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He's young, tall, handsome -- and a possible successor to Dalai Lama

November 26, 2008

By Tim Johnson
McClatchy Newspapers
November 25, 2008

Give the magnetic personality and hunky good looks of a rock star to
a Tibetan Buddhist monk, and the result might be Gyalwang Karmapa,
the third-highest lama in the Tibetan religious firmament.

The Karmapa, as he is known, is getting more than his share of
attention these days.

He's being talked about as a possible transition figure for when the
Dalai Lama, who's the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, dies.
The Dalai Lama, 73, was hospitalized last month to have gallstones removed.

At 23, the Karmapa has some unique characteristics that make him
appealing to a broad cross-section of Tibetan Buddhists, and even to
China, which now claims the right to approve or veto all
reincarnations born to become "living Buddhas" - or senior lamas
delivered to help alleviate human suffering. Reincarnation, or
rebirth, is a basic tenet of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Karmapa is the first Tibetan Buddhist reincarnation to be
recognized by both the Dalai Lama and Communist Party authorities of
China. He made headlines in January 2000, at age 14, with his flight
from Chinese-ruled Tibet into exile, traveling by foot and horseback,
then by jeep and helicopter to India. Allegations of espionage,
intrigue involving a forgotten amulet and squabbling within a
monastery marked his early years in India.

Exuding self-assuredness, the solidly built, 6-foot-tall Karmapa
received several foreign journalists in a rare interview over the
weekend at the university that's his temporary home near the mountain
headquarters of the Dalai Lama. The Karmapa talked of his love of
music, his future role for Tibetan Buddhists and the lack of human
rights in China.

He criticized the Chinese government, which he said wanted "to create
this ethnic conflict" that exploded in deadly rioting in Tibet in
March. However, he spoke tenderly of the Chinese.

"Since I am born as a Tibetan, I really care about the Tibetan people
and Tibetan community. At the same time, I also love the Chinese," he said.

He sat cross-legged on a sofa in a large meeting room with Tibetan
thangkas, or religious paintings on the walls. Outside, crimson
monks' robes flapped from clotheslines in the warm sunshine, and
crows cawed loudly from tree branches.

Some Tibetan exiles say the Karmapa has a magnetic hold on Tibetans.

"He's young, he's charismatic and he's smart," said Lobsang Sangay, a
Tibetan exile who's a senior fellow at Harvard Law School. At
meetings among hundreds of senior exiles in nearby Dharamsala last
week, Sangay said the Karmapa's name repeatedly emerged as a central
figure in a post-Dalai Lama era.

"Some people like to say he's going to take over the helm of the
Tibetan movement when the Dalai Lama passes on," echoed Phil Void, a
musician and one-time Ph.D. candidate in Buddhism at Columbia
University who now resides in Dharamsala.

The Dalai Lama, asked about the Karmapa at a news conference Sunday,
described him as "young, energetic and of course (with) a lot of
experience in Tibet" but declined to go further in elaborating on his
future role.

The Karmapa is the head of the Karma Kagyu, one of four schools in
Tibetan Buddhism, and is believed to have about a million followers
in Tibet and several hundred thousand in Europe and the U.S.

He's been called the 800-year-old lama. That's because followers
believe he's the 17th in a line of consecutive lamas reincarnated, or
born, with the same spirit or consciousness. According to this
belief, the current Karmapa embodies the collective wisdom and learning
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