Karmapa: The Politics of Reincarnation
When interviewed, the Dalai Lama himself brought up “the gossip around town,” as he put it. “One gossip is, ‘Oh, Dalai Lama and Dharamsala administration, they want to control Karmapa and use for political matters.’” Another rumor was that the Sixteenth Karmapa and the Dalai Lama were on poor terms with each other, but this was not true, he said. “The late Gyalwa Rinpoche and I, personally, were always very friendly and trusted each other.” But some people interpreted some of the Sixteenth Karmapa’s decisions in a sectarian manner. The Dalai Lama said it is inaccurate to see it this way, noting that the Karmapa has his own Kagyu heritage and the obligation to preserve it …
Whatever private agendas politicians may have for the Karmapa, his relationship with the Dalai Lama is one of warm affection and respect. The two meet about once a week when the Dalai Lama is in Dharamsala. They formed a very strong bond in a short time and appear to have a natural affinity. The Dalai Lama, in an interview in late 2000, expressed his sympathy for the Karmapa, whom “we have a moral responsibility to look after.” The Dalai Lama voiced concern about the attitude of the government of India. “Usually I describe it as overcautious … Theoretically speaking, this is a free country,” the Dalai Lama went on, “He came to join with the rest of the Tibetan community here, to enjoy freedom completely…”
A youthful sage
Perhaps the most striking thing about the Karmapa is what a well-integrated contradiction he is. He behaves and speaks like a sage when called upon, quite cognizant of situations, but then suddenly the teenager peeks out, interested in teenage things. He might shyly ask a question and smile. A favorite pastime is playing with his little dog Dekyi, a beige puffball of mixed Shih Tzu and Apso ancestry. He also has a tame cockatoo who struts on a perch outside his door, a gift from Gongkar Rinpoche.
Partly because the Karmapa is tall for his age and has that remarkable, penetrating gaze, and because he responds to questions so astutely, it is hard to view him as merely a boy. Even as a child of eight he had a powerful personality, which has only become more self-confident with age. His moods can be like thunder at times, and when he is angry, everyone – even the high lamas – tread lightly. After all, his strong will and tenacity got him out of Tibet.
In today’s world the stakeholders are bigger, more powerful: not only Tibet but China and its neighbors. Could this poised young man be an instrument toward future resolution of the problems between China and Tibet? And how will he integrate the growing exchange between East and West? It will certainly be interesting to watch …
© Lea Terhune, 2004. Excerpted from Karmapa: The Politics of Reincarnation, with permission from Wisdom Publications, 199 Elm Street, Somerville, MA 02144 USA, www.wisdompubs.org
Photo credit: Tim Wolf