This is a surprise because popular belief is that Buddhist monks do not marry. This is shocking because the man who left monkhood to marry is no ordinary monk – he is the supreme head of the one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism and at the center of the Karmapa controversy.
Thaye Dorje is the 33-year-old 17th Karmapa of the 900 years old Karma Kagyu lineage.
On Wednesday, his office suddenly announced that the Karmapa had married his childhood friend on March 25 in a private ceremony in New Delhi.
Thaye Dorje’s wife, 36-year-old Rinchen Yangzom, was born in Bhutan and educated in India and Europe. Dorje was born in Tibet. His father was high lama and his mother hailed from the Tibetan nobility.
“I have a strong feeling, deep within my heart, that my decision to marry will have a positive impact not only for me, but also for the lineage,” the statement quoted Thaye Dorje as saying. “Something beautiful, something beneficial will emerge, for all of us.”
“In this 17th incarnation, for both the future of the lineage, and fulfilling the wishes of my parents, I have chosen a different path. At the same time, my commitment to protect and preserve the monastic body, and the lineage, remains paramount in my life, and my continued role as Karmapa,” he is quoted as saying.
He is not the first Karmapa to marry. The 15th Karmapa, Khakyab Dorje, too, was married and fathered three sons.
What is important to note here is that Thaye Dorje is not the only one enthroned as the Karmapa of the Karma Kagyu lineage.
The Dalai Lama recognized Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the Karmapa of the Karma Kagyu school. Because of that recognition, Ogyen Trinley Dorje has a very high number of followers.
Technically, therefore, there are two 17th Karmapas. Both of them are accepted by their respective sects.
The problem is that China has been trying to control Tibetan Buddhism in every way possible. The PRC does not recognize the Dalai Lama and has placed its own Panchen Lama.
In the Tibetan Buddhist monastic tradition, the Panchen Lama identifies the Dalai Lama, who, in turn, chooses the successor to the Panchen Lama.
In 1995 China ‘kidnapped’ the six-year-old boy selected by Dalai Lama to be the next Panchen Lama. That boy has never been seen since.
So the yet unsolved Karmapa controversy is certainly going to take a turn with the marriage of Thaye Dorje, who will continue performing his duties as a Karmapa except conducting ordinations because he is no longer a monk.