Join our Mailing List

"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Possible Successor to Dalai Lama Under Virtual House Arrest in India

July 23, 2010

Barbara Crossette
The Nation (USA)
July 21, 2010

At the end of a cold Himalayan December in 1999,
a 14-year old monk made a phenomenal escape from
a monastery in Tibet where his every move was
patrolled by the Chinese. Fleeing by car, on foot
and by horseback, he crossed some of Nepal's most
forbidding terrain and found his way to India,
where he settled at the feet of the Dalai Lama, seeking teaching.

Since then, he has been under virtual house
arrest by the Indian government, circumscribed in
his movements, and now banned from travel to the
West, where he has a large following—and to the
seat of his Tibetan sect in Sikkim, a
once-independent Tibetan Buddhist kingdom that
India undermined and incorporated in 1975. The
reason for India's denial of the monk's freedom
of movement seems plain. In a word: it's China.

The travel ban follows a thinly veiled warning by
India's foreign secretary to the Dalai Lama last
week not to say anything provocative on a visit
to Ladakh, near the Tibetan border. According to
Indian media reports, the Dalai Lama was told
that ongoing talks between China and India on a
range of subjects could be jeopardized by
angering China. The situation echoes China's
annoyance when an American president meets the Dalai Lama.

In the case of the young monk, he is no ordinary
refugee in exile. The young lama being grounded
by India, Ugyen Trinley Dorje, is the 17th
Karmapa, believed by Buddhists in Tibet and China
to be the reincarnated leader of the Karma Kagyu
order of Tibetan Buddhism, with many followers in
the United States and Europe. In Woodstock, New
York, an American home was waiting for him: the
Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Center, which the
young monk's predecessor, the 16th Karmapa, had
visited frequently. The 17th Karmapa Lama was
allowed one brief visit to Woodstock in 2008 and
was pleased to see its authentic Tibetan art and
practice. In Tibetan Buddhism, the words lama and
monk are often used interchangeably. Leaders of
orders who carry the title of lama—the Dalai
Lama, Panchen Lama or Karmapa Lama are the heads
of formal monastic orders; not all lamas are ordained monks.

Last week, just before another long-planned
two-week trip to Woodstock and other US venues,
the Karmapa was told by the Indian government
that he would not be permitted to leave India. No
reason was given by authorities. Last year a
European trip was also cancelled abruptly without explanation.

"We don't understand it," said Thomas Schmidt,
external affairs director at the Woodstock
Buddhist center, known more manageably as KTD. He
said that the center had always "tried to keep
things in the religious realm" and not get in
involved in the international politics of Tibet.
Aware of India's skittishness, Woodstock had not
advertised the Karmapa's proposed trip, as it
would normally do in Buddhist publications.

What has happened in recent years is that the
young Karmapa, now 25, has come into world focus
as a strong personality with a charismatic style
whom the Dalai Lama, now in his 70s, seems to be
grooming as a successor as leader of the Tibetan
diaspora. The two belong to different schools of
Tibetan Buddhism, but that does not seem to be a
concern. The Dalai Lama has been the cultural,
religious and political voice of most exiled
Tibetans, a role that transcends sectarianism. A
master politician, he has effectively renounced
any intention of seeking independence for Tibet,
but has argued for autonomy and the preservation
of Tibetan culture, now under severe threat from
the large-scale movement of ethnic Han Chinese
into Tibet and traditional Tibetan areas of China
proper. Beijing, labeling him a "splittist" anyway, has refused to meet him.

In the case of the Karmapa, the problem for China
is that before he fled Tibet into the exile
opposition, the young man was recognized as an
incarnate leader of his order by both the Chinese
and the Dalai Lama. The Chinese cannot derail
this legitimacy easily, as Beijing did with the
Panchen Lama -- or lamas, since there are now
two, one recognized by Tibetans and the other
backed by China a rival as leader. The boy the
Tibetans recognize disappeared into Chinese
custody 15 years ago with his family and has not been seen since.

The Panchen Lama -- a title transferred to
succeeding reincarnates -- was once considered
the second-highest ranking Tibetan Buddhist
leader after the Dalai Lama. But China's
manufactured rival candidate to the monk
recognized by the Dalai Lama would not now be
acceptable at any level by most Tibetans, who
still back the original reincarnate. That leaves
the field for second place open to the 17th
Karmapa, and he seems to hold the promise of
being a formidable voice. Young and strong, he
already has a wide audience among Tibetans as a
protégé of the Dalai Lama and could, however
unwittingly, inspire Tibetan youth to revive
their dreams of stronger resistance to the
Chinese, a course the Dalai Lama has told them
repeatedly would be suicidal. More important, the
Karmapa is rapidly becoming a fresh new face for
Tibetan Buddhism internationally.

For the time being, India, which preaches
religious freedom and a special relationship with
Buddhism, seems to be doing Beijing's will at
keeping the Karmapa out of global view. At
Woodstock, the Buddhists are perplexed. "People
are getting fed up with this now," Schmidt said.
"We have no idea why they are restricting his travel. We are disappointed."
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank