Claude Arpi, Niticentral | December 6, 2014
Last week, a strange piece of news appeared in The Economic Times (ET), “While transgressions by Chinese soldiers in Ladakh in September and the resultant standoff were widely reported, an incursion of another kind shrouded in mystery is said to have taken place in Tibet at around the same time.”
The report speaks about a dozen monasteries, belonging to the Drukpa Kagyud lineage of Tibetan Buddhism being taken over by monks ‘with strong financial backing’; implying with the ‘backing’ from China.
It is true that for centuries there has been infighting over supremacy of the richly-endowed monasteries amongst sects and sub-sects of Tibetan Buddhism. But what is strange this time is that the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa Rinpoche, the spiritual head of the Drukpa Kagyud lineage, has linked the takeover of his monasteries in Tibet with the PLA’s transgressions in Chumar and elsewhere in Ladakh.
Why to link the two events is not clear, except perhaps to get publicity and force the Indian intelligence agencies to look into the issue?
The Gyalwang Drukpa told the ET, “We are still trying to ascertain if more monasteries have been taken over as these areas in Tibet are remote and communication is poor. …These monks are apolitical, engaged in spiritual work and it is baffling why they were targetted.”
The ET says that there were reports of “members of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Buddhism behind the takeover,” adding that there was no confirmation of this.
The Drukpa Kagyud lineage is a sub-sect of the Kagyud school of Tibetan Buddhism, one of the 4 major schools (the Dalai Lama belongs to the Geluk-pa lineage).
The Drukpas have a strong following in Ladakh and Western Tibet. According to the Rinpoche, it has some 267 monasteries in the region, some of them located in the vicinity of Mount Kailash.
What the ET does not mention is that the Drukpa Rinpoche had already written to the Karmapa Lama, the head of the Karma Kagyud, who lives near Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, accusing his followers to be behind the takeovers.
On September 10, Gyalwang Drukpa, “Over the last few days I have been receiving disturbing information from Tibet regarding the forced conversion of Drukpa Lineage monasteries in the Mount Kailash region. …My followers in Tibet tell me that nearly all of the historic Drukpa Lineage monasteries in Mount Kailash region are being forcibly occupied by the Karma Kagyu Lineage, using money, coercion and certain Chinese support.”
The Drukpa Rinpoche pointed out,”Historically the Drukpa Lineage and the Karma Kagyu Lineage have shared a deep and close spiritual bond. The Gyalwang Drukpas and Gyalwa Karmapas were known as ‘spiritual father and son’ because whoever was elder would give spiritual guidance to the younger one.” Apparently, it is not the case anymore as the Drukpa Lama believes that some Karma Kagyu lamas, using the Karmapa’s name, are behind the conversions.
It is not known if the Karmapa answered this letter.
This brings the issue of the rule by incarnation’ in Tibet, which has often been unsatisfactory. First, one is never sure that a new reincarnated lama is the right choice. During some troubled periods of Tibetan history, the Mongols or the Manchu dynasty could use their influence for making their own selection, through the Golden Urn system or other ways.
This is true not only for the Dalai Lamas, the Panchen Lamas or the Karmapas at the top of the hierarchy, but also for ‘local’ hierarchs who presided over a county, a province, a school of Buddhism, or a monastery. Historically, the first identified ‘reincarnation’ was the 2nd Karmapa Lama, Karma Pakshi (1203–1283), who succeeded Dusum Khyenpa (1110–1193), the first Karmapa.
Pakshi became the first formally recognised ‘tulku’, signalling the beginning of the Tibetan institution of ‘incarnated’ lamas. Later, other schools of Tibetan Buddhism too began to accept that lamas, saints or great yogis could return to the human world through an ‘emanation’, that took birth after the death of his predecessor, in order to ‘continue’ his work.
Historians believe that it went wrong when tulkus started to inherit the estate and the mundane position (and the disciples) of their previous incarnation. This led to the rise of hugely wealthy ‘transmitted’ estates. This is probably the root of the current problem around Mount Kailash and it is not a good omen for the future of the Tibetan civilisation.
Politically too, the rule by reincarnation does not suit a modern nation, mainly because it can be too easily manipulated. Take the example of the 10th Panchen Lama’s reincarnation. There are two contending candidates, one chosen by the Dalai Lama and one selected by Beijing (Gyaltsen Norbu). Ditto for the Karmapa lineage: there are today two or three candidates for the post of Karmapa (The Dalai Lama has accorded recognition to Urgyen Thinley Dorjee who lives in Himachal Pradesh).
Today, the Communist Party seems determined to fully play the ‘Panchen’ card against what it calls ‘the Dalai and his clique’. In March, 2013, the Chinese Government announced that the 11th Panchen Lama had been elected member of the Standing Committee of the CPPCC National Committee, China’s top political advisory body and whenever Gyaltsen Norbu visits Tibet, he is received with full pomp by the highest cadre of the Party who line up to receive his ‘blessings’. Isn’t comical?
It is, however, true that historically the Tibetan society has often been divided; the split between the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and the Ninth Panchen Lama at the beginning of the 20th century is a case in point. The collaterals are still visible today with two Panchen Lamas.
In his Last Testament written in 1932, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama warned the people of Tibet against these ills of the Tibetan society; he wrote: “Now, when there is peace and happiness, when you have the power, work earnestly, and wholeheartedly for the general welfare. …Work and persevere now, that there is no regret later”.
At the end of his Testament, he warned his people of the forthcoming ‘dark days’: “In my lifetime conditions will be as they are now, peaceful and quiet. But the future holds darkness and misery. I have warned you of these things because of my experience and other important reasons. More I cannot say or advise, [if you don’t follow this advise] …all souls shall be immersed in suffering and the night shall be long and dark.” Soon after his death in 1933, the power-struggle degenerated into a tragic dispute between the last two Regents of Tibet (Reting and Taktra).
The present Dalai Lama often speaks of his Three Commitments, the second being “the promotion of religious harmony and understanding among the world’s major religious traditions.” The Tibetan leader should perhaps tell all Tibetan Lamas that there is only one Buddha and that they should work in harmony, otherwise the Chinese are bound to use the situation to their own advantage. As for the Chinese intrusions, it will probably continue, as the Party does not believe in Karma.
Born in Angoulême France, Claude Arpi settled in India 40 years ago. He is the author of several books on Tibet, Sino-Indian relations and French India.