(RNS) The Dalai Lama has urged India to grant refugee status to aprominent teenage Tibetan Buddhist leader who recently fled China,saying it would be a "terrible mistake" not to let the boy stay in thecountry.

In a letter released to reporters Friday (Jan. 28), the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual and political head, said India's image will suffer if theNew Delhi government does not allow the boy, Ugyen Trinley Dorje, to stay in the country.

The 14-year-old monk, whose title is the 17th Karmapa, is the the third highestfigure in Tibetan Buddhism. He heads the Karma Kagyu order, one of four main schools in Tibetan Buddhism.

"It would be a terrible mistake for India if (the government) doesnot let the Karmapa stay on," the Dalai Lama said in the letter to RabiRay, a former speaker of India's lower house of parliament. Ray releasedthe letter to reporters, the Associated Press reported.

The Karmapa is the only senior Tibetan Buddhist leaderrecognized by both China and the main Tibetan exile movement headed by the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama's plea echoed that of other Buddhist organizationsthat have urged India to give the Karmapa political asylum in theRumtek monastery in India's northeastern state of Sikkim, where hisdeceased predecessor--who fled Tibet in 1959 with the Dalai Lama--established the seat of the Karma Kagyu order.

India has allowed more than 100,000 Tibetan refugees to settlewithin its borders since a failed 1959 revolt against Chinese rule byTibetans seeking independence. The Dalai Lama, in addition to being thespiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism, also heads the exile government inDharmsala, India.

China has said it would welcome the Karmapa back but will continueto strictly control who is ordained within the Tibetan Buddhistmovement. The Karmapa's flight to India has presented the New Delhi government with a delicate diplomatic problem, given its tenuous relations with China.

The New York Times reported Monday that the Karmapa, who has not spokenpublicly about his late December flight from China, is currently in seclusion in at a monastery near Dharmsala. The Karmapa arrived unannounced at the Dalai Lama's headquarters early on Jan. 5.