Tibetans in shock after Lama said to be Chinese spy

By Andrew Buncombe

The exiled Tibetan Buddhist community is in turmoil at the questioning of one of its most important religious leaders by Indian police after large sums of Chinese currency were found at his monastery, forcing him to deny claims he is an "agent of Beijing".

Police in northern India interviewed Ugyen Thinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa and Tibetan Buddhism's third most important figure, after about $1 million of cash in two dozen denominations was found at his Gyuto monastery in Dharamsala.

Police have arrested a number of the Karmapa's aides and are investigating what they believe may be an illegal attempted land purchase.

The Karmapa, 25, told police the money was given by supporters. "All our dealings across the world are honest and completely transparent - anything else would be contrary to the Buddhist principles that we live by," his office said.

K.G. Kapoor, the officer heading the inquiry, said: "We are not happy with his replies and he is likely to be questioned again."

The incident has sent shockwaves through the Tibetan Buddhist community in exile.

Even the Dalai Lama has been drawn in.

"There should be a thorough investigation into the cash dealings of the Karmapa as he is an important Lama," he said.

Many among the 200,000-strong community of exiled Tibetans in India and beyond are distraught. In Majnu-ka-Tila, a narrow maze of dusty alleyways that is home to thousands of Tibetan refugees in Delhi, three grey-haired women were openly weeping.

"We don't believe he is a Chinese spy," sobbed one woman, Taushi, who fled from Tibet in 1959. "We have not been able to sleep since we heard this. Food has had no taste."

Controversy has followed the Karmapa since he escaped from Tibet in 2000 and crossed into India. While he was widely acknowledged as the successor to - and reincarnation of - the 16th Karmapa, not everyone supported his claim and some backed another candidate.

As he was recognised by China, his supporters have often had to defend him against whispers that he has links to the authorities in Beijing.

But the profile of the Karmapa, whose dramatic escape took place when he was just 14, has steadily grown. While he is from the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism rather than the Gelug school of the Dalai Lama, many have suggested the Karmapa may be able to fill the political void within the Tibet autonomy movement that will be created upon the death of the 75-year-old.

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