Tormas on the fence at Gyuto

These tormas appeared on the fence at Gyuto Monastery, below the Karmapa’s rooms in the days before Losar. In spite of everything going on there lately, the pre-Losar Mahakala pujas carried on as usual.

A message from Dharamsala, from Karma Chungyalpa, the spokesperson for H.H. Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje

“Dear Friends,

Many of you have written to express your support for His Holiness the Karmapa at this time when such wild accusations are being leveled against him. Your support is greatly appreciated and warmly felt here.

We know that you would like to determine the best way to express and act on that support. In order that you are fully informed as to the situation, we are attaching a fact sheet here that you can refer to in case you are responding to media. However, we ask that you not seek press coverage if this is not a major story in your national press. If media coverage does appear, please do forward our press statements (available on to the press, make yourself available for interviews, and circulate them widely (including on your websites).

When you do so, please adhere strictly to the fact sheet that we have compiled. Please do not point fingers at anyone or be drawn into speculation about motivations. Please do not speak negatively in any way of the Indian government. Please express our collective gratitude to the Indian Government for giving refuge to His Holiness and to the Tibetan people in their hour of need.  We cannot stress these two points strongly enough. We thank you for respecting these guidelines.

We see this moment as an opportunity to directly address the insinuations and fabrications that have been dogging His Holiness for the last 11 years. With the allegations now openly aired, we have a chance to clear the air once and for all. Once the facts become known, we will have a basis to ask the Government of India to put this matter to rest, to allow His Holiness to travel freely and to visit Sikkim. Please do feel free to express this. This is a positive outcome we can look forward to once the truth is finally out.

Of course, the charges that His Holiness is a Chinese spy are preposterous. Please do know that we have seen the strongest possible assertions of confidence in this fact from all quarters of Tibetan society, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the entire Parliament, leaders of the Tibetan government-in-exile and prominent members of the Free Tibet movement. In fact, the unanimous rejection of this charge has strengthened the position of His Holiness.

We hope this clears up the confusion that the wild inaccuracies in the press have stirred up. Please see the attached fact sheet for more details.


Karma Chungyalpa”


Fact: The allegations that His Holiness the Karmapa is a Chinese spy are entirely unfounded and ridiculous.

His Holiness the Karmapa’s escape from Chinese-occupied Tibet was a major embarrassment to China and landed a serious blow to China’s claims to legitimacy for its rule over Tibet. His Holiness the Karmapa was the first reincarnate lama that the People’s Republic of China had officially acknowledged. Yet, rather than allowing himself to be used to convince the world that the Chinese government allowed freedom of religion, His Holiness fled overland, by foot, horseback and jeep, crossing the Himalayas to freedom in India. When His Holiness the Karmapa’s escape and his joyful first meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama became public, China’s oppression of Tibetans’ rights was dramatically highlighted the world over. This thoroughly discredited China’s claims that Tibetans were content under Chinese rule. During his time in India, His Holiness the Karmapa has served as an important spiritual figure, inspiring the Tibetan cause. The allegations that His Holiness the Karmapa was sent here from China as a spy or an agent are not only entirely unfounded, but ridiculous.

Fact: His Holiness the Dalai Lama and leaders of the Tibetan community in exile have repeatedly expressed their support of His Holiness the Karmapa, and their complete confidence that he is no Chinese spy.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has fully backed His Holiness the Karmapa.  Firstly, he has categorically and unequivocally dismissed all allegations of His Holiness the Karmapa having a connection with any arm of the Chinese government. Second, he has underlined how Buddhists from across the world leave offerings in cash to allow His Holiness the Karmapa to continue his substantial religious and social activities.

The Parliament of the Central Tibetan Administration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama (also known as Tibetan government-in-exile) issued a formal statement declaring the following: “As far as Gyalwang Karmapa is concerned, he put his life at risk by coming into exile from Tibet at a tender age. In our society, he is one of the spiritual heads of schools of Tibetan Buddhism, highly revered and respected by the Tibetan people. Personally, he has been concentrating on his study, promotion of Buddhism and world peace and protection of environment, thereby making great service to Tibet’s political and spiritual cause.”

Spontaneous candlelight vigils and marches have sprung up around the Tibetan community in exile. The areas surrounding His Holiness the Karmapa’s residence in Dharamsala have been flooded with Tibetan and overseas visitors seeking to stand by this highly revered spiritual figure. The Deputy Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament, Dolma Gyari, stood at His Holiness’ side when he made his first public address after the investigation began.

Fact: The Karmapa Office of Administration has been seeking to deposit its donations in foreign currency for years.

Under Indian law, foreign currency can only be deposited in a bank by a trust or other registered institution that has received government permission to do so, known as FCRA permission. The Karmapa Office of Administration created a trust, Saraswati Charitable Trust that repeatedly applied for but did not receive permission to deposit foreign currencies. It thus created another trust, Karmae Garchen Trust, whose application for FCRA permission to deposit foreign currency was submitted last year and is still pending.  With no legitimate means of depositing or exchanging this foreign currency, the money was left to pile up over time, awaiting the day when it could be legitimately deposited.

Fact: The Chinese Yuan represents less than 10% of the total amount sized.

The Chinese Yuan was a small proportion of the foreign currency seized.  The Chinese Yuan is the national currency used in Tibet and across mainland China. Tibetans from Tibet generally leave donations in Chinese Yuan. So do Buddhists from mainland China. The Yuan seized by police include Chinese Yuan notes ranging from 1 Yuan notes to larger bills, reflecting that they come from multiple individual sources.

Fact: The Chinese Yuan was only one of over 20 different currencies found.

The foreign currency found included bills in over 20 different currencies. The presence of donations in Yuans well as the many other currencies reflects His Holiness’ status as a world spiritual leader with a widely diverse international following that includes Tibetans and Buddhists from mainland China, whose national currency is the Yuan. It is customary for groups to pool their money and make collective donations. In Chinese culture, it is especially common to offer new notes when making donations to high abbots and senior spiritual leaders.

Fact: Written records are kept of the cash donations.

All donations made by devotees are placed by his attendants in a donation box. At regular intervals, the box is opened and the cashier and a group of other office staff sort and count the donations. The cashier carefully notes the total in each denomination, and painstaking records are kept of the amounts. The cashier opted to store the foreign currency openly in a dormitory room he shares with other monks, rather than in the office, which receives considerably more foot traffic.

Fact: Millions of international disciples regularly leave unsolicited donations in the currencies of their home countries when they come to see His Holiness the Karmapa.

His Holiness the Karmapa is the revered leader of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and the object of the devotion and trust of millions of followers from all over the world. During December 2010 alone, His Holiness granted personal audiences to thousands of devotees from 44 distinct nationalities, including American, British, German, Japanese, and Chinese. It is customary to leave donations of gifts such as fruit, incense or cash, as symbols of devotion to His Holiness the Karmapa, and as a means of supporting his many charitable activities.

Fact: His Holiness the Karmapa’s role is to lead the sect spiritually and he has no role in the day-to-day management of the sect.

The Karmapa reincarnation lineage has a 900-year history of engaging in a vast range of spiritual activities, from teaching Dharma to rigorous meditation to composing philosophical texts. His Holiness the Karmapa is completely and utterly uninvolved in the handling and management of cash. The Tsurphu Labrang, known now as the Karmapa Office of Administration, has existed for hundreds of years to allow the Karmapas to devote their time and energy to their role as spiritual leaders. It manages all the worldly affairs of the Karmapa, including handling the donations and administering the finances. In this way, the Karmapa has been left free to fulfill his solemn duties as spiritual guide to countless followers and leader of a large Buddhist order.

Fact: The Indian government was fully informed of the plans to buy land in Dharamsala to build a monastery for His Holiness the Karmapa.

His Holiness the Karmapa has been hosted in a temporary residence in Dharamsala by another Tibetan Buddhist sect since his arrival in India in 2000. The Karmae Garchen Trust was seeking to purchase the land in its own name for the purpose of building a permanent residence and monastery for His Holiness, whose current living quarters measure 15’x15′. When the Karmae Garchen Trust identified suitable land near His Holiness’ current temporary residence in Dharamsala, it informed the office of the District Collector of Dharamsala and sought their approval to proceed with the purchase.

Fact: The Indian government had granted preliminary approval of the land purchase.

Under the Land Reform act, any non-Himachali, non-agriculturist requires sanction by the state government before purchasing land. The Karmae Garchen Trust sought and was granted preliminary approval by the relevant state government offices. The application was accompanied by a strong letter of support from the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. They obtained both an essentiality certificate and a no-objection certificate from the Town and Country Planning Department of the Himachal Pradesh government, indicating state government approval to proceed with the plans to purchase the land.

Fact: The INR 1 crore (approx. $215,000) seized in the car of an Indian hotelier belonged to the seller of the land, rather than the Trust.

Two men were arrested in a car with approximately 215,000 USD (Rs 1 crore). The two men were agents working for the land seller, who had been given a partial payment due for the land. These agents had accepted payment in Delhi and signed a receipt from Rabgay Chusong, the monk who handles the financial matters for the Karmapa Office of Administration. Currently, only Rabgay is in custody and will be in remand until the 5th, after which we will post bail.

The seller demanded payment in cash for the land, which is legal and commonly practiced for various other capital assets as well, in India. Since the Karmae Garchen Trust did not have such cash on hand, cash donations in Indian rupees were gathered from donations made during the Kagyu Monlam in Bodh Gaya, and delivered to Delhi by the Karmapa Office of Administration.

The 28th Kagyu Monlam Butter Sculptures

One of the Four Great Kings

From “An Interview with the Gyalwang Karmapa, November 29th, 2010” posted on the Kagyu Monlam website (

Q. What are the designs and themes of the butter sculptures this year?

This year they are in connection with the Karmapa 900 commemoration, thus in the torma [butter sculptures] we have representations of eight previous Karmapa incarnations, from the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, to the Eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje.

As last year, in the centre there are deeds of the Buddha, drawn from the Avadana [accounts of past life deeds]. Similarly, there are eight worldly protectors – the four great deities and the Four Great Kings –who guard the virtuous activities of Buddhist practitioners, and, more broadly, not just of Buddhist practitioners, but of other virtuous beings too. Since we are now living in India, in a sense this is a way of showing our respect to the Hindu gods of India, and since they are gods who protect all virtuous, positive beings, and since they were praised by Buddha as well, this is the reason for us to make torma of them in particular this year.

Here are some of our snapshots of this year’s Kagyu Monlam tormas:

One of the Four Great Kings
Sujata offering a bowl of yogurt to the Buddha
Diagram of the Karma Pakshi torma
A detail from the Karma Pakshi torma: "Taming Angulimala"
The Karma Pakshi Torma
The Buddha engaged in austerities
Vishnu, one of the four great Hindu deities
Detail of Vishnu
Detail of Vishnu
The Buddha descending from Tushita Heaven
Brahma, one of the four great Hindu deities
A monkey offers honey to the Buddha
The first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa
Shrine Master, Ozer Nyingpo lighting incense
Jewels (norbus)
Flower ornament
Two of the offering tormas (called "shalzes")


Profile of Cynthia Chao: Torma Film Cinematographer and Sponsor

Cinematographer Cynthia Chao, besides shooting the footage for the Torma film, is also one of the film’s main sponsors. She has been active in Tibetan Buddhism for many years, having taking refuge with Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche of the Karma Kagyu lineage in 1981. For the past several years, she has been supporting the Jonang tradition’s monastic education program. Last year, while preparing for the Torma location filming in Bodhgaya, Cynthia learned that the Jonangpa monks would be there at the same time, preparing butter sculptures for their own annual prayer festival. She visited the monks in Bodhgaya, and filmed them working on their tormas. What follows is a brief description of the Jonang Lineage and an interview with Cynthia about her work with the Jonang monks, as well as a gallery of  photos taken during her trips to the Tibet-Qinghai plateau. For more info about the Jonang monastic education program see and

Cynthia Chao (right) having tea with Chopon Ozer Nyingpo in Bodhgaya, India in 2008.


The Jonang Tradition: Zhentong & the Kalachakra

Established in Central Tibet during the late 13th century, the Jonang tradition of Tibetan Buddhism continues on in an unbroken lineage of successive transmissions from the time of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. Though the Jonang were considered by Western scholars to have been extinct since their 17th century demise in Central Tibet, and were thought to have assimilated into alternative Tibetan Buddhist traditions such as the Nyingma, Sakya, and Kagyu, the Jonang are now known to have survived as their own distinct tradition.

Isolated for almost four centuries within the remote regions of far eastern Tibet, the Jonang continue transmitting their vital views and practices from the Kalachakra Tantra or “Wheel of Time Continuum” while sustaining their unique understanding of mind and reality known as “zhentong” (“shentong”).

via Introduction to the Jonang | Jonang Foundation.

The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje with the Jonang lamas and monks in Bodhgaya.
Cynthia Chao (upper left in purple) with Jonang lamas and monks in Kathmandu, Nepal, Feb. 2010.

1) Cynthia, please give a little background on how you were introduced to the Jonang Lineage and how you became involved with supporting their monastic education program, both inside and outside of Tibet?

In 2003, a friend from Taiwan asked me to bring him to a Tibetan Buddhist temple called Dorje Ling Buddhist Center in Brooklyn to meet his teacher Khenpo Trusum Dorje from Qinghai. I had never heard of this temple before, although I had been in the Buddhist community for many years in the New York area. I remember very clearly that I was so surprised to hear a Tibetan monk who spoke such good Chinese. Then in the spring of 2004, the founder of the center, Tashi Gyaltsan Rinpoche, came to New York. I met him and spoke with him in Chinese without an interpreter.

So I realized that this is a Tibetan Buddhist school called Jonang, which was new to me. With curiosity, I checked the information online and understood more about its history. Rinpoche told me about his plan to build a monastery for Buddhist education; his aim was to invite people internationally and without gender bias (men and women were all welcome). So, I asked him what kind of information he had that would convince people to support his educational project. He told me he had some photographs and I saw some photos of the monastery in Golok, Qinghai that attracted me so much because of the beautiful landscape of the plateau. Since I was so amazed by just looking at those photos, I felt that I wanted to go there myself to find out what I needed to know to encourage people to help.

Long Gyal Monastery in Gande, Golok, Qinghai, July 2004

In the summer of 2004, I went to Golok for the first time. I went with a friend who is a videographer/photographer and had been traveling around the Tibet-Qinghai plateau for many years. At that time, we documented the activities of a group of new students in Long Gyal monastery while they were involved in their first year of study. They were not allowed to go out of the monastery for the entire year except for public duty.

Then in 2007, there was a big event at Long Gyal Monastery; it was a ritual ceremony that involved releasing yaks and sheep. There was also a big construction project going on. They were building a Tibetan Buddhist museum in Golmud, Qinghai, where a group of Tibetan nomads had immigrated from their homeland on the plateau to the desert. These two interesting events attracted me so much, that I decided to make another difficult trip to both Golmud and Golok. Through documenting these two events, I learned more about the multiple functions a Buddhist monastery serves to the Tibetan nomad community. I therefore combined two documentaries into one DVD and called it Love For Qinghai.

I gave this film to the Dorje Ling Buddhist Center to use for fund-raising purposes both in Taiwan and New York, in order to help build the Long Gyal Five Knowledges Buddhist Institute, and the Tibetan Buddhist museum in Golmud.

Besides fund-raising, the main purpose of my work is to share with others the beauty of the Tibet-Qinghai plateau and its inhabitants. I do not consider myself to have helped them with anything, rather I am the one who was inspired and benefited the most. I started to think about how I should live my life in order that it become more meaningful and valuable.

In the spring of 2008, I took a trip with an artist friend and my son, together with another friend named Professor Sha and her daughter who were involved with projects of grassroots education without borders. We went to Kathmandu, Nepal to visit the very first Jonangpa monastery in Nepal–Palgyalwa Jonangpa Takten Shadrup Choeling. The property was bought and donated by Tashi Gyaltsan Rinpoche’s student in Taiwan. After renovation, it becomes Jonang Monastery and a home to some lucky boys from the Mugu district of Nepal, the very high, remote, and isolated Himalayan valleys that spread across the northern part of Nepal.

There are many Tibetan Buddhist monasteries representing all the major lineages in Kathmandu.  Most of the monasteries have been there over 30 years and have a solid foundation. By contrast, the Jonang school is just like a young seed starting to sprout and take root in this land. Because of the importance of the Jonang lineage, a lot of help from other lineages came to them when they first arrived in Kathmandu in 2005.

2) How many monks do you sponsor and what is the age range?

When I went to the monastery in March 2008, there were a total of 45 students. And now, the numbers have increased to 76 students, ages 9 to 18 years old. We went there to try to find out how to help the children and the monastery to grow. Therefore, we interviewed all of the teachers and some of the students, and documented the students’ daily activities from morning until dusk.

From that, I produced a documentary called An Echo From The Himalayas. We figured out that the best way to support the children on a long-term basis is to find them sponsors, just like a lot of charity organizations have been doing to help poor children in the most impoverished areas of the world. A dollar a day can support a child’s food and clothing. $360.00 a year can help a child grow under better conditions, within the educational system of a Buddhist monastery. At the monastery, besides learning to read and write, they receive an education of loving kindness and compassion. We are asking people  to support an educational system that places value on the kind nature of human beings and cultivates the minds of future spiritual teachers in the Buddhist community. This will ultimately improve the quality of spiritual life for all sentient beings.

3) What are the future plans and long-range goals of your work with the Jonang Lineage?

Throughout these years, we have worked very hard to find sponsors for each child, and it has been going well so far. Due to the rapidly increasing numbers of children in the monastery, as well as teachers and staff, we need to work twice as hard to introduce this one-on-one sponsorship program to more people. This has become a daily occupation for our volunteer team, because we need to keep things running smoothly and steadily. We also need to find more English and Chinese language teachers: the teachers work on a volunteer basis because our funds have not been sufficient to hire full-time teachers yet. But the students are making tremendous progress–they are studying hard and learning new things everyday. It is such a joy to watch them grow, knowing that they are under the good care of the teachers and staff in the monastery.

Tashi Gyaltsan Rinpoche has a plan to help the monastery grow and become financially independent some day. He is looking to buy a piece of land in a suburban area and move the school there. Students will have more space to grow and the current location in Boudhanath, near the stupa, could be changed into a guest house for pilgrims and tourists, thus bringing in some income to help pay the school’s expenses. I personally think this is a very good plan. His goal is that the monastery and school will eventually become self-sufficient.

I plan to continue in this educational work for as long as I am able to. I also hope that people who would like to share their love, and wish to care for poor children in other parts of the world, would please consider helping these student monks, who are the precious seeds of world peace. (To learn how, please check out

Photos © Cynthia Chao

Two little monks blow conch before the yak and sheep releasing ceremony, July 2007.
Barley field in Qinghai, July 2007
The yak and sheep releasing ceremony, July 2007
The sheep being released, July 2007
The yellow flower field in Qinghai, July 2007
Torma preparation in Long Gyal Monastery, Gande, Golok, Qinghai, July 2004
Torma preparation in Long Gyal Monastery, Gande, Golok, Qinghai, July 2004
Scenery on Qinghai plateau (antelope skeleton), July 2004
Young girls on the plateau in the orphanage school sponsored by Tashi Gyaltsan Rinpoche, July 2004
Young monk students at Long Gyal Monastery, July 2004
The desert in Golmud where Tibetan villages were built for the nomad immigrants from the area of 3 rivers origination, July 2007
The construction of the Tibetan Museum in the desert of Golmud was sponsored by Tashi Gyaltsan Rinpoche, July 2007
The construction of the Tibetan Museum in the desert of Golmud, July 2007


North American Kagyu Monlam Torma Preparation (Video)

This informal short film (in 4 parts), chronicles the NAKM torma preparation in July 2010. Edited by Peter Elias and Yeshe Wangmo.

North American Kagyu Monlam Torma Report

While preparations for the first North American Kagyu Monlam were underway, some of the highly-trained torma artist monks and nuns, who had been documented and interviewed by the Torma Film crew in 2008 and 2009, were invited to Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (Woodstock, New York) to make the butter sculptures for the NAKM. One of the Kagyu Monlam umdzes, Sonam Paljor, from Rumtek Monastery, was also invited to KTD to lead the chanting.

As monlam preparations progressed, the lamas and staff at KTD were disappointed to learn that the torma artists were denied visas to enter the U.S. Only the umdze, Sonam Paljor, was able to obtain a visa. The KTD administration, under the direction of Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, hastily assembled a crew of North American-based torma-makers to prepare the butter sculptures.

Though none of these lamas had taken part in the formal training in India for making the Kagyu Monlam butter sculptures, they were able to view a one-hour video, prepared by the Torma Film crew, detailing the step-by-step process the Tibetan artists had developed to create their magnificent butter sculptures for the International Kagyu Monlam in India.

The torma crew was spearheaded by Tibetan artist, Lama Karma Chopal, currently based in Charlottesville, Virginia; Lama Tashi Dondup from Toronto, Canada; and umdze Sonam Paljor from Sikkim, India. KTD resident teacher Khenpo Urgyen and several lamas from KTD and Karme Ling Retreat Center including Lama Karma Drodul, Lama Tsultrim, Gelongma Lama Lodro Lhamo, Gelongma Karuna Tara, and Yeshe Wangmo rounded out the torma team. KTD cabinet maker, David Fisher, made the gyentras (wooden plaques for mounting the torma ornaments) and Lama Tashi’s student Andrey Hervartin from Toronto assisted the torma team.

Below is a photo gallery of the entire torma-making process at KTD this past week, from the beginning through the completion of the shrine set-up on Sunday.

The tormas consist of ingredients easily found in North America. The dough was made of quick oats and “the three whites and three sweets,” (butter, milk, yogurt, honey, molasses, and sugar).

The wax-butter for the ornaments was made from butter, beeswax, and tempera paint.

(photos by Yeshe Wangmo)

NAKM tormas set up on the KTD shrine.

Making Shalzes in Bodhgaya

Karma Kagyu monks make shalzes out of the torma dough for the International Kagyu Monlam for World Peace held annually in Bodhgaya. Shalzes are considered to be sacred food offerings for the deities. Filmed in Bodhgaya in December 2008 by Ko Jung-Fa and Cynthia Chao.

%d bloggers like this: