Waiting for Karmapa: Delhi in fix over Tibet

After having alienated the Dalai Lama, India also seems to have marginalised another tall Buddhist leader, the Karmapa. He had gone to the United States for three months last year and has now refused to return. With the 14th Dalai Lama turning 83 earlier this month, India feels the need to cultivate influential monks to ensure Tibetan unity and support for its position on the Tibetan leader’s succession. A disputed succession would divide Tibetans politically and determine the direction of their struggle. It is not clear whether the heads of the various Tibetan Buddhist sects would defer to a child Dalai Lama, whether he reincarnates in India or China. It also remains unclear whether the Tibetan monks can be used by India on the Tibet issue. For this, India needs the support of the Karmapa — the head of the largest Tibetan Buddhist sect, the Kagyu. New Delhi, however, may have already lost influence over him.

The 17th Karmapa’s position is disputed. While the Dalai Lama and China recognise Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the Karmapa, India recognises a rival, Thaye Trinley Dorje. The former has been treated shabbily by India because it believes that his escape from Tibet to India in 2000 was facilitated by China. However, in the post-Dalai Lama scenario, the rival contender supported by India, Thaye Trinley Dorje, may not be of much help. He not only publicly challenges the Dalai Lama’s authority but, like China, he also does not accept the Dalai Lama as the supreme Tibetan leader. New Delhi seems desperate to invite Ogyen Trinley Dorje back. Yet its intelligence agencies promote stories about him seeking asylum in the US, trying to buy land to settle down there or even returning to China.

It is not surprising therefore that he has fobbed off Indian requests to return. Last year, he promised to return by June 2018, but that deadline is already over. The question is whether it is possible for New Delhi to appease Ogyen Trinley Dorje, while simultaneously trying to marginalise him and the monks close to him. Senior monks associated with him facing restrictions within and outside India include the Tai Situ Rinpoche, Mingyur Rinpoche, Thrangu Rinpoche and the Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche. These are all reincarnate lamas of the Kagyu sect. The Tai Situ Rinpoche, who represents a 1,000-year old lineage, is suspect in Indian eyes because as one of the four regents of the Kyagu sect he played a crucial role in searching, identifying and helping get Ogyen Trinley Dorje to be recognised as the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa both by the Dalai Lama and China. In India, he has faced charges of misuse of foreign funds (which could not be proven in court) and travel restrictions, including a bar on entry into Sikkim, Ladakh and the northeastern states.

The Mingyur Rinpoche is of Nepali origin and head of the Tergar Monastery of the Kagyu sect in Kathmandu and Bodhgaya. He faces severe harassment at immigration whenever he travels to India. Then there is Thrangu Rinpoche, whom both Ogyen Trinley Dorje and the Tai Situ Rinpoche are forbidden to meet.
The most interesting case is that of a child monk who came of age in India — the 4th Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche. He has suffered terribly because of his association with the Karmapa. He was born in Tibet on November 26, 1995. When he was nine months old, he was recognised as the fourth reincarnation of the Jamgon Kontrul Rinpoche lineage. His birth was prophesised and recognised by the Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje.

When he was two years old, he left Tibet for India to stay at the monastery of his lineage at Lava in Kalimpong. His attendants placed the toddler under the care of a Ms Kunzang Chungyalpa, an Indian national and a retired UN official from Sikkim. She adopted him legally and registered the adoption. In 2000, a passport was issued to the young monk to visit the main monastery of his sect at Pullahari, Kathmandu. This coincided with the arrival in India of the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje. As he was suspected of being a Chinese agent, the Indian government cracked down on all those who were associated with him, including the Jamgon Kontrul Rinpoche. The young boy was told to surrender his passport, which it was claimed had been acquired through “fraudulent” means.

In 2007 when he was 12, a deportation notice was served on him as he was seen as “a security threat”. The Delhi high court stayed the deportation order when it was challenged by his adoptee mother. Both the passport case and the deportation order are sub-judice for the past 11 years. So frustrated was the young Rinpoche that on August 1, 2016, he renounced monastic life through a Facebook post. “I am not a monk any more. I just want to study and fulfil my wish… With a difficult heart, I have chosen a different lifestyle and will study and pursue my dreams of becoming a doctor,” he wrote.

At the time of giving up his robes, he was 21 and without any formal education. He was unable to pursue medicine. He has now joined a group which collects leftover food from Delhi’s five-star hotels and distributes it among the destitute people. The government has also cancelled his monastery’s permission under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act to receive funds from devotees abroad. As a result an eye hospital, an old age home, an orphanage and a school run by Rinpoche’s monastery in Kalimpong are on the verge of closure. In preparation for the post-Dalai Lama scenario, India has decided to canvass all important and influential Tibetan monks. After the institutional hostility towards the Karmapa and monks associated with his sect, it will not be easy for India to seek their cooperation. The Karmapa probably thinks that he is unlikely to get a fair deal in India and may choose to stay on in the United States. To then hope that the Karmapa and his monks will still do India’s bidding seems a distant pipedream.

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