Trinley Thaye Dorje is one of the key players of the controversial issue surrounding Tibetan Buddhism. While he was enthroned in 1994 as the 17th Karmapa of the Karma Kagyu sect of Buddhism, the Tibetan Government in Exile on July 3, 1992 had given their approval to Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the Karmapa.
With the passing away of the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, on November 5, 1981, the general secretary to the 16th Karmapa, requested Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche, Tai Situ Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche, leading disciples of the 16th Karmapa, to search for the reincarnation who would ascend the Karmapa throne.
However, things took an ugly turn when Shamar Rinpoche and Tai Situ Rinpoche came up with two different heirs to the Karmapa throne. In 1990 Tai Situ Rinpoche declared Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the 17th Karmapa stating that he had a letter from the previous Karmapa with the indication marks of the next Karmapa, which matched with Ogyen Trinley.
Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche meanwhile was killed in a mysterious car accident on April 26, 1992. Gyaltsab Rinpoche supported Tai Situ’s stand. However Shamar Rinpoche declared that the letter had been fabricated. He instead identified Trinley Thaye Dorje as the next Karmapa. In 1994, Trinley Thaye was enthroned by Shamar as the 17th Karmapa at Karmapa International Buddhist Institute in New Delhi. The situation worsened as the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim (the seat of the Karmapa) was getting divided into two camps. Another interesting twist was when Dawa Dzangpo from Sikkim declared himself as a claimant in the late 90’s.
Interestingly, the 16th Karmapa had come to Sikkim from the Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet and shifted the headquarters of the Kagyu sect to the Rumtek Monaster in Sikkim in 1959. The claimants moved court and a status quo was ordered.
Later the Dalai Lama declared Ogyen Trinley as the 17th Karmapa and the Sikkim Government also decided to side with Ogyen. The Dalai Lama being the religious and temporal head of the Tibetans, most Tibetans accepted Ogyen.
In early 2000, Ogyen Trinley made his dramatic escape across the Himalayas to India. However the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, decided to highly restricted the
movements of the Karmapa.
Trinley Thaye Dorje is the son of the 3rd Mipham Rinpoche of the Junyung Monastery, and Dechen Wangmo, the daughter of a noble family. At the age of six months, the boy reportedly started telling people he is the Karmapa. In 1988, Shamar Rinpoche secretly visited Lhasa to investigate whether Thaye Dorje was in fact the Karmapa reincarnated, as he said the boy had appeared to him in a dream. In March 1994, Thaye Dorje and his family escaped from Tibet to Nepal and then to India, where Shamar Rinpoche formally recognised him as the 17th Karmapa.
Trinley Thaye at present resides at the Shri Diwakar Vihara Buddhist Research and Educational Institute, located in Kalimpong in Darjeeling District of West Bengal.
Thaye Dorje received traditional monastic training and education in Buddhist philosophy. His teachers include Shamar Rinpoche, Professor Sempa Dorje and Khenpo Chödrak Tenphel. Thaye was enthroned as Vidhyadhara (knowledge holder) by Shamar in 2003 at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute.
Alongside this traditional Buddhist training, Thaye Dorje received modern Western education from English and Australian tutors and an intensive introduction to Western philosophy from Professor Harrison Pemberton of Washington and Lee University in the USA.
Despite a large following, specially in the West, Thaye Dorje maintains a low profile, attending religious ceremonies and talks in Kalimpong and neighbouring areas.
He also attends the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo (the largest and most important congregation of the Karma Kagyu sect) in Bodhgaya every year. At present he is on a tour of Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Spain, Lithuania, Hungary, United Kingdom, Germany and France to give teachings on dharma and empowerments.
Both contenders for the Karmapa title have been prohibited by a court order to visit the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim.