16th Karmapa & Ashi Wangmo

The 16th Karmapa at a Black hat ceremony

In 1959, foreseeing the communist Chinese invasion of  Tibet, and the inevitable destruction of Buddhist institutions in Tibet, the Karmapa informed the Dalai Lama of his intention to leave his homeland in the spring of 1959. The Sixteenth Karmapa, accompanied by a large entourage, left Tsurphu, and fled Tibet. The timing and organization of the departure made for a relatively easy journey to Bhutan. After three weeks, the party arrived safely in northern Bhutan, where the most senior Bhutanese government officials received them with little problem. Some people said that Bhutanese armies tried to assassinate HH Karmapa. These accounts are most likely apocryphal.

The fact was that it was a critical time for a small country like Bhutan to safeguard itself when Tibet was being invaded by China. Lyonchen was said to have sent armies to the borders to stop Tibetans from entering the country. This measure was taken because the government feared Chinese invasion. At that time Dasho Aku Tongmed and Zimpoen Lam Jaga were heading the troupe assigned to stop Tibetans from entering the country. When HH Karmapa’s entourage requested entry, explaining the relations with the Bhutanese royals, Aku Tongmed and Zimpon Jaga agreed to let the entourage in as far as Kurjee, and advised them to seek necessary permission from the royal family and the government. When Lyonchon heard about these events, Aku Tongmed and Zimpoen Jaga were told to return, as they were blamed for letting in the Tibetans. Paro Takpoen Babu Choje and Zhung Tseloen Jurmey Singye were made responsible for it. The two officials failed to confront the entourage and asked HH Karmapa’s officials to come to meet below Kurjee to settle the case. HH Karmapa’s secretary met with the two officials there and explained their relation with the royal family and their situation. The two officials couldn’t say anything at the time, but later this may have given rise to some conflict between Lyonchen’s officials and Karmapa’s entourage for crossing the border towards India or Sikkim. At that time, Ashi was residing at Zuri in Paro. Ashi heard of Karmapa’s predicament from her servant, Tangpa Jaga. Ashi immediately met with the King and asked for his help in settling the problem. So due to Ashi’s respect for her root teacher, it was all settled and HH Karmapa with his entourage could cross the border towards India. Later Ashi also went to see her teacher in Sikkim when he was sick.

A compassionate composer, who composed songs about her teacher and the impermanence of human existence, was also a princess who closed herself to the mundane activities of samsara. The only daughter of Ashi Lemo and the only sister of the second king, the Bhutanese Buddhist Princess Ashi Kencho Chone Wangmo underwent medical treatment in Kolkata, possibly in her 50s. During this treatment, Ashi took her last breath while on the lap of her root teacher, HH The 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpai Dorji .


Note: This is also a re-post from my old blog from 2012. There is nothing changed from the original post.

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