One of Himalayan Buddhism's most important lamas has escaped Chinese-controlled Tibet in a weeklong undercover flight across Nepal and into India.
The religious leader, the 14-year-old head of the Karmapa Buddhist order, stole away from the Tsurphu Monastery, north of Lhasa, Dec. 28, and arrived unannounced and unexpected Wednesday in Dharamshala, India, where the Dalai Lama welcomed him.
"It is a joyful thing for all Tibetan Buddhists," said Robert A. F. Thurman, a leading American Buddhist scholar and professor of religion at Columbia University in New York.
Thurman, a Buddhist who speaks Tibetan, said that the flight of the 17th Karmapa, who is venerated as a reincarnate by all major branches of Tibetan Buddhism, "is very embarrassing for the Chinese."
"This means that even the ones they try to promote as puppets want to leave anyway," he said.
In 1994, the 17th Karmapa, whose name is Ugyen Trinley Dorje, was the honored guest of President Jiang Zemin at Chinese national day celebrations in Beijing.
The Chinese government recognized the boy as the legitimate holder of the title.
"For the Karmapa to leave is really a big blow," Thurman said.