Karmapa as Dalai Lama's Regent?

Karmapa starbucks

I just saw this article at the Times Online today. An excerpt is below:

Dalai Lama may appoint a regent to succeed him

The Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, is considering appointing a regent to lead the Tibetan movement after his death until his reincarnation is old enough to take over. The idea was discussed this week at an unprecedented meeting of 600 Tibetan exiles in Dharamsala, the northern Indian town where the Dalai Lama set up his government in exile after fleeing Tibet in 1959. [...] The most likely candidate for the regency is the 23-year-old Karmapa Lama, the third highest in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy, who was born and raised in Tibet but escaped to India in 2000 in a huge embarrassment for China's government. "It's now being considered at the highest level," said Dr Lobsang Sangay, a Tibetan research fellow at Harvard Law School who put forward the idea at the meeting.

This is pretty big news, if it is true or even being considered. I expect that it is.

For those that are somehow unaware of the traditional Tibetan systems of reincarnation and transfer of authority, the Dalai Lama (and almost every other major lama) is considered to be the reincarnation of those that have come before him. The current one is the 14th in the series (the Karmapa is the 17th of his line). When a lama dies, there are traditional methods to find his next incarnation once he is born and to confirm him as this incarnation. The child found is then taken into the monastic system and trained until adulthood in Buddhist teachings, practices, and other things he’ll need to know as an incarnation of that line. Traditionally, certain monasteries or positions are always held by an individual in the line. This is how the current Dalai Lama was running the government in Lhasa when the Chinese invaded when we was a boy.

It is expected that the current Dalai Lama, who is quite old, will explicitly continue this tradition. During the time period when the reincarnated Dalai Lama is not yet an adult, his responsibilities go to a regent or set of regents (and many political shenanigans have resulted from this in the past). The article is saying that the current Karmapa, who is quite young and fairly well respected, may wind up fulfilling this role.

As some may recall, I took a trip to Seattle early this year in order to see the 17th Karmapa on his first ever visit to the United States. (Since escaping from Chinese control and fleeing to India years ago, his movements have been pretty curtailed.) I found the Karmapa to be a pretty inspiring and even progressive figure from my brief exposure to him and his teaching during that visit. He’s definitely forward looking in his approach, open minded, and he speaks English fairly well. His influence could have a dramatic impact on the course of events for the Tibetans in their diaspora if he does become regent.