WOODSTOCK, N.Y., April 4 (AP)--The placid face of a towering Buddha and the sonorous sound of chants lend this mountainside monastery an air of tranquility. But lately the Buddhists here are abuzz. They are convinced His Holiness will come.

His Holiness is a strapping 14-year-old Tibetan boy revered as the 17th incarnation of the Karmapa, the third most important leader in Tibetan Buddhism.

After making a daring escape from Tibet into India, the young monk is now expected to visit North America, a journey likely to boost the profile of Buddhism in this country.

``We have been expecting this for 12 years,'' said Chojor Radha, an interpreter at the monastery. ``I never really lost hope. I knew it would come.''

The Karmapa has remained in India since his escape from Chinese rule in January. The Indian government has been urged to grant refuge to the Karmapa by the Dalai Lama, who is viewed as the spiritual leader of all Tibetan Buddhists.

The government has not ruled on the request. But the Karmapa could possibly travel on documents issued by Tibet's government in exile.

Although no travel plans have been announced, the Karmapa's followers here are certain he will come. After all, the 16th Karmapa - the boy's previous incarnation - spent a lot of time stateside. And some Buddhists see a sign in the Karmapa's millennium prayer for peace, which gave tidings ``especially, throughout the land of America.''

Bardor Tulku Rinpoche, a resident lama at the Woodstock monastery, about 85 miles north of New York City, says a visit by the Karmapa is ``definite.'' It could be within a year.

The monastery is the main seat in North America - where more than 500,000 practice Buddhism - for the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism. About two dozen Tibetans and Westerners live here year-round. Many more people come to pray and learn from resident lamas, who teach around the continent.

A low-slung central temple houses a spacious shrine watched over by an 11-foot, gold-leaf Buddha. Shoeless monks pad through airy spaces decorated with vivid silk tapestries and infused with the sweet smell of incense.

The 16th Karmapa chose this site near the village of Woodstock in the 1970s. He died in 1981, leaving the 17th Karmapa to witness the fruits of his vision. A suite for the Karmapa with a cushioned throne and a bed stands ready. Or almost ready, considering that he is a growing boy.

``His Holiness' bed we have to replace,'' said Tom Schmidt, a monastery administrator. ``It's too small.''

Anticipation over a visit is stoked by the Karmapa's star power. The son of Tibetan nomads was recognized in 1992 as an incarnation of a line of lamas dating to the 12th century. His picture has appeared in newspapers around the world since his improbable escape from under the watchful eyes of the Chinese government.

Followers say he embarked on an eight-day trek to India after sneaking out a monastery window. The Karmapa reportedly walked, rode a horse and flew in a helicopter in a journey over snowy mountain passes.

The fact that the escape came 40 years after a similar flight from Tibet by the Dalai Lama has added to the Karmapa's mystique.

Bardor Tulku Rinpochesaid he expects thousands of people to be drawn to the Karmapa when he comes stateside.

A number of scholars of Buddhism agree that the Karmapa is likely to visit and to attract attention. Charles Prebish, professor of religious studies at Penn State, said the growth in Buddhism's popularity over the past decade in this country gives the Karmapa a built-in audience.

``It will be an event, to say the least,'' he said.

Bardor Tulku Rinpoche says the United States continues to be a fertile ground for Buddhism. He sees amid the materialism of America a thirst for learning that can be slaked through the teachings of Buddhism.

``The analysis and reasoning aspects of Buddhism attracts a lot of Westerners,'' said monastery administrator Schmidt, who became attracted to Buddhism in the 1970s.

The visit would have special meaning for the Bardor Tulku Rinpoche, who was dispatched to America by the 16th Karmapa in 1978. The lama - who didn't even speak English at the time - was given the mission of cultivating the monastery and spreading the teachings of Buddhism.

Bardor Tulku Rinpoche can now show his accomplishments to the reincarnation of the lama who sent him here: ``The only difference is his body. His heart is the same.''

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