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Chapter 5: A Lull in Hostilities

Exiles Call a Truce: Temporary Allies

After the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950-51, the Tibetan leadership did not flee the country, but remained in Lhasa after receiving Chinese assurances of broad autonomy. During the 1950s, the Dalai Lama's government and high lamas from all five religious schools tried to cooperate with the Chinese leadership to govern Tibet as a part of China. But pressures gradually mounted on the Tibetans to change their way of life that created escalating tension with the Chinese.

Faced with a common threat in the form of Communism, the historic rivalry between the Tibetan government and the Karmapa's Karma Kagyu school abated for a time. In the fifties, the young Dalai Lama formed a genuine, warm friendship with his elder, the sixteenth Karmapa. This historic friendship began when the two lamas traveled to Beijing together in September 1954. They were accompanied by the Panchen Lama, the second-ranking master of the Gelugpa. In the Chinese capital, the three lamas met with Mao  Zedong and other Communist leaders.

Together, the lamas tried to present a united front to their new masters. They attempted to show that they were willing to cooperate with the Chinese leadership as long as the Communists respected the religious freedom of Buddhists in Tibet. There was much public talk about the excellent relations between Beijing and the Tibetans and about progress in economic development under the new regime. The Dalai and Panchen Lamas were skeptical, but being young and idealistic, they held out hope that Mao was genuinely concerned for Tibet's welfare and that the Chinese would help bring their nation into the modern world. The thirty-year-old Karmapa, ten years their senior, was less optimistic.

The friendship between the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa continued when the lamas returned to Tibet. At the traditional seat of the Karmapas, Tsurphu monastery near Lhasa, the Karmapa supervised the construction of a residence for the Dalai Lama. Given the preceding five hundred years of rivalry between the two lamas, this was a revolutionary gesture. of conciliation. It would have been comparable, say, to the United States president building a dacha for the Soviet leader at Camp David during the Cold War. But the Chinese occupation made Tibetan solidarity more urgent than ever and encouraged leaders of all the religious schools to put away their old sectarian and regional rivalries.

Afterwards, the Karmapa invited the Dalai Lama to visit Tsurphu and enjoy the house built for him there. AmidstĚ lavish festivities, the Karmapa asked the Dalai Lama to give the empowerment of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva who, Tibetans believe, emanates in both the Dalai Lamas and the Karmapas. The Tibetan leader gratefully obliged and, in turn, asked the Karmapa to perform the trademark ritual of his line, the Black Crown ceremony.

This friendship continued during the dark days that followed in Tibet as. the turbulent era of the fifties drew to a close. The Dalai Lama and the Karmapa consulted each other on the best way to deal with rising pressure from the Chinese People's Liberation Army on one side and Tibetan rebels from the border areas of Kham and Amdo on the other. For the next few years, the Karmapa traveled widely in eastern Tibet as the ambassador of the Dalai Lama, working to defuse tensions between local people and occupying Chinese forces. Once the situation became untenable, the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa even conferred on when and how to leave Tibet in 1959. After arriving in India, the two leaders continued to consult each other in exile.

To many Tibetans, just deprived of their homeland, it seemed that the tragedy of military defeat, Chinese conquest, and exile had finally ended the ancient rivalry of the Tibetan government and the Karma Kagyu school.

Tensions Reemerge

But hundreds of years of habit would not die so easily, and after a few months in India, competition between the administrations of the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa resurfaced. The Dalai Lama and his ministers had just lost their country, Central Tibet. In exile, they wanted to create a unified Tibetan community that included not just their former subjects in Central Tibet and their allies in the Gelugpa, but also Tibetans from areas never governed by Lhasa and from all the religious schools. Thus exile leaders hoped to create a pan-Tibetan community that would, be stronger to oppose the Chinese and perhaps speed the arrival of the day when the exiles could return home to a free Tibet. In the early days in exile, liberating their homeland wall the shared dream of all Tibetans.

To realize this dream, exile government officials saw Tibetan unity as more urgent than preserving Tibet's regional or religious diversity. Indeed, the presence of a common enemy created a new Tibetan nationalism, a sense that Central Tibet, Kham, and Amdo were essentially one country though historically, they had been governed separately. Such pan- Tibetan nationalism had never existed before in Tibetan history. "In order to maintain the  unity of the emigre community after the Dalai Lama's flight across the Himalayas in 1959, his exiled administration developed the idea of a giant, theoretical Tibet ... Its focus was the idea of 'Po Cholkha Sum,' the unity of the three historic regions of ethnic Tibet: Amdo, Kham, and U-Tsang. People who had previously identified themselves with a particular region now became consciously Tibetan," Patrick French wrote in his book Tibet; Tibet. [1] The same went for Tibetan religion. No longer would Tibetans be followers of the Kagyu or Gelugpa schools; instead, they would be followers of Tibetan Buddhism.

In 1964 the Tibetan Government-in-Exile introduced reforms that it said would help the Tibetan community retain its coherence, with refugees scattered around India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sikkim. The Dalai Lama's brother Gyalo Thondup led this initiative, and he formed an organization called the United Party to carry it out. [2] By pooling the resources of emigre Tibetans towards economic and social development, the United Party was intended to create a new political unity out of the diversity of the exile community, and strengthen the Dalai Lama's ability to face off the Communists. Tibetans abroad understood that the party had the full support of the exile government.

The United Party's platform was broad and ambitious. At the same time that the insane Cultural Revolution in Tibet was rooting out the "Four Olds" (old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits), the United Party proposed a much more rational-sounding platform of economic, social, and religious reforms for Tibetans in exile.

The unity initiative set up branch offices in Tibetan settlements throughout India and began to establish handicraft centers and even agricultural communes similar to the new collective farms in Communist China. But the most ambitious leg of the United Party's platform was religious reform that called for merging the administrations of the four Buddhist schools, along with the pre-Buddhist Bon religion, into one body under the new Department of Religion in Dharamsala, under direct control of exile government officials and the Dalai Lama.

It is unclear whether the initiative would have subordinated all the schools to the Dalai Lama's spiritual leadership, or, whether the plan would have respected each school's traditional autonomy while increasing opportunities for cooperation. Gyalo Thondup was known as a modern thinker who believed that church and state should be separate. But others in the young Dalai Lama's exile administration thought that secularism was heresy and seemed to believe that Tibetans' only hope lay in reining in the religious schools outside of the Gelugpa, to which most exile ministers belonged.

In any event, when word of the United Party's religious reform got out in 1964, the exiled government was unprepared for the angry opposition that leaders of the religious schools expressed. To them, this unification plan appeared not as a benefit to Tibetans, but rather as a power-grab by the exile administration. Some critics charged that the plan was only a thinly disguised scheme to confiscate the monasteries that dozens of lamas had begun to reestablish in exile with funds they had raised themselves.

Though headed by the Dalai Lama, the exile administration's work was mainly secular in nature. It opened offices to start schools, to receive refugees, and to deal with foreigners, but it did not generally finance or build monasteries in exile. Instead, the dozens of transplanted monasteries built by the mid-1960s in India, Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan were the result of private initiative. "Lamas would go begging for donations to build monasteries," according to historian Dawa Norbu. "Rich Tibetans, out of piety and social prestige, made large donations towards the construction of monasteries. The same goes for the propagation of Tibetan Buddhism in the Western world. There is not a single meditation center abroad started by the Dalai Lama's exiled government." [3]

The United Party plan reminded some lamas outside the formerly ruling Gelugpa of harassment by the government back in Tibet before 1959. Even worse, the exile government's push for unity seemed uncomfortably similar to post-1959 Communist propaganda about uniting all Tibetans back home under the similarly named United Front in loyalty to the "socialist motherland" of China.

Accordingly, leaders of the Nyingma and Kagyu schools, along with lay families who followed each school living in thirteen refugee settlements around India and one in Nepal, banded together to protect their monasteries. To rally their supporters, they chose the most charismatic leader they could find -- the sixteenth Karmapa. They formed a counter-party called the Tibetan Welfare Association which came to be known as the Fourteen Settlements group. The Karmapa agreed to serve as spiritual leader of this group, and its members elected a layman, Gungthang Tsultrim, as political leader. Dozens of other lamas, including Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, who later became one of the best known Tibetan Buddhist teachers worldwide, also joined the group. Dilgo Khyentse had been close to the  Karmapa at Tsurphu, had fled Tibet with the Karmapa's party, and had spent much time at Rumtek after coming into exile.

The group went on to organize protests, write open letters, and publicize their arguments to preserve the historic rights of the five religious schools. They called on exiled Tibetans to reject Gyalo Thondup's plan. The Tibetan exile administration tried to meet this opposition  with open debate, but also, reportedly, with behind-the-scenes maneuvering. In 1972 Gyalo Thondup asked the Indian Home Ministry to relocate  twenty-eight prominent members of the Fourteen Settlements group to far-flung areas of India, based on unsupported charges that they posed threats to law and order.

Accordingly, the Indian government issued notices ordering the twenty-eight refugees to move. When two recipients of relocation orders, Sadhu Lobsang Nyandak and Gungthang Ngodrup, challenged their relocation orders in the Delhi High Court, these notices were withdrawn. This court victory marked the turning point in the campaign against the increasingly unpopular unity initiative. In 1973, the United Party closed down its branch offices, broke up its farming communes, and turned over its handicraft centers to the Home Department of the exiled Tibetan government.

All through this period, the imposing sixteenth Karmapa served as the highly visible rallying point for the Fourteen Settlements' opposition to the United Party. In the wake of the plan's defeat, the Tibetan exile community ended up deeply divided, just the opposite of what the Dalai Lama and Gyalo Thondup were trying to achieve. And against the Tibetan leader's pleas to forget old quarrels, apparently some officials in his exile administration in Dharamsala developed a resentment of the dissenting leaders.

On March 13, 1977, Fourteen Settlements political head Gungthang Tsultrim was shot several times at point-blank range while walking in his backyard in Clement Town, in the northwestern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Simultaneously, the electricity was cut to the local area, allowing the shooter to escape. When apprehended in Kathmandu, the murderer, Amdo Rekhang Tenzin, told the Royal Nepalese Police that the Tibetan exile government had paid him three. hundred thousand rupees (about thirty-five thousand dollars) to assassinate Gungthang. [4]

Even more shocking, the hit man claimed that Dharamsala offered him a larger bounty to kill the sixteenth Karmapa. Nepali authorities handed the murderer over to India, and he repeated his story under interrogation there at a maximum-security prison in Lucknow.

When news of this assassination and the plot against the sixteenth Karmapa came out, large groups of angry demonstrators from the Fourteen Settlements group filled the streets of Dharamsala to protest against the exile administration's potential involvement. Meanwhile, back in the still quasi-independent kingdom of Sikkim, the location of the sixteenth Karmapa's seat at Rumtek monastery, the royal government provided the Karmapa with eleven armed bodyguards.

It is unclear what role the Dalai Lama himself played in the resurrection of the rivalry between his government and the Karma Kagyu school in India. Only twenty-four years old when the Tibetans fled to India in 1959, he relied heavily on the counsel of his advisors. The experienced ministers of his administration had their own views on how best to preserve Tibetan institutions in exile, and their counsel must have carried weight with the inexperienced lama-leader. Many of these ministers continued to see the religious schools outside their own Gelug as rivals, and sought ways to defend against them.

Perhaps as a peace offering to lamas of schools outside the Gelug, shortly after Gungthang's murder, the Dalai Lama invited Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, a leading lama in the Fourteen Settlements group, to become one of his teachers. After this, Dilgo Khyentse became closely associated with the Tibetan leader, and later went on to teach in Southeast Asia and in the West.

Tibetans who follow the Nyingma, Sakya, and Kagyu schools and the pre-Buddhist Bon religion have claimed that some exile government leaders still harbor dreams of expanding their influence at the religious schools' expense. For his part, the Dalai Lama has sought to restrain the enthusiasm of his ministers for partisan politics. Every few years the Tibetan exile leader has had to use his good name to put down the most fractious schemes of his administrators by threatening that unless all Tibetans could work together, this would be his final reincarnation.

Did the Previous Dalai Lama Choose the Sixteenth Karmapa?

Apparently discounting the long-standing enmity between the Central Tibetan government -- before and after going into exile -- and the Karma Kagyu school, Tai Situ Rinpoche, the main supporter of Karmapa contender Ogyen Trinley, has maintained that it has always been necessary for the Dalai Lama to approve Karmapa reincarnations. As evidence, he has cited the example of the sixteenth Karmapa: ''Although the search for a new Karmapa is directed by the letter of prediction left by his predecessor, it has always been the tradition to seek final confirmation from the Dalai Lama. For instance, the 16th Karmapa was searched and found on the basis of the prediction letter left by the 15th Karmapa, hut he was confirmed as the 16th Karmapa by the 13th Dalai Lama." [5]

This is another position that history contradicts. Khenpo Chodrak Tenphel, the abbot of Rumtek until the takeover in 1993 and the top authority on the history of the Karmapas, has told the story behind this incident.

"It is true that the thirteenth Dalai Lama's administration did attempt to participate in the recognition of the sixteenth Karmapa, but at that time the. Karma Kagyu saw it as interference. After failing to install his candidate, the Dalai Lama eventually had to back down. [6]

"After the death of the fifteenth Karmapa in 1922, there was a period of eight years before the Tsurphu administration could find a suitable candidate as his reincarnation," Chodrak said. "In the meantime, government officials in Lhasa saw this as an opportunity to bring the border area of eastern Tibet under the control of the Dalai lama's government as a buffer against China. Central Tibetan officials thought that if they controlled the Karmapa, then they could control Kham, where the Karma Kagyu was strong. Since nearly eight  years had passed without Tsurphu finding a Karmapa, the Lhasa government figured that Tsurphu might never find one. Therefore, there would be no harm for the government to nominate its own boy to be the next Karmapa."

Accordingly, Tsepon Lungshar, the defense minister in the Dalai Lama's council of state, the Kashag, convinced the thirteenth Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso (1876-1933) to proclaim Lungshar's son to be the next Karmapa. There was no historical precedent for the Dalai Lama to appoint a Karmapa, and no Dalai Lama in the past had even helped to recognize a previous Karma Kagyu leader. Appendix A to this book includes a chart that lists each Karmapa along with the lamas who recognized him. [7] There are no Dalai Lamas on the list.

But the thirteenth Dalai Lama had his own political reasons to agree to the minister's request. After centuries as a satellite of the Celestial Empire, in 1913 Tibet was able to declare its independence and expel the small Chinese garrison in Lhasa. Weakened by internal fighting in the wake of the overthrow of the last Qing emperor "Henry" Puyi two years earlier, the new Nationalist Chinese government could not oppose Tibet's move by force. But the Nationalists never recognized Tibet's independence, and continued to claim the country as an integral part of China.

The Dalai Lama knew that China's weakness was a rare opportunity to establish Tibet's independence in the eyes of the world. Lungshar agreed, and with a group of progressives in Lhasa, he supported the Dalai Lama's efforts to modernize the Tibetan government against the opposition of strong conservative forces centered on the three large Gelug monasteries in Lhasa. The Three Seats of Drepung, Sera, and Ganden wielded considerable political clout through their armies of dopdops or "fighting monks" and their traditional influence over powerful noble families in Central Tibet. These huge monasteries used their power to block or delay reforms to modernize Tibet, claiming that such innovations as opening English-language schools, joining the League of Nations, or building a modern army would threaten the country's traditional Buddhist culture.

"The large monasteries were also concerned about losing power to a modem government under the Dalai Lama with a well-equipped army and centralized administration," Chodrak said.

Against the opposition of strong conservatives, the Dalai Lama attempted to push through reforms against the clock -- before China would regain its strength and try to retake Tibet. In the early twenties, the government began an ambitious modernization program. In 1922, the same year that the fifteenth Karmapa died, the Dalai Lama established an army modeled on the British forces in India. His government then went on to introduce modern innovations such as passports, a postal service, and systemized national taxation, all to build Tibet's strength and show the outside world that the Land of Snows was a modem nation rather than a medieval vassal state of China. The thirteenth Dalai Lama thus hoped to gain international recognition of Tibet's independence.

The Lhasa government also hoped to unify the various regions where ethnic Tibetans traditionally lived into one modern nation. For its strategic importance, the Dalai Lama wanted more control over Kham, where the Karmapa was strong. Khenpo Chodrak provided his analysis.

"And so, perhaps against his better spiritual judgment, but for compelling political reasons, the Dalai Lama agreed to interfere in the Karmapa selection process and support Tsepon Lungshar's son as a candidate. In 1929 or 1930 -- Tsurphu records are not clear on the date -- the Tibetan leader made a proclamation that his minister's son was the reincarnation of the Karmapa.

"Predictably, the Tsurphu labrang rejected this interference. The Karmapa's monastery said that the government had no role in choosing a Karmapa. As it turned out, at the same time, the Karmapa's administration had finally found its own candidate. In response to His Holiness the thirteenth Dalai Lama's proclamation about Lungshar's son, the Karmapa's administration politely informed the Tibetan leader that it had located a boy of its own, a son of a noble family known as Athub Tsang of the kingdom of Derge in Kham.

"At the time, the thirteenth Dalai Lama did not press the issue, perhaps recognizing that if the Karmapa's own labrang had found a boy at last, then it was better for everyone to have an authentic Karmapa than a politically appointed one.

"But before the Tsurphu administration could enthrone the Athub boy, out of respect for His Holiness the thirteenth Dalai Lama's power as political ruler, Tsurphu officials had to formally request him to reverse his action and allow them to proceed with the enthronement of their own boy. In response, the thirteenth Dalai Lama did withdraw Tsepon Lungshar's son as a candidate, thus showing that he recognized the authority of the Karmapa's own school to choose its head lama's reincarnation. This boy later became His Holiness the sixteenth Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje." Sadly, Lunghsar's son, the failed Karmapa, soon died after falling off a roof.

Lungshar suffered more hardship as well. In the thirties, facing strong opposition by conservatives, the Dalai Lama had to back down on his military and administrative reforms in Lhasa. After the thirteenth Dalai Lama's death, conservative rivals pushed aside Lungshar's group and arrested the defense minister. He was convicted of attempted murder and plotting to overthrow the state. The government made an example of the unfortunate  minister, ordering his eyes to be put out and sentencing him to life imprisonment. Tragically. the defeat of Lungshar's group effectively ended reforms in Tibet, leaving the country isolated and friendless in the world and defenseless against the Chinese invasion that would come two decades later.

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