A Young Tibetan Lama Prepares for a Greater Role

The New York Times profiles the Karmapa Lama, a revered Tibetan lama who is widely expected to take on spiritual leadership role for Tibetan Buddhists after the Dalai Lama. The Karmapa was accused in the Indian media of being a spy for China after large quantities of money were found on his monastery in India, where he lives in exile:

The Karmapa’s aides said they planned to use the money to buy land for a monastery in India. But the Indian media fanned rumors that he was a Chinese spy.

To Tibetans and to scholars of Tibetan Buddhism, the notion is absurd. The Karmapa fled Tibet when he was 14, climbing out a window of his monastery to a waiting car, avoiding military checkpoints and riding a horse through the Nepalese outback to reach India. The escape was reminiscent of the Dalai Lama’s dash over the icy passes of the Himalayas in 1959.

But the rumors about the 17th Karmapa persisted in part because the Chinese government has recognized him as the legitimate leader of the Kagyu tradition, and avoided denouncing him even after his flight to India. That is in marked contrast to the Chinese denunciations of the Dalai Lama as a “splittist.”

This puts the Karmapa in a singular position, said Robert J. Barnett, director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University.

“The Karmapa is perfectly placed to be someone who could broker a solution in the future,” Mr. Barnett said. “This is one of the rather rare issues where exiles and those in Tibet are in agreement. They have very wide respect for the Karmapa.”

Read more about the Karmapa and about Tibetan Buddhism via CDT.

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