Did a senior Tibetan Buddhist leader's funeral plans fall foul of Himalayan power politics?

The Sharmapa held a senior position within the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, yet he was not without controversy

Asia Correspondent

Two weeks ago, the remains of Shamar Rinpoche, a senior yet controversial Tibetan Buddhist teacher, were flown from Delhi to a monastery in north-east India where his coffin was met by brightly-dressed monks playing trumpets and cymbals.

Shamar Rinpoche, 62, who held the title Sharmapa, had died of a heart attack in Germany in June. His supporters wanted to fulfil his wishes and transport his body first to Kalimpong, in India’s north-east, and then to Nepal for a funeral service at an institute he had established.

But his supporters around the world fear their teacher may have fallen foul of power politics playing out in the Himalayas. Having initially granted the go-ahead for his body to be taken to Nepal, the authorities in Kathmandu have now withdrawn permission. It has been reported they did so under pressure from neighbouring China, which does not want to encourage Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal.

“It’s a very dramatic situation,” said Khenpo Mriti, administrator of the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute in Delhi, where the Sharmapa’s coffin was kept after arriving from Germany. “We are in trauma and in trouble. We do not know what to do.”

The Sharmapa held a senior position within the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, yet he was not without controversy. In 1992, he broke from the opinion of many other senior teachers and declined to recognise the person identified as the 17 Karmapa, who heads the Karma Kagyu school.

Indeed, he instead identified his own candidate. Today, the Karma Kagyu school remains split over who is its true head. The Chinese government recognises the Karmapa that the Sharmapa refused to recognise.

Despite this, his supporters were planning a large funeral service for him in Nepal and were due to transfer his body there on Monday Representatives of other branches of Tibetan Buddhism, including the Dalai Lama’s school, were expected to attend.

Over the weekend, the Kathmandu Post newspaper reported that a source in the Nepalese home ministry said the decision to withdraw permission was taken under pressure from the Chinese embassy. It claimed the Chinese objected to a representative of the Dalai Lama attending and did not want a large rally to take place.

A spokesman for the Dalai Lama said a representative based in Nepal would likely have attended the funeral.

Since he fled Tibet in 1959 and set up a Tibetan government in exile, the Dalai Lama has been repeatedly denounced by the Chinese authorities. Meanwhile, his so-called Middle Way of trying to secure autonomy but not independence for Tibet has made little progress. In the last few years, dozens of Tibetans have immolated themselves over China’s actions.

Nepal, which sits between India and China, has long been the subject of efforts to lever influence by both of its huge Asian neighbours. In recent years, it has sought to control the Tibetan freedom movement and has regularly detained monks and their supporters.

Robert Barnett, director of the Modern Tibet Studies Programme at Columbia University in New York, said the Sharmapa had not held a position in the Tibetan government and had not been a political figure.

There was much about Nepal’s actions that did not make sense, he said. Yet he added: “Nobody would be in the least bit surprised if Nepal were put under pressure by China.”

A spokesman for Nepal’s home ministry, Laxmi Prasad Dhakal, confirmed permission had been given and then subsequently withdrawn.

Mr Dhakal said officials at the Nepalese Embassy in Delhi had granted permission when it was believed the Sharmapa held a Nepalese passport. He said it was then discovered he held a Bhutanese passport and officials said permission could not be given as there was no legal provision for allowing foreigners to travel to Nepal for a funeral.

Asked whether Nepal had acted under pressure from China, he said: “No, no, no. That’s not true – 200 per cent not true.”

In an interview at his office at the Buddhist institute in Delhi, Mr Mriti, the administrator, said supporters of the Sharmapa were deeply upset by what had happened. “The Sharmapa did lots for Nepal. He had requested his remains be cremated in Nepal. That is the main reason we are trying to take him to Nepal.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower