The Karmapa’s Great Escape (December 28, 1999 – January 5, 2000)
While His Holiness was at Tsurphu, the Karmapa fulfilled the traditional responsibilities of the Karmapa, ministering to the Tibetan people and supporting Tsurphu Monastery. The monastery underwent extensive rebuilding to restore the temples, shrines, stupas, a shedra, and residences that had been destroyed over the years, fulfilling one of the main duties of a Karmapa. As the years went by, however, the authorities began to restrict the Karmapa’s ability to travel and teach his disciples, and to receive the transmission from his lineage teachers. His Holiness decided that it would benefit beings most if he were no longer to stay in Tibet. In view of the refusal of the authorities to allow him to leave, he undertook a plan of his own.
Various accounts of the Karmapa’s escape has been described in innumerable media reports around the world. On April 27, 1992, His Holiness himself described his departure to the world wide media, which is reprinted below.
“On December 28, 1999, under the cover of a dark night, my senior attendant and I escaped from my monastery in Tibet and fled to India to seek refuge. The decision to leave my homeland, monastery, monks, parents, family, and the Tibetan people was entirely my own–no one told me to go and no one asked me to come. I left my country to impart the Buddha’s teachings in general and, in particular, to receive the excellent empowerments, transmissions, and instructions of my own Karma Kagyu tradition. These I could only receive from the main disciples of the previous Karmapa, Situ Rinpoche and Gyaltsap Rinpoche, who were predicted to be my teachers and who reside in India.
“There have been various reports in the press about my escape, and so I will simply and briefly tell the truth about my journey. In great secrecy, my companions and I made our plans, using various stories to cover our true activities. For example, when the preparations were complete, I announced that I was entering a traditional, strict retreat and would not come out for some days. This story worked and prevented us from being pursued right away.
“On December 28, around 10:30 at night, my attendant and I slowly climbed down from my room and jumped onto the roof of the Protector Mahakala’s shrine room. From this building, we leapt to the ground where a jeep was waiting nearby with Lama Tsultrim and a driver. We left immediately. The story had been given out that Lama Tsultrim and his companions were going on a journey. As if preparing for this, they had driven in and out of the monastery several times during the day, and, therefore, everyone knew about this trip and we could easily leave. Usually, the monastery was strictly guarded, but no twenty-four hour guards were posted and we also left through a side road.
“After a while, Lama Tsewang and another driver joined us at a designated place. We decided to head directly towards western Tibet since few travelers used this road and the check posts were not so strictly guarded. Driving day and night, we stopped only to change drivers. By taking back roads through the hills and valleys, we evaded check posts and two army camps. Through the power of my prayers to the Buddha and through his compassion, we were not discovered and arrived in Mustang, Nepal, on the morning of December 30, 1999. Continuing the journey on foot and horseback, we crossed over several passes and finally reached Manang as I had planned. This part was extremely difficult and exhausting due to the poor and often dangerous condition of the paths and the freezing cold weather. During this time, I was tired and not very well physically, yet despite the difficulties, I was completely determined to reach my goal.
“Once in Manang, a close friend of Lama Tsewang Tashi helped us hire a helicopter. We landed in a place of Nepal known as Nagarkot and then went by car to Rauxal. From there, we traveled by train to Lucknow and continued with a rented car to Delhi, arriving at last in Dharamsala early on the morning of January 5, 2000. I went straight to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the very embodiment of compassion, and he received me with his great love and affection. My joy knew no bounds.”