Join our Mailing List

"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Why was the Karmapa's US tour cancelled?

July 19, 2010

By Claude Arpi
July 17, 2010

Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa, has been
denied permission to leave on a two-week
religious tour to the US later this month.

"The Karmapa was scheduled to attend prayer
sessions being organised by Karma Triyana
Dharamchakra centre in Woodstock in New York, but
Indian authorities refused to grant him
permission to visit there," said the Karmapa's
secretary Gompo Tsering. "We fail to understand
that why restrictions were imposed on his
movement as the tour was purely a religious one."

Earlier this year, the young Karmapa was denied
permission to attend a series of religious
teachings in nine European countries.

What could be the reason for the Government's
refusal? Particularly given that the head of the
Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, who
lives in the Gyuto Tantric Monastery, near
Dharamsala, had earlier been granted permission
by the Government of India to visit the United States in May 2008?

Everyone remembers how the 15-year old Karmapa,
in a Bollywood-type escape reached Dharamsala in
January 2001 after crossing the highest Himalayan
passes in the midst of winter, and the initial
reluctance of the Indian government to grant him refugee status.

At that time, some believed that he had been
'planted' by the Chinese to create confusion with
the Sikkim issue (Beijing recognized the Indian
State as a part of India only two years later).

Further a dispute had erupted with 'another
Karmapa' claiming the throne of Rumtek monastery in Sikkim.

The previous Karmapa, the 16th of the lineage,
was one of the greatest Lamas of his generation.
A powerful Yogi, he impressed all those who
approached him, whether Tibetan, Indian or
Western, with his profound wisdom and his aura of strength and peace.

When he passed away in 1981, he left his
monastery of Rumtek in Sikkim as well as hundreds
of Dharma Centres in India and abroad in the
hands of four regents who were supposed to
provide spiritual guidance to his followers during his absence.

When Situ Rinpoche, one of the regents,
discovered a letter of prediction said to have
been written by the old Karmapa prophesying his
rebirth in eastern Tibet and giving the time of
birth and the name of his parents, a dispute
erupted between Situ and another regent, Shamar
Rinpoche who did not approve of Ogyen Trinley Dorjee's selection.

The bitterness between the Rumtek regents took an
ugly turn in 1992-93, when serious law and order
problems occurred on a few occasions and a
petition was filed in the Sikkim High Court
praying for an injunction to stop the recognition
of the 17th Karmapa. More infighting was reported
in 1994 when Shamar enthroned his own Karmapa,
Thaye Dorjee who is presently living in Europe.

In the meantime, after conducting the necessary
tests, the Dalai Lama gave his seal of approval
to Ogyen Trinley Dorjee. About the same time in
Beijing, the Chinese leadership --who then had
the boy in their hands – also decided to recognize him as the 17th Karmapa.

It was the first time in the history of a
Communist regime that a 'reincarnation' (they
call these boys 'Living Buddhas') was officially
recognized. Poor Karl Marx must have turned in his grave!

The present Karmapa thus has the unique privilege
of having been been acknowledged by both the
Communist authorities in Beijing and the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala.

So why did New Delhi refuse to clear his US trip?

Was the denial linked with Foreign Secretary
Nirupama Rao's visit to Dharamsala last week? It
is probable that she broke the news to the Dalai
Lama's Administration, but it does not explain the decision.

 From the day the Karmapa arrived incognito in
Dharamsala in 2001, many Indian officials have
been convinced that he had been 'planted' by the
Chinese intelligence to create some mischief in
India, more particularly in Sikkim.

This theory however does not explain why last
year's US visit was cleared and not this one. Is there a new security factor?

Another possibility is pressure from the 'other'
Karmapa's camp. Dharma Centers are big business
in the West. In the past, the Shamar group has
been very well connected with several senior
officials in the Indian Government. Has Shamar
pressurized some officials in Delhi to cancel the visit of the Karmapa?

Yet another possibility is that the government
received information that some Chinese agents or
supporters of Shamarpa's Karmapa could have
infiltrated one or several of the Dharma Centers
to be visited by the Karmapa. For the Chinese, a
foreign tour would be the easiest way to get rid
of a purported successor to the Dalai Lama.

Let us not forget that Beijing is betting on its
own Panchen Lama to succeed the Dalai Lama.
Beijing's Panchen Lama has recently been
'promoted' as a delegate to the Chinese People's
Political Consultative Conference and has extensively toured Tibet.

A petition originating from some Dharma Center in
the US was circulated in April this year.
Addressed to Congress party president Sonia
Gandhi, it said: "We believe the Indian
government's actions in this situation are
inequitable and unjustified. The broader issue,
which we address, is one of the Karmapa's basic
human rights. The Karmapa is not a criminal, why
is he treated as such? …The unreasonable and
inconsiderate practice of confining him in India
is a violation of his human rights and a blatant
abuse of his freedom for religious expression."
It requests the Government of India "to address
the unlawful confinement of the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa."

But can such a petition have the desired effect?
Fortunately, the Office of the Karmapa later
rectified the wrong impression given by theses Western disciples.

Another disturbing factor, which may not be
directly linked to the denial of the exit visa,
is the fact that the media projects the young
Lama as the Dalai Lama's successor, without
clarifying whether they mean a political or a spiritual successor.

 From the religious angle, only the next Dalai
Lama can be the successor to the present one.
Further, there are several Lamas in exile having
great spiritual experience and wisdom who could
also pretend to be a 'successor'. Why should the
choice be limited to the Karmapa?

In any case, does the Dalai Lama need a
successor? In a recent interview, he hinted that
he could live a very long life, perhaps till 100.
It would therefore be wise to wait a bit.

Regarding a 'political successor', the present
Dalai Lama has ceaselessly worked from the early
1960's to introduce democracy in the exile
community. To have a 'political successor' would
negate all these years of hard work. Would a
'political successor' prevail over an elected
Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister)? Tibetan democracy
would then become a laughing stock.

Historically, the regency (Regents were
'temporary successors') has been the bane of the
Tibetan system of governance. A power struggle
between Regents Reting and Tagtra took the Land
of Snows to the brink of a civil war in the 1940's.

For the media, the idea of a successor to the
Dalai Lama sells well, but is it good for Tibet?

During my visit to Rumtek (Sikkim) a few months
back, I asked the care-taker of the monastery,
"Why has the Karmapa to go through all the unpleasant problems?"

He philosophically answered: "Don't worry, he
will go through them, but it is a very old, very
ancient karma that he has to unknot; these things
take time. It can't be solved in one day."

Born in France, Claude Arpi's quest began 36
years ago with a journey to the Himalayas. Since
then he has been a student of the history of
Tibet, China and the subcontinent. He is the
author of numerous English and French books. His
book, Tibet: the Lost Frontier (Lancers Publishers) was released recently.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank