Two Karmapas
from the mailbag

A lot has been heard about the two candidates for "Karmapa XVII," or the current incarnation of the much-loved sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, head of the Karma Kagyu lineage, who died in 1981. They are Ogyen Trinley Dorje and Trinley Thaye Dorje, listed in my Tibetans page (per the names in red) with links to their home pages. 

This page has been created to explore the issue in a small way, inspired by a ("partisan") visitor's email. I will not be digging deeply into all the lit available, just presenting a few letters. Many sites exist which champion one side or the other, and with big, high-powered names enlisted. Visitors can decide for themselves. And there are sites which attempt to present both sides, notably Wikipedia and a more dated Buddhist site in NZ with articles and news stories from 2001. Interestingly, WP mentions a small but influential minority which maintains that both are legitimate.

In the current ie post-1959 invasion of Tibet by the Chinese political climate, it is inevitable that the normally anti-religious Chinese authorities are taking an interest in all matters of Tibetan religion as a way to manage the restive population. Hence, they are involved in promoting one of the two candidates, Thaye, as the "official" Karmapa. This usage (Thaye as "official") had widespread currency, so i also had adopted it, but changed after the research for this page. I found that the Kagyu lineage / org is itself divided, with Shamar Rinpoche "normally" (with exceptions) historically being the regent and deciding these matters going with Thaye, and Tai Situ Rinpoche (also historically a sometime regent) and the Dalai Lama going with Ogyen. 

(For spelling enthusiasts, there are many versions of these names, the reason being a variety of practices in transliterating Tibetan script and pronunciation into the Latin alphabet. Ogyen can be Urgyen, Ugyen, Orgyen, Odjen, etc. Trinley can be Trinlay, Thinley, Tinlay, etc, Dorje can be Dorjee, Dorji, Dordge, etc. I have not found alternates for Thaye, which fact may result from the Chinese involvement, as they are said to have a consistent "Chinese way" of rendering Tibetan names.)

Yeah, I know you probably get lots of these, but if Ogyen Trinley Dorje has been recognized by H. H. Dalai Lama, isn't that sufficient for him to be the "official" Karmapa?

Okay, I've got other reasons for believing this true. A lama handed me a card blessed by the new Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje. I gazed at the card, not expecting anything to happen. Then there was this familiar flow of blessing from above, the eyes appeared to blink and the face morphed into the 16th Karmapa and back again. Neat trick, huh? It's just a photo, no special effects in the printing. I attended the events in Seattle with this new Karmapa, and he made a quip to the effect that it's not like a guru can hand you a card and demonstrate he's authentic by doing this. I turned to the woman next to me and shared my story about the card. She said she'd heard others had had that same experience. So, for those of us who could perceive and who had had contact with the 16th Karmapa, he was giving a secret teaching.

In a more everyday sense, his teachings were delivered with a great clarity, a wonderful sense of humor and far more maturity (998 years?) than you would expect from a 22 year old, even with his superb education. He has an ability to reflect on his personal experiences and connect these with his teachings. Some say he's being personally groomed by the Dalai Lama to be the next leader of the Tibetan government in exile, and this young master would be up to the challenge.

Then there was another time I was meditating on him before those events and wondering whether he'd be doing personal blessings as had the 16th. A voice came into my mind, speaking broken English with a Tibetan accent, and suggested I volunteer at the event if I want the personal blessing. This is NOT something I usually experience. When I meditate on him in general, I'm helped, and there's a strong sense of a link to enlightened consciousness.

He also looks very much like the 16th, uncannily so.
[GS suggested this can be seen in the pics at this Ogyen site.]

Lama Palden Drolma and Lama Kunzang also knew the 16th Karmapa very well. Lama Palden introduced H. H. Karmapa 17th at one of his events in Seattle, and Lama Kunzang described meeting him for the first time like this, when H. H. Karmapa was in his teens: "it was an extraordinary experience to encounter the same amazing Being in a young body!"

Trust the Dalai Lama and a humble disciple of the 16th on this. He's the real, "official" Karmapa.

Finally, when it all comes down to it, the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan Buddhist teachers including the Karmapa tell us that we all are ultimately our own masters. The teacher helps us attune to the divine source within all of us. The three jewels of Buddha (teacher and our Buddha nature), Dharma (teachings) and Sangha (community of aspirants) give us inspiration and transmission, wisdom, and support along the way.

Sincerely,
GS

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