Out of India: High jinks in search for a high lama

WHEN A Tibetan lama named Jamgon Rinpoche smashed his BMW into a tree and killed himself - all to avoid hitting a chicken that was crossing the road - many Tibetans wondered: what was a monk doing driving a BMW, anyway? And those Tibetans who believe in reincarnation were asking: who was the chicken?

Normally, a monk's death does not lead to speculation about the past lives of a chicken. But there were strange goings on in the Rumtek monastery of Sikkim, where Jamgon had been one of the head abbots. It all began with the death in 1981 of the monastery's spiritual guide, Gyalwa Karmapa, one of the leading figures in Tibetan Buddhism. Ordinarily, the next rebirth of a high lama is found through the aid of dreams and prophecies.

This can be tricky, for there are a lot of new babies on this planet to choose from. Sometimes the divination is hard to understand. Clues are misread. Or politics and money creep in on this mystic manhunt. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of reincarnate lamas but, most probably, only three-quarters of them are genuine.

Reincarnate lamas - referred to as Tulkus or Rinpoches - are springing up all the time. Dagyab Rinpoche, a leading Tibetan scholar and monk, is worried about what he calls the 'Tulku boom'. He wrote recently: 'The number of reincarnated lamas in exile has increased like inflation.'

There is a cynical reason for this. 'Obviously,' says Dagyab, 'many people in exile have become aware of the fact that the title of a Rinpoche is a capital with considerable value in the Western market.'

The Gyalwa Karmapa, however, tries to make allowances for these earthly wranglings. It has been the custom - over the past 10 incarnations, spanning six centuries - for the Karmapa, before he dies, to leave behind the name and address of his future parents. Thoughtful though this may sound, it involves slightly more than a quick browse through the Tibetan telephone directory.

Before his death 11 years ago, the 16th Karmapa named four abbots to stand in for him at Rumtuk monastery until he appeared and came of age. One of them was Jamgon. After Karmapa died, the four regents looked at each other and pretty much said: 'Well, he didn't give the address to me. How about you?' None of the four had it.

Years went by. The followers of Karmapa became increasingly agitated over the regents' failure to find the little lost lama. The regents tried through the usual methods of divination, but nothing panned out. Two of the abbots, Jamgon and Shamar Rinpoche, began leaning towards a possible candidate, a young nephew of the King of Bhutan.

Then, this March, another one of the abbots, Situ Rinpoche, happened to remove a necklace amulet which had become frayed. It had been a gift from the 16th Karmapa. Inside, written in red ink, was the prediction, giving the name of the Karmapa's next father, mother and the place of birth.

Situ hastened to tell the other three regents of his discovery. Jamgon and Shamar were less than pleased. 'We inspected the letter . . . and expressed doubts about the authenticity of the handwriting and signature of the late Karmapa,' Shamar has said. He and Jamgon demanded the letter undergo forensic tests. This was refused by the two other abbots since, they claimed, it was a sacred document.

It was decided that Jamgon should be the one to undertake the search in Tibet and bring the boy back. But before he set off for Tibet, Jamgon swerved his BMW off the road last April, killing himself.

But the intrigue did not stop there. Secretly, the abbot of the amulet dispatched an envoy to eastern Tibet and found a nine- year-old child, Ugen Tinley, who already was a monk. Without telling Shamar, the two abbots, Situ and Gyalstab Rinpoche, hastened to Dharamsala - the exile residence of the Dalai Lama - to proclaim their find.

The Dalai Lama was in Brazil for the Earth Summit, and so the two lamas faxed him the news in Rio. He sent back a short reply, saying that if all the lamas agreed this was the boy, then he would give his backing. Shamar, however, hadn't given his backing. He didn't even know about it, until the two lamas returned triumphantly to Rumtek monastery.

Then Shamar behaved most un-monkishly. Outmanoeuvred, he tried to use force. He returned to Rumtek monastery last June escorted by a platoon of Indian soldiers to confront the two regents. This armed intrusion inside Rumtek sparked off unrest among the monks, already divided by the quarrels of their spiritual superiors.

Sikkim officials said the army escort had been supplied after an urgent request from the King of Bhutan, whose nephew was one of Shamar's choices. Only after the Dalai Lama renewed his support for the nine-year-old child from eastern Tibet did the rumblings cease inside Rumtek monastery.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with excess, cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies