Sep 21, 1999
From: Glenn H Mullin
World Tibet Network News Wednesday, September 21, 1994
Reading through the TIN analysis of the recent entry ban placed by the Gov. of India on the Tai Situ Rinpoche, I wonder if the writer has the right take on it: i.e., that the ban reflects a changing stance of the Indian government toward the Dalai Lama office and his activities. A number of points cause me to doubt that hypothesis.
As most readers will know, the real basis of the events that have transpired are centered around the conflict between the Tai Situ and the Sharmapa Rinpoches, two of the four “regents” that assumed ostensible “equal hierarchial power” in the Karma Kargyu sect after the Karmapa passed away in the early 1980s. The Sharmapa more-or-less usurped the Karmapa throne shortly after Karmapa’s death, becoming, as he once stated in an interview with Mark Tatz in The Tibetan Review, “…special among equals.”
Thereafter the Sharmapa successfully warded off any challenges from the other regents until 1992, when the Tai Situ somewhat clandestinely (and with heavy opposition from Sharmapa) recognized and enthroned a young boy born in Kham, Tibet, as the reincarnation of the Karmapa. I was in Nepal during the enthronement of this child in Tsurpu, which occurred in the autumn of 1992, and bore witness to the daily maneuvers of both “regents.” The task then for the Tai Situ was to win over the endorsements for his candidate of the elder Karma Kargyu lamas; the Sharmapa’s task was to convince these lamas to boycott the enthronement, and to try to block it in any way possible.
A confusing event for everyone was the fact that Tai Situ had earlier gone to Dharamsala in order to get a letter of endorsement from H.H. the Dalai Lama. However, at the time His Holiness was in Brazil at an environment conference, and thus communications with him occurred by fax. His reply (by fax) stated that he felt the Khampa child showed very positive signs, and that if the four regents were in agreement then the enthronement should be done. Tai Situ used this letter as evidence that the Dalai Lama endorsed the candidate, whereas the Sharmapa took the phrase “…if the four regents were in agreement…” to mean that the Dalai Lama did not wholeheartedly endorse the child, and that the matter should be settled within the Karma Kargyu school as an internal issue.
Tai Situ nonetheless proceeded with the enthronement. I watched the developments of both sides almost on a daily basis for the two months before the enthronement. A highlight was the publication a month before the enthronement of a blue book entitled “The Karmapa Papers,” put out by Sharmapa’s supporters in Europe and strategically placed in every bookstore in Kathmandu a month before the planned enthronement, when all the Karma Kargyu lamas were in Nepal to discuss the subject. The book outlined the history of the feud between the Tai Situ and Sharmapa tulkus, from the Sharmapa perspective. However, it fell on deaf ears.
The turning point occurred when Trangu Rinpoche, the abbot of Karmapa’s monastery in Sikkim, showed up and gave his support to the Khampa child. It is possible that most of the Karma Kargyu lamas felt that to boycott the enthronement would be pointless, as it already had been fully arranged by Tai Situ with the Chinese government, and thus would proceed with or without them.
The enthronement of the Khampa child created an irreparable rift between the Tai Situ and Sharmapa; and even though in the beginning it looked like the Sharmapa would accept his defeat gracefully, the opposite was true. Rather, what he did was to retreat into silence for a period, while gathering his forces in India, Nepal and Sikkim. His major breakthrough came a year later, when he managed to get friends at the Indian Express to take up the issue on his behalf, and run stories almost weekly on the subject, casting aspersions on the child enthroned in Tibet, as well as on any supporters of the child within the refugee community in India.
As readers will be aware, when eventually he felt this campaign had achieved its objective he then proceeded to enthrone a rival candidate in Delhi as the true reincarnation. This led to a near-riot that caught the attention of the international press. The affair was not as successful as the Sharmapa may have hoped, however, and resulted in the Rumtek authorities sending out a letter, signed by Trangu Rinpoche, to all Western Buddhist groups, disclaiming the Sharmapa as a “renegade monk.”
All of this caught Western observers off guard and certainly generated considerable confusion in the international Buddhist community. Feuding tulkus, two reincarnations of an eminent lama, and mud flying everywhere were hardly the stuff that Tibetophiles had been groomed to deal with emotionally. And somehow the story just would not die. Whenever it seemed to settle down into a semblance of pacificity another flying cow-pie would hit the fan. The recent banning of the Tai Situ is such an event. To understand it one perhaps has to look at the power bases of these two lamas within India, especially their links to the Indian Express and the Indian army, both of which have played major roles.
No doubt the Indian Express has served as a major instrument of the Sharmapa’s intrigues, and has dragged in the good name of the Dalai Lama as a means of generating an anti-Dharamsala sentiment among the Indian populace. However, Sharmapa’s links to the Indian army are probably the strings he pulled in order to create the entry ban on the Tai Situ. There is no need to assume that this indicates a change in the position of the Indian government toward the Dharamsala gov.-in-exile. In fact, the Dalai Lama’s recent visits to Mongolia and the U.K. would indicate the opposite. Had the Indian government wanted to curtail the Dalai Lama’s activities they certainly would have asked him not to make the Mongolia visit, which brought such an outcry from Beijing.
Sharmapa’s contacts with the Indian army are considerable. The incident at Rumtek in early 1993, when he showed up with a contingent of Indian soldiers and attempted to oust the Tai Situ from the premises, is ample evidence. For him to use these contacts in order to instigate an investigation into Tai Situ’s China activities would be a simple enough matter, and would not require a particularly high-level lobby force. Any well- positioned army officer or even politician could initiate such a process.
He certainly has sufficient contact with these in both Sikkim and Delhi. Any paperwork this initiated would then go to the C.I.D., and eventually land upon the desk of the Indian Home Office as a fait accompli. The Home Ministry is then in no position to squash the matter outright; it remains an issue to be investigated, in accordance with the rather slow and cumbersome pace of the Delhi bureaucracy. The policy of the Home Ministry does not necessarily at this point even come into the picture. Any charge of this nature is taken as extremely serious until a formal investigation clears the victim, much as a charge of Communist activities was almost as serious as a conviction in America during the McCarthy era.
What is unusual here is that the situation became public knowledge while Tai Situ was outside the country. Such “entry bans” are usually kept secret, and the victim of them only learns of the fact after applying for a visa to return to India, or upon showing up at the Delhi airport. How the matter became public knowledge will perhaps throw much light upon the players in and import of the drama.
The sad aspect to the intrigues of the Sharmapa is that they continue to undermine the public sentiment of goodwill and affection that has characterized the Indian attitude toward the Tibetans in India for the past three and a half decades. This is true not only on the level of political circles in Delhi, but in the minds of the masses throughout the country. The long-termed effect will be to make the Tibetan refugee sojourn in India less comfortable emotionally, and more vulnerable to India’s sporadic outbreaks of communal tension and violence. Moreover, it diverts the time and energy of the Tibetan refugees away from the deeper issues of their present situation by tying them up in petty rivalries and emotional trivia. Playing with fire in order to create a smoke-screen has its dangers, and the winds of the turbulent and volatile Indian environment are factors that cannot easily be controlled.