ON THE WEB, 23 June 2014
Occurring in Germany when the Karmapa was touring there, the untimely death of Kunzig Shamarpa inevitably gave rise to some speculations. Shamar Rinpoche, referred to as the “Red-hat Karmapa,” was a lineage holder of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, and had played a part in some controversy.
More important than the coincidence of the death of Shamar Rinpoche in the same country where the Karmapa was visiting, and associated elaborations about karma or even magics, is what implications his death has for Tibetan politics in general. Central is that it remixes the cards in a dispute which has been going on in Tibetan exile society for more than two decades, and has considerably constrained the radius of action of the 17th Karmapa Lama after his arrival in Indian exile, fourteen years ago. That it happens at a point in time when India is entering a new political era makes it potentially even more significant.
Arguably, India’s foreign policy establishment has been since Nehru’s time more inclined to search for common ground with China than to be supportive of Tibet. To say the least, it certainly did nothing to facilitate the young Karmapa’s life. China itself, though irrevocably recognizing Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the rightful Karmapa, did its best to entertain ambiguities around his embarrassing flight from China to asylum in India, in a move designed to save face for China in the first place, and also to leave the back door open for a possible later return of the Karmapa.
Role of Shamar Rinpoche
Still, it was Shamar Rinpoche who understood best how to play on residual China angst and instil deep suspicion among an Indian security community which was so prone to paranoia that up to the 1990s it rejected infrastructure developments in border areas out of fears they could facilitate a possible Chinese invasion. With that, Rinpoche could lame the young Karmapa’s movements in India while effectively barring him from travelling abroad.
Shamar Rinpoche certainly was more efficient than China in “containing” the Karmapa. However, despite his opposition to Dharamshala and contrary to others (think Shugden) he never “played the China card” by moving politically closer to Beijing. For one he was practical, not opportunist, but any move in this direction would have ruined the good relationship he entertained with the security establishment in the Darjeeling/Kalimpong region anyway.
Despite all his efforts and very determined supporters, Shamar Rinpoche had been losing ground lately, as the visit of the Karmapa to the US and now to Europe demonstrate, and, even more so, the trip of his arch-rival Situ Rinpoche to Malaysia in late 2012. Even the Chinese propaganda apparatus started some months ago to take a more distant and increasingly critical course towards Karmapa. Shamar Rinpoche’s sudden death, however, likely marks the beginning of a new era for Karmapa.
With all his skills and dexterity, there is little indication that Shamar Rinpoche, though well-acquainted with Buddhist notions of impermanence, has taken much thought of his succession. His strengths were the verve and determination typical of the Khampa chief he was — like some other Tibetan politicians. His power relied on personal charisma and a good knowledge of the terrain. His weaknesses lay in little ability to translate this into durable structures, and the lack of trust and confidence necessary to groom an adequate successor.
With that, his disappearance leaves a vacuum his entourage will find hard to fill. Even Trinley Thaye Dorje, his protégé whom he worked with for two decades to establish as the rightful Karmapa, has not come across so far as a strong personality, and in fact never really came out of the shade of his mentor.
Future roles of India and China
Much will now depend on the new Modi administration as well as Modi himself. India’s recently-elected PM has already shown a special interest in the Himalayan border regions, as well as a keenness to stand up to China. This could translate into a new, more positive approach to Karmapa, although on the other hand the nationalist circles who surround Modi are typically more inclined to scepticism. In any case, Modi already stands under pressure from Indian Buddhists to come out in support of Karmapa, in the first place from Pawan Chamling, the Chief Minister of Sikkim, who was quick to clarify one more time that he wishes Karmapa to visit Sikkim and reintegrate Rumtek monastery, the seat of the Karmapa school which has been stuck in legal disputes. Even Modi could not single-handedly forestall or override pending court decisions, but he could set a symbol by allowing Karmapa into Sikkim. China cannot have an interest in a strengthened position of a Karmapa it doesn’t control. In that, if Shamar Rinpoche was no ally, he was certainly convenient.
The question remains as to how China may react now. One thing it could do is encourage the finding of a new Shamarpa incarnation in Tibet and so try to progressively lure the following of the late Shamar to its side and against Karmapa, although without endorsing Shamar’s choice. But it could also choose more wisely to do nothing, and simply wait and see how the two camps sort out their differences, hoping to be able to benefit from in-fighting among Tibetans and perhaps attract one or the other defector.
About the author
Thierry Dodin is a Tibetologist linked to the University of Bonn in Germany. From the 1990s on, he has been a contributor and later a trustee and executive director of the Tibet Information Network, London. Since 2005, he has been the founding director of TibetInfoNet.
Above all, you are not well informed. Shamar Rinpoche was on his European tour and passed away during breakfast in his main European seat (and Rime Bodhi Path center) in Renchen-Ulm. His brother Jigme Rinpoche who runs Dagpo monastery in France was present and a few disciples. During the days before, Rinpoche said a few things which might mean he knew this will happen.
NEXT week (pujas and ceremonies were already going on, everyone could come there) Karmapa Thaye Dorje came to Germany to take his kudung (dead body) to India and then Nepal for cremation. The ceremonies will take 49 days as usual. 17th Karmapa was NOT on any tour in West this year, it was private visit only for this reason.
So you are building your thoughts on wrong basis.
By the way, China reacts through its good friend Nepal and doesn’t want to allow rinpoche’s kudung to be cremated there, saying he is a foreigner (he had Bhutanese passport). This is new from yesterday.
Just for your info, so you can make further research next time before you write something.
I see now, you’ve meant 17K Ogyen Trinley Dorje. Sorry. He was already not present in Germany when Shamarpa passed away, so it was my mistake.
There is no doubt about who the real karmapa is, you can all see and in future too, his holiness orgyen thinley dorji’s visit to germany and shamar’s death is totally co incidence!
the political turn that you have shown in your opinion is somewhat true, i think. Shamar had always used both the countries and manipulated the situation accordingly.
My only concern is that the re incaranation of next shamar is almost impossible now. even if thaye dorji brings out a kid as re incaranated Shamar, as being tibetan bhuddist, i feel sorry for the soul and real shamar which will be lost for ever.
shamar’s death, i think it was a mukti for the mipham choki lodro from the red hat of shammar, which has in history created all kind of controversy and havoc….
OM MANI PADME HUN @!!!!
I never heard about Tai Situ going to Malaysia in 2012. What is your source for this information??
The untimely death of the Shamarpa brings much sadness to his family and his students alike. His remains are being handled in accordance with centuries-old spiritual protocol, giving his followers to pay their respect and to incorporate their emotions towards the enhancement of their own spiritual maturity. At the end of July a cremation is scheduled to take place in Shar Minup, Nepal.
Until then it may be more appropriate to give this situation some space rather than speculate on the political outcome of his death or second guess his motives while he was alive.
We tend to forget that the Shamarpa and the two Karmapas were picked out in their early childhood and trained 24/7 to increase their capacity for love and compassion.
While the Karmapa Thaye Dorje travels with The Shamarpa’s mortal remains to its final cremation site in Shar Minup, the Karmapa Trinley Dorje has expressed his sorrow on this occasion and instructed the monastic community in Rumtek to do nonstop practice for 49 days.
All the Karma Kagyu devotees I have spoken to agree that this lineage is too precious to be blemished with an enduring discord.
China itself, though irrevocably recognizing Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the rightful Karmapa, did its best to entertain ambiguities around his embarrassing flight from China to asylum in India.
(Please note: you are author of a book, but at the same time you should also know that you are just an ordinary human … how can you talk about Karmapa (a living Buddha) in such a way? He is above human, who has supernatural power to see his previous life as well future BY HIS VISIONARY. )
In fact he is not recognized by China itself. There were search teams of Tibetans, including highly-realised master Sai Tai Rinpoche, and Gyeltshab Rinpoche, in search of Karmapa. Once they found the reincarnate Karmapa they took approval from Chinese government to avoid misunderstanding between China and India.
The reason for Karmapa fleeing to India from China is this: being a Karmapa, with his supernatural power he had seen the future of Karmapa and his followers, and that the communist Chinese will overpower his monastery and well to the people of Tibet. So to avoid this happening, he fled to India for the sake of the Tibetan people. Tashi Delek.
This seems to make Orgyen Trinley look bad. To be honest, when the Dalai Lama dies so will all of the “hype” surrounding Orgyen Trinley.
His Holiness Dalai Lama and the exiled government need to find a suitable successor. His Holinss Karmapa Orgyen Trinley is way too controversial.
It’s quite apparant who the author is working for…..Bring it on, I say.
Informative report — thank you.
It is now up to Narendra Modi how he deals with this touchy and sensitive issue. GoI should make a thorough review of the Karmapa controversy with the help ofthe right people before taking its stand on the issue, keeping in mind India’s security concerns and the alleged Chinese hand in the controversy.