The Mystery of the Karmapa Lama

NEW DELHI – The seizure by police of large sums of Chinese currency from the Indian monastery of the Karmapa Lama – one of the most-important figures in Tibetan Buddhism – has revived old suspicions about his continuing links with China and forced him to deny that he is an “agent of Beijing.”

The Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama, and the Karmapa Lama are the three highest figures in Tibetan Buddhism, representing parallel institutions that have intermittently been at odds with each other throughout their history. And China, seeking to tighten its grip on Tibet, has worked to control the traditional process of finding the reincarnation of any senior lama that passes away.

Thus, in 1992, China helped select the seven-year-old Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the 17th Karmapa Lama, installing him at Tibet’s Tsurphu monastery – the Karmapas’ ancestral abode, which was almost destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. He became the first reincarnated “living Buddha” to be recognized and ratified by Communist China.

But then, in 1999, Dorje staged a stunning escape to India via Nepal, attracting the world’s attention, but also deep suspicion because of the apparent ease with which he and his entourage managed to flee. The Dalai Lama has hosted him at the Gyuto monastery in Dharamsala, India, ever since.