Denied permission to travel to Europe earlier this year, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa and most prominent member of the Kagyu lineage, has again faced travel restrictions. If all had gone well, he’d have arrived in New York this week but was denied an exit visa in what appears to be a concession to Chinese interests. The India Times reports:

“The Karmapa was scheduled to attend prayer sessions being organized by Karma Triyana Dharamchakra center in Woodstock in New York that began yesterday (Wednesday), but Indian authorities refused to grant him permission to visit there,” Gompa Tsering, Karmapa’s secretary, said.

In 2008, he paid an 18-day visit to the US, visiting New York, New Jersey, Boulder, Colorado and Seattle.

thaye dorje, karmapa, shamar rinpoche, shamarpa
Ogyen Trinley Dorje (r); Thaye Dorje (l)

Ogyen Trinley Dorje’s legitimacy as Karmapa is contested by Thaye Dorje, who also has assumed the title. While China and the Dalai Lama recognize Ogyen Trinley Dorje, Shamar Rinpoche (the Shamarpa) has identified Thaye Dorje as the much beloved 16th Karmapa’s successor. The Shamarpa is considered to be the emanation of the Buddha Amitabha, and wears a red replica of the Karmapa’s black hat. “The Shamarpa” translates literally as “the one with the red crown,” which symbolizes his closeness to the the Karmapa. The Indian government has ruled in the Thaye Dorje camp’s favor. Coincidentally, I ran into Shamar Rinpoche here in New York’s Chelsea district today. Warm and friendly, he extended his arm in welcome. I’d met him once before at a friend’s home last year, although this time we had time for only a brief chat. (Tai Situ Rinpoche, who has recognized the competing Karmapa, contributed a piece to the current issue of Tricycle. In it, he offers his views about what it will take to establish a truly Western dharma. You can read “It Takes a Saint” here.) It’s always awkward when either Karmapa is mentioned in the magazine; it’s a sensitive issue and one difficult to present without, understandably, offending one or the other of the parties involved. It’s an issue the Tibetans themselves will resolve, and until then, we’ll remain on the sidelines. There have been contested incarnations in the past, so this is not unprecedented, although the prominence of the incarnation makes it a particularly thorny issue. 

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