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Shamar's Initial Response - 14

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After he heard by phone in Germany about the Rumtek takeover on August 2, Shamar Rinpoche left his mother's sickbed and returned to India on August 5. He knew his tasks would be to console the expelled monks, confer with Topga and the Karmapa Trust board, and plan what to do next. To Shamar, the situation looked grim.

Now, he knew that Chief Minister Bhandari had entered the conflict openly, as a partisan of Tai Situ and Gyaltsab. There would be no help for Shamar from the corrupt Sikkim state government, but instead, active opposition. Shamar began planning a response that would bypass Bhandari's administration.

Meanwhile lamas and lay supporters of Tai Situ celebrated their rinpoche's coup at Rumtek. For them, it was good riddance to the slow-moving, obstructionist administration of Shamar and Topga. It is difficult to gauge the true motivations of Situ and his followers. Many in his political action committees may have been motivated by little more than the cash payments they received. But surely others must have been more idealistic. They probably thought that Tai Situ was the chosen disciple of the sixteenth Karmapa and that Ogyen Trinley was the beloved Karmapa, finally returned.

But for Shamar's followers, the Rumtek coup was a poignant betrayal of everything the Karmapa stood for: non-violence, the purity of the Karma Kagyu lineage. and the sanctity of religion separate from politics. Rumtek under occupation represented a period of decline, a dark era.

Before his death in 1997, Topga Rinpoche talked about three periods of decline in the Karma Kagyu. The first occurred when the tenth Karmapa had to flee Tibet after the invasion of Gushri Khan in 1642 at the time the fifth Dalai Lama assumed temporal power. The second was when the tenth Shamarpa died in Nepal after the Gorkha War in 1792 and the Tibetan government put a ban on his future incarnations. We have examined both of these turbulent eras earlier in this book.

In both instances, Karma Kagyu monasteries were converted to the Gelug order and the Karmapa's school was weakened almost to the point f extinction. "However, both of these periods of decline were brought about by external circumstances -- external because they weren't created by members of the Karma Kagyu school," Topga said. "The current period. of decline is not the result of external circumstances; it has been created from within by individuals who claim they are holders of the doctrine of the Karma Kagyu school," namely, Situ and Gyaltsab, respectively the third- and fifth-ranking lamas of the school.

"The reason for all the trouble at Rumtek," said Karma Chochok, another monk who had to flee the cloister in August 1993, "is not that we, the monks, took Shamar Rinpoche's side against Situ Rinpoche's side. We never declared that we were against Ogyen Trinley. The actual root of the problem lies in a conflict between H.H. the sixteenth Karmapa and the nominated Ogyen Trinley. Why? We, the Rumtek monks in the administration had been appointed to our functions by H.H. Karmapa himself. He asked us to take care of the monastery with all its sacred objects. When Ogyen Trinley was installed as the seventeenth Karmapa the process involved a great deal of politics, and his followers tried to gain control of Rumtek. We simply tried to protect the monastery."

The whole Rumtek coup happened while Shamar was abroad and General Secretary Topga was banned from entering the district of Sikkim where Rumtek was located. "We were devastated," Shamar told me. "We had feared some violence, so we had taken every precaution we could think of. But we had never imagined something on this scale. It was incomprehensible."

Shamar had ambitious plans to continue the work of the sixteenth Karmapa and spread Karma Kagyu Buddhism around the world. "I had wanted to study in America and then start dharma centers, schools, and monasteries in many countries. But now I had to put my plans aside and dedicate myself to one task -- getting back Rumtek so we could enthrone an authentic seventeenth Karmapa there some day."

A month after the takeover, Shamar sent an open letter to Situ, Gyaltsab and their chief supporters listing the many actions that Situ, as a board member of the Karmapa Trust, had taken without the Trust's approval. First, Situ had tried to set up an illegal trust in order to get around the legitimate one and gain control of the assets of the sixteenth Karmapa. Second, he took over Rumtek by force, sending hired thugs and calling in police to attack the resident monks, sending some to jail, and expelling the rest. Third, Situ had stirred up trouble for the government of India, which had hosted both Situ and Shamar as refuges.

Shamar said that Situ had brought negative attention in India own on the Karma Kagyu and laid the school open to international intrigue. Then, he called on the members of the Karmapa Trust to join him "to reverse by legal means all the latest changes that Situ had made to the status and peace of the Rumtek monastery." He added that he would ever accept the use of force to assume control over a monastery in the name of religion. He pledged to initiate proceedings in court to regain Rumtek for the Karmapa Trust.

Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches denied that they had usurped power at Rumtek. On the contrary, they launched an energetic publicity campaign claiming that they were merely trying to protect the Karmapa's legacy and that while doing so, their supporters became the victims of aggression by the Rumtek monks. They continued to send out open letters to this effect to Shamar. Situ's group of local families, the Joint Action Committee, sent a letter signed by numerous prominent Sikkimese to Shamar denouncing his lack of cooperation with Situ and failure to recognize Ogyen Trinley, saying that by so doing he had disgraced his Buddhist robes and the dharma he claimed to follow.

Another open letter put out by the Joint Action Committee claimed that a "handful of monks" in a "sabotage of religious functions" had prevented "a large number of devotees" from participating in public ceremonies at Rumtek on August 2. The document went on to add that police discovered a large cache of weapons at Rumtek stored by these monks in order to use later against the devotees -- a bald-faced lie. The outraged local leaders condemned such actions as "mischievous, unwarranted, and with ulterior motive," probably inspired by "foreign elements with vested interests." They called on the state government to confiscate the property of all foreigners involved, clearly referring to Topga Rinpoche, who held a Bhutanese passport after his marriage in the seventies to a Bhutanese princess, Ashyi Chokyi. Apparently, these activists did not remember that many Tibetan rinpoches -- including Shamar, Situ, and Gyaltsab -- also had Bhutanese passports, which the Himalayan kingdom provided as a courtesy extended to leading exiled lamas.

Situ and Gyaltsab also mobilized their allies -- and Chief Minister Bhandari's friends- -- n the local press to tell their side of the story. A Gangtok paper's headline was typical of the coverage the takeover received: "Cops Quell Querulous Clergy." But Situ and Gyaltsab found that while their alliance with Bhandari could help them in Sikkim, it did little good in New Delhi. There, one of India's national newspapers, the Hindustan Times, ran its story headlined "Pro-China Coup in Gangtok Monastery."

In response, another of Situ's allies, the Tibetan exile government in Dharamsala, tried to help. Kunga Tamotsang, an official of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, complained to Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid that there was an Indian government campaign against Situ and a smear campaign in the New Delhi press. [1] This complaint apparently had little effect, and the Hindustan Times and other large Indian papers continued to print stories critical of Situ.

The original Rumtek monks have claimed that Situ and Gyaltsab were not satisfied with making their own criticisms of the monks, bur that they resorted to covert "dirty tricks" reminiscent of Watergate to embarrass the monks. "On one occasion," monk-official Omze Yeshey said, "some people wrote a letter to the Dalai Lama claiming that we openly oppose him. The letter was written in our names and bore the forged signatures of five of Out monastery staff. We tried to clarify the matter." The Rumtek monks claimed that they did nor oppose the Dalai Lama and did nor even want to take sides against Situ and Gyaltsab -- they just wanted to get back into Rumtek. But they lacked a forum to express their views at the time. Meanwhile, Tenzin Namgyal's new Rumtek administration lodged various criminal complaints with the Gangtok police, leading to criminal investigations of forty-five monks. The monks have claimed that these charges were fabricated.

Nuns under Threat

After expelling the monks from Rumtek, the new Rumtek administration next rook aim at the sixteenth Karmapa's nuns. Ani Chotso, who established a convent near Rumtek on the instructions of the sixteenth Karmapa, said that her thirty nuns had practiced at Rumtek for many years until the takeover. Then, "after Situ Rinpoche caused all these problems, some of the nuns were beaten up very badly by his people, and they were forced to follow Situpa and his party." [2]

Citing decorum, the abbess declined to provide detail, but she implied that Situ's followers sexually harassed, assaulted, and even raped the nuns. "Furthermore, some nuns were bribed, some gave up their vows and got married." When Ani Chorso would not accept Ogyen Trinley as the reincarnation of the Karmapa, Situ sent hired toughs to pressure her and her nuns to proclaim their support. "The people from the other side came to the convent and made all kinds of accusations. They said that in my function as a teacher I had beaten up the young nuns, that I had torn off their clothes and kicked them out of the windows naked. I never did this."

Situ's followers then leveled charges of "samaya-breaking" against the abbess and her nuns. As we have seen, to break a samaya is considered a cardinal sin in Vajrayana Buddhism and a charge of samaya-breaking is not supposed to be made lightly. Yet, such charges became increasingly common after the Rumtek takeover- in 1993. "It seems that in their view those people who maintain unbroken loyalty to H.H. the sixteenth Karmapa are all samaya-breakers," Ani Chotso said.

She then related the story of her own teacher on the serious subject of samaya. An extraordinary woman, Khandro Chemno was the tantric consort of the fifteenth Karmapa, one of the two Karmapas who did not take monks' vows but remained as householder yogis. "Khandro Chemno used to tell us that we should never even use the words 'samaya- breaker,' but these people used the words just as often as we recite the mantra 'Om mani padme hung.' I sincerely asked myself whether I had broken my samayas or not, but I came to the conclusion that I hadn't broken my samayas. So I can only think that they call people with faith in the Karmapa 'samaya-breakers.

Continuing to visit Rumtek even after the takeover for more than' a year, the nuns eventually found their visits to the cloister too awkward and dangerous. The nuns filed a criminal complaint against twenty of the new Rumtek monks for threatening the nuns with beatings if they ever returned to Rumtek. The complaint also alleged that one of the leaders, a monk named Dorji, had beaten one of the nuns with a bat and that only the intervention of onlookers from the village had prevented the monks from molesting and raping the nuns. To the nuns' frustration, the police never acted on their complaint, and they made no arrests, even against the group leaders that the nuns named. After this incident, the nuns stopped their visits to Rumtek.

Other acts of violence occurred at Rumtek after the takeover, probably perpetrated by Situ and Gyaltsab's monks. According to witnesses, on May 4, 1994, a group including students at the Nalanda Institute began digging up the private garden originally planted for the sixteenth Karmapa and tended since his death by the caretaker of his residence, Benza Guru. A man in his seventies, Benza remained at Rumtek even after the takeover and quietly went about his gardening. But when he saw the young men destroying his work, he sharply scolded the group and ordered them away. The angry students left, but promised revenge.

That night, a young tough employed by Gyalrsab, Tashi Wangdi, appeared at Benza's room with a larger group of angry young men, ready to thrash the old caretaker. This time, a sympathetic senior monk prevented the assault. But early the next morning, monks discovered the mangled body of Benza Guru on one of the pathways that led to the Karmapa's residence.

Gyaltsab said that Benza must have fallen from the roof, even though the old caretaker's body was found ninety feet from the building. The police did not open an investigation of this incident and the new Rumtek monks refused to perform the customary funeral ceremony for the old man, an attendant to the sixteenth Karmapa for twenty-five years. Ten days later, six young roughs working for Gyaltsab led by a bully named Batruk surrounded Benza Guru's grand nephew, Sherab Namgyal, at the main gate of the monastery. The gang beat him severely. Shortly afterwards, bullies beat up another elderly man, Apa Tsewang, a former attendant of Rumtek's first General Secretary Damchoe Yongdu.

Barriers to the Courthouse

Shamar's first idea was to file a civil case to regain possession of Rumtek. "Chief Minister Bhandari had interfered in monastic affairs in violation of India's constitution," Shamar told me. "We could have tried to make a case in Delhi against him. But we thought it would be less complicated just to file a property rights case on behalf of the Karmapa Charitable Trust." The judiciary in Sikkim was answerable to New Delhi and not to Bhandari, so it retained its independence. "But if anyone tried to file a case against him or one of his allies in local courts, Bhandari tried to intimidate them." Under Bhandari's protection, Situ and Gyaltsab enjoyed a de facto protection from prosecution.

As an example, according to Khenpo Ngawang Gelek, one of the teachers at Rumtek before the takeover in August 1993, Karma Gunbo, a former member of the Sikkim parliament and a devotee of the sixteenth Karmapa, filed a case in Gangtok District Court in 1993 against Situ Rinpoche charging that he had forged his Karmapn prediction letter. Once Chief Minister Bhandari was informed of this, he arrested Karma Gunbo's family, including wife and children, and held them in prison for two weeks during which guards taunted, threatened, and administered numerous beatings to Karma Gunbo and his wife.

Meanwhile, perhaps to ensure that they would not make trouble for Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches, Bhandari initiated an intimidation campaign against the board members of the Karmapa Charitable Trust. He had already expelled Topga Rinpoche, so he added a ban on Shamar entering Sikkim. And against the two trustees who were residents of Sikkim, T.S. Gyaltshen and J.D. Densapa, both formerly high officials in the state government, Bhandari sent his party bullies to stone their houses and cars.

Bhandari's threats against the trustees were successful. J.D. Densapa in particular became so afraid to file a case to regain Rumtek in Gangtok that he attempted instead to file in the High Court in New Delhi in early 1994. The High Court responded that since this was a civil case, it should be submitted in the local state court, in Sikkim. Later, Situ's supporters would say that the Delhi court dismissed this case because it lacked merit. In fact, the court simply ruled that it was not the venue for a case that should be heard in Sikkim. But filing in Sikkim was out of the question while Chief Minister Bhandari remained in office.

The Fall of Bhandari

For the hundred monks who were evicted from Rumtek, things never looked bleaker than during the ten months in 1993 and 1994 that Situ and Gyaltsab ruled the monastery under the protection of Chief Minister Bhandari. Under his strong-arm rule, open opposition to Situ and Gyaltsab was impossible. Through kickbacks to his allies and intimidation of his rivals and critics, Bhandari appeared to have a grip on power strong enough to last for years.

But behind the scenes, Bhandari was in trouble. Even before the Rumtek takeover, the chief minister's position starred to weaken. Word got out in Sikkim that the Government of India had expanded its ongoing investigation of Bhandari for corruption. Heartened by increased scrutiny of Sikkim's boss from New Delhi, Bhandari's opponents started to actively work against him. In June 1992 Pawan Kumar Chamling, one of Bhandari's ministers, began to plan a campaign to replace the chief minister. He publicly accused Bhandari of corruption and began to refer to him as a "dictator." In response, Bhandari arrested Chamling's assistants and tortured them in prison. Chamling himself escaped and went into hiding until the situation cooled down.

Like Bhandari, Chamling was part of Sikkim's new Nepali majority. Born in 1950 in a village in southern Sikkim, Chamling came from a family of small farmers. He entered politics at age twenty-three, and later joined the Sikkim Sangram Parishad, allying himself with its rising star N.B. Bhandari. In the eighties, Chamling's popularity threatened to surpass the chief minister's own, and Bhandari started to fear that Chamling might challenge his position as party leader. So he found an excuse to fire Cham ling from the cabinet and then expel him from the party. Undeterred from his political ambitions, Chamling has said that Bhandari's dismissal letter was the "redeeming touch" for his future.

It was clear that Chamling would run against Bhandari at the next opportunity. In June 1992, while Chamling was beginning to openly criticize Bhandari, Shamar's secretary, Khedrub Gyatso, met with the candidate to offer his support. Khedrub offered a loan to assist with Chamling's election campaign, and asked for Chamling's future assistance in regaining Rumtek for the Karmapa Charitable Trust, a typically open Himalayan quid pro quo.

Chamling, however, had a different approach to political ethics than Bhandari. Presenting himself as a reformer, Chamling said that he wanted to come to office free of promises to campaign supporters. He also said he wanted to return the rule of law to Sikkim, and pledged to respect the Indian constitution's separation of church and state. Therefore, the .candidate agreed to accept the campaign loan, but only on condition that he would owe nothing more than to repay the sum loaned with reasonable interest. "Mr. Chamling would not make a deal to get the money," explained Shamar.

Still holding his seat in the legislature despite his falling out with Bhandari, in September 1992 Chamling pulled a publicity stunt that turned out to be a dangerous act of defiance against Bhandari. During an open session of the state legislature, he entered the State Assembly hall in Gangtok carrying a lighted candle, and announced that he was "searching for Democracy." He then stopped in front of the podium, where Bhandari was speaking, and posed a sardonic question, "Is not Democracy inside the chief minister's pocket?" After this, the threats on Chamling's life increased.

In March 1993 Chamling formed a new parry, the Sikkim Democratic Front, to contest Bhandari's rule. This move brought down t the wrath of Bhandari's political machine and Chamling became a target of intimidation by party bullies and harassment by the state police. In June 1993, after numerous threats to his life, Chamling went into hiding again. For three months, he waged a war of words with Bhandari from underground in Sikkim, an act of boldness that earned him the admiration of much of the electorate.

When Chamling emerged from hiding in September, he rode a wave of popularity that Bhandari could not resist. Still confident, Bhandari predicted that he would win the November 1994 general elections. After the polls closed, perhaps ironically, he told a press conference "that he would rule like Adolf Hitler if he was returned to power," and keep better control over his potential opposition. [3] Nonetheless, Sikkim voters brought in Chamling by an overwhelming margin. The fifteen-year rule of Bhandari in Sikkim was over and an anxious calm settled over the tiny Indian state.

Situ Rinpoche under Investigation

Meanwhile, the central government's 'investigation of Tai Situ had also advanced. Officials in New Delhi were convinced that Situ's dealings with the Chinese government and his attempt to hand over Rumtek to Beijing's choice for Karmapa all represented a threat to Indian control over the state of Sikkim. China would not recognize the state as part of India until 2005, and in the mid-1990s officials in New Delhi remained nervous that the Chinese were using Tibetan lamas in the state to increase their influence in Sikkim.

The Indians did not want a Chinese-supported tulku to gain control over Rumtek and it, movable valuables since they were afraid that this would open the door to Chinese claims on Sikkim itself. "Given the fact that Sikkim occupies a strategic position," Sikkim Chief Secretary K. Sreedhar Rao advised the government in New Delhi, "it would be most undesirable to have a situation where a Tibetan reincarnation, who is basically a Chinese National recognized by the Chinese, formally occupies a position in a monastery in Sikkim." [4]

Situ made further trips to China that may have been unauthorized -- he held a Tibetan Refugee Certificate which required him to seek permission from the Indian government for all foreign travel. Then, the government also suspected the rinpoche of smuggling people and goods from Tibet into India. In August 1994, while he was away on an international teaching tour, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs banned Situ from returning to the country.

Supporters of Tai Situ dispute the validity of this ban. In Karmapa: The Politics of Reincarnation Lea Terhune has written that Shamar may have bribed officials in New Delhi to ban Situ from returning to the country. She paraphrased "members of Sikkim's Joint Action Committee," who "feel that the ban order against Tai Situpa came from greasing the palms of susceptible bureaucrats and agents in the intelligence bureau," though she has admitted that "hard evidence of this kind of activity is difficult to come by, of course, especially if the recipients of the largesse are in Indian intelligence, where Shamarpa is said to have his strongest allies." [5]

The Indian government had other charges against Tai Situ. New Delhi was investigating Situ's followers for organizing smuggling rings throughout India, Nepal, and China. Indian intelligence was particularly interested in a group of Khampa businessmen in Lhasa associated with Situ and headed by Bhu Chung Chung, a member of the Chinese Bureau of Public Security. New Delhi police found that Chung and his associate Ogyen smuggled $2.5 million worth of shahtoosh wool into India for sale in the city. The endangered Tibetan antelope must be killed to yield the wool. Therefore an international treaty banned all trade in shahtoosh in the 1970s. Possession of shahtoosh is a crime in India, China, and other countries, and those who try to move it across international frontiers to meet the demand of unscrupulous dealers face stiff penalties. Police arrested Ogyen, but Bhu Chung Chung escaped. [6]

With Situ gone and Bhandari forced to resign both in the space of a couple months, Gyaltsab became increasingly isolated at Rumtek. No longer enjoying the active protection of the Sikkim state government, he had to rely on the support of the Joint Action Committee and its powerful local families.

A Gandhian Response

After Bhandari left office, the ousted monks took a chance to try to reenter Rumtek. Allied with the nuns from Ani Chotso's convent as well as a group of local lay supporters, the monks planned to try to enter Rumtek peacefully to perform the annual Varney retreat in August 1995. "I advised them not to do this," Shamar told me. "Such a confrontation would not help. But the leaders of the monks were impatient."

The monks said that they wanted to be able to perform the ceremonies for this 'important monastic observance in the temple built by the sixteenth Karmapa, but the timing was also symbolic. It represented the second anniversary of Situ and Gyaltsab's takeover of Rumtek at the opening of the Varney retreat in 1993. Now, after twenty-four months of performing ceremonies in a makeshift' shrine room housed in a concrete and corrugated iron shed on the property of Shamar Rinpoche's residence outside Rumtek village, the monks wanted to get back into the temple they considered to be theirs.

Gyaltsab has said that the monks attacked Rumtek that day. In his version of events, Topga Rinpoche, who could now reenter Sikkim after Bhandari's ouster, led a convoy of eight trucks carrying two hundred men to take the monastery by force. Before their attack, the intruders cut off the monastery's phone lines so that the Rumtek administration could not call for help. When Topga's men passed the monastery's outer gate and got about five hundred yards into the compound, Rumtek residents started to realize that there was a hostile invasion. In response, they lined both sides of the road and placed themselves in front of the attackers, presenting hands folded in namaste, the Asian gesture of peaceful greeting, and chanting prayers. Only the timely arrival of the police prevented a fight.

The original monks and their supporters in the lay community of Rumtek have contradicted Gyaltsab's account, claiming that the monks who came to Rumtek were peaceful. Tsewang Chorden led the families who supported the exiled monks. "When we heard that the monks were planning to go up to the monastery on August 1, 1995, we lit a fire as a sign of welcome," Tsewang said. "But then the police prevented the monks from entering the monastery."

Even though Bhandari was no longer in office, Sikkim state government officials still supported Gyaltsab for their own reasons. Many of them were allied with Situ's Joint Action Committee, and were probably still receiving payments from Situ and Gyaltsab. The new chief minister, Chamling, could not publicly take sides against them, because he needed Joint Action Committee support to remain in office. In addition, since his government could be held liable for the actions of his predecessor, in his role as chief minister Chamling had to defend Bhandari-era officials who remained in government service.

Despite taunts from the crowd, witnesses say that the procession of ousted monks remained peaceful. Denied entry to the monastery, the monks decided to execute the second part of their plan: to conduct a hunger strike in protest at their exclusion from Rumtek. They began the strike after midnight on August 8 in seventy-two-hour relays, with teams fasting for three days each while living in tents they had pitched by the road outside the monastery's main gate.

The monsoon had begun, the tents leaked, and some of the weakened monks came down with fevers. "It was a very sad situation," local supporter Tsewang said. "All of us, the lay people and the nuns, spontaneously joined the hunger strike. I myself, for example, even though I am sixty-eight years old, took part in the hunger strike for twenty-four hours without drinking a single drop of water. During daytime it was the women who participated in the hunger strike, at night the men."

The hunger strike went on for more than a month, during which Gyaltsab's supporters threatened and sometimes attacked the hunger-striking monks. Gangtok market bullies beat four monks badly enough to send them into the hospital. They also targeted the monks' lay supporters, and reportedly tried to burn down the house of a seventy-year-old woman at night while she was asleep. Because of his role supporting the strikers, Tsewang became a target of aggression.

One evening at about eight o'clock in the evening, three of the new monks at Rumtek attacked him. "I recognized one of them, Patru. Then I fainted," Tsewang said. "When I regained consciousness, I found myself lying in the ditch next to the road, my whole body bleeding. First I thought it was water, but then I realized it was all blood. Luckily my arms and legs weren't broken, so I managed to get home. Then I went to the people who were on hunger strike, and they saw to it that I was taken to hospital, where I had to stay for a fortnight."

To respond to the hunger strike, Gyaltsab called in help from the Joint Action Committee, which sent Bhandari-era local politicians to lead demonstrations of hundreds of local supporters against the hunger strikers. Reportedly, Gyaltsab spent several hundred thousand rupees (tens of thousands of dollars) bussing in and feeding people who came to join the demonstrations.

Topga Rinpoche witnessed the hunger strike, and he commented on the monks' probable motivation. "The monks who participated in the hunger strike did nor want to suffer," Topga said. "They hoped to be able to return to their monastery. A hunger-strike entails physical and mental hardship. There was no other option, the monks had no choice. In the course of the hunger strike, the monks became physically weak and dejected. They would burst into tears from time to time. Their mouths dried up, they abstained from eating, and they were tormented by pangs of hunger.

"The monastic body is made up of individuals of different ages," Topga explained. "Some are only eight years old. If the situation persisted, their lives would be in ruins because they were denied the traditional training in the monastic way of life. Rather than being able to develop towards attaining enlightenment, being able to develop compassion and other good qualities, negative states of resentment and anger would come to the tore. Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche has provided for their needs at this difficult and distressing time. But it would be next to impossible to alleviate the distress and torment which each of the monks is going through."

The hunger strike apparently embarrassed the Dalai Lama's exile government, which continued to support Ogyen Trinley, and thus, Gyaltsab Rinpoche. "Officers from the Dalai lama's government in exile came to visit us, and they were really very diplomatic," according to a statement by the monks made after the conclusion of the strike in 1994. "They advised us not to do what we were doing, not to fight. When we explained that we weren't fighting, that we had been kicked out of our monastery, they just remained silent." [7] The Dalai lama's representatives did not help the exiled monks to get back into Rumtek.

Topga explained that Gyaltsab's attitude in particular was painful for the monks, who were used to thinking of him as one of their spiritual leaders. So Topga decided to write Gyaltsab a letter. "As if their hardships were not enough, Gyaltsab Rinpoche announced that the people who took part in the hunger strike had broken their allegiance to their lama and to the dharma. This comment caused me great anguish. My intention was not to offend Gyaltsab Rinpoche. I wrote the letter because of the distress I felt. The monks wished to study the Buddhist scriptures, but they had no opportunity to do so. They wished to practice meditation, but they had no opportunity to meditate. Greater harm could not have been done."

In his letter, Topga accused Gyaltsab of breaking samaya -- the fearsome bond between a teacher and students who have received tantric vows from that teacher -- with the late sixteenth Karmapa by persecuting his monks. Topga admitted that Gyaltsab had also accused the monks and Topga himself of breaking samaya.

You are aware that there is no court of law in existence to adjudicate such contentious and complex issues ... Therefore, there is no alternative at all but to keep the Dharma Protectors as the judges to decide on whom the actual "Damnyam" (samaya breakers) are. In order to do so, I for one am ready and ever willing to sit in fast, in front of the Mahakala statue in the monastery or in front of the late Karmapa's "Kudung Stupa" or whichever place you choose for this purpose. In fact, all of us are willing to sit in fast in any of the aforesaid places, without food or water and without any medical aid or assistance, until we breathe our last. I have made a firm decision to undertake the aforesaid solemn fast and am confident that you will be also ready and willing to sit in fast, in the same manner in the same place. [8]

Topga sent the letter with a sub-inspector of the Sikkim police department. The next day, the police officer returned the envelope unopened with a note saying "Gyaltsab Rinpoche refused to accept the letter; and hence, it is returned to you."

The hunger strike ended on September 16, when stare government officials finally promised to look into the monks' grievances. Rut in reality new Chief Minister Cham ling had little to offer. He invited forty senior lamas to his residence for a conference, but there he merely told them that there was "no point in sleeping on the road" and continuing their protest. The government could not legally remove the monks of Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches from Rumtek. Instead, the monks' only remedy was to request a court order to return them to their monastery.

Frustrated at the ongoing occupation of Rumtek and exclusion of the sixteenth Karmapa's monks, in November 1995 nearly two thousand business leaders, students, and monks from around Sikkim held a rally outside Rumtek. "The leaders of the rally tried to initiate a peaceful dialogue with Gyaltsab Rinpoche," former Rumtek monk-official Chultrimpa Lungtog Dawa said. But Gyaltsab would not talk. "Instead, Gyaltsab Rinpoche told his supporters to chase the participants in the rally out of the monastery gate." Some of the rougher young men at Rumtek threw bricks and stones at police officers on hand, "which led to utter chaos and a very tense situation at the gate. Eventually, the police force resorted to lathi-charges [attacks with Billy clubs] and the use of tear gas, injuring several innocent citizens who had joined the peace rally to demonstrate their support of our just cause."

Gyaltsab was not inclined to surrender Rumtek. As Sikkim Chief Secretary K. Sreedhar Rao put it in his report to New Delhi:

The presence of Gyaltsab Rinpoche and the fact that the group owing allegiance to Tai Situ Rinpoche is in physical possession of the monastery has enabled them to claim that the monastery already belongs to the seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa reincarnate from Tibet and he should be brought from Tibet and be enthroned in Rumtek. The Joint Action Committee keeps issuing pamphlets, monograms, cassettes all calculated to establish that the Tibetan reincarnation is the only correct reincarnation. This propaganda has no doubt had an impact on the local population. It needs also to be highlighted that the local bureaucracy and the police have also been heavily influenced by this strong propaganda. Attempts by the Shamar Rinpoche's followers to enter the monastery even for the purpose of worship have been beaten back by use of force by the group in occupation of the monastery."

Despite the apparent indifference that Situ and Gyaltsab showed to the plight of the monks expelled from Rumtek in August 1993, or the hostility of the young men left at the monastery after the takeover, almost incredibly the original Rumtek monks claimed that they still did not want to take sides in the dispute over the Karmapa. "We had consistently been branded as 'Shamar Rinpoche's monks,' and false information had been circulated all over Sikkim and beyond with the intention of sullying our reputation," said Chultrimpa Lungtog. "We therefore left the residence of Shamar Rinpoche and camped outdoors in temporary tents and dilapidated shacks which are barely adequate to protect us from the torrential monsoon and the harsh conditions of the winter season."

"We have suffered a great deal -- to such an extent that I cannot find suitable words to describe our anguish and pain," Chultrimpa Lungtog said. "We have, however, not deviated from the path of dharma and truth. We are committed to proceeding in accordance with our tradition and the dharma, and we hope that truth will eventually triumph."