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.
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.