Biogryphy of Akong Rinpoche: The Special Connection with the XVIth Gyalwang Karmapa

The Palpung Transmissions and Rinpoché's Pure Samaya

As mentioned above, in 1959 Akong Rinpoché was one of the very few chosen to receive the once-in-a-lifetime protector transmissions from the Karmapa, even though there were scores of tulkus present at Palpung who were much more “eminent” than himself. It is not appropriate to discuss the nature of these transmissions in a public document such as this but those familiar with Vajrayana will understand the exceptional and powerful bond of trust and responsibility that this implied between the Karmapa and Akong Rinpoché as well as between Akong Rinpoché and the Kagyu lineage. It made little sense to the other rinpochés present that this relatively-unknown tulku should be chosen yet, in hindsight, it made every sense when one considers Rinpoché’s later roles both in bringing dharma to the modern world and in his powerful participation in the XVIth Karmapa's time in Europe and the story of the XVIIth  Karmapa’s succession.

Akong Rinpoché’s absolute devotion to the Karmapa is legendary, as was his activity on the Karmapa’s behalf. In general, Rinpoché nearly always played down any of his own achievements and was inclined to speak of his own faults rather than his qualities and to retort by pointing out his own shortcomings whenever people tried to praise him. However, as an exception to this, he stated on many occasions over the years that the one thing he could honestly say in his own favour was that he had maintained a perfectand pure samaya with the XVIth Karmapa and that, for that reason, the transmissions of empowerments that he gave—and that he had received from the Karmapa—were worthwhile ones, even though

“I never had the time to really do these practices myself”.

As a tiny and rather anecdotal instance of this, the author recalls that at one point during the Karmapa’s 1977 European tour, the latter had asked Akong Rinpoché to remain behind for a few minutes in the bus in which we were travelling, to care for his dogs. Life became busy in the place we were visiting and people started asking where Akong Rinpoché was, as his management skills were needed. I searched for him and eventually found him still in the bus and told him people were asking for him...he should come. He explained about the dogs. I suggested that His Holiness probably had forgotten and that I could look after them until one of the Karmapa’s attendants could come for the dogs, freeing Akong Rinpoché to go inside. He absolutely refused, saying

“His Holiness told me to stay and I will not leave until he himself has given the instruction, even if I have to stay here for days. The guru’s command is the guru’s command and my duty is to obey.”

I had to go and disturb the Karmapa to get him to say that Rinpoché could be relieved of his duty. Only then would he budge. He literally took each word of the Karmapa as pure dharma and as sacred instruction, just as Kongtrul Rinpoché describes one should do, in Torch of Certainty. That moment also served as an insight and a teaching for the author. .

The Secret Yogi and a Special Emanation

Although it was never formally stated on paper [1] , Katia and I came to understand that Akong Rinpoché was one of the XVIth Karmapa’s current emanations in the world. This became clear to us through Rinpoché’s own disclosure, through what the Karmapa made clear to me and through what a few of the visiting rinpochés confirmed. In this respect, the XVIth Gyalwang had at one time laughed loudly, in his inimitable and beautiful way, when asked whether he had other emanations in our world,  and said yes, many of them, at least nine there in India [2] . These other emanations of the Karmapa enable a vast range of activities to take place, outwith the scope naturally limited by the flagship role of being monastic head of the Karma Kamtsang tradition. Akong Rinpoché was undoubtedly one of these.

Visiting teachers, such as Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoché and Khenpo Tsultim Gyamtso Rinpoché, not to mention Rinpoché himself, often described Akong Rinpoché as a “secret yogi” ,  [3] meaning not an obvious yogi wearing the cotton cloth or yogi robe and living in cave with long hair etc. but rather one who has the appearance of a worldly person yet behind the scenes is making much dharma happen... and profound dharma at that. The very nature of the “ordinary” appearance enables something powerful to happen. Were the secret services of nations not so much in poor repute these days, one could describe the sbas pa’i rnal ‘byor as the “secret agents” of dharma. To understand this point is far from easy in the case of someone like Akong Rinpoché. On one hand he was a prominent public figure and became more and more so as he advanced in years. He was not—as some secret yogis are—totally “under cover” by any means. Yet on another hand his secret yogi activity was constant and significant.

There are two aspects to consider that may be helpful at this point, namely the nature of his secret activity to help dharma and beings and also the personal accomplishment and divine inspiration aspects behind what secret yogis do:


Behind the obvious and manifold activities of Akong Rinpoché, as described in this text and as may be described in any outer official biography, was a powerful inner and secret forceenabling the dharma to implant itself, in Scotland and elsewhere, overcoming powerful local (national) energies of resistance to dharma by skilful means of the four activities [4], protecting the Kagyu lineage and especially so in respect of the Karmapa succession and protecting disciples in their dharma practice. 

All this took place on a subtle level of reality and did so behind an appearance of great ordinariness. Akong Rinpoché was well-known as being very approachable and as someone never inclined to airs and graces. Realising that people often use notions of spirituality and religion to enhance their fantasies rather than reduce them, he played down any ides of his own spiritual power and spiritual influence, often saying things like, 

“People ask me what my vision of things is—my vision of the future—but I have no visions. I tell them this again and again but they do not believe me,” 
”I have no miracles.” 
However, he did “have miracles” and these were witnessed personally by the author and have been recounted to the author as personal experiences by others. Most particularly, although he may not have had clear and detailed visions of the future, he certainly had his finger on the pulse of the present and sensed what needed to be done. On several occasions, at his request, I had to contact his disciples in other countries or continents in order to warn them of a danger coming that they did not anticipate but that he suddenly sensed. This literally saved the lives of people. Sometimes this happened when there had been no contact for weeks or months.Rinpoché’s own power of samaya and his compassionate connection with his disciples made these things happen spontaneously.


This second aspect is connected with the above. Through Akong Rinpoché’s own pure samaya with the Kagyu lineage and the other lineages he held, he literally became a tool in the hands of the pure dharma forces at work in this universe: forces such as Guru Rinpoché or the Healing Buddha. One can view this in a "bottom-up" or "top-down" way.

To illustrate the first, one retreater once asked Lama Yeshe Losal ,
“Sometimes Rinpoché seems just like an ordinary person, talking or working with you in a very regular way, and then at other moments, such as during empowerments, he seems like Buddha himself. How does that work?”
Lama Yeshe’s reply was,
“Yes, it’s like he has a switch and can turn it on whenever he wants and then turn it off again.”
This bottom-up approach sees his ability to “become buddha” as his own yogic accomplishment.

The top-down view is not totally different but puts us in a perspective of the macro forces at work—for good or evil—in this world and shows how a pure being, such as Rinpoché, can be used, swept up by a current of enlightened energy, in order to perform the necessary activities of the great buddhas and bodhisattvas. One small illustration of this was the Guru Rinpoché activity to combat the harmful physical and spiritual effects of smoking, as expressed in several previously-concealed texts . The author’s belief, through observation, is that Akong Rinpoché played a key role behind the scenes in raising world awareness of the harm of tobacco, as well as doing so more obviously in his dharma teachings and personal advice to smokers. Rinpoché possessed one of these terma texts [5] about smoking—a rare and old piece of dark blue silk, on which the words were hand-written by Guru Rinpoché’s consort, Yeshe Tsogyal. He showed this to the author in the early-1970s, along with a translation that he had had made. It explained how, in this age when cities are illuminated at night-time and palls of smoke and pollution lay over them, Avalokitesvara and Manjushri would jointly emanate their power to eliminate smoking. The author’s belief is that this particular energy animated Akong Rinpoché and worked through him and in the world to raise awareness of and concern for the nocive effects of tobacco. One localised effect of this was that many people who had been previously unable to quit smoking, including the author, managed to do so “through his blessing”.

[1]  One of the reasons for mentioning here.
[2]   These emanations of various sorts, known as birth incarnations and various incarnations are one of the qualities of high-level bodhisattvas. This statement should not be confused with the erroneous argument for “two Karmapas” evoked by Thaye Dorje followers in recent years. The main Kagyu scholars have made it clear that there is only one Karmapa in the sense of an incarnation heading the Kamtsang tradition.
sbas pa’i rnal ‘byor[4]   The four modes of conduct of the yogi: pacifying, increasing, empowering and subduing.
[5]   I believe he later offered this rare text to a lama of the Nyingma tradition but I am unsure. The translation of this particular text was loaned to someone by Rinpoché and never returned. I have seen several tobacco-termas online, such as those held by Dudjom Rinpoché, but none as comprehensive and striking as the one he showed me. 

 Rinpoché's Role in the 1974 visit to Europe of the Gyalwang Karmapa

Now that the ground was sufficiently prepared by the visits of the Very Ven. Kalu Rinpoché, the Karmapa agreed to visit Europe on his return from the USA. Shortly before the arrival of the Karmapa, Samye Ling had the honour of receiving Sister Palmo (Freda Bedi), or mummy as she was so widely known. The residents finally met the person who had been so kind to Rinpoché and so instrumental in bringing him to the UK. She was also able to interpret for the Karmapa and to share her own deep experience of Tibetan Buddhism and her insights into its practice. As she had truly been like a second mother to Rinpoché, her own children had become like his siblings.

Thus it was that, in response to Akong Rinpoché’s many requests, the XVIth Gyalwang Karmapa first set foot in Europe in Scotland in late 1974. He landed at Prestwick airport, to be greeted as a VIP, on the tarmac, by Akong Rinpoché accompanied by the author. His Holiness and his relatively small entourage were then whisked directly to Samye Ling where he spent some three weeks, giving refuge, vows, empowerments and some teachings . Those of us fortunate enough to be at the heart of this visit and responsible for its good running discovered not only the magnificent and unequalled qualities of the Karmapa but also saw how close Akong Rinpoché was to him and the deep affection and trust shown by His Holiness for Rinpoché. At Akong Rinpoché’s request, the Karmapa conferred the empowerments of Milarepa, Karma Pakshi, Sanjay Minla, Manjushri (Mawi Senge) and Chenrezik. He also conferred the Vajra Crown ceremony, three times in Eskdalemuir and once in a public hall in Edinburgh.

One significant moment took place during this visit, concerning Akong Rinpoché's reluctance to teach and the Karmapa's command for him to teach. The story is perhaps worth telling and can be found here

After Samye Ling, Akong Rinpoché accompanied the Karmapa to France, where Rinpoché, Katia and the author helped organise the new Paris centre so it could receive the Karmapa properly. After visiting the land just donated to him in the Dordogne and Aix-en-Provence with Akong Rinpoché as his main facilitator, the Karmapa continued to Italy where Rinpoché accompanied him in a private audience with the then Pope, Paul VI. Based on his experience during this first brief, trial trip to Europe, the XVIth Karmapa subsequently appointed Akong Rinpoché as organiser for a much more extensive visit to Europe. That took place in 1977.  

Rinpoché's Role in the 1977 visit to Europe of the Gyalwang Karmapa: Part One ... Preparations

The Karmapa had allocated some six months for his tour, from June 1977 through January 1978. As the Karmapa party would comprise some twelve people, including the IIIrd Jamgon Rinpoché, and as the European tour looked like it would include over twenty destinations, stretching from Italy to Norway, north-south, and from Wales to Vienna, east-west, Rinpoché decided that the most practical and economical way to travel would be by bus. He asked his student Rager Ossel to find a suitable second-hand bus and have it fitted specially for the occasion. He wanted one side to be just for the Karmapa and Jamgon Rinpoché, with large, comfortable armchairs and cupboard space for storage, and the other side to be for the Karmapa's own party, the support teamand those other lamas from Europe who might accompany the party for a brief while.

Rinpoché’s student John (Jock) Miller went specially to learn to drive buses for this trip and Ole Nydahl proposed his brother, Bjorn, who already had the required license. As the itinerary was established, Rinpoché thought it best to share the overall costs of the trip on a “per-night” bases between the centres, groups or individuals inviting the Karmapa. Most people agreed but a problem arose with the French groups under Kalu Rinpoché. This was one major factor influencing Rinpoché’s later decision not to become involved in France:

“France is not my karma”, as he put it .

Although Akong Rinpoché never had one moment of problem with Kalu Rinpoché himself (on the contrary, they worked beautifully together and with mutual respect), he did have difficulties with the main French administrators of the French groups and in particular with Denys Esseric , who blatantly declared that their centres need not pay for the flights or contribute towards the bus and transport costs. “We will pick them up at the frontier in our cars and deliver them to the next destination.” Although Akong Rinpoché insisted that this was unfair and not creating good samaya, Denys and the others would not budge. Thus, except for the time spent visiting the Kalu centres, the tour took place based around the bus. The fact that Akong Rinpoché bore the brunt of all the arguing and dissent on this issue made it possible for the Karmapa to visit the Kalu centres unaffected by, and unaware of, their decisions.

The other main people busily if unofficially involved in the organisation of this visit were the couple Ole and Hannah Nydahl, who had many contacts in northern Europe. They also had language skills (German and Nordic languages and some Tibetan) helpful for the tour. It is often said that the behaviour around the Karmapa creates powerful karma—a point often impressed upon us by Rinpoché. Akong Rinpoché already noticed during both the preparations for the trip and the trip itself that the conduct of Ole in particular was sometimes troubling, although often indispensible or truly helpful. Rinpoché told the author several times,

“He will be very helpful for beginners but if it goes to his head and he tries to do more, it could be dangerous.”

Jamgon Rinpoché told me almost exactly the same thing and I often saw him shaking his head sadly as he watched Ole using the Karmapa connection to make himself a centre of attention. Since that epic visit, Ole and Hannah and Lama Denys have self-promoted themselves to high positions, broken ranks with their lineage masters and become controversial leaders of what many people see as cults. The author witnessed how hard the Gyalwang Karmapa, Jamgon Rinpoché and Akong Rinpoché worked,as skilfully as they could, to try to prevent this happening. However, their counsel fell on deaf ears.

* * *

Following the powerful five-week retreat led by Akong Rinpoché in February and April 1977, the author and Katia were sent to France to prepare first for the French long retreat at Pleige and then, following a change of plans, to the new Dordogne property to help prepare it for the Karmapa’s visit. Akong Rinpoché eventually joined us there. Lama Gendun Rinpoché and the Karmapa’s nephew, Jigme-la, were already in residence. In theory, it was Jigme-la’s responsibility to prepare the place (an old farmhouse and land) for the visit but it was soon clear that little was happening and things could never be ready on time, at that pace. I witnessed Akong Rinpoché’s delicate respect for Jigme-la’s position but at the same time total frustration at the laid-back and unaware state of the community of volunteers. His solution was brilliant: to lead by example. So Rinpoché set to work with extreme diligence, not shying from any physical task, much to the surprise of the community who had seen their resident Tibetans as brilliant examples of inactivity, physically. The catalytic effect of Rinpoché’s industry awakened an enthusiasm in the group and they joined in more and more. Further, Rinpoché started giving talks to make it clearer how significant the Karmapa’s visit would be and how everything had to be done to make it a success. A new dynamic emerged and the centre ended up ready for His Holiness.

Rinpoché's Role in the 1977 visit to Europe of the Gyalwang Karmapa: Part Two ... The Actual Tour

The Karmapa party arrived in Paris on June 20th 1977. Akong Rinpoché was there to greet him and the Karmapa party was taken by the Kagyu coach to the Dordogne. In that initial visit, the Karmapa discussed further the future of the land, the legal steps that needed to be taken and the consecration ceremonies that he would lead later on in the trip. Akong Rinpoché coordinated the meetings between the Karmapa, the land donor Mr Benson and the solicitor M. Lebeau, with Katia acting as interpreter. During this visit, the Karmapa bestowed the Vajra Crown ceremony and empowerments of Manjushri, Green Tara and Red Chenrezik.

The next stop was Paris and Kagyu Dzong. The author and Katia were not yet part of the tour team. We had come mainly to help the Paris group organise itself as well as for the pleasure of seeing the Karmapa. The Paris visit was going welland, mainly through formal politeness, we asked if it would be alright to follow the group on to its next destination, in Belgium. To our surprise, Rinpoché said,

“I will ask His Holiness”.

This seemed a little over-the-top for a very ordinary request. Rinpoché then informed us—to our total amazement and joy—that we were to join the tour, the author as an organisor and secretary to His Holiness and Katia in order to promote the major property that had been donated by Mr Benson as the future seat of the Karmapa in Europe. This was one illustration, among many, of how Rinpoché acted in the presence of his guru: all he wanted was to be a pure and efficient element in the Karmapa mandala—a vehicle of the Karmapa’s will and not his own.

A similar incident occurred a little way into the tour. The Karmapa had asked Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso to leave aside his teaching duties in Rumtek and join the Europe tour to give formal dharma teachings, leaving His Holiness free to give Refuge, empowerments and bodhisattva vow. We had heard something of this khenpo, who had a formidable reputation for strictness (at the time). After his arrival and once we had organised ourselves to join the tour , we found ourselves in the bus, in the good company of the illustrious lamas and sangha of the party. It should be explained that, until that point, Akong Rinpoché had been seemingly unreasonably strict with us whenever we enquired about studying Tibetan dharma or language, insisting that all our spare time had to be spent meditating and practising, without other distractions. Although, during the period 1971-1977, he probably had not clearly foreseen the future that would happen for us (i.e. to become scholars and interpreters) after the six-month tour, he had doubtless intuited the need to take us as far as was humanly possible in our sitting meditation and Mahamudra practice so as to have, later, some valid practice experience to bring the words of the teachings to life. We will always be grateful for that period of strict, uncompromising training, even though it made less sense at the time, as he time after time poured a cold shower on any other investment of interest in something other than practise itself.

Thus, we asked if, now that we were going to be travelling with the monks and lamas for six months, it might not be the right time to exchange some English language for Tibetan language with the Tibetans on board. Once again, and somewhat to our surprise, Rinpoché said,

“I’ll ask His Holiness”.

The reply, from the top, was that rather than casually learn Tibetan from the others, we should take classes each day with Khenpo Tsultrim. This was to have far more repercussions than we imagined, for all of us (see dedicated page) and shaped Khenpo’s destiny, our own and that of many people. Whether the decision was entirely the Karmapa’s or whether Akong Rinpoché made suggestions that the Karmapa agreed to, we will never know.

The tour proceded through venues in Belgium, Holland, Germany, Denmark,Sweden, Norway, Denmark again, Holland again, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, many separate destinations in France, Belgium and the UK. Akong Rinpoché often went off in advance of the main party to make sure all was well prepared for the Karmapa and I often accompanied him. After some time, as the bus was rather slow, the Karmapa often took to travelling with Jamgon Rinpoché in a private car but sometimes travelled in the bus, which became also the home of various birds and small dogs given to him or bought by him.During the tour, Akong Rinpoché impressed upon everyone ,again and again, the importance of making everything for the Gyalwang Karmapa as pure, perfect and excellent as possible, because all karma to do with him was exceptionally powerful. This led to a very interesting incident in Denmark, where the person supposed to host the Karmapa for one night was a healer who used magnetised water.

Akong Rinpoché, arriving some hours in advance, found that the room and in particular the bed planned for the Karmapa was nowhere good enough and needed to be replaced by a new and larger one. The person concerned became very upset and defensive, refusing to change the bed and saying that it was “good enough for himself and if it was not good enough for the Karmapa then he did not want the Karmapa in his house”. Rinpoché, appalled, explained that in Tibet the Karmapas, in all their incarnations, had always stayed in great monasteries or a huge monastic camp and never in private homes; it was truly a great privilege to receive him and no cost or effort should be spared. It would be a great blessing for many lifetimes to come. However, as the person would not budge on his decision, Akong Rinpoché had no choice: he was obliged to cancel the Karmapa’s visit to that man's house. Within hours, arrangements were made to stay elsewhere, in a very makeshift way . The whole party was appalled at the man’s attitude and the karma he would make. "Instant karma" in fact then occurred for the water-magnetiser. The following week, out of the blue, a major newspaper made a mockery of him, with a cartoon showing him bottling water at the kitchen tap and putting dollars-sign labels on the bottle. He was effectively ruined.  

Rinpoché's Role in the 1977 visit to Europe of the Gyalwang Karmapa: Part Three ... Reflections on Rinpoché's Qualities

Throughout the journey, Akong Rinpoché was the perfect example of all three levels of buddhadharma:

i) Very aware of the powerful karma that was being established day after day, for individuals, for dharma groups, for nations and for Europe as a whole, he worked tirelessly to help people receive the Karmapa in the best of ways. He had the Karmapa’s sangha treated with the proper respect and did much of the “gardening work” that would enable the seeds of blessings sown by the Karmapa to take root.

ii) As a bodhisattva, he set an example of selflessness and service, acting with strength yet humility and showing all the key qualities in practice, i.e. he was generous, immaculately-behaved, forbearing of all difficulties encountered without ever becoming angry or upset, extremely diligent night and day, always the image of meditative peace and lastly, very wise in his handling of the situations that occurred in this tour for which he was primarily responsible.

iii) He displayed a perfect respect for the Karmapa throughout, becoming a constant example of how a disciple respects and serves a guru. The Karmapa’s “job” was to be the teacher of all the tulkus and this often involved teasing them and makingthem do silly things, as a counterpart to the way in which they were all put on a pedestal in their own dharma-worlds. Akong Rinpoché had relatively long hair at the time—at one point more like an Afro haircut—and His Holiness would sometimes pull him around by the hair and call him Africa Lama. At the time, we all attributed this to Rinpoché’s hair but it turned out to be another of the Karmapa’s veiled predicitions, as Akong Rinpoché was later to bring the Kagyu dharma to Southern Africa, a connection that was yet to happen at the time of the tour.

Rinpoché also acted as the Karmapa’s main dharma protector, ensuring his safety throughout (there had been threats, among them bomb threats and personal threats). In one incident, a psychotic person broke into the Karmapa’s company, smoking a cigarette. It was frightening yet fearlessly Rinpoché tackled him, removed the cigarette and extinguished it by grinding it into his own hand and then escorted the person out of the room. The same man turned up again later, in Scotland, where it took five policemen and three police doctor’s injections to subdue him. 

Akong Rinpoché was fearless and did not hesitate for one moment to put his own life on the line to protect His Holiness.The reader is left to imagine the tremendous responsibility and work involved in this tour. There were many different venues, with accommodation, food and logistics to be sorted out adequately each time. There were many meetings, including one with the Austrian president and others with highest-ranking officials such as archbishops. There were visa and other formalities to be dealt with when travelling from country to country, made more complicated by His Holiness travelling on a diplomatic passport and some of his entourage only having a Bhutanese travel document—a single sheet of rice paper. There were teachings and empowerments to organise and so on and so forth. Rinpoché’s team for this was a small one and he bore total responsibility. He succeeded brilliantly through his untiring diligence. Also, all the while he had to remain in contact with Samye Ling so that it be well prepared for His Holiness’s stay, almost at the end of the trip.

The following are some of the empowerments and teachings organised by Akong Rinpoché during the six months:

Dordogne, France ..... Vajra Crown, Manjushri Mawi Senge, Green Tara Red Chenrezik Antwerp, Belgium..... Vajra Crown, Chenrezik Manjushri (given by Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoché) 
Brussels, Belgium ..... Milarepa, Karma Pakshi 
Kiel, Germany ..... Chenrezik 
Oslo, Norway ..... Amitabha (K16), Vajrasattva (JKR) 
Stockholm, Sweden ..... Chenrezik, Gampopa, Green Tara 
Copenhagen, Denmark .....Vajravarahi, Gampopa, Vajrasattva (lung only for Shamar text) Teachings on the Direct Path to Enlightenment (JKR) 
Hamtoren (Vleuten), Holland ..... Chenrezik, Gyalwa Gyamtso, Karma Pakshi, Vajrasattva and Manjushri. 
Germany (Frankfurt?) ..... Milarepa and Amitayus 
Rikon, Switzerland ..... Guru Rinpoché 
Dhagpo Kagyu Ling, France ..... Chakrasamvara and Mahakala 
Brussels, Belgium ..... Vajrasattva, Tara, Karma Pakshi and Chenrezik 
Samye Ling ..... Chakrasamvara, Vajravarahi, Mahakala & Vajrasattva

A major event in the tour was the consecration of the land at Dhagpo Kagyu Ling in early November, 1977. Under Rinpoché’s guidance, Katia Holmes had been promoting the new property of His Holiness and advertising the consecration event throughout the tour up to that point. Some five hundred people were expected and the logistics were correspondingly to scale. Akong Rinpoché could be seen everywhere, organising the raising of prayer flags, sorting out the large marquee that has been rented, going back and forth between the Chateau de Chaban, where the Karmapa and Jamgon Rinpoché were lodged and receiving people, and the new land, down the hill from the chateau ... and so on and so forth. Again, all went well.
The above, which is by no means exhaustive, gives an idea of the major transmission of Kagyu teachings that took place during this epic journey. It was history in the making and Akong Rinpoché played a very important role in it indeed. Decades later, after the break-away of the Shamarpa faction, Akong Rinpoché was to become the only Kagyu rinpoché with unbroken samaya who was resident in Europe to re-transmit these sacred empowerments, received so purely. It was because there was no one else, other than lamas visiting occasionally, that Rinpoché made it one of his main tasks to give empowerments in the last two decades of his life.

Rinpoché's Role in the 1977 visit to Europe of the Gyalwang Karmapa: Part Four ... Founding the first Samye Dzongs and launching Khenpo Tsultrim

Samye Dzongs

Carlo Luyckx and Brigitte Cornelis were already Akong Rinpoché’s disciples at the time of the tour and they had been part of the group of people organising the Karmapa’s first passage through Belgium and the events in Antwerp and Brussels. Rinpoché gave them the task of finding and preparing a Brussels centre by the time of His Holiness’s return, later on in the year. Armed with little else but great faith, they managed the semingly impossible and established the first satellite centre of Samye Ling, not known yet as a Samye Dzong but named by the Karmapa as Karma Shedrup Darjay Ling, in Rue Capouillet in the St Gilles district. It remains one of the major centres to this day and has received many very eminent masters. Likewise, the tour saw the birth of the Barcelona centre Karma Shedrup Gyamtso Ling.

The Karmapa did not visit Spain but received a group of Akong Rinpoché’s students from Barcelona, including the then Lourdes Clapès (now Lama Tsondru), and this gave rise to the Barcelona Samye Dzong in the same year.

The Birth of the “Africa” Connection

"Mummy" Sister Palmo had already visited South Africa and was probably the first Kagyu sangha to have gone there. During his stays in Samye Ling, the XVIth Gyalwang Karmapa had received Geoffrey Hardacre seeking advice on furthering the buddhadharma in which he had become involved in southern Africa. A first response to this had been, following discussion with Akong Rinpoché, to allow Ole Nydahl to visit and help beginners there understand more about the basics of Tibetan Buddhism. As mentioned above, the Karmapa was already playfully calling Akong Rinpoché Africa lama but at the time the future implications of this were only known to the Karmapa himself.

A connection was already being formed indirectly with Zimbabwe and South Africa through the academic Rob Nairn who, following a training in Southern Buddhism, was now a student of Akong Rinpoché and was already, along with Louis van Loon, a founder and pioneer of Buddhism in Southern Africa. The unsatisfactory nature of Ole Nydahl’s behaviour in Africa, as the self-styled “representative of the Karmapa in Africa” led to the XVIth Karmapa appointing Akong Rinpoché as his official representative to that continent and instructing him to teach there.

The launch of Khenpo Tsultrim and of More Formal Dharma Studies

During the 1977 tour, Katia and I gradually fell into a study rhythm with Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso, usually involving a daily class (which had to be learned by heart for the next day), based on working systematically through the Tibetan and dharma meanings of Gampopa’s Ornament of Precious Liberation. From time to time, other people sat in or joined in . The process worked well, largely thanks to Khenpo-la’s teaching skills, so much so that, to her astonishment, the Gyalwang Karmapa asked Katia, whose Tibetan had improved by leaps and bounds, to interpet for him during the November visit to Belgium and the new Brussels centre. His regular interpreter, Achi, had excellent and very well-mannered English but, being a young Tibetan brought up in a Catholic school in India, had almost no dharma knowledge and was very lost when it came to the rare dharma talks His Holiness gave. In obvious frustration the Karmapa stopped Achi at one point and called up Katia. He afterwards told her that she had a special karma for Tibetan language and translation work and should follow it up.

In some three months of study with Khenpo-la, Katia had equalled or surpassed those people who had spent years with Tibetan in India. One reason that this is mentioned is due to the consequences of that daily study class. Towards the end of the tour, Akong Rinpoché suggested to the Karmapa that Khenpo Tsultrim should stay on in Europe, in the Dordogne, rather than return to Rumtek with him to resume his Shedra duties there. Ken and Katia could study intensively with him for another six months and, at the same time, interpret for him for a class formed out of the people who had “dropped in” on their daily studies during the tour—more than a dozen people who wanted to learn more. The Karmapa thought this a good idea and added that he would tell Acharya Tenpa Negi to come and assist. Tenpa-la was an Indian-born Tibetan who had excellent Tibetan, English, Hindi and Sanskrit. He was the first Tibetan the author had ever met who could quote Shakespeare.

It was thus that the Dordogne gained its Khenpo, already having its great meditator (Lama Gendun) and it was thus that a six-month intensive course was launched in the Chateau de La Poujade. The outcome of the latter was the publication, by us, of two key Kagyu study texts as well as the initial training of those who were to become some of the West’s first translators and interpreters. It also established Khenpo Tsultrim’s connection with the West and led to the opening up of his own unique spiritual activity. All thanks to to Rinpoché’s suggestion!

A Long-Life Prayer (Shapten) for Akong Rinpoché

It should be remembered that—at the time of 1977 Karmapa visit—we were still in very early days of Tibetan Buddhism in the West and that relatively few lamas had visited. The notion of “long-life prayers” for our teachers was one quite new to us and discovered mainly through the visits of Kalu Rinpoché and then the Gyalwang Karmapa.

Katia and myself and a few of the practising members of the Samye Ling community starting wanting to recite such a prayer for Akong Rinpoché and I was delegated to request one from the Gyalwang Karmapa, which I did. He did not say yes, he did not say no, but simply acknowledged our wish. At one point, in late December, I was called up to the day-room used by His Holiness, which was at the time a yoga room in the “New Building” .

Smiling so beautifully and surrounding me with great warmth, the Karmapa said that I had requested it and that he had written it, giving me a page of lined paper with his own writing: three four-line verses of shapten—long life prayer.

Very, very happy and excited, Katia and myself took it to Khenpo Tsultrim, to get help with the translation. Khenpo-la was very struck by the beauty and profundity of the prayer . He said a translation would not be easy and that some terms could be read several ways, some of them very deep. According to him, it was more like a mantra than just a prayer. Nevertheless, and not without some effort, we managed to make a translation and it became the main long-life prayer used forAkong Rinpoché for the following thirty-five years . Furthermore, it was such an accurate and meaningful appreciation of everything not only that Rinpoché was (in 1977) but also of what he was yet to become. it was quite prophetic.

Spreading everywhere the sublime activity of the lineage that transmits realisation of absolute truth, and wearing the armour of pure intention rooted in bodhicitta, you care for beings and look after them. You clearly manifest the teachings of the realisation tradition, fully matured within you. May the truth of your aspirations endure forever.

Holding and upholding the teaching of the practice lineage of the four transmissions and following the profound example of the extraordinary lives of the great masters of our tradition, you nurture beings. Through the power of the truth of your former good deeds, aspirations and prayers, may forever shine this sun whose lights illuminate the teachings of the Victorious One.

Working with inexhaustible clarity of intelligence in an infinity of places, you manifest all sorts of extraordinary skills and qualities in order to conquer the thick darkness of ignorance which obscures the essential nature of beings. We pray that this buddha-emanation which gives us certainty of our own buddha-nature may live long among us.

This prayer was slightly modified in 2013 by the Tai Situpa to become a “swift return” prayer for his next incarnation to appear soon. 

Akong Rinpoché and the XVIth Gyalwang's Passing Away

“I myself had the opportunity to serve him until his passing away in Chicago
and there are many Kagyu rinpochés but somehow my role was important
for the last few years of his life.”

The XVIth Gyalwang Karmapa spent his last weeks in a hospital in Sion, Illinois, and passed away there. Akong Rinpoché was in attendance for much of the time, along with the Karmapa’s four “heart-sons”, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoché and other visiting rinpochés. He shared many intimate moments during the times alone or almost alone with the Karmapa, as the various rinpochés took shifts to serve him and be by his side.

The teams, interestingly, were the following pairs: Akong Rinpoché and the Tai Situpa; Kongtrul Rinpoché and Bardor Tulku; the Kunzik Shamarpa and Tendzin Namgyal. Several important moments and stories emerge from this time in hospital.

The first was that at one point His Holiness called for Akong Rinpoché and Trungpa Rinpoché to join him. He took their hands and placed them together, saying they should reconcile any differences they had as much as possible; such was his wish.

The second moment is a fascinating story. The Karmapa needed regular blood transfusions and insisted on it coming only from those in his close circle of suitable blood type. Akong Rinpoché was one of the donors. At one point, one of the members of the medical team responsible for the transfusion obviously thought that as long as the blood was of the right type it mattered little from whom it came and, ignoring the Karmapa's wish, set up a bag of blood from their bank that was not blood donated by the rinpochés. As soon as it started flowing, reported Akong Rinpoché who was there, the Karmapa looked very wrathful and physically took the drip needle out of his arm saying,

“This is not the rinpochés’ blood but that of an american, an African-American.”

Not of course that there is anything wrong with being American or African-American but simply to point out that the Karmapa knew immediately whose blood it was, just by the “feel” of it or through his “clear knowledge” siddhis. This of course surprised the nursing staff and embarrassed them. They returned with one of the bags specially given and stored for him. As the blood started to flow, he smiled and said, “Ah, this is the blood of my guru!” When checked, it was a bag of blood donated by the Tai Situpa. The previous Situ had been that Karmapa’s guru and the present one, attending him, was to be the guru of his next incarnation.

A third point is that a major three-day public event for January 1981 had been planned (a long time previously) by Akong Rinpoché—in Brussels for the Kunzik Shamarpa. The Shamarpa and Akong Rinpoché were excused from attending the Karmapa in order to allow them to travel to Europe for this event, which the Karmapa wanted to go ahead. However it was during the event that His Holiness’s condition worsened and he passed away. Before leaving, in a private moment with the Karmapa, whose death was now obviously simply a question of time, Akong Rinpoché had asked him to leave word that he (Akong Rinpoché) could have one of his teeth as a relic after his passing . The Karmapa agreed but never had the actual opportunity later to tell his attendants about the "tooth bequest". As Akong Rinpoché himself had not mentioned this to anyone else, he let the matter drop. In the 1990s, during one of his visits to the XVIth Karmapa, the young reincarnation asked him to stay overnight—something difficult for Rinpoché due to the extra altitude of Tsurphu. He normally returned to Lhasa at nights. He stayed, of course, and the next morning the Karmapa gave him one of his milk teeth, that had come out overnight, saying: “I made you a promise before but was unable to keep it. Here it is now.”

Akong Rinpoché told the author that he had never once doubted that Urgyen Trinley was the authentic Karmapa but that this incident astounded even him, with his rock-solid faith.

“Only the Sixteenth Karmapa and myself knew about that,” he told me, “And even I was surprised because it helped me realise that even my own faith could be shocked into something deeper when I thought it was as deep as it could be.”

Another major thing that happened during this final chapter of the Gyalwang Karmapa’s life was that, when all the heart-sons, Akong Rinpoché and Trungpa Rinpoché were present, the Karmapa made it clear that after his passing the four heart-sons should be his regents on an equal footing, probably through a rotating regency, and that the heart-sons should turn to the Very Venerable Kalu Rinpoché for guidance, as he was rich in experience and wisdom and a true holder of the lineage. Although that never happened, exactly like that, the presence of Akong Rinpoché in the Sion hospital at that time when the Karmapa made his own intention clear helps us understand Rinpoché’s efforts in the early 1990s to move the whole succession story forward (see dedicated page).

The body of the Karmapa was flown back to Sikkim from the USA. Special arrangements were made for a stop-over at Heathrow so that Akong Rinpoché and key European followers of the Karmapa could pay homage to the coffin. Rinpoché subsequently attended the formal cremation ceremonies held at Rumtek monastery. 

Akong Rinpoché and the Karmapa Succession

"Now, this particular XVIth Karmapa, who many of us saw during his lifetime, and I myself had the opportunity to serve him until his passing away in Chicago and there are many Kagyu rinpochés but somehow my role was important for the last few years of his life. But I never expected that I would get the job to find the seventeenth. [laughter]. There are several hundred Kagyu reincarnations, much wiser than myself, more learned than myself and many of them far better understanding but, in the end, I had to play a big part in the finding." [1]

Tibetan dharma works first and foremost through the power of the lineages through which its teachings are conveyed. Tibetan Buddhism is in fact defined by the eight great streams of teaching transmission that came from India, known as the Eight Chariots . In the Karma Kamtsang lineage, the role and activity of the Karmapa sits at the heart of its Marpa Kagyu tradition, both in an external sense—of the Karmapa's activities over the generations in establishing the supports of the Three Jewels and the Three Roots —and the contemplative sense of the Karmapa being the main axis of transmission of its empowerments and teachings.

For whatever reasons, probably most of them infathomable for most of us, Akong Rinpoché—this relatively unimportant leader of a small remote monastery in eastern Tibet and someone who had never figured previously in the great story of the Golden Rosary of Kagyu transmission—was very present and playing a key role in the transition of the Gyalwang Karmapa from the XVIth to the XVIIth incarnation. This significant role, briefly described in the previous pages of this site [2], is mentioned here to contextualise Rinpoché’s enlightened activity in bringing dharma to the world by seeing him as being at least a vital part of the Karmapa’s extended activity and probably more than that, as an emanation of the Karmapa himself.

Whatever influence Akong Rinpoché had in catalysing the process of finding the XVIIth Gyalwang Karmapa is mainly known by the main actors in that story: the Tai Situpa, the Shamarpa, the Goshri Gyaltsabpa, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoché and Rinpoché himself. The latter kept most of what was happening very secret and went along/was obliged to go along with the one or two stories of “there is definitely a letter” that the regents felt they had to put out to quell growing public consternation and anger at there being no new developments in the inter-regnum between 1982 and 1990. As Rinpoché himself explains , it was not untrue, because they were all sure there was a letter, but the certainty they declared and some of the details they described were “white lies”—not meant to deceive but to reassure people while they solved the puzzle. Whether the Tai Situpa or the Gyaltsabpa will ever say more about that period is as yet unknown. Jamgon Rinpoché and Akong Rinpoché are no longer alive to add to the details.

In 1981, something of bad augur happened. It was noticed by Akong Rinpoché and mentioned to me privately by him.I must confess I took it lightly at the time and thought he was exaggerating a bit (how mistaken I was!). At the time, Samye Ling had the joint visit of the Tai Situpa and the Shamarpa (Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoché was also there!). Rinpoché asked our photographer, Peter Mannox, to make high-quality photos on his plate camera of both regents together. Akong Rinpoché put a lot of effort into making their thrones exactly the same, in the old shrine room. In all the photos that emerged, the two rinpochés aare looking away from each other: not a lot, because they are both looking roughly in the direction of the camera. But the turning-away slightly from each other is noticeable in all the shots (there were a few). Akong Rinpoché was very unhappy about this and said it was not a good sign. This was before the Karmapa’s passing, later in that same year.

Rinpoché was obviously keeping many of his thoughts to himself but already I was trying to piece two and two together and remembered how most of us had been excited by the appearance of the Karmapa Black Hat lama book, by Nik Douglas and Meryl White 1976, with its fascinating information on the lineage and its brilliant photos. Once he had read it, Rinpoché said a little glumly, in reply to my question of his opinion, It’s all right. Decoding that from his language meant there was something quite wrong. I enquired several times and gradually weaned out of him that the authors had, by the look of it, been very influenced by the Shamarpa in the writing and that therefore the book gave the impression that he was more important than the Tai Situpa—the "Red Hat Karmapa" of central importance in the Karmapa “golden rosary” transmission. In fact, the Tai Situpas appear as much in the lineage as do the Shamarpas and they (as well as Gyaltsab Rinpoché and later Jamgon Rinpoché) were also given Red Crowns and Karmapa’s own statement was that each of them was “the same as himself” and that their throne heights should be the same .

It is obvious, in retrospect, that Akong Rinpoché sensed already whatever it was driving the Shamarpa from a very early time. He did not want trouble to happen and he did all he could to avoid it. He received the Shamarpa in Samye Ling with utmost respect and courtesy, giving up his own rooms and house to him and his main attendants and Rinpoché told us all the usual and very respectful things said about the Shamarpa. He also engaged Katia in the publication of a biographical text on the Shamarpas, later published by Samye Ling under the title The Seed of Faith. From the time of those shrine-room photos of both rinpochés onwards, I witnessed Akong Rinpoché’s growing sadness at the damage being done to the Kamtsang lineage by the different stances taken on the issue of the Karmapa succession. As most good lamas did, he encouraged us to see something positive coming out of what seemed very negative and he strongly directed individuals to concentrate on their own minds rather than “Kagyu gossip”.  Nevertheless, it was clear how much he treasured the purity of the Kagyu lineage and how much any damage done to it wounded him . .

[1]   From a talk given in the Samye Ling shrine room in 1992 after Akong Rinpoché's return from Tibet where he had just officially "found" the new Karmapa.  A video of this talk will be available through this site soon.
[2]   The eight web pages from through or through navigation bar, top of page.

Akong Rinpoché and the Karmapa Succession: Part Two

"We now find  Akong Rinpoché at Rumtek in the early 1990s. The author’s own understanding, gained from whatever information [1] he was able to tweak out of Akong Rinpoché, was that he added, let us say, "some vigour", to the proceedings in order to move things on. He had been invited to attend the regents’ meeting. Perhaps that specific input, at that time, was one of the reasons for the XVIth Karmapa choosing him as a recipient of the specialprotector transmissions when he was still a teenager? It would seem that the Shamarpa bore the brunt of the un-freezing of the situation, as it helped end the inaction caused by his delaying tactics, while he looked for his own candidate for the succession [2].

The price Akong Rinpoché had to pay for helping to get things moving was to be later horribly depracated in Internet articles over a period of some fifteen years, with statements attributed [3] at various times by Jigme-la and Zimpon-la (the XVIth Karmapa's former attendant), i.e. those close to the Shamarpa. Akong Rinpoché dealt with these slanders as a true bodhisattva should—with compassion and “philosophically”. He was the living example of dealing with calumny, as described in Ngulchu Tomé's 37 Verses of Bodhisattva Practice. Nevertheless, the author witnessed not only the pain those lies caused Rinpoché but also his utter incredulity that such vicious and dark ideas could even be thought up. It was particularly hard for him to believe that Jigme-la, the XVIth Karmapa's nephew, who had been such good friends with him before, during and after the 1977 tour, could allow his name to be put to such untruths and calumny.

The outcome of this 1992 “push forward” in the succession story was for the testament letter of the XVIth Karmapa, eventually found in a yantra carried by the Tai Situpa and given to him by the Karmapa with the words This will protect you and may be useful one day, to be acted upon and for the Karmapa reincarnation to be found successfully, in Tibet, by Akong Rinpoché. Let us leave him to describe that in his own words, transcribedfrom a video [4] taken by the author of Akong Rinpoché’s address to the Samye Ling community on his return from finding the Karmapa in 1992:

<<I’m happy to come back and to see so many old friends ... and new friends. When I was in Tibet somebody asked me, “When are you going back to your home?”. I could not answer because I am not sure where is my home. Anyway, since this is meant to be one of my homes, this is my first official talk after being in Tibet on this particular project: you may call it a project or you may wish to call it something different... one of my jobs anyway. Everybody is very excited about the prediction letter of the 16th Karmapa and “How did he find the XVIIth one?” or “How did he write such a ltter?”. So there are a few things that I myself may not be able to answer but I am one of the luckiest persons, through having the opportunity to find the XVIIth Karmapa who the XVIth Karmapa already predicted before he left this worldly life.

But that’s not only a strange thing for me but the Vth Karmapa already wrote a prediciton letter which has many pages and there are many things mentioned in that particular letter about what is going to happen at the end of the XVIth Karmapa and beginning of the XVIIth Karmapa, the problems we are going to have and what may happen to the lineage, which is written down very clearly about three hundred years before. That is also very interesting for us. And then there is Chogyur Lingpa—a very well-known tertön from Nyingma, or Nyingma and Kagyu lineages, and there is a prediction from him, more than a hundred years ago, of many, many pages and also predictions of each Karmapa and in particular the names of each Karmapa and also in that predicition it is mentioned how important the XVIIth Karmapa will be and how important that the XVIIth Karmapa and the Khentin Tai Situpa are going to work together in a very positive way...

... In Tertön Chogyu Lingpa’s prediciton, it says that XVIIth Karmapa and Khentin Tai Situpa will be very close to each other, especially it says that “their minds will be as one” and they will work on everything in order to promote the Kagyu lineage and the Kagyu lineage is put as a sort of example, like a fruit or like a tree, and so that this particular fruit—its nourishment—these two people particularly able to produce and able to give to all the others. So I have put two pictures together with those quotations and I’m sure that those whoever are able to read Tibetan will afterwards read this particular column.. This is something that I myself am interested in ... it is not just that the Khentin Tai Situpa is the only one to (say he) has the main responsibility but he is already predicted over a hundred years before and he has to do the job. He doesn’t have the choice.!

So if we have to believe all the predictions then we also have to believe all the other predictions that are already written, many hundreds of years ago or one hundred years ago or whatever: we have to accept those things. Now, this particular XVIth Karmapa, who many of us saw during his lifetime, and I myself had the opportunity to serve him until his passing away in Chicago and there are many Kagyu rinpochés but somehow my role was important for the last few years of his life. But I never expected that I would get the job to find the seventeenth. [laughter]. There are several hundred Kagyu reincarnations, much wiser than myself, more learned than myself and many of them far better understanding but, in the end, I had to play a big part in the finding.

Now, we all realise that it has been delayed for so many years. After his passing away, they were not able to find a predicition letter. They know that there is one but they cannot find it. Then they had to cheat .. and tiny lies ... and say that there is a prediction letter that remained in Rumtek . But that was not really true in the beginning. But on another hand, they really believed there was a predicition letter, so it was true ... (hesitation) ... but anyway they looked everywhere and asked many people but they cannot find one. Then, the Tai Situpa remembered that several years before, His Holiness Karmapa had given him a protection, which is wrapped in yellow-gold coloured material, something like this one [AR takes a yantra from inside his shirt to show it] but much bigger but similar to this type and when he (K16) was in Calcutta he said, “You should not leave this behind. This is for your protection. One day you may find this is something useful!”

Anyway, this [points to blackboard] is a photocopy of the letter. This is a photocopy of the original, same size, written by His Holiness Karmapa, written by himself, and this is a special seal ... normally never use this. It is called Pakshi Ja-zuk and belonged to Karma Pakshi. Ja-zuk means like rainbow seal. And this [points to another document] is the translation of this, with a commentary by Gyaltsabpa. After we found, I thought it would be nice to have an explanation because most of it you can understand but there are a few words you can’t understand. Maybe something useful for future so this is only written in Nepal, after we came back. When I went to find the XVIIth Karmapa, we don’t have this particular explanation. But the letter itself is so clear it does not require explanation just for finding the Karmapa but there is a few poetry from the beginning and at the end for which it will be nice to have some explanation.

[1] What is recounted here is only the tip of the iceberg. The author imagines that many of the confidences shared with him by Akong Rinpoché concerning this area will go with him to the grave. For many reasons, some to do with tact, some legal (there is not enough proof to stand up in a court of law), the ugliness or« dark side » (very dark, at times) of what went on behind the scenes—against the XVIIth Karmapa, the Tai Situpa and Akong Rinpoché—can never be divulged.
[2]   He tried negotiating several, it seems, nsuccessfully, before opting for Thaye Dorje.
[3]  As is the way with Internet, these have come and gone and been revised. The terrible things said about Rinpoché were beyond belief and totally unfactual. Latterly, the accusations were signed by « Lama » Karma Wangchuk, the secretary at the Delhi institute under the Shamarpa, citing Jigmé-la and Zimpon-la, calling the latter Tsorpon-la. I have kept a record of them.
To give an example of one of the milder accusations, it was stated that Akong Rinpoché somehow pushed his way unwantedly into the 1977 tour, and he was not even a tulku. Having helped Rinpoché prepare that tour for over a year before it began, with constant contact with the Karmapa in Rumtek, and then witnessed day after day how the Karmapa and his party relied totally on Rinpoché as the organisor, I was speechless on reading that, knowing how ridiculously untrue it was ... and seeing how desperate they must be to say such things. Also, at the time of receiving the long-life prayer for Rinpoche, I had witnessed the high esteem the Karmapa had for Rinpoché and seen, written in his own hand, how he called Rinpoché "Lord of Dharma".
(4]  Rinpoché had set up two blackboards in the shrine room, covered with documents and photos related to his exposé. I have edited out some sections ( where there are lines of dots .... .... where he was pointing to these and explaining them.
[5]  This was a polite way of saying he had found the letter. The other heart sons had all understood that.

Akong Rinpoché and the Karmapa Succession: Part Three

"So, this year .... Situ Rinpoché wrote to the other eminences, two years ago, to say that he had very good news [5] to tell and could they all meet in Rumtek. But somehow there has been some delay for two years: one (rinpoché) is free but another is not free. Somehow they were not able to meet. So this year he put a demand that this year, on Tibetan New Year fifteenth day, “I will be arriving in Rumtek and I hope that all of you will be able to come because we have to make a decision . If some of you are not able to come then I will have to make the decision because it is late now and if we can’t make a decision this year then that will have been three years’ delay.” So he cannot leave things static and he put a demand letter. Rinpoché asked me to go to Rumtek after the New Year for a meeting so I also went there on March 15th and then the actual meeting that they are able to hold with all the four regents or four eminences: the first meeting is March 19th and the second meeting is March 20th. Thus I was able to take part in some of the meetings. That was the first time he was able to show this particular letter to the other three eminences. Everybody, all the eminences, very very pleased. There were some obstacles but the obstacles were not that big but the decision that was made was that Jamgon Rinpoché have to go to Tibet this year because he has to give initiations in Tsurphu and at the same time his job is to find the XVIIth Karmapa. Then, on July 29th, we were to have a second meeting and Jamgon Rinpoché would report the reincarnation that he found and then August 15th the announcement would be made publicly: that was the decision. Everybody made that decision.

At the same time, Jamgon Rinpoché and Gyaltsab Rinpoché and Situ Rinpoché they had some kind of intuition ... or they had their own meetings and on the 19th and or the 20th there should be some letters, three letters, sent for the preparation of Jamgon Rinpoché coming so that Jamgon Rinpoché would not have to do all the travelling. So they asked me to go to Beijing on March 29th ... most people think I’m going for meeting invited by Chinese but that’s tiny lies [smiles, laughter] ... I had to go to Beijing to take three letters to three particular people to start looking for the reincarnation. My job actually started therefore on March 29th... I actually involved ... not just involved in Rumtek itself and after passing of Jamgon Rinpoché ... I was involved at quite an early time. My job was to send the letter—to take them to the right people—and then to come back and wait until July 29th. Then the sudden accidental death—or death whatever the cause—still it is a mystery, the passing away of Jamgon Rinpoché—that (Situ) Rinpoché asked me to come for the ceremony for seven days. So I went to Rumtek on May 1st and when I got there, there were some few obstacles—you can hear different rumours from different people but rumours are not that important for us—but anyway my job is not just to sit still and do nothing and since I came to Rumtek for the ceremony then Gyaltsab Rinpoché and Tai Situpa theyhad many meetings between themselves. They also invited Shamar Rinpoché but unfortunately Shamar Rinpoché said that he have to be in retreat .. so .. we are unable to communicate but since we are unable to communicate on another hand there is some urgency since we have to find the XVIIth Karmapa.

Then both rinpochés ask me would I be able to go to Tibet to find the XVIIth Karmapa and to carry out the job which was Jamgon Rinpoché’s main meant to be doing. I told them that I had only the one suit I was wearing ...[laughter]... not much money in my pocket...[laughter]...but Rinpoche told me "You can buy suits in every shop ...[laughter]... that’s not an important (reason) to go back to England" and that they can arrange some money for me but this is very urgent and very important and I have the responsibility. So I .... there is officially and unofficially. Officially, I am the representative of Situ Rinpoché and Sherab Gyaltsen is the representative of Gyaltsab Rinpoché—he is his treasurer—and our job is to go to many monasteries that have a connection with Jamgon Rinpoché, within the forty-nine day period of prayer. That was our "label": we have to go to Tibet in order to request prayers for forty-nine days. Unofficially, our job is communication with Tsurphu to find the XVIIth Karmapa as soon as possible, to bring (him) back to Tsurphu and then the two rinpochés will come to do the first ceremony which is hair-cutting ceremony.

Since I have the job and not much choice, I accepted and went to Nepal on May 9th and on May 16th we arrived at Tsurphu. Before we left Nepal, we communicated to Tsurphu and requested that, as we are not able to act officially , could they go as a search party, four or five days earlier than us, so that it is not something obvious that we are coming to find the child. So that’s what they did: went five days earlier than us. When we left Tsurphu we said it was very urgent for us to get to Palpung monastery because that’s Jamgon Rinpoché’s monastery—Jamgon Rinpoché and Situ Rinpoché—and so we have to go there very early on. This urgency was expressed and the Chinese government gave all the permissions needed.

When we arrived in Chamdo, the search party had found (him) successfully and we met in Chamdo. Then when they told us all the news—good news—of what they found and where he was found, in a place called Lhatok and a village called Bagur. When they were in the Lhatok area they asked they came from India and have many letters and they have to give a letter to someone called Mr Loga and so they asked whether there is someone called Mr Loga in the Bagur village. The answer they got was that there was a woman called Loga but no man called Loga. So they have one clear sign, because the Karmapa’s mother is called Loga . Then they asked what was Loga’s husband’s name and they were told Dondrup.In the prediction letter it says that the father’s name is Dondrup and mother’s name is Loga, so there is no more question. The boy was eight years old and born in the Wood Ox year . So there is no kind of question raised about everything predicted in the letter and they have 100% trust. Then they went there—to Bagur, the homeland—and brought His Holiness to a place called Lhatok, into the monastery, until we arrived there.

Since we are the representatives of Situ Rinpoché and Gyaltsab Rinpoché, our duty is to still investigate, to make sure this is the right one. Also, we have all that is necessary, the yellow clothing in which he should be dressed, the special protections that should be offered to him and so on ... that’s our job to do (those things).[Goes to blackboard and points to photo of two people in snow]. So this is where we started—me and Sherab Gyaltsen. It is May but still snow [points to photo of four people sitting on ground in snow] .We wanted to go down through Kham and some people heard I am coming so they came to welcome me. This is just before Chamdo itself. [points to another group photo] This is another Kagyu rinpoché from Chungpo area and he works now in the education department in Chamdo. We told him we were going to find the Karmapa and so we three went together. [points to another photo of outdoor scene] This is roughly the area, the Lhatok landscape. This is Bagur, the area where the XVIIth Karmapa is, near village. This is actually where he was born. You will see small stones: the stones are the place where they were putting tent. This is the father and he sits where the Karmapa is actually born and we are all sitgting together there and these are our horses. On the way there [points to another photo], this is the footprint of Ling Gesar and when we came to seek His Holiness the XVIIth Karmapa, this is the first picture [points to picture of “Apo Gaga” before recognition]. As you can see, we don’t see much difference with any other boy. ....

Then we offered—when we see there is no more question—this yellow chuba , the first official offering [pointing to picture of K17 in golden chuba]. [Now points to picture of Amdo Palden] And then this particular yogi-saint was looking after His Holiness Karmapa from long before birth itself, he was involved. [points to another photo] And this is the first ceremony of purification of the XVIIth Karmapa. These are the before photos.[another photo] This is the Tsurphu monastery where His Holiness Karmapa resides at the moment. During the Cultural Revolution time there was not even a single building left. All this has been rebuilt within ten years. That was a picture taken on June 15th . Our job, as representatives for the ceremony (of Jamgon Rinpoché) was finished on June 14th because that was the end of the forty-nine days. Then we went back to the Chinese officials and said "Now we want to change the label. [laughter] Can we be representatives of two rinpochés for the enthronementof His Holiness Karmapa because now the Karmapa is found and they are in India and we are already here."

They said okay, you can go ahead and do that. Then the label for our assignment is to be the representatives of the two rinpochés for the preparations for the future of the Karmapa. "



  1. There are many cases in which myth about the 16th Karmapa are created, either to prove one's own importance or the importance of the own teachers. Of course its done as well to prove that one's choice of the 17th Karmapa is the right one.
    Ken Holmes accounts in „The Special Connectionwith the XVIth Gyalwang Karmapa: 8 Akong Rinpoché and the XVIth Gyalwang's Passing Away“:1
    The second moment is a fascinating story. The Karmapa needed regular blood transfusions and insisted on it coming only from those in his close circle of suitable blood type. Akong Rinpoché was one of the donors. At one point, one of the members of the medical team responsible for the transfusion obviously thought that as long as the blood was of the right type it mattered little from whom it came and, ignoring the Karmapa's wish, set up a bag of blood from their bank that was not blood donated by the rinpochés. As soon as it started flowing, reported Akong Rinpoché who was there, the Karmapa looked very wrathful and physically took the drip needle out of his arm saying,

    “This is not the rinpochés’ blood but that of an american, an African-American.”

    Not of course that there is anything wrong with being American or African-American but simply to point out that the Karmapa knew immediately whose blood it was, just by the “feel” of it or through his “clear knowledge” siddhis. This of course surprised the nursing staff and embarrassed them. They returned with one of the bags specially given and stored for him. As the blood started to flow, he smiled and said, “Ah, this is the blood of my guru!” When checked, it was a bag of blood donated by the Tai Situpa.“

    There are many cases where HH Karmapa XVI proved his siddhis of clearvoyance. But this story is an fabrication: Dr. McKee, HH the 16th Karmapa's naturopath in his last days (October/November 1981) in Zion/Illinois was asked by a friend if this story and a second one about another subject was accurate. He answered:
    „The first one (regarding blood transfusions) I believe to be complete myth. I don't recall HH receiving any blood transfusions.“

    In none of the accounts, neither of Dr. Levy or Dr. Kotwal, who wrote a book about the last days of the late Karmapa, blood transfusions are mentioned! (Kotwal, Raj: God's own Death, Shunyata, Gangtok 2013.)
    Ken Holmes accounts which are based of the accounts of his Lama Akong Tulku give the impression, that Akong took care of his beloved Lama until his last days. Holmes writes:

    ''The XVIth Gyalwang Karmapa spent his last weeks in a hospital in Sion, Illinois, and passed away there. Akong Rinpoché was in attendance for much of the time, along with the Karmapa’s four “heart-sons”, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoché and other visiting rinpochés. He shared many intimate moments during the times alone or almost alone with the Karmapa, as the various rinpochés took shifts to serve him and be by his side.''

    This appears misleading. He seems to have only shortly visited HH Karmapa, as Dr. Raj Kotwal who stood the last month of the late Karmapa at His side: Kotwal writes:

    ''I also met another reknowned Rinpoche, Choje Akong Rinpoche, the co-founder of Samye Ling monastery in Scotland: He had come to pay his lasts respects to Karmapa''
    Sounds rather as he just passed by to say godd-bye... Isn't it?
    Kotwal, Raj: God's own Death, Shunyata, Gangtok 2013., pg. 218)

  2. You so obviously want to diminish these stories, yet you do so only by stating opinion and the fact that some aspects are not mentioned elsewhere. Both Jamgon Rinpoche and Tai Situpa gave blood for the Karmapa. The blood types matched. there might have been others but those two for sure.
    As for Akong Rinpoche "just dropping in" ... come on! It was during that visit that HHK16 tried so hard to reconcile Akong and Trungpa rinpoches, holding both their hands in his and making them promise him to bring themselves and their organisations closer together.
    Just "dropping in" involved being part of a rota of night shifts as the rinpoches wanted one ofthem to be there all the time with him.
    I just wish Jamgon Rinpoche was still alive for you to check out this stuff with him.


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