March 2, 2011

Idiot Wind.


Photo: Tony the Misfit


Indian Press Fantasies: A Tale of Sound and Fury

Surveying the carnage he has caused, MacBeth comments on his murderous deeds: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Shakespeare) 

An idiot wind blew up a storm in the Indian Press this past week. 

A revered holy man touted as successor to the Dalai Lama; stacks of cash in 25 denominations — including Chinese currency carried out of a Tibetan monastery in a tin trunk; accusations of spying for China in India’s sensitive border areas. Interested in the story? You would certainly want to read more, particularly if it was in the press or TV news day after day and it was about an important spiritual leader. 

Photo: waywuwei


That is the story told by the Indian press for the last week about HH Karmapa, the very same person who escaped China in a harrowing 900 mile journey into the welcoming arms of the Dalai Lama in 2000; the same hero who made world head-lines and became a poster  boy for the Tibet Cause. Ten years later he is portrayed, without a shred of evidence, as a spy for China in a sleazy story of suspicious cash. 

In India, the press is not effectively governed by the same laws of libel as it is in Western countries. The laws may be in place but suing a newspaper for libel and winning is well-nigh impossible. Journalists can be bought for fairly small amounts of money. Freedom of the press has created irresponsible journalism. A journalist in India holds a license to kill – by character assassination. Even serious newspapers print the stories of hacks. 

The latest news story to alarm the Indian public with threats of Reds under the bed is that a Tibetan Buddhist Lama bearing a title of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, and  carrying a name of Ogyen Trinley Dorje is being investigated in connection with a “possible land purchase transaction”, which by local Indian state law is made rather difficult for some, and impossible for others; and the possession of a large sum of foreign currency in cash. He is suspected of using this money to influence monasteries on the Chinese border areas because he is, in all probability, a spy for China. 

About The Case

So far, it has been announced: 

A car has been intercepted driving  from New Delhi to Dharmsala carrying approximately $200,000 USD in cash. 

Two Indian men and a Tibetan have been detained by the Indian police. The money was payment for land in Himachal Pradesh which would be used to construct a permanent home for His Holiness the Karmapa and his staff. 

Since only Himachali born Indians can legally own land in Himachal, the purchase was to be done in the name of the Karmae Garchen trust.  It was not a proxy or ‘benami‘ transaction as 

many of the press claimed.  The administration has now disclosed they had already received  preliminary permission from the correct authorities for this purchase. 

Photo: BlatantNews


How the police knew about the money in this particular car and what the crime of  transporting that money is remains unknown.  In many papers, it is reported as a tip-off. 

The day after seizing the car, its passengers and the cash, Indian authorities came to  the temporary residence of His Holiness the Karmapa at Gyuto Monastery, located about 24 km. outside Dharmsala and conducted a search of the office and other facilities used by His Holiness and his staff.  Gyuto monastery does not belong to the Karmapa as he is only a “temporary guest” there. (The Karmapa does not own a monastery in Himachal, as the press have reported.) Their search was for more cash, and they discovered and confiscated an equivalent of about $750,000 – $1,500,000 USD. The cash was in about 20 different currencies. 

The following day, the authorities came back and questioned some of the staff as well as His Holiness himself as to the origin of the money. All stated the same source: donation from devotees. 

As of February 1st, the detained Tibetan man, the two Indian men, as well as His Holiness and his staff, are all under the investigation of central Indian government agencies. There appear to be two reasons for the investigation: 

1.) Where did the money come from?

It is illegal for Indians to hold foreign currency. Under the Foreign Currencies Regulation Act, it has to be declared to the authorities and deposited into a trust or foreign currency account. 

2.) Is His Holiness Karmapa, a Chinese spy?

Click here for updated statements from the Labrang. 

About the Gyalwang Karmapa

His Holiness Karmapa is the recognized head of one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism – the Kagyu school. As such, he holds the responsibility of maintaining and developing the uninterrupted lineage of 900 years of oral transmissions of the entire Kagyu canon of the Tibetan Buddhist teachings. Only 26 years of age, he is considered a very skillful teacher, compassionate friend and a powerful leader. He has enormous charisma. 

Born in Tibet on June 26th, 1985  he was officially recognized as the Karmapa and enthroned at Tsurphu monastery, the main seat of the Karmapas in 1992, at the age of eight. Since that time, he has spent almost all his time studying, teaching and giving blessings in preparation for the big role he is expected to play. 

On the eve of the year 2000, HH Karmapa devised a plan to escape from his monastery in Tibet and seek refuge, as many of his fellow Tibetans have done, in India. After an arduous 5 day and night journey he reached Dharamsala, seat of the Tibetan Government in Exile, where he has been residing until the present day. 

Major reasons for the Karmapa’s escape from India:

1.) To receive teachings from his main teachers, all of whom were living in India, particularly Tai Situ Rinpoche and Gyaltsap Rinpoche 

A third important teacher, Shamar Rinpoche broke away from the lineage to find his own Karmapa candidate. He  enthroned another boy and in effect, created a second Karmapa. The result of  this breakaway is to cause so much confusion that the officially recognised Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, cannot take up his monastic seat established by his predecessor at Rumtek monastery in Sikkim.  

Indian officials fear that merely the presence of the Karmapa in Sikkim, a state annexed by India in 1975, may destabilize the region. Sikkim’s  border with China remains a vital buffer between the two countries. 

2.) Not to fall under Chinese  influence and be made a political pawn. 

As HH Karmapa is a very important and influential figure in Tibetan society, second only to HH the Dalai Lama. He would have been instrumental in helping the Chinese control the Tibetans.  However, in 1200 years, the Karmapas have never played a political role in Tibet. They remain strictly spiritual teachers to their disciples. The current incarnation has stated that he will continue that tradition and does not intend to take any political role. 

Living, Working and Traveling Conditions of HH Karmapa 

Since arriving in India in 2000, His Holiness has not been permitted to build his own monastery or living quarters. He has been living in a small section of Gyuto Tantric Monastery, located about 24km from Dharmsala. The monastery belongs to the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism and thus falls under the auspices of HH the Dalai Lama. 

In other words, His Holiness is not only not at home, but he is not even among his fellow monks. This statement may seem a bit strange to those not familiar with Tibetan Buddhism and its organizational structures. Each school runs their affairs differently and  independently. As I wrote in this article for The Guardian, “It’s like housing the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Vatican.” 

Nonetheless, HH the Dalai Lama, did grant permission for His Holiness the Karmapa to stay in one of his monasteries, namely Gyuto. 

HH Karmapa’s private quarters consist of a small bedroom, about 2 meters by 3 meters, a small audience room, a bare roof top, small kitchen and bathroom amounting to approximately 15mtrs square in total. His Holiness’ staff has an additional few rooms below for living, an office space, accommodating about 10 desks, a private library and a few utility rooms. 

All this totals about 400 sq. meters of living and working space. For someone who bears the responsibility equivalent to that of a head of state and has a working staff of about 100 (not counting volunteers and devotees who come and help on an ongoing basis) this living and working space is woefully inadequate. 

For many years, HH Karmapa and his staff have been requesting both the Indian and Tibetan governments for permission to build their own living quarters. Permission has always been denied with no specific reason given. 

If the Karmapa wants to leave the grounds of Gyuto monastery, he must first ask permission of the local state police as well as that of the Tibetan government. (If that sounds to you like house arrest, well, it is.).  Remember, the Karmapa made his escape at the age of fourteen and has been ‘living’ in this confinement ever since. His  request to travel within or without the borders of India are frequently and without explanation denied. 

Photo: Mckay Savage


Some examples:

1.) 2010 – A carefully planned, 5-week European Tour was denied at the last minute, causing large monetary losses to many European centers and His Holiness’ office as many expenses had to be prepaid. 

2.) 2010- A carefully planned and paid for 5-day trip to West and South India to attend a science conference and a religious ceremony was denied. 

3.) 2010 – A private 2 week visit to his main seat in North America, (where he was allowed to visit only once in 2008) was also denied. 

4.) 2011 – A 2 week visit to Vancouver, Canada is being planned for His Holiness for some time this year. No one knows what chances there are of that being allowed or denied. 

Considering HH Karmapa regularly travels with a staff of 10-15 people, and that travel tickets, hotels, and security measures have to be arranged long in advance of such trips, the situation causes a logistical nightmare, great monetary losses and above all a strong sense of discomfort both for the Karmapa and his hosts. 

Activity of HH Karmapa


There are stories of the Karmapa’s compassionate activity since his birth, even before he was given the title of Karmapa. His entire education has only one purpose: to be able to instruct and lead his disciples on the path of enlightenment. More than anything else, he does so by personal example. 

The Environment

HH Karmapa has been an out-spoken leader for the protection of the environment and in particular of the Himalayan region. In 2009 (at the age of 24), he established the Khoryug organization to promote and sustain environmentally conscious living in all of his monasteries. He himself became a vegetarian (an extreme rarity among the Tibetan people) and asked all his monasteries to refrain from cooking meat in their kitchens. 

The Dharma

Photo: Peter Shanks


His Holiness regularly offers Dharma teachings to his disciples. He has a very direct, modern and clear teaching style, and his talks are often translated into as many as 11 languages on the spot. 

These gatherings often reach 4,000 or 5,000 people, and during the annual Kagyu Monlam, exceed 10,000. Amazingly, after each session, most people feel as if His Holiness was speaking to them directly. His compassion, power and inspiration is always felt by those in attendance. Since last year, most of His Holiness’s teachings are also available live via webcasts and online.  


The Karmapa is already a very accomplished painter, poet and graphic designer. 

In 2010, he wrote, directed and built from scratch a theatrical play based on the life story of one of the greatest saints of Tibet, the yogi-poet Milarepa. This immense undertaking — staged in the middle of a field in India’s poorest region of Bihar — drew a crowd of over 15,000, and was such a moving artistic, cultural and national spectacle that it is still talked about. This was probably the biggest show of Tibetan culture and art in recent years. 

The Power of Karmapa’s Compassion

I have personally seen and experienced how His Holiness handles conflict, difficult situations and adversity. His mere presence in a room is enough to bring people to tears. Tears of joy, tears of devotion, tears of faith. He soothes the most difficult of situation with such ease, such grace, such understanding that words could never contain the power of compassion he unleashes into his every move, his every breath. 

Is it then surprising that devotees come from every corner of the world to seek his blessing, hear his teachings, and appreciate his genius? And every one of these devotees brings an offering, frequently a white scarf and an envelope with cash from their own country as a token of esteem to place before the living Buddha. I have been in the endless queues, many times. Never once has the Karmapa looked at the offering. He looks into your eyes and knows you; hence the mantra Karmapa Kyenno. Karmapa, know me. 

Now, that’s worth something. 

Perhaps the Indian press will get the message eventually. 

Naomi Levine’s website https://www.earthmudra.com

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