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

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 the New 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 highest figure 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) does not let the Karmapa stay on," the Dalai Lama said in the letter to Rabi Ray, a former speaker of India's lower house of parliament. Ray released the letter to reporters, the Associated Press reported.

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

The Dalai Lama's plea echoed that of other Buddhist organizations that have urged India to give the Karmapa political asylum in the Rumtek monastery in India's northeastern state of Sikkim, where his deceased 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 settle within its borders since a failed 1959 revolt against Chinese rule by Tibetans seeking independence. The Dalai Lama, in addition to being the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism, also heads the exile government in Dharmsala, India.

China has said it would welcome the Karmapa back but will continue to strictly control who is ordained within the Tibetan Buddhist movement. 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 spoken publicly 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.

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