The untold story of Akong Rinpoche and his role in China’s occupation of Tibet 

Picture of Akong Rinpoche who as a member of the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party made China’s approval of Ogyen Trinley Dorje as Karmapa Yangsi and his subsequent enthronement at Tsurphu monastary happen, based on what we know today of what in fact happened

“We obviously need to know more about Akong Rinpoche’s role in China’s approval of Ogyen Trinley Dorje as Karmapa Yangsi and his subsequent enthronement at Tsurphu monastery in occupied Tibet.”

Carolyn pauses.

“Unfortunately he was murdered in China by a former monk of Situ Rinpoche, as the story goes, in a dispute over money of all things.”

Allen responds.

“A tragic end for a good man by all accounts but sadly how he died nonetheless, needlessly, in a quarrel with a fellow Tibetan over money.”

Allen continues.

“For what it’s worth, not to judge, based on what information we do have about how Ogyen Trinley Dorje became the Chinese Communist Party’s choice for Rangjung Rikpe Dorje’s successor as Karmapa and his subsequently enthronement at Tsurphu, has Akong Rinpoche as the member of the Karma Kagyu sect on the ground in occupied t
Tibet that made this happen as such.”

Allen adds.

“Not to judge Rinpoche, but simply to, as we have every right to as Karma Kagyu, to separate fact from fiction as it pertains to Ogyen Trinley Dorje’s selection as Karmapa Yangsi.”

End scene. Fini.

A teachable moment brought to you by the Naropa Prairie Dog Players for your entertainment pleasure.



Filed under Buddhism

9 responses to “The untold story of Akong Rinpoche and his role in China’s occupation of Tibet 

  1. Jess

    ‘Twas clearly a political assassination.

    Question is, was it Situ trying to cover up the collusion with the Chinese? Or was it the Chinese trying to stop a Tibetan who’s influence was increasing beyond their liking?

    • It was either an assassination or Rinpoche died in a dispute over money.

      • Jess


        Which do you think is more likely?

        I can live with either possibility. The thing is, there are many people that benefitted from his death. His death really sealed with silence much of the political negotiation involved in the recognition of Trinley Dorje. With Akong Rinpoche out of the picture, Situ Rimpoche loses a weakness- this being the real-time political machinations behind the installation of his candidate at Tsurphu.

        Let’s face it: Akong Rinpoche was a very powerful person. He was powerful in that he could exact his influence at the request of Situ Rinpoche. He was powerful in Tibet in the sense that he negotiated the powers that be there. In this way he was as complicated a character as the previous Panchen Lama.

        In fact, the smearing of both the previous Panchen Lama as well as Akong Rinpoche by the Tibetan refugee community in India is not surprising. Both Akong Rinpoche and the previous Panchen Lama (and Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok) were radical pragmatists. Radical in that they advanced dharma in the face of Chinese oppression, and pragmatic in that the worked their position to effect the best possible outcome.

        The unfortunate consequence is that this position is fraught with difficulties. Negotiating such opposing expectations seems to invariably bring ruin. Jigme Phuntsok was poisoned, the previous Panchen Lama, it is believed, was also poisoned. It very may well be the case that Akong Rinpoche was assassinated under the guise of a dispute over money.

  2. Jess

    Every Kagyu tulku of that generation was Thrangu Rinpoche’s student. And I think you are right; everything that had played out with Traleg Rinpoche had played out similarly to the way it did with Karmapa. Thrangu Rinpoche, is with out a doubt the most prolific living Karma Kagyu tulku as far as international projects go. You can’t do that without political capital.

    Interesting how Bokar Rinpoche’s labrang kept themselves connected to the larger lineage but separate from the shenanigans of these Tibetan Buddhist politicians. At the end of the day yangsi Bokar Rinpoche was found in Sikkim, a citizen of India, much more free than Traleg yangsi will be for many, many years.

    Thrangu Rinpoche is likely an old “Cold War” political lama.

    • I have questions about Thrangu Rinpoche’s connection with Taiwanese Nationals known to favor unification with Mainland China whom are apparently funding his above mentioned international projects.

      • Jess

        Those are legitimate questions.

        I think that the reality on the ground is that the mainland China is an evil empire story, the one that has tried to destroy kind, pure Tibetan culture/religious practices is kept naively simple out of convienience.

        Some Tibetans appear to be using all sides as a wax of maximizing the success of their projects. Thrangu Rinpoche’s projects in North America alone likely require millions of dollars, add to that his Asian protects in Tibet, Nepal, India and East and South East Asia you get the picture of a lama with considerable financial pull which nearly always means political pull.

        I think the repatriation of our Karma Kagyu tulkus is the political response to the Chinese policies in Tibet. The Chinese cannot stamp out the religion because it’s great lamas refuse to stop being reborn there means that China cannot be successful. If the great lamas of Tibetan Buddhism were reborn elsewhere the Chinese would effectively win.

        Using this model of reasoning, the recognition of a yangsi becomes a very political act. It is a way of punching back. It seems the Karma Kagyu seemed to punch back with yangsi Karmapa and Jamgon Rinpoche and Pawo, Trungpa, Traleg, Bo Gangkar and other Kagyu tulkus. Even in spite of the liberal views of their predecessors.

        Previous Kalu Rinpoche took matters into his own hands.

        I do think that there is a lot to this use of the tulku recognition system as a political pushback by Thrangu Rinpoche, and likely the Dalai Lama’s administration was what really caused the split with Shamar.

        It’s a shame because this is, and may have already done, irreparable harm to a tradition that already has a dubious relationship to power and wealth.

        I think for our own sake it would be better to do away with the tulku system if it is being used more as a political tool to try and reconsolidate power, wealth, influence or cultural vitality at the expense of the tradition itself.

        The rumor on the street is that soon a reincarnation of Jigme Phuntsok will be announced by his nyingma heart sons, watch the Chinese reaction as their regime is credited with his death. We saw what happened with yangsi Panchen Lama. Watch what happens with yangsi Akong Rinpoche; alas where these yangsis are found seems to complete the way the story of their predecessors is told.

        For example, 16th Karmapa was a visionary leader of the Karma Kagyu Tradition who instituted unprecedented changes that influenced the spread and dissemination of his tradition. He was reborn in Tibet.

        Previous Trungpa and Traleg Rinpoches were revolutionary vajrayana teachers, developing dynamic ways of teaching vajrayana Buddhism in a way that preserved it’s practice in the west. They were both reborn under very traditional circumstances.

        How is Akong Rinpoche’s story going to be “righted” by the determination of where his yangsi is “found”.

        Very little is not political these days in the vajrayana world. We struggle to remain relevant.

        • Or, Tibetan culture and religion is as is the case with all appearances, empty of self existence, neither pure nor impure, but instead that which has arisen in our minds yet to be realized as such and let go of, our clinging to it being one thing or the other as the dharma teaches us just another cause of the very same suffering suffered by anyone who has yet to realize the true nature of the mind.

          Our task as dharma practitioners is to realize the true nature of the mind, which first and foremost requires letting go of our fixation, as it pertains to our discussion here, that Tibetan culture and religion is either pure or its opposite, impure, so to speak.

          As a practical matter, if the repatriation of the Gyalwa Karmapa represents a victory of Tibetans against the Chinese, Tibetans living in occupied Tibet would not be committing suicide to protest said occupation, for instance.

          When France was occupied by fascists, or Poland by communists, they resisted, against all odds said occupations, and over the course of time, thanks to the contradictions inherent to all that arises in our mind and is clung to as permanent, and these peoples are today free, whereas Tibetans in occupied Tibet are on the brink of annihilation while the Karma Kagyu sect is flourishing there as such.

          Thrangu Rinpoche, with the repatriation of the Thrangu Tulku, has realized his life ambition as it pertains to his Thrangu monastery, not by resisting China’s occupation of Tibet but by collaborating with it as such.

          For instance my teacher Khenpo Karthar, who fled Tibet with Thrangu Rinpoche, taking with them the late Traleg Rinpoche, thanks to his accepting China’s occupation of Tibet has for decades travelled freely back and forth between occupied Tibet and the United States, and today teaches his Chinese followers at teachings in which we are not permitted to attend in our own country, and not coincidentally is worshiped like a supernatural being by the Chinese here, much to our chagrin I might add.

          I’ve been with Khenpo Karthar 34 years last month and have watched what has become of him, bringing it to my practice, working with my feelings as he went from a refugee dying of TB here for medical treatment to a collaborator benefiting from China’s occupation of Tibet at the expense of the Tibetan people.

          We today know that members of the Karma Kagyu sect, notwithstanding any appearance to the contrary have collaborated with China’s occupation of Tibet and have been rewarded financially by those Taiwanese whom support unification with Mainland China.

          We need to know more about what has happened since Mao died and China became the China we know today as it pertains to the Karma Kagyu sect and specifically the Karmapa Yangsi known to us as Ogyen Trinley Dorje, so that we can bring to our practice, the facts of the matter whatever they may be.

          The dharma Rangjung Rikpe Dorje died here to establish, he chose to pass into Parinirvana in the West in freedom rather than in exile in HHDL’s India as a refugee, Mahamudra has flourished here as His Holiness expected it would given the freedoms we fought and died for as such over the past century here in America, in Europe, Great Britian, and Australia, to name but a few of the many places in the West where today Mahamudra is practiced by Westerners.

          Perhaps it is time to revisit or relationship with Ogyen Trinley Dorje’s Karma Kagyu sect, if it has indeed, as it appears to have done so, supported China’s occupation of Tibet to the detriment of the Tibetan people, if only as a matter of principle.

          I don’t know, but I intend to find out, and if it turns out that Ogyen Trinley Dorje has thrown in his lot with the Chinese as he appears to have done so, I am prepared to bring this to my practice, and move forward as a dharma practitioner confident that I am doing as the last Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Rikpe Dorje, the 16th and last Karmapa of free Tibet intended us in the West to do.

          • Yeshe

            Hi Bill, reading your posts I always wonder: Did you meet Karmapa Thaye Dorje? He is really free of all those machinations. In the context of the fact that a disciple was sad that Orgyen Trinle got so much influence in the US, and expressed it to HH Karmapa Thaye Dorje,. The reaction, such it was reported to me , was: “If somebody tells Him things like this you can’t imagine how little he cares about such stuff” He doesn’t care all this worldly Dharmas and is a mahamudra master.
            Apropos Thrangu:

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