The time around his birth was said to be marked by auspicious omens — three white cranes offering bowl of yoghurt to his mother in dream, birds singing songs, a rainbow appearing on the family tent, sound of a conch shell resonating across the valley and tonnes of various musical instruments reverberating in the hills.
Born on June 26, 1985, in Lhatok of East Tibet, this not so ordinary boy was initially called “Apo Gaga” (Happy brother), until he was at the age of seven discovered to be Ogyen Trinley Dorje, 17th in the Karmapa lineage, the head of the powerful Karma Kagyu school, one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and enthroned on September 27, 1992, to the seat.
Now aged 30, he lives in his exiled home, the peaceful hill town Dharamsala, revered by lakhs of followers but always overshadowed by controversies.
While his recognition as the 17th Karmapa has been a subject of controversy, the spiritual leader’s dramatic escape to India still remains a mystery for many, eventually brining him under the scanner of Indian intelligence agencies.
The Karmapa controversy
Since the death of the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, in 1981, three claimants to the office and title of the Karmapa have come to the fore. Besides Ogyen, the second is Trinley Thaye Dorje, who lives in Kalingpong in West Bengal.
Both have already been enthroned as the 17th Karmapa, and have been independently performing ceremonial duties in the role. Later a third candidate named Dava Sangpo Dorjee, presently living Nepal, also laid claim for the office and title.
Controversy erupted when two members of the search team, out to look for the 17th Karmapa, separately identified both Ogyen and Dorje as claimants to the title, resulting in a split in the Kagyu sect.
Escape to India
At the age of 14, Ogyen escaped to India through Nepal and appeared at Dharamsala, the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile and Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, in January 2000. For 15 years now he lives in a temporary residence in Gyuto Monastery, under the watchful eye of the Indian intelligence with restrictions on his movement.
The cash haul
On January 28, 2011, another controversy erupted for Ogyen when the Himachal Pradesh police raided the office of the Karmapa-backed Karma Garchen trust and seized unaccounted money valued over `6 crore in currencies of 25 countries, including Chinese Yuan.
The raids were made following seizure of `1 crore from a jeep by Una Police on the interstate border that was allegedly meant for purchase of land by the trust.
Though, Karmapa refuted all allegations stating that the seized money came via donations from his followers, the police made him, among nine others, an accused in the chargesheet filed in the foreign exchange case. His name was dropped later on May 21, 2012.
In soup again
The recent Himachal Pradesh high court order setting aside the trial court order and directing the state government to start criminal proceedings against the spiritual leader has come as a setback to not only him but lakhs of his followers.
“We are a disappointed by the high court order. Since the state government is party in the case, it should take appropriate step to amicably resolve the issue,” said Karma Chophel, a Tibetan lawmaker who represents Kagyu sect in the exiled Parliament.
“Our legal cell met on Thursday and decided to wait for government’s initiative, and move the Supreme Court in case it doesn’t come,” he added.
Who is Karmapa?
The Karmapa lineage is one of the most ancient Tulku lineage in Tibetan Buddhism predating the Dalai Lama lineage by more than two centuries.
The Karmapa heads the Karma Kagyu or “Black Hats”- one of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Other three schools are Nyingma, Gelug and Sakya.
Though Kagyu is the second oldest school in Tibetan Buddhism, the Karmapas had a lesser role in political history of Tibet and remained confined to spiritual activities only.
The Dalai Lamas, who belong to the newest school “Gelug” or Yellow Hats, for centuries have remained the temporal as well as spiritual head of Tibet, until four years ago when the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso devolved his political powers to the elected leadership.
If the institution of Dalai Lama ceases to continue, which current Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso hints often, the Karmapa would become the next religious head of the Tibetans. This is because the 11th Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the second most revered spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism, is in alleged illegal detention of China and replaced by Gyaincain Norbu, whom the Tibetans don’t recognise.