Boy Lama Flees
Across Himalayas To
Escape Chinese
By David Rennie In Beijing
Boy lama can trace his lineage to 1283
The teenage head of one of the four great sects of Tibetan Buddhism has escaped from Chinese Communist rule to India after a trek through the Himalayas, sources said yesterday.
The 17th Karmapa stumbled with four attendants into Dharamsala, the seat in exile of the Dalai Lama, after an epic journey at the worst time of the year. The 14-year-old is now recovering from his ordeal. It is not clear how he started his 900-mile journey from his remote monastery home, 30 miles north-west of the capital, Lhasa.
He completed the last week on foot, crossing mountain passes in heavy snow, before arriving at Dharamsala at 10.30am on Wednesday. "He's extremely exhausted," a source in Dharamsala said last night.
The Karmapa is being shielded from visitors and the Chinese authorities, who will be enraged at losing a religious leader they had been rearing as a "patriotic" tool in their 50-year campaign to suppress Tibetan independence. So delicate is the situation that the Tibetan government-in-exile has yet to confirm that the Karmapa is in Dharamsala, though an announcement is expected in the next two days.
The young Karmapa is the head of the powerful Kagyupa sect, often nicknamed the "Black Hat" sect, which was one of the first to gain Western devotees in large numbers. There are major monasteries and centres in places as far apart as Woodstock, in America, and Eskdalemuir in Scotland. The president of the North American branch of the sect, Tenzin Chonyi, said yesterday that the news of their leader's escape was "like a miracle".
Tenzin Chonyi, who was the personal attendant of the 16th Karmapa and fled with him from Tibet in 1959, received "reliable information" on Wednesday from disciples in Dharamsala that the Karmapa had arrived with four companions. "We have received information that he has met the Dalai Lama," added Tenzin Chonyi, who has met the 17th Karmapa several times.
He described the young priest as a great religious leader and the reincarnation of his former master. He said: "From the first time I met him, when he was eight years old, you could tell."
The boy met the 14th Dalai Lama, the effective leader of all four sects of Tibetan Buddhism, on the day he arrived, said Tenzin Chonyi. The two would almost certainly have never met if the Karmapa had not risked his life to cross the Himalayas. The Dalai Lama is reviled as a "terrorist" by the Chinese authorities, who routinely beat and detain monks for displaying his picture inside Tibet.
The Dalai has not set foot in his mountain homeland since he fled during a failed uprising in 1959, eight years after his capital Lhasa was "liberated" by Chinese forces. In contrast, the 17th Karmapa had seemed a valuable puppet of Beijing until his escape. The boy, Ugyen Trinley Dorje, was the first high lama ever to be officially approved in 1991 by the Chinese authorities.
He has been a guest at state ceremonies in Beijing. In 1995, his remote monastery was declared outstandingly patriotic and law-abiding by the authorities. The young Karmapa appears to have left his family behind in Tibet, unlike the Dalai Lama, whose long years of exile were eased by the presence of his mother and siblings in Dharamsala. The Dalai Lama's brother, Tenzin Choegyal, who is know as TC, still runs a guesthouse in the small Indian hilltown.
The 17th Karmapa was born in 1985 to nomadic parents in the Lhathok region of Tibet. He was nicknamed Apo Gaga, or "happy brother" by his older sister. His early life was divided between his family and a monastery, where he was given the special education of a boy believed to be the reincarnation of a previous lama. In 1992, a party of monks, using a letter handed down by the 16th Karmapa before his death in 1981, reputedly found him with his parents in a camp he had chosen.
The letter had been lost but was mysteriously found inside an amulet 11 years after the death. It was the centre of a bitter dispute over the child's authenticity. However, in a gesture of co-operation that has never been repeated, the Dalai Lama and Beijing both approved the boy.
The Dalai Lama's blessing has been conspicuously withheld from Beijing's other chosen boy-priest, the Panchen Lama, who is widely dismissed by many Tibetans as a fake.
The Karmapa's authenticity in the eyes of the Tibetans made him a hugely valuable weapon in Beijing's fight to destroy the Dalai Lama's authority, by aggressive "atheism campaigns", and by raising their own "patriotic" lamas under Communist control. When the Dalai Lama, who is 64, comes to die, there will be a fierce battle over his rightful reincarnation. The row will probably dwarf anything seen before, as Beijing strives to find its own credible candidate.
However, the Dalai Lama has already said that he will not be reborn in territory under Chinese control. Leading lamas like the Karmapa, and the Panchen Lama, will carry immense sway. The 14-year-old who staggered into Dharamsala this week is a prize that Beijing will regret losing for a long time to come.


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