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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Meet a living Buddha: Young, handsome, with an old soul

November 27, 2008

By Tim Johnson
McClatchy Newspapers
November 25, 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. RReincarnation, 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 of 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 onetime 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 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.

"The Chinese intentions were to use him as a puppet, as a propaganda
tool," Void said.

After all, he was the only undisputed great Tibetan lama remaining
within China.

But the boy lama grew unhappy. He wasn't allowed access to some of
his teachers at Tsurphu Monastery, a vital lapse since many teachings
are oral. So he doffed his robes and put on a baseball cap for a daring escape.

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 seat of his
sect in India.

"Indian intelligence perpetrated the baseless allegation that he was
a spy sent by China. No one would believe he could escape right under
their noses," said Kate Saunders, a spokeswoman for the International
Campaign for Tibet, an advocacy group with offices in London and Washington.

Moreover, his sect has been riven by dispute. While the Dalai Lama
has recognized him as the correct reincarnation, a sect leader tapped
a rival as the real Karmapa, setting up his shop in New Delhi.
Control of the Rumtek monastery is now at issue in lawsuits over the matter.

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.

The Karmapa said he'd like to play a bigger role in easing tensions
between Tibetans and Han Chinese but doesn't quite know how to do so.

"If I get a chance, I want to do this. I'm not sure I'll get this
chance. It's difficult, as you see, to connect with the outside
world," he said, signaling to the security presence.

He talked bluntly about the reasons Tibetans launched demonstrations
and protests that roiled ethnic Tibetan areas of China in March.

"Because there are no human rights under Chinese, some of them stood
up. That's the reason for the spring uprising," he said. He said
since China "is more advanced and more powerful, they should have
more consideration of Tibet."

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, a trip he called "wonderful" and adding, "I found some freedom."

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, although he does enjoy a favorite pastime.

"I like music. I can't dance because of these robes," he said. "I just listen."
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