Banning of Tulkus in History

16th Century devotional statue of the Shamarpa Tulku

The CTA (Central Tibetan Administration) and its predecessor, the Tibetan government has long been well known for their hard-line policies against Tulkus and their spiritual institutions. If one were to take a long hard look at the history books, one would find a number of high-profile cases where great lamas were marginalized, their great residences seized, students dispersed and their line of incarnations completely wiped out from historical records.

A recent picture of the current incarnation – the 14th Shamarpa Mipham Chokyi Lodro

The Shamar Rinpoches are one of the highest-ranking Tulkus in the Karma Kagyu School. During the lifetime of the 10th Shamarpa, he was the brother of the 3rd Panchen Lama Palden Yeshe, the second highest lama in Tibet. Unfortunately, the 10th Shamarpa developed a very poor relationship with the Tibetan government at Lhasa due to a series of ensuing events. After the Panchen Lama entered clear light, a conflict broke out over the handling of the inheritance. Shamarpa received none of the inheritance due to the fact that he was a Kagyu lama and being a lama, he has his own estate and inheritance.

However, tensions grew from that day on, which led to the Shamarpa travelling to Nepal on a teaching trip. Shortly thereafter, a letter from the Gurkha king was sent to the Eighth Dalai Lama, claiming that the Shamarpa was held hostage and sought ransom. The government deliberated and felt it was a hoax and refused to pay the ransom. Subsequently, the Gurkha army invaded Tibet and nearly captured Lhasa the capital. In the midst of chaos, the Eighth Dalai Lama stood his ground and remained in Lhasa thus inspiring his people to rally an army to defend Lhasa. After a fierce battle, the Gurkha army was pushed back and peace talks ensued.

As a result of the talks, the blame was placed squarely on the Shamarpa’s shoulders and he was tried for treason. The Tibetan government seized the Shamarpa’s estate and his line of incarnation was banned. They seized his red ceremonial hat and sent it to Lhasa where rumors circulated that it was buried under the front steps of the Jokhang Cathedral so pilgrims would have to step over his hat to make their devotional rounds – the desecration of the main symbol of Shamarpa’s spiritual authority. His incarnation would not be reinstated until the 20th Century.

An intense devotional portrait of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen

The Shamarpa is not the only lama who had received such treatment. During the time of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, the fame of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen exceeded that of the Dalai Lama. Both lamas were great disciples of the great Panchen Lama Lobsang Chokyi Gyeltsen. It would seem that the Dalai Lama wouldn’t be able to ascend to his position of authority unless Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen was eliminated. Therefore, tensions arose between the disciples of the Dalai Lama and those of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen.

The worst happened, Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen was mysteriously murdered and rumors persisted that the murder was attributed to the followers of the Dalai Lama. However, the Dalai Lama knew nothing of the plot and was greatly saddened by the sudden demise of this great lama. Subsequently, the Tibetan government seized the deceased lama’s estate and his incarnation name was downgraded in historical records and the search for his incarnation was mysteriously banned.

Panchen Lobsang Chokyi Gyeltsen (as depicted in this thangka) was the tutor to the Great Fifth Dalai Lama and Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen

Finally, another Tulku that received a similar fate was Reting Rinpoche, the Regent of Tibet who came to power after the death of the Great Thirteenth Dalai Lama. Reting Rinpoche formed the search party responsible for the discovery of the boy who would be enthroned as the 14th Dalai Lama. Reting Rinpoche discovered his candidate in Taktser and the divination of the Panchen Lama supported his claim. For the right candidate to be enthroned, Reting Rinpoche had to come down hard on Langdun, the chief minister at that time and other corrupt officials that had their own rival candidate to the golden throne of the Dalai Lama. This angered the powerful Lhasa aristocracy that supported the chief minister with his candidate.

However, Reting Rinpoche managed to push for the enthronement of the boy from Taktser as the 14th Dalai Lama. Then, Reting Rinpoche decided to enter into retreat while Taktra Rinpoche was enthroned as the next Regent. But his time in seclusion would be short-lived as the Nechung oracle suddenly announced that the Dalai Lama was in imminent danger during a New Year’s celebration. Reting Rinpoche broke his retreat and traveled to Lhasa only to find that the Lhasa aristocracy had grown in strength.

During that time, the father of the Dalai Lama had become highly influential in Lhasa. Therefore, he was the first target and was poisoned to death. Then, there was a foiled assassination attempt on Taktra Rinpoche and somehow, Reting Rinpoche was implicated and was promptly arrested. He died in prison from the horrendous torture that was inflicted upon him. Thereafter, he was typecasted as a villain and his estate seized and his subsequent incarnations were outlawed. All future incarnations of Reting Rinpoche are banned from being recognized just like in the case of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen and the previous Shamarpa.

The official portrait of the Regent of Tibet, Reting Rinpoche

These are some examples of how the Tibetan government had treated some of these ill-fated Tulkus of the past. For political reasons, even high lamas are not immune from the inconsistent policies of the Tibetan government and they can be stripped of their estate, banned and stories of lies and malicious comments concocted in order to justify the bans they had placed upon these high lamas. These stories may or may not have been investigated depending on the political agenda of a partisan and biased government. Therefore, the validity of such bans and policies that had been practiced are questionable and often shrouded in intrigue.

Mullin, Glenn H. (2001). The Fourteen Dalai Lamas: A Sacred Legacy of Reincarnation. Clear Light Publishers. Santa Fe, NM


For the full life story of Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen, watch these Youtube videos:-

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7 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. This is my first time reading about the case of Sharmapa and Reting Rinpoche, I know it must be a very hot topic, especially Reting Rinpoche’s as it happened so recently. Obviously, I’m fully aware of the incident that took place on Tulku Drakpa Gyeltsen.

    How unfortunate that the Dharma has been downgraded by people, hungry for influence, power and money… that high, enlightened Lamas have to go through these difficulties… to the extent of humiliation. The saddest part is, these actions has suppressed the growth of Dharma and deprived so many from having these great Lamas in the world to turn the wheel of Dharma.

    This is even more reason for ‘religion’ to be separated from government. I know it has been that way for awhile now, but it is so obvious that the CTA is still crawling behind HHDL throne and have no opinion themselves besides what HHDL uttered. This is not the fault of the Dalai Lama but the people that run CTA! What they are doing now is not enough! If they have done their job, the ban on Dorje Shugden would have been lifted a long time ago.

  2. Have been following buddhism since birth. What troubles me a lot is the association of buddhism with politics.

  3. Unfortunately, the history of Buddhism, at least in Tibet, is full of political intrigue. Since Tibet was a Buddhist country, and remains one in exile, we must all learn from this not to motivate our religion with politics. If it could happen there, it could happen anywhere. Fortunately, we can do Dorje Shugden prayers to help with this:). For further reading on the history of issues with the Kagyus, including the 10th Karmapa, who was attacked and exiled by forces allied with the 5th Dalai Lama, please see Shamar Rinpoche’s book “A Golden Swan in Turbulent Waters.”

  4. As with any political institution, what they cannot handle, they delete. It serves as a intermediate “solution” but often than not returns like a wheel of sharp weapons on those who leash them out at first hand.

    Whether we wanna judge that politics and religion should or should not be mixed, it’s rather evident that even with the ban on these highly evolved Tulkus, they are still back and some are back stronger to help sentient beings. It’s very clear that these two run on different terms.

    In the monasteries, Tulkus are enthroned in order to serve the Buddha Dharma and sentient beings, if there’s a need to be in political rule, they will do it willingly. But when the political party does not know how to handle their rule and delete them arbitrarily, it creates karma for their nation not to be helped on the long run.

  5. SF

  6. YE

  7. In secular history, there have been cases where dictators attempted to rewrite history. Some have been successful for a short period of time. But history itself will self correct. But, most times, that comes too late for a proper redress for the parties wronged.

    Tibetan religious orders have been susceptible to political intrigues for too long and it is becoming ingrained in the culture. Until and unless the separation of church and state can happen, the dharma will continue to decline due to the avarice of humans.

    Hopefully this is what the Dalai Lama is aiming for in this controversy of the ban on the practice of Dorje Shugden. Maybe that’s why he demean himself by saying that Chenrezig, a Buddha can be harmed.

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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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