Arrests made in murder of Akong Rinpoche; condolences pouring in

The 17th Karmapa with Akong Rinpoche in Tibet

New details are slowly emerging about the stabbing death Tuesday of Choje Akong Rinpoche, along with his nephew, Logah, and a driver, Jigme Wangyal, in Chengdu, China. The New York Times and other outlets are reporting that three men have been arrested in Chengdu. The Chengdu police have only said that the murder occurred over an “economic dispute” at Akong Rinpoche’s home. The police also said that the men in custody are ethnic Tibetans, though this has not as yet been independently confirmed.

Akong Rinpoche is a British citizen — he emigrated to Great Britain in 1963 and established the first Tibetan Buddhist center in the West, Kagyu Samye Ling in Scotland, in 1967 — and a British consular team has reportedly been dispatched to oversee the investigation with Chinese authorities.

Among prominent exiled Tibetans, Akong Rinpoche had unusual access to his Tibetan homeland, as noted in the Telegraph’s detailed memorial:

“In 1980, Akong Rinpoche founded ROKPA, an international humanitarian organisation that has supported projects throughout Europe and Asia. Much of the organisation’s activities are concentrated in Nepal and Tibet. An astute politician, as well as an energetic social activist, Akong cultivated unusually close links with the Chinese government, treading the difficult path through the tangled jungle of Sino-Tibetan relations, and was able to establish more than 100 different charitable projects in his former homeland. He was particularly concerned that pupils at ROKPA schools should follow traditional cultural practices in dress and language.”

The Telegraph and others also recalled that as a result of this access, Akong Rinpoche led the search party in 1992 that brought the seven-year old Apo Gaga — soon to be recognized as the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje — to Tsurphu Monastery. The Karmapa famously escaped Tibet at age 14 and has taken up residence in Dharamsala, India, also the home of HH the Dalai Lama.

The Karmapa was among the first to issue a condolence message.

Others have quickly followed, such as another prominent Kagyu lama, Tsoknyi Rinpoche:

“[Akong Rinpoche] was very socially conscious.  He helped many people all over the world, but his work in Tibet was particularly impressive.  He even funded the building of nuns’ quarters at Gechak Gompa in Nangchen Tibet, the largest nunnery practicing in the Tsoknyi tradition there.  I think Rinpoche was very special to many, many Tibetans.  It is great loss for us all but especially for Tibet.”

Lama Yeshe Rinpoche, the current abbot of Kagyu Samye Ling and Akong Rinpoche’s brother, has announced on the official KSL site plans and advice for prayer ceremonies during the traditional 49-day period after death.

Akong Rinpoche’s final television interview can be viewed in full here.

As a side note, many media outlets are describing Akong Rinpoche as a monk. He did not live as a monk in the West, but rather as a lay lama who chose not to raise a family.