Cash row renews clash of rival Karmapas

By Vishal Gulati, IANS
Thursday, February 3, 2011

DHARAMSALA - The recovery of unaccounted money worth nearly Rs.7 crore (Rs.70 million) from the monastery of Tibetan leader Karmapa Lama has renewed the succession controversy in the Karma Kagyu sect, with two rival monks claiming to be the ‘real’ Karmapa.

An important institution in the Tibetan religious set-up, the Karmapa Lama is the spiritual head of the Karma Kagyu sect, one of the four sects of Tibetan Buddhism. It is also one of the richest, with assets reportedly worth $1.3 billion.

Both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government have recognised Ogyen Trinley Dorjee - in the eye of the storm for unaccounted cash in his monastery - as the 17th Karmapa. But a rival group has all along been claiming that the post belongs to Trinlay Thaye Dorje who is often on the move and sometimes visits Delhi.

Only last year an attempt was made to settle the dispute when Trinlay Thaye Dorje’s mentor paid a visit to the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala.

“On Aug 13, 2010, I met His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. We had a discussion for approximately one and a half hours and had a very important and detailed exchange of views regarding the ongoing Karmapa controversy and its possible solution,” said a statement quoting Shamar Rinpoche, the mentor of Trinlay Thaye Dorje and the second-highest monk of the Karma Kagyu sect, posted on the official website

“Although this matter is not easily resolved, since it is connected to the politics of China and India as well, with Dalai Lama’s blessing and support, I am confident that there will be an amicable solution,” he said.

The recognition of the Karmapa has been the subject of controversy since the death of the 16th Karmapa in 1981. High-ranking monks Tai Situ Rinpoche, Shamar Rinpoche and Gyltsab Rinpoche had started a search for his successor.

Tai Situ Rinpoche proposed Ogyen Trinley Dorjee as the successor, while Shamar Rinpoche favoured Trinlay Thaye Dorje. However, the third monk did not agree with the two choices.

Both Ogyen Trinley Dorjee and Trinlay Thaye Dorje have been enthroned as the 17th Karmapa and have been independently performing ceremonial duties in India.

However, only Ogyen Trinley Dorjee got recognition as the ‘real’ Karmapa by both China and the Dalai Lama. This is significant because both sides have named their own candidates as reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second highest Tibetan religious leader after the Dalai Lama.

Trinlay Thaye Dorje’s followers have been claiming that he is the real claimant to the seat of the Kagyu sect or the Karmapa in the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, set up by the 16th Karmapa.

“Since Ogyen Trinley Dorjee has been caught in another controversy, it will give a chance to Trinlay Thaye Dorje’s followers to nail him down,” an official at Ogyen Trinley Dorjee’s monastery told IANS.

He said the lamas supporting Trinlay Thaye Dorje would soon meet the Dalai Lama to press for him to be recognise him as the real Karmapa.

Ogyen Trinley Dorjee has been surrounded by controversies since his mysterious escape to India in January 2000 with a few close aides from the closely guarded Tsurphu monastery near Lhasa in China.

Now, the seizure of unaccounted currency worth nearly Rs.70 million, including 1.1 million Chinese Yuan (Rs.7 million), Jan 27 from his Gyuto Tantric University and Monastery near here has given credence to allegations of his links with the Chinese.

However, a spokesperson for Ogyen Trinley Dorjee has denied the allegations, stressing he was not a Chinese agent.

Himachal Pradesh Director General of Police D.S. Manhas told a news channel in Delhi that “the whole fight between the two anointed people is basically over property”.

“When the 16th Karmapa died, at that point of time it was estimated that the sect holds properties worth around $1.3 billion around the world. So that way, it is a very powerful sect and a very wealthy sect. The whole fight between the two anointed people is basically over this property,” he said.

The central government has banned the entry of Ogyen Trinley Dorjee to the headquarters of the Kagyu sect in Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim due to the row. He now resides at the Gyuto Tantric monastery at Sidhbari, 10 km from Dharamsala, which is the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

“He has been only once allowed to visit abroad since his arrival to India, whereas Trinlay Thaye Dorje is allowed to travel across the globe,” a senior police official said.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at

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