feel that you used material we provided to you in an intentionally
misleading way, merely to provide a veneer of objectivity to a presentation
that is not really fair and balanced. Indeed, when your major claims
are examined, it turns out that your story may be incredible, but
that it is far from true.
it was a mistake for us to agree to help you in the first place.
After all, we knew from the beginning that you may not simply have
come to us as a journalist, but as a partisan in the Karmapa controversy.
We knew that you were a sympathizer of Akong Tulku at Samye Ling
in Scotland for decades, and that Akong, in turn, was for many years
a strong supporter of Situ Rinpoche. However, we believed you, perhaps
naively, when you said you wanted to hear our side of the story
so you could write a fair and balanced account. We were to be proved
quite wrong in this.
Wine in New Bottles
your narrative, you present long-standing claims of Situ Rinpoche
and his group as if you had just discovered them for yourself. Then
you try to support these claims with the appearance of investigative
reporting. Unfortunately, the numerous interviews that went into
your research have failed to produce an account of the Karmapa controversy
consistent with the minimum standards of journalistic objectivity.
at the end of all your effort, we feel that your reader is left
with little more than the ramblings of a spiritual tourist so enamored
of his guru that he does not hesitate to wear his heart on his sleeve.
And your heart clearly belongs to Situ Rinpoche. To any reader familiar
with the history of the Karmapa issue, your book displays its bias
top to bottom; from the major points you argue to the little details
you like to note - For example, why take the trouble to describe
Shamar Rinpoche (5'6', for the record) as "short" without
noting that the strikingly short Situ Rinpoche stands two or three
inches shorter? We think this sort of thing would be amusing if
it were not indicative of a persistent pattern of bias in your narrative.
are concerned that the assumptions behind your presentation may
not be clear to all readers. Newcomers to the controversy might
be persuaded by the array of alleged facts that you offer to accept
your conclusions. To clarify the issue for these readers, we feel
compelled to respond to your three most serious claims and implications,
would be wrong to test Situ Rinpoche's alleged Karmapa prediction
letter for authenticity;
and Gyaltsab Rinpoches have a right to control Karmapa affairs
two rinpoches have successfully taken control of the mechanism
set up by the 16th Karmapa himself for managing his
estate until a successor takes over, the Karmapa Charitable
Would It Be Wrong to Test the Prediction Letter?
First, Mr. Brown, you seem to accept uncritically the claim of Tai
Situ Rinpoche's group that using scientific means to determine the
authenticity of Situ Rinpoche's alleged Karmapa prediction letter
would be inappropriate. Initially, you claim that it would be logistically
difficult to get a reliable result in a forensic test, because the
16th Karmapa supposedly wrote the letter while in a weakened
state just before his death and that no western experts would be
able to accurately judge the nuances of Tibetan handwriting. Then
more critically, the demand for the letter to be forensically tested
flew in the face of the most fundamental tenets of Tibetan Buddhism,
the entire edifice of which is constructed on a nebulous architecture
of prophecy, divination, and supernatural processes, which, by definition,
preclude empirical proof. (p. 170)
you seem to be arguing something quite shocking: that there are
really no rational standards of truth within the system traditionally
employed to recognize Tibetan Buddhist tulkus. We are not sure on
what authority you came to this conclusion or whether you have even
considered the enormity of such a claim. For example, would it not
seem quite revolutionary to Buddhists of all stripes, whether Sri
Lankan, Japanese or Tibetan, to set aside logic and reason when
approaching anything to do with the dharma?
around the world know that Buddha Shakyamuni repeatedly urged his
followers to examine all aspects of his teaching for themselves.
As the respected British nun Tenzin Palmo explains in terms that
westerners can understand:
in certain religions, unquestioning faith is considered a desirable
quality. But in the Buddhadharma, this is not necessarily so. The
Buddha described the Dharma as ehi passiko, which means “come
and see,” or “come and investigate,” not “come
and believe.” An open, questioning mind is not regarded as
a drawback to followers of the Buddhadharma. (Reflections on
a Mountain Lake, p. 159)
in one famous metaphor, the Buddha exhorted believers to test his
teachings as a goldsmith would test the purity of gold - to burn
and cut it to see whether it is pure.
Situ Rinpoche's alleged Karmapa letter would fall squarely within
this tradition. Shamar Rinpoche has never suggested that forensic
testing of this letter would determine whether the boy Orgyen Trinley
is a genuine tulku. Rinpoche has also never suggested that any tests
be conducted on the boy. Shamar Rinpoche merely wants to test the
authenticity of the letter. Was it authored by the 16th
Karmapa or not? This is not merely a reasonable question for Westerners,
but a reasonable question for Tibetans as well.
Rinpoche is confident that the only obstacle to obtaining a meaningful
result is Situ Rinpoche's failure to produce the letter for testing.
As far as the logistics of a forensic test go, Shamar Rinpoche and
others who are familiar with the 16th Karmapa's handwriting
and poetic style believe that it would be quite easy to determine
whether the letter is genuine or not. For his part, Rinpoche is
sure that this letter was written by Tai Situ Rinpoche himself.
It is not merely because the handwriting does not resemble that
of the late Karmapa - but because the handwriting does resemble
that of Situ Rinpoche. This would not be difficult for a forensic
scientist to judge. And as to the objection that Karmapa's handwriting
might have deteriorated as he was dying and supposedly writing this
letter, we might ask, in this case, would Karmapa's handwriting
"deteriorate" directly into the handwriting of Situ Rinpoche?
This would be a curious condition indeed.
we should remember that Situ Rinpoche has always maintained that
Karmapa gave him the letter a year prior to his death in 1981. At
that time, Karmapa wrote many documents with no sign of any loss
of writing-hand control. So the quality of the handwriting should
not be a barrier to getting an accurate test result at all.
the end, though, according to the clearly expressed wishes of the
16th Karmapa, we are sorry to say for you Mr. Brown,
Situ Rinpoche has no legitimate standing in this issue of the letter.
Situ Rinpoche may propose Karmapa candidates, but final recognition
can only be given by Shamar Rinpoche, as the 16th Karmapa
intended when he re-invested Shamar Rinpoche with the authority
traditionally held by his position before the interregnum of the
19th and early 20th centuries. In addition,
the 16th Karmapa set up the Karmapa Trust as the sole
authority to run his administration after his death. Therefore,
only Shamar Rinpoche and the Trust have the authority to accept
or reject the authenticity of any prediction letter. The only "authority"
Situ Rinpoche has is his possession of this letter. But then if
he wrote it himself, it is natural that he would want to hold on
to it and not allow it to be authenticated by outside experts.
have a further cause for concern on this issue of the propriety
of testing the letter for authenticity. We fear that this same specious
argument could be applied in the future to other disputed items
pertinent to our lineage, in particular, the truly religious objects
in the Rumtek Monastery reliquary. According to the report of the
commission of the Reserve Bank of India set up to make an inventory
at Rumtek in 2002, dozens of relics were missing that Gyaltsab Rinpoche
and his group could not account for. We are concerned that before
another inventory can be conducted in the future, Gyaltsab Rinpoche
and his group may try to replace these missing relics with duplicates.
Then when Gyaltsab Rinpoche is confronted with questions, he may
reply with this argument that holy objects cannot be tested, based
on the precedent of Situ Rinpoche's un-tested Karmapa letter. Obviously,
we cannot allow such a precedent.
are surprised that you would fall for such simplistic thinking,
Mr. Brown. For centuries all major religions, including Buddhism,
have had to validate prophecies and have had to test relics to discover
whether they are authentic or not. If every alleged piece of the
True Cross of Jesus, bone of the Prophet Muhammad or saying of the
Buddha were uncritically accepted as authentic, then there would
be confusion indeed. Just because Situ Rinpoche says that his letter
is authentic, doesn't make it so. Our religion does not prevent
us from putting it to the test - quite the opposite, it requires
us to do so. Until this letter is validated, Karma Kagyu believers
should give this letter no credence.
and Gyaltsab Rinpoches Had No Standing in Karmapa's Administration
Second, Mr. Brown, you are far too indulgent towards the attempts
of Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches to take over the Karmapa Charitable
Trust and gain control of the 16th Karmapa's administration
including Rumtek Monastery. As two courts in India have decided
so far, Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches do not have any standing in
Karmapa's administration, either by law or by Tibetan tradition.
the Tibetan tradition, there exists a kind of separation of powers
between spiritual and administrative authority. On the spiritual
side, the Karmapa has always been the highest authority in the Karma
Kagyu lineage, similar to the Pope in Roman Catholicism. Thus, the
Karmapas are spiritual guides for all Kagyu practitioners, including
the highest lamas like Shamar, Situ, and, lower down, Gyaltsab.
the administrative side, things are quite different, and the administrations
of high lamas function separately from each other and from the administration
of the Karmapas. Each lama governs his or her own monasteries and
other properties under his control through his administration. The
Karmapas have had their own administration, which has always been
separate from the administration of other high lamas, including
Situ and Gyaltsab. Situ Rinpoche led the Palpung Labrang while Gyaltsab
led his own Chogong Labrang, named respectively after each rinpoche's
traditional monastic seat.
is crucial to understand that traditionally the administration of
high lamas have been fiercely independent. This meant that Karmapa
had no jurisdiction over the administration of Situ and Gyaltsab
Rinpoches. Likewise, Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches had no jurisdiction
over the administration of the Karmapas. What that means for today
is that, just as a Karmapa cannot interfere in the running of Situ
Rinpoche's seat at Sherab Ling in Himachal Pradesh or Gyaltsab's
seat, Palchen Ling in Sikkim, so Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches cannot
interfere with the seat of the Karmapas seat at Rumtek. A Tibetan
saying illustrates this independence: it was said that the administration
of one high lama could not "touch even a needle" of the
property of another high lama's administration.
they were all united spiritually in the Karma Kagyu lineage, for
the purposes of administration, those of the Karmapas, the Situs
and the Gyaltsabs were more like independent countries.
course, the administration of one high lama might invite other lamas
and monks from other administrations for temporary visits, just
as the US president might invite the British prime minister to a
summit meeting in Washington for a few days. However, as a visitor,
the British prime minister would not presume to walk the halls of
the State Department and issue orders on foreign policy or drive
over to the Pentagon and try to fire the Secretary of Defense. In
the same way, under Tibetan tradition, visiting lamas were not expected
to participate in their host monastery's management without a specific
invitation. If a visiting lama did try to participate in executive
decisions without being asked, it would be considered outside interference.
Mr. Brown, you fail to make clear that Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches
were simply invited visitors at Rumtek, the seat of the 16th
Karmapa, and that the 16th Karmapa had not invited either
rinpoche to participate in the management of the Karmapa's administration,
including Rumtek Monastery.
accords with historical tradition. Situ had never had any authority
in the Karmapa administration. Gyaltsab's case was a little different.
Though the 5th Gyaltsab had been forced on Karmapa as
regent by Gyaltsab's cousin the 5th Dalai Lama, this
arrangement lasted only for two Gyaltsab reincarnations. The 5th
Gyaltsab lived only for eight years. The 10th Karmapa
recognized the 6th Gyaltsab, but then removed him from
the Karmapa's administration and set up an independent administration
for the Gyaltsabs. Since then the Gyaltsabs have had their own administration.
In later centuries, these two administrations experienced conflict,
and the two wound up in Tibetan courts. The 10th Gyaltsab,
precursor to the current incarnation, even had a lawsuit against
the Karmapa's administration up to 1958, which was only ended by
the invasion of the Chinese Red Army. The 16th Karmapa
made no change to his administration's independence from Situ and
Gyaltsab during his lifetime.
the death of the 16th Karmapa, the only legal way Situ
and Gyaltsab Rinpoches could participate in managing the Karmapa's
administration was through Situ Rinpoche's seat on the board of
the Karmapa Trust, the body set up before his death by the 16th
Karmapa to administer the Karmapa's administration until authority
could be passed to his successor.
Situ Rinpoche knew the Karmapa Trust trustees would never give control
of the Karmapa's administration to him and Gyaltsab Rinpoche. You
imply that this was because Shamar Rinpoche had stacked the board
with his allies. Yet, you should know that the majority of the eight
trustees on the board in the early 1990s were still those appointed
by the late 16th Karmapa himself in 1963: JD Densapa
and TS Gyaltsen, former officials of the Sikkim state government;
Ashok Burman, a New Delhi businessman; Gyan Joti, a Kathmandu businessman;
and the nephew of the 16th Karmapa, Topga Rinpoche. These
trustees were all appointed when Shamar Rinpoche was only a child,
so it should be clear that he could have had no influence over their
selection. The only new trustees were Shamar, Situ, and Jamgon Rinpoches,
all appointed by the other trustees in 1984.
since the trustees, except for Situ Rinpoche himself and the other
two rinpoches, were all appointees of the late Karmapa, the board
owed its allegiance to the late Karmapa's wishes. This could not
have pleased Situ Rinpoche, who has shown that he wanted to oppose
the wishes of the 16th Karmapa. Just as the British prime
minister would not expect the US Senate to give him control of the
White House, Situ Rinpoche knew that the Karmapa Charitable Trust
trustees would never authorize him and Gyaltsab as outsiders to
take over Karmapa's administration or Rumtek Monastery. Yet, Situ
and Gyaltsab Rinpoches were determined not to let law or tradition
stand in the way of their plan to take Rumtek. They planned to do
this by usurping control of the Karmapa Charitable Trust itself.
Nearly Perfect Coup: Two Rinpoches, Rumtek and the Karmapa Trust
Thirdly, Mr. Brown, your discussion of the two rinpoches' attempt
to take over the Karmapa Trust is very misleading, because it gives
the impression that Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches were successful.
While they were successful in their coup d'état at Rumtek,
they were unable to wrest control of the Karmapa Charitable Trust
from its board of trustees. To this day the Trust functions according
to the charter set up by the 16th Karmapa, despite Situ
and Gyaltsab Rinpoches' illegal seizure of Rumtek.
complete story of how the Rumtek coup occurred is told in The
Siege of Karmapa (New Delhi: Rumtek Sangha Duche, 2000). Though
you cite this book in your bibliography, obviously you prefer to
present a version of the events at Rumtek that contradicts the facts
given in The Siege of Karmapa. How can readers know which
of these conflicting accounts is the true story?
readers should know that the two court decisions handed down in
India against Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches' takeover of Rumtek mentioned
above corroborate the account found in The Siege of Karmapa:
Rinpoche wanted to take Rumtek to gain its assets, which he
valued at $1.2 billion, according to Time Magazine;
Rinpoche wanted to gain Rumtek to diminish the traditional authority
of the Karmapas, and thus make himself the top Karma Kagyu lama
two rinpoches held two meetings with their allies at Samye Ling
in Scotland in 1987 and 1989 respectively to plan a violent
takeover of Rumtek; and
group obtained assistance from the reportedly corrupt administration
of the Sikkim State government under then Chief Minister Nar
Bahadur Bhandari reportedly through questionable means.
did the two Rinpoches carefully plan to storm their Bastille. But
they did not want to tear it down, not literally at least. They
wanted to take it for themselves.
we only want to comment on one part of your discussion of the Rumtek
coup here, Mr. Brown. You note that as soon as the two rinpoches
had forcibly entered Rumtek and evicted its legal administrators,
they immediately convened a meeting of their followers that would
presume to make decisions for Rumtek and Karmapa's administration.
the rinpoches dubbed their group the "Kagyu International Assembly"
Your description of this group makes it sounds like a kind of Karma
Kagyu United Nations, with "representatives from KTD at Woodstock,
from Samye Ling, Australia, Tibet, India, Nepal and Bhutan. Also
present were representatives of the five Kagyu monasteries, six
Buddhist organizations and eight Tibetan organizations in Sikkim."
actuality, this group was little more than a lynch mob of monks
from Tai Situ Rinpoche's own monastery Sherab Ling and two affiliated
sub-monasteries in Kathmandu; monks from Kalu Rinpoche's monastery
near Darjeeling and Thrangu Monastery in Kathmandu, both friendly
to Situ Rinpoche; a small contingent of followers from the USA and
Australia; and local roughnecks with longstanding resentment of
the 16th Karmapa, including a number of young toughs
from the Lal Bazaar market in Gangtok. The sources of these "delegates"
have been clearly documented in both The Siege of Karmapa
(p. 43) book and in the two court cases in India.
revolutionary leaders at the barricades, the "president"
of this assembly, a disgraced Sakya lama friendly to Situ and Gyaltsab
Rinpoches, led the excited crowd in throaty support for one demand
after another, including a request to the Dalai Lama to restore
the ban on Shamar Rinpoche. But the day's main goal was to gain
legitimacy for Situ and Gyaltsab's seizure of Rumtek. And that meant
taking control over the organization that did have authority to
manage Karmapa affairs, the Karmapa Charitable Trust:
his opening address Tai Situ proposed that the present board of
Directors of the Karmapa Charitable Trust be dissolved and a new
board appointed in their place....Theoretically, only the trustees
or the Karmapa himself, having attained the age of majority, could
change the composition of the board. Nonetheless, Tai Situ's resolution
was passed by the delegates. (p. 212)
find your language very unclear here, Mr. Brown. Given that Situ's
ad hoc group had no authority either by tradition or by law, the
reader might wonder why it matters that it "passed" any
"resolution" on any subject, not to mention the Karmapa
Trust. But you never explain this point. Instead, you leave the
reader with the impression that Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches and
their followers had changed the course of history that day.
Mr. Brown, we are sure you know how quickly history can return to
its old course. On the following day, December 1, Sri Baphungpa,
director of the Land Office of Sikkim where the charter for the
Karmapa Trust was filed, ruled that Situ's "delegates"
had no right to make decisions concerning the Trust; that the actions
of Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches' meeting were illegal; and that,
accordingly, the directors of the Trust would remain as before.
can think of no reason why you would fail to mention this development,
Mr. Brown, except that you have a bias in favor of Situ Rinpoche.
any event, this setback must have been disappointing for Situ and
Gyaltsab Rinpoches. But the two rinpoches did not let a lack of
legitimacy interfere with their plans to take Rumtek, as the Indian
courts and The Siege of Karmapa have explained. However,
Mr. Brown, it appears that just as you chose to ignore the facts
in The Siege of Karmapa, you also chose to omit mentioning
these decisions of the Indian courts. In addition, we know that
you also failed to talk to the trustees of the Karmapa Charitable
Trust. If you wanted to write a complete story, we cannot understand
why you would not have interviewed the trustees who exercise legal
control over the Karmapa's administration.
Fair, and Not Balanced
You will forgive us, Mr. Brown, for concluding that based on all
your omissions and your generally one-sided presentation of events,
you never really intended to tell the complete story of the Karmapa
controversy. For example, we have compared your book's discussion
of your interviews with Shamar Rinpoche with our audio recordings
of those same sessions, and have found that you omitted a great
deal of pertinent information. Judging from your generous use of
quotes from Situ Rinpoche, we suspect that you reported his views
much more fully and faithfully.
though we feel that you did not give our views a fair hearing, we
do not regret having cooperated with you. Your book represents a
chance to address myths about the Karmapa controversy that have
been circulating for years. Now, we hope it will be clear to you
and your readers that:
is no good reason, either in the Buddhist tradition or in the
methodology of handwriting analysis, why Situ Rinpoche's
alleged Karmapa prediction letter should not be tested for authenticity
using the best methods available today;
Tibetan tradition and Indian law agree that Situ and Gyaltsab
Rinpoches do not have any authority over the affairs of the
Karmapa administration; and
Karmapa Charitable Trust remains the rightful administrator
of the assets of the 16th Karmapa, held in trust
for a successor chosen by Shamar Rinpoche, the only lama authorized
by the late 16th Karmapa to recognize his reincarnation.
any case, after the Supreme Court of India announces its decision
in July of this year, its findings will be released to the world.
We hope this decision will help restore peace to our 800-year-old
lineage and help heal the wounds in our sangha for the benefit of
Meanwhile, we plan to disseminate this letter as widely as possible,
so that readers may decide for themselves whether your book presents
a complete and balanced account of the history of the Karmapa issue.
International Karma Kagyu Buddhist Organization
Another open letter concerning some other issues in Mick Browns
book by Nerraj KC
you don't want to miss the next part of the responses please join