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The Dance of 17 Lives: The Incredible True Story of Tibet's 17th Karmapa Paperback – May 12, 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (May 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582345988
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582345987
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,713,772 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This intelligent and well-written biography-cum-travelogue explores the life of the 17th Karmapa, the teenage lama who fled Chinese-occupied Tibet in 2000 for India. Brown, a freelance journalist who began the book as a magazine article after the lama's daring escape, traces the Karmapa's story but also uses the account to give Western readers a quick sketch of the nature, history and perennial conflicts of Tibetan Buddhism. Unlike other Western writers who tend to romanticize Buddhism in Asia, Brown evenhandedly paints it as a religion that is as rife with political considerations and human foibles as it is with miraculous incarnations and incomparable teachers. At times the early historical chapters can be too detailed, but Brown's balanced tone serves him well, and the writing is superbly accessible. He is particularly interested in the 11 years that elapsed between the 16th Karmapa's death in 1981 and the recognition of his seven-year-old successor in 1992; Brown shows these years to be characterized by feuding and accusations among the 16th's closest disciples. In the later chapters, he also chronicles China's mid-1990s crackdown on Buddhist practitioners in Tibet who remained loyal to the Dalai Lama, whom the Chinese government labeled a dangerous villain. Far from being a mere report on the 17th Karmapa and his exodus, this is an excellent history of modern Tibetan Buddhism on a broad scale.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

China's brutal occupation of Tibet and efforts to quash Tibetan Buddhism have caused countless tragedies, engendering compelling tales of activism, valor, and loss. This "living" biography of Tibetans caught up in the struggle offer unusual insiders' perspectives. Some of the saddest and most puzzling incidents associated with China's occupation of Tibet involve conflicts over the recognized reincarnations of high lamas. The fate of the eleventh Panchen Lama is chronicled in Isabel Hilton's The Search for the Panchen Lama (2000). Now British journalist Brown covers the battle over the identity of the seventeenth Karmapa. Brown provides an enlightening explanation of the mystical process by which reincarnated lamas are found and identified, then launches a gripping account of the labyrinthine dispute between factions aligned behind two possible "emanations" of the sixteenth Karmapa. Tangled rumors, rivalries among lamas, a secret letter, gnarled court cases, and violence all feature in this complex and startling tale, as does the daring 1992 escape from Tibet by Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the then-14-year-old boy the Dalai Lama recognizes as the true seventeenth Karmapa. Brown's informative and frank portrait of the courageous young lama conveys the power of Tibetan Buddhism and the blight of "theological politics." Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In 1992, a six-year-old son of a nomadic yak herder was thrust into history. His family knew him to be special somehow, so he was not given an official name; he was known by them as Apo Gaga ("happy brother"). And then the highest of the Tibetan Buddhists realized that he was the reincarnation of Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa, who had died in 1981. The resurrection line of Karmapas goes back centuries before that of even the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet. Apo Gaga then became "His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje". The story of his selection and his headline-making flight from Tibet in 2000 is told in _The Dance of 17 Lives: The Incredible True Story of Tibet's 17th Karmapa_ (Bloomsbury) by Mick Brown. Brown, a journalist who has covered religious subjects before, is not a Buddhist, and indeed his own religious ideas are not part of this book, which is an astonishingly impartial view of the sometimes controversial and (to those of a different religious persuasion) often utterly weird process of making a new divine hereditary leader.
Brown's book gives a history of Buddhism as it relates to the Karmapa line. The first Karmapa was born in 1110 CE, at the age of fifty. He was omniscient and was able to pass through rocks and mountains. He predicted he would be reborn many times, and starting a tradition, he left a letter specifying how the next Karmapa could be found. When the beloved 16th Karmapa died in 1981, there was a puzzling interval when no such letter could be found. One of his monks eventually produced an amulet the 16th had given him, and it contained a prediction that was to lead to Apo Gaga, who was enthroned as 17th Karmapa in 1992 at age seven.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Reader on July 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Brown is the first independent writer to look at the complex story of the Karmapa succession, and the dispute which has arisen out of it. This has led to the situation where there are two boys, with their respective sets of supporters both claiming that they are the Karmpa. One boy, Ogyen Trinley, is recognised by most of the Karma Kagyu school, the Dalai Lama and the vast majority of Tibetans. The other is recognised by a small breakaway faction, which, among other things, accuses the Dalai Lama of plotting to take over the Karma Kagyu. This is a story which makes the intrigues of the medieval popes look as innocent and straightforward as a school board meeting. But Brown - a veteran journalist - tells this complicated tale with remarkable clarity. The pace is brisk. And the reporting of what is a controversial subject is done in a even-handed way, with both sides of the dispute given equal airtime. A lively, fascinating read that's essential for anyone interested in Tibetan Buddhism, and particularly Tibetan Buddhist politics, but also rewarding for the layperson.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Corinna on February 12, 2008
Format: Paperback
I have been a Tibetan Buddhist for 25 years and I have lived through all the upheaval described in this book that caused a parallel upheaval in our local Buddhist centre. I enjoyed this book a great deal because it confirmed everything I knew about the conflict. So I have no real reason to doubt the authenticity of the rest of the book.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By J. D. Warrick on January 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I read this book in late spring or early summer 2004, and the impact that it had on me is still present as we move into 2005. The dispute over the actual Karmapa aside, the story is thrilling and shows how some people can rise to achieve holiness while standing side to side with others who fall into the depths of deceit. The journey of this young man is breath-taking, and his assent to Karmapa and escape into India is thrilling. This is a great book for anyone on any sort of spiritual journey, or for anyone interested in Buddhism. It seems clear, from this book, that Urgyen Trinley Dorje is the true 17th Karmapa. A great read!!
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Frank Kilmer on September 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Perhaps we assume that the great religious teachers have all passed away, or are decrepit old men isolated on mountain tops. Buddhism, particularly the Tibetan variety, tells us that there is a transmission of the teachings that is alive in men and women today. And it is even possible that, in some sense at least, the famous teachers of the past are litereally alive with us today.

If you find that possibility interesting, or if you just enjoy a good true life story, then I strongly recommend this book. It describes the history, teachings, and current life story of the Karmapa, head of one of 4 main schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and the possible successor of the Dalai Lama as the spiritual leader of Tibet. The legacy of the Kamapas, from their first appearance in the twelveth century, to the dramatic escape from Chinese control of the 17th Karmapa 5 years ago, is inspirational.

There are many juicey aspects to this story; political intrigue, battling supporters, intelligence agents. Also, the 17th Karmapa is notably handsome.

But the real story is this 20 year olds' astonishing maturity and composure. Is he literally the reincarnation of the Karmapa? Whatever. But he is certainly a gifted teacher and is the representative of one of the great spiritual traditions of all times. And he is accessible today.

I want to thank Mick Brown for telling the Karmapa's story with sensitivity and care.
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