The Current

'It's difficult to make balance': Dalai Lama successor navigates modern world

Ogyen Trinley Dorje is deemed to be the 17th reincarnation of the Karmapa, one of the most revered figures in Tibetan Buddhism and the successor to the Dalai Lama.
Karmapa Lama, known as Ogyen Trinley Dorje, with Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in northern India in May 2011. (Reuters)

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When Ogyen Trinley Dorje was born in a small village in Tibet in 1985, a cuckoo landed on the tent — a very auspicious sign in Tibetan culture. 

"When I was born, my parents ... they told me there were auspicious signs ...  special sounds heard by all the villagers," His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. 

When he was seven, the family was visited by Lamas — Buddhist spiritual leaders — who were travelling near his home in search of the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa.

The previous Karmapa left a detailed letter containing the birth year, parents' names, all the details of the next Karmapa, and His Holiness was a match. 

The Karmapa is one of the holiest figures in Tibetan Buddhism — one that they believe has been reincarnated for hundreds of years.

His Holiness says that it's a challenge to be a 32-year-old monk in the modern world. 
The 32-year-old monk is poised to lead the world's Tibetan Buddhists when the Dalai Lama dies. (Lara O'Brien)

"It's difficult to make balance ... if you are too much on the modern side then you lose tradition ... and if you are so ... narrow-minded in the traditional way of life, you can't catch up to the modern world."

Today, the monk is poised to lead the world's Tibetan Buddhists when the Dalai Lama dies. His Holiness says the Dalai Lama is like a father to him.

His Holiness also sees the greater role the Dalai Lama plays.

"His Holiness [Dalai Lama] is not just the spiritual teacher of Tibetan people. He is also like the father of the Tibetan people," he explains.

Does His Holiness want to emulate the Dalai Lama? He believes that it is the young leadership, like himself, who have to take more responsibility. 
His Holiness the 17th Karmapa sees the Dalai Lama, pictured here, as the father of the Tibetan people. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

His Holiness lives in exile in Dharamsala in India. He escaped Chinese-ruled Tibet at age 14.

He says his dreams for Tibet are simple: "Tibetan people need more freedom ...  maybe you can say freedom of speech and freedom of faith."

And in a world that is filled with suffering, His Holiness believes that the way forward is more personal connections.

"Maybe we can really make friendships ... not just for show ... more personal affection and mutual understanding." 

Listen to this interview at the top of the web post.

This segment was produced by Lara O'Brien.