Karmapa Lama and The Power + Money Struggle in Tibetan Buddhism

Karmapa Lama was merely 15 years old when he stepped in India witnessing new faces and fate of life. In the beginning of the year 2000, Karmapa Lama arrived in Dharamsala and for the first time had the meeting of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Then, Karmapa Lama stayed at Gyuto Monastery, lower Dharamsala temporarily and the temporary address eventually became his permanent address.

A major issue at present situation is that even after 18 years in India, the establishment of Karmapa Lama is temporary. Like in every situation, there would be an external as well as an internal to be responsible for. The external part of the issue is quite covered in recent news and articles on different sites. It may be interesting to see the internal aspect of the Karmapa Lama’s establishment in India.

The Tsurphu Labrang is inheriting the main administration of all the Karmapa lineage. The Tsurphu Labrang in India had a lot of changes within due to friction at the time of finding the reincarnation and also due to lack of continuity of administration by a capable person. It had a lot of power struggle more than focus on the actual duties and administration required during the gap between finding and growing up of Karmapa Lama.

Traditionally, Tibetan monastic affairs are more overlooked after by experienced senior monks and other concern people. But in some case, there has been an interference and involvement of their family and relatives. With time, the need of management as per law and experience were continuously lacked and neglected by the Tsurphu Labrang. Not only failure on administration but of coordinating and facilitating timely required teachers and learning environment for the young Karmapa Lama was an add-on failure as it was clearly stated by Karmapa Lama himself in the recorded video message from the USA to his followers attending Kagyu Monlam in Bodhgaya, India.

The Power and Money Struggle

The world history has witnessed the ugly face of the struggle for power and money. There is no exception in the case of Tibetan Buddhism. There is involvement from their direct family members and associated monasteries in handling the administration of Tsurphu Labrang. The present Karmapa Lama was accompanied by his elder sister Ngodup Pelzom from Tibet. She came to India as a nun and at present, she is no more a nun but a very influential and deeply involved in the Karmapa Lama’s administration.

It is not uncommon to see a family member involving in the inherited monastic management but then the need of experienced and knowledgeable in order to handle such massive administration of Karmapa Lama and Karma Kagyu lineage cannot be ignored. At times, a good heart may not fetch a good deal. There were circumstances where due to her direct involvement and influences delayed as well as disturbed the administration and situation of Karmapa Lama’s issue. There have been talks of favouritism and favour to devotees who are close to her. She enjoys a luxurious life and has monks as her attendant taking care of her puppies in her absence.

The Karmapa Lama has thousands of devotees pouring in from different parts of the world especially Chinese descendants including from the Mainland. These Chinese offer money and in-kind to Karmapa Lama like to every other religious leader. In the case of Karmapa Lama, in many cases, the transparency of accounts of these offerings are doubtful due to less transparency and structure in his administration.

Few individuals hold extraordinary contact and direct approach with major donors because of which a growing number of Chinese followers complain of offering to Karmapa Lama through his administration or monks are often without any acknowledgement which they themselves feels hard to ask again and again. Literally, the majority of the Karmapa Lama’s office staff especially monks are very wealthy and travels abroad on sponsorship by devotees, in turn, they provide a special audience, a closer seat at the time of teachings and information of Karmapa Lama’s schedules. These are serious problem not being solved knowingly because all of them are involved in it.

Lineage under Leakage

The Karma Kagyu Lineage is one of the oldest and an unbroken for centuries. The Dusum Khenpa, the first Karmapa, this lineage has contributed a lot to the Tibetan Buddhism and introduced many sacred learned monks and attained reincarnated Lamas. Those lineage masters spread wide and far to all corners of Tibet establishing their monasteries, monk, nuns and devotees. Gradually, each holds their own establishment but rooted to Karmapas and spreading the unbroken golden rosary of Kagyu Lineage.

The 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje as the name itself defines naturally the holder of wisdom and compassion. Under his patronage and kindness, all major Tulku of Kagyu lineage was recognized and nurtured with dharma teachings and practice. He guided them in establishing monasteries and centers abroad. A father like figure, teaching and guiding the young tulkus to grow and spread the dharma activities.

Sadly, after passing away of the 16th Karmapa, recognizing the 17th Karmapa faced a difficult situation but with the blessing of His Holiness the great 14th Dalai Lama and the devotion of devotees, Karmapa Lama was recognized and now in presence of us.

Like wound outside is far better than in inside body, this lineage is bleeding inside without many remedies because of egos, power, hatred and selfishness of few individuals in different monasteries. The in-charge of some monasteries are involved in lavish life and affairs on the expense of monastery. Such are witnessed and well aware to all but no one dares to talk about it. These are evidence in Karmapa Lama’s heartfelt talk in a video message at Kagyu Monlam at Bodhgaya in India.

The Karmapa Lama’s activities are very important to the Karma Kagyu lineage and Tibetan Buddhism at large. So, keeping the individual’s interest and ego aside is as good as reciting mantras and doing rituals. If not cured this inside wounds on time, it would cost an irreparable damage to the lineage and Tibetan Buddhism at large.

Wrong People in Wrong Shoes?

Gyaltsen Sonam, a monk as an internal manager without any formal education nor with any experience in administration as big as Tsurphu Labrang is handling the finance and administration of Tsurphu Labrang’s activities. He handles works relate to finance and money such as asset, land and property. He accumulated good fortune to himself like apartments for himself and his family, sponsors for his kin, luxury assets and he lives a very lavish often lavish holiday stay in abroad. I hope it is not true that he got girlfriends.

It is very sad to know that the majority of the monks surrounding Karmapa Lama have girl friends. It is not astonishing to hear monks having girlfriends but it is not good to have such monks around Karmapa Lama.

Monks are often paid a monthly stipend for their service in Labrang but they live much lavish life than what they get. They claim that sponsors and devotees offering them these iPhone and expensive gadgets, money and international trips. But do we know why they are offering and what monks are offering back in return?

When a failure and leak of information happens with important leaders and offices, mostly it ends up with flaws in their own office staff or entourage. This is what is happening with Karmapa Lama. Though Tsurphu Labrang has to work for him but in reality, these people are giving information to their sponsors specially on schedule and itinerary of Karmapa Lama. Though many of them are doing without any bad intention but such could be fatal and costly for the Karmapa Lama’s activities.

The Rumtek Monastery is the seat of the 16th Karmapa with land offered by then king of Sikkim. It was thriving with learned monks and lamas in one time. Now, hardly few hundred monks and most of the senior monks and lamas busy with their international trips ignoring the main monastery of Karmapa. Most of the senior monks and lamas are enjoying their own trips and sponsored lavish abroad stay while the Karmapa is in the USA. The Karmapa Lama has an enormous responsibility above his monastery and lineage as he is the future leading Buddhist leader. It is the sole responsibility of Labrang monks and staff to be more careful and accountable in caring and administrating the seats and establishment of Karmapa Lama. In the name of an entourage, they should stop misusing Karmapa Lama’s travel for their own visa and benefits to stay in the USA.

Though there is a Changzoe or the General Manager for Tsurphu Labrang but sadly he is working full time in administrating his small private school and working part time in administrating the vast administration of Karmapa Lama.

The Kagyu lineage should change from being lavish and luxury to more focus on maintaining the establishments of Karmapa Lama’s including the welfare of monks in different monasteries.

The Tsurphu Labrang, a private office of Karmapa Lama is unable to serve and facilitate what it is actually meant for. It is all because of incapable and vested interest in the administration. History will witness but sadly the precious 17th Karmapa Lama is alone in leading his vast responsibility of being a Buddhist leader and also being the head of Karma Kagyu lineage.

—OPINION: Penned by Karma Dorjee: Does Not Reflect the Views of EurAsian Times—

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