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Religious Schools Compete to Rule - 5

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<poem> Religious conflict was commonplace in old Tibet. In a violent battle for supremacy, the original religion of Tibet, Bon, was replaced as the dominant faith in Tibet by Buddhism after its arrival from India in the eighth century. [1] Beginning in the eleventh century, Tibetan Buddhism developed four schools that shared many beliefs but ran their own monasteries and passed down their own lineages of oral teachings: the Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu. and Gelug. Over the centuries, Bon continued to maintain followers and incorporated many Buddhist elements, effectively evolving into a fifth school of the Vajrayana. Devotees of each school respected the tenets and historic masters of the other schools and frequently took teachings from lamas of different schools. But it would be naive to believe that these schools coexisted peacefully under an official regime of religious tolerance.

Though Tibetan culture was imbued with Buddhism at every level, history belies the Shangri-La image of Tibetan lamas and their followers living together in mutual tolerance and non-violent goodwill. Indeed, the situation was quite different. Old Tibet was much more like Europe during the religious wars of the Counter Reformation than a neighborhood in Berkeley, California where synagogue, mosque, church, and dharma center make cozy neighbors. During the European religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, forces of Protestant kings and princes fought armies of Catholic rulers or troops of the Church itself. Likewise, for hundreds of years in Tibet, lay followers of each religious school sometimes clashed with each other for control of the government of Central Tibet or rule over provincial areas. Lamas often had to defend their monasteries and other landholdings from supporters of the other schools.

Tibet before the Chinese invasion was not a unified country under a single government. Instead, like medieval France or Italy, it was a large area inhabited by people loosely connected by language, customs, and religion but ruled by local aristocrats or religious leaders. For the last few centuries, until 1959, Tibet consisted of three main areas, Central Tibet, Amdo, and Kham. As we have seen, Central Tibet was governed since the seventeenth century by the Dalai Lamas from their capital at Lhasa, and it included the provinces of U and Tsang plus the dry areas of western Tibet. Aside from Lhasa, its major city was Shigatse, on the Tsangpo River. The Tibet Autonomous Region created by the Chinese in the 1960s corresponds approximately to the area claimed by the old Central Tibetan government.

Amdo occupied the borderlands with China in the northeast, and was a sparsely populated area of grassland and desert. Here, the current Dalai Lama was born in 1935 to a family of subsistence farmers, and his early childhood was rustic, as depicted in the film Kundun. Nomads thrived in Amdo's lonely expanses. Today, Amdo is divided between the Chinese provinces of Gansu and Qinghai.

Finally, Kham was sandwiched between Central Tibet in the west and both the nation of Burma and the Chinese province of Sichuan in the east. For centuries its dozens of small feudal principalities were ruled by local kings and nobles who fiercely guarded their independence from each other -- and from the Dalai Lamas and the Chinese emperors as well. Three great rivers emerge from their high mountain sources and pass through the lush, tree-covered gorges of Kham to water the fertile plains of Southeast Asia: the Yangtse, the Mekong, and the Salween. Verdant valleys nestled between haughty peaks hosted a rich farming area that gave Tibet its greatest warriors, bandits, and saints. For centuries Kham was the stronghold of the Karma Kagyu, hundreds of miles and a world apart from the Dalai Lama's capital at Lhasa. In the 1950s and 60s the Chinese incorporated most of Kham into the provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan.

Much of Tibetan history is the story of how the rulers of Central Tibet tried to extend their rule into the border areas of Amdo and Kham, or how the different religious schools of the Tibetan plateau came to rule the central provinces of U and Tsang. After the Bon kings began to convert to Buddhism in the ninth century, each of the four Buddhist schools controlled the government of Central Tibet, one after the other in succession. The sects either ruled directly, with their chief lama sitting on the throne, or indirectly, serving as priests to secular kings. And while some schools proved to be kinder, more tolerant rulers than others, each school used its political influence against its religious rivals from time to time.

The oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism is the Nyingma, or "First Wave" school, deriving from the original Buddhism brought by the Indian missionary Padmasambhava in the eighth century. He opened Tibet's first Buddhist monastery, Samye, in 779 A.D. The Nyingma is known for its homeless ascetics and "crazy yogis" who perform advanced tantric practices in caves and wander the countryside giving blessings though the lineage also boasts significant monasteries. Modern lamas including Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Sogyal Rinpoche, and the American Lama Surya Das have made the Nyingma teaching of Dzogchen, an advanced form of meditation, well known in the West.

The earliest Buddhist lamas of Tibet, whose lineages later became the Nyingma school, exercised strong influence on the dynastic families that produced the first royal patrons of Buddhism in Tibet, the three "Dharma Kings" Songsten Gampo, Trisong Detsen, and Ralpachen. These kings worked to spread Buddhism and, at times, to repress the native Bon religion on behalf of Buddhist lamas during the often turbulent period of early Tibetan Buddhism.

Three hundred years after Buddhism first came to Tibet, three Sarma, or "Second Wave" schools appeared. The first of these was the Sakya school. In 1073, Khon Konchog Gyalpo founded Sakya monastery and the Tibetan Buddhist school of the same name. Perhaps the least=known Tibetan Buddhist school in the West, the Sakyas are renowned among Tibetans for their advanced scholarship of Buddhist philosophy and formidable skill in dialectics and debate.

A non-celibate order, the Sakyas pass along their succession from father to son or uncle to nephew. The Sakyas were the first lamas to make fruitful contact with the Mongols, who would prove so important in Tibetan history. In 1247 Kunga Gyaltsen, known as the Sakya Pandita for his knowledge of Sanskrit, met with the Mongol Prince Godan at his camp north of Tibet in the region of Lake Koko Nor, located in the present-day province of Gansu in northwestern China. Godan summoned the Sakya lama to preach to his people and, since the lama was also the most powerful political leader in Tibet, to surrender his country to Mongol rule and thus save it from a devastating invasion. For this the Sakya Pandita went down in history as a wise statesman.

Despite his role in history, to Tibetans the Sakya Pandita is less famous as a shrewd political leader than as an accomplished spiritual master, scholar, and man of letters. He is the author of the Sakya Lekshe, a handbook of ethical behavior for lay people that became a perennial classic, held up as a model of elegant Tibetan prose style. [2] The Sakya Pandita became the spiritual advisor of the Mongol chieftain.

A few years later, in 1251, Prince Godan appointed the Sakya Pam1ita's seventeen-year- old nephew Phagpa as Mongol viceroy of Tibet. Standing out in the country's history, Phagpa came to be known for his religious tolerance. Later, when Kublai Khan became Great Khan, he asked Phagpa to create an alphabet for the vast Eurasian empire of the Mongols, then at its peak, stretching from Russia to southern China. He also urged Phagpa to merge the other schools of Tihetan Buddhism into the Sakya school. However, as Tibetan historian Tsepon W.D. Shakabpa has written, "Phagpa insisted that the other sects be allowed to practice Buddhism in their own way. This brought Phagpa the support of many of the Tibetan priest-chieftains; however, the presence of several different sects in Tibet was to weaken the power of the Sakya ruling family in the years that followed." [3] For more than a century the Sakya lamas ruled Tibet as agents of the Mongols until replaced by followers of the Kagyu school.

Meanwhile, back to the eleventh century -- around the time Kon Konchog Gyalpo founded Sakya monastery and a century before the Sakyas would take over the Tibetan government -- the Kagyu or Oral Transmission school began in Tibet. The founder of the school, a stoutly built householder named Marpa the Translator, brought the teachings of the famously unconventional Indian yogis Tilopa and Naropa over the Himalayas from India. Marpa's most gifted student, Milarepa, became the greatest yogi of Tibet. A murderer who later devoted himself to ascetic practice in caves, Milarepa authored hundreds of songs that became classics of Tibetan literature.

The largest of the so-called "four great and eight lesser" sub-schools of the Kagyu, the Karma Kagyu, began when the first Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa founded Tsurphu monastery in 1185. The school became known for the inspirational power of its most advanced teachers, principally the Karmapas. The next chapter discusses the origin of the Karmapas, and their most famous ritual object, the Vajra Mukut or Black Crown of enlightened action.

The Gelug school was the last of the four major schools of Buddhism to appear in Tibet. A charismatic scholar and preacher named Tsongkhapa founded the Gelugpas in the early fifteenth century. His successors as head of the school became the Dalai Lamas, and they, in turn, with Mongol assistance, came to rule over the government of Central Tibet in the seventeenth century, just as the Sakya lama Phagpa had done three centuries earlier. The rise of the Gelugpas led to a political rivalry between them and the Karma Kagyu school of the Karmapas that would last five hundred years and continue after the lamas went into exile in 1959.

This rivalry forms the background for the current Karmapa controversy, so we will learn more about it later in this chapter. Now, et us return to the Middle Ages and see how the Kagyu school came to rule Central Tibet and how they set the country on the path towards becoming a modern nation-state.

The Kagyu Takes its Turn

While four reincarnations of Karmapas built up the Karma Kagyu school, the Sakyas continued to rule the government of Central Tibet. At the time of the fourth Karmapa Rolpe Dorje (1340-83), Sakya rule ended and secular kings under the tutelage of the Kagyu school seized power. When the Mongol Yuan dynasty began to wane in China, the Mongols were no longer able to support their surrogates, the Sakya lamas, in Tibet. Knowing that Mongol cavalry would not ride to the rescue if the Sakya Lama were attacked, various subordinates began to contend for the throne.

The last of these, Wangtson, came to power by murdering his predecessor in 1358. He was never able to consolidate his hold on power, and later the same year he was overthrown in turn by a regional governor named Jangchup Gyaltsen. In a vain attempt to preserve the appearance of imperial rule over Tibet, the last Yuan emperor Shundi hastily conferred approval on Jangchup's coup and awarded him the imperial title Tai Situ (He should not be confused with the Tai Situ Rinpoche of the Karma Kagyu; "Tai Situ" was a common title in the imperial bureaucracy, equivalent to "chief secretary.") Jangchup Gyalrsen's line became the Pagmotru dynasty, the first of three royal dynasties to rule under the tutelage of the Kagyu school. The Pagmotru ruled until 1435. Afterwards, four kings of the Rinpung dynasty ruled in succession from 1435 to 1565, followed by three Tsangpa kings who ruled from 1565 until 1642. The Tsangpa kings were followers not only of the Kagyu school, but were personal devotees of the Karmapas. Playing a careful game of diplomacy with the deposed but still troublesome Mongols as well as with the new Ming dynasty (1368-1644) rulers in China, these kings governed Tibet relatively free from foreign control. Under the influence of the Kagyu school, Tibet enjoyed a three-hundred-year window of independence and peace between two periods of domination by the Mongols.

The Gelugpas Rise and Struggle for Power with the Kagyus

As we saw earlier, the last Buddhist school to appear in Tibet was the Gelug order of the Dalai Lamas. Tsongkhapa (1357-1419)was a skillful debater and charismatic preacher who lived at the same time as the fifth Karmapa Deshin Shegpa of the Kagyu school. Tsongkhapa founded the Gelug school when he established the Monlam Chemno, or Great Prayer Festival, in Lhasa in 1409. Known informally as the "Yellow Hats," the Gelugpas were famous for their skill at scholarship and debate, like the masters of the Sakya school.

But unlike the Sakyas, the Gelugpas placed great emphasis on celibate monastic life. Many writers have claimed that the Gelugpas were a reforming school of Buddhism, seeking to clean up the lax morality said to have infected the other schools. By analogy, the Gelug rise would be like the Protestant Reformation in Europe a century earlier, and Tsongkhapa would be Tibet's Martin Luther. [4] Other historians have disagreed, however, claiming that Tsongkhapa and the early Dalai Lamas placed no special emphasis on monastic discipline compared to the other religious schools. In any event, under Tsongkhapa's dynamic leadership, the Gelug school grew in political influence and established large monasteries in Central Tibet that began to rival those of the Karma Kagyu.

Tibetan historian Shakabpa has claimed that the popularity of Tsongkhapa, the first Dalai Lamas, and other Gelugpa teachers threatened the dominance of the Kagyu. [5] In response, the Tibetan royal governments who followed the Kagyu suppressed the rising Gelugpas to protect the Kagyu from spiritual competition.

The major traditional histories of Tibet, including the fifth Dalai Lama's own account of these years, contradict this claim. [6] During Tsongkhapa's lifetime, the Pagmotru dynasty of kings, patrons of the Kagyu school, ruled Central Tibet. The Pagmotru kings were succeeded by the Rinpung dynasty in 1435, whose kings followed the Kagyu school as their predecessors had, and in addition took the Karmapa as their personal spiritual advisor, as we have seen. The fourth Shamarpa Chokyi Drakpa Yeshe Pal Zangpo (1453- 1524) even served a term of four years as regent during the minority of one of the Rinpung kings, and was known by the royal title Chen Nga initiated by the Pagmotru kings.

Near the end of the fifteenth century, monks from a nearby Gelugpa monastery sacked a temple that the seventh Karmapa Chodrag Gyatso (1454-1506) had begun in Lhasa. This angered the Rinpung king. In response, in 1498 the king forbade the Yellow Hats from participating in the annual Monlam prayer festival that their own founder had inaugurated ninety years earlier.

Meanwhile, a Gelugpa lama who was an energetic evangelist, Sonam Gyatso, attracted the attention of the Turned Mongol chief Altan Khan. After the fall in 1368 of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, which controlled both China and Tibet, the Mongols split up into numerous warring bands. Their leaders competed with each other to seek influence among the nations of Inner Asia, including Tibet. There, Mongol leaders adopted prominent lamas as their spiritual advisors. In 1578 Altan invited Sonam to his camp to preach. There, he offered the lama the title Dalai, "Ocean" in Mongolian, and gave the patronage of his Mongols to Sonam Gyarso's Gelugpa order. Retroactively, the lama's two previous incarnations were recognized as Sonam's predecessors, making Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588) the third Dalai Lama.

When the grandson of Altan Khan was recognized as the fourth Dalai Lama Yonten Gyatso (1589-1617), the alliance between Altan's band of Mongols and the Gelugpas was complete. Altan' s forces pledged to defend the Gelugpas against any enemies that might arise in Tibet. The first Dalai Lama had established a monastery near the royal capital of Shigatse, but later Dalai Lamas settled in Lhasa and established three monasteries in and around the city that became some of the largest and most powerful in the world: Drepung, Sera, and Ganden. These monasteries came to be known collectively as "The Three Seats." They would exert enormous political power over the government of Central Tibet in the coming centuries.

When the Dalai Lama settled in Lhasa, the Gelugpas became involved in regional politics, which escalated the tension between the Gelugpas and the Kagyus. While the Dalai Lama on the one hand, and the Karmapa and Shamarpa on the other, apparently tried to maintain cordial relations, their supporters -- monks, regional rulers, and dueling bands of Mongols - - found numerous occasions to clash. Under the rule of the three Tsangpa kings (1565- 1642) this tension reached a boiling point.

The Dalai Lama Seizes Power

Under the previous dynasty, the Rinpung, the central government had become weak. This allowed regional rulers, particularly the depas or warlords of various states, to gain a high level of autonomy. Local leaders waged continuous low-grade warfare for decades with their neighbors for larger and larger holdings.

When he assumed the throne, the second Tsangpa king, Karma Phuntsok Namgyal (ruled 1611-21)sought to end this fighting by uniting the petty states of Central Tibet under a strong central government. He developed a plan for "Unification under One White [Benevolent] Law" that in many ways was ahead of its time. [7] The plan called for a federal system where cabinet departments at the national level would implement policy for defense, agriculture, education, and taxation. Numerous small states would be united for mutual defense and free trade.

King Phuntsok Namgyal upgraded his army and began a campaign, through force of arms and diplomacy, to unite the duchies of Central Tibet one by one into a single, larger Tsangpa state. He succeeded brilliantly and by the end of his campaign, only the city of Lhasa, under the rule of Kyichod Depa Apel, the Duke of Lhasa, resisted incorporation into the new unified Tibetan kingdom. The duke wanted to avoid paying taxes to the Tsangpa king and saw no benefit for himself to joining a larger Tibetan state.

To defend his autonomy, in 1616 Duke Kyichod Apel made an alliance with Drepung and Sera monasteries, which by this time had thousands of monks each. These included hundreds of specially trained dopdops or "fighting monks" who were skilled in Tibet's native martial arts and served as private armies for each cloister. By this alliance, the duke particularly hoped to gain the support of Mongol bands that patronized Gelugpa lamas. According to the fifth Dalai Lama, Apel made a gift of a large statue of Avalokiteshvara to the Turned Mongol chief Tai Gi. [8]

The statue was a national treasure of Tibet, brought from India centuries earlier by King Songsten Gampo for his personal devotional practice. Apel's family had acquired it earlier through questionable means from the Potala Palace. The Lhasa Duke presented it to the Mongol chief to forge an alliance with Tai Gi and enlist his band of Mongols for an attack on the Tsangpa king. Perhaps this would have been something like, for example, Confederate President Jefferson Davis capturing the Liberty Bell and giving it to the British to induce them to attack the North during the Civil War.

The treacherous duke was successful, and with his new Mongol allies, he and his successors in the Kyichod family fought the King of Tsang for the next two decades. This war of attrition took a hard toll on the Tsangpa kingdom as it did on the duke's own small realm.

Finally, after years of alternating victories and defeats, Duke Kyichod's successor Sonam Namgyal saw his chance to free himself of the Kyichod family's old foe by invading the heartland of Tsang itself. The duke gained ambitious advisors of the fifth Dalai Lama as his allies. He convinced them that the Tsangpa king was about to send a massive force against the main Gelug monasteries; if the monasteries did not act quickly, the Gelugpas would be wiped out. Tibetan historians say that the duke's claim was false, and that the Tsangpa king was not planning an attack on the Gelugpa monasteries. But the duke's word carried the day with Gelugpa leaders and their Mongol allies, who were eager to fight.

The Dalai Lama's minister Sonam Chopel was particularly eager for war and he invited the Qoshot Mongols under Gushri Khan to attack Tsangpa forces before getting the Dalai Lama's approval, as the Dalai Lama describes in his own Autobiography. Interestingly, the Dalai Lama seemed to take an exceptionally respectful and deferential tone with his minister, who effectively controlled the government of the young lama-king:

   At the time, there were many rumors that the king [Gushri Khan) had already left Tibet and returned to his homeland. Others said that he would soon arrive with new cavalry. Zhalngo [respectful title for minister Sonam Chopel) told me that "the Tsangpa lord and his ministers have always distrusted the Gelugpa in the past and have always tried to harm us. If we remain neutral in this conflict, then Ganden Phodrang people [those of the Dalai Lama's lab rang] will say that we are siding with the Tsangpa. Now, when we have the opportunity to do so, if we do not take the chance to liberate ourselves from the Tsangpa lord with the help of the king, then we will never get free of oppressive Tsangpa rule. Therefore, I have already sent a message to the king with the messenger Gendun Thondup asking him to attack the Tsangpa lord."
   "That was a rash act," I replied. "It would be better for us if the Mongols just withdraw from Tibet. It would be best to intercept the Mongols at Damjung [before reaching Tsangl and stop the outbreak of war. If you yourself do not find it convenient to do so, then I would be willing to go myself. Stopping the king would be 'good in every way -- for our reputation and for our future success."
   Then, Zhalngo asked me to do a mo [prediction]. I threw the three dice of Palden Lhamo Dmagzorma (deity of war). The result was that war against the Tsangpa would indeed bring us success in the short run, bur that this war would ultimately be harmful for the future of Tibet.
   "Well, good," Zhalngo said. "There is really no problem then. If we are successful now, that is enough. What happens long after we are dead is not our concern."
   In this way, Zhalngo would not allow me to stop the war. [9]

After the hasty action of his short-sighted minister, the Dalai Lama appeared to have no choice. Since war with Tsang had begun, he had to ask for Gushri Khan's help to win it, or else face retribution from the Tsangpa king that may have threatened the future of the Gelugpa. Thus, reluctantly, the fifth Dalai Lama sent his own plea to Gushri to invade Central Tibet and drive all Tsangpa forces from the area around Lhasa. The Mongol chief answered his lama's call and sent cavalry against Tsangpa forces. In 1638, the Mongols routed the Tsangpa army and secured Lhasa and the surrounding province of U. They placed the Dalai Lama on the throne as Mongol viceroy.

Having gained control of Lhasa, the Dalai Lama was now ready to stop the war. But his Mongol allies were not. So, yet again against the Gelug leader's wishes but at the urging of his zealous prime minister, Sonam Chopel, the Mongol armies escalated the conflict.

In 1642, Mongols overthrew the Tsangpa ruler Karma Tenkyong Wangpo (heir to King Phuntsok Namgyal, who nearly united Tibet into one centralized nation-state, as we have seen) and went on to forcibly convert nearly a thousand Nyingma and Karma Kagyu monasteries throughout Central Tibet to the Gelugpa school. The Mongols killed seven thousand monks and beheaded many of their abbots. [10] Gushri Khan proclaimed himself king of all Central Tibet and, as before, he made the fifth Dalai Lama his viceroy. The new administration became known as the "Ganden Phodrang," -- named after the Dalai lama's residence at Drepung monastery -- thus signifying the identity of the government in Lhasa and the Gelugpa school.

Using the pretext of a revolt in Tsang later in the year, Gushri Khan executed the Tsangpa king, and forced the tenth Karmapa to flee to Yunnan province in China. The Karmapa's monastic seat at Tsurphu was not converted to the Gelugpa order, but the new government decreed that the monastery could ordain no more than three monks per year. As Tibetan historian Dawa Norbu put it, "When the Dalai Lamas came to power in the seventeenth century they began to expand their own sect, Gelugpa, using the state power at their disposal and often converting other sects, especially the Kagyupa monasteries, to their own sect." [11]

The Karmapa had the chance to retaliate, but he apparently decided against violence. The aged fifth Tai Situ Chnkyi Gyaltsen Palsang (1586-1657) offered to bring about his own death so that he could be reborn as a prince of tile newly installed Chinese Qing dynasty; then, he could grow up to lead a Chinese invasion of Tibet that would restore the power of the Karma Kagyu. The Karmapa rejected Situ's offer, saying that "everyone knows me as the man who won't even hurt a bug."

The king of nearby Li Jiang also offered his forces to aid the Karmapa, but he rejected the king's offer as well. "Now is the time of the Kali Yug, the age of darkness," the tenth Karmapa said. "In Tibet, the only dharma left is superficial teachings, so it is not worth your trouble to save it."

Later, historians, scholars, and even the fifth Dalai Lama himself would criticize Sonam Chopel and the other self-serving officials who stoked this avoidable conflict into flames of war. Yet, once he had ascended the throne in Lhasa, the Dalai Lama had to continue fighting to consolidate his rule.

The current Dalai Lama has made himself an internationally famous spokesman for nonviolence. But the example of the Great Fifth Dalai L1ma shows that nonviolence was not always the policy of his predecessors, After a dozen years as ruler of Central Tibet, in 1660 the Dalai Lama was faced with a rebellion in Tsang province, not yet pacified and still the stronghold of the Karma Kagyu. The Gelugpa leader again called on his Mongol patron Gushri Khan, this time to put down the 'insurgency in Tsang. In a passage that may sound to modern ears more like that other Mongol Khan, Genghis, than an emanation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, the Dalai Lama called for harsh retribution towards the rebels against his rule:

   [Of those in] the band of enemies who have despoiled the duties entrusted to them;
   Make the male lines like trees that have had their roots cut;
   Make the female lines like brooks that have dried up in winter;
   Make the children and grandchildren like eggs smashed against rocks;
   Make the servants and followers like heaps of grass consumed by fire;
   Make their dominion like a lamp whose oil has been exhausted;
   In short, annihilate any traces of them, even their names. [12]

In a few months, Gushri Khan quelled the unrest in Tsang and helped the Dalai Lama establish the Gelugpa as the undisputed spiritual and temporal rulers of Central Tibet. This marked the beginning of four hundred years of political rule by a religious leader, and the definitive end of the dream of the Tsangpa kings to transform Tibet into a unified secular state.

Until at least the early twentieth century, the Dalai Lama's government would hold an annual commemoration of its defeat of Tsang. In the 1920s Sir Charles Bell. a British diplomat who spent nineteen years in Tibet and became close to the thirteenth Dalai Lama. witnessed this ceremony, where three men from Tsang province were compelled to climb to the roof of one of the buildings at the Dalai Lama's Potala Palace in Lhasa. Then, they slid down a rope two hundred and fifty feet long into a courtyard. "This annual event, provided and paid for the by Lhasan Government, refers to Gushri's defeat of the King of Tsang, and is intended to prevent the Tsang province from ever gaining power again." [13]

After the fall of Tsangpa rule, Karma Kagyu followers retreated to Kham in eastern Tibet, out of the control of the Dalai lama's new hostile government. There. they reestablished their activities at such imposing monasteries as Palpung, the seat of the Tai Situs.

Meantime, after the Karmapa fled -- eluding the Mongol forces, according to tradition, through miraculous means -- the fifth Dalai Lama put his cousin, the fifth Gyaltsab Drakpa Choyang (1618-58), in charge of Tsurphu. Thus, the Dalai Lama signaled that he would not forcibly convert the Karmapa's seat into a Gelugpa monastery, as he had done with other Karma Kagyu cloisters. With Gyaltsab as regent, Tsurphu would remain in safe- keeping for the Karmapa's return.

The fifth Gyaltsab died in 1658. While in exile, the Karmapa, one of two who lived as a married householder, recognized the sixth Gyaltsab Norbu Zangpo (1659-98) and adopted him as his own son. When the Karmapa returned from thirty years of exile in the 1670s and resumed control at Tsurphu, he removed Gyaltsab from the Tsurphu labrang and gave him his own administration. Since that time, the Gyaltsabs have run their own labrang and have had no official responsibilities in the Karmapa's administration. A later Gyaltsab, in the nineteenth century, would even sue the Karmapa's labrang over a property rights dispute, a suit which would only end after the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1950s. Thus we see a historical precedent for high Karma Kagyu lamas taking each other to court over property, as they would in India in the case over Rumtek monastery in the 1990s.

The Karmapa's followers never regained the power they had lost to the Gelugpa in 1642. The two schools continued as rivals for centuries to come. In the following centuries there remained a close tie between the Dalai Lama's government and his own Buddhist sect. The new Lhasa government used its power to expand the Dalai Lama's school at the expense of the Kagyu and the other two Buddhist schools, the Nyingma and Sakya, as well as the Bon, the original pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet.

But some powerful Gelugpa lamas, especially the second-ranking master of the school, the Panchen Lamas, contended with the government as well. The ninth Panchen Lama Chokyi Nyima (1883-1937) quarreled with the thirteenth Dalai Lama over Lhasa's tax bite on the Panchen's monastery Tashilhunpo and its attached estates. The conflict led the Panchen to flee Tibet in 1923 and set up a "Field Headquarters" in eastern Tibet from which he feuded with the Dalai Lama and his government until his death in 1937. [14] At that point, Lhasa again quarreled with the Panchen's administration when each side supported a different candidate as the tenth Panchen Lama.

Sixty years later, finding the next Panchen (the eleventh) Would create trouble for the current Dalai Lama as well. The tenth Panchen, overweight and stressed from a lifetime of persecution by the Chinese, died in January 1989 at his home in Shigarse, the old Tsang royal capital, at age fifty-three. Both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government were eager to rind his successor, since the next Panchen stood to become the highest-profile spiritual leader for Tibetans once the Dalai Lama would die. In addition, the next Panchen would probably recognize the next Dalai Lamas many of his predecessors had done. The stakes to control the lama were thus very high and each side feared being sidelined by the other in announcing the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama.

In the early 1990s the Dalai Lama and the Panchen's administration -- who were on the same side this time -- carefully worked out a secret agreement with the Chinese to recognize the incarnation of the eleventh Panchen Lama together. Then, in 1995, the agreement collapsed. On May 14, the Dalai Lama announced his own choice, six-year-old Gendun Chokyi Nyima, without giving prior notice to Beijing or to officials of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), the Chinese government of Tibet in Lhasa. The Chinese were furious. Within days, they whisked the boy off to house arrest in Beijing and started a crackdown on the Panchen's monastery. At the end of November of the same year, Beijing and TAR officials held a lot-draw in the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa to choose their own Panchen, Gyalrsen Norbu, the son of a Communist Party cadre.

The troubled history of the Panchen Lamas shows how the highest lamas contended with the Dalai Lamas for political power in old Tibet, and how in recent decades, lamas became pawns in the struggle between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese for control of hearts and minds in Tibet. We will encounter both of these themes in the rivalry between the Gelugpas and the Karma Kagyus that underpins our story. Later, we will see how this conflict played out in a contest between the Dalai Lama's government and the Shamarpa at the end of the eighteenth century. But first, we will return to the early days of the Karma Kagyu, before the dawn of the Gelug. There, we will find the origin of the Karmapas, the first tulkus of Tibet.