His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, announced that he plans to return to India later this year in an interview with Radio Free Asia. The Karmapa has resided in the United States since last October, where he has undergone several health checks.
The religious leader originally traveled to the US to visit his ailing 80-year-old senior attendant Gelek Kunchok, who had been hospitalized in New York. A few weeks later, the Karmapa announced that he was extending his stay after a general health check-up of His Holiness revealed some causes for concern.*
In a recent interview with Radio Free Asia, the Karmapa noted that the latest tests had revealed no serious threats to his health. “In America, I have had a thorough check of my throat in a hospital, and I was told that there are no major issues to be concerned about,” the Karmapa shared in the interview. “Apart from that, there are some possible indications of diabetes, and the doctors have advised a better diet. There is also a small issue with my heart, and I am still undergoing screening and testing.”
Acknowledging the speculation over his extended stay in the US and rumors about a potential trip to China to visit his parents, the Karmapa emphasized his intention to return to India: “I have no doubt or question that my return to India is absolutely certain,” he said, noting that he has been discussing his return with the Indian government. (Radio Free Asia)
“When I first arrived in India, I faced many difficulties, including accusations that I was a Chinese agent, but now we have an opportunity to meet with higher-level Indian leaders to explain my situation, which has made a huge difference. . . . I wanted to clarify these things [his extended stay and the rumors surrounding it] by having constructive talks with the Indian government, and we are going ahead with discussions now. If things turn out well, I am ready to return” (Radio Free Asia)
An exact date for his return has yet to be determined, but in the interview, the Karmapa suggested that it might be in November: “In November of this year, there will be an important meeting of the heads of the major Tibetan Buddhist traditions in Dharamsala, India.” Both the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration, Tibet’s de-facto government in exile, are expecting him to attend.
The Karmapa is the head of the Karma Kagyu, the largest lineage of the Kagyu, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the others being Gelug, Nyingma, and Sakya. The institution of the Karmapa is the oldest tulku lineage in Tibetan Buddhism, predating the Dalai Lama lineage by more than two centuries. Due to a dispute within the Karma Kagyu school over the recognition process, the identity of the 17th Karmapa is a matter of some controversy. Ogyen Trinley Dorje was born in 1985 in the Lhathok region of Kham in eastern Tibet, and received his initial education at Tsurphu Monastery. In January 2000, at the age of 14, he fled to India and currently resides near Dharamsala.
The Karmapa has been a champion of vegetarianism, female monasticism, and the need for greater environmental awareness and sustainability. For many years, the Karmapa has been seen as a likely successor to the Dalai Lama as the global face of Tibetan Buddhism.
Earlier this year, the Karmapa shared an unusually personal message in his speech during the closing ceremony for the 35th Kagyu Monlam, revealing his personal struggles with the pressures associated with his religious and political role, and his wish to heal long-standing rifts within the Karma Kagyu lineage.** He has made several public appearances in the US, including 6–10 June this year, when he presided over the 9th North American Kagyu Monlam in New York City.***
* Karmapa Extends Stay in US, Health Concerns Cited (Buddhistdoor Global)
** The Karmapa Reveals His Struggles with Leadership and Division in Video Address (Buddhistdoor Global)
*** His Holiness the Karmapa to Preside over Kagyu Monlam Prayer Festival in New York (Buddhistdoor Global)
Karmapa Lama Will Return to India: Interview (Radio Free Asia)