Ogyen Trinley Dorje Rinpoche, one of the two main Karmapa incarnates, has been plagued by rumors for years that he is a Chinese spy. For this, he has been under scrutiny by both the Tibetan community as well as the Indian government. Yet he is considered close to HH the Dalai Lama and receives no criticism from either the Dalai Lama or his government, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), for his close relations with the Chinese.
Implications of Chinese Support
Ogyen Trinley was enthroned at Tibet’s Tsurphu Monastery – the Karmapas’ traditional seat – as the 17th Karmapa in 1992, which was ratified by the Chinese government. This was particularly notable because Ogyen Trinley was the first reincarnated Lama to be recognized and endorsed by the Chinese government. Ogyen Trinley even met the President of China Jiang Zemin in front of a 100,000-strong crowd in October 1994.
When a 14-year-old Ogyen Trinley Rinpoche left China in 2000, his relative ease of passage from China across the Himalayas prompted suspicions that China had helped him to “run away” across the border. This, compounded by the lack of criticism from China after Ogyen Trinley’s departure from China, has led to various accusations of Ogyen Trinley as a Chinese spy. Accusations of being a Chinese spy are very detrimental to any Tibetan, let alone someone of such standing as the Karmapa. With the controversy that has arisen in the recognition of two Karmapas, Ogyen Trinley Dorje and Trinley Thaye Dorje, it is especially critical that each of these contenders have as clean a reputation as possible.
As if the situation was not complicated enough, the Karmapa’s exile headquarters Rumtek is located in Sikkim, which lies on the border between China and India. Due to the political tension over Sikkim between China and India, the Indian government would be gravely concerned with security implications of Ogyen Trinley being a Chinese spy.
These allegations became most serious in 2011, when large amounts of various currencies including Chinese currency was found in Ogyen Trinley’s residence, Gyuto Tantric College at Dharamsala, which resulted in the Indian police officially charging Ogyen Trinley with conspiracy. He was eventually absolved but the stigma remains and has kept some parties wary of Ogyen Trinley’s positioning within India.
The Karmapa meets the Panchen Lama
The second recognition of a “Living Buddha” by the Chinese government was of the 5-year-old Gyancain Norbu Banquin Erdeni, as the 11th Panchen Lama in 1995. This recognition was controversial because of the unexplained and sudden disappearance of the other Panchen Lama who was recognised by the Dalai Lama. This continues to be a contested issue, with many who still do not recognize the Beijing-backed Panchen as the authentic incarnation.
However, in what may be regarded as a surprising development, the Dalai-Lama-backed Ogyen Trinley has been known to meet and maintain a good friendship with the young Panchen Lama Gyancain Norbu. Here, for example, they can be seen sharing the traditional greeting of touching foreheads as a mark of mutual respect between two high Lamas.
The Karmapa issue is a highly complex one which we will not go into here. We do not have any opinion on this controversy, as this is an internal issue of the Karma Kagyu lineage, which we are not qualified to comment on. However, what we do wish to point out is this: it is clear that Ogyen Trinley has a strong relationship with China and he makes no attempt to conceal this friendship or his support of the Chinese-backed lamas, such as the 11th Panchen Lama Gyancain Norbu. China also is very explicit about their support and endorsement of Ogyen Trinley’s position as the Karmapa and his relationship with the 11th Panchen Lama. This video (also available here) – of Ogyen Trinley meeting the 11th Panchen Lama – shows clearly this closeness. This video is likely to have been taken in 1999. (See Notes 109, p. 322. “Music in the Sky: The Life, Art & Teachings of the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje”, Michele Martin, 2003).
Meeting so openly with the 11th Panchen Lama and maintaining such explicitly strong ties with China is tantamount to ‘betraying’ the Dalai Lama and such behavior would be seen as that of a “traitor” to Tibet. This is because the Karmapa would be supporting someone who is not endorsed by the Dalai Lama. Rather, the Karmapa is obviously supporting a Panchen Lama candidate who the Chinese – who are purportedly so opposed to the Tibetans and the cause for Tibet – selected and enthroned in lieu of the candidate picked by the Dalai Lama. Not only is this politically incorrect but in spiritual terms, the Karmapa’s support of the Chinese-backed Panchen Lama directly breaks the Karmapa’s samaya (spiritual relationship) with the Dalai Lama.
Yet there is no criticism from the CTA and the Dalai Lama continues to have a close relationship with Ogyen Trinley. Never is he branded a traitor to the Dalai Lama nor accused by any Tibetan of taking Chinese funds and being a Chinese spy. Considering how fiercely the CTA and Tibetans defend their cause for Tibetan independence against the Chinese, their lack of response towards Ogyen Trinley’s relationship with China is very unusual.
Inconsistent and unfair behavior by the Tibetan authorities
On the other hand, when renowned lamas such as H.E. Gangchen Rinpoche and H.H. Gaden Trisur Lungrik Namgyal meet the 11th Panchen Lama, they are criticized for being traitors to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan cause for independence. Other practitioners of the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden are also often wrongfully accused as being Chinese spies and taking money from the Chinese. This arose after the Dalai Lama proclaimed that the practice of Dorje Shugden would harm the cause for the freedom of Tibet and threaten the life of the Dalai Lama; he claimed that anyone who continued their Dorje Shugden practice would be breaking their samaya with him and should therefore discontinue any association with him and other Tibetans.
And so, we would like to respectfully ask the CTA why are there different standards set for the Karmapa and for Dorje Shugden practitioners like H.E. Gangchen Rinpoche? Both have friendly relations with the China and would therefore be breaking their samaya with the Dalai Lama. So why are the attitudes to each of these lamas inconsistent? Why is it permissible for one Lama to associate so closely and officially with the Chinese, but not for another? Why is it that while H.E. Gangchen Rinpoche and H.H. Gaden Trisur Rinpoche are pointedly excluded from the mainstream Tibetan community, the Karmapa is constantly being promoted and supported by the Dalai Lama and even lauded as a potential heir to him?
The double standards practiced within the CTA – and therefore upheld and supported by the Dalai Lama – are becoming increasingly obvious and clear. We point this out not to defame the Dalai Lama and his people but to request them, as leaders of the exiled Tibetan community, for a fairer way of responding and treating their own people. For it is only when they exercise true equality and grant equal basic rights and freedoms to all under their jurisdiction will the CTA begin to be respected as an independent body capable of governing their community.