(Karmapa Lama, the third highest ranking Lama, pauses during an interview with Reuters in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamsala March 2, 2009. REUTERS/Abhishek Madhukar)

Tibet’s Karmapa Lama is revered by followers as a 900-year-old soul in the body of a youth, and tipped to assume the mantle of Tibetan spiritual leadership when the present Dalai Lama dies.

But the 26-year-old who is the current embodiment of the Karmapa Lama, a sacred role in Tibetan Buddhism, shies from the expectations that surround him.

“I don’t want to put on anybody’s shoes,” said the shaven-headed Karmapa Lama, whose youth, religious standing and daring escape across the Himalayas mean many young Tibetans see him as a natural successor to the Dalai Lama as figurehead.

“His Holiness is the overall spiritual leadership, no one can replace him,” the Karmapa Lama said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, referring to the Dalai Lama.