An ageing Dalai Lama and China’s rapid expansion into South Asia has forced Delhi to sit up and make amends with the Karmapa Lama.
New Delhi: The Karmapa Lama, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, is negotiating the terms of his return to India with the government, although in principle he has decided to come back by November in deference to the wishes of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
The 33-year-old Karmapa has been in the US for the past one year for medical treatment.
On top of the agenda of conversation is whether or not Delhi still believes he is a Chinese spy, although 18 years have elapsed since the Karmapa fled his monastery in Tsurphu in Tibet in December-end 1999. As a 14-year-old, he walked the difficult, snowy terrain to the Nepal border and reached Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh about 10 days later on 5 January, 2000.
With the Dalai Lama now 83 years old and the Chinese government rapidly expanding its presence in India’s neighbourhood, the luxury of using the Tibetan community-in-exile as a so-called “card” against Beijing is fast diminishing.
Govt ready to offer land in Delhi
The government has finally decided to reach out to the Karmapa and is ready to offer it five acres of land in Delhi’s Dwarka area, near the international airport, so he can build his headquarters, official sources said.
The olive branch to the Karmapa is a significant step. As the spiritual leader of the 900-year-old Karma Kagyu tradition — Tibetan Buddhism has four sects, one of which is the Gelugpa, whose leader is the Dalai Lama — the Karmapa has lived the past 18 years in cramped accommodation at the foothills of Dharamsala, watched over by a security guard day and night.
Much of the last year has been spent in a Karma Kagyu centre in New Jersey, US, where he travelled for medical treatment.
The Karmapa is said to be hugely relieved at the Indian government’s offer of land, according to sources. Certainly, the land in Delhi won’t come cheap, even if it is heavily discounted.
The Karmapa confirmed his return to India
In an interview with the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia (RFA) in Washington last week, the Karmapa confirmed he is returning to India to participate in a meeting called by the Dalai Lama for the spiritual leaders of all Tibetan Buddhism lineages.
“I have no doubt or question that my return to India is absolutely certain,” the Karmapa told RFA. “In November of this year, there will be an important meeting of the heads of the major Tibetan Buddhist traditions in Dharamsala, India. Therefore, I must attend.”
According to Amitabh Mathur, an adviser on Tibetan affairs with the government, who met the Karmapa over a private cup of tea at the Russian Tea Room in New York on his birthday in late June, “The Karmapa will return when the timing and circumstances of his return are finalised.”
‘No differences with the Dalai Lama’
Mathur pointed out that the Karmapa has always paid full respect to the Dalai Lama and treated him like an elder. He denied reports of estrangement between the Karmapa and the government, pointing out that the Karmapa could travel freely inside the country, including to Sikkim, and abroad.
In an interview with this reporter last year before he left for the US, the Karmapa had openly spoken about his unhappiness over the manner in which the Indian government and intelligence agencies had treated him these past several years, refusing to believe that he was the real leader of the Karma Kagyu sect.
At the time he had acknowledged concerns that stories of him, a 14-year-old traversing the difficult journey of his escape from a country like China, sounded fantastical.
But he had insisted that it was the pure, unvarnished truth. He pointed to the fact that none other than the Dalai Lama had blessed him and recognised him as the 17th Karmapa Lama, the inheritor of the Karma Kagyu legacy.
If India didn’t want him, he had pointed out in his interview with this reporter, then he may as well look for other options.
Hope on the horizon
In last week’s interview with RFA, the Karmapa said: “When I first arrived in India, I faced many difficulties, including accusations that I was a Chinese agent.”
“But now we have an opportunity to meet with higher-level Indian leaders to explain my situation, which has made a huge difference,” the Karmapa added, implying that it was the lower bureaucracy in Dharamsala and Delhi, which had made his life hell these past 18 years.
For example, the suspicion that he was a Chinese agent was supposedly confirmed some years ago when intelligence agencies found a suspiciously high amount of a variety of foreign currency with the Karmapa, amounting to a few crores of rupees.
The Karmapa tried to explain that it was his devotees who had given him these monies, as a measure of their love and affection, but to no avail.
Delhi’s change of heart, this past year, seems to be as much a result of the fact that it has very little idea and even fewer answers to the question of “After the Dalai Lama, who?”
Burying the past
With the Karmapa Lama potentially antagonised as well, the government understood that the future could become even darker. It was therefore necessary to overcome its own skepticism about the manner of the escape of the 14-year-old Ogyen Trinley Dorje in 1999 and get over the fact that he could have been a Chinese spy.
That, in 2018, it was better to have the Karmapa inside India, than outside.
So when the Karmapa left last year for medical treatment abroad, he was allowed to go. When his travel documents expired during his stay, they were renewed. When his Indian visa lapsed, that was renewed too, without much fuss.
Messages from the Karmapa that he would return to India in June, but had now postponed his visit to November, till after the monsoons, have also been taken at face value.
Having committed to attending the Dalai Lama meeting in November for all the lineages, authorities are now breathing a sigh of relief.