great things about this Karmapa.

    Despite opposition to him ascending the Karmapa throne, due to intervention from the CTA and the Dalai Lama he is composed and he is doing what he has to do. it is unheard of for the Dalai Lama to be in the process of recognizing the 17th Karmapa.

    Shamar Rinpoche always had the privilege to recognise the Karmapa and vice versa. So there is no good or valid reason for CTA and Dalai Lama to recognise the 17th karmapa that was identified by Tai Situ Rinpoche.

  2. I deeply rever the Karmapa (Thaye Dorje) and rejoice in his helping all living beings. Shamar Rinpoche himself displayed many rainbows at his cremation ceremony, to remind his students that he will be back to rescue beings from samsara. The Dalai Lama does not need to get involved in other schools recognition process.

  3. How wonderful to hear the words of the genuine17th Karmapa who actually gives Dharma advice to his devoted followers.I rejoice deeply in this.

  4. This article has highlighted the true spirituality & leadership of a spiritual leader. By warning & advising his followers & those of the Shamarpa from creating unnecessary harm or karma from any actions of body, speech & mind, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa has shown great wisdom & compassion which further exemplified one of the many responsibilities of a true spiritual leader which is to care, love & look after the welfare of those under their guidance.

    True spirituality is to instilled peace, kindness to one & others, it should not be biased & to abandon all violence acts. His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa certainly have all those qualities.

    I rejoice for H.H. the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje & hope that the pro Dalai lama people are reading this & reflect on the disharmony, discrimination & harms they have caused to their fellow Tibetan community which are not doing any good at all to their so call Tibetan cause.

  5. Why would we want to follow a spiritual leader who does hypocrisy and allow injustice actions to be happened among the fellow Tibetan community? What’s the definition of spiritual leader? Seriously, I’m confused. I’m puzzled. I’m not convinced
    by the idea of Westeners crowning HHDL as the spiritual leader of the Buddhism world? The attacks, condemnation, unlawful occupation, blacklist, the physical and mental threatenings to the innocent shugdenpas. Where is the harmony and peace?

    A true spiritual leader like H.H. the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje surely is well respected by all devotees. He embodies Buddha’s wisdom, compassion and tenacity and teach by example. Thank you for highlighting this.

  6. The words offered to his students by H.H. the 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje are words of wisdom and are dharma. Dialogues are the best means to settle disputes. But in the case of Dorje Shugden, no dialogues were offered by the Dalai Lama or his representatives in the CTA. Instead suffering and hardship were meted out to the people who remained steadfast in their Dorje Shugden practice. The Dalai Lama and the CTA should learn and use this example.

  7. As I was reading the first half of this article, the very thought: why did the Dalai Lama not give similar advise to prevent the “thoughts, words and actions that can lead to harm and unnecessary karma”? It is very true how leaders can determine the fate of their followers, therefore, it is of utmost importance to have the right leader.

    I rejoice that, despite his young age, the 17th Karmapa displayed wisdom and compassion that protected his people. Eventually, the final rites and rituals were conducted in Nepal peacefully, i.e. ultimately, when we practice the Dharma, the outcome would be one that is beneficial and “right”.

    On the contrary, I am disappointed in the Dalai Lama for not having taken action over the many years and many occasions of opportunity to prevent and correct the harm of the Dorje Shugden ban. The continued action of body, speech and mind that contradict the Dharma caused the outcome of harm and suffering.

    Anyway, I hope that the example displayed by the 17th Karmapa would be a beacon of example for the Dalai Lama and his people.

  8. Wise words of wisdom from the incredible 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje .A true compassionate and wise spiritual leader that guides his people by stating and advising them on the unnecessary karma that could lead them to harm if they do not guard their thoughts,words and actions.A great leader who does as he preaches.

  9. It has always baffled me, and still does as to why His Holiness Dalai Lama has continued to remain silent for the Dorje Shugden practitioners who are suffering silently. With one simple statement “stop discriminating Dorje Shugden practitioners. Let them have free hand to attend my teachings, to access medical care, etc, just like non shugden practitioners. Stop the violence towards shugdenpas”, he can do so much. But why hasnt he. Why can he interfere with other buddhist sects, why can he express his concerns to sri lankan buddhists but not people under his own spiritual leadership? If there is so much contradiction and hypocrisy in action, then why advice other people when he himself is not doing anything to help his own people?

    Maybe His Holiness should get some tips from the Karmapa

  10. The title of the article has drawn my attention to read this article. Yes, it is very true that a spiritual leader’s role is to dispense advise and to teach by example. Rejoice to the 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje for the wisdom words and advises.

    May Dalai Lama’s followers have merit to read this article, may Dorje Shugden’s ban be lifted to restore the harmony between buddhist practitioners from different schools. Buddha’s teaching is to liberate all sentient being from sufferings and are not to create more sufferings.

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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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