By Cao Chang-Ching 曹长青
The Taipei Times
Tuesday, January 11th, 2000
The escape of the 17th Karmapa, the 14-year-old Urgyen Trinley Dorje, from Tibet to India has certainly embarrassed Beijing a great deal, for he was not only the highest Living Buddha in Tibet, but also the only one recognized by both Beijing and the Dalai Lama.
In the four major Tibetan Buddhist sects -- Gelug, Kagyud, Sakya and Nyingma -- the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama are the top lamas of the Gelug.
Karmapa is the highest leader of the Kagyud and in a certain sense, his seniority is higher than that of the Dalai Lama."The direct reason for the 17th Karmapa's escape, according to one of the followers who accompanied him to Dharmsala, was that the Chinese authorities assigned two `tutors' -- one from Chamdo and one from Shigatse -- who were both lamas and Communist Party members -- to `supervise' the 14-year-old religious leader."
The Kagyud was the first Tibetan sect to adopt the system of reincarnation and has reincarnated to the 17th generation.
The current Dalai Lama is the 14th reincarnation and the Panchen Lama is the 11th.
The 16th Karmapa also escaped from Tibet to India, after the failed 1959 Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.
Before he passed away in the US in 1981, he left a will stating that his reincarnation would be in Tibet.
Beijing explained this as Tibetans' "hearts towards the motherland," and it was involved actively in the search of the reincarnation.
In 1992, Beijing selected Urgyen Trinley Dorje as the 17th Karmapa and held a grand enthronement ceremony for him.
Now the escape of this Living Buddha appears to be the culmination of waves of Tibetans fleeing from Lhasa to Dharmsala.
According to the state-run Chinese media, the Tibetans have the freedom to worship, and the Chinese have reconstructed many monasteries in Tibet that were destroyed before or during the Cultural Revolution.
Beijing has also granted huge financial and material support to Tibet.
So why then do Tibetans, especially monks and nuns, keep risking their lives to tramp over the Himalayas and escape to Dharmsala?
I learned, during my visit to the refugee center in Dharmsala in the winter of 1997, that there were more than 10,000 monks and nuns, and about 8,000 children, who escaped to India between 1979 to 1997.
Nobody knows how many others were swallowed by the ferocious snowstorms of the Himalayas.
There has never been freedom of religion in Tibet since the communists took over.
Before the Chinese occupation, according to the Tibetan government-in-exile, there were 592,000 monks and nuns among the 3.4 million Tibetans, or about 17.4 percent of the population.
But in today's Tibet Autonomous Region, as designated by the Chinese, there are only 46,000 monks and nuns among the 2.4 million Tibetans, accounting for just 1.9 percent of its population, according to a report in The New York Times.
Nonetheless, in the free Tibetan society in India, monks and nuns account for around 13 percent of the Tibetan population of 110, 000.
The Chinese government has imposed a variety of restrictions over the conversion of monks and nuns, such as requiring parents to sign a contract guaranteeing that their children will support the Communist Party.
One also has to be at least 18-years-old and have obtained permission from the government to become a monk.
It is still a crime for the Tibetans to hang the Dalai Lama's portrait in Tibet.
The direct reason for the 17th Karmapa's escape, according to one of the followers who accompanied him to Dharmsala, was that the Chinese authorities assigned two "tutors" -- one from Chamdo (倉都) and one from Shigatse (日喀则) -- who were both lamas and Communist Party members -- to "supervise" the 14-year-old religious leader.
In Tibet, the Chinese government has strictly regulated monasteries -- ruling for example, that no monastery can have more than 1,000 monks -- for it believes "a lot of people getting together will cause trouble."
Therefore, in the largest monastery in Lhasa, Drepung (哲蚌寺), there are only about 600 monks.
In contrast, in the small Tibetan society in India, many monasteries have more than 1,000 monks.
In Hunsur, a Tibetan settlement in southern India, I visited a temple where there were 2,200 monks, including more than 100 under the age of 15. In Chinese-ruled Tibet, nobody has the opportunity to formally study Buddhism in a monastery at such a young age.
Tibetan monasteries in India have produced more than 1,000 Geshes (Buddhist masters) in recent years, but there is not a single qualified Geshe in occupied Tibet.
The atheistic communists will never understand and respect Buddhism. In an Orwellian world where "two plus two equals five," they believe in nothing but power and oppression.
The flight of the 17th Karmapa has proved once more that no matter how harsh the rule the Communists impose and how hard they try to manipulate things, they simply cannot eliminate the God that lives within the Tibetans' hearts.
Cao Chang-Ching is a writer and journalist based in New York.