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Wednesday, 12 January, 2000, 15:23 GMT
Analysis: Hope for an exiled people?

Tibetan exiles have been excited by the Karmapa's flight


By Religious Affairs correspondent Jane Little

Tibet - remote, mountainous, land of snows - inherited a form of Buddhism which died out in India centuries ago.

Now that unique culture is being preserved in exile in India.

The 14-year old Karmapa Lama who fled last week, in defiance of the Chinese authorities, has joined a long line of Tibetans - more than 100,000 - who have left the country during the 50 years of Chinese occupation.



He can benefit so many people if he's free to travel
Ani Zangmo

But the Karmapa is the most senior spiritual authority recognised by both the Chinese and the Dalai Lama, and his sudden and secret departure represents a major blow and embarrassment to China.

As well as the diplomatic impact, the Karmapa's surprise arrival in Dharamsala, seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile, has great spiritual resonance.

Living Buddha

A lama, which comes from the Sanskrit word guru, or teacher, is highly revered in Tibetan Buddhism.


The Karmapa is highly revered in Tibetan Buddhism

Leading lamas like the Karmapa are believed to be Boddhisatvas - beings who voluntarily reincarnate to help others.

Urgen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa, was discovered as a seven-year-old boy after a letter written by the late 16th Karmapa led monks to his village in eastern Tibet.

The Karmapa is the spiritual head or lineage holder of the Kagyu Sect, one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The others are the Nyingma (the oldest), the Sakya and the Gelupa School, to which the Dalai Lama belongs.

He is recognised by all Tibetans as their spiritual and cultural leader.

Each school shares the same core of beliefs but differs in doctrine and practice.

Western appeal

The Kagyu School has a strong emphasis on meditation.

It has become particularly popular with western converts, many of whom have welcomed the news of the Karmapa's flight from Tibet.


Many of the exiles have fled to the West

Ani Zangmo, a Danish-born convert, compares the influence of the Karmapa within her community to that of the Pope.

"We are all very happy to know that he's accessible to the West, he can benefit so many people if he's free to travel", she says.

Many western converts were drawn to the school because the late 16th Karmapa, who lived in exile in Sikkim, India, travelled widely and was regarded as a charismatic and articulate teacher.



Tibet has lost a potential leader, someone who could have been an international advocate for cultural and religious freedoms
John Ackerly, International Campaign for Tibet

Tibetan exiles living in the United States have also responded with enthusiasm.

There are some 6,000 first and second generation Tibetan exiles in America, many of whom fled Tibet in the 1960s and 1970s during the repressive years of the Cultural Revolution.

Several exile communities now run websites which accuse the Chinese Government of continuing to abuse monks and nuns and control the remaining monasteries.

Apprehension

But while human rights groups have also welcomed the renewed attention on Tibet brought by the Karmapa's flight, some have also expressed concern.

"Tibet has lost a potential leader, someone who could have been an international advocate for cultural and religious freedoms", according to John Ackerly, president of the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet.


Fears for those left behind in Tibet

Meanwhile Tibetans, like Karma Hardy, whose mother's escape from Tibet in 1949 involved an arduous four-month journey over the Himalayas, also has mixed feelings.

As a young monk, he studied with the exiled late 16th Karmapa at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, and is happy that the young 17th Karmapa can now gain the education he needs.

But he has fears too.

"It's definitely going to be more difficult living inside Tibet, they'll tighten security", he says.

The Karmapa has left his parents and siblings in Tibet.

For his followers, the Karmapa bestows great blessings.

A teenage boy has now become the latest symbol of a 50-year old struggle, as Tibetans remain torn in a tug of war between geo-politics and their religious and cultural heritage

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See also:
11 Mar 99 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Tibetans keep their faith
10 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Division in the flock
10 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Diplomatic jitters over Lama's visit
08 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Who is the Karmapa Lama?
07 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Lama's flight embarrasses Beijing

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