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Dalai Lama watch: Will the next one dig rap?

The Karmapa Lama plays video games, and he may be the next His Holiness.

Buddhist monk prays
A Buddhist monk prays before a teaching session by the Dalai Lama at Radio City Music Hall in New York, May 20, 2010. This week marks the Dalai Lama's 75th birthday, and there is talk of who his successor will be. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

DHARAMSALA, India — The Dalai Lama's not getting any younger.

He turned 75 on Tuesday and by all accounts he's in good health. But, inevitably, the question of who will succeed one of the world's most revered spiritual leaders looms large.

Increasingly, the spotlight has been turned to the Karmapa Lama. He is close to the Dalai Lama and calls him "a spiritual and personal father figure." As head of one of the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, he is also an accomplished scholar in his own right. But he's of a new generation.

He plays video games and spends time after meditation listening to rap music. On a recent visit to his monastery in Sidbhari, a village near the Dalai Lama's exile home in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala, the Karmapa Lama tossed around ideas for which team might win the World Cup — not exactly the subject that first comes to mind when you think monastery and Dalai Lama.

"Some people were saying Argentina would win but now they have lost and are gone so now people are saying Germany," said the Karmapa.

There's no doubt the Karmapa Lama is an unusual young man. His is an eclectic mix that bridges the gap between old and young. It's also turned him into the modern icon of the Tibetan struggle against China for autonomy.

Karmapa Lama. (Natacha Butler/GlobalPost)

Born Ogyen Trinley Dorje, he was pronounced the 17th incarnation of the Karmapa Lama as a 7-year-old boy and whisked away to a monastery near the capital Lhasa. He was quickly recognized by China which hoped it had found a potentially powerful rival to the Dalai Lama.

But a 14-year-old Karmapa had other plans.

"At 18 I might have had to take a position in the Chinese government hierarchy ... and turn against the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan cause. That was one of the reasons I decided to leave."

Leave he did, fleeing his home in rural Tibet for India, embarking on an eight-day journey by foot and horseback across the Himalayas. China was infuriated by the dramatic escape that echoed the Dalai Lama's flight four decades earlier.

The fact that many believe he is being groomed for the top is hardly a secret, but the prospect of taking on such responsibility has failed to enthrall the young man.

"I'm not very excited about the possibility but His Holiness has great faith and hope in the young generation and I'm part of the young generation so I will do what I can to support his work and hope to leave behind a rich legacy like his," said the Karmapa.

He isn't the only one downplaying the hype. The Dalai Lama's spokesman, Tenzin Taklha, praises the young monk but said no one knows what will happen after the Dalai Lama.

"[The Karmapa] is charismatic, good-looking and has great potential. He's a promising leader and will certainly be one of our most important spiritual leaders but I could not say he is the only next leader."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/india/100706/dalai-karmapa-lama-tibetan-buddhism