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Dear Dharmafriends,

today two 17th Karmapa are enthroned: Trinle Thaye Dorje and Ogyen Trinle Dorje. Both act according to the high ideal of a Bodhisattva, a fact we should deeply rejoice it. There or few beings on earth who equal them in knowledge, compassion, and realization.

Sadly the people around high Lamas often are motivated by worldlier interests. Since the early 1990ies among the followers of the late Karmapa a serious conflict arose: Who was his authentic reincarnation?

In the Karma Kagyü school traditionally mainly four Tulkus took care of the identification of the reincarnation of the Karmapa. Sharmapa was the highest among them, folloowed by Situ, Kongtrul and Gyaltsab Rinpoche. 1992 Situ and Gyaltsab wrote the Dalai Lama that they would have found the true reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa, later named Ogyen Trinle Dorje, and that all Karma Kagyü Lamas were would agree in the choice – which was not true, as Shamarpa had expressed serious doubts about the reincarnation (he questioned the authenticity of the “prophecy letter”, composed supposingly by the 16th Karmapa and demanded a forensic examination, which Situpa refused). As the Dalai Lama thought all regents were going along with the decision, and based on this wrong information the Dalai Lama gave his approval.[1]

Sharmapa subsequently enthroned Karmapa Thaye Dorje as 17th Karmapa, whom he had discovered in the mid-eighties, but kept secret, in order to protect him from Chinese intervention, as he lived for many years in Lhasa.

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. But 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.

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, and the month after a photo of himself and “the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinle”. His Holiness Drikung Chelsang invited both 17th Karmapas as chef guest to the great gathering at Sarasvati India in 2018.

So more and more high Lamas in the Tibetan tradition acknowledge both 17th Karmapas.

I like the words the Canadian Lama Namgyal Rinpoche voiced after having met both 17th Karmapas:

“…the thing for any being is, just don’t speculate… the certainty is in the actual presence of the being… unless you have actually met them, where is the ‘discriminating’ awareness? … and there might be another one, why not, right? He could be she, reborn as a woman for this age — why not? So, there are many possibilities”.

We like things to be clear, like certainties we can rely on. But, for the sake of our spiritual progress, does it really matter who is the Karmapa? For me the important point is what does the Lama does with me… Does he inspire me? Is he free of politics? Does he do what he’s preaching? We should meet the 17th Karmapa we have a karmic connection to, or both, and decide for our own –  without preconceptons. When the 16th Karmapa came to the West, he inspired thousands of Westerners to start practicing Buddhism. Most people did not mind, that he was kind of a “pope” of Buddhism. (Or to the contrarysome antiauthritarian Hippies of the time were rather shocked by that). But his presence convinced them anyway. With the same openness we should encounter the Lamas. let’s forget about who in the hierarchy was higher and thus had the right to recognize the 17th Karmapa and look for ourselves!

With best wishes for your path



[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.



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