By Shobhan Saxena
NEW DELHI, April 9 - After waiting eight years at the Gyuto Tantric Monastery in Dharamsala, the Karmapa Lama is finally getting ready for his first trip abroad.
The 22-year-old Tibetan monk, who stunned his followers, embarrassed Beijing and triggered a diplomatic spat between India and China with his daring escape to India from Tsurphu in Tibet in January 2000 when he was just 14, has been granted permission by the government of India to travel to the US from May 15 to June 2.
With the 72-year-old Dalai Lama talking of "retirement", many Tibetans in exile believe the Karmapa could be the transitional successor to the Tibetan spiritual leader.
Last week, the Dalai Lama had hinted at passing the spiritual torch to the next generation.
"There are now spiritual leaders who are young, energetic and well educated. They can assume the role of spiritual leadership as political role is played by a democratically elected government," he had said, talking about taking "complete retirement".
The Karmapa Lama is the only major reincarnated monk recognized by the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government.
Ugyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa who heads the Karma Kagyu sect has been living on the top floor of the Dharamsala monastery since his arrival in India.
Though his office made many requests to the Indian government in the past few years to allow the monk to travel abroad, an edgy New Delhi wary of a sharp reaction from Beijing kept delaying the permission.
According to a letter from Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche of the Karmapa's Office of Administration in the US, the office "received confirmation from the government of India via Tempa Tsering, Representative of the Dalai Lama in New Delhi and Tashi Wangdi, Representative of the Dalai Lama to the Americas". The Karmapa's office has also posted a tentative schedule of the monk's visit on its official website.
As per the schedule, the Tibetan leader arrives in New York City on May 15 and then travels to Woodstock, NY; Boulder, Colorado; and Seattle, Washington, ending his US tour in the first week of June. Confirming the Karmapa's first ever trip outside China and India, his secretary, Dupon Rinpoche, said, "Yes, His Holiness is getting ready for his first foreign tour to the US."
While Dupon Rinpoche, who has been with the Karmapa at Gyuto since 2000, confirmed the trip, the officials of the Tibetan government-in-exile seem to be more cautious about talking about the Karmapa's travel plans.
"Right now, I can't confirm anything," said Tempa Tsering, when asked if the Tibetan leader's trip to the US is confirmed.
Yet, there are fears the Indian government may bow to Chinese pressure and put off the trip at the last moment. Because of this the Karmapa's office is trying to keep the tour low-key and non-political. "As has always been the intention, His Holiness's focus during his stay in the US will be to meet with disciples, bless centres, and offer Dharma teachings," says Ponlop Rinpoche's letter.
As the Olympic torch relay turns into a PR disaster for China and it puts pressure on India to rein in the Dalai Lama and Tibetans from carrying out political activities on its soil, New Delhi is being extra cautious as it fears that the Karmapa's trip to the US has the potential to ruffle Chinese feathers. Soon after he escaped to India in 2000, China had claimed that the Karmapa would return to Tibet. Instead, he sought political asylum in India, causing a huge embarrassment to Beijing.