Lea Terhune’s book “Karmapa Politics of Reincarnation”

Dear reader, I will start this side with a short article of my own about the book, and then follow with more detailed critics by other authors, such as Sylvia Wong.

The main part of the book consists of nice biographic scetches about the 16. Karmapa and the Karmapa candidate Ogyen Trinley, they are nice to read.

But there is a whole section about the so called Karmapa issue (the contrversy about two karmapa candidates Thaye Dorje and Ugyen Trinley) which is not at all balanced, rather disinformation.

This unbalanced presentation starts already on the VIIth page, the cast of carcters”, where Shamarpa, the second high ranked lama of the Kagyü school who intronized Karmapa Thaye Dorje is presented : his “incarnations had been banned for 250 years because of the political intrigues of the tenth Shamarpa [see in detail below, Yeshe]. One of the four main disciples or heart sons of the Sixteenth Karmapa, he is also a nephew.” .

One may ask why it is at this point of important to intruduce him as nephew?

There is a prophecy of the 5th Karmapa concerning the difficulties in the Kagyu lineage in our time. This prophecy names a lama “having the name Nata” being responsible for the almost destruction of the dharma of the Karmapa. On page 216 Terhune interprets this Nata as”relation, protector or nephew”, aknowledging that other translations are possible. But neither nephew nor relative seems adequate: As the vienna based Tibetelogist Tina Draszczyk analyses (in Kagyü Life No. 9, August 1992), the word Nata doesn´t appear in any tibetan dictionary and the prophecy speaks  clearly about somebody „having the name Nata”. (You can try to find Nata yourself http://www.nitartha.org/dictionary_search04.html). Here we understand  how the book manipulates facts to give a bad impression of Shamar Rinpoche, the nephew of the 16th Karmapa. She writes: “and it has been suggested that twonephews, Shamarpa and Topga, wished to retain power at Rumtek, thought their proper role was  a protector – another meaning of the word – of Karmapas properties”

Karmapa Thaye Dorje doesn´t even appear on this cast of carcters” of Terhune´s book. He´s presented at the end of the book as a „rival” who appears, a „thin pale boy” intronised at the Karmapa International Institute (Kibi) in Delhi in 1994. To his father, the 3rd Mipham Rinpoche, isn´t even given the title Rinpoche. She calles him simply Mipham. That’s another point – the style of the book: people supporting Karmapa Thaye Dorje are not presented respectfully. Terhune questiones even that Mipham Rinpoche is an authentic incarnation, as the 1st Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche said he wouldn´t reincarnate. This is true, but what is not said in the book is, that he foretold he would manifest in many emanations. So the 2nd Mipham Rinpoche was recognized by nobody less then Jamyang Khentse Chökyi Lodrö Rinpoche, one of the great masters of the Rime movement in Tibet. (By the way Trungpa Rinpoche predicted to reincarnate as japanese scientist, or along other sources as a fisher, nevertheless a new incarnation had been found in Tibet by Situpa. And Trungpas son, The Sakyong Mipham, was installed by the actual head of the Nyingma school HH Penor Rinpoche as another incarnation of the 1st Mipham Rinpoche, who died in 1912)

Terhune indirectly accuses Shamarpa and his party to have murdered Jamgon Kontrul Rinpoche, who died in a car accident. And this in spite of the fact that the only one who survived the accident said that they drove to quickly and the driver dried to avoid birds who were on the road. Even the 16th Karmapa gave two protectorcords to both Jamgon Kontrul Rinpoche and Beru Khyentse Rinpoche, saying that they should wear them as in future they would have problems with car accidents. The day Jamgon Kontrul Rinpoche and his driver testd the brand new BMW in the bad roads of West Bengal/India, he had forgotten to put it around his neck. But his attendant, who solely survived the accident, had it in his pocked (see:  Beru Khyentse Rinpoche, “Beautiful Garland of White Lotusses”, p.50. “Pema Karpo Trinzee”) or: http://www.khyenkong-tharjay.org/bkr2p4.htm.

The book rises an interesting question. The young HH Ogyen Trinley, called Apo Gaga as a child, was brought to Karlek Gon Monastery, where he stood several years, because it was clear he was a Tulku. There he remained some years and both Situpa and the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (one of the highest Nyingmalamas) met him – this before the prediction letter of the 16th Karmapa was presented to the regents and the public in 1992. Both, Situpa and Dilgo Khyentse have the capacity to recognize a Karmapa when they meet him- why didn’t they recognize Apo Gaga as the head of the kagyü school when they met him in 1990/91?

Some general remarks

What are the main pillars of the recognition of Karmapa Ogyen Trinley presented in the book?

1)The „prophecy letter” of the 16th Karmapa. This letter was presented in 1992 by Situpa and its authenticy was questioned immediatetly by Shamarpa. He asked for a forensic test, Situpa refused.

2) The recognition by HH the 14th Dalai Lama. First: he did his decision based on a wrong information: Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches presented the choice HH Ogyen Trinley as the choice of all Kagyu-regents, responsible for the recognition of the reincarnation  of the late 16th Karmapa, including Shamarpa, which was not true. Seconly it is not the role of a Dalai Lama to recognize a Karmapa. It’s simply not his role to approve Kagyü Tulkus! (See: Geoffry Samuel, Prof of Newcastle University/New Zealand). In the case of the reincarnation of the 15th Karmapa, a wrong canditate were presented by the government of the Dalai Lama in Lhassa, headed by the 13th Dalai Lama. This candidate died so the real 16. Karmapa could be installed (see: Blazing Splendor The Memoirs of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, as told to Erik Pema Kunsang & Marcia Binder-Schmidt p. 59/60)

I could go more in details of the book. As a sociologist who wrote his diploma about foreign politics of the Us, namely the CIA I am used to find some solid foundations for the allegations one does. The book of Terhune mostly quotes insider material as the interviews she did herself etc., rarely hard facts and no documents are shown in the appendix. This and the polemic style makes that I cannot recommend this book at all. Its rather sad that such material is published and even more that Wisdom Pub. did it. Normally they only publish profound Dharmabooks.

Now some citations of

Sylvia Wong “The Karmapa Prophecies”

10th Chapter: The 10th Shamarpa

A brief introduction to the history of the period

Perhaps one of the most maligned Tibetans in the history of China is the 10th Shamarpa Chokdrup Gyatso (1742-1792). In Chinese recorded history, he is depicted as a man who sided with Nepal and betrayed the government of the Emperor of China. Lea Terhune takes this view and blames the 10th Shamarpa for triggering warfare between Nepal and Tibet. As I will show, not all of the historical facts in this case have been fully disclosed.

One Gelugpa official within the Tibetan government at that time, Doringpa, was directly appointed by the Emperor of China as head of a negotiation team (…)

At the outset, Doringpa was responsible for drawing up an initial peace treaty, which was signed by both sides. The 10th Shamarpa was in political asylum in Nepal at the time, and acted as a mediator between the two governments. The treaty was deemed a good compromise and the Chinese Emperor rewarded Doringpa with a prestigious promotion. He became the highest-ranked minister in the Lhasa government, just below the regent (or head of government). Later, Tsemon ling Ngawang Tsultrim, a regent of Lhasa tried to nullify this first treaty, but he died before he was able to go through with the plan. Nonetheless, the Nepalese caught word of the deceased regent’s intent to renege on the agreement and became very suspicious of the Tibetan government. When Doringpa later traveled to Nepal to follow through with the terms of the first treaty, he and his colleagues were taken captive by the Nepalese government. They were placed under house arrest in Kathmandu close to the 10th Shamarpa’s residence, in a house especially built for them. They were released later, shortly after the 10th Shamarpa passed away. Doringpa was therefore an eyewitness to the Tibetan government’s negotiations with Nepal. He also attended the 10th Shamarpa’s funeral.

Doringpa kept a journal detailing the events that transpired at the time, and recording his observations and experiences. (…) official records differ from Doringpa’s reports in that they extol the Qing Emperor and his government. Later, Doringpa turned his journal into an autobiography. It is the only Tibetan source of recorded history for that period that gives a firsthand account of the 10th Shamarpa’s involvement in the Gurkha-Tibet negotiations. (…) there are no other Tibetan sources. (…). My account here is based on that (…)

Aside from Doringpa’s journal, there are verbal accounts that have been passed down through the generations within the Karma Kagyu School. A Tibetan government decree strictly forbade anyone to write anything about the 10th Shamarpa after his passing. (…)

Clarification of Terhune’s claims in KPR (Karmapa, Politics of Reincarnation)

I would like to offer a brief clarification of two claims in Terhune’s book: 1. that the 10th Shamarpa instigated the Gurkha War, and 2. that he poisoned himself.

As written in Terhune; page 147, line 24-26: “The Gurkhas have been spoiling for a fight with Tibet. In this they were helped by the Shamarpa, who is credited by historians with instigating the Gurkha War…”

and Terhune page 150, line 9-10:

Around this time the Shamarpa is said to have poisoned himself…”


10th Shamarpa’s self-imposed exile in Nepal

The 10th Shamarpa was the half brother of the Panchen Lama. While the Panchen Lama was still alive, he helped the 10th Shamarpa in his attempt to reclaim some Karma Kagyu monasteries, which were taken over by the Gelug sect.1183 They failed and their efforts greatly displeased the ruling government and made the 10th Shamarpa many enemies including the regent.

The Panchen Lama died of small pox in 1780 during his visit to the Chinese Emperor’s court in Beijing. The Qing Emperor was the de facto ruler of Tibet at that time. The Qing Emperor gave 50,000 gold coins to the deceased’s family as a consolation.

This money should have been divided among the Panchen Lama’s family members. However, his younger brother Drunpa Huthog Ga Thu, who was also an important lama at the Panchen Lama’s Tashilunpo monastery, decided to withhold the 10th Shamarpa’s share. His rationale was that Shamarpa was not a Gelug monk.

Drunpa Huthog Ga Thu also spread rumours that the 10th Shamarpa was friendly with the British, whom the Qing Emperor regarded as his greatest enemy. Drunpa spread these rumours in hopes that the Chinese Emperor would cut the 10th Shamarpa off from his share of the gold.

The 10th Shamarpa knew the allegations against him were very serious. He no longer had the support of the Panchen Lama since his death. At that time, extreme forms of torture were part of the judiciary system. To escape being wrongfully

charged and sentenced by his enemies in the government, he decided to go on a pilgrimage to Nepal in 1784.

Disputes between Nepal and Tibet

Unfortunately, the 10th Shamarpa’s presence in Nepal placed him squarely in the middle of the Nepal-Tibet disputes. The conflict between Nepal and the government in Lhasa stemmed from an issue concerning the value of Nepalese silver coins.(…) This currency dispute was never resolved, and eventually escalated into the Gurkha wars. (…) the government of Nepal forced him Shamarpa to act as a mediator in their interest.

Doringpa negotiates a treaty with Nepal

In 1789, when Doringpa first arrived in Nepal with a delegation to resolve the conflicts, the 10th Shamarpa acted as a mediator. The two sides reached a compromise, and a peace treaty was signed. Tibet agreed to devalue all impure coins, and in turn, Tibet would recover some land taken by Nepal, for which they would pay an annual stipend. This treaty was met with approval by the Chinese Emperor, who promoted Doringpa.

Doringpa’s journal gives accounts of how the 10th Shamarpa attempted to broker peace between the opposing factions, and how he helped the Tibetan delegates who were sent to Nepal. However, Terhune’s version does not reflect these comments.

(…) The government in Lhasa was essentially a Chinese proxy government. The Dalai Lama and the government were subordinate to China’s Emperor, and served his interests. According to records in both Chinese and Tibetan history, the Chinese Emperor directly controlled the reincarnations of many Tibetan lamas, including the Dalai Lama. The regent and all the senior ministers of Tibetan government were appointed by the Chinese Emperor. The Tibetan justice system also followed the dictates of the Chinese court in Beijing. That had been the system since the 5th Dalai Lama came into political power in Tibet. (…) Doringpa sHis account showed that the Nepalese treated them well.

Doringpa learns of the 10th Shamarpa*s death

(…) Doringpa’s journal describes a Gurkha king who recognized his country’s imminent defeat, and conveniently shifted all the blame onto the deceased 10th Shamarpa. At the time, the Gurkha king’s own life was in danger, and thus his testimony was unconvincing to Doringpa and failed to win his sympathies.

Doringpa told the Nepalese king that Shamarpa deserved more respect, being a high lama of Tibet and a relative of the Panchen Lama. He added that it was possible that the king himself had poisoned him for his own motives; and that it was his responsibility to investigate how the Shamarpa had died. (…)

They went together to examine the body. There were no signs of poisoning, or any physical marks of suicide. Soil, Doringpa did write that the death could have a self controlled death.


Some scholars who have read Doringpa’s writings are of the opinion that the 10th Shamarpa might have unwittingly been used by all sides in the conflict: the Qing Emperor, Tibet’s government council, and the Gurkha king. Terhune’s account meanwhile sounds strikingly close to the version in the Qing Dynasty records on the Gurkha war — a history written by the victors, as it were. There is only one instance where Terhune’s account differs; the Qing records emphasize the 10th Shamarpa’s betrayal of China, whereas Terhune’s version accuses him of betraying Tibet.

It is true that the 10th Shamarpa favoured Nepal. He did not have any sympathy with the Tibetan government at the time, because in his view, they regarded the Karma Kagyu as their enemies. The fact was they had destroyed many of their monasteries, converting a few hundred of them into Gelug monasteries. He also objected to the fact that the dictates of the Chinese Qing Emperor and his ministers were absolute in Tibet, and held total rule over the Tibetan government. Also, the Tibetan government had wrongly accused him for being on the side of the British, forcing him into exile in Nepal.

The Tibetan delegation agreed to accompany the .two Nepalese ministers to the border. Before we left, we were all taken to the funeral of Lama Shamarpa. It was a hot June day, but we managed to inspect the body before the cremation and there were no signs of foul play. The next day we went to the cremation. When the flames started to rise, five rainbows emanated directly from the fire. The sky was full of rainbows. We were all eyewitnesses.

After the funeral, Doringpa left for the border. In his journal, Doringpa describes his meeting with the Qing general there. The Chinese general asked him point-blank about the cause of Shamarpa’s death. Doringpa replied that there were no signs that Shamarpa had taken his own life, nor was the body injured in any way.

(…) Nevertheless, in the Qing government records, the 10th Shamarpa is shown to have conspired with the Gurkhas against the Qing Emperor. The Qing records also state that he committed suicide by poison. The general from the Qing army filed the suicide report without any evidence. He may have done so to comply with the Qing emperor’s declaration that no credit whatsoever could be given to an enemy of the emperor. The order of the day was that even the bones and ashes of dead enemies should be punished.

Lea Terhune chose to base her account of the 10th Shamarpa’s death on the Chinese records, and to ignore Doringpa’s account. Terhune is of course free to use Chinese records in her research, but disregarding the only eyewitness account of the events surrounding Shamarpa’s death is difficult to justify. If she was directed to go about her research in this way by her teachers, including the current Situ Rinpoche, then they have harmed the reputation of Situ’s own lineage as well as the Karma Kagyu lineage. The close relationships between the 8th and 9th Situ Rinpoches and the 9th and 10th Shamarpas are briefly discussed in the following segment. (see the book…)


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