Losing Its Karmapa: A Monastery Goes Dark

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Illustration for TIME by Paige Iwatani.

Once a beacon drawing pilgrims and tourists from across the world, Tsurphu Monastery now sits in darkness. The crowds and the beggars have gone and only a few monks remain. Even for nonbelievers it's difficult not to conclude that when Ugyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa and the oldest reincarnation in Tibetan Buddhism, jumped from a monastery window and ran to a jeep waiting in the darkness of night on Dec. 28, 1999, to begin a 1,350-km journey over the Himalayas to northern India, he took all the light from what was then Tibet's living spiritual center. The 14-year-old went west....