Answers to Questions
about the New Karmapa

Dr. Terry Halwes
for Dharma Haven


The 16th KarmapaDharma Haven

Answers to Questions about the New Karmapa
"People who don't really understand the Dharma think there is a division; they think about institutions. For an authentic dharma practitioner, however, there is no split. For this type of person there is only the Dharma."

As the principle author of Dharma Haven, I have been asked why a Web site that has such excellent information about Tibetan Buddhism is supporting a "false Karmapa." Some readers say that they are quite upset by this, and others indicate that they would like to recommend Dharma Haven, but cannot do so as long as we are supporting Thaye Dorje. 

I want to respond to these questions and issues, in hopes that people might be able to avoid emotional tangles that might interfere with their connection to the Dharma.

I don't think of myself as "supporting" Karmapa Thaye Dorje. I am simply devoted to him. I don't believe that he needs my support; however, I definitely need his support, for the further development of my dharma study and practice. 

The Karma Kagyu lineage has never been a democracy, and this is not an election. As Shamar Rinpoche said, what we need is not letters or lists of signatures. What we need is a real Karmapa. 

I've been fortunate in my life to encounter some teachers and tools and resources that have been amazingly useful to me, and I am developing Dharma Haven as a way of introducing some of those tools and resources to people who are interested in learning about them. I have no desire to create a general comprehensive resource directory for all forms of Buddhism nor even all forms of Tibetan Buddhism -- not even all the branches of the Kagyu lineage. I have two reasons for this: First, I'm only one person, and can only do so much; and second, even though I generally respect all the different traditions of Buddhism and many other spiritual traditions, I'm not competent to introduce people to things I've never studied, and I'm not comfortable recommending things I've never experienced.

I do try to offer links to other sources for people who might come across my Web site while looking for something I can't offer them. For example, on the Tibetan Buddhist Centers page, in the section on Traditional Tibetan Centers, there are links to some centers that I can't personally recommend, because I've never practiced or studied there -- centers devoted to the Dalai Lama, for example. Centers that have devotion for Thinley Thaye Dorje as the Karmapa, and centers that express devotion for Ugyen Trinley Dorje, are linked from that page. 

However, when it comes to actually writing about something I've found useful, such as devotion to the Karmapa's spiritual guidance and inspiration, I can only write honestly about my own experience.

When we were waiting for the new Karmapa, after the death of the 16th Karmapa, I was expecting to feel some powerful sense of devotion and confidence, such as I felt for His Holiness. However, when Ugyen Trinley Dorje was announced as the new incarnation, I was surprised that I didn't experience any connection. I thought he looked like a Karmapa, but I didn't feel anything. That was quite a surprise, but I assumed that my practice was not strong enough or it wasn't the right time for me to connect to the new incarnation, and I didn't worry much about it.

Then a few years later, when Shamar Rinpoche recognized Thinley Thaye Dorje as the Karmapa, I experienced all the strong feelings of blessing and devotion that I had been missing. What a joyful good experience!

That was several years ago. Much more recently, I built a Web page about The 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, and I felt that I should say something about his successor. However, I didn't know what to say. I was thinking that I should be impartial, and yet I didn't want to get people who are just learning about the dharma entangled in a lot of arguments about two Karmapas. Then one evening, during a winter storm, I realized that I should just write from my own experience, and I quickly added this frame to the Web page:

The 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Thaye Dorje
The 17th Gyalwa Karmapa
Thinley Thaye Dorje
"By seeing, hearing, touching him or thinking of him they will be led to happiness."
-- Buddha Sakyamuni: Samadhi Raja Sutra

In all his various incarnations, the Karmapa has always been associated with strange weather phenomena that occur when he does something important. As I pressed the key to send that image out to the server, so that it would be available to people on the Web, just exactly at that moment there was a very loud clap of thunder followed not even a second later by an extremely bright flash, from a stroke of lightning very near by. We don't get much lightning in winter storms in Connecticut, and that particular stroke was the only lightning I heard during the entire two-day storm. How auspicious!

For me, Thaye Dorje is Karmapa, and if some of the people who see the Karmapa pages on Dharma Haven are able to connect to him in a way that is useful to them, then that will be wonderful. However, I'm not trying to convince anyone that they should relate to Thaye Dorje as the new Karmapa.  For example, my two younger children, for whom I have the deepest respect as intelligent, compassionate people and as dharma practitioners, have told me that they feel devotion for Ugyen Trinley Dorje. I have no desire to influence them, or anyone else. 

Several respected lamas and many other people have expressed certainty that Ugyen Trinley Dorje is the new Karmapa, and I am certainly not competent to argue with them, nor am I inclined to offer any disrespect to anyone who holds that conviction. I have no understanding of why this situation has arisen, nor can I take any responsibility for telling anyone else what to do about it.

Actually, for me this has been an interesting opportunity to take responsibility for my own path. I had been somewhat slavishly following the standard conviction that whatever lamas say must be correct -- but when two very high lamas in my own lineage, both of whom I respect, took such different, seemingly incompatible positions, I found myself unable to simply obey the instructions of my habitual authority figures, and I had to turn to my own heart, which was, and is, quite clear on the subject of who I should be devoted to as teacher, guide and inspiration. 

I cannot tell anyone else what to feel, or how to resolve a seemingly impossible logical impasse. I would suggest, though, that people who are really interested in practicing the dharma, rather than merely studying it as an intellectual curiosity, should refrain from involving themselves in any controversy about who is and who isn't the Karmapa. The key to the Buddha's way is nonaggression, and no real Karmapa would want or need people to fight for him. Furthermore, the True Nature of Mind is completely non conceptual, and wallowing in sectarian politics is no way to realize that. If you want to do something for the Karmapa, do your own practice, and try to be kind to everyone, including people who disagree with you.

Specifically, if you feel devotion to Ugyen Trinley Dorje, I sincerely hope that helps your progress on the path. If you don't feel devotion toward any living Karmapa yet, please don't worry about it. There are many competent lamas, and you can work with one you feel connected to. If you were devoted to the 16th Karmapa and find the current situation painful or confusing, you might find practicing the Guru Yoga of the 16th Karmapa, or just repeating the mantra Karmapa Chenno!, helpful in resolving the difficulty.

Karmapa Chenno!Karmapa Chenno!

Since this was written I've learned that my root lama, The Venerable Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, made a prediction about this situation, several decades ago.

When I was visiting with Shamar Rinpoche he told me about a letter he had received from Trungpa Rinpoche in the late Seventies, predicting challenges to Shamarpa's responsibility for protecting the future of the Kagyu Lineage. Trungpa Rinpoche was noted for being able to perform a special type of oracle that gave very clear and very accurate results. Some of Karmapa's monks had asked for a prediction regarding the Karmapa's health, and Karmapa had asked at that time for Trungpa to do a prediction for Shamarpa.

Since our conversation, Shamar Rinpoche has made the letter available to everyone. The text of the prediction letter is given on the following web page: 

Trungpa Rinpoche's Prediction Letter to Shamarpa

Grant your blessings, so that my mind may be one with the dharma.
Grant your blessings, so that dharma may progress along the path.
Grant your blessings, so that the path may clarify confusion.
Grant your blessings, so that confusion may dawn as wisdom.
The Four Dharmas of Gampopa
Translated by the Nalanda Translation Committee

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books, videosweb sites

Web Resources

Related Pages from Dharma Haven

The 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje

The 17th Karmapa, Thinley Thaye Dorje

Karmapa's Gift: Meditations for Western Students

Index of Dharma Haven's Tibetan Pages

Karmapa -- The Black Hat Lama of Tibet

A Brief History of the Karmapa-Shamarpa Lineages

Recognition of the 17th Karmapa, Thaye Dorje

Ole Nydhal on Meeting the New Karmapa

Interview with Jigme Rinpoche

The 17th Karmapa in the West

Interview with Karmapa Thaye Dorje

The 17th Gyalwa Karmapa -- Images

The Karmapa Controversy -- Students of Thaye Dorje

Trungpa Rinpoche's Prediction Letter

Karmapa Symposium: A Balanced View of the Current Situation

Books and Videos

The Lion's Roar (Video)

Documents the extraordinary life, teachings and death of His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, supreme head of the Kagyu tradition.

The Great Kagyu Masters:
The Golden Lineage Treasury
Translated by Khenpo Könchog Gyaltsen

Highlights the contributions of the enlightened masters who passed the Vajra Dharma from generation to generation, down to the time of Gampopa and his students: Vajradhara, The Buddha, Tilopa, Naropa, The Four Great Dharma Kings of Tibet, Marpa, Jetsun Milarepa, Atisha, Gampopa, and others. 

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Published on March 11, 2001
Revised on September 24, 2003

Copyright © 2001, 2003 Dharma Haven

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