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Enigma in a maroon robe

A fog of confusion surrounds Tibet issue, and right in the middle of it is 17th Karmapa, writes Amitava Banerjee.

india Updated: Nov 19, 2006 17:28 IST

A fog of confusion seems to surround much of the 'Tibet issue'. It also wraps itself around some individuals who are at the heart of the matter.

Perhaps no one embodies this better than the current head of the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, the seventeenth Karmapa, Urgen Trinley.

When the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, died on November 5, 1981 in the US, Dhamchoe Yongdu, 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 Rimpoche and Tai Situ Rinpoche came up with two different heirs to the Karmapa throne.

In 1990, Tai Situ Rinpoche declared Urgen Trinley Dorje as the 17th Karmapa stating that he had the letter of the previous Karmapa with the indication marks of the next Karmapa which matched with Urgen Trinley.

Gyaltsab Rinpoche supported Tai Situ Rinpoche's stand. However, Shamar Rinpoche declared that the letter had been fabricated. The claimants moved court and a status quo was ordered.

Things remained there until June 29, 1992, when Beijing officially recognised Urgen Trinley as the 17th Karmapa.

Days later, on July 3, 1992, the Tibetan government in exile sent a statement with the official approval of Urgen Trinley by the Dalai Lama. On September 27, 1992, the official enthronement of Urgen Trinley took place in Tibet.

Urgen Trinley escaped from Tibet in 2000 and has been living since at the Gyuto Monastery in Dharamshala with the Dalai Lama. He has been discouraged from visiting his seat, the Rumtek monastery in Sikkim, by the Government of India.

A group of monks was in Delhi earlier in the month to campaign for the Karmapa to be allowed into Sikkim. Sonam Topden, general secretary of the Joint Action Committee of All Sikkim Buddhist Association, said, "We still have no clear picture, neither yes, nor no, from the government."


First Published: Nov 19, 2006 17:28 IST