January 15, 2000

Monk Wants To Revive Black Crown

By The Associated Press

NEW DELHI, India (AP) -- The young Tibetan monk who fled last week to India wants to revive the Black Crown ceremony, a 300-year-old tradition lost since the death of his predecessor. Devotees believe the black crown is the earthly embodiment of the aura that surrounds the Karmapa, the leader of the Karma Kagyu sect of Buddhism founded 900 years ago. The crown was brought to the Indian state of Sikkim, then an independent Buddhist kingdom, by the 16th Karmapa when he fled Chinese rule in 1959. He died in 1981.

The 17th Karmapa, who defected to India last week, wants to go to Sikkim's Rumtek monastery to reclaim the crown, the symbol of his enlightenment. Legend says that only people with spiritual insight can see the true black crown, said to be woven from the hair of female deities. Those who can see it at the Black Crown Ceremony are released from the cycle of life, death and rebirth.

The black crown kept in Rumtek is believed to have been made by the 15th-century Chinese emperor Ming Chen, who saw the mystical crown hovering over the Karmapa when the lama visited his court. Realizing that not everyone had attained the same spiritual advancement, the emperor created a crown that would be visible to all.

Tibetans believe the spirits of high lamas are reborn to continue teaching compassion and helping mankind and that their incarnations can be identified through meditation and a series of signs. When the previous Karmapa was dying, he wrote a 13-line riddle to help his disciples find his reincarnation, then hid it. Nine years later, his disciple Tai Situ Rinpoche discovered it sewn into a brocade amulet the Karmapa had given him and which he had worn around his neck or wrist all those years. With three other regents, Tai Situ deciphered the note and sent two monks to find their reborn leader in eastern Tibet. The riddle read in part:

From here to the north in the east of the land of snow
Is a country where divine thunder spontaneously blazes
In a beautiful nomad's place with the sign of a cow.
The method is Dondrup and the wisdom is Lolaga.
Born in the year of the one used for the earth.
With the miraculous, far-reaching sound of the white one:
This is the one known as Karmapa.

Armed with these clues, the searchers went to Lhathok, which means "God's Thunder.'' Most of the inhabitants are known as "Bakor," derived from the word for "cow." There they found their 17th Karmapa -- 7-year-old Ugyen Trinley Dorje, born in 1985, the year of the Wood Ox by the Tibetan calendar, to parents named Dondrup and Lolaga. Villagers told the monks that three days after Ugyen Trinley Dorje was born they heard music and the sound of conch shells for more than an hour, but could not find the source.

January 15, 2000

Young Monk May Emerge As Leader

By The Associated Press

NEW DELHI, India (AP) -- In a remote Buddhist monastery, a black crown has lain disused for 18 years. Now, a teen-age Tibetan monk has arrived in India to reclaim it -- and perhaps to step into a new leadership role for his people. For 300 years, Tibetan Buddhist monks known by the title of Karmapa have donned the Black Crown in a ceremony designed to liberate participants from the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

The 16th Karmapa brought the crown with him when he fled Chinese-ruled Tibet in 1959 and deposited it in his monastery at Rumtek, in what was then the Buddhist kingdom of Sikkim. It has since been absorbed by India. He died in 1981. Last week, the boy recognized as the old lama's reincarnation defected to India in a grueling eight-day trek by car, horse and foot over 900 miles of snow-draped Himalayas.

The arrival of the 17th Karmapa, leader of the Karma Kagyu sect, has given exiled Tibetans a new and tangible leader they can embrace alongside the 64-year-old Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of all Tibetan Buddhists. They wonder whether the tall 14-year-old with the engaging smile and mature demeanor will go beyond his spiritual role and join the Dalai Lama in the struggle against China's harsh rule of their homeland.

Some hope the Karmapa might inherit the mantle of political resistance from the Dalai Lama when he dies. Over 40 years, the 14th Dalai Lama has enlightened the West with Tibet's mystique, inspired the spread of Buddhism and kept a global spotlight on China's dominance of his isolated nation. In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Dalai Lama has no obvious successor. The second most powerful figure in the Tibetan hierarchy, the Panchen Lama, hasn't been seen in public since 1995 and is believed to be under Chinese house arrest. A rival Panchen Lama enthroned by the Chinese four years ago is rejected by most Tibetans.

Experts, however, doubt the Karmapa can replace the Dalai Lama as the symbol of Tibet and its primary link to the rest of the world. For reasons embedded in Tibetan history and modern statescraft, the young monk is unlikely to attain the same public prominence. Still, some scholars say he may be better placed than the Dalai Lama to deal with the Chinese.

For 500 years after the first Karmapa in the 12th century, the Karma Kagyu leader assumed the regency of Tibet's feudal, monastic society. But the so-called Black Hats were eclipsed in 1642 by the Dalai Lama's Gelugpas, or Yellow Hats.

Tibet's historical trend now flows in another direction, says Lasang Tsering, a Tibetan scholar and former director of the Tibetan Children's Village, the biggest school for refugee children, which is run by the Dalai Lama's administration in Dharmsala. "We are moving toward a democratic form of government," Tsering says. "In the future, we will have a popularly elected chief executive."

Born in 1985 to a family of nomads, Ugyen Trinley Dorje was recognized in 1992 by both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government as the Karmapa, the only senior Tibetan monk with that dual stamp of approval. Like all senior monks in Tibet, he was closely watched and groomed by the Chinese. He fled in frustration when the Chinese broke a prior agreement to allow exiled teachers of his sect to come to Tibet to instruct him. China repeatedly denied a visa to his most important teacher, Tai Situ Rinpoche, a disciple of the last Karmapa.

Robbie Barnett, a researcher in Chinese studies at Columbia University, said the Karmapa's tutelage under the Chinese may place him in a unique position to work quietly for the Tibetan cause. He told The Associated Press he wouldn't be surprised if the Karmapa eventually returned to Tibet. That role was filled by the last Panchen Lama, who stayed in Tibet when the Dalai Lama and almost 100,000 of his followers fled to India after an abortive anti-China uprising in 1959. The previous Karmapa defected the same year. Although the Panchen Lama spent 14 years in prison for criticizing Mao Tse-tung's policies in Tibet, he was adept at interceding with the authorities to win concessions for Tibet.

The 17th Karmapa, Barnett says, has "the same guts and determination" and the background to deal with Beijing. "The Chinese need a leader in Tibet to sanction their regime, and the Tibetans need a leader who can wrest concessions in return," Barnett says. "Those bought up in exile are extremely unlikely to be masters of the mechanics, the peculiarities of Chinese political culture and diplomacy which are essential for this task."