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A Boy Waits in Lhasa - 16

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Back before Shamar filed his legal case, and even before Situ and Gyaltsab took over Rumtek in August 1993, a boy was waiting for Shamar in Tibet. Shamar would give him the name Trinley Thaye Dorje. But this would come later. First, he was called Tenzin Khyentse. And when he was a boy, before he met Shamar Rinpoche, Tenzin Khyentse was glad that he did not have to be a big lama.

The boy was eight years old and lived in Tibet's capital city. His family rented a one-room apartment in the medieval market district, the Barkhor. Here, Tenzin Khyentse lived with his father, a lama of the Nyingma school, his mother, and his six-year-old brother. Tenzin Khyentse was slim and fair-skinned. Recently, a doctor had given him eyeglasses. He spent most of his time inside the apartment with his small family. While his parents were talking with each other or entertaining one of his father's many guests, and his brother was napping, Tenzin Khyentse entertained himself.

He would sit on the floor and collect pieces of broken toys -- punishment for losing their novelty, his little brother would dismember these toys and scatter their appendages around the apartment. Tenzin Khyentse had observed this behavior in his brother many times, and so he would pay special attention when the boy received a new toy. Cars trucks, planes, people, animals, all would ultimately meet the same doom. Old toys were not allowed to fade away, but faced swift judgment. Once he had sufficiently chastened a toy that had ceased to please, the boy's sense of justice was satisfied, and he moved on to the next toy. Then, Tenzin Khyentse would begin work. He carefully searched the apartment and collected the parts he could find. He put them in a pile and then laid them out on the floor as if he was assembling all the pieces of a model kit. He could usually figure out how to reunite the pieces with glue, tape, and string. Sometimes he had to improvise for parts that were shattered, crushed, or chipped beyond repair. Once he had put the pieces back together, he would place the rehabilitated toy on his shelf. Now it was his toy.

Tenzin Khyentse never had a sense that he was different than other boys. For him it was normal to feel the way he did. He didn't give it much thought. When he was young, he used to tell people that he was the Karmapa. He would recognize lamas who came to visit even though he had never met them before. The boy would call them by their names. Later, his parents would say that these lamas had known the previous Karmapa, who had died two years before Tenzin Khyentse was born in 1983.

As he got older, rumors spread around the Barkhor that Mipham Rinpoche's son could be the Karmapa. From the market district, news of the boy spread around Lhasa. The Miphams' little apartment had always been a favorite stop for visitors to the busy Barkhor, since the Nyingma lama had a reputation for clairvoyance. Pilgrims from the countryside especially liked to consult Mipham when they visited the holy city. They wanted him to advise them where to continue their pilgrimages for the most auspicious effect.

Now, lamas started to visit the family just to investigate the elder Mipham boy. Tenzin Khyentse was quiet and alert. He was suspicious of the lamas who visited his father. The boy did not want to be a special lama with a lot of responsibility. He had heard his parents whispering about the government. The boy knew that the Communists took a dark interest in special lamas. He was afraid they would take him away from his family. Maybe he would have to go to prison. Tenzin Khyentse wanted to stay with his parents and his brother.

The boy also liked to read. His parents had started him on Buddhist texts early on. After that, Tenzin Khyentse would read whatever he could find. One day in June 1992, he came upon a Lhasa newspaper that his father had finished reading. Tenzin Khyentse picked up the paper and started looking over the page that his father had folded open. A story about a nomad boy from eastern Tibet caught his eye. The boy was named Ogyen Trinley and the article said that the government had just appointed him as the Karmapa Lama and enthroned him at Tsurphu monastery south of Lhasa. The new Karmapa would be a patriotic Living Buddha who would help spread Buddhism and serve the Chinese motherland.

Tenzin Khyentse was shocked and then he was relieved. If this other boy was the Karmapa, then Tenzin Khyentse had nothing to worry about. He didn't have to start acting like a big lama or spend his time meeting people from all over, like his father did. He would not have to leave his parents and his brother and he would not have to go to prison. He was glad that the government had found another boy. Now he was free.

At the end of the day Tenzin Khyentse went to sleep happy. But that night he dreamt that he was the Karmapa. In the morning, he told his mother about the dream. He said that he Was sitting on a throne and surrounded by a crowd of followers. His mother smiled indulgently. She told her son that Ogyen Trinley was the Karmapa now and that he shouldn't speak like this any more. She didn't want him to go around the Barkhor with his little brother, the two of them telling people that Tenzin Khyentse was the Karmapa and "other such nonsense." She did not tell her son that this kind of talk would attract unwelcome attention from the authorities. But Tenzin Khyentse knew that he had to keep his secret.

The Other Karmapa

Compared to Ogyen Trinley, Thaye Dorje -- the young man who was born and raised in Lhasa as Tenzin Khyentse-has received little publicity in the West, though he has made personal contact with devotees, government officials, business people, and interested journalists in more than a dozen countries.

The boy who would become Thaye Dorje was born in the Tibetan Year of the Water Pig, 1983. Given the name Tenzin (Holder of the Dharma Lineage) Khyentse (Union of Wisdom and Compassion), he was the first of two sons born to a Tibetan couple joined by an interest in Buddhist practice and scholarship. His father was a prominent tulku of the Nyingma school, the third Mipham Rinpoche, and his mother was an unconventional young woman from an aristocratic family named Dechen Wangmo.

The first Ju Mipham Rinpoche (1846-1912) ran dozens of monasteries in Kham and was the spiritual leader of the Jumo Hor monastery. He was counted among the most extraordinary masters of his time because of his extensive knowledge and deep realization. He authored more than three hundred treatises and served with the nineteenth-century master Jamgon Kongtrul the Great as one of the leading teachers of the Rime movement. Sometimes incorrectly translated as the "Nonsectarian" Movement, Ri-me was a spiritual revival in the late 1800s that revitalized the Nyingma, Sakya, and Kagyu schools of Tibetan Buddhism after years of decline under dominance by the Gelugpas in Lhasa.

The current Mipham incarnation was born in 1949 and descends from a family of physicians of traditional Tibetan medicine. As a youth, poor health prevented the ten-year- old Mipham from following most of the principal lamas, including Dudjom Rinpoche, the leader of his own Nyingma school, out of Tibet and into exile in 1959. But his condition also worked to his advantage and it helped convince the Chinese authorities to allow Mipham to remain at his monastery, Junyung Gompa, when they started evicting monks and lamas later on. Along with his own teacher, Mipham found a retreat in the mountains where he was able to practice rituals and pore over Buddhist texts safe from army patrols or the angry gangs of student.s and peasants who roamed the countryside during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76.

For two decades, Mipham lived a precarious life in Kham, shuttling back and forth between Junyung Gompa and his mountain redoubt, successfully remaining just beneath the notice of Communist officials while pursuing the traditional training of a tantric yogi. Thirteen years of this period Mipham spent in retreat, performing body-mind practices including two thousand cycles of the rigorous Nyungne fasting ritual.

Signs, Omens, and Portents

In 1982, after a general relaxation of government restrictions on religious activities, Mipham felt that it was safe to come out into the open with his practice. A connection with the Panchen Lama, who had just been rehabilitated by the Chinese during this period, allowed Mipham to start rebuilding his monastery, destroyed like so many others during the Cultural Revolution. Later, he was able to obtain permission to travel to Lhasa. He took up residence in the city and joined the revitalization of Buddhism enabled by the authorities' new tolerance. In the early 1980s, during a tantric visualization practice, Mipham's personal yidam deity predicted to him that if he got married he would produce sons who would become great bodhisattvas.

The next day a group of pilgrims from Kham arrived to see Mipham; among them was a pretty woman in her early twenties named Dechen Wangmo, daughter of a noble family from Derge in Kham that traced its descent back to the legendary Gesar of Ling, the King Arthur of Tibet.

Dechen was an independent-minded young woman. At age twenty, she and a friend made an unaccompanied pilgrimage from Kham to Lhasa. They fell in love with the city and decided to try to stay. It was difficult for a young Tibetan woman to make a living in the Chinese-occupied city, but an uncle helped Dechen find housekeeping work. When Mipham met her at the home of a friend, he thought that she might be a suitable wife for a tantric practitioner. After talking with her for several hours, Mipham learned that Dechen was an accomplished meditator in her own right, a practitioner of the visualization practice of Chakrasamvara. He also thought that she was clever but not conceited about her abilities. When he proposed marriage, she immediately accepted.

As man and wife, Mipham and Dechen settled in an apartment rented from an elderly woman in the crowded central market district of Lhasa's medieval old city. "Our house was actually just one big room," remembers Thaye Dorje. "It was in old Lhasa. near the Barkhor. Now I hear that it's been demolished and another building put on the site."

On the night that she believes that her son was conceived, Dechen dreamt that she was standing in front of a gathering of women. The most beautiful among them left the group and walked over to Dechen, presenting her with a bowl that was decorated with the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism, a traditional harbinger of good tidings. Inside the bowl was a druma root, a small tuber eaten as a delicacy in Tibet. Then, the woman placed a khata offering scarf around Dechen's neck.

During the pregnancy she had several recurring dreams, including one of a large. swarthy man with a white beard. Mipham told his wife not to worry, that the figure was a dharma protector watching over her. Later, during her delivery, at the most intense points of pain, this figure from the dreams reappeared to her in a vision and the pain disappeared.

Her husband also suspected that there was something special about the pregnancy. Four months in, Mipham Rinpoche had to travel to his monastery in Kham and leave Dechen behind in Lhasa. Before departing, he gave his wife traditional instructions from Tibetan medicine for the pregnant mother of a high tulku. Though there had been no medical examination to determine the child's sex, Mipham told his wife she would have a son. He advised her to pay special attention to hygiene for herself and the baby. He also counseled her not to eat meat during the pregnancy. Finally, he gave her a special undergarment as spiritual protection to wear until the birth.

In the early morning hours of May 6, 1983 Tenzin Khyentse was born in the family home. People in the Barkhor area reported that a rainbow appeared in the clear sky directly above the house on this day. During the birth there was little or no blood, but instead a white milk-like fluid, considered a particularly auspicious sign during a birth.

While Tibetans believe that all tulkus can be identified and recognized by qualified students or lamas, the Karmapas are unique in the history of Tibetan Buddhism for always recognizing themselves first. According to his mother, Tenzin Khyentse told many people in Lhasa that he was the Karmapa, even before the age when children normally begin to speak. Dechen Wangmo has told one such story. When the boy was six months old, the mother and child were at home when a visitor arrived. Ama Dorje Khandro was a close relative of the sixteenth Karmapa. Dechen welcomed the visitor, and the two women sat down facing each other to enjoy a visit together.

The mother held her baby on her lap. Just when Dorje Khandro was seated, the six-month old stretched out his arms and began to speak. Quite clearly he said, "I am the Karmapa," The visitor was astonished to see a baby speak and even more shocked to hear these words. Dechen was surprised as well, and confirmed that the baby did not know how to speak yet, but normally just mumbled like other infants his age. The next day, the Ama returned with gifts for mother and child. "Having seen His Holiness, I can now die in peace," she said on this occasion, apparently predicting her own death of a few weeks later.

Boyhood in the City

The Barkhor area surrounds the famous Jokhang Temple, sometimes called the cathedral of Lhasa for its imposing scale and its thousand-year-old towering statue of the Jowo Buddha. Legend says that the Chinese Princess Weng Cheng brought the huge statue as a gift when she was sent to marry King Songsten Gampo and form an alliance between Tibet and the Celestial Empire in the year 641 A.D.

Considered the holiest site in Tibetan Buddhism, the Jokhang was begun by King Songsten Gampo in the middle of the seventh century. The temple underwent a long series of additions and reconstructions in the centuries that followed, but the present temple is largely the product of the construction by the fifth Dalai Lama, who greatly enlarged the building in the seventeenth century. During the Cultural Revolution, Red Guards sacked the Jokhang, sparing only the Jowo Buddha and one other of the temple's hundreds of religious statues. The shrine was rebuilt in the 1980s when the authorities relaxed restrictions on religious practice and began to encourage foreign tourism.

Today, the Jokhang is one of the two top tourist sights in Lhasa, the other being the imposing Potala Palace of the Dalai Lamas. While the Potala retains all the somber dignity of the abandoned palace of an exiled king, the Jokhang is immersed in lively activity. Tibetans wander the market in the square and stroll along the Barkhor pilgrims' route that encircles the Jokhang. Dozens of pilgrims are usually seen prostrating outside the front entrance, over which a golden eight-spoked Dharma Wheel flanked by two deer stands guard.

When I spoke with him at the Sri Diwakar Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies in Kalimpong in 2004, Thaye Dorje, who received his new name in 1996, was an athletic young man of twenty-one. His fair skin, rimless glasses and sedate manner gave him a scholarly air. But his square-cur jaw, broad shoulders, and confident movements suggested the physical fitness of a young man who rook his weekly cricket match seriously. In easy idiomatic English with the trace of an accent less Tibetan than mid-Atlantic, Thaye Dorje told me about his youth in Lhasa.

Growing up in this milieu, Thaye Dorje found the lively Barkhor market fascinating, but "the best moments were visiting the Jokhang," he told me. He fondly remembers his visits to the famous shrine in the company of a family friend. "My uncle would take me. He was not a blood relative, but a friend of my father. The caretaker of the temple would let me climb up next to the big Buddha statue and sit up there, looking down on the people coming and going. We went there almost every morning. We never attended the pujas or services but simply went there to do a circumambulation, buy some bread in the market, and then come home. I did like to listen to the monks chanting. I didn't meet many monks or lamas, but did meet those who came to see my father."

As a boy, Tenzin Khyentse also encountered one lama at the Jokhang who would play an important role at Rumtek. While walking around the temple, the boy and Mipham's friend noticed that a crowd had formed. Curious, they followed the group inside the temple. There, a stocky lama was applying gold paint to the face of the temple's old Buddha statue. The visitors asked about the identity of the lama, and were told that he was a high rinpoche who had some from India. Mipham's friend set Tenzin Khyentse down so the boy could walk around the temple and climb up to take his usual post beside the Buddha statue.

Instead, the boy ran up to the portly lama and put a question to him: "Do you remember me?" The lama from India turned his head and looked back on the boy, answering "no." Tenzin Khyentse then ran back to Mipham's friend, and the two went home. Mipham's friend told the story to the boy's parents, who became curious. They took the boy back to the Jokhang. Making inquiries there, they discovered that the lama from India was Gyaltsab Rinpoche, and they decided that they would introduce themselves to him. But as they were going to meet Gyaltsab, the boy said, "I don't want to meet him, because he does not recognize me. There's no point in seeing him."

Such stories appear as more than coincidence for Tibetans. The childhoods of high tulkus are rigorously scrutinized for signs of unusual behavior. And for his supporters, much of the evidence for his claim to be the Karmapa derives from portents and mystical signs reported by those who knew Tenzin Khyentse as a child. Apparently, the unusual events in his life are not The dramatic miracles reported in the chronicles of Karmapas past -- the appearance of twin sons in the sky, earth tremors in the local area, springs bubbling up from dry rocks to end a drought. Instead, the serendipities around the young lama seem to come from the human reactions of sensitive people who report that the boy exerted a power over them that acted as a sudden challenge to the assumptions of everyday life or even a kind of warp in the space-time continuum.

Khenpo Ngawang Gelek, one of the teachers at the monk's school at Rumtek before the 1993 takeover, explained to me his approach to such signs. "These things may seem silly to outsiders, but Buddhists consider them meaningful," the khenpo said. "The first I ever heard of Thaye Dorje was in 1992, from Lama Sherab Gyaltsen who came to Rumtek after visiting the boy's family in Lhasa. He told us the story of how strongly he was affected by meeting the child. He showed us a photo of the boy. At that time we didn't know that he was Shamar Rinpoche's Karmapa. There were rumors that Shamarpa was choosing a Karmapa as one of the children of the Bhutan royal family. But hearing Lama Sherab Gyaltsen's story helped me to believe.

"Four years later, when the Rumtek monks put on the first Karma Kagyu Monlam (prayer festival) at Bodh Gaya in 1996 we invited His Holiness Karmapa. I flew on the plane with him from New Delhi to Patna, the nearest big city. We didn't know beforehand, but that day was also the opening day of the Patna airport. There was a ceremony prepared for the prime minister of India to arrive, so there was already a special welcome gate put up in front of the terminal. Since our flight arrived first, Karmapa Thaye Dorje essentially received the first welcome when he went through this gate.

"Something similar happened when we arrived at Bodh Gaya. Just when His Holiness Karmapa arrived, it was time to beat the loud gong at the Japanese temple. We call this 'dharma melody,' the sound of Buddhist teaching. Later, when we finished the ceremony at the end of the day, there was a lot of milk in big cans left over from the kitchen, just sitting out where we had done our puja. Buddhism also considers this special-a lot of milk, water, or butter, left accidentally, is auspicious."

Were these just coincidences? "Coincidences coming together without planning are considered auspicious signs that are very good in Buddhism. It's quite difficult to explain so many coincidences as just accident, but that's just my belief," the khenpo said. "For me what was impressive was that Karmapa seemed to have such compassion, so much respect to the teachers of dharma who he met in India. That's not normal in an eleven-year old boy, even from Tibet. And since the Karmapa is considered such a high lama, he could act arrogantly. But he doesn't act proud at all."

In Lhasa in the eighties, as Tenzin Khyentse grew up, word continued to spread that Mipham Rinpoche's son was special, perhaps even the next Karmapa. At the age of two and a half, the toddler had begun to speak and still liked to tell people that he was the Karmapa. When he was three years old, he recited the entire Madhyamaka Avatara, without ever having seen this text running to hundreds of pages. In another coincidence, the Miphams' landlady in the Barkhor was a distant relative of the late sixteenth Karmapa. Before the Karmapa escaped from Tibet in 1959, the landlady had met him, and at that time she received a prophecy: "Before you die, you will meet me again."

She felt that this prophecy was fulfilled in Mipham Rinpoche's son. Out of a sense of devotion, she offered the use of her apartment to the family rent-free. Mipham suspected that his son was someone special, but was skeptical about indications that the boy was the Karmapa. Mipham held out hope that his son might turn out to be the reincarnation of a great Nyingma master instead.

One day in early 1985, Ngorpa Lagen, an elderly lama of the Sakya school, was circumambulating the Jokhang temple. He noticed fair-skinned, three-year old Tenzin Khyentse peering out of the window of an old house nearby. Drawn by curiosity, he walked up to the window. Gazing at the old lama with a severe look on his gentle features, the boy said, "Don't you know that I am the Karmapa?" As if in a game, Ngorpa Lagen replied, "If you are, then give me a blessing." The boy stretched out his arm and touched the lama. "At that moment," Ngorpa Lagen said, "I felt the calm and mental expansiveness that I had previously only known during deep samadhi."

Later in 1985, Ngorpa Lagen went to Kathmandu, and joined a large annual prayer and recitation gathering led by Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche, the disciple of the sixteenth Karmapa who would later show Thaye Dorje's photo to Khenpo Ngawang and other monks at Rumtek. The two soon became acquainted, and Ngorpa Lagen began telling Sherab about his encounter with the little boy' in the Barkhor. After this, Sherab Gyaltsen and his attendant left for a visit to Tibet. Their destination was Tsurphu monastery, and on the way they stopped off in Lhasa to visit Mipham. The boy was not in the room when they arrived, so Sherab Gyaltsen asked if he could meet the boy. When Tenzin Khyentse was brought in, he sat next to his father quietly, but from time to time he would eye the guests and smile with obvious amusement.

During the course of the conversation, Sherab apparently went into a trance. He started to tremble and was unable to stop himself from shaking, a condition he had never experienced before. When he looked at Tenzin Khyentse. he saw a vision of the late sixteenth Karmapa. Sherab offered a khata and some money, but later Sherab could not remember how much. At one point, he found himself off his chair and sitting on the floor, which he also could not explain. As soon as Sherab and his attendant left, the attendant asked his lama if he was feeling well. The attendant had noticed that Sherab had been shaking and trembling.

Thaye Dorje's earliest memory was of seeing his brother born -- also in the family home -- in 1985, when he himself was two years old. "It was fun growing up in Lhasa," he told me. "My brother was my main playmate. From time to time mom and dad would take us out, but we spent most of our time in the house." Later, after the family arrived in India, the Dalai Lama would personally recognize Tenzin Khyentse's brother as the reincarnation of the Gelugpa lama Sonam Tsemo Rinpoche.

Because Mipham wanted to give his two boys a Buddhist education, he home schooled them both. "We didn't go to school, to avoid Communist brainwashing. My father didn't want us to have that. We learned to read and write from my father and mother." When they first got married, Mipham had spent hours each week reading Buddhist texts with Dechen. He helped her to commit the texts to memory and learn to analyze them using traditional rules of logic.

Later, both husband and wife tutored Tenzin Khyentse and his brother in the key texts of Buddhist philosophy, including the Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva and Verses on the Middle Way by Chandrakirti. "Actually, we didn't study separate subjects," as students did in Lhasa public schools, Thaye Dorje explained. "We studied in the traditional Tibetan way, which was to memorize a lot of writings. Once I memorized a text, I would then recite it in front of my parents. We would have all the topics in our head after that, and then once we got a chance to go to the monastery, we would learn the commentaries on each text.

"My father was very jolly. He loved to talk about anything. He was a very good writer of texts in the Tibetan way. He would hand-copy texts, or even rewrite them, or write commentaries on them. He wasn't very strict. but he was very just. When my brother or I did something wrong, he would correct us as we needed. Also my mother was quite well educated, very curious and good at explaining things to me and my brother."

When he was not studying, Tenzin Khyentse enjoyed making figures out of paper, pretending that they were monks in their monastery. He would then describe in detail what the monks were doing in different parts of the paper monastery. This was his favorite game, according to his mother Dechen Wangmo.

During the seven years that Tenzin Khyentse lived in Lhasa, the family traveled to various monasteries to visit lamas of their acquaintance. On one occasion, the family made a journey to Reting Gompa in Amdo in northeastern Tibet, now part of the Chinese province of Qinghai. In the company of Reting Rinpoche, several other high lamas, and a renowned yogi, Mipham and his son were watching a horse race, a popular game of skill among the nomads of the plains.

Interestingly, Reting was the reincarnation of the Dalai lama's famous regent in the thirties and forties. The earlier Reting was a charmer, attractive to men and women alike. He became embroiled in controversy and was executed by his successor in a power struggle in 1947. Reting's next incarnation was born far from the intrigues of court in Lhasa and was apparently more sedate. In addition, even though he was a prominent Gelugpa lama, he became close to Tenzin Khyentse in Lhasa and was eager for him to visit Amdo and spend time there. Considering this, and also that Tenzin Khyentse's younger brother would be recognized as a Gelugpa tulku, we might conclude that the old sectarian rivalry of the Gelugpa and Karma Kagyu was not clear-cut. Clearly it did. not prevent lamas from cooperating across sectarian lines.

Sitting on a large flat rock near Reting's monastery, the party had a view of the hermitage on the opposite mountainside. Reting Rinpoche said to the boy, "You know we have a very good retreat place up there. You should go there and meditate one day, and then I can serve you."

To this, the child replied, "No, I will not do that. My monastery is Tsurphu." Of course, Tenzin Khyentse had never visited Tsurphu monastery.

The Search Begins in Earnest

Meanwhile, word of Tenzin Khyentse reached Shamar in India. In October 1986, the renowned Sakya lama Chobje Tri Rinpoche came to visit Shamar at the Karmapa Institute in New Delhi. He told him about Mipham Rinpoche's son and showed him a photograph of the young boy. A relative had given him the photo the day after he himself had a dream about the sixteenth Karmapa that he interpreted as prophetic. The Sakya lama felt that it was urgent to inform Shamar about the boy, so he came to the city as soon as he could.

"In 1988 I undertook my own independent investigations to determine the authenticity of the Mipham Rinpoche's son as the Karmapa," Shamar said. "First I asked Lapon Tsechu Rinpoche, who visited Tibet as part of a Nepalese government delegation, to obtain more information about the young boy during his visit. Next I sent a lama to go to Lhasa to investigate the boy more directly. Immediately upon their first meeting, the boy recognized that this lama had been sent to investigate him. The results of all these reports and investigations prompted me in July 1988 to go into a long retreat when I confirmed to my satisfaction that the boy was the reincarnated seventeenth Karmapa."

During the late eighties, Shamar made a very important acquaintance, a lama whom he has so far declined to name. Shamar first encountered this unnamed lama, "a person who was very devoted to His Holiness the late Karmapa," as Shamar explained, at a conference in Varanasi in the late eighties of representatives of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. This lama told Shamar he had received instructions from the sixteenth Karmapa. Was it possible that the Karmapa had indeed left a genuine letter and that Shamar would now find it?

Shamar has so far refused to reveal the instructions that the sixteenth Karmapa gave to this unnamed lama. But he did say that over the years this lama has given him advice on how to proceed in locating the right boy and in parrying the moves of Situ and Gyaltsab. Situ's supporters have challenged Shamar to reveal both the source and the content of these secret instructions, but so far he has refused to do so. "I know that people are curious, but this person was very specific that the late Karmapa told him what to say and when to say it. When the time comes, I will make everything clear." Needless to say, such secrecy has not helped the credibility of Shamar's search for the Karmapa for many observers, but Shamar has insisted that it is necessary.

Shamar decided to go to Tibet to see the boy. "I became very excited and booked a trip to Lhasa, traveling incognito." Dressed in a business suit, Shamar flew from Hong Kong through Chengdu in China's Sichuan province and arrived in Lhasa on a tourist visa. Just like the three agents whom Shamar had sent already, his plan was to mix with the crowds in the Barkhor and then pay the Mipham family a casual visit on the pretext of seeking spiritual advice from the well known Nyingma lama.

Shamar's investigators had managed to make contact with Tenzin Khyentse, though the final agent had to beat a quick retreat because the boy recognized the purpose of his visit. Shamar was eager to avoid word getting out that he was interested in Tenzin Khyentse, because then the Chinese authorities would want to be involved.

Even though he had never been to Lhasa, Shamar had a much higher profile among Tibetans there than his scouts did. "As this was my first time in the city, I did not know what to expect. I never thought that the Barkhor was so compact. But it turned out to be quite a small area filled with people, just like the shops and stalls around a monastery. It was clear that I couldn't mingle with the crowd unnoticed. There were many Tibetan traders from India and' Nepal who would easily recognize me. To' enter the Mipham family's house to observe the young child could have undesirable consequences. I had learned that the authorities knew that I was in the country and that they were probably watching my movements."

Shamar had to scuttle his plan to meet the Miphams. He cut short his visit to Lhasa and decided to forego a planned trip to the White Lake of Tsari, a traditional spot for the Karmapas and the Shamarpas to meditate and seek help on finding each others' reincarnations. Shamar had planned to perform a seven-day retreat at the lake to clarify his course of action. Fearing detection, he changed his plans. "In order to divert the authorities' attention from my real purpose, I went off to the northern part of the country, to a tourist area called Namtso. When I got back to Lhasa, I took the next flight to Kathmandu."

After he returned to Rumtek, Shamar kept quiet about his trip to Tibet and his research into Tenzin Khyentse. He also continued to contact the unnamed lama who claimed to have the instructions of the sixteenth Karmapa. "Each time I obtained certain information, and when I became convinced that the child in Lhasa was the authentic reincarnation I contacted this person to ask if he had any objections. He always answered that he didn't but that he couldn't reveal the information he'd been given until the time he was instructed to do so had come." Shamar's search was mysterious to outsiders and apparently it had an element of mystery for Shamar himself as well.

In spite of his personal conviction about the identity of the Karmapa, Shamar did not yet feel that it was safe to make a formal announcement about Tenzin Khyentse. He did not want to draw Chinese government attention to the boy. Even before the Communists had recognized Ogyen Trinley, Shamar knew that they would create an obstacle if they discovered that Shamar had a candidate and that the boy was in Tibet.

To solidify their rule in Tibet, in the late eighties the Chinese were planning to resurrect the old policy of the Qing emperors that required Beijing to approve all choices of high Tibetan tulkus. In 1995, as we have seen, the collision of this policy with. the Dalai Lama's authority led to the installation of two Panchen Lamas. Years before the Panchen affair, the Chinese government had wanted to gain Shamar's cooperation in installing a "Patriotic Karmapa." They sought out Shamar since their sources told them that Shamar's claim to the authority to recognize a Karmapa was stronger than Situ's. The Chinese embassy in New Delhi had approached Shamar half a dozen times to offer its cooperation to him if he would only agree to submit his candidate for government approval. But Shamar had always refused. Now, if the authorities found out about Tenzin Khyentse, at the very least the Chinese would demand Shamar's cooperation with their propaganda efforts. "The Chinese were friendly, but I did not want any government help," Shamar told me. "The Karmapa had always been chosen by the Karma Kagyu school alone, and there was no need to establish a precedent for outsiders to be involved now."

Shamar Shows his Hand

Despite the danger, Shamar knew he had to release some basic information about his search to maintain his credibility at Rumtek, since he feared that Situ would soon come out with an announcement of his own. So, at the 1991 inauguration of a monastery built by Shangpa Rinpoche at Pokhara in Nepal attended by more than four thousand Karma Kagyu devotees, Shamar made a general announcement. He said that the next Karmapa would probably be born in Tibet.

He instructed monastic ritual leaders to replace the prayers their monks had been chanting for the sixteenth Karmapa to take an early rebirth with prayers for the long life of the seventeenth Karmapa. Finally, he said that he had decided on "Thaye Dorje" as the name for the next Karmapa. "The obvious conclusion to be drawn from this announcement was that I had in effect confirmed the reincarnation of the seventeenth Karmapa," Shamar says. "My announcement at Pokhara provoked many comments."

While secretly completing his own investigation, at Rumtek Shamar waited out the events of 1992, responding defensively when Situ and Gyaltsab announced Ogyen Trinley, enthroned him in Tibet, and tried to build support for him. Though Shamar was unsuccessful at keeping the two rinpoches from dominating the official Karmapa search process and then taking over Rumtek itself, he did gain the time necessary to make contact with Mipham and get his family safely out of Tibet.

Mipham was in danger in Tibet. In 1988 and 1989, encouraged by the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, Tibetans held demonstrations in Lhasa in favor of independence. Lay people and lamas alike gathered in groups in public and demanded freedom for Tibet. Predictably, the Communist administration in Lhasa efficiently repressed the demonstrations and jailed the most outspoken protestors. Mipham Rinpoche did not participate in these demonstrations but he sympathized with them and the lama did not hide his opinion of Chinese rule. The government put Mipham under surveillance but allowed him and his family to remain in Lhasa for the time being.

Life soon became more dangerous for the Miphams. "We heard that Situ Rinpoche informed the Chinese about the Miphams' boy in Lhasa," Shamar claimed, citing sources loyal to him in the Tibetan capital. Earlier, the government invited Shamar to work with them to install an officially sanctioned Karmapa, as we have seen. But now that they had their own Karmapa, through Situ and Gyaltsab, the Chinese did not want competition from another candidate and they took action against Thaye Dorje's parents.

"When Ogyen Trinley was enthroned at Tsurphu in 1992, the government kicked out the Miphams from Lhasa," Shamar said. "The family was relocated to Mipham Rinpoche's monastery in Kham and put under house arrest there. Now their movement was restricted to the local area. The parents knew that their son was perhaps in some danger."

As a result of the stress of being observed by the Chinese and put under house arrest, Mipham Rinpoche, whose health was always poor, suffered a stroke in 1993. He became paralyzed from the waist down and was confined to a wheelchair. He lost the ability to speak, but his mind apparently remained clear. He was still able to write, and with help from Dechen he could continue his scholarship and teaching. Nonetheless, the family used the illness as a pretext to apply for permission to leave Kham so that Mipham could receive medical treatment elsewhere in China. The government granted Mipham, Dechen, and their two sons permits for internal travel in China. In early 1994, the family used the opportunity to travel to leave China altogether and flee into exile. Tenzin Khyentse left first, and traveled separately from his parents and his brother by a route that Shamar arranged. Mipham, Dechen, and their other son followed, by land to Nepal and then into India.

Thaye Dorje remembers that he was nor sad to leave Tibet and that he fore their trip, he and his brother shared the excitement of many Tibetan children traveling to India for the first time. "I didn't know about it until just before we left. A year before, my family left Lhasa and stayed at my father's place in Kham: I was actually quite excited once I found out we were traveling abroad. Until I was really away from my parents, it would be fine. I did have some butterflies in my stomach, but my nervousness was only about leaving mom and dad. Otherwise, I was quite excited to get out to a country with a lot of things happening. It was wonderful, beautiful, and very healthy and quiet living in Tibet. But we just wanted to see tall buildings."

To protect the identity of people still living in China who helped Tenzin Khyentse and his family flee Tibet, Shamar has declined to release the details of their flight. However, he did provide me a broad sketch of how the boy-lama left Tibet. A European man came to Kham to pick up the boy. The man had two sons, both with valid passports and visas for China. The man and his sons resembled Tenzin Khyentse in appearance, since the Miphams' boy had light skin and almost Caucasian features.

The European had only brought one of his sons along, so he was able to pass off Tenzin Khyentse as his other son, thus allowing him to travel on the absent son's passport. Together, the three left China as a family and reached Bangkok. From there, they flew to New Delhi. Tenzin Khyentse entered India on the European boy's passport, but after he was safely in the country, Shamar informed the Indian immigration authorities of the ruse. He applied for and obtained permission for Tenzin Khyentse to remain in India legally.

Thaye Dorje told me that "When I met Shamar Rinpoche in India the first time after my trip in early 1994, he touched his head to mine in blessing and it was very tender. He asked me about the trip and how I was doing. He was very sweet and caring."

Another Prediction Letter

Shamar cites a prediction to confirm his selection of Thaye Dorje, in a letter written by the sixteenth Karmapa when he was twenty. We saw this letter earlier, and noticed how its mournful tone contrasted with the upbeat feeling of Tai Situ's prediction letter. Here, the Karmapa mentions Rigdrol, a name he often used to refer to himself:

    I will not stay in Tibet
    I will wander to the ends of the earth
    Without destination to experience my karma.

    The cuckoo comes to Tibet in the springtime
    And sings its melancholy songs with six melodies.
    Isn't it sad, my followers?
    Mournfully, you will wonder what happened
    To the man called Rigdrol.

    The year which belongs to the bird catching the victory
    At that time my followers and I
    Will gather together again with happiness and joy.
    I pray for this. [1]

"This passage comes from a letter written by His Holiness the late Karmapa in 1944," Shamar told me. "In the first two stanzas he talks about his own death. Then, in the last stanza, he predicts his rebirth." Though he has never presented this document as an answer to Situ's prediction letter, Shamar finds the timing mentioned in the letter to be prophetic for Thaye Dorje.

He focuses on the stanza "The year which belongs to the bird catching the victory." When Tenzin Khyentse met all his disciples at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute (KIBI) in New Delhi in March 1994, it was at the end of the Year of the Water Bird. "According to the Tibetan calendar, in this particular year the twelfth month was the so- called month of victory. Since we smuggled Karmapa illegally out of China, we did not know exactly when he would arrive, and of course we could not have planned the timing of his welcome ceremony until he was out of Tibet. As it turned out, it was in the right month and year predicted in the late Karmapa's letter from exactly fifty years earlier. To us, this is a very auspicious sign."

Of course, such signs, if they favor their own candidate, are convincing to each side in the Karmapa controversy. But no signs, it seems, are enough to decide the issue for both sides.

In the end, is the evidence for Thaye Dorje any better than that for Ogyen Trinley? Like Shamar and other supporters of Thaye Dorje, Tai Situ and those who follow Ogyen Trinley claim that their Karmapa was recognized on the basis of a prediction from the sixteenth Karmapa, auspicious signs and omens, and the meditation of a qualified high lama whose predecessors have recognized past Karmapas. Even if we are willing to discount the Dalai Lama's support for Ogyen Trinley -- because the Tibetan leader lacks historical authority to recognize the Karmapa -- if we compare evidence, it may appear that this is no more than a case of Shamar vs. Situ. The monks at Rumtek felt that they were not qualified o judge which candidate was the genuine Karmapa. How, then, can outsiders do so?

The conclusion to this book will take up this question in greater detail. For now, we might consider the behavior of the respective followers of Shamar and Situ. Situ's followers tried to take over Rumtek from the management set up by the sixteenth Karmapa himself twice during 1992 and 1993. They finally succeeded with the help of the corrupt administration of Sikkim state in August, 1993. If we believe the testimony of dozens of monks who were involved, this takeover was brutal, violent, and in contradiction to the basic tenets of Buddhist ethics. We might further consider the behavior of Tai Situ's followers at the welcome ceremony that Shamar held for Tenzin Khyentse in March 1994, the subject of the next chapter.