A cold morning in Boulder, Colorado ushered in the Year of the Iron Rabbit. Tomorrow I’m heading to Mexico where I will be working in a bit more warmth with Fernanda editing our Film on the 17th Karmapa, the Kagyu Monlam and the 900 Year Celebration of Dusum Khyenpo. Before leaving I thought I would share some of the latest news from India on the Karmapa and share some links.
There was a clear and well written column in the Hindustan Times by professor Dibyesh Anand that expresses my own thoughts about the Karmapa coverage in the Indian media in a more eloquent manner than I could, so I am re-printing it here. It’s about time the Indian press printed something with a semblance of truth and objectivity. It’s a shame that this appears in the Views – Columns and not the front page.
‘Is the Karmapa a Chinese spy?’ ‘Is the possible successor to the Dalai Lama a Chinese mole?’ ‘Is this another clever ploy of China to take control of the border regions?’ The media have gone berserk with speculations about the Karmapa Lama. Sadly, the coverage has failed to do any groundwork research. This episode not only exposes the way the Indian media works but also jolts the Tibetan faith in Indian democracy and harms India’s long-term interests in Tibet.
The police raid found a few crore rupees worth of cash. At most, this may be a case of financial irregularity or non-transparent dealings by the managers of the Karmapa’s monastery for which they should be held accountable. Raising questions about a person being a spy for another country is a serious matter. It destroys his or her reputation. The news stories reflect a witch-hunt and betray the lack of an understanding of Tibetan life in India.
Ogyen Trinley Dorje is the 17th Karmapa, the oldest lineage in Tibetan Buddhism and the head of the Karma Kagyu sect. He is one of the rare lamas recognised by both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government. There is nothing conspiratorial about it. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, China was more accommodative of Tibet-based religious figures, consulting and coordinating the choice of reincarnations with the Dalai Lama and other lamas in exile. This accommodativeness came to an end with the crisis over the Panchen Lama’s reincarnation in 1995.
The Karmapa’s selection after the demise of the 16th Karmapa was not without its own controversy as there is a rival candidate, Trinley Thaye Dorje, who had the backing of a senior Karma Kagyu figure, the Shamarpa. The Shamarpa is reputed to have close connections within the Indian security establishment and bureaucracy. But most Tibetans have accepted the Dalai Lama’s choice. In fact, within China-controlled Tibet, veneration for the Karmapa is next only to that of the Dalai Lama. Even within the Gelug (the sect of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama) monasteries in Tibet, one comes across the Karmapa’s picture and it is clear that for ordinary Tibetans, the Karmapa’s proximity to the Dalai Lama adds to his sacredness.
It is true that the Karmapa has avoided making anti-China political statements and Beijing has therefore not denounced him. Again, there is nothing suspicious about this. The Chinese had refused to openly criticise even the Dalai Lama in 1959 until he made a public statement after his exile. Beijing does not want to denounce the Karmapa and thus contribute to the creation of another globally recognised figurehead around which the Free Tibet movement will mobilise. Moreover, in recent history, Karmapas have avoided overly political positions since in the traditional Tibetan State, the Gelug sect was dominant. By focusing solely on religious affairs, the present 17th Karmapa is following the footsteps of his previous reincarnation.
It is unfortunate that without appreciating the nuances of sectarian politics within Tibetan Buddhism and Sino-Tibetan relations, the Indian media portrayed the Karmapa’s apolitical stance as suspicious. Continuing speculation about the Karmapa’s escape from Tibet in 1999 reminds me of a Japanese conspiracy theory film where the filmmaker argued that he was ‘sent’ to Sikkim to get control over the ‘Black Hat’ kept in Rumtek monastery in Sikkim. Interestingly, this film was given to me in Beijing!
Decades of repression during the Cultural Revolution has not been able to shake the belief that Tibetans have in their lamas. The Indian media’s onslaught on the Karmapa will only reaffirm Tibetan respect for the Karmapa. But it will certainly backfire for India as followers of Tibetan Buddhism in exile, in the border regions, in Tibet and in the rest of the world, will resent this humiliation of the religious figure. Had it been the Shahi Imam or Baba Ramdev, would the media have taken such liberties in going to town with such an unconfirmed story?
Hardline officials in China must be laughing their heads off at the Indian media circus. They know that this will not only create confusion in the exiled Tibetan community in India, but will also create a disenchantment about India among Tibetans inside China. India has let the Tibetans down on many occasions since the late 1940s when the latter sought help and support in making their claims for independence internationally and in 1954 when the Panchsheel agreement was signed with China over the old Tibetan State. India has provided refuge to more than 100,000 Tibetan exiles. But we must not forget that the exiled lamas provide a stability and keep the people in the borderlands pacified in a manner more effective than the Indian military. Tibetans are over-generous with their gratitude to their Indian hosts and are hesitant in reminding India of a small inconvenient truth: until 1951, the disputed border regions were neither Chinese nor Indian but Tibetan. In return, the very least Indians could do is not malign Tibetan religious leaders before they are even proved guilty of their misdemeanour. Is that too much to ask?
Dibyesh Anand is an associate professor of international relations at Westminster University, London and the
author of Tibet: A Victim of Geopolitics
Here is another good piece by the same author.
KARMAPA SPY YARN IS BAD KARMA FOR INDIAN MEDIA
INDIA PRIDES itself on having a free and vibrant media. But the story about Tibetan exile leader Karmapa Lama has exposed the Indian media scene as closely resembling a chor bazaar. One where uninformed assertions, distort ed facts, libelous statements, ad hominem attacks, and lazy analysis are recycled again and again to create a sensation.
The remarkable convergence in how channels and newspapers covered the story of police raids and findings of unaccounted foreign currencies at Karmapa’s temporary establishment near Dharamsala is conspicuous. In the media, the money is presented in salacious and sensationalist manner. Money is not the focus, the Karmapa’s alleged China connection is. A possible financial irregularity of $1.6 million is a non-story in India where scams, schemes and scandals of billions erupt with the regularity of tides. The story becomes one of Karmapa as a probable Chinese spy.
Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje is the third highest leader in the Tibetan Bud- dhist world. Karmapa, who came into exile in1999 at the age of 14, is the head of the Kagyu sect, but often touted as a possible figure to lead the Tibetan people after the present 14th Dalai Lama passes away.
There are too many holes in the story conjured up by the media relying mostly upon unnamed sources. So many that one can question the editorial judgements in allowing these to be reported or aired.
First, why did Karmapa’s monastery have Indian and foreign currencies, in- cluding Chinese yuan, in cash? If Karmapa was indeed a ‘Chinese mole’, would the Chinese government be so stupid to send him ‘neatly stacked’ yuan to use in India?
Did they think that the yuan is so powerful that it can now be used in Dharamsala without raising any suspicion? The presence of so many types of foreign currencies point towards only one thing — Karmapa has followers and disciples all over the world. A simple online search by a journalist would have convinced him/her of the worldwide appeal of the Kagyu sect.
As for the mystery of the yuan, what do journalists expect the Tibetans from Tibet, who have a strong tradition of patronising the lamas, to give their donations in? Tibetans live under severe restrictions inside China. Are they expected to go to the Bank of China’s Lhasa branch and say that they need dollars or rupees to send donations to their religious leaders (most of whom live in India)? Since when did it become a crime for religious leaders in India to have followers inside China (and Tibet is inside China) but not in any other part of the world? Well-off Tibetans as well as Chinese followers of Tibetan lamas will often use cash to avoid any problems with the authorities in China. The possession of foreign currency in cash may have broken laws in India but it has nothing to with Karmapa’s character.
Second, Indian media keeps reporting that Karmapa may have been sent by China to take control of monasteries from Ladakh to Sikkim to Tawang. The addition of Tawang is the most glaring one here for it immediately raises concerns about security in the disputed area. Did any journalist bother to investigate what important monastery exists in Tawang that Karmapa could take over? There is no Kagyu monastery of significance in the region. Indian media seems completely ignorant about sectarian divisions within Tibetan Buddhism and shows no interest to appreciate the complexities of Tibetan Buddhist regions that belong to India.
Third, some media reported that Karmapa had to answer questions through an interpreter because he can speak “only Chinese”. This is another lazy assertion for not only does the Karmapa speak excellent Tibetan but broken English and is learning Korean and Japanese.
Surely good journalism is one where reports are verified, ‘facts’ presented by unnamed sources reconfirmed and taken with a critical distance, and all efforts are made not to damage personal reputation. Speculating in public about Karmapa being a Chinese spy is not only lazy journalism but a libelous attack on beliefs of millions of followers of Tibetan Buddhism. While the Dalai Lama may still harp on about guru-chela relations between Indians and Tibetans, this case of news sensationalism has questioned the cherished Indian myth of warm hospitality, exposed the guru as irresponsible and ignorant, and harmed Indo-Tibetan relations. At the very least, the Indian media owes an apology to the Karmapa and the Tibetan community.
Dibyesh Anand, is an Associate Professor at Westminster University, London and the author of Geopolitical Exotica: Tibet in Western Imagination.
From Dharamsala to Gyuoto Monastery where the Karmpa resides there has been a huge showing of support for the Karmapa. According to the Karmapa’s official website “Shops were closed in McLeod Ganj, as virtually the entire Tibetan town joined the 20-km march to support His Holiness the Karmapa. The organizers of the march, leaders of the Free Tibet movement, specified that it was not a protest, explaining that they were not opposing anyone, but merely showing their unequivocal confidence and trust in His Holiness the Karmapa.” Here’s a link to a Picasa album that someone put together with more pictures of the rally. Support Rally for HHK
This letter recently came from Karmapa’s general secretary, Karma Chungyalpa.
Fact: The allegations that His Holiness the Karmapa is a Chinese spy are entirely unfounded and ridiculous.
His Holiness the Karmapa’s escape from Chinese-occupied Tibet was a major embarrassment to China and landed a serious blow to China’s claims to legitimacy for its rule over Tibet. His Holiness the Karmapa was the first reincarnate lama that the People’s Republic of China had officially acknowledged. Yet, rather than allowing himself to be used to convince the world that the Chinese government allowed freedom of religion, His Holiness fled overland, by foot, horseback and jeep, crossing the Himalayas to freedom in India. When His Holiness the Karmapa’s escape and his joyful first meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama became public, China’s oppression of Tibetans’ rights was dramatically highlighted the world over. This thoroughly discredited China’s claims that Tibetans were content under Chinese rule. During his time in India, His Holiness the Karmapa has served as an important spiritual figure, inspiring the Tibetan cause. The allegations that His Holiness the Karmapa was sent here from China as a spy or an agent are not only entirely unfounded, but ridiculous.
Fact: His Holiness the Dalai Lama and leaders of the Tibetan community in exile have repeatedly expressed their support of His Holiness the Karmapa, and their complete confidence that he is no Chinese spy.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has fully backed His Holiness the Karmapa. Firstly, he has categorically and unequivocally dismissed all allegations of His Holiness the Karmapa having a connection with any arm of the Chinese government. Second, he has underlined how Buddhists from across the world leave offerings in cash to allow His Holiness the Karmapa to continue his substantial religious and social activities.
The Parliament of the Central Tibetan Administration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama (also known as Tibetan government-in-exile) issued a formal statement declaring the following: “As far as Gyalwang Karmapa is concerned, he put his life at risk by coming into exile from Tibet at a tender age. In our society, he is one of the spiritual heads of schools of Tibetan Buddhism, highly revered and respected by the Tibetan people. Personally, he has been concentrating on his study, promotion of Buddhism and world peace and protection of environment, thereby making great service to Tibet’s political and spiritual cause.”
Spontaneous candlelight vigils and marches have sprung up around the Tibetan community in exile. The areas surrounding His Holiness the Karmapa’s residence in Dharamsala have been flooded with Tibetan and overseas visitors seeking to stand by this highly revered spiritual figure. The Deputy Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament, Dolma Gyari, stood at His Holiness’ side when he made his first public address after the investigation began.
Fact: The Karmapa Office of Administration has been seeking to deposit its donations in foreign currency for years.
Under Indian law, foreign currency can only be deposited in a bank by a trust or other registered institution that has received government permission to do so, known as FCRA permission. The Karmapa Office of Administration created a trust, Saraswati Charitable Trust that repeatedly applied for but did not receive permission to deposit foreign currencies. It thus created another trust, Karmae Garchen Trust, whose application for FCRA permission to deposit foreign currency was submitted last year and is still pending. With no legitimate means of depositing or exchanging this foreign currency, the money was left to pile up over time, awaiting the day when it could be legitimately deposited.
Fact: The Chinese Yuan represents less than 10% of the total amount sized.
The Chinese Yuan was a small proportion of the foreign currency seized. The Chinese Yuan is the national currency used in Tibet and across mainland China. Tibetans from Tibet generally leave donations in Chinese Yuan. So do Buddhists from mainland China. The Yuan seized by police include Chinese Yuan notes ranging from 1 Yuan notes to larger bills, reflecting that they come from multiple individual sources.
Fact: The Chinese Yuan was only one of over 20 different currencies found.
The foreign currency found included bills in over 20 different currencies. The presence of donations in Yuans well as the many other currencies reflects His Holiness’ status as a world spiritual leader with a widely diverse international following that includes Tibetans and Buddhists from mainland China, whose national currency is the Yuan. It is customary for groups to pool their money and make collective donations. In Chinese culture, it is especially common to offer new notes when making donations to high abbots and senior spiritual leaders.
Fact: Written records are kept of the cash donations.
All donations made by devotees are placed by his attendants in a donation box. At regular intervals, the box is opened and the cashier and a group of other office staff sort and count the donations. The cashier carefully notes the total in each denomination, and painstaking records are kept of the amounts. The cashier opted to store the foreign currency openly in a dormitory room he shares with other monks, rather than in the office, which receives considerably more foot traffic.
Fact: Millions of international disciples regularly leave unsolicited donations in the currencies of their home countries when they come to see His Holiness the Karmapa.
His Holiness the Karmapa is the revered leader of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and the object of the devotion and trust of millions of followers from all over the world. During December 2010 alone, His Holiness granted personal audiences to thousands of devotees from 44 distinct nationalities, including American, British, German, Japanese, and Chinese. It is customary to leave donations of gifts such as fruit, incense or cash, as symbols of devotion to His Holiness the Karmapa, and as a means of supporting his many charitable activities.
Fact: His Holiness the Karmapa’s role is to lead the sect spiritually and he has no role in the day-to-day management of the sect.
The Karmapa reincarnation lineage has a 900-year history of engaging in a vast range of spiritual activities, from teaching Dharma to rigorous meditation to composing philosophical texts. His Holiness the Karmapa is completely and utterly uninvolved in the handling and management of cash. The Tsurphu Labrang, known now as the Karmapa Office of Administration, has existed for hundreds of years to allow the Karmapas to devote their time and energy to their role as spiritual leaders. It manages all the worldly affairs of the Karmapa, including handling the donations and administering the finances. In this way, the Karmapa has been left free to fulfill his solemn duties as spiritual guide to countless followers and leader of a large Buddhist order.
Fact: The Indian government was fully informed of the plans to buy land in Dharamsala to build a monastery for His Holiness the Karmapa.
His Holiness the Karmapa has been hosted in a temporary residence in Dharamsala by another Tibetan Buddhist sect since his arrival in India in 2000. The Karmae Garchen Trust was seeking to purchase the land in its own name for the purpose of building a permanent residence and monastery for His Holiness, whose current living quarters measure 15′x15′. When the Karmae Garchen Trust identified suitable land near His Holiness’ current temporary residence in Dharamsala, it informed the office of the District Collector of Dharamsala and sought their approval to proceed with the purchase.
Fact: The Indian government had granted preliminary approval of the land purchase.
Under the Land Reform act, any non-Himachali, non-agriculturist requires sanction by the state government before purchasing land. The Karmae Garchen Trust sought and was granted preliminary approval by the relevant state government offices. The application was accompanied by a strong letter of support from the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. They obtained both an essentiality certificate and a no-objection certificate from the Town and Country Planning Department of the Himachal Pradesh government, indicating state government approval to proceed with the plans to purchase the land.
Fact: The INR 1 crore (approx. $215,000) seized in the car of an Indian hotelier belonged to the seller of the land, rather than the Trust.
Two men were arrested in a car with approximately 215,000 USD (Rs 1 crore). The two men were agents working for the land seller, who had been given a partial payment due for the land. These agents had accepted payment in Delhi and signed a receipt from Rabgay Chusong, the monk who handles the financial matters for the Karmapa Office of Administration. Currently, only Rabgay is in custody and will be in remand until the 5th, after which we will post bail.
The seller demanded payment in cash for the land, which is legal and commonly practiced for various other capital assets as well, in India. Since the Karmae Garchen Trust did not have such cash on hand, cash donations in Indian rupees were gathered from donations made during the Kagyu Monlam in Bodh Gaya, and delivered to Delhi by the Karmapa Office of Administration.
We would like to thank all those who have made donations to our film so far. It has been quite an expensive undertaking and it would not have been remotely possible without the labor of love from Maia Saabye Christensen who was a key team member and camera person, Naomi Levine, who put in a lot of time helping with the narrative and interview questions, Fernanda Rivero my co-director and many others who will be thanked in due time. If you can offer any further support towards our documentary we would greatly appreciate it.