Karmapa Politics

Blog Post
There is a disturbance in the force – and ripples are blasting out from India and Asia. So I’m reporting it here for my blog readers. (caveat, I am not a Buddhist and have no faith-related axe to grind)
Karmapa Ugyen Trinley Dorje (25), is the spiritual head of the Karma Kagyu school, one of the four sects of Buddhism. He is considered the third most important Tibetan religious head after the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama.
In January, 2000, the Karmapa fled Tibet and sought refuge in India. Since then he has lived in the Gyuto Tantric monastery in Sidhbari near Dharamsala – the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
Yesterday, Himachal Pradesh police today raided the 17th Karmapa’s home and claimed to have seized six suitcases containing unexplained cash in Indian and foreign currency.  $200,000 is not that much money for a religious leader to have, unless it’s India and then it’s a scandal. The Karmapa, as with the Dalai Lama, receives donations from the faithful worldwide. 
Dorje has been under scrutiny by Indian security agencies since he arrived in India, eleven years ago. He lives in Sidhbari, 10km from the Dalai Lama’s residence. Indian police confined the Karmapa’s movements to within 15km of his home since his arrival in India, and does not allow him to visit the Dalai Lama too frequently. Dare I ask why? 

According to The Telegraph, “On July 25, 2009, the Karmapa was given only 30 minutes to meet the Dalai Lama. Earlier, three consecutive requests from him to see the spiritual leader were turned down,” a source close to the Dalai Lama said. Since July 2008, the police have refused to let the Karmapa visit other monasteries in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir that are located close to the China border.

“Dorje has also been banned from travelling abroad. He had toured the US in 2008, when he visited New York and San Francisco in an attempt to raise his international profile. He is keen to visit America again but the government has not budged.”

Denounced as a Spy? Really?

Sources cited by The Telegraph (Calcutta, India) said the government had increasingly curbed the movements of the “Boy Karmapa” over the past few years under suspicion that Beijing had stage-managed his “escape” so he could keep an eye on the Dalai Lama’s activities.
Is it about graft and corruption in the Indian Government?
A month ago, when the Karmapa began building a multi-crore religious structure on a 75-acre site in Kotla, 42km from Dharamshala, the income tax department and security agencies questioned the source of funding. The foreign ministry later ordered the construction stopped. Followers of the Karma Kagyu sect, one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism, are believed to be the richest among Tibetans. The Karmapa’s followers often controversially project him as the successor to the Dalai Lama, who heads the Gelug sect.
Or is it about Buddhist Politics?
The Karmapa’s official seat is the Rumtek monastery in Sikkim, but Dorje cannot go there because of the emergence of a rival Karmapa, Trinley Thaye Dorje. Yes, for those blog readers who don’t follow Buddhist politics, there have been two candidates for the “position” of 17th Karmapa and both have been enthroned. The Karmapa lineage is the most ancient tulku lineage in Tibetan Buddhism and the Karmapa heads the Kagyu sect.
And call me a cynic, but it sounds as if the Indian police and intelligence agencies have a horse in the race of which official Karmapa will have precedence. Only a cynic would connect that influence to money (and therefore, power).
A friend of mine is a tulku, a very eminent Buddhist. I had no idea how political the Buddhist faith was until I started talking about it with him, years ago. There is a perception that they all get along – but that doesn’t seem to be the case. This particular tulku who I know said this of the wealthy Buddhist centers: Big Temple=Big Demon.

6 thoughts on “Karmapa Politics

  1. I read it twice…which is good for me, considering I fell asleep during the Lord of the Rings. For some reason, its just easier to follow when they are named "Mike" and "John"…

  2. Sounds like a set up to me. You'd think the Himachal Pradesh police would have also found opium in the freezer and a computer full of child porn photos to really take the guy down….

  3. Is it that the Buddhists are peace-loving? They seem to be squashed so easily by totalitarianism. But I guess that goes for most every peaceful religion.

  4. Euripides – in this day and age of PhotoShop, nobody is safe.

    Opus #6 – Most Buddhists (peaceful) tend to live in Confucian (rigid martial) societies. There's a duality at work. I have no explanation.

  5. I think Buddhism fit into Confucian and Doaist China so well because it was based on non-violence. Essentially in China, until Mao came along and changed everything, the Confucian concepts of duty to superiors and humanness interwove with Buddhism, allowing the religion to spread throughout Asia without upsetting the political status quo.

    Contrast this with Christianity, which came along and replaced the state gods and threatened Roman politics by preaching a certain equality of citizenship. Or contrast with Islam that considers nothing is as important as God, whose will must be spread at any cost.

    Hence, the Buddhists (say in the country formerly known as Tibet) get walked on by more vigorous ideologies (such as India's and China's new found worldwide market).

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