In 1981, the highly revered 16th Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, passed away. His death set in motion a process to identify his reincarnated successor that originated 900 years ago with the 1st Karmapa who was the first Tibetan Buddhist master to reincarnate. 

Since the early 1990’s, the identification of the 17th Karmapa has been mired in controversy, causing a schism in the Karma Kagyu sect. Two competing factions within the sect have recognized different candidates. The resulting discord has generated many rumors, articles, and books. Most non-Tibetans have difficulty verifying the accuracy of the conflicting information and interpretations they read and hear.

To help sort out the competing claims, author Sylvia Wong believes that “an unbiased voice” can be found in the past—namely, the prophetic words of previous Karmapas. Not only does she offer the Karmapas’ words, but using a combination of accurate translations, sound interpretation, proper historical research, and investigative reporting, she also marshals new evidence and analysis to show that the predictions likely have come true in our time.

In addition, Ms. Wong corrects recent publications’ linguistic and historical errors that contribute to the Karmapa controversy. She believes that an accurate account of Karma Kagyu history ought to be of equal importance to both 17th Karmapas and their followers. With the assistance of respected translators, Ms. Wong gathers for the first time in English, many key Tibetan writings that reveal the relevant Karma Kagyu history.

Karmapa’s followers believe that he is a great bodhisattva whose mind, as transmitted over many reincarnations, is synonymous with clarity and wisdom. Thus, in Part One of her ground-breaking study, Ms. Wong seeks to discover the true voice of the Karmapa concerning the current controversy. She does this through the writings, specifically prophecies, of the 5th and 16th Karmapas who forewarned of treachery within the Karma Kagyu not unlike the present schism. The 5th Karmapa actually named the antagonist, a lama who would harm his lineage in the future, and described the one who would defeat him. The Karmapa Prophecies offers the first English translation of these writings.

Ms. Wong also examines for the first time the predictions of the 8th-century enlightened master Guru Rinpoche—just made available in a book brought out of Tibet early in 2008.  His prophecy also alludes to a nefarious figure whose name contains two syllables which happen to be found in the name of the same lama mentioned by the 5th Karmapa. To help reveal the true meanings of these prophecies of the two previous Karmapas and Guru Rinpoche, an in-depth commentary by Geshe Dawa Gyaltsen, a scholar affiliated with the Gelugpa sect of the Dalai Lama, accompanies each prophecy.

In the final three sections of the book, Ms. Wong gathers evidence from history texts, court documents, letters, testimonials from eye witnesses, and newspaper accounts to determine if people within the Karma Kagyu sect have acted in a way that was foretold in the prophecies.

Part Two of the book reviews and refutes mistruths about Tibetan history that several recent publications have spread. If left uncorrected, they can damage the reputation of Karma Kagyu – a risk forewarned in the prophecies. 

Part Three presents the first-person account by Shamar Rinpoche, historically known as the Red-Hat Karmapa, about events just prior to the 16th Karmapa’s passing until Shamar’s recognition of the 17th Karmapa Thaye Dorje. His never-before-told narrative names eye witnesses who can substantiate his story and reveals the divisive forces that have undermined the authority of Karmapa’s administration – a threat predicted by the 16th Karmapa.

The 16th Karmapa also predicted that his home base, the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, India, would be threatened. On August 2, 1993, this prediction was realized when the 16th Karmapa’s monks were chased out of their home, school, and monastery. The concluding section of The Karmapa Prophecies examines the key figures in the takeover of the Rumtek Monastery and their master plan. Today, neither of the two 17th Karmapas can set foot in Rumtek, as their predecessor foresaw.

The Author

A long-time practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, Sylvia Wong is an editor of Buddhist teachings published in Buddhist magazines and websites.  She lives in Toronto, Canada.