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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Young Buddhist leader waits in the wings

November 30, 2008

Known as the Karmapa, he is a possible successor to the Dalai Lama
By Tim Johnson
November 27, 2008

SIDHBARI, INDIA -- 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.

Flight from Tibet
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.

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.

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 of all of his predecessors.

Using omens and a prediction note from the 16th Karmapa that turned
up in an amulet, senior lamas identified a young boy, Ogyen Trinley
Dorje, as the reincarnated Karmapa, and sent him for religious
training at the Tsurphu Monastery near Lhasa, Tibet's capital. China
gloried in its trophy lama, viewing him as a calming influence on
restive Tibetans.

But the boy lama grew unhappy, leading to a daring escape to India.
The flight into exile proved humiliating to China, which initially
claimed that the Karmapa had gone to India to retrieve some musical
instruments and key black hats worn by his Buddhist sect.

Once in India, the Karmapa found his movements constrained by Indian
security agents who seemed to consider him a threat. He's never been
allowed to visit the Rumtek monastery in Sikkim that's the seat of
his sect in India.

Tight security
Even eight years after the more popular Karmapa's arrival, security
agents still hover, barring journalists from bringing cameras, tape
recorders or electronic devices to interviews.

Beijing has said nothing overtly critical of the Karmapa, making
clear that it wants its great lama to return and counterbalance the
criticism that the Dalai Lama regularly heaps on China.

But there's no sign that will happen. The Karmapa has been given a
significantly looser leash by Indian security, winning a chance to
visit with U.S. followers last summer in New York, Boulder, Colo., and Seattle.

His residence in exile carries some sadness, too, as his parents
remain in Tibet. China doesn't permit them to travel to India. "I
want to see my parents," he said. "Their life is very simple, in a
remote place."

So he devotes himself to intense religious study, preparing himself
for the future.
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