Terhune is the long-time secretary of Tai Situ Rinpoche, the major
supporter of would-be Karmapa Orgyen Trinley. Her
book is a mixture of history of past Karmapas, part hagiography of
Orgyen Trinley à la Martin, and part angry polemic against
those who would doubt Orgyen Trinley's authenticity.
Now, we have just seen the publication of yet a third book on the
Karmapas, Mick Brown's The Dance of 17 Lives: the Incredible
True Story of Tibet's 17 th Karmapa.
we discuss Brown's text, we might ask, why have supporters of Orgyen
Trinley published so many books in the last year? We should remember
that supporters of Karmapa Thaye Dorje have won significant legal
victories in this same period. The largest of these was the decision
of the High Court in New Delhi affirming that the Karmapa Charitable
Trust is the sole legal administrator of the Karmapa's seat at Rumtek
Monastery (see “Setting the Record Straight” number 2). If this
decision is upheld on appeal to the Supreme Court, then ultimately,
it will mean that Karmapa Thaye Dorje will be able to take his place
at Rumtek. This would deal a serious blow to the candidacy of Orgyen
Situ Rinpoche and his associates must realize the danger that their
cause faces now. Perhaps they are concerned that their followers
might lose hope in the face of such a defeat in the courts. So we
think that their publishing frenzy might be an attempt to win in
public relations what they stand to lose in the Indian courts. What
better way to boost the morale of their followers than to have three
books published supporting their case?
a Real Journalist
believe that Brown's book is the latest morale-builder for Situ
Rinpoche's allies and followers.
brings credibility that Martin and Terhune do not. He comes to the
subject of the Karmapa controversy with respectable credentials.
He has done considerable research. And he recounts arguments both
pro and con.
in the end, readers hoping for an objective account of the Karmapa
controversy will be sorely disappointed by Brown's book. In the
spirit of the other two books, Brown's story is little more than
advocacy for Orgyen Trinley and his supporters.
presents himself as an open-minded spiritual tourist. But it is
clear from the beginning of his narrative that he must have brought
a strong prejudice to his research. Like Martin and Terhune, he
has woven a tale intended less to inform than to persuade. We see
a clear agenda in Brown's story. He wants to convince readers that:
Trinley is the true Karmapa
Situ Rinpoche, Akong Tulku and other supporters of Orgyen Trinley
have acted selflessly and faithfully in the best interests of
the Karma Kagyu lineage
contrast, Shamar Rinpoche and those who support Karmapa Trinley
Thaye Dorje have acted only in their own self-interest
the Surface, More Convincing
are some differences between Brown's book and the other two to be
sure. Unlike Martin, who presumes to be no more than the devotee
that she is, or Terhune, who pretends to be a journalist but is
really just a devotee, Brown trades on genuine journalistic credentials.
is the author of four previous books, including the well-loved title
The Spiritual Tourist: A Personal Odyssey Through the Outer
Reaches of Belief ( Bloomsbury , 1998). Not surprisingly,
Brown's narrative is more urbane and sophisticated than Martin's
loving portrait and more restrained, judicious and apparently objective
than Terhune's acidic screed.
would be understandable for readers to find Brown's account more
reliable than Terhune's. He supports most of his major claims with
quotes from lamas deeply involved in the controversy. And unlike
Terhune, Brown interviewed the major players from both sides of
the Karmapa controversy, including both Shamar and Situ Rinpoches.
He seems to give both sides of the story.
readers should not be fooled by Brown's credentials, his research
or his facility with the conventions of journalistic objectivity.
In the end, his narrative is deeply flawed writing:
major sources are unreliable, lack authority and in some cases,
are seriously misinformed
uses material that disagrees with his thesis in a selective, one-sided
a result, Brown makes many embarrassing errors on facts large
and small that are widely known to those with a deeper knowledge
of the Karmapa controversy
Brown makes so many little errors that to target them all would
be just like shooting fish in a barrel. Therefore, in a future installment
of “Shooting Fish in a Barrel” we will discuss only a few of these
small errors, just as examples. But our main task will be to answer
the major ungrounded conclusions in Brown's argument.
first, it is important to understand Brown's probable motivation.
Why would an experienced journalist produce such a flawed account?
We believe that it was not from lack of skill, but by design.
a Devotee First, and a Journalist Second
Martin and Terhune, Brown is a devotee of Akong Tulku, one of the
main architects of the strategy to promote Orgyen Trinley. We know
this from Brown's life story: For two decades, he has been a member
of the Samye Ling Buddhist center in Scotland. There, he became
a student of Akong, formerly Tai Situ's general secretary. From
the beginning of the controversy until the two lamas fell out a
few years ago, Akong and Situ Rinpoche were partners in planning
a rebellion against the authority set up by the late 16 th Karmapa
before his death.
those of us who have been involved in the Karmapa controversy since
its beginning, it is clear that despite all his research, Brown
is really just speaking in his master's voice.
Given that Brown's master is Akong Tulku, do we hear the tone of
the master in the words of the student?
we do. This is bad news for an otherwise competent writer like Brown.
In the world of Tibetan Buddhism, it would be hard to find a source
for information on the Karmapa controversy who is less reliable,
less informed or less objective than Akong Tulku.
In, Garbage Out
his supporters, Akong Tulku is a charismatic, energetic teacher
who applies his considerable energy to spreading Tibetan Buddhism
in the modern world. To his detractors, Akong is a Machiavellian
poseur who has not let law, shame or religious principles stand
in the way of his ambition to become a rich and powerful Tibetan
won't pretend to be objective on the subject of Akong. We believe
that Akong has misused his position as a Buddhist lama to gain power
and wealth for himself. Nonetheless, we will try to state the facts
of Akong's life and his attempts to trade on a connection with the
late 16 th Karmapa as we know them. We will draw all our information
from first-hand accounts by qualified sources.
are certain that once these facts are known, readers will see for
themselves that Akong is no authority on the Karmapa issue. If Brown
used Akong as his primary source, he must have had very poor quality
material to work with indeed.
our next installment, we will relate “The Secret History of Akong
Tulku.” It is a tale of ambition, greed, revenge and betrayal. We
hope that it will help readers judge whether Brown should have relied
for his account of the late 16 th Karmapa on such an informant.
Karma Kagyu Buddhist Organization
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