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Dear Dharmafriends,

today two 17th Karmapa are enthroned Trinle Thaye Dorje and Ogyen Trinle. Both act according to the high ideal of a Bodhisattva, a fact we should deeply rejoice it. Sadly the people around high Lamas often are motivated by worldlier interests. Since the early 1990ies a conflict among the followers of the late Karmapa arose: Who was his authentic reincarnation? I often hear that Karmapa Thaye Dorje was fake, because the most of the Karma Kagyü followers are with Ogyen Trinle (which is true only for Asia and Northamerica). They argue also that the most beloved and best known representative of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama himself, had approved him. How could one, who like him emanates so much love and compassion, fail? It may seem that I try to prove that Ogyen Trinle was not the Karmapa, but that’s not true. I want to show nothing else but the fact that those who say that the “proofs” of those, who supposedly clearly show that Ogyen Trinle was the one and only authentic 17th Karmapa, are not very convincing.

Already historically it had never been the role of the Dalai Lama to choose the Karmapa, except during the lifetime of the 13th Dalai Lama, who as King of Tibet passed a law that the incarnations of all schools needed his approval (with the side effect that his government tried to install the son of a minister as a fake 16th Karmapa).

We need to consider as well, that almost all the high Lamas have Samayas, spiritual bounds, with the Dalai Lama. Due to them – and due to the huge respect they have towards him – they don’t dare to announce in public that they trust Karmapa Thaye Dorje. But in private, great and higly realized Lamas like the late Chobgye Tri Rinpoche, Chokling Rinpoche, the late Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche and many others consider(ed) him to be the Karmapa. Lately the Second Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche posted a photo of himself and “the 17th Karmapa, Thaye Dorje” on Facebook.

In 1992 Tai Situ Rinpoche presented a prophecy letter. He claimed the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa would have given him the letter a decade earlier. This Sacred Letter of Prediction was ever since presented as proof for the authenticity of his candidate Ogyen Trinle. But from the first moment when it was shown in March 1992, it was seriously questioned by the highest regent of the Karma Kagyü School, Shamarpa. Situpa refused Shamarpa’s wish to test it forensically. Others Lamas question the authenticity of the letter as well, among them Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche.

In spite of Shamarpa’s doubts, in June the regents Situpa and Gyaltsabpa sought the approval of the Dalai Lama for their choice. The Dalai Lama asked, whether all Kagyü Lama shared their point of view that the child which had been found in Tibet and fitted to the “Sacred Letter of Prophecy” was authentic. The both regents answered it was so: Based on this wrong information the Dalai Lama gave his approval.[1]

A prophecy of Chokgyur Lingpa supposingly shows clearly Ogyen Trinley to be the Karmapa. But this as well is not 100% convincing, as is shown in the corresponding post.

A lot of bad Karma was created by demonizing the second highest ranking Kagyü-Lama after the Karmapa, the Shamarpa. Old accusations of the 18th century medieval Tibetan Government were refreshed, in order to prove that the whole reincarnation line of the Shamarpa was a Machiavellian power-hungry midstream. New historical research proves those accusations against the 10th Shamarpa untrue, or at least highly exaggerated. The comment of the 16th Karmapa concerning this accusations was: ‘Merit was becoming smaller and smaller. There was much political interference. Black was becoming white. The real was becoming unreal.”[2]

I hope all of this will be convincing enough that the followers of Ogyen Trinle consider Karmapa Thaye Dordje as well. And might wish to meet him, as I went to see Ogyen Trinle as well. The lesson to be learned by the Karmapa conflict is that, given the fact that Tibetan and Chinese politics are more and more involved in the choice of reincarnation, we cannot trust the fact that a Lama is the reincarnation of such-and-such but see for ourselves, whether his qualities inspire us and convince us.

I would advise everybody to read Dzongsar Khyentse’s critical words about the Tulku system. From my point of view, the problem we face today is clearly exposed in this essay. Its not about whether there were one, two, ten or thousand Karmapa’s, but the way Tulkus are misused for personal interest, the so-called Eight Worldly Dharmas.

If we don’t manage to bring transparency in the Tulku system and abandon bad old traditional Tibetan habits, the trust in the liberating force of the Dharma and the authentic incarnations will be diminished as well.

With my very best wishes, and may all this rather diminish than increase our confusion!


[1] The Dalai Lama wrote as answer concerning the choice of Situ and Gyaltsab: “It is very good that … all the Tulkus, lamas and monasteries belonging to the lineage are one-pointed in their devotion and aspiration”. A letter from the Private Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama Confirming the Reincarnation of His Holiness the 16th Gyalwang 9 June 1992  Karmapa, 9 June 1992. Beru Khyentse Rinpoche confirms: “As for HH the Dalai Lama’s involvement, he has been told by HE Situ Rinpoche and Gyltasab Rinpoche that all the Karma Kagyu lamas, both high and low, will accept this incarnation, which is supposed to be mentioned in the letter they held. Then HH the Dalai Lama said if that is so, he will issue a letter of support. At that time, HH the Dalai Lama thought that all our great Kagyu Lineage holders were of one mind. He was not aware that there was already a problem and disharmony between the regents. If he had known, he may not have issued the support letter or at least, he would have delayed his decision in issuing the support letter.” Beru Khyentse Rinpoche, Letter to followers of the Karma Kagyu tradition around the world, 7 Dec 2003.

[2] The quote goes on: “At that time it was not practicable to have any Shamarpa recognised or enthroned. Everything was kept secret. The incarnations appeared, but were not revealed”, Douglas/White: Karmapa, the Black Hat Lama of Tibet, p. 151.


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