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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."

Dalai Lama watch: Will the next one dig rap?

July 12, 2010

A Buddhist monk prays before a teaching session
by the Dalai Lama at Radio City Music Hall in New
York, May 20, 2010. This week marks the Dalai
Lama's 75th birthday, and there is talk of who
his successor will be. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
By Natacha Butler
The Global Post
July 7, 2010

DHARAMSALA, India -- The Dalai Lama's not getting any younger.

He turned 75 on Tuesday and by all accounts he's
in good health. But, inevitably, the question of
who will succeed one of the world's most revered spiritual leaders looms large.

Increasingly, the spotlight has been turned to
the Karmapa Lama. He is close to the Dalai Lama
and calls him "a spiritual and personal father
figure." As head of one of the major schools of
Tibetan Buddhism, he is also an accomplished
scholar in his own right. But he's of a new generation.

He plays video games and spends time after
meditation listening to rap music. On a recent
visit to his monastery in Sidbhari, a village
near the Dalai Lama's exile home in the northern
Indian town of Dharamsala, the Karmapa Lama
tossed around ideas for which team might win the
World Cup — not exactly the subject that first
comes to mind when you think monastery and Dalai Lama.

"Some people were saying Argentina would win but
now they have lost and are gone so now people are
saying Germany," said the Karmapa.

There's no doubt the Karmapa Lama is an unusual
young man. His is an eclectic mix that bridges
the gap between old and young. It's also turned
him into the modern icon of the Tibetan struggle against China for autonomy.

Born Ogyen Trinley Dorje, he was pronounced the
17th incarnation of the Karmapa Lama as a
7-year-old boy and whisked away to a monastery
near the capital Lhasa. He was quickly recognized
by China which hoped it had found a potentially
powerful rival to the Dalai Lama.

But a 14-year-old Karmapa had other plans.

"At 18 I might have had to take a position in the
Chinese government hierarchy ... and turn against
the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan cause. That was
one of the reasons I decided to leave."

Leave he did, fleeing his home in rural Tibet for
India, embarking on an eight-day journey by foot
and horseback across the Himalayas. China was
infuriated by the dramatic escape that echoed the
Dalai Lama's flight four decades earlier.

The fact that many believe he is being groomed
for the top is hardly a secret, but the prospect
of taking on such responsibility has failed to enthrall the young man.

"I'm not very excited about the possibility but
His Holiness has great faith and hope in the
young generation and I'm part of the young
generation so I will do what I can to support his
work and hope to leave behind a rich legacy like his," said the Karmapa.

He isn't the only one downplaying the hype. The
Dalai Lama's spokesman, Tenzin Taklha, praises
the young monk but said no one knows what will happen after the Dalai Lama.

"[The Karmapa] is charismatic, good-looking and
has great potential. He's a promising leader and
will certainly be one of our most important
spiritual leaders but I could not say he is the only next leader."

Tibetan Youth Congress President Tsewang Rigzin
echoes Taklha's caution, explaining that while
the Karmapa is a "potential spiritual leader, it's just too early to tell."

The Dalai Lama has discussed his succession
although no decisions have been made.

Traditionally monks in Tibet would fan out across
the region to find the Dalai Lama's reincarnation
after his death, but some fear China will hijack
the situation and insert its own chosen figure,
as it did in 1995 with the Panchen Lama. At that
time, the Dalai Lama named a competing incarnation, who promptly vanished.

This time, the Dalai Lama has signaled he could
break with tradition and name a spiritual leader
to succeed him prior to his death.

While the succession question remains unanswered,
for now there's universal agreement that losing
the Dalai Lama would be a devastating blow.

"When you don't have a leader you are very lost
so it'll have huge impact on the Tibetan exiled
community and Tibetans in Tibet, as well as
globally ... I cannot even contemplate that in my
everyday life," said the Karmapa with a sigh, his broad shoulders slumping.

For now the Karmapa's everyday life is packed
with study, meditation and meetings with people
that range from community leaders to Hollywood celebrities like Richard Gere.

India has granted him asylum but restricts his
travel, wary of aggravating already tense
relations with neighboring China. The Karmapa has
been abroad only once in 11 years, when he went to the United States in 2008.

It's a source of great frustration to a young man
itching to spread his wings and meet his spiritual brethren around the world.

"Lots of people are waiting for me to come to
their countries so it is upsetting as I can't fulfill their wishes," he said.

He may be struggling to fulfill his followers
wishes abroad but closer to home the Karmapa is doing just fine.

"Young people love the Karmapa," said Lobsang
Rampa, a 22-year-old student who arrived in
Dharamsala from Tibet five years ago. "He's one
of us, the younger generation, he's our future."

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