BUDDHA'S NOT SMILING: UNCOVERING CORRUPTION AT THE HEART OF TIBETAN BUDDHISM TODAY
Chapter 9: A Pretender to the Throne
Democratizing the Karmapa Search
It is unclear who came up with the novel plan to locate and recognize the reincarnation of the Karmapa by committee. Shamar told me it was his idea, "to keep any of the other rinpoches from recognizing a Karmapa on their own, without consulting me, the Rumtek administration, or the board of the Karmapa Charitable Trust." But Situ has claimed that the Karmapa search group flowed out of a "Council of Regents" that Rumtek's first General Secretary Damchoe Yongdu formed a year after the death of the sixteenth Karmapa in 1982. The Council of Regents was disbanded in 1984, bur the three rinpoches outside of Shamar continued to refer to themselves as "regents" of the Karma Kagyu for years afterwards.
Whoever originated this approach to finding the Karmapa, in 1985, the four top rinpoches in the Karma Kagyu -- Shamar, Situ, Jamgon Kongtrul, and Gyaltsab -- formed the new Karmapa Search Committee at Rumtek. All four lamas had historical claims to recognize the Karmapa, as each lama's previous incarnations had found at least one Karmapa in the past. Shamar felt that he had the best case to recognize the Karmapa on his own, since his predecessors had found six Karmapas (five of these working alone). But Situ also clearly had a strong historical case: previous Situs had recognized two Karmapas alone and two more working with other lamas, giving them a total of four.
Back in Tibet, the reincarnation of the Karmapa had never been located by committee. It was a much more informal and private affair, with each high Karma Kagyu lama participating in the search based on his relationship with the deceased Karmapa. One or more of the lamas would interpret a prediction letter (if any was found) and give a reading of signs and portents gained through meditation, dreams, and divinations. Back in Tibet, finding the Karmapa was dignified and secret, the business of only a handful of high lamas conducted behind the thick stone walls of a half-dozen ancient monasteries. It was not democratic but hierarchical, and the mass of ordinary lamas and monks or lay devotees had no traditional role.
In exile, the Karmapa search would become more democratic and open, but also more chaotic. From the death of the sixteenth Karmapa in 1981, pressure mounted on Rumtek to find his successor. By the mid-eighties, it seemed to the lamas at Rumtek that everybody had an opinion about how to find the Karmapa, and everybody had a right to voice their opinion. People from all over the Himalayas proposed their infants or unborn children as candidates. The committee began by researching the merits of these claims, some of which were implausible to the point of ridicule. One Sikkimese boy was born three years before the sixteenth Karmapa's death, an obvious disqualification. 
Some of the pregnancies turned out to be girls, who, under pre-feminist Tibetan tradition, are mot eligible to be Karmapa reincarnations. Two of these were prominent. The first was Achi Tutu, the wife of the sixteenth Karmapa's driver, Dala. The couple were friends of Rumtek's junior secretary Tenzin Namgyal and supporters of Situ Rinpoche, who reportedly indicated that Achi would have a son who would be the Karmapa. In 1982, when she was in her forties, Achi got pregnant for the first time, which was considered an auspicious sign -- until her daughter was born.
The second was Bardor Tulku and his wife. During his wife's pregnancy in 1985, Bardor sent hundreds of letters to dharma centers around the world announcing that his son would be the next Karmapa. Recipients of these letters included the Dalai Lama, the King of Nepal, and Chogyam Trungpa in the United States. When the time came for ardor's wife to deliver, a large crowd assembled at the maternity hospital in Kathmandu to witness the birth of a baby girl.
The Karmapa Search Committee continued its work at Rumtek, but it soon became a field of jousting as Shamar contended with Situ and Gyaltsab to control the search. The committee's biggest problem was that none of the rinpoches could locate a prediction letter written by the sixteenth Karmapa. A year after the committee was formed, Shamar began his own private search for suitable candidates. Separately, Situ probably began his own search at about the same time. After this, the search committee meetings degenerated into political theater, putting out announcements with little substance to beg the patience of devotees and keep up the appearance of cooperation among the rinpoches. In 1986, the group even put out a false announcement. that they had found a preliminary or "outer" prediction letter written by the sixteenth Karmapa.
General Secretary Topga Rinpoche was taken in by this deception, and from Rumtek he called on Karma Kagyu devotees around the world to accumulate millions of mantra recitations to remove the "obstacles" to finding the final or "inner" prediction letter. The next year, when Topga announced that these rituals were completed, the rinpoches had to admit that there was no "inner" prediction letter, much to their embarrassment. All four rinpoches agreed to this ruse, which they saw as a white lie to buy their group more time to find an authentic letter. To outsiders, such behavior might seem to damage the credibility of all the rinpoches, including the two most active in the search for the seventeenth Karmapa, Shamar and Situ. But Tibetans tend to take a more charitable view of such well intentioned deceptions, seeing them as an occasional necessity to maintain faith in traditional institutions.
Shamar and Situ each conducted their own searches in private without informing the committee at Rumtek. But their style could not have been more different. The more conservative Shamar kept the details of his search to himself. He selectively and carefully enlisted individual lamas from time to time as he needed their help to find clues, follow leads, and report back. It was apparently frustrating to Shamar's followers that he shared information only on a need-to-know basis, and nobody had the full story of the Karmapa search except Shamar himself.
By contrast, Situ Rinpoche began widely sharing information among his allies, including Gyaltsab Rinpoche, Situ's own aide Akong Rinpoche, and former Rumtek Abbot Thrangu and his brother-in-law Tenzin Namgyal. In addition, Situ began recruiting outside allies as soon as he could. Clearly, Situ was less bound by tradition than Shamar. While Shamar continued to insist on the relationship between the Black Hat and Red Hat Karmapas from centuries past to justify his own authority, Situ quickly understood the value of alliances with powerful governments and the usefulness of mass popular support in the new world outside of Tibet.
In the late eighties, in his Karmapa search, Situ began working with the Chinese government and also, probably, with the Dalai Lama's administration. He also began to form political action committees of his supporters around the Himalayas. He helped organize families from Derge in Kham with traditional ties to the Tai Situs and their monastery at Palpung who had resettled in Kathmandu into the Derge Tibetan Buddhist Cultural Association. The group quickly began sending out open letters to the Karmapa Search Committee at Rumtek supporting Situ and calling for haste. Back in Tibet, lay people did not write to high lamas with their opinions about choosing the Karmapa. This was yet another innovation brought by the conditions of exile to the ancient process of finding the incarnation of the Karma Kagyu leader.
A typical letter from 1991 told the search committee that "We are very sad, that causes sadness, therefore, we run out of our patience and with great grief we sent [sic] our request ... We request and urge you to have meeting, quickly, and according to Karmapa's written instruction, the incarnation should be found and there should be enthronement for every body's devotion, without any controversy, and purely." 
In 1992, Situ recruited local families in Sikkim into a second group of supporters, known as the Joint Action Committee. Prominent local leaders, who nursed hopes that their tiny state would someday regain its independence from India, ran the group to court the neighboring Chinese as a counterweight to the authority of New Delhi. The Joint Action Committee operated on the premise that religion should serve politics, and its members sought to increase their power in Sikkim by extending their influence into the Karma Kagyu through Situ Rinpoche. They would be valuable allies.
Situ Takes the Initiative
Tai Situ was the first lama on the search committee to nominate a boy as the seventeenth Karmapa. After years of searching for the late Karmapa's instructions about his rebirth, the search committee's progress was limited to releasing the fake announcement about "outer" and "inner" prediction letters. Then, Tai Situ Rinpoche asked for a meeting of the group. He said that he had important instructions from the late Karmapa that could not wait.
On March 19, 1992, the four members of the Karmapa Search Committee assembled at Rumtek. Hopes ran high among lamas and families in Situ's political action committees that their dynamic lama would present important news of the Karmapa.
On the morning of the search committee meeting, hundreds of Situ's followers were bussed into Rumtek. Prominent among them were excited young Khampa men from the Derge Association in Kathmandu. They were unfriendly to the monks at Rumtek, who they apparently saw as obstructing Tai Situ's Karmapa search. "Many lay people and monks from Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan, followers of Situ Rinpoche, carne to Rumtek Monastery and started causing problems," said Omze Yeshe, one of the top officials of Rumtek at the time. "They said all kinds of things to us monks. Some were aggressive, others were very polite. We observed the situation, and we knew that what was going on wasn't good." 
As the rinpoches met in the sitting room used by the sixteenth Karmapa, the crowd waited outside in the large courtyard for hours, grumbling about delays and threatening problems if the rinpoches did not produce news soon.
All day the committee met with the crowd waiting impatiently in the courtyard outside. The morning began with Tai Situ taking control. He asked if any of the rinpoches had brought a tape recorder or other recording device. Jamgon Kongtrul produced a tape recorder and handed it to Situ. Situ placed it harmlessly in front of him on the table, power switched off. Then he turned and faced the seat of the late Karmapa. He performed three formal prostrations and solemnly placed a khata offering scarf on the chair. This ritual completed, Tai Situ turned back towards the rinpoches. "Do any of you have the prediction letter?" he asked. Each one said that he did not have a letter. Then Situ smiled and slowly removed a small, soiled pouch from his robe. "I have the letter," he said.
From the pouch, he extracted a crisp, white envelope. Situ told the other lamas that the Karmapa had given him the letter concealed within an amulet in 1981, on a visit to Calcutta just before his death later that year. Situ had worn the charm in a black silk brocade pouch around his neck ever since, and had only opened it recently. Then, he discovered the letter. Though thrilled by the discovery, he kept it to himself for a couple years, waiting for the right time and place to present it. This meeting at Rumtek was the right occasion.
Situ held the envelope up so the rinpoches could see the words written on its outside: "Open in the Year of the Iron Horse."
"I was stunned," Shamar told me. "I did not know what to say. I had expected something like this, a forged letter. But Situ Rinpoche showing us such a letter with this instruction, it seemed too sloppy or too careless." To be fair, as we have seen, Shamar and the other three lamas had all agreed to put out their own fake "outer" prediction letter in 1986. But to Shamar, perhaps it was less a problem that Situ's letter was probably forged than that it seemed to have been forged unskillfully. In the Tibetan calendar, the Year of the Iron Horse had come two years earlier, in 1990. "Did Situ think that we could not count!" Shamar gestured to Situ for the letter, and Situ handed it to him. "The handwriting did not look like that of the late Karmapa. The letter was written in red ink, which His Holiness Karmapa never used, and the script was not clear. I had my doubts then. The part where the signature was, it also looked like it was washed, the signature was smudged. The envelope was clean and the letter itself looked so old and all the folds in the paper were old too." After examining the letter critically for a few minutes, Shamar told the group that he had doubts. He handed it over to Jamgon Kongtrul. 
Jamgon then studied the letter, apparently reading the text, noting the handwriting and signature, and comparing the envelope and the letter's paper for a few minutes as Shamar had. Then, according to Shamar, he looked up and told the group that he also had some questions about the letter. However, in Situ's account, Jamgon immediately showed his appreciation of the letter. All agree that from the other end of the table, Gyaltsab answered, with evident excitement, that he was sure the letter was authentic. Curiously, Gyaltsab had not even seen the letter yet; it was still in Jamgon's hands.
Jamgon looked around the room at the rinpoches and then sprang up from the table. He announced that he wanted to run over to his rooms and bring back some samples of the late Karmapa's correspondence that he had saved among his papers. The rinpoches waited in awkward silence the few minutes it took Jamgon to return. All eyes were upon Jamgon as he burst into the room with four or five letters clutched to his chest. He dropped them on the table, and he and Shamar spread them out so that they could compare them to Situ's letter. Shamar shook his head and looked at Jamgon, who gave him a quizzical look.
Shortly afterwards, Shamar explained his experience of the letter and the meeting:
"I was being diplomatic at that time," Shamar told me in retrospect. "I knew the letter must have been a forgery, bur because so many of Situ's supporters were waiting outside, I thought it better to leave open some room for doubt." Shamar had seen hundreds of his uncle's letters, and this was unlike any of them. Instead, it looked more like the handwriting of Tai Situ himself.
In June 1992 Michelle Martin, an American devotee who would publish her biography of Ogyen Trinley Music in the Sky eleven years later in 2003 translated the letter:
Tai Situ's supporters used the details in the letter to identify Ogyen Trinley as the reincarnation of the seventeenth Karmapa: his birthplace of Lhathok was northeast of Rumtek, located in Tibet, the Land of the Snows; his parents were nomads; his father was named Dondrup and his mother, Lolaga. 
Rumtek General Secretary Topga made his own observations on the letter's style and grammar, as written in Tibetan.  Topga Rinpoche was, like Shamar, a nephew of the sixteenth Karmapa. Perhaps no figure has come under stronger attack from supporters of Ogyen Trinley than Topga. Author Lea Terhune, who refers to him by his family name Yugyal and refuses to accord him the title "rinpoche" by which he was generally known during his lifetime, has written that "according to sources within Rumtek, Topga Yugyal seemed to relish power. He systematically sidelined any who dared to differ with him." 
Topga's most outspoken critic was a one-time subordinate at Rumtek, Tenzin Namgyal. Before his death in 2005, Tenzin spoke to author Mick Brown bitterly about his. former boss: "In every individual, human nature is for desire, to be a big man. But Topga had more ego, more pride, more desire. He was always up to some mischief."  Tenzin also accused the sixteenth Karmapa of nepotism in favoring Topga.
Tenzin had good reason to be bitter against Topga. Tenzin fled with the sixteenth Karmapa from Tibet in [959 and worked as an assistant secretary at Rumtek. But in the seventies, Tenzin reportedly became the first person in the Karmapa's administration to start working, secretly, as an agent of the Dalai lama's exile government.
He probably met with JuchenThubten, Dharamsala's point-man on Rumtek, numerous times in the late seventies and throughout the eighties to update him on the Karmapa's doings and later, to help the Dalai lama's group gain influence at Rumtek. General secretary Topga suspected that Tenzin was working with the exile administration, because Tenzin made numerous trips to the Tibet Hotel in Gangtok. the informal office in Sikkim of the Dalai Lama's exile government. But only in 1988 did Topga have enough proof to confront Tenzin and then fire him from his post at Rumtek. Not surprisingly, soon afterwards Tenzin became a vocal supporter of Tai Situ.
Even his critics admit that Topga possessed great ability and drive. He became a monk at a young age and in his teens he showed an aptitude for study. Topga took diligently to his books and excelled in each subject of the traditional Tibetan Buddhist curriculum. In recognition of his learning, at age seventeen, the sixteenth Karmapa awarded Topga two titles usually bestowed on much older men: Dorje Lopon (Vajrayana ritual master) in recognition of his knowledge of Buddhism; and Garchen Tripa, an administrative title that enabled Topga to act as regent over Rumtek in the Karmapa's absence.
"Topga Rinpoche must have had the karma to be strongly criticized," Shamar told me. "Perhaps he was a target for his enemies because he stopped their plans. His loyalty to the Karmapa was the most important thing to him and he was willing to endure anger and hatred for his principles."
Topga was one of the top scholars of the Karma Kagyu, and was known as much for his learning as his dry wit. His skill as a writer was clear in the booklet he published on the Karmapa controversy in 1994, whose title can be translated as Assorted Tales on the Art of Thinking. There, Topga presented his analysis of Situ's prediction letter. His discussion is difficult to follow in English, but one of his points, on the opening of the letter, can help us grasp his approach and understand the doubts of Shamar, Jamgon, and Topga himself when Situ first presented the letter.
The first line of Situ's prediction letter is: "Emaho, self awareness is always bliss."
Emaho is an expression of joy like "Wonderful! Amazing!" or even "Wow!" used when someone experiences something extraordinary but has no words to express it. A great tantric master might use emaho in an exuberant tribute to the bliss of enlightenment, exhorting others to practice meditation to find the same boundless joy.
According to Topga, this is not the tone for a next-life prediction letter, which should instead be more somber and mournful. Anticipating his own death, a great lama or meditation master writes with sadness and compassion for the bad karma of humans that causes the suffering of earthly existence -- birth, old age, sickness, and death. Topga cited the example of a letter written by the sixteenth Karmapa in 1944, at the age of twenty:
We will see this letter again in our examination of Shamar's Karmapa candidate Thaye Dorje. For now, let us return to Topga's analysis of Situ's prediction letter.
In the Tibetan tradition. Topga continued, there is a set format for a letter that a high lama would write to predict his next life: he bemoans the negative activities that occupy most people's lives, and concludes that the time is appropriate for the bodhisattva to die -- he or she cannot be of any further use in such a decadent world. He may even express disgust with monasteries and the practice of dharma in his day and age, and in his country. Then, he would provide details as to his parents and place of birth. Emaho would be out of place in such a letter, whose goal is to teach about death and the inevitable passing of all people and things.
"Now suddenly," Topga said of the prediction letter's first line, using the irony that was the trademark of his critical writing, "Karmapa acts like a Tibetan dancing clown, happy and amused with his death and happy that his followers are sad at his death."
After analyzing another dozen examples of such inconsistencies, Topga concluded that whoever wrote the letter had a poor understanding of the poetic conventions of prediction letters -- literary rules that were well known to the sixteenth Karmapa. For Topga, the letter's language alone exposed it as a forgery. "Even if you finished the first grade of Tibetan philosophy," Topga chided the letter's author -- presumably, Tai Situ -- "you would know how to lie better than this."
In the weeks after Situ first presented the letter at Rumtek in March 1992, the monastery's administration analyzed it for authenticity. For the interested reader, appendix B contains a summary of the Rumtek administration's findings relating to the letter's signature, handwriting, and letterhead.
Secret and Confidential
Back at the Search Committee meeting at Rumtek in March, 1992, Shamar was not happy. "I strongly objected to revealing this letter," Shamar said. "The world now was not like Tibet in the old days. High lamas and normal people would analyze the letter and they would find it to be clearly false. Then after that they would also doubt the authenticity of all previous Karmapas as well. I told the group that it was better to say that there is no prediction letter."
Sim passed over Shamar's objections. Instead of answering them, he said that according to the letter it was necessary to send Rumtek General Secretary Topga to search for the boy. "Does that mean that you do not already know where the boy is?" Shamar asked. "I said again that we should not reveal this letter. But we could look for the boy anyway. In the meantime, we should send the letter for a forensic test. So later, if both the boy and the letter would prove true, we could reveal them.
"Situ Rinpoche objected that this would cost a lot of money and would take a lot of time resulting in delay finding the buy. I said that there was no problem; we could find a way to do it all quickly and without much cost. Anyway, Situ Rinpoche should not have had a veto on testing the letter. Whenever a prediction letter about the Karmapa was presented by anyone in the past, it has always become the property of the Karmapa's labrang. So the Rumtek administration should have decided whether to test it or not. But Situ just pushed ahead; there was no time for discussion.
'''Who should hold onto the letter for safekeeping!' Situ Rinpoche asked our group.
"'Well, you can't keep the letter because you have produced it and I can't keep it because I am opposing it', I said. Jamgon Kongtrul and Gyaltsab also did not want to keep the letter. So we decided to store it in a gau [a small silver relic box] and place the gau in a larger wooden box with a lock. All this time Situ Rinpoche looked nervous and Gyaltsab's face was red and angry-looking.
"Then Situ Rinpoche said that according to the letter, the direction to travel to find the Karmapa was east. He said it could either be Arunachal Pradesh state in India or somewhere in eastern Tibet. He then asked who should go to search for the boy," Shamar told me. Jamgon Kongtrul quickly said that he would volunteer. Though he had expressed his doubts about the letter, Jamgon seemed the least opinionated of all the rinpoches, so none of the others could object.
"We started talking about what to tell the people. especially all of Situ's followers visiting Rumtek that day. 1 asked Tai Situ, Tell me frankly, rinpoche, if you have found a remarkable boy through your own meditation whom you think could be Karmapa, and then if you forged this letter to try to convince us, please tell us. We can still look for the boy but we can just burn this letter here to protect the reputation of the Karmapa. Otherwise, we will have to show the letter to everyone. All the rinpoches today are very clever, and they will discover that the letter ;s fake. This will look very bad. Or, if you insist that the letter is genuine, then we must send it out for a forensic science test. Will you agree?' Situ looked at me, and he seemed about to say something. Then, he changed his face and just said 'No.'''
The meeting went on all day. By evening, Jamgon proposed that the rinpoches should not mention Situ's letter, but instead they should compose a public statement that the committee was beginning a search for a boy according to instructions in a vague prediction that the group had announced earlier. They thought this could buy them six or eight months more time to test Situ's letter and for Jamgon to find the boy. All the rinpoches agreed with Jamgon's proposal.
"I had already been doing a search for my candidate but had not said anything about it before and I did not mention it at this meeting either," Shamar told me. "I suspected earlier that Situ was involved in politics over choosing the Karmapa. This day it became evident that Gyaltsab was also involved."
Topga made photocopies of the letter and gave each rinpoche a copy. The four rinpoches agreed to keep the letter secret until Jamgon returned from his search. Then, they allowed the leaders of the groups waiting outside to enter the meeting room. "Lower lamas and politicians had never before gotten involved in a Karmapa search," Shamar told me. "But there was so much pressure on our committee; we could not keep these followers out. They thought they had a right to be part of the process." About a dozen guests came into the room, including Situ's aide Akong Rinpoche and Kunzang Sherab, a retired Sikkimese state government official who had just become the head of Situ's new political action committee in Gangtok, the Joint Action Committee.
"Akong and another man named Karge were the first to ask, 'Where was the prediction letter?' It sounded pre-arranged. Situ quickly showed the envelope and took out the letter and showed it from a distance. He just waved it in front of the group and people were not able to read it. But he should not have done this, it broke the agreement we had made just a few minutes earlier to keep the letter secret. Jamgon and I commented to each other on this behavior and we were both shocked. The visitors looked strangely at us whispering together.
"At that time, rumors were going around that Akong would deal with China as the 'foreign secretary' of Tai Situ and that Karge was his 'home secretary,' responsible for getting support in Sikkim. In the room, Karge said 'Don't tell us it will take more time to find the Karmapa, it has already taken so many years, and now again you say we have to wait eight more months. We cannot!' Then Akong announced that Karmapas had always been recognized in the past by Tai Situs and that Situ Rinpoche would make sure we found the Karmapa without delay. I quickly answered, 'Look at all the thangkas and books in this room. They show that different lamas have recognized past Karmapas. Look at history and don't say things that aren't true,'" Shamar said. The meeting then broke up.
The ordinary monks who lived at Rumtek had no official role in the process of selecting the next Karmapa. But both Shamar and Situ Rinpoche tried to explain their respective positions to the monks, knowing that their opinion would influence the Rumtek administration and the board of the Karmapa Charitable Trust which controlled the property of the sixteenth Karmapa under Indian law.
Khenpo Ngawang Gelek was one of these monks. Now age 41, Khenpo Ngawang lives in the San Francisco area, where he teaches at one of Shamar Rinpoche's Bodhi Path centers. He first came to Rumtek in 1981, just after the death of the sixteenth Karmapa. He completed a ten-year course of study at the monk's school, the Nalanda Institute, earning the degree of khenpo. After graduation in 1991, Khenpo Ngawang was one of eight khenpos out of a graduating class of twenty chosen to remain at the school and teach. He began by teaching alternately at Rumtek and at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute (KIBI) in New Delhi. He told me about his time at Rumtek.
He lived at the monastery through the turbulent years before Situ and Gyaltsab took over on August 2, 1993. That day, he fled Rumtek, leaving all his things behind. "The monks who stayed, 1 heard later, they broke open the door on my room and took all my things, such as black pills from the sixteenth Karmapa, a very old Kalachakra text with a lot of oil paintings, relics from Bodhanath in Kathmandu, and many holy pills I got from a Sakya lama. I also had some money, about 25,000 Indian rupees ($800).
"I don't mind losing the money but the texts and the pills are impossible to replace. The texts were more than a hundred years old, commentary on the Kalachakra, written by hand. Maybe they sold them or threw them out, I really don't know." After fleeing Rumtek, Khenpo Ngawang took refuge at Shamar Rinpoche's house nearby for a few days and then he moved to New Delhi to live at KIBI. In 1994, he left India to take up his teaching post in California.
Khenpo Ngawang then told me about how the problems began at Rumtek. "I think maybe they started back in the late eighties. We heard so many rumors from the outside but we didn't really know what to believe. Some said that Situ and Shamar Rinpoches were recognizing the next Karmapa. I heard these rumors in Nepal when 1 returned home to my family on vacation. But most of the monks ignored them because we believed in the four rinpoches as excellent."
Only when Situ presented his prediction letter at the search committee meeting in 1992 did the Rumtek monks start to get involved. "I was teaching at KIBI in New Delhi at that time and then 1went back to Rumtek. We heard very good news before 1 got there, that the Karmapa had been found. But once I reached Rumtek I heard that it was not such good news, that Situ Rinpoche had brought lay people and his own monks from Nepal and Sikkim who were saying that we had to recognize Karmapa now.
"Some monks said it was great that Situ Rinpoche had found the Karmapa and they pressured the rest to agree with them, to sign papers saying this. We did not want to take sides between the rinpoches, and it was not our job to decide who would be the Karmapa. We just wanted to follow an authentic Karmapa. We were very confused."
Inquiring Minds Want to Know
The day after the Search Committee session, Sikkim Chief Minister Bhandari made the Karmapa search into official state government business. At his office in Gangtok, he organized a commission of four state government officials to "oversee" the search for the Karmapa conducted by the rinpoches at Rumtek. The four went straight to Rumtek and asked to speak to the rinpoches on the search committee. The officials began to inquire about the process for finding the Karmapa.
"We told them that Jamgon Rinpoche would go to look for the boy and that it would take about eight months to announce the result," Shamar told me. "But I asked them why state government people were showing interest in finding the Karmapa. These were lay people and should have been the last to know about a high religious matter like this. In Tibet, this never would have happened. Even in exile, the Constitution of India prohibited the government from interfering with religion. But in Mr. Bhandari's Sikkim, it seemed that his officials were among the first to get religious news from Rumtek. Things in exile had really gotten turned upside down."
Despite Shamar's protests and the doubts of Jamgon Kongtrul, the two other search committee members, Tai Situ and Gyaltsab, went ahead as if all the rinpoches agreed that their letter was authentic. They made dozens of copies of the letter and faxed them to their supporters around the Himalayas. Situ did not wait for Jamgon to go to Tibet. In April, on his own and without obtaining permission from or even notifying the search committee at Rumtek, Situ sent his aide Akong Rinpoche to inform the Chinese government about the nomad boy referred to in the letter, a child named Apo Gaga. Situ would rename him Ogyen Trinley when he recognized the child as Karmapa.
Over several years, Akong had developed a good relationship with the Chinese authorities and. their Tibetan surrogates in Lhasa. The Chinese had even proclaimed Akong to be a "Living Buddha," a title the government used for Tibetan lamas who worked to create harmony between Buddhist devotees in Tibet arid the Communist administration. Akong arranged permission from the authorities to bring the boy to the reconstructed Tsurphu monastery. To Shamar, the timing of Situ's actions after presenting the letter showed that sending Jamgon to Tibet was just a ruse, because Situ had apparently already arranged everything necessary to bring a boy to Tsurphu and enthrone him there.
Whether his trip would have done any good or not, tragically, Jamgon Kongtrul never left for Tibet. On the morning of April 26, 1992, the affable rinpoche was killed when his new BMW, a gift from his brother in the United States, crashed into a tree on a rain-soaked road outside of the city of Siliguri. If Jamgon had lived, perhaps the Worst of the Karmapa dispute could have been avoided. Many observers think that Jamgon could have made peace between Shamar and Situ and Gyaltsab. But with Jamgon gone, Shamar would be alone on the search committee in doubting Situ's letter. Immediately, the traditional extended funeral consisting of forty-nine days of ceremonies were organized at Rumtek.
At this point, with the help of Gyaltsab, Situ started to increase the pace of his activity. In May, at Situ's request, the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region issued a formal invitation for Orgyen Trinley and his family to come to Tsurphu. Situ's aide Akong and one of Gyaltsab's lamas headed a reception party that brought the boy am! his parents in state to the monastery.
To Shamar and the Rumtek administration, it seemed clear from the timing of events that Situ had arranged to find the nomad boy even before he presented the prediction letter to the Karmapa Search Committee at Rumtek in March. They wondered how the boy could be found in the expanses of eastern Tibet in under a month, and who had found him? Indeed, though he said nothing about it at Rumtek, it later surfaced that Situ Rinpoche had already met the boy during a visit to the historic seat of the Situs, Palpung monastery, in the summer of 1991. Later, Situ sent him a rosary from Beijing. So the two already had a connection nearly a year before Situ presented his prediction letter at Rumtek In March 1992.
This meant that Tai Situ had chosen Ogyen Trinley without the help of his prediction letter.
Enter the Dalai Lama
On June 6, Situ and Gyaltsab disappeared from Rumtek. They rushed to Dharamsala to inform the Dalai Lama that they had found a boy who matched the dues in Situ's prediction letter.
As we have seen, Tibetan history gave the Dalai Lama no religious authority to confirm Karmapas, since the Tibetan leader was not a member of the Karma Kagyu school, but belonged instead to the Gelug order. Outsiders are used to hearing the Tibetan leader referred to as the "spiritual leader of Tibet." But such titles need to be seen in cultural context. In Tibet, both government officials and high lamas sported numerous honorific titles for formal occasions. Tibetans even addressed foreign rulers as "emanations" of various bodhisattvas: Genghis Khan and the Mongol chiefs were Vajrapani, Confucius and the Chinese Qing emperors were Manjushri, Queen Victoria was Palden Lhamo, and the Czars of Russia were Tara.  This was clearly diplomacy, not religion.
History tells us that the kings of Tibet were considered emanations of Avalokiteshvara and given the title "spiritual leader of Tibet." After the fifth Dalai Lama overthrew the Tsangpa kings in the seventeenth century, the Dalai Lamas inherited the "Spiritual leader" title. Historically, the title did not confer on the Tibetan political leader any administrative authority over the monasteries of the four religious schools (three Buddhist, plus the pre-Buddhist Bon) outside of the Dalai lama's own Gelugpa. In the same way, for example, during the Cold War, the United States President was known as the "Leader of the Free World," an honorific that did not give him administrative authority over the governments of France, Germany, or any other American allies.
"Since the Karmapas were the first series of recognized reincarnations," according to Tibet scholar Geoffrey Samuel, "there was initially no issue of their being recognized by the Dalai Lamas or the Lhasa Government, since neither existed at that time." 
Like Catholics and Protestants, the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism, including the Gelug and the Karma Kagyu, had always been run independently of each other and of the Dalai Lama's government in Lhasa. Just as the Pope does not choose the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, so none of the previous sixteen Karmapas had ever been chosen by a Dalai lama. Indeed, the Karmapas preceded the Dalai Lamas by nearly three centuries, so obviously they got their tradition started without help from the Gelugpa leaders.
Given how clear it is in the history of Tibet that the Dalai lamas had no role in choosing Karmapas, this fact has been the subject of a surprising amount of contention. Shamar's supporters have tried to communicate this simple point of history for more than a decade, but many Western journalists in particular have dismissed historical fact as just Shamar's point of view. Many have gone on to accept uncritically the claim of Ogyen Trinley's supporters that the Dalai Lama's approval is needed to select a Karmapa. Clearly, only the prestige of the current Dalai lama has allowed this non-issue to become a point of argument.
But however much we might admire the Dalai Lama as a symbol of human rights, a spokesman for the Tibetan cause, or a Buddhist teacher, it is necessary to understand that the Dalai lama's view is not a final judgment for the Karma Kagyu school but rather, it is merely his own position. And it is a position that Tibetan history contradicts.
"No Dalai lama before this one has ever decided who should lead the Kagyupa school," explained a 2001 film investigating the Karmapa issue by Japan Times writer Yoichi Shimatsu. "Leadership issues have always been left to each of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism to decide on their own. Yet, on the ninth of June 1992, the Dalai lama took the unprecedented step of endorsing a candidate to succeed the sixteenth Karmapa." 
Though Situ and Gyaltsab knew that the Dalai Lama had no historical authority to choose the Karmapa, they recognized that the Tibetan leader's prestige and reputation carried great persuasive power in the world of exile. Thus, to trump Shamar and to brush aside his objections to Situ's prediction letter, it was necessary for Situ and Gyaltsab to get the Dalai lama's public support.
But Situ may have had a darker purpose than just legitimizing his Karmapa choice. To many Karma Kagyu lamas, it appeared that Situ wanted to make the Dalai Lama the affective head of the Karmapa's school. In exchange for handing over control of the Karmapa to the Dalai Lama, Tai Situ would then gain control for himself of the wealth of the Karmapa at Rumtek. In the future, Situ could access the valuables at the monastery through a pliable figurehead Karmapa.
Whatever his motivation, Situ worked quickly and effectively to gain the Dalai lama's support for his Karmapa candidate. After placing a couple of phone calls to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where the Dalai lama was speaking, the two lamas received a statement of his support for Ogyen Trinley on June 9. This would be the first of several statements that the Dalai lama and his ministers would issue in favor of Ogyen Trinley.
The Dalai lama's first statement was an informal confirmation of Ogyen Trinley, sent by fax from Brazil. On June 30, after separate meetings the previous day with Situ and Gyaltsab and with Shamar, the Dalai Lama issued a statement known as the Buktham Rinpoche, giving his formal seal of approval to Ogyen Trinley. As we have seen, with the confusing exception of the sixteenth Karmapa, never before in history had a Dalai lama approved a Karmapa. Yet, for thousands of Tibetans and outsiders, as Mick Brown wrote in The Dance of 17 Lives, "the matter was settled."  But it was far from settled for Shamar and the monks of the sixteenth Karmapa at Rumtek.
Three days later, Tashi Wangdi, a minister of the Dalai lama's exile administration, announced the Dalai lama's approval of Ogyen Trinley, writing that "The Karmapas have the tradition of leaving behind a prediction letter detailing the whereabouts of their reincarnation. Aided by such prediction letters, the Dalai Lamas traditionally made the final confirmation of the reincarnation."  Again, as we have seen, history shows that this claim is incorrect. The Karmapas began reincarnating three centuries before the appearance of the Dala'i Lamas, and afterwards they were often rivals. The Dalai lama's group was clearly trying to justify its interference in the Karmapa recognition with a reference to history that was untrue.
Six weeks later, on July 23, the Department of Religion and Culture of the exiled Tibetan government issued yet another statement to clarify the Dalai lama's position. Why so many statements? It was clear that the Dalai Lama's initial pronouncement on Ogyen Trinley did not in fact settle the issue. This statement said that based on a unanimous decision of the Karmapa Search Committee, the Dalai Lama was simply confirming Ogyen Trinley. The Dalai Lama used very precise wording. He did not give his own opinion on the boy, but deferred instead to the judgment of the Karma Kagyu lamas: "According to formal announcements issued from Rumtek, the Sacred Letter and its interpreted indications were approved by the four regents at their last Council Meeting held at Rumtek on March 19, 1992." 
Ever since, though the Tibetan leader has made statements in favor of Ogyen Trinley, it has been unclear how much initiative came from the Dalai Lama himself and how much came from his ministers and advisors such as Juchen Thubten, the point-man for Tibetan Government-in-Exile involvement at Rumtek.
As they had been watching Tai Situ ever since he started traveling to China in the early eighties, so Indian officials had been watching the Karmapa fight to see what effect it would have on their control of restive Sikkim. They were confused by the Dalai Lama's action. Why would he interfere in the Karma Kagyu? Why would he support a tulku candidate put forth by Communist China? In his fourteen-page report marked "secret" on every page and sent to the Indian cabinet in New Delhi (reproduced in full in appendix A), the chief secretary of Sikkim, K. Sreedhar Rao, opined that the Dalai Lama might have been influenced to make a hasty Karmapa recognition by his advisors, who in turn were influenced by Tai Situ. Rao went on to speculate on other reasons the Dalai Lama might have supported Ogyen Trinley:
Rao concluded that the affair needed more investigation, since it was the first time that the Chinese and the Dalai Lama had agreed on a tulku candidate.