The 17th Karmapa and the 11th Panchen Lama – a Chinese conspiracy?

H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama and H.H. the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley

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 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje Rinpoche and the very young 11th Panchen Lama

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.

This is a screenshot extracted from the video mentioned above

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.

H.E. Gangchen Rinpoche meets the young Chinese-backed 11th Panchen Lama

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.

H.H. Gaden Trisur Lungrik Namgyal Rinpoche meets with the 11th Panchen Lama Gyancain Norbu

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5 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. The stance of CTA is really confusing. On one hand, they do not agree with lamas who are close with China; on the other hand, they seem to support the 17th Karmapa who obviously has a very close relationship with the Chinese. If CTA’s concern is really about Tibet’s independence, why do they keep a close relationship with the 17th Karmapa? They should keep a distance with all lamas who are close to the Chinese, regardless of who they are.

    For so many years now CTA did not have any progress in freeing Tibet, this makes me think that the suppression on Dorje Shugden practice is simply to cover their incompetency. They convenient put the blame on Dorje Shugden practitioners saying that their practice has created obstacles to their ‘free tibet’ campaign.

  2. I couldn’t stop laughing as I read through the article! Not in a put down way, but how the CTA thinks they have control over everything only to find themselves being slapped across the face.

    The bigger issue here, is that the DL endorsed Karmapa, do not have to listen to HHDL. By meeting the Panchen Lama that was not supported by the DL shows us clearly that although HHDL supports Orgyen Trinley in so many ways, spiritually, the Karmapa do not need to listen or follow what the DL says.

    I love it when people react in ways that is not motivated due to ‘friendship’ but because it is the right thing to do. The Karmapa shows us that, CTA doesn’t. Why? Look at how they brand Gangchen Rinpoche etc for meeting the Panchen Lama. These CTA guys will find any reason to bad mouth DS practitioners to the point where stupidity overrides logic.

  3. I like this

  4. Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche before paranirvana answered the question about where to look after his next incarnation- “ask Karmapa, he will know it”. So next incarnation of Kyabje Tenga Rinpoche will end the Karmapa Controversy.

  5. Urgen Thrinley was educated in China, was, as the article indicates, selected by both China and the Dalai lama, which was political, rather than spiritual; do you really expect him to be motivated by lama-disciple relationship? At any rate, as a Kagyu, he may not see the Dalai Lama as his teacher, but rather Tai Situ, the Kagyu regent who (against tradition, and without the consent of Shamar Rinpoche) faxed the Dalai Lama asking if Urgen Thrinley would be appropriate to pick as Karmapa. Though the Dalai Lama only responded that it would be appropriate if all four (Kagyu, including Shamar Rinpoche) regents were in agreement, and although Shamar Rinpoche wasn’t in agreement, Tai Situ went through with the recognition. China backed this, so you see, this is a time where politics interfered with religion;( perhaps freedom of religion is something that the CTA would like to consider? Along with separating church and state? This would help Buddhism considerably.) So, here is the point: if the DL picks someone for political reasons rather than spiritual ones, then you know, it doesn’t seem unlikely for that person to follow their own political motives.

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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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