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Thaye Dorje's View - 18

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However modestly he may express himself, Thaye Dorje has no doubt that he is the Karmapa. "The main holders of the Karma Kagyu lineage are the so-called Black Hat Karmapas and the Red Hat Karmapas. The first refers to my own line of reincarnations. The latter refers to the line of reincarnations of the Kunzig Shamarpas. In many cases the Karmapas have recognized the respective next Shamarpa and the Shamarpas in turn the next Karmapa. This is also what has occurred with my recognition.

"Of course, the whole principle of reincarnation is not easy to understand, in particular if one is not familiar with Buddhism. Normally, samsaric beings are reborn through the power of their karma and their emotions. In the case of the successive lines of the Karmapas reincarnations this is different. Taking rebirth happens due to the wish to be reborn to help sentient beings. In this way I took rebirth as the 17th Karmapa."

Thaye Dorje said that he had proclaimed himself to be the Karmapa at an early age and that he had "a strong feeling that I could do something good, simply put, that I could perform the activity of the dharma and take up the challenge to teach. I had very strong confidence." He went on to say that he still had this confidence and had augmented it since he arrived in India with confidence in the way he was recognized as the Karmapa. "Just saying 'I am Karmapa' is not enough. To recognize the Karmapa, one needs proof. It takes a lot of work and intense meditation on the part of the person who is responsible for recognizing him," in this case, Shamar Rinpoche.

Is it important for the Karmapa to he recognized by the Dalai Lama! "The Dalai Lama is certainly a great man. The Karma Kagyu school, however, is an independent lineage and according to our tradition, the Karmapas have to be confirmed in this Karma Kagyu lineage and nor by the Dalai Lama. There is no need for that."

Of the split in the Karma Kagyu school, he said that it is not important in the long run: "Whether there are one or two groups doesn't really matter. What matters is that people benefit and for that it is essential that the teachings transmitted in the Kagyu tradition remain intact. In fact, there is no division. Many people talk about it, yes, however, what matters is the dharma as such and the dharma is not divided. People who don't really understand the dharma think there is a division. They think about institutions. For an authentic dharma practitioner, however, there is no split. For this kind of person there is only the dharma."

Even though he has been winning in court, Shamar has been careful not to place too much importance on placing Thaye Dorje at Rumtek. "His Holiness Karmapa can perform his activity from anywhere in the world. All previous Karmapas were based in Tibet, but the sixteenth Karmapa left that behind. He established a new seat at Rumtek and did not think it was important to return to Tibet. It is not necessary to return to Rumtek now either. Yes, it would have symbolic value for devotees, bur the Karmapa can have another monastery. It is the young man who is special, not the building."

Likewise, Thaye Dorje has said that he does not need to live at Rumtek or claim the symbols of the Karmapa such as the Black Crown. He has said that these objects do not have any intrinsic power, but that they gain their force from the faith of devotees:

It was important. It was a tradition kept until the sixteenth Karmapa, but still only a tradition, no more than that. For me it is not so important. We can have it, but if we don't, it will not make a big difference. We say that the Black Crown is a symbol of Karmapa's activity, and it was true for that time. Now, given the right moment, even a baseball cap could open someone's mind. It's like a door handle that opens a door.

Thaye Dorje has no objection to meeting his rival: "Yes, I would like to meet Ogyen Trinley if we could talk things out, why not?" He hoped that Ogyen Trinley would be able to help people by teaching Buddhism but said that "within the lineage, there can be, of course, only one Karmapa. I personally hope the issue will soon be resolved."

Whom to Believe?

It is now time to take up the question posed at the end of chapter 14: After our journey over the landscape of the controversy over the Karmapa and Rumtek monastery, do we have any more certainty than when we started?

We have traveled back in time to the early days of sectarian conflict in Tibet and we have seen how this conflict followed the lamas into exile in 1959. We have seen how the rivalry between the Dalai Lama's Gelug school and the Karmapa's Karma Kagyu spread into the Karmapa's school itself and helped split the lamas he had raised to carryon his lineage. We have seen how Tai Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches clashed with Shamar at Rumtek, leading to their proclamation of Ogyen Trinley, with the backing of both the Dalai Lama and his arch-enemy China.

Then, we have seen how Situ and Gyaltsab took over Rumtek monastery with the help of the corrupt state administration of Sikkim. We have heard the stories of the monks who were expelled from Rumtek on August 2, 1993 and in the days that followed. We have also learned the views of supporters of both young men who aspire to the role of seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley and Thaye Dorje. In particular, we have heard much from Shamar Rinpoche, whose story has been little told outside of the Himalayas.

Throughout the tangled story of the problems at Rumtek, we have sought answers to the biggest questions of the Karmapa issue: Why are Buddhist lamas fighting each other over two young men and a monastery? And which side in the dispute has a better claim to truth? Tibetans spend much effort interpreting good and bad omens, but to outsiders this may seem little more than a kind of mystical "he says, she says" -- his prediction letter says this, her dream-vision says that

Perhaps more convincing to us are the methods each side has used to make its case. In some ways Situ might seem more in tune with today's world, because he embraced what are essentially tactics from contemporary electoral and issue campaigning, such as forming political action committees and forging outside alliances. By comparison, Shamar may seem old-fashioned for insisting that the reincarnation of the Karmapa must be located and confirmed using "traditional means."

However, this has not prevented Shamar from adopting what is useful in modern technology and conflict resolution to make his case for Thaye Dorje and thus, as he sees it, to preserve the tradition of an unbroken lineage of genuine Karmapas. Notably, Shamar has embraced ideas of accountability and transparency, calling for verification and testing on major issues in the Karmapa dispute by mutually acceptable, neutral authorities. He has asked that Situ's prediction letter be tested by a graphologist for authenticity; he has asked that the valuables at Rumtek be inventoried and inspected to make sure that they have not been removed or damaged; and most importantly, he has asked the Indian court system to decide who has a right to manage Rumtek monastery. Perhaps quixotically, Shamar has also, on occasion, called for Ogyen Trinley to have a bone-marrow test to determine his age, and thus to verify the charges leveled by Yoichi Shimatsu's international team of investigative journalists in 2001 that the original boy was switched with an older child back in Tibet.

While Shamar has called for openness and accountability, Tai Situ and other supporters of Ogyen Trinley have resisted calls to verify their claims in a neutral, rational setting. Ironically, for a lama who has been an innovator and modernizer in waging a wide-ranging campaign for his Karmapa candidate, when it comes to his own most significant claims, Tai Situ has fallen back on the most traditional of attitudes -- blind devotion to the sacred. Throughout the controversy, Situ has asserted that all the most contentious issues of the controversy are hands-off: the authenticity of his prediction letter, the identity of the boy, the safety of the valuables at Rumtek, and the ownership of the monastery itself. His main argument has been that to verify these things would constitute sacrilege. Thus, Situ seems to offer little more than an empty reassurance to the effect: "These things are holy. Trust me."

Modern people are correct to find this rationale unconvincing. And we should know that, for centuries, Tibetans themselves have also rejected blind faith in religious leaders. It seems that when it comes to a healthy skepticism, East and West may not be so far apart.

Lessons of the TuIku System

Choosing leading lamas through reincarnation may have taken the politics out of monastic succession when the Karmapas began this practice in the Middle Ages, but some Tibetans and outside observers think that, for the last few centuries, the tulku system has created more problems than it has solved. Rarely has it functioned as in the movie Kundun, where as we saw at the beginning of our investigation, the Dalai Lama's incarnation was found strictly on the basis of whether the child could pass various tests to prove his authenticity as a tulku. Many lamas admit that even in old Tibet, it was the rule rather than the exception that tulkus were chosen for political reasons.

Over the centuries, more and more creative stories arose to justify questionable tulku choices. If there was a dispute, a compromise solution would be to say that there could be more than one reincarnation of a great master -- "body, speech, and mind" emanations -- as in the 1993 film Little Buddha, where two boys and a girl are all recognized as incarnations of the recently deceased Lama Dorje. Or, if a lama did not trust his disciples to choose his successor, he could choose his own reincarnation himself before his death, a so-called ma-dey tulku.

Two parallel lines of tulkus (with two competing incarnations) could even be "absorbed" back into one lama in the following generation. The Tibetan scholar Gene Smith has documented this in the case of the Khyentse incarnations, a line of tulku's that expanded from one original founder in the nineteenth century to several lamas living simultaneously a century later, all claiming to be Khyentse tulkus. These included many respected lamas, including two prominent contemporary tulkus, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, a young lama-filmmaker who directed the highly acclaimed 1996 film The Cup.

Such tulku tall-tales made the whole system of finding reincarnates look spotty to many in Tibet in the old days. Some reincarnates were known to be authentic Buddhist masters; others were simply tulkus of convenience. But after the Chinese invasion of 1950-51, and particularly in the last twenty years, things have gotten much worse, and tulkus have begun to multiply rapidly both inside China and in exile. Now, there are thousands more reincarnates than before, including such questionable cases as Stephen Seagal and Catherine Burroughs, the "Buddha from Brooklyn," both recognized as reincarnate lamas by a major Tibetan lama.

Surprisingly, considering that Tibetans believe him to be a high tulku himself, Shamar is one of the loudest critics of filling leadership positions in Tibetan Buddhism with reincarnate lamas. "I have criticized Tibetan monastery administration since I was a boy at Rumtek," Shamar told me. "Choosing tulkus has always been political. Now, this is becoming painfully clear to all. Tulkus are just bodhisattvas. They can reincarnate as humans, but also as fish or birds, for example. They do not need to be recognized officially to do their work to help sentient beings. I pray that bodhisattvas will continue to help our world. But we do not need to make them our administrative leaders. This just leads to too many fake tulkus and cheapens both religion and politics. We should slowly work to abandon this system and begin choosing leading lamas on the basis of their merit."

Shamar believes that lamas who serve as leaders of Buddhist schools or powerful monasteries should be elected by their peers, as in the case of the head lama of Bhutan, known as the Je Khenpo, or the Ganden Tripa of the Gelugpas. Both of these positions are filled by older, experienced lamas who serve a term as leader after being selected by a qualified group of other high lamas. "They are not treated like gods, but merely respected as experienced elders," Shamar said.

What about Thaye Dorje, the tulku that Shamar recognized as the reincarnation of the sixteenth Karmapa? "I know he would agree that tulkus need to be taken into the modern world and out of their environment of magic and ceremony. He's a young man. I'm sure he doesn't want to live the old kind of life. wrapped in cloth inside and locked away from the world outside."

We have seen that Thaye Dorje has said that he would like to meet Ogyen Trinley and work out the Karmapa situation together with him. Shamar supports this solution as well, and he told me that Ogyen Trinley had even contacted him in the last year to arrange a meeting. "I told the young lama that we should wait some time, and then meet in the future, once he has gained some life experience and has had a chance to look at the records of the Karmapa controversy himself. I believe that he is quite intelligent. Once he is more mature, I hope he can work for the benefit of the Karma Kagyu."

As to the future. perhaps the two young men can come up with a solution to choose the eighteenth Karmapa as well. "My responsibility as Shamarpa was to protect the Karma Kagyu lineage," Shamar told me, "to find a boy through traditional means, and to hand over the sixteenth Karmapa's property to him. Once I give Rumtek to Thaye Dorje. then my job will be finished. Rumtek may not be necessary for a Karmapa, but it is my duty to protect his legacy. After that, if he likes, he can meet with Ogyen Trinley, and the two of them can decide what to do."

Obviously, no human institution has yet come up with a perfect system of choosing its leaders. United States presidents are chosen by an unrepresentative Electoral College, and in 2000, the election was bedeviled by disputed ballots (with their famous "hanging chads") and decided by the Supreme Court in a contested process leading to years of acrimony. Corporate CEOs, school principals, union leaders, baseball team managers -- all are chosen in processes subject to dispute, dissension, and discord. Perhaps we should look t9 the Catholic Church's selection of the popes for a model of orderly succession of wise leaders? Well, only if we are willing to ignore a past that included some sinners along ith the saintly and, in the fourteenth century, dueling popes in Rome and Avignon. Today, many Catholics complain that the Pope does not represent their approach to faith and is not responsive to their views on Church reform. They call for a different way to choose their leader.

So, on balance, is the tulku system any worse than many other ways of choosing people to lead large groups? I believe that we should leave that question to the Tibetan lamas themselves. As outside observers, admirers, or followers, our role should be to get beyond the tulku mystique, and learn to judge for ourselves which Tibetan lamas or spiritual leaders anywhere are worth our full faith and trust. Some are, and some are not. Our responsibility is to learn to tell the difference.

The bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is the patron saint of Tibet, where he is known as Chenrezig. His mantra is Om mani padme Hung, and Tibetan children drink in its soothing melody with their mother's milk. The old kings of Tibet were considered to be emanations of Chenrezig, and both the Daiai Lama and the Karmapa are still seen as embodiments of Tibet's beloved bodhisattva, as we saw in chapter 5.

Legend says that when he was an eager but inexperienced bodhisattva, Chenrezig promised to help all beings reach enlightenment, a commitment he sealed with an oath: "If I ever waver from this sacred mission, may my head explode into ten pieces!" Chenrezig went to work diligently helping all beings he encountered. But after several eons, he began to realize that no matter how many beings he saved from suffering, there would be innumerable more who still suffered. He began to despair of fulfilling his vow, and wondered if he should stop trying to save others and just focus on his own enlightenment. At that point, his head split into ten pieces. Shakyamuni Buddha, looking down from the celestial realms, took pity on Chenrezig, and put him back together, but with a difference. He gave the bodhisattva ten heads, to better see and hear the suffering of all beings, along with a thousand arms to better relieve their plight.

As we investigate Tibetan lamas, other spiritual leaders, or any leader or teacher that we might choose for ourselves, we should be ready to take Chenrezig's journey. At first, we may be enthusiastic and energetic. Then, sooner or later, if our eyes are open, we will certainly become disillusioned, and our faith may break into pieces. Then comes the most crucial point. What will we do with our disillusionment? Will we take refuge in denial, and proclaim our faith loud enough to drown out our own doubt? Will we descend into cynicism, salting our former idol with a knowing smile and a wink as we walk away? Or will we find a middle path, a way to balance skepticism and faith?

"Only a truly compassionate religious teacher is worth following," Shamar told me. "People today need to decide for themselves whether a teacher is compassionate or not. A selfish teacher might tell his students that 'west is east and if you want to follow me then you have to accept this without question. Otherwise, you will be breaking samaya.' But a compassionate teacher, like His Holiness Dalai Lama for example, will not do this."

Surprisingly, even after more than a decade of opposing the Dalai Lama's attempts to choose the Karmapa, Shamar still admires the Tibetan exile leader. "I have seen that often students ask His Holiness to tell them, from his great wisdom, something hidden, such as predicting the future. A charlatan teacher might indulge this request, or at least imply through dramatic behavior that he has some special knowledge and powers that he cannot reveal. But His Holiness Dalai Lama never does this. He sets an example for honesty in his spiritual teachings. That is why I respect him, even if we have differences when it comes to religious politics.

"His Holiness made a mistake getting involved with the Karmapa. He may have been misled at the beginning by Situ Rinpoche and his supporters that all members of the Karmapa Search Committee agreed with his boy. Later, even when the dispute began, and it became clear that I opposed Situ's choice, His Holiness persisted in supporting Situ and Ogyen Trinley, and strongly implied that the Karmapa needed to be approved by him. This was wrong. History shows that Dalai Lamas have never selected or confirmed Karmapas, and we will not accept a change now. We must have a genuine Karmapa chosen according to Karma Kagyu tradition-not for political reasons. I oppose any attempts to subvert the Karmapa for the purposes of Tibetan politics. Even so, I still support His Holiness Dalai Lama in helping the Tibetan people, as long as he follows his own Buddhist principles. He should stay out of sectarian politics, and just work purely for Tibetan freedom while teaching Buddhism around the world. That would be a noble role for him."

Shameful Means and Questionable Ends

Earlier, we speculated on the motives of Situ's followers. Did they campaign for him just because they were paid, or did they believe that their ambitious rinpoche was involved in something exciting and heroic? I think that it was a bit of both. Now, we should consider Situ's own probable motives. Outsiders, who are used to thinking of the highest Tibetan lamas as international paragons of non-violence, compassion, and wisdom, may be tempted to .search for an altruistic motivation behind Tai Situ's actions. How could a respected lama with a 700-year history knowingly promote a Karmapa candidate on evidence he knew to be false, employing pressure tactics that obviously contradicted Buddhist ethics?

Situ has maintained that he was a devoted disciple of the sixteenth Karmapa and that his goal in selecting and promoting Ogyen Trinley, and even in taking over Rumtek, was to protect the Karma Kagyu lineage and to ensure a genuine seventeenth Karmapa. If Situ really had this view, then judging by his actions he must have believed that lofty ends would justify unethical means. How else could he justify such dirty tricks as forging a Karmapa prediction letter, bribing politicians in Sikkim, putting street toughs in monks' robes, and either encouraging -- or at least failing to stop -- his supporters from violently attacking not one, but two monasteries of his own order?

Taking over Rumtek seems to be the hardest to reconcile with any altruistic motivation that Situ and his supporters might have had. It seems to me that if Situ Rinpoche had only wanted to enthrone and support Ogyen Trinley as Karmapa, then he could have stopped short of taking over Rumtek. It was not necessary for the young lama to wear the Black Crown or to take over the sixteenth Karmapa's monastery to gain legitimacy. In the eyes of many Tibetans and most outsiders, Ogyen Trinley already derived all the legitimacy he needed from the Dalai Lama's support. As we have seen, in 1992 Shamar himself even wrote a letter accepting the boy on the basis of assurances from both Situ and the Dalai Lama.

Ogyen Trinley did not need to control Rumtek in order to play the role of Karmapa. He could have remained on the throne of the previous sixteen Karmapas at Tsurphu monastery and inspired growing devotion from Karma Kagyu followers inside Tibet and in exile without ever leaving there.

Later, in 2000, as we have seen, Ogyen Trinley's supporters would make the unconvincing claim that the Chinese interfered with the boy's Buddhist education and that he had to flee Tibet in order to gain his religious freedom. In 2001, the boy himself repeated this claim. Perhaps only a Cold War mindset whose first impulse is to see China as a godless totalitarian state bent on destroying all religion could induce outsiders to believe that the boy was repressed by the Chinese in light of strong evidence to the contrary. We have seen how Gyaltsen Lama, the boy's own guide across the Himalayas in his staged escape of 1999-2000, said that Ogyen Trinley was not unhappy in China. Indeed, he seems to have been quite happy under the Chinese. Reports from Tsurphu in the nineties indicated that, in an effort to win Tibetan hearts and minds, religious authorities of the Tibet Autonomous Region in Lhasa treated Ogyen Trinley like a king.

Further, at the time Situ took over Rumtek in 1993, Situ and his supporters had not yet started to criticize the Chinese. On the contrary, at the time Situ and Gyaltsab were collaborating closely with Beijing and Lhasa to install and promote their Karmapa candidate. Ogyen Trinley had been enthroned at Tsurphu the year before with Chinese help, and Situ and Gyaltsab, along with other lamas who supported Ogyen Trinley, were able to freely travel to China to see the boy for extended visits. Ogyen Trinley had everything he needed at Tsurphu because his teachers had good relations with the Chinese government.

Yet, for some reason, at the height of Situ's friendship with China and of Ogyen Trinley's glory there, Situ decided to incur the trouble and expense to stage a putsch at Rumtek in Ogyen Trinley's name. Was Ogyen Trinley merely a pretext for Situ to take the cloister? Legally, strategically, and of course, morally, taking over the sixteenth Karmapa's monastery from the sixteenth Karmapa's own legacy administration appears to have been a grave error on Situ's part. As a result of his coup, Situ has faced years of litigation and stands to face years more, perhaps even criminal charges. The fight for Rumtek has cost Situ the goodwill of the Indian government and has handicapped Ogyen Trinley, who remains under virtual house arrest in India, unable to travel the world as Thaye Dorje as already begun to do. And Situ himself remains a target of Indian suspicion, banned from returning to Rumtek or entering the state of Sikkim. Under such restrictions, it would be difficult for either lama to preach Buddhism or spread the teachings of the Karma Kagyu school in an effective way.

Finally, how can taking a monastery by force from monks of your own lineage appointed by the master you claim to venerate, the sixteenth Karmapa, ever be a way to advance the teachings of the Buddha?

Not surprisingly, Shamar has a strong opinion about the takeover of Rumtek. "Buddhism teaches that there are Four Acts of Limitless Consequence or limitless karma," Shamar told me. "If you knowingly perform any of these acts, you do so much harm to living beings that the suffering you create cannot be calculated. One of these acts is known as Splitting the Sangha, that is, creating a division in the community of ordained practitioners -- monks, nuns, and lamas. By taking over Rumtek, Situ split the Karma Kagyu sangha, turning spiritual brothers against each other, making spiritual fathers and sons into enemies. How much suffering this has created! I fear that it will take a long time to heal the deep wounds of this rash and selfish act."

If taking Rumtek was not necessary to support Ogyen Trinley as Karmapa, and if it exposed Situ to so much trouble, then why did he do it? He must have had some other motivation. We have already seen that. Shamar's supporters think, that it was larceny. Given that several valuable items were found to be missing from Rumtek on Situ and Gyaltsab's watch, as we have seen, I can find no other motive that appears more likely.

Yet, despite the history of his abuses well documented in the Indian press, Situ continues to claim that he has done nothing wrong, and that Ogyen Trinley is the real Karmapa. Of course, Shamar makes the same claim for Thaye Dorje. One of these two lamas must be wrong, since by tradition there should only be one Karmapa. A compromise allowing two Karmapas would seem to further undermine any credibility that the tulku system has left. We have seen strong evidence that Situ's candidate was chosen in a corrupt process marred by unnecessary haste and interference by outsiders including the governments of China and Sikkim. Given the crimes and misdemeanors committed to bolster Ogyen Trinley's candidacy, I do not see how an observer with the facts could honestly embrace the young man as the reincarnation of a high Buddhist lama.

Let us now consider the evidence for Thaye Dorje. On the plus side, he does not have the black marks on his record that Ogyen Trinley does. Yet, logically speaking, the misdeeds of Tai Situ and his party are merely evidence against Ogyen Trinley and not evidence for Thaye Dorje. Neither investigative reporting nor modern science can prove that one boy is the genuine reincarnate. And outsiders cannot be expected to find the mystical signs and portents that both candidates' supporters cite to be very convincing. So what else do we have to go on? For now, the case for Thaye Dorje appears to rest on the strength of the assurances of Shamar and his party, and the ethical standards that they have maintained in promoting their candidate. They have not broken the law, incited violence, or colluded with outsiders as Tai Situ has.

In addition, Thaye Dorje has already, shown signs of much promise as a religious leader worthy of trust and a teacher skilled enough to present the ancient and arcane tradition of Tibetan Buddhism to modern people. Interestingly, like Shamar, Thaye Dorje seems most comfortable when sharing the teachings of the Kagyu masters with an audience that does not insist on too much flash or spectacle, a strong contrast to Tai Situ's animated style. In another contrast with Situ, neither Thaye Dorje nor Shamar has shown much interest in promoting ambitious programs to solve world problems, as Tai Situ did in his short-lived Pilgrimage for Active Peace in the late 1980s. Instead, both lamas have called and continue to call on their students to meditate earnestly in order to get themselves out of the cycle of cyclic existence and suffering Buddhists call samsara.

This may be a different way of thinking than we arc used to, but I believe this approach harmonizes better with Buddhism's bottom-up path to happiness, to change the world by helping people change themselves. Ever since the European Enlightenment, the world has been treated to one system after another to reform society en masse -- humanism, secularism, Marxism, popular revolution, environmentalism, and post-colonialism, to name only a few. Indeed, up until now there has been no shortage of political and social philosophies to change the behavior of large groups of people and thus improve our world. I am willing to bet that the supply of reform movements will probably not run out anytime soon either.

While the past century has brought much progress in solving human problems, it has also brought human suffering on a level unparalleled in history: two world wars; two atomic bombs; the Holocaust; massive deaths under Stalin and Mao; the. nuclear brinksmanship of the Cold War; continued war, famine, and disease in Africa; and the spread of AIDS around the world. Now, we face the twin apocalyptic threats of international terrorism and global environmental collapse. If all our reform movements were unable. to prevent such tragedies, can we say that they have made humans happier as a whole?

Many today believe that Buddhism should spur social reform. But Buddhism teaches something else than this. Though its ethics can be used to create better governments or organizations, improving today's world is not the primary purpose of Buddhism.

Shakyamuni Buddha taught that life is suffering, or more subtly, that life is unsatisfactory. Did he say that with a little bit more altruism or creativity applied to good works and well- designed social programs we can eliminate suffering? No -- he said that life is always, by definition, suffering, because humans and all other beings cling to mistaken ideas that we and our physical world exist as we see them. This insight is what makes Buddhism truly radical; it goes to the root of the problem, our own emotions of anger, greed, and apathy. Indeed, a Buddhism that finds the cause of suffering in our own minds and hearts is more radical than any revolutionary credo that merely tries to improve the outside world could ever be.

It was not an accident that Tibet, the world's most complete buddhacracy, had as its greatest heroes neither enlightened rulers nor great social reformers, but uncompromising meditators such as Milarepa. After a life of worldly troubles, Milarepa sought a qualified spiritual master and then retreated to a cave to meditate, alone. When he was with others, he never stopped teaching that worldly affairs were a waste of precious time that could be better spent in meditation. "Life is short. and the time of death is uncertain, so apply yourself to meditation," he exhorted.

There is a lesson here. And it is not that all Buddhists should retire from the world as Milarepa did. The lesson is a more subtle one, and I believe that it is this: If we reduce Buddhism to yet another philosophy of improvement to spawn yet more social programs, whether Tibetan nationalism or world peace, we drain it of its vitality. As the Dhammapada puts it, "The gift of the dharma surpasses all gifts; the taste of the dharma surpasses all tastes; the joy of the dharma surpasses all joys; extinguish desire, and all suffering passes."

Where Are They Now?

Thaye Dorje is finishing his studies at the Karma Shri Diwakar Institute of Higher Buddhist Studies in Kalimpong, in the eastern Himalayas just south of Sikkim. He spent the summer of 2005 teaching in Europe, and made news by appearing at an interfaith ceremony with the Bishop of London. He hopes to make a trip to the United States in the next two or three years to teach at centers established by Shamar Rinpoche and by the Nydahls.

Shamar Rinpoche continues to lead the effort of the Karmapa Charitable Trust to regain Rumtek. In July 2004, after six years of hearings in a case that his current lawyers say was badly mishandled by earlier attorneys, major preliminary issues were resolved in Shamar's favor by the Indian Supreme Court (see the text of its decision in appendix B). It seems likely that the main case will soon be heard by the District Court in Gangtok.

Khenpo Chodrak teaches at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute in New Delhi. The school was closed for renovations starting in mid-2005 and will reopen in Fall 2006 to international students seeking to study Karma Kagyu Buddhism.

Ogyen Trinley is finishing his studies at Gyuto Tantric College in Sidbhari in Himachal Pradesh in northwestern India while presenting teachings and meeting with devotees. The Indian government continues to prevent him from traveling abroad and restricts his travels in India. In 2004, he attended the funeral of Bokar Rinpoche at Mirik just over the state line from Sikkim and only a few hours from Rumtek. But the Indian government refused to let him go into Sikkim or to Rumtek. In the last couple years, as we have seen, he has had contact with Shamar Rinpoche. Shamar is confident that the young lama, whom he refers to as "Ogyen Trinley Rinpoche," will turn out to be a strong advocate among the Tibetan exile leadership for the interests of the Karma Kagyu.

Tai Situ Rinpoche lives at his monastery Sherab Ling in Himachal Pradesh, not far from Ogyen Trinley.

Gyaltsab Rinpoche lives at his monastery Ralang, a few hours from Rumtek in Sikkim.