Eye on Southeast Asia: A one-month “private” meeting between 17th Karmapa and Tsewang Rinpoche, relics gift to Malaysia Dharma centers, and reasons for the Karmapa’s ongoing public absence

“He walks in the streets of Kuala Lumpur and no one pays any attention to him [Tsewang Rinpoche]. Yet, he is regarded as a bodhisattva and he is forever etched into the history of Karma Kagyu as the man who engineered the escape of the 17th Karmapa from Tibet to India.”

– John Fam (Thrangu Monastery Malaysia)

“In it [a letter left for Tibetans in  Tibet], I wrote I have made many failed efforts to be able to go to abroad. Now, having no other option, I am doing this way as a final solution. However, in the future if I could be beneficial to Tibet, the Land of Snow, I will return soon.’ That’s what I wrote.”

– 17th Gyalwang Karmapa (2017)

Read the original and unadapted article on Dakini Translations

Three days ago on Danang Foundation Facebook, a few days after the father of the 17th Karmapa (the Karmapa is the supreme head of the Karma Kagyu lineage) had passed away (the Karmapa himself has not given any personal statement on his loss), a very “low-key” announcement was made by a Karma Kagyu teacher, Tsewang Rinpoche (1965–), founder of the Danang Foundation in New York. In 2020, I wrote before about Tsewang Rinpoche and his connection to the important the Pawo lineage in Karma Kagyu, and how he was one of the key people in helping the 17th Karmapa escape from Tibet.

This Facebook post noted that the Karmapa had met with him recently, with some photos. The location where Tsewang Rinpoche met the 17th Karmapa is not stated. But the announcement in Tibetan states that Rinpoche “got” the opportunity to serve the Karmapa for “just one month” (past or present also not clear either). It was a joy and relief to see these new photos of the 17th Karmapa, whom a couple of months previously had to cancel most of his recent online teachings due to sudden ill health/flu. Since that time there have been no further public teachings or photos of him released.

However,  their meeting may have been in Malaysia (or Singapore),  as on 6 May 2024, another “well-hidden/quiet” Buddhist Channel TV report of Tsewang Rinpoche’s visit to the Thrangu center in Malaysia, states that he personally brought three sacred relics and gave them to the Thrangu Rinpoche centres there.

From Facebook

One of the relics was given to the Thrangu Center in Petaling Jaya, a second relic to the Thrangu Center in Ipoh and the third one was given personally to Mr. Fam. Mr. Fam highlighted that these relics were no ordinary ones, as they were from the third Buddha Kasyapa and the Second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi.  This visit and gifting was hardly registered on any other social media accounts, unlike the huge recent event of relics going from India to Thailand (which would have cost millions of Thai Baht to organise).

The last time published photos of the 17th Karmapa meeting with someone appeared were with HE 12th Gyaltsab Rinpoche around Tibetan Losar (February 2024). It seems this meeting also took place in Malaysia (or Singapore), as that is where 12th Gyaltsab Rinpoche was teaching then.

Relics given by Tsewang Rinpoche to the 17th Karmapa. From Facebook

Many of the 17th Karmapa’s devoted followers (including myself) had hoped that the 17th Karmapa might make a public appearance at the Indonesian Kagyu Monlam at one of the Buddhist wonders of the world, Borobudur, as the 12th Gyaltsab Rinpoche was leading the monlam. However, Gyaltsab Rinpoche got a serious flu (as did I)  after the first part of his schedule in Batam Island, and he had to rest and cancel the rest of his appointments while he was leading the monlam in Indonesia.

It seemed as if some “black magic” was going on, certainly in terms of some of the things that were happening to me there when I became very sick and completely lost my voice, and other strange things, and I wondered if Gyaltsab Rinpoche was also being targeted (as had the 17th Karmapa during his online teaching when he suddenly got so sick with flu he had to cancel most of them).

Whatever the case may be, many devoted followers, including myself, are wondering why the 17th Karmapa still has to keep his location and movements hidden and private, and is not traveling and teaching freely and publicly in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Asia and other countries. Especially as other lineage heads and teachers (including  a well-known Karma Kagyu Rinpoche based in Nepal with outstanding allegations against him of sexual harassment, dishonesty, bullying, slander and abuse of myself and other women) are teaching and traveling freely without any apparent hindrance.

Mr. Fan with Tsewang Rinpoche. Image courtesy of Dakini Translations

In 1999, when the 17th Karmapa made the risky and extremely dangerous escape from Tibet, with Tsewang Rinpoche and a few others to meet with his main Karma Kagyu teachers in India, everyone was overjoyed to see him in person. However, gradually as time went on, the 17th Karmapa was overwhelmed with jealous factions, slander, surveillance, accusations of being a Chinese spy, and a seeming inability to establish his own Dharma centre,  forced to use as his base in India a Gelugpa monastery the entire time, and referred to by the Gelugpa-dominated media, institutions and staff in a derogatory manner as “Karmapa Rinpoche” and as an inferior of the 14th Dalai Lama.

In particular, the Gelugpa sectarianism and bias both in Tibet, and in Indian exile has become of increasing concern to those who wish to see the 17th Karmapa return to India, and travel and teach freely again, this time with the same travel privileges given to the 14th Dalai Lama.

Niraj Kumar, respected senior Indian scholar, translator and Indian government civil servant, in 2024 was subjected to an intense and unrelenting online and letter “bombardment” campaign intended to smear him and remove him from office by Gelugpa and Dalai Lama supporters. Image courtesy of Niraj Kumar

The 17th Karmapa has bravely taught on several occasions about the “Mongolian invasion” of Tibet in the 17th Century at the time of the 10th Karmapa, which he explains destroyed almost all the Karma Kagyu shedras and monasteries in central Tibet, and those of the Drugpa Kagyu and Jonang too.  The 17th Karmapa has also clearly explained that it was the efforts of one of the main Karma Kagyu heart sons, the 12th Gyaltsab Rinpoche that ensured the Karma Kagyu teachings and presence in central Tibet, were not totally obliterated, unlike those of the Jonang and Drugpa Kagyu who had to move out of that region. Several respected Tibetology Scholars and researchers are aware of this history, and that the 10th Karmapa was forced to live in a cave and in exile for many years because of it, but it seems most of the general public are not.

For example, the reason there is no presence of the Dalai Lamas and Gelugpas in Bhutan, is after they also violently chased Drugpa Kagyu teachers out of Ladakh with the Mongolians, causing the Drugpa Kagyu founder of Bhutan, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel to ban them, for more on that, you can read my article.

There was also no doubt significant “old-school” conservative jealousy and resentment in Tibetan exile among the other lineages (and even within the Karma Kagyu itself!)  for the 17th Karmapa’s handsome good looks, youth, brilliant and wise initiatives, progressive views and activities on equality for women, vegetarianism, animal welfare and the environment. The 14th Dalai Lama still eats slaughtered animals for health reasons, something which many, including the animal liberation and rights philosopher, Prof. Peter Singer have publicly challenged.

See more

༄༅། ། ཟླ་སྣང་ཐེབས་རྩ་དང་ཧི་མ་ལ་ཡའི་རིག་གཞུང་བསྟི་གནས་ཁང་གི་སྤྱི་ཁྱབ་འགན་འཛིན་གནས་ནང་བླ་མ་ཚེ་དབང་དབང་རིན་པོ་ཆེ་མཆོག ཉེ་འཆར་གང་ཉིད་ཀྱི་ཚེ་རབས་ལས་ཀྱི་བླ་མ་རྩ་གསུམ་ཀུན་བསྡུས་ཀྱི་བདག་ཉིད་༧དཔལ་རྒྱལ་བའི་དབང་པོ་༧ཀརྨ་པ་མཆོག་གི་སྐུ་མདུན་ལ་མཇལ་བཅར་ཞུས་ནས། དུས་ཡུན་ཟླ(Tibetan only) (Facebook)
‘Scholars’ Banquet’ and the ‘Hero’ (Pawo) lineage (Dakini Translations)
Lama who helped Seventeenth Karmapa escape Tibet makes private visit to Malaysia (Buddhist Channel)
TANTRIC BUDDHISM, VOWS, SEX AND WOMEN – the importance of love, respect and consent and what happens when a woman speaks out about lama misconduct (Dakini Translations)
Karmapa Said He Left a Message When He Escaped Tibet in 1999 (VOA)
The destruction and ruin of Kagyu study communities for centuries in Tibet and their revival (YouTube)
Goshri Gyaltsab Rinpoche’s programs in Indonesia (Facebook)
LADAKH TRILOGY (PART II): THE DALAI LAMAS IN LADAKH. Ladakhi King Senge Namgyal and the Gelug/Tibet-Mongolian takeover of Ladakh; Drugpa Kagyu and the subsequent banning of Gelug in Bhutan; and 14th Dalai Lama activities in Ladakh (Dakini Translations)
‘Actions Speak Louder than Words’: 17th Karmapa’s outstanding activities for females (Dakini Translations)
MEAT IS MURDER: ‘Tibetan Buddhist Vegetarianism: Ancient and Modern’ compiled teachings by 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje (Dakini Translations)
Peter Singer on the ‘absurdity’ of the 14th Dalai Lama eating meat for ‘health’ clip (YouTube)

Related blog posts from BDG

Laying the Foundations: the Question of the 17th Karmapa’s Ongoing Absence at Rumtek Monastery During the 14th Dalai Lama’s Current Visit

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