Letters to the Editor

Leaving aside Keith Dowman's doubts about the letter of prediction as a means for recognizing the Karmapa, he reveals a significant misunderstanding of reincarnation itself in his question, "Was it wise to recognize a Karmapa born in a Chinese-controlled area?" If you believe in reincarnation according to the Tibetan tradition, then you accept that a reincarnate lama consciously chooses rebirth.

Dowman also misconstrues the Dalai Lama's recognition of the Karmapa. It was not only on the basis of information that Situ Rinpoche and Gyaltsap Rinpoche offered him during their contact in early June 1992, that the Dalai Lama confirmed the recognition of the Seventeenth Karmapa, but also on the basis of his own experience. Prior to June 1992, His Holiness had a vision where he saw mountains without trees and covered with meadows, which rose from a valley where two streams flowed down either side. In the air resounded the name "Karmapa." The nomad community of Bakor, homeland of the Karmapa predicted in his letter, is situated in a valley that exactly fits this description. In confirming the reincarnation of the Karmapa, the Dalai Lama was not only responding to the current situation, but was following his own inner wisdom.

In addition to the above, Dowman presents as fact highly disputed events without noting that they are controversial. At least two of the three regents deny the existence of any letter previous to the one presented by Situ Rinpoche in the spring of 1992, yet Dowman accepts as fact a first letter consisting of a verse on meditation, which he claims was opened in 1985.

In March of 1992, the four regents agreed that Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche would make inquiries in secret about the Karmapa during his visit to Tsurphu Monastery, the main seat of the Karmapas in Tibet, where he had planned to give a series of initiations and teachings. This would be possible because Jamgon Rinpoche had planned this journey long before and all the documents were ready, but Jamgon Rinpoche's tragic death prevented him from carrying out his intention. The actual search was then carried out by a delegation from Tsurphu Monastery, not by the one Jamgon Rinpoche was going to lead to Tibet, as Dowman states. This is a fundamental mistake in that the initial search party consisted of Tibetans residing in Tibet. It was led by Lama Tomo of Tsurphu and fully supported by Drupon Dechen Rinpoche, appointed as the head ofTsurphu by the Sixteenth Karmapa.

There are other significant errors. The Shamarpa was not met by violent opposition when he brought the army into the compound of the monastery in Rumtek; the crowd parted peacefully to let him pass. Dowman states, "In March 1992, Situ Rinpoche requested a meeting of the regents in Rumtek." This date is about two years too late. Following the passing of the Sixteenth Karmapa in 1981, the dominant influence in Rumtek was not Shamarpa, as Dowman states, but Jamgon Rinpoche, who built the new Karma Shri Nanlanda Institute and a primary school, raised the majority of funds for building the new monks' quarters, provided scholarships and sponsors for many monks, and spent a good part of the year in Rumtek offering advice and support to members of both the lay and monastic communities.

Other smaller errors are numerous. The mother had a single dream (not two) of cranes (not Guru Rinpoche) who presented her with yogurt on top of which was a letter in golden script. There were three suns (not four) in the sky when the Karmapa left for Tsurphu. It was Kalek (not Kaleb) Monastery where the Karmapa spent time during his early years as a monk. He arrived at Tsurphu on June 15 (not 17), and this was merely his arrival at Tsurphu, not his installation as the Karmapa; this actually occurred with his enthronement on September 27. And so forth.

It is unfortunate that an article of such importance should be full of mistakes on so many levels (not to mention the tone of the article). It seems that Mr. Dowman was more interested in promoting personal arguments than in a careful investigation. I do agree that it is vital for everyone touched by these events to focus on the practice of meditation and study. It is through nourishing the strengths of the tradition that it will prosper and move beyond the present difficulties.

Michele Martin
Northbrook, Illinois

It is a pity that Mr. Dowman should rely on hearsay instead of research. By accepting inaccuracies gleaned from the rumor mill of Boudanath as fact, he contributes to the unfortunate confusion surrounding the recognition of the Seventeenth Karmapa.

His assertion that the "rift" between Shamarpa and Tai Situpa originated in school days is a bit off the mark, even if only chronology is considered—none of the tulkus went to school, as it happens. Distance between them began after the deaths of the Sixteenth Karmapa and the late Rumtek General Secretary, when the Shamarpa's and/or Topga Yugyal's handling of the default stewardship of the property and other aspects of the Gyalwa Karmapa raised questions. When disturbing doubts arose, everyone was naturally more cautious, though they also, naturally, did not advertise the fact. Doubts occurred not only to Tai Situpa, but also to Jamgon Kongtrul and Goshir Gyaltsapa. They all wished to settle this in-house, and they held to this policy until Shamarpa, upon returning to Rumtek five weeks after Jamgon Kongtrul's death, began to discuss at public meetings issues previously kept to themselves. When Tai Situpa and Tsurphu Goshir Gyaltsapa returned to Rumtek after receiving the confirmation of the Dalai Lama, they announced the recognition of the Seventeenth Karmapa and clarified the main points of the recognition process. The solidarity of the four had included indications for locating the Seventeenth Karmapa. This may seem a strange way to handle things to many Westerners, but it is normal Tibetan procedure for dealing with internal problems. Public dialogue about such matters is an alien concept to most Tibetans.

Another error is the statement that Tai Situpa, "intent on having his candidate recognized," published the contents of the predictive letter of the Sixteenth Karmapa after the meeting in Rumtek on March 12. The lamas concerned with locating the Karmapa in Tibet were, of course, notified, as agreed at the March 12 meeting, but the contents of the letter were not made public until after the announcement of the recognition of the Seventeenth Karmapa on June 12, 1992. It was this meeting that the Shamarpa inexplicably disrupted with a contingent of Indian army soldiers—who were, incidentally, not sent by the government. The Chief Minister of Sikkim, Nur Bahadur Bhandari, was furious at this interference in a peaceful meeting, and he took it up with New Delhi. The Indian army command and the government denied all knowledge of orders to send troops to Rumtek. Though there was rumored meddling by the Bhutanese, it was widely assumed that the soldiers were bribed—a common enough practice on the Indian subcontinent. Documentation of this can be readily supplied: it was covered rather fully by the Indian media.

In any statement Tai Situpa has made about the situation he has refrained from criticism of Shamarpa or anyone else, encouraging people not to dwell on inauspicious events, but to be glad that the Karmapa has finally been found. The contrary may be said about the Shamarpa, whose insinuations—and I am very sorry to say it, fabrications—about the history of the problem as well as the veracity and motivation of Tai Situpa and Goshir Gyaltsapa have been publicized by some of his supporters in Europe—the chief propagandists being Ole and Hannah Nydahl. These are sad observations to make, but his actions invite them. The Shamarpa's request for analysis of the Sixteenth Karmapa's letter might be seen as a nice piece of manipulation, since he knows well that graphological examination would appeal to Westerners but would horrify the Tibetans, who consider the letter a sacred relic. Tai Situpa is not in a position to submit the letter for examination. Only the Karmapa himself would have the brief to do this, and that would be over the objections of the tulkus, lamas, and monks, who have sent letters from Tibet, Nepal, and Sikkim asking the senior tulkus to do no such thing.

Mr. Dowman's glib remarks about the Seventeenth Karmapa being Tai Situpa's candidate deserve scrutiny, along with the impression he gives that the choosing of the Karmapa might be a matter of opinion. None of this has any relevance for anyone who accepts the premise of the mystical aspect—and power—of a tulku as significant as the Seventeenth Karmapa, considered to be at the highest level of bodhisattva manifestation. Besides putting his own credibility into question, his article does a disservice to readers who might like to get some clarity rather than more claptrap.

Lea Terhune
New Delhi, India

It was a treat to read Mr. Dowman's well written, fairly balanced article. However, it confused me on one of the main points that it attempted to clarify. Mr. Dowman says that the disputed second letter—the one the Tai Situ Rinpoche showed to Shamar Rinpoche indicating the precise name and location of the child—was presented to Shamar Rinpoche in the summer of 1992. If this were the case—and not a typographical error—it means that this letter was presented after Tai Situ Rinpoche visited the tulkus-elect on his trip to Kham in 1991, following the visit of Jamgon Rinpoche. I met Tai Situ Rinpoche in Beijing after he returned. Tai Situ Rinpoche recognized the Seventeenth Trungpa Tulku at this time and I guess that since he was in the Derge region he also visited the candidate for the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, whose family is from there. So, the question is: was Mr. Dowman aware of this? Also, does Mr. Dowman have any knowledge of what Jamgon Rinpoche said about the Seventeenth Karmapa after he returned from Kham? Please clarify.

Lee Weingrad
Beijing, China


I was aware when writing the article on the search for the Karmapa that it would not satisfy those with political involvement. Without joining any side, but with a detached look at the entire process of intrigue, my article was an attempt to define a middle ground to which devotees of the Karmapa could relate, and at the same time provide a space in which issues of substance could be addressed. I regret the lack of space that forced me to abbreviate the account of events. The first three correspondents have indicated where I erred in that respect from their ideal standpoint. It seems to me that the entire issue should be depoliticized and that the politicians need to lighten up.

In response to Tenzing Thinlay:

Beru Khyentse Rinpoche relates that the Sixteenth Karmapa taught that he would return in numerous emanations in this one lifetime. This does not imply that there should be more than one Karmapa enthroned. In general, it should be evident to Mr. Tenzing Thinlay, a resident of California, that now that the dharma has been transmitted to the West it is no longer an exclusive Tibetan domain; that the activity of the tulkus is under an international spotlight; that it is unrealistic to expect Western initiates to remain mute observers—however limited their understanding may be; and that Tibetan culture may sometimes benefit from outside input.

In response to Michele Martin:

Ms. Martin's letter shows that my account of events is not accepted by everyone as fact. For an account of events from the Shamarpa's partisans, The Karmapa Papers—an extensive document by the Shamarpa's followers in Europe—gives a diary of political events accompanied by a prejudiced commentary.

In the first place, it is one thing for a bodhisattva to consciously take rebirth for the sake of all beings; it is another for politically self-interested parties, and just ignorant sentient beings, to be able to recognize that infant bodhisattva as a particular tulku. (2) Indeed, the Dalai Lama's decision to recognize Ugyen Thinley as the Seventeenth Karmapa was supported by a dream in which he saw a geomantically significant landscape and heard "Karmapa!" resounding. Such landscapes are not unusual in Tibet. (3) Concerning the first Letter of Intimation, to be more precise, two regents retracted their acceptance of it after it had been superseded by the second letter (Tai Situ in Rumtek, June 12, 1992). It is difficult to escape the conclusion that this essential communication on meditation practice from the last Karmapa is the key to the situation. (4) The party that searched for the Karmapa in Kham was indeed led by the Tsurphu Lamas. (5) It was the Shamarpa's party that was greeted with violent opposition. The Shamarpa himself was not attacked. (6) Tai Situ's March 1992 request for a meeting of the regents in Rumtek was the final one and the most important. (7) Jamgon Kongtrul's beneficient influence at Rumtek is not in doubt; whether it was stronger than the Shamarpa's is a moot point. (8) I apologize for the picture editor's error of identification in the caption. (9) I make the distinction between the Karmapa's installation on June 17 and his enthronement on September 27.

In response to Lea Terhune:

Certainly Kathmandu was rife with rumor of the Karmapa's succession during 1992, particularly after the Rumtek fracas, and undeniably there was difficulty sustaining a clear view. In this climate it was all the more important to eliminate unsubstantiated statements from my article, and this I rigorously attempted to do. Ms. Terhune adds some privileged information to the controversy from Tai Situ's inner circle and a cogent mystical plea for support of the tulku system, but she is shamelessly prone to the interpretive bias that informs her entire letter. By taking sides, identifying the Shamarpa as the villain of the piece, inevitably she enters the fray—which by implication she has characterized as deplorable. In this way devotees become victims of Lamaist politics. I would stress that, like Ms. Terhune, I am delighted that the Seventeenth Karmapa has been enthroned and that there is a consensus of support behind him.

In response to Lee Weingrad:

It appears that Jamgon Kongrrul did not visit Kalec [sic] Gompa or meet Ugyen Thinley on his 1991 journey to Kham. If, as I suggest, he was aware of the candidate, or was informed of his existence, no information about the report that he brought back was made public. I am informed that Tai Situ did meet Ugyen Thinley on his Kham trip of summer 1991 and this preceded his sharing the Second Letter with the Shamarpa.

Keith Dowman
Kathmandu, Nepal

Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

You must be a Tricycle Community member to use this feature.

1. Join as a Basic Member

Signing up to Tricycle newsletters will enroll you as a free Tricycle Basic Member.You can opt out of our emails at any time from your account screen.

2. Enter Your Message Details

Enter multiple email addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.