Join our Mailing List

"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Tibetan monk's HK trip shows Buddhism's divisions

February 27, 2009

February 26, 2009

HONG KONG (AFP) — A recent visit to Hong Kong by a monk claiming to be
one of Tibetan Buddhism's most important leaders has highlighted the
ancient power struggles that lurk within the peace-preaching religion.

Earlier this month, advertisements appeared in the city's Standard
newspaper announcing the visit of Trinley Thaye Dorje who says he is the
17th Karmapa, a reincarnation of Tibetan Buddhism's third highest deity.

Days later, ads in the rival South China Morning Post announced events
that would go ahead "with the blessing of His Holiness 17th Karmapa,"
and showed a photograph of a different monk -- Ogyen Trinley Dorje,
generally recognised as the true Karmapa.

"Although His Holiness will not be able to come to Hong Kong... he sends
his blessings all the way from India," the SCMP ad said.

Ogyen Trinley Dorje fled Tibet in 1999 by diving out of monastery window
after the Chinese authorities refused to allow his teachers to visit
from India.

He now lives in the Indian hill town of Dharamshala, base of the Tibetan
government-in-exile, where his movements are tightly controlled by
Indian authorities.

Any visit to China would be virtually unimaginable for him following his
high-profile and controversial departure.

Even Hong Kong, which has its own immigration laws, is likely to be
off-limits as authorities fear offending their communist masters in
Beijing, who are sensitive about criticism over their 60-year rule of
Tibet and well-documented human rights abuses there.

Thubten Samphel, spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile, said
there was no doubt who was the "authentic" Karmapa.

"If you lined up the two side-by-side and asked the Tibetan people who
they would prefer to receive a blessing from, they would line up in
front of (Ogyen Trinley Dorje)," he told AFP by phone.

Robbie Barnett, an expert in Tibetan Buddhism at Columbia University in
New York, said Trinley Thaye Dorje's claim to the Karmapa title, based
on the declaration of a few senior Tibetans, was extremely tenuous.

"This is like a tiny group of cardinals putting out their own pope and
declaring war within the Church," he said.

The religion has a long history of disputes over reincarnation, although
they have waned under strong leadership from the Dalai Lama, said Barnett.

"These disputes are almost inevitable because of the vast amounts of
money and power and political interests that are involved for these
people who are recognised," he said.

The dispute over the "real" Panchen Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's second most
powerful figure, is the best known rift in the religion, seen by
outsiders as the ultimate pacifist ideology but which has been riven by
rivalries between sects for centuries.

After the death in 1989 of the 10th Panchen Lama, the Dalai Lama and
Beijing -- insisting on control of major religious decisions --
announced different choices for the 11th reincarnation.

The Dalai's choice, then aged six, suddenly disappeared, and many
Tibetans and observers believe he and his family were kidnapped by Beijing.

The Chinese government denies the Dalai Lama's choice is in detention,
but regularly parades its own candidate the legitimate Panchen.

The dispute over the Karmapa does not now involve the Chinese communists
as both monks now live in India.

During his Hong Kong visit, Trinley Thaye Dorje insisted he had been
properly chosen in an arcane process that includes divine guidance to
identify a reincarnation.

"The conflict is a very unfortunate dispute. It should have never taken
place," he said in an interview.

He was keen to avoid controversy, despite the spotlight on the Tibet
issue in the year following deadly violence that erupted in Tibetan
parts of China last March and amid tightened security leading up to the

Asked if he had a responsibility to highlight the plight of Tibetans in
China, he said: "I do what I can from the religious (and spiritual
side). There are many others who are doing their part.

"I very much feel for everyone, not just the Tibetans. (So many people)
are in great, great difficulty, in all kinds of problems," he said.

China has ruled Tibet since 1951, after sending in troops the previous
year to "liberate" the Himalayan region from what they call a Buddhist

Many Tibetans insist they do not want Chinese rule and say widespread
political and religious repression triggered last year's anti-Chinese riots.

Tibet's government-in-exile says more than 200 Tibetans were killed and
about 1,000 hurt in the subsequent crackdown. China has reported killing
one Tibetan "insurgent" and says "rioters" were responsible for 21 deaths.

The rioting came on the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising that was
quashed with deadly force -- the Tibetan government-in-exile says the
Chinese army killed 87,000 people -- and led to the Dalai Lama fleeing
his homeland.

Despite questions about his legitimacy, Trinley Thaye Dorje's Hong Kong
visit appeared to be well supported. He was welcomed at the airport by
hundreds of people and his seminars at the city's exhibition centre
attracted thousands.

Barnett said that for many Tibetans, the precise lineage of senior monks
is not important. "Tibetans think there must be something good in
someone if they have been put in this position."

Thubten Samphel agreed, adding that although such disputes were a
"distraction" they had long been part of Tibetan life.

"It is for people to make up their mind. We cannot say you are right or
you are wrong," he said.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank