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October 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         October 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:October' 2018


When is Karmapa returning ?

Malladi Rama Rao

The 17th Karmapa Ugyen Thrinley Dorjemay For the uninitiated, the name Ugyen Thrinley Dorje may ring no bells but that in no way diminishes his stature and importance. He is one of the claimants to head the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism – a position that makes him the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa. He has been staying in the United States since last October. And even conducted the annual Kagyu Monlam- the500-yearold annual prayer festival to strengthen the feeble discipline of vows among the ordained Sangha, and make offerings to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
There have been demands in Sikkim both from the local The 17th Karmapa Ugyen Thrinley Dorjemay government and the people that he be asked to visit the state. On its part, the Indian government has given its green signal for his Sikkim visit with the caveat that he cannot go to Rumtek Monastery! This go ahead came after much high drama, of course.
The state witnessed a 707-day long relay hunger under the aegis of Denzong Lhadey Tsogpa, (DLT), an organisation of monks and monasteries, press its demand. Chief Minister Pawan Chamling also intervened on their behalf by writing letters to the External Affairs Minister. Curtains came down on the relay hunger strike three months ago, on 16 June, after an assurance by the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh that the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa would be allowed to visit and move freely in the state except Rumtek.
In a recent letter to DLT, Ugyen Thrinley Dorje expressed his intention to visit Sikkim as soon as possible. “Please be assured that it is my heartfelt intention to be with the people of Sikkim as soon as possible. However, as yet, I do not know the exact day of my return to India. I am diligently seeking to discuss this with representatives of the Government of India and expect to complete this discussion within the next few weeks.
I will keep you informed as my plan becomes clearer. I will also review with keen interest and carefully consider the schedule after consulting with various monasteries and organization’s across Sikkim”.
The Karmapa told Free Radio Asia that he would return to India but left the date vague. “There are many rumours going around; however it is definite that I will return (to India). There is no doubt about. India has been a second home for all of us, Tibetan refugees, especially His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It is like a second Tibet for us. Many important monasteries have been built in India and numerous refugee communities have been created. Further, we must not forget that India was the home of the Buddha and his teachings. Also, the main seat of the Gyalwang Karmapas, established by my predecessor, is located in India.
Therefore, there is no question whatsoever that I will return”. By allowing him to visit Sikkim,New Delhi has made it clear that it intends to eventually recognize Ugyen Thrinley

Pawan Chamling Dorje as the 17th Karmapa. However, as the matter of control over Rumtek Monastery is before courts, it makes sense not to do anything at this stage. Pertinently, that is why the Tsurphu Labrang,(the Karmapa Office, which is responsible for all matters related to His Holiness, and acts on his behalf) had wanted to be included as an interested party in the ongoing case in the local trial court.But it did not happen; there is reason, therefore, for worry.
There is another case in the Supreme Court. It relates to alleged money-laundering that surfaced in 2011. It directly involved Ugyen Thrinley Dorje. He has since moved the apex court to drop the prosecution.
This followed the High Court ruling that the state government must proceed against him.
Now cut back to Kagyu Monlam, he had led in the US. Such an event took place outside India after a very long time. Hosted by the Danang Foundation at York College, it was held at an interesting juncture.
In March 2018, the Karmapa had delivered a special message to the 35th Kagyu Monlam via video in which he had opened up about his personal struggles to fulfill his leadership role.He expressed a wish to resolve the sectarian split in the Karma Kagyu School. This divide can be traced to the time just after the death of the 16th Karmapa 1981, when some lamas identified Ugyen Thrinley Dorje as the 17th Karmapa while others recognized Thaye Dorje; soon the whole issue got mired in bitter quarrel and law suits.

Rajnath Singh A few days back Ugyen Thrinley Dorje fielded a question about addressing the sectarian dispute. “I am in the process of enacting plans to resolve this. But because these processes and plans are not completed yet, I don’t want to be too specific. The point is everyone needs to work together. Now, I take responsibility. But I can’t do this entirely alone. I need both sides to come together,”he stated. The stage for rapprochement appears to have been set though. Thaye Dorje has married; his mentor Shamar Rinpoche is no longer alive. Ugyen Thrinley Dorje went to the West in 2017; first he travelled to the UK and then to Germany and Canada.
While he was in Germany(mid-2017) his 80-year-old senior attendant, Gelek Kunchok, who has cared for him since his childhood became seriously ills and was hospitalized in the United States. So, he moved there and has remained there since then. This has set off rumours that the Karmapa had decided to settle down in the Eldorado, and will not return to India. The Tsurphu Labrang promptly refuted these rumours.
Two things have since become clear and both have a bearing on the Tibetan movement. One there is a divide between the Central Tibetan Authority (CTA), the Dalai Lama and the 17th Karmapa. This is a dangerous trend as far as Indian security is concerned and needs to be reversed. Two, the decision taken by the Indian Government cutting off contact with the Tibetan movement at the end of last year, has led to a stalemate as far the Tibetan movement is concerned. Therefore, there is little by way of discussion about the 17th Karmapa or the Dalai Lama’s successor in the public domain.
Given such a backdrop, it seems natural that China has taken full advantage of the situation. There is an urgency to get the Dalai Lama to speak to Ugyen Thrinley Dorje and bring him back to India. It is equally necessary to end speculation about his status as the 17th Gwalyang Karmapa. Only this will bring clarity and stability to the Tibetan movement in India and elsewhere across the globe. Otherwise, it is likely that a drift will set in on policy towards Tibetans with consequences for Indian national interests, security including.