What did Thrangu, Akong and Khenpo Karthar Rinpoches expect would become of OTD at Tsurphu?

Tire-toé une bûche,

“I never really felt that I had any freedom of my own,” he said of his youth at Tsurphu Monastery, the seat of the Karmapa in Tibet, where he lived under close supervision at all times.


After the 16th Karmapa died in 1981 Thrangu, Akong and Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche collaborated with the Chinese to enthrone OTD as his successor.

For the record, these three Tibetans did this.

Chen Li-an didn’t collaborate with a child by comparison, which Situ Rinpoche was at the time, but instead the adults in the room with a following in the West, which Thrangu, Akong and Khenpo Karthar Rinpoches were after the 16th Karmapa died.

Moving forward any discussion of what became of OTD as 17th Karmapa must acknowledge their failure as such.

As Ponlop Rinpoche noted recently the 16th Karmapa saw us as the future of his lineage, Tibetan buddhism with Western Characteristics as such.

Thrangu, Akong and Khenpo Karthar Rinpoches thought otherwise and acted accordingly, which is why today we have a Karmapa at 31 without a clue as to how to proceed as 17th Karmapa at this point in his life.

L’affaire est ketchup !



Filed under Buddhism

11 responses to “What did Thrangu, Akong and Khenpo Karthar Rinpoches expect would become of OTD at Tsurphu?

  1. I think Ponlap has a good point, only that there are others who share in the 16th Karmapa’s idea of who makes the future of Buddhism. But western people in general are this future. We mit only share most of the values but we have the surplus to allow it to happen. And some of us have been very successful.


    • The 16th Karmapa believed that he had found in the West what the Chinese deprived him of in 1959, his freedom. Without said freedom he believed that his lineage would become what it has become today, Tibetan Buddhism with Chinese characteristics. Instead of a path of liberation it would harmonize itself as it did after his death with the dictatorship that China is and always will be. For this reason on his death bed he came here to pass into Parinirvana.

      After his death Thrangu, Akong and Khenpo Karthar Rinpoches, all Rinpoches with a following here, the 16th Karmapa sent them to the West for the purpose of establishing his lineage here, a Tibetan Buddhism with Western characteristics, thought otherwise and acted accordingly.

      This was before either Situ or Shamar Rinpoches involvement in the selection of a 17th Karmapa as such, after the 16th Karmapa’s Labrang died of a heart attack.

      Both Situ and Shamar Rinpoches were in their twenties throughout this period of time which made Thrangu, Akong and Khenpo Karthar Rinpoches the adults in the room as such, which Chen Li-an then approached as a Chinese convert to the Tibetan Buddhism of our Rinpoches, Thrangu, Akong and Khenpo Karthar.

      All he had to say to these then middle aged men was “Come Home”, which all three Rinpoches did, and Tibetan Buddhism with Chinese characteristics have been the norm for us in the West ever since.

      • Dear Bill,
        can you really ignore so much of the truth? Shamar grew up separate from the mess that Situ and Akong created. And there are more than 900 centres following him and his choice for Karmapa, and we are successful without any Chinese influence whatsoever. The Buddhism the 16th Karmapa dreamed of and that you are looking for is alive and well. I respect you have had your differences with the Sharmapa, but you cannot ignore the results of his work.


        • No disrespect to your Shamar Rinpoche but he was just a kid after the 16th Karmapa passed away and Chen Li-an turned Thrangu, Akong and Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche Rinpoches. The alternate intentional communities that you speak of have no connection to the 16th Karmapa’s legacy as such. They are the legacy of Shamar Rinpoche’s collaboration with Lama Ole in the aftermath of China’s disruption of the selection of the 16th Karmapa’s successor. The 16th Karmapa’s vision was not reducible to the cult of personality they created around their Karmapa. Chen li-an divided and conquered the Karma Kagyu sect in the 1980’s

          under Shamar Rinpoche’s watch. He didn’t see it until it was too late. As Trungpa said if you are following someone you are doing it wrong. This is what the 16th Karmapa in fact believed. If he wanted us to follow him he would have never left Rumtek in the first place. The 16th Karmapa was a paradigm breaker first and foremost. These are facts. Unlike your so-called truth they can be proven wrong as such.

          You are a follower of Karmapa Thaye Dorje. You belong to a cult of personality. This is how the larger society sees you. Shamar Rinpoche understood this. I know this because we discussed it at Zion, IL in 1981. I wanted to fly back to India with him after we met. Rinpoche told me that the 16th Karmapa didn’t need more Western followers. This was before the Karmapa passed. What Rinpoche told me to instead remain here in Chicago instead. He predicted a future role for me and Westerners like myself, college educated young people whom as adults would have careers, families and so on, in the future. Your 900 centers has nothing to do with this future, if you drill down into the facts of the matter. They are the product of a counter-culture phenomenon Westerners long ago relegated to the dustbin of history and should be today regarded as such.

          • Dear bill say what you will about Lama Ole but I doubt very much that any of your lama’s activities could stack up to that if his. He has give me refuge to over a million students (official count was stopped years ago as it was just too many), Powha to a hundred thousand and has 700 centers and retreat centres all around the world. And I can’t count all the stupas. He has traveled twice around the planet every year for the last 40 years and only now at 76 is he slowing down. No other lama has accomplished for Buddhism and the 16th Karmapa what he and his wife Hannah have. His students meditate all the time everyone practices the ngondro and Guru Yoga many of them have done 2 or 3 and some 5 or 6. They are educated people with jobs and families active in daily life and the dharma. They may not be the “Western Buddhism” for all but they are at the very least the starting point for many. Lama Ole has without a doubt carried the 16th Karmapa’s activity further than any others lama. And to reduce him to a cult of personality or a disruption is an insult to the Buddha Dharma. Only time will tell for sure whether his and the Sharmapa’s Karmpa will leave a lasting legacy but the prognosis is already very good. Respectfully Bill, your so called version of truth is often filled with anger or at least that’s how it reads from my perspective. Maybe we are both somehow correct?


            • Attack me if you wish. I say here that Ole founded a counter-culture cult of personality as someone with a degree in Sociology. Own it for those were the times Ole and I lived in. I know this because I lived through these times myself.

              I speak from experience in this regard. Those were the days. Not that you would know. How could you as a member of said cult of personality as such.

              You live not in the same world as I do but instead an alternative of this man’s creation. This creation did not disrupt the status quo of his time, that which the 16th Karmapa did in his in coming to the West. What Ole did was what so many of us baby boomers whom made the trek he and his wife made to visit the subcontinent in their youth. While the Rinpoche the 16th Karmapa dispatched to Europe to represent him, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso, he instead returned to Europe to create the intentional community for himself and his wife you so creepily evangelize for here.

              Listen to yourself. Only a cult member would go on as you have here singing the man’s praises so. By comparison the life’s work of the 16th Karmapa pales by comparison. But as impressed as you may be with all that Ole and his wife accomplished for himself as a founder of a Buddhist Franchise, his counter-culture brand, it is not why the 16th Karmapa came to the West. If the 16th Karmapa wanted Ole to do as you credit him with this would have precluded said Karmapa from coming to the West in the first place as such. Reasonable people can disagree with my characterization of Ole. That as a member of his cult of personality you can’t agree to disagree on this point speaks volumes to me as a trained observer of social behavior. You just had to go there with me here. You couldn’t just leave my comment alone. You couldn’t resist though. As is typical of the behavior of a member of a cult of personality. Everybody has to agree with the founder of said cult of personality. In lieu of the transformation of the relationship between a guru and disciple in the Karma Kagyu lineage, that which we go through when we practice ngondro and guru yoga as Karma Kagyu you have the relationship you have with Ole which precludes you for seeing him for the man he in fact is and the times he lived in.

              It is precisely this freedom of expression that so characterized life in the West for the 16th Karmapa which convinced him to experience it for himself firsthand. He thought said freedom to question authority to be essential to the future of his lineage as such. Thus in a time in which my generation didn’t trust anyone over thirty, the conventional wisdom of the day, we were so receptive to his person among us with something relevant to share with us. He spoke our language. In freedom we found our common ground with him.

              Like no Tibetan before us the 16th Karmapa saw in our freedom of expression in the West the opportunity to directly point out the true nature of our minds. And so on, the opposite of the so-called truth you subscribe to as such.

              Prove me wrong not by insults but by agreeing to disagree, that which the 16th Karmapa came to the West to experience for himself in his time. This is his legacy, the future he wanted us to bring to fruition after he passed into Parinirvana here. If he wanted us to not question authority, what we were all about as a generation, he would have never left Tibet in the first place.

              • Oh Bill methinks thou dost protest too much. Of course we can agree to disagree, that why I said at the end of my last statement that the truth is likely somewhere in the middle.
                Anyways at the very least one must see that Lama Ole is a very inspiring guy, and he has passed on his inspiration from the 16th Karmapa to many many people. He has done what no other lama has done. He is not for everyone that’s for sure but is is the doorway for many if not all those who do not have a connection to someone in a robe. It is modern Buddhism or lamaism. Call him what you will cult leader or words he doesn’t care. He is just doing what his teacher asked him to do. And to be honest he is far better than a money laundering Chinese Karmapa who can’t keep his lamas in order. Karmapa TTD is far beyond all this, and when you look at it objectively and or through the eye of history, I think it will be clear. But we have to wait to find out. And everyone is a follower of someone or something. It’s a matter of perspective. And in Tibetan Buddhism you have to start somewhere, or did you start nowhere?


  2. elena

    For me (i was born just when the 16th Karmapa died), Lama Ole and Hannah have introduced me to Dharma and have taught me to meditate and try to look after the many and not just myself. Ole has also taught me to challenge my limits and not wish for the limitation of my challenges. It still amazes me how fearless and compassionate he is, and how tireless in teaching everything he knows and has experienced until 4 am – and he is 76. I have been their student for over 2 decades and never have i experienced Ole saying one thing and doing another. I am not “following” him, he is not my leader, if he told me to jump off a bridge I wouldn’t. I have been “checking him out” for 20+ years and has always been consistent, joyful, fearless and compassionate. He has also exemplified a good “eye” in seeing who OTD is and who TTD. The latter has never been involved in any “controversial” story, has not recognized hundreds of tulkus, has been consistent and also shows what amazes me to the core: a compassionate nature for everything and everyone, even at the smallest of opportunity. You ask him a “technical” question and his answer is from an extraordinary angle about the benefit of all beings..
    I say the above not to defend Ole and his activity – both of which do and would manifest without my comment here. i say the above as an intro about me as i would like to ask: Bill, in your respected opinion, for a person that has not met the 16th Karmapa in this life, who would be a good lama to teach me (or a young person today) the Dharma? It is not a tricky question, i honestly ask you. I have been reading your blog for quite some time now, and i enjoy both your posts and the discussions taking place in the comments below. And i think you and some other people who had been students of the 16th Karmapa (not only on your blog, but elsewhere too) always conclude that nobody is continuing the legacy of the 16th Karmapa.. i keep reading things like : Sharmapa was young and woke up too late, or Situ, Akong et al sold themselves to the chinese, OTD and his labrang are serving the chinese and money launder, TTD is not exemplifying any of the 16th Karmapa’s qualities, Lama Ole is the head of a cult and so on.. So, in your respected opinion, who should a young person (or a person who is older but only got interested in Buddhism after the 16th passed to parinirvana) be asking to teach them the Dharma? Who has kept the Kaguy lineage and teachings intact and has not washed it down with chinese noodles? who is consistent in what they say and what they do? who is (and has students who are) well balanced and active for the benefit of others and happy in life? is there anyone like this after 1981?

    Thank you!

  3. Dear Elena, wow thank you what a great question. I could not agree with you more. Has there ever in Tibetan history been such a lama who is so approachable and easy to understand for so many people? Dear Bill I understand he is not for you and this is more than ok. But for those many whom he can reach, should he not be a lama for them? And if not then who should teach them all? We all want the dharma with out Chinese noodles and dirty money.


    • Elena

      Hi QP, thank you for taking the time and your comment 🙂

      I wouldn’t care if Lama Ole had less students than the innumerous he has. For me this is not “THE” criterion for a good dharma teacher, although, of course, i totally respect both a) Ole’s selflessness in teaching us all, building his direct relationship with each one of us individually, visiting all centres worldwide once or twice a year and, b) since this is what the 16th Karmapa asked him to do, to open centres in the west, his devotion to his teacher. But it could be that he had half the students and i would still value more his effortless joy and highest level of functioning. This is what i’m looking for in me 🙂
      My question is more addressed to the Buddhists like Bill, who have been students of the 16th K AND firmly believe that we in the west can practice the dharma and be good kagyu practitioners. The ones, like Bill, who say “it’s about us” (in the west).
      I then cannot but make the comparison to Ole, who is also such an advocate and exemplar at it. He doesn’t wear robes, he doesn’t behave in an exotic way, he never hides anything about himself, he diesn’t look for tibetan (or other) support, he doesn’t care to be politically correct, he is showing compassion at every opportunity, he embraces and promotes our western culture, technology and science, he is very firm and consistent in saying that we in the west are worthy and able students of the Buddha Dharma and in fact the ones with a very favourable karma because we have the most amazing conditions such as freedom, democracy, sex equality, social care systems embedded for the less fortunate, and peace (all of which -as far as i know, the 16th Karmapa also valued and admired in our part of the world) and therefore we can practice the vajrayana way limitlessly. So what’s the “discrepancy”? How come some call him a cult leader and me (and you QP! Hehe!) “sheep following his personality”.. (note: i am not offended at all, really). Of course Ole has a personality, don’t we all? Didn’t the 16th Karmapa? Why aren’t his (16th K) followers called “sheep”? And at the end of the day – the 16th K passed to parinirvana in 1981; what now? No teacher for us? No teacher means no guru yoga, no vajrayana. Who has the authority (and the “enlightenment”!) to declare “the end”?
      Are we supposed to long for “those times” and linger “in them”? Life is impermanence, life is awareness here and now – is it not this what the dharma (and quantum physics and therefore our western science) teach us in terms of time and matter?
      I apologise if this is too long, i honestly just want to understand “what now?” according to Bill, a respectable student of the 16th Karmapa, now that the latter is not available to teach me directly (although one could argue that (via a student of his, Ole) HE ensured that he had a kagyu center near me when i was 17 and interested in what the Buddha taught).
      But my question still remains.
      And lastly, i would really like to thank you, Bill, for creating this platform and for your unconventional angle on all matters pertaining tibetan buddhism. We need fresh angles away from exotic customs, politics, money, power games and, of course, anything Chinese. We have the best conditions one could wish for, here in the west, to work with our mind, to challenge our limits, to break all our beloved concepts, to reach enlightenment for the benefit of all. We need teachers who teach us to be independent, joyfull, fearless, compassionate, who teach us the value of practicing and reason for enlightenment and who do all these constantly and consistently. Who would be one such teacher in your respected opinion, dear Bill?

      Thank you!
      Karmapa Chenno to all beings!

      • Elena , I could not agree with you more. You have so eloquently written and expressed how many feel. I do understand that your question was for Bill as was mine.

        I would also like to Thank you Bill for the opportunity to openly express my thoughts here on you blog. Hats off to Bill and his coming answer?


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