His flight to freedom from a monastery near Lhasa, the capital of Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) in China, was as mysterious as controversial.
The Indian government has banned him from going to the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim. And now, the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, has landed in another controversy with currency worth nearly Rs.70 million (over $1.5 million) being recovered from his abode.
With the Himachal Pradesh Police recovering nearly Rs.70 million in foreign and Indian currency from the Gyuto Tantric University and Monastery premises near the Army's Yol Cantt., 10 km from here, in the past two days, the Karmapa and his office will have a lot of explaining to do to central government agencies and the police.
Though the Karmapa has been accorded the full status of a top-ranking Tibetan monk and is only considered next to the Dalai Lama in matters of security and official recognition, the controversy of his being a Chinese agent, sent deliberately to India by China, has never been settled.
The recovery of nearly 1.1 million Chinese Yuan (worth nearly Rs.7 million) in "neatly packed bundles" from his monastery along with huge amounts of other foreign currency, has raised suspicion among security agencies and the state police that he and his office could still be dealing with the Chinese.
"Such neatly packed bundles of Chinese Yuan currency could not be given by devotees visiting him who make only small offerings to him. This money could have come from somewhere else. Moreover, how many Chinese visit him anyway?" a police official, investigating the matter, told IANS.
The Karmapa, who turns 26 this year, had mysteriously escaped into India through the Nepal route with a few close aides from the Tsurphu monastery near Lhasa. He 'secretly' left the monastery, 30 km from Lhasa, Dec 28, 1999 and arrived here Jan 5, 2000.
"After months of careful planning, on December 28, the fourteen-year-old Karmapa pretended to enter into a solitary retreat, instead donned civilian garb, and slipped out a window. Leaving Tsurphu Monastery with a handful of attendants, he began a daring journey by car, foot, horseback, helicopter, train and taxi, a heroic journey which was to become the stuff of headlines throughout the world," the Karmapa's official website, www.kagyuoffice.org states.
"On January 5, 2000 he arrived, to the great surprise and overwhelming joy of the world, in Dharamsala, where he was met by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. He received refugee status from the government of India in 2001," it added.
His arrival was formally announced to the world by the Tibetan government-in-exile, which has its headquarters here, April 27, 2000 - over 100 days after he had arrived.
"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," he said in a statement released here April 27, 2000.
Karmapa means 'the embodiment of all the activities of the Buddhas'.
In an exclusive interview to IANS April 2009 at his temporary abode at the foothills of the snow-covered Dhauladhar Himalayan range, the Karmapa had said: "If you ask about going back, the answer is yes. Everyone has the right to go back to his own country. We are struggling for that opportunity (to go back). One day, this wish will come true."
An important institution in the Tibetan religious set-up, the Karmapa Lama is the spiritual head of the Karma Kagyu sect, one of the four sects of Tibetan Buddhism and one of the richest.
In the Tibetan religious hierarchy, he is considered the third most important Tibetan religious head after the institutions of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama.
Both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government have recognized Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the Karmapa. This is significant because both sides have named their own candidates as reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second highest Tibetan religious leader after the Dalai Lama.
However, there has been a controversy over the Karmapa. Another Tibetan religious leader, Trinlay Thaye Dorje, also claims to be the 17th Karmapa. He resides in India. But his claim is not recognized by the Dalai Lama.
The headquarters of the Kagyu sect or the Karmapa is in the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, set up by the 16th Karmapa.
The government of India has banned the entry of the 17th Karmapa (Ogyen Trinley Dorje) to the monastery.
His movement in India and abroad has to be cleared by central and state agencies and the Dalai Lama's office. Though he was allowed to travel to the US in 2008, he was refused permission for another visit last year.