Boy Lama walks 900 miles to freedom


This Is London, January 7, 2000
by Patrick Sawer

After an exhausting 900-mile journey across snow covered Himalayan mountain passes the 14-year-old leader of one of the leading sects of Tibetan Buddhism has escaped from Communist China.

The 17th Karmapa's own long march came to an end when he stumbled into Dharamsala, the seat of the exiled Dalai Lama, at 10.30am on Wednesday. Accompanied by four attendants he completed the last week of his trek on foot and is now recovering from the ordeal. A source in Dharamsala said:

"He's extremely exhausted."

The Karmapa's journey, a mix of Boy's Own adventure and spiritual pilgrimage, will enrage the Chinese authorities and boost the morale of his Kagyupa sect, one of the four great sects of Tibetan Buddhism. On the day he arrived in Dharamsala from his remote monastery home 30 miles north west of the Tibetan capital Lasa, the boy is understood to have met the Dalai Lama, the effective leader of all four sects who fled Tibet in similar circumstances in 1959.

The 17th Karmapa's escape is a bitter blow to Beijing, who regard the Dalai Lama as a "terrorist" and routinely assault and detain monks for displaying his picture in Tibet.

While recognised by the Tibetan people, the boy had been considered by some a puppet of the Chinese until today's dramatic news. As a boy Ugyen Trinley Dorje became the first high lama to be officially approved by the Communist authorities, in 1991.

He has been a guest at state ceremonies and in 1995 Beijing declared his remote monastery outstandingly patriotic and law abiding.

The boy, in a gesture of cooperation that has never been repeated, was approved by both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government, and Beijing has attempted to use his credibility in in the eyes of the Tibetans as a propaganda weapon in their fight against the Dalai's authority.

The 17th Karmapa is likely to play a central role in the battle over the 64-year-old Dalai's reincarnation when the spiritual leader dies and their meeting following his escape could add weight to his claim in the face of an attempt by the Chinese to find their own credible candidate. He was born of humble origins in the Lhathok region of Tibet in 1985. His early life was divided between his family and a monastery. There he was given the special education reserved for a boy believed to be the reincarnation of a previous lama.

His escape has been greeted ecstatically by his followers. The Kagyupa sect, sometimes nicknamed the Black Hats, was one of the first to win a large number of devotees in the west and has centres in places as far apart as Woodstock in America and Eskdalemuir in Scotland.


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