Mike in Tibet

This is Mike at Tsurphu, a large monastery complex which has been center of the Karma Kagyud lineage (one of the four branches of Tibetan Buddhism) and seat of the Gyalwa Karmapa (sometimes known as the "Black Hat Lama") since the 12th century CE.

wpe1.jpg (23417 bytes)Tsurphu is situated in the Tolung Valley about 75 km from Lhasa, Tibet at an elevation of over 15,500ft. In 1959, it was razed to the ground by the Chinese army. Some monks followed the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, across the Himalayas to Bhutan. Of those who remained, some were sent to work-camps others were killed. Since the 1980s, the monastery has been gradually reconstructed according to the memories of the surviving monks with financial  assistance from foreign Buddhists.

The occasion for Mike's visit was the enthronement of the 17th incarnation of the Black Hat Lama. The chosen one was Urgyen Drodul Trinley Dorje, a 8-year-old nomad boy. Some lamas claim that Urgyen  Dorje fulfills prophecies left by the previous (16th) incarnation of the Gyalwa Karmapa.   Unfortunately, other lamas insist that the letter containing the prophecies was faked. Due to political in-fighting, a  separate faction has "recognized" another child, Thaye Dorje, as the 17th Karmapa. This issue has become extremely divisive within the Kagyud sect, even among its representatives in Europe and the Americas. At about the same time as this photograph was taken, a riot in Rumtek, the order's main monastery outside of Tibet, was quelled by the Indian army and a very prominent lama lost his life in highly suspicious circumstances. Allegations of deceit, duplicity and murder are common.

Behind Mike, in the distance may be seen a Khampa tribesman wearing the traditional red yarn woven into his hair to form a distinctive head-dress. The Khampa inhabit the Kham province of Eastern Tibet and are renowned for their ferocity (all Khampa men wear swords) and traditionally they live as bandits along the Central Asian trade routes.

Just behind Mike is a boy monk. This youngster was one of a group of mischievous urchins who were intensely curious about Mike, his Chinese tent and its (to them) exotic contents. All of these boy-monks  had been officially recognised as reincarnations of deceased lamas and were at Tsurphu to receive the education appropriate to their exalted spiritual status.