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The Golden Rosary

A Devotional
Lineage Supplication
of the
Kagyu Tradition

Niall Tenzin Gyurme
Copyright @ 2009 by Karma Triyana Dharmachakra
All Rights Reserved
Published in the United States of America


This book is dedicated
to everyone who desires
to learn about the lineage of
the direct oral transmission
of the teachings of Buddhism.

These teachings can be traced in an

unbroken lineage directly back to the
historical Buddha, Shakyamuni himself.

This lineage of transmission is known as

the Kagyu tradition of Buddhism.
or it is also known as,
the ear-wispered tradition,
as the lineage is passed from teacher to
disciple by means of secret oral transmissions.

May the merit created from reading this book

Free all beings from their suffering,
And create immeasurable merit for all sentient beings.



Introduction pg 5

Golden Rosary pg 8

Chapter One The Indo-Buddhist Connection pg 10

Chapter Two The Tibetan Buddhist Connection pg 20

Chapter Three The Kagyus Become Monastic pg 27

Chapter Four The Tulkus Are Created pg 38

Chapter Five The Tulku Speaks pg 62

Chapter Six Tibet In Conflict pg 78

Chapter Seven The Dispadora of Tibet pg 89

Conclusion pg 103


Forefather of the Kagyu Lineage,

Marpa Lotsawa

The forefathers in the Kagyu lineage are known as the "Golden

Rosary." The lineage of the Kagyu emphasizes the continuity of oral
instructions passed on from master to student. This emphasis is reflected
in the literal meaning of "Kagyu." The first syllable "Ka" refers to the
scriptures of the Buddha and the oral instructions of the guru. "Ka" has
the sense both of the enlightened meaning conveyed by the words of the
teacher, as well as the force that such words of insight carries. The
second syllable "gyu" means lineage or tradition. Together, these
syllables mean "the lineage of the oral instructions."

Below is a detailed list of the Golden Rosary figures. Each name
expanded upon in the text and takes you to further details on the main
figures of the lineage, including the lineage of the Karmapas. Below is a
short synopsis of the Kagyu lineage and a brief remark on some of the
great founders who established this ancient tradition and passed it on
from "mouth to ear" for so many centuries.

Kagyu Lineage

The Kagyu Lineage traces its origin back to the historic Buddha,
Shakyamuni through Marpa, the great translator and yogi, who brought
the unbroken lineage from India to Tibet.

Marpa The Translator

Marpa first trained as a translator under Drogmi Yeshe (993-1050), and

then traveled three times to India and four times to Nepal in search of
Buddhist teachings. He is said to have studied with a hundred and eight
masters and yogis, but his principal teachers were Naropa and Maitripa.

Tilopa And Naropa

From Naropa, Marpa received the lineage of tantric teachings called the
Four Special Transmissions (bK'a-babs-bzhi): the yogas of 1) illusory
body and transference of consciousness, 2) dream, 3) luminosity, and 4)
inner heat. Naropa obtained these teachings directly from Tilopa (988-
1069), who in turn had received them from two original sources, called the
direct and indirect lineage. The direct lineage and original source of the
teachings was Buddha Vajradhara. The indirect lineage comes from four
main teachers of Tilopa called the "four special transmission lineages."
Both Tilopa and Naropa are some of the greatest panditas, scholars,

and siddhas, accomplished saints, of Nalanda, the famous Buddhist
University of ancient India.


Marpa brought these lineages to Tibet, passing them on to his primary

disciple and lineage holder, Milarepa (1040-1123), the most renowned
and accomplished of Tibet's tantric yogis, who achieved enlightenment in
one lifetime. Milarepa held the lineage and tradition of the Practice
Lineage. Some of the other great students of Marpa were Ngog Choku
Dorjey, Tsurton Wangey and Meton Chenpo, who held the Marpa's
tradition of the Teaching Lineage. This is how the two great systems of
the practice lineage and the teaching lineage were founded in Kagyu


The great master Gampopa (1084-1161), also known as Dakpo Lhaje,

and Rechungpa (1084-1161) were the principal students of Milarepa.
Gampopa was prophesized in the sutras by Buddha. He pioneered in
establishing the framework of the lineage by unifying Milarepa's
Mahamudra lineage with the stages of the path tradition of the Kadampa
lineage. This lineage and tradition is known as the Dhakpo Kagyu.

Gampopa had three heart disciples: Düsum Khyenpa, Phakmo Drupa

and Saltong Shogom. Düsum Khyenpa (1110-1193), also known as
Khampa Usey (literally, the "white-haired Khampa"), became known as
the First Karmapa, who established the Karma Kagyu lineage.

The Golden Rosary

1st Karmapa - Düsum Khyenpa
Drogon Rechen
2nd Karmapa - Karma Pakshi
3rd Karmapa - Rangjung Dorje
Gyalwa Yungtönpa
4th Karmapa - Rolpe Dorje
Khachö Wangpo
5th Karmapa - Deshin Shekpa
6th Karmapa - Thongwa Dönden
Bengar Jampal Sangpo
Goshir Paljor Dhöndrup
7th Karmapa - Chödrak Gyatso
Tashi Paljor

8th Karmapa - Mikyö Dorje
Könchok Yenlak
9th Karmapa - Wangchuk Dorje
Chökyi Wangchuk
10th Karmapa - Chöying Dorje
Yeshe Nyingpo
11th Karmapa - Yeshe Dorje
Palchen Chökyi Dhondrup
12th Karmapa - Changchub Dorje
Chökyi Jungney
13th Karmapa - Dudul Dorje
Mipham Chödrup Gyatso
Pema Nyinje Wangpo
14th Karmapa - Thekchok Dorje
Lodrö Thaye
15th Karmapa - Khakyab Dorje
Pema Wangchok Gyalpo
Palden Khyentse Öser
16th Karmapa - Rangjung Rigpe Dorje
17th Karmapa - Ogyen Trinley Dorje




the primordial buddha,

and source of the Kagyu lineage

Vajradhara is the primordial Buddha, the dharmakaya Buddha.

Vajradhara, depicted as dark blue in color, expresses the quintessence of
Buddhahood itself. Vajradhara represents the essence of the historical
Buddha's realization of enlightenment.

Historically, Prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment under the bodhi

tree in Bodhgaya over 2500 years ago and then manifested as the
Buddha. According to Buddhist cosmology, he was the Fourth Historic
Buddha of this fortunate eon. Prince Siddhartha's achievement of

enlightenment, the realization, or wisdom of enlightenment itself, is called
the dharmakaya, the body of truth. When he expresses that realization
through subtle symbols, his realization is called the sambhogakaya, the
body of enjoyment. When such realization manifested in more accessible
or physical form for all sentient beings as the historical Shakyamuni
Buddha, it is called the nirmanakaya, the body of manifestation.

The dharmakaya, synonymous with Vajradhara Buddha, is the source of

all the manifestations of enlightenment. Vajradhara is central to the
Kagyu lineage because Tilopa received the vajrayana teachings directly
from Vajradhara, the dharmakaya Buddha. Thus, the Kagyu lineage
originated from the very nature of Buddhahood.

That realization of the nature was in turn transmitted within the Golden
Rosary by Tilopa.


Tilopa received the the transmission of

enlightened wisdom directly from the source of
enlightenment itself, Vajradhara

Tilopa is one of the most authoritative and renowned Indian mahasiddhas

and masters of mahamudra and tantra. He received various tantric
teachings and unified them and transmitted to his disciple, Naropa.

Tilopa, known as Prajnabhadra, was born in the town of Chativavo

(Chittagong, which is now in Banladesh), into the Brahmin caste. His
birthplace is also recorded to be Jagora (in eastern Bengal, India?). His
father was Pranyasha and mother, Kashi.

When he grew up he learned all the doctrinal treatises of Brahminism.

While he was wandering in various places asking for alms, he finally came
to a temple and, seeing that the monks lived a life of renunciation, he

entered the monastic life and became a learned in the Tripitaka, the three
collections of the teachings of the Buddha.

He was empowered into the tantric mandalas by his master, and learned
acharyas, and engaged very diligently in meditation practices on those
instructions at different places, such as Somapuri. After a short time, he
had a unique experience and great wisdom was born within him from this
realization. He received further teachings from different persons and had
many sacred visions and made great accomplishments over the years.

Tilopa received teachings and transmissions especially the "Four

Special Transmission Lineages" from great tantric masters of India.
Among his many masters, the Great Brahmin Saraha, Acharya
Nagarjuna, and Matangi played very important roles in his development.
For 12 years, Tilopa devoted himself totally to his practices and attained

It is also said that from ultimate point of view, Tilopa had no human
teachers and he received the full mahamudra and vajrayana transmissions
directly from Buddha Vajradhara.

According to Taranatha, Tilopa practised with a ksetra yogini, the

daughter of a sesame seed pounder, and the monks expelled him from the
monastery. Because he was a former Brahmin Pandita and Buddhist
monk, he had lost all his opportunities for wealth and fame. He pursued
the work of a sesame seed pounder in the town. He then came to be
known as "Tillipa," the sesame pounder. He received various teachings
from dakinis in the land of Oddiyana. He then continued to pound
sesame seeds in Oddiyana until the sesame became like a butter broth.
Through the methods that he received from his Guru's instructions, his

body and mind was also pounded and synchronized through this process,
until he realized the co-emergent wisdom.

He also worked at a brothel for Dharima, a prostitute, in Bengal, as

instructed by his guru Matangi. He attained great mahamudra realization
through practicing in this situation. Through such diligence and skilful
practice of mahamudra and tantra, he finally attained the complete siddhi
or accomplishment.

Tilopa then started to teach and benefit sentient beings for many years.
He started to pass on what he had realized, in the form of a song to the
gatherings in towns. At first, everyone was usually full of doubt.
Hundreds of thousands of people came to see the acharya in a town in
Bengal on one occassion. Tilopa appeared with his consort in the sky
pounding sesame seeds. When each person in the audience asked
questions, Tilopa putting his experiences into song, answered each
question in this way. It is said that many of those who realized the meaning
of the songs attained siddhis. Thus he became renowned as the Siddha
Tillipa, and is one of the eighty-four mahasiddhas of India. After many
years of benefiting beings and guiding his disciples for a long time, he
departed for the enlightened realms without leaving his physical body.

His two most well known students were Naropa and Lalitavajra. His
Golden Rosary lineage heir was Naropa.



Naropa is one of the most prominent and authoritative Indian

mahasiddhas and masters of mahahudra and tantra. He received the
mahamudra and tantra lineage teachings from his guru Tilopa and
transmitted them to his disciple, Marpa, the Great Translator of Tibet.

Brahmin Upbringing

Naropa, known as Abhayakirti ('jig med grags pa) Jnanasiddhi, was born
in Kashmir into the Brahmin caste, according to Taranatha and other
sources, who say that he was born in a place called Jambu (Shrinagar,
according to Guenther) in eastern part of India. His father was
Shantivarman and mother, Shrimati.

According to Taranatha, from an early age, he began to receive a
complete education and became a tirthika pandit (scholar of non-
buddhist teachings), also practicing the tantras of Hindusim. During this
time, Naropa went to the house of a woman who sold beer and
encountered a junior Buddhist pandita. After the Buddhist pandita
departed, Naropa found a volume of Sutras left behind by him and
began to read them. He became very inspired by the teachings and his
heart filled with devotion for the dharma.

Naropa then went to Madhyadesha where he became an ordained monk

in the Buddhist order, becoming educated in the Buddhist teachings.
Naropa, who had been a tirthika pandita became instead the most
learned pandita in the Buddha-dharma. He was honored for this
accomplishment by being made the "Northern Gatekeeper" of Nalanda
and Vikramashila universities. He taught at the universities and became
one of the most well-known abbots of the time. During this time, he
practiced the vajrayana tantric meditation of Cakrasamvara every evening
and had many sacred visions of the dakinis. At some point, some dakinis
encouraged him to leave by saying, "In the east is Tilopa. Go before him
and you will attain great siddhi!"

Searching for Tilopa

He traveled to the eastern regions and searched for Tilopa everywhere,

but Tilopa was nowhere to be found. One day, Naropa was at a
monastery in the eastern region. While in the monastery kitchen, a vile and
filthy old man came in and roasted many live fish in the glowing fire.
Naropa was unable to persuade him not to roast the fish alive, and the
other monks jumped up and began to run towards the old man to stop him
from killing. The old man responded: "If you don't like it, just throw these

roasted fish leftovers into the water!" Upon putting the roasted fish
remains into water, they came to life and swam away in all directions.

Naropa then knew that the old man was a realized siddha. Following after
him, he prostrated at his feet and begged him to teach. The old man
became angry and struck Naropa without saying anything. When Naropa
thought to himself, "Is this yogi Tilopa?" the old man answered: "Yes!
Yes!" When Naropa thought "Is this yogi someone other than Tilopa?"
the old man replied: "No! No!" At that point, he realized that this old man
was Tilopa.

Tilopa sometimes manifested as a yogi by performing yogic deeds and

sometimes just seemed to be a simple madman. During all these times
Naropa had no conceptual thoughts or doubts about Tilopa's

Developing Naropa's Devotion

Once Naropa received a lot of vegetables from a wedding celebration

and he offered them to Tilopa. Tilopa asked for more and so Naropa
went again to the wedding reception, thinking that it would please his
Guru. In India, it is not the accepted custom to go to a banquet twice in
one day, so Naropa stole the whole pot of vegetables and carried it off.
The people at the wedding caught him stealing and beat him with sticks
and rocks, but Naropa managed to hang onto the pot and bring the
vegetables to his guru.

At another time, Tilopa and Naropa encountered a princess sitting in a

palyanka (palanquin) on the road. Tilopa said, "Grab the princess and
bring her here!" Naropa transformed himself into a Brahmin and, uttering
auspicious words, he put flowers on the girl's head. He then grabbed her

and fled with her; the servants of the princess however caught up with him,
and beat Naropa to the ground until he was like a corpse. Naropa
subsequently recovered through the blessings and skillful means of his

Once again, Tilopa and Naropa met someone's wife, this time married to
a minister. Tilopa wanted her as his wife and told Naropa to do as he had
done previously. Naropa paid her parents the price for a high caste girl
and took her off with him. He thought he would offer her to his guru in the
morning, but Naropa became very ill and was sick for many days. During
this time, his guru recited mantras and Naropa soon recovered fully. At
that time, Naropa offered the girl to Tilopa. However, the girl was so
attacted to Naropa that she made love-glances at Naropa. Seeing this,
Tilopa got very mad and said to the girl: "You don't like me but instead,
you like him." He then beat both Naropa and the girl.

Those and many similar deeds were done in order to develop Naropa's
faith. During all of these events that Naropa went through, his devotion
and faith remained firm and was not shaken even slightly. Not only did it
not diminish; in fact his faith and devotion expanded. In this way, Naropa
served his guru Tilopa for twelve years and although he went through
numerous hardships, Tilopa never even spoke a single good word to him.

Sandal Transmission

Finally, when they were at an empty plain Tilopa said, "Now make a
mandala offering so I can give you the upadesha (key instructions)."
Naropa looked around and said: "There are no flowers nor any water
here to make mandala offering." Tilopa answered: "Does your body not
have blood and fingers?" so Naropa cut himself and sprinkled the ground
with his own blood; he then cut off his fingers and arrayed them as if they

were flowers. Tilopa then struck him with a muddy sandal and knocked
him unconscious. When he woke up he was able to see the reality of
things as they are. Naropa was completely healed and was given all the
upadeshas and further instructions. Naropa became one of the greatest
yogins and Tilopa instructed him: "Now, don't debate, don't teach any
students - if you act thus you will swiftly attain the highest state."

When Naropa was abiding at Phullahari monastery, he engaged in non-

conceptual meditation. However, events forced him into a debate with a
Tirthika, at which time Tilopa appeared and helped Naropa. Thus he
did not fully comply with the instructions, which caused him some
obstacles in the path.

Naropa stayed mostly in Phullahari, near Nalanda and also he wandered

around various places conducting abhishekas, teaching tantras, giving
upadeshas, and also engaging in great activities for the benefit of many
sentient beings. Naropa attained the realization of the Reality and
became one of the most renowned mahasiddas of India.

Naropa had many students including, Shantipa, Atisha, and many other
masters who where door-keeper panditas. Among his students, there
were eight extraordinary disciples, four who were learned in the Father
Tantras and four who where learned in Mother Tantras and held the
Oral Instructions lineage. Foremost among his disciples was the Tibetan
Marpa, the great translator, who brought the lineage of Naropa to Tibet
and continued it through his great disciple, Milarepa.

The principal student and lineage heir of Naropa was Marpa.




Marpa travelled to India from Tibet at great personal peril across the Himalayas to
study with his principal teachers, Naropa
and Maitripa

Marpa Chökyi Lodrö, was born in Lhodrak Chukhyer to a well-to-do

family. He began studying at a young age and was wild and untamed
compared to other children. Marpa first received training for three years
at Mangkhar with Drokmi Shakya Yeshe and mastered the Sanskrit
language. He decided to travel to India to study dharma with renowned
Indian Buddhist masters. Marpa returned home to Lhodrak and

converted his entire inheritance into gold for his travel expenses and to
make offerings to his Indian gurus for requested teachings.

Journeys to India

Marpa set out on his journey to India. Arriving first in Nepal, he studied
with Paindapa and Chitherpa, two famous students of Naropa.

Later, Paindapa accompanied Marpa to Pullahari, near Nalanda

University, where Naropa taught. Marpa spent twelve years receiving
abhishekas, instructions, and studying with Naropa and other great
Indian gurus to whom Naropa sent him to study or receive instructions.
At the end of twelve years, Marpa offered a ganachakra and sang his
first song of realization to his guru, Naropa. Shortly after, he set forth on
his journey back to Tibet, where he taught and continued his dharma

Subsequently, Marpa traveled to India two more times and studied with
Naropa and other great mahasiddhas of India. Of these, his main gurus
were Naropa and Maitripa. In total, he traveled three times to India and
four times to Nepal. On his third visit, Marpa went through an adventure
in finding Naropa, because Naropa, having already entered into the
tantric conduct, was nowhere to be found. However, with determination,
trust, and devotion, Marpa managed to find Naropa and receive the final
teachings and instructions from him. At that time, Naropa prophesied
that a family lineage would not continue for Marpa, but that his lineage
would be carried on by disciples—especially one with the appearance of a
monk and the inner realization of Mahayana. This prophecy foretold of
the arrival of Lord Gampopa.

Bringing the Complete Dharma to Tibet

Marpa now had received the full transmissions, so Naropa formally

declared Marpa to be his dharma successor. Marpa brought the
teachings and lineages of vajrayana and mahamudra back to Tibet.

Naropa in general had seven major disciples including Paindapa,

Chitherpa, Shri Shantibhadra or Kukuripa, and Maitripa. His most well
known disciple and lineage holder was the Marpa, the translator.

Upon his return to Tibet, Marpa spent many years translating Buddhist
scriptures and contributed to the effort to bring the complete
buddhadharma to Tibet. Many of his translations are part of the Kagyur
and Tangyur.

Marpa continued to practice and give teachings, abhishekas, and

transmissions to many students in Tibet. After his third visit to India,
Mila Thöpaga or Milarepa became his disciple, who inherited his lineage
in full. Marpa along with his wife, Dakmema and their sons lived in
Lhodrak in the southern part of Tibet.

Marpa had numerous disciples. The four most outstanding students were
known as the "Four Pillars:" 1) Ngok Chöku Dorje, who became the
principal student to receive the transmissions and master the explanations
of the Tantras, 2) Tsurtön Wanggi Dorje, who became the main student
to receive the transmissions and master the practice of Phowa
[transference of conciousness], 3) Meytön Chenpo, who became the
primary student to receive the transmissions and master the practice of
Ösal [luminosity], and 4) Milarepa, who became the principal student to
receive the full transmissions and master the view, meditation, and conduct.

Marpa gave the full transmission of his lineage to Milarepa, who became
his spiritual heir and continued the lineage of Naropa.

The principal student and lineage heir of Marpa was Milarepa.

(1040 - 1123)

Milarepa, the most renowned yogi in Tibetan history

Milarepa was born in Gungthang. His father was Mila Sherap Gyaltsen
and mother, Nyangtsa Kargyen. He had one younger sister, Peta
Paldron. He was named Mila Thöpaga, which means "Mila who is a joy to
hear." At a young age, he lost his father and his family's estate passed
into the hands of his father's brother, Mila Thöpaga's uncle, who, with his
wife, virtually enslaved Mila's mother and family, making them work in the
field. He, along with his mother and sister, went through tremendous
suffering because of the ill treatment of his uncle and aunt.

A Foray Into Magic

At his mother's request, when Mila grew up, he studied magic from two
different teachers in order to take revenge through the use of magical
powers. Through a spell, he killed thirty-seven people, including his
uncle's family, and destroyed most of the crops of the village. After this

was done, great remorse arose in him for the heavy karmic consequences
he had caused himself, and his mind turned towards the sacred dharma.

Mila first went to the Tsang region and studied with the great master,
Rongtön Lhaga. The latter eventually advised Mila to go and study with
Marpa. At the age of thirty-eight, he went to Lhodrak to find Marpa.
Before he arrived, Marpa had a dream in which a yidam prophesied the
arrival of Milarepa.

Studies Under Marpa

Mila spent over six years studying with Marpa, who made Mila build the
famous nine-story tower as part of his journey on the path. At the end, he
received the abhisheka of Chakrasamvara from Marpa during which he
received the secret name, Shepa Dorje, which means "Laughing Vajra."
Marpa also conferred on Milarepa the full transmissions, instructions,
and abhishekas of Tantra, as well as the lineage of Mahamudra - all that
Marpa had received from Indian mahasiddhas Naropa and Maitripa.

Enlightenment and Teaching Through Poetic Songs

After practicing very diligently for twelve years under Lord Marpa,
Milarepa attained the inseparable state of vajradhara (the complete state
of enlightenment) in this very lifetime. He then became known as Milarepa,
which means the "Mila, the cotton clad one." ("Repa" is the designation
given to many tantric yogins since they wear a white robe.) At the age of
forty-five, he started to practice at Drakar Taso (White Rock Horse
Tooth), and other well known caves and also began to wander and teach
at various places.

Milarepa is most famous for his songs and poems, in which he expresses
the profundity of his realization of the dharma with extraordinary clarity
and beauty. Many of Milarepa's poetic compositions have been
translated into numerous other languages.

Milarepa had countless disciples such as Rechung Dorje Drakpa,

Gampopa or Dhakpo Lhaje, the eight-heart-sons, and many others.
Among them, his spiritual successor who continued his lineage and
became one of the main lineage masters in Milarepa's tradition was



The great master Gampopa unified

Milarepa's Mahamudra lineage with the
stages of the path tradition of the
Kadampa lineage

Gampopa Sönam Rinchen was born in Nyal in central Tibet. His father
was Nyiwa Sangye Gyalpo and mother was Shomo Zatse. He was
named Dharma Drak.

Medical Training

His father started his son's education at the age of five. For over eight
and one-half years, beginning at the age of seven, he studied medical
sciences and received training as a physician from Kyeme, an Indian

doctor, Usil, a doctor from the Tsang region of central Tibet, and Viji, a
Nepalese doctor. For many subsequent years, he continued his medical
training, studying under thirteen other doctors from China and Tibet.
He became one of the best doctors of the time, and was known as
Dakpo Lhaje, the physician from Dakpo.

He also became interested in dharma and started to study in the

Nyingma lineage from the master Bar-rey, and in the Kadam tradition
with Sharpa Yonten Drak.

Stricken by an Epidemic

At the age of sixteen, Dharma Drak married the daughter of Chim Jose
Dharma Ö. They had two children. He lived as a householder and as a
highly-trained physician; he received great respect from the community.
At the age of twenty-five, his wife and children died from an epidemic
disease, and this caused him to fully turn his mind towards dharma.

At the age of twenty-six, Gampopa received the fully monastic

ordination from Geshe Loden Sherap of the Kadam order. At the age
of twenty-eight, he met Nyukrumpa Tsöndru Gyaltsen and received
many Kadampa teachings. He practiced their teachings for many years.

Historic Meeting Milarepa

Hearing of the fame of the Lord of Yogins, Milarepa, he decided to

search for him. After a long and difficult journey, Gampopa arrived at
Trode Tashigang, where it appeared that Milarepa already had been
expecting him. He and his disciples received the monk, Gampopa, with
great respect and hospitality. Because of Gampopa's pride, however, his
audience with Milarepa was delayed for two weeks.

When Gampopa met Milarepa for the first time, the latter offered this
new disciple a bowl of chang (Tibetan beer). Although Gamapopa
initially hesitated to drink it because it would be a violation of his monastic
vow, he did so anyway, which demonstrated that he would receive the full
lineage teachings of mahamudra and tantra from Milarepa. This was an
historic moment. After this significant meeting, Gampopa practiced with
great diligence and endured many hardships under his guru; he had many
experiences and finally attained great realization. He became the most
important disciple and the lineage holder of Milarepa.

Founding the Kagyu Monastic Order

Gampopa was the founder of the monastic order of the Kagyu School
and the lineages that branch out from him is known as the Dhakpo Kagyu.
He founded the Dhaklha Gampo Monastery where he continued his
activities of teaching, meditation, and benefiting beings. Gampopa is the
author of a most famous book, The Jewel Ornament Of Liberation, and
many others. His collected works comprise three or four volumes.

Gampopa held both lineages of the Kadampa as well as the mahamudra

and tantric traditions of Milarepa. Since his time; the Kagyu tradition
has contained both lineages together and has become rich in methods for
leading disciples to realization. Gampopa led his own students first
through the common mahayana path of the Kadampa lineage teachings,
and then through the uncommon mahamudra and tantra path of the
Kagyu lineage instructions of Milarepa.

Among many disciples of Gampopa, the most well-known and closest

disciples were: Gampo Tsultrim Nyingpo, Karmapa Düsum Khyenpa,
Phakmo Trupa, Saltong Shogam, Barom Dharma Wangchuk, and

Zhang Drowae Gönpo. The Golden Rosary lineage heir of Gampopa
was the First Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa.

The First Karmapa
Düsum Khyenpa (1110 - 1193)

“In the future, you will be the buddha named Drukpa Sengge, In the present, you nurture all
realms through many emanations.
Lord of dharma, ruler of the teachings of the practice lineage,
Düsum Khyenpa, we supplicate at your feet. ”
—from Supplication To The Karmapas

The First Karmapa Düsum Khyenpa,

"Knower of the Three Times"

Early Years

Born to a family of devoted Buddhist practitioners in Teshö in eastern

Tibet, the boy who was to become known as the first Karmapa was called
Gephel as a child. He first studied with his father, and became a
knowledgeable and seasoned practitioner, even as a young child. He

continued his education with other Buddhist teachers of the region. First

Already quite learned by the age of twenty, he moved to Central Tibet,

became a monk and spent the next twelve years or so engaging in study
and meditation practices. He studied with very well known masters of the
time, such as Chapa Chokyi Senge (1109-1169), a great logician and
the founder of the debate system in Tibet, and Patsab Lotsawa Nyima
Drakpa (1055-?), who translated many madhyamaka texts (one of the
highest schools of Buddhist philosophy) into Tibetan and was a great
master of the Prasangika Madhyamaka tradition.

Training under Gampopa

At the age of thirty, he received teachings from Gampopa, the heart son
of the greatest yogi in Tibetan history, Milarepa. Düsum Khyenpa first
trained in the foundation practices of the Khadampa tradition and,
following that, in the general philosophy of the sutras. This training in the
basis of all Buddhist traditions established a pattern for all future Kagyu
followers by demonstrating the importance of establishing a correct basis
of knowledge. This is true even when engaging in the most powerful of
advanced vajrayana practices. Düsum Khyenpa also received and unified
the lineage teachings he received from Rechungpa and other students of

The Karmapa's accomplishment in meditation and the practices

transmitted to him by his teachers were greatly enhanced by his own
natural compassion. His practice produced rapid results and great
accomplishments, or siddhis. Such accomplishment is often perceived by
followers as the ability to perform miraculous activity and in fact, the
legends of the Karmapas through the ages speak of their ability, through

the manifestation of this seemingly miraculous activity, to create a great
sense of wonder and faith in their students. All the Karmapas have since
been known for their ability to inspire, through their simple presence, this
profound sense of wonder and faith in the reality of the accomplishment
which is the fruition of the Buddhist path.

Establishing Monastic Seats

At the age of 55 (1164), Düsum Khyenpa founded a monastery at

Kampo Nénang; and at the age of 60 (1169), he started the Panphuk
monastery in Lithang, in East Tibet. Later, at the age of 76 (1185), he
established an important seat at Karma Gön, in eastern Tibet (1184).
At the age of 80 (1189), he established his main seat at Tsurphu, in the
Tolung valley, a river which feeds into the Brahmaputra, in central Tibet.

The first Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa, made predictions about future

Karmapas. In particular, he was the first Karmapa to present a prediction
letter, detailing his future incarnation. He gave it to his main disciple,
Drogon Rechen, whom he chose to become the next lineage-holder.

Düsum Khyenpa passed away at the age of eighty-four. Among his

other main disciples were Tak-lungpa, founder of the Ta-lung Kagyu,
Tsangpa Gyare, founder of the Drukpa Kagyu, and Lama Khadampa
Deshek, founder of the Katok Nyingma lineage.

The principal student who held the lineage of the Golden Rosary from
the First Karmapa was Drogon Rechen.

Drogon Rechen

Drogon Rechen was born to an educated family in the Yarlung area of

Tsang, part of Central Tibet. As a young child, he demonstrated his
awakened potential in the gradual path of hinayana-mahayana. At the
age of nine, he connected to the Kagyu master, Zangri Repa, and
received many teachings, including ear-whispered teachings and dohas of
the Mahamudra masters. He practiced meditation wearing only a cotton
cloth and was therefore called "Rechen," which means "great cotton-clad
yogi." He experienced many signs of meditative accomplishment.

Studying In Milarepa's Tradition

When he reached the age of fifteen, his teacher, Zangri Repa, passed
into parinirvana. Before his passing away, Drogon Rechen was advised
to find the disciples of Milarepa's lineage, receive the full lineage
transmission, and practice hard so that he could become a great master in
this tradition. In accordance with this, he studied and practiced under
many Kagyu masters as well as with Dzogchen masters. Although he
attained great qualities of samadhi he still was not fully satisfied.
Deciding to leave his home to develop his practice further, he started a
journey to Kham, in eastern Tibet, through Kongpo. On his way, he met
and received many teachings - from Thöpa Samdrup, he received the
complete transmission of the Chöd lineage; from Ngari-pa, he received
Vajrapani and Vajrasaddhu; from Nyalpa Josey, he received Peaceful
and Wrathful Manjushri and Mahakala. He established eighteen Tantric
seats and many great practitioners have been produced as a result.

Meeting The First Karmapa

Drogön Rechen mastered the prana and nadhi practices at this point,
and a little bit of pride in his accomplishment developed. Upon hearing
the fame of the First Karmapa Düsum Khyenpa, who was living at
Kampo Nenang, Drogön Rechen decided to meet him. He simply wished
to pay Düsum Khyenpa his respects, but had no intention of studying
with the Karmapa. The First Karmapa told Drogon Rechen, when they
first met, "O young tantric practitioner, you can go and study with my
students." Drogön Rechen asked "what kind of students do you have?"
Karmapa replied "Deuchung Sangye, Baltsa Takdelwa, and so on."
Drogon Rechen first went to see Deuchung Sangye who directed him to
Baltsa Takdelwa. When he went to the cave of Takdelwa, he saw a huge
tiger sleeping there and he ran back with great fear. Deuchung told him to
go back again and when he did, he saw a little pond in the cave. He
circumambulated the water and threw some pebbles in it and left. When he
was told to go back and went, he saw an old yogi who had those pebbles
he threw on his lap.

At that time, he thought "if the students are like this, it is unnecessary to
point out how great must be their teacher's realization and achievement!"
Making a strong commitment, he practiced under their direction for seven
years and completely settled his practice and realization. Drogon Rechen
became one of the most important heart disciples of the First Karmapa.
He was fully ordained as a monastic at the age of thirty-seven and
received the name Sönam Drakpa. He received the full Kagyu
transmission from the First Karmapa for three more years, and became
the lineage-holder. When Karmapa traveled back to Central Tibet,
Drogön Rechen stayed behind in the Kham region and continued the
activities of the Karmapa and the lineage at the seats of Karma Gön and
Kampo Nenang. At the age of 70, he passed into parinirvana on the
25th day and many relics arose from the cremation.

His principal disciple and the Kagyu lineage holder was Pomdrakpa
Sönam Dorje.

These details about Drogon Rechen are compiled from Pawo Tsuklak
Trengwa's Feast For Scholars (chos 'byung mkhas pa'i dg'a ston),
Beijing edition, vol. 2, pp. 873-877. May this be virtuous!

(1170 - 1249)

Pomdrakpa Sonam Dorje was born Dri Dampa Chöchuk in Central

Tibet. At the age of five, he started his education, and at the age of nine,
he received the mother Tantra transmissions from Nyen Lhakhang
Gangpo. When he was fourteen, he heard the fame of the great master,
Drogön Rechen. Upon hearing his name, a special meditative experience
arose within him and he had a vision of red dakinis who prophesized
Drogon Rechen as his teacher. Within ten days, he went to visit Drogön
Rechen and received the full monastic ordination and was named Sönam
Dorje. From that moment, he followed Drogon Rechen as his principal
teacher, from whom he received many abhishekas. He practiced with great
diligence for many years. Pomdrakpa had many visions of the wisdom
deities during abhishekas and practice sessions, as well as a vision of the
First Karmapa who gave him important instructions. From Drogön
Rechen, he received the full Kagyu transmission and became the lineage-

Holding The Kagyu Lineage

Pomdrakpa received the full Kagyu teachings, and became a gifted

master. Before the passing away, Drogon Rechen told Pomdrakpa and
Lodrö Rinchen that they were the masters of the teachings, who could

each hold this lineage. He also predicted that Pomdrakpa's activities
would flourish, and the lineage would prosper even more during the time of
his disciples and afterwards in the future. During that time, Pomdrakpa
saw his teacher as the Buddha Shakyamuni surrounded by countless
Buddhas. This is said to be the auspicious sign of becoming the main
lineage holder.

Pomdrakpa Sönam Dorje's activities of benefiting beings flourished as

predicted, and he passed on the lineage transmission to the Second
Karmapa, Karma Pakshi.

These details about Pomdrakpa are compiled from Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa's Feast
For Scholars (chos 'byung mkhas pa'i dg'a ston), Beijing edition, vol. 2, pp. 877-880.
May this be virtuous!



The Second Karmapa

Karma Pakshi (1204 - 1283)

“Mastering the yidam, you gained control over the world of appearance.
You tamed the haughtiness of the tirthika emperor of Mongolia,
And conquered the energy of fire, water, poison, weaponry and demons.
Karma Pakshi, we supplicate at your feet.”
—from Supplication To The Karmapas

Karma Pakshi, the Second Karmapa, meditator

extraordinaire and miracle worker

A Child Prodigy

Born in Kyil-le Tsakto in eastern Tibet to a noble family of yogins, the
young boy was named Chözin by Khache Panchen. He was a child
prodigy who already had a broad understanding of Buddhist philosophy
and practice before the age of ten.

On his way to Central Tibet for further education, he encountered

Pomdrakpa, who had received the full Kagyu transmission from Drogön
Rechen, the first Karmapa's spiritual heir. Pomdrakpa realized, through
certain very clear visions, that the child he met was the reincarnation of
Düsum Khyenpa, as indicated in the letter given to Drogon Rechen.
Pomdrakpa conferred on the young Karma Pakshi all the teachings
through traditional empowerments and formally passed on the lineage in
full. Ever since this time, each young Karmapa, despite his pre-existing
knowledge and accomplishment of the teachings, formally receives all the
transmissions of the teachings from a lineage holder.

The second Karmapa spent much of the first half of his life in meditation
retreat. He also visited and restored the monasteries established by the
first Karmapa. He is famous for having introduced the melodious
chanting of the Om Mani Padme Hung, the mantra of compassion, to the
Tibetan people.

The Court of Kublai Khan

At the age of 47 (1252), he set out on a three-year journey to China, at

the invitation of Kublai, grandson of Ghengis Khan. While there,
Chinese and Tibetan histories, as well as statements of European
visitors, record that the Karmapa was said to have performed many
spectacular miracles at the court. He also played an important role as a
peacemaker. However, the Karmapa declined to stay permanently in the
court, which caused Kublai Khan's displeasure.

Over the next ten years the Karmapa traveled widely in China, Mongolia
and Tibet and became a teacher of the greatest renown. He was
particularly honored by Munga Khan, Kublai's brother, the Mongol ruler
at that time. The Karmapa was presented the Great Golden Seal of
"Ti shro."

After Munga's death, Kublai became the Khan and ruled a vast empire.
However, harboring resentment against the Karmapa for his refusal to
stay in the court of Kublai and due to his perception that the Karmapa
had paid more attention to the Munga Kahn many years before, Kublai
Kahn ordered the apprehension of the Second Karmapa. The
Karmapa thwarted each attempt to capture, or even kill him, despite the
overwhelming forces sent against him. As the Karmapa continually
responded to force with compassion, Kublai Khan eventually had a
change of heart. As time passed, gradually Kublai Khan came to regret
his actions against the Karmapa, and eventually approached him,
confessing his misdeeds, and requesting Karma Pakshi to teach him.

Miracles of Meditation And Scholarship

In fulfillment of a long-standing vision, His Holiness returned to Tibet

and directed the building of a Buddha statue at Tsurphu, well over fifty
feet in height. The finished statue was slightly tilted. In one of the most
well-known miraculous stories of the Karmapas, Karma Pakshi was said to
have straightened the statue by assuming the same tilted posture as the
statue, and straightening himself. The statue simultaneously righted itself.

The histories record that the Second Karmapa composed over one
hundred volumes of texts, which once were enshrined at the monastic
library of Tshurphu monastery in Central Tibet.

Before passing away into parinirvana, Karma Pakshi told details
concerning the next Karmapa's birth to his main disciple, Orgyenpa.


Orgyenpa was born in Latö, in Northern Tibet, in the year of Earth

Tiger, to a family of tantric practioners. At an early age, he mastered
Vajrakilaya and other teachings and practices of his father's lineage. He
was naturally inclined to meditation practices but decided that he should
first study philosophy before beginning serious meditation practice. He
was ordained as upasaka by Lord Götsangpa. From the age of seven, he
applied himself to basic studies. When he was sixteen, he started studying
various philosophical texts such as Abhidharma, Madhyamaka, Vinaya,
and other topics of sciences at a monastery in Tsang province, which was
famous for the quality of its teaching.

He excelled among his contemporaries and mastered all subjects. He also

received and practiced the Kalachakra tantra in full from Golungpa
Namkha Gyaltsen and later clarified those teachings further with Lord
Götsangpa. He traveled to Nepal, India, China, Pakistan, Tsari, Mount
Kailash, Jalandara, and Odiyana to learn and practice further at these
sacred places. He achieved great accomplishments in his practice and
became a realized tantric master.

At fifty-three, he met the Second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi, and received

the full Kagyu lineage teachings and transmissions. After he received the
key instructions, he attained high realization and they became inseparable.
Orgyenpa's activities of benefiting beings flourished throughout Tibet
and he focused mainly instructing disciples through Gampopa's tradition
of Mahamudra teachings.

Among countless students, he had four renowned sons — two brothers of
Nyedowa, Chöje Kharchuwa of Yazang, and Jamyang Sönam Öser of
Langkhor; as well as eight close sons, four supreme ones, and many other
scholars and yogis of Tibet and India. However, his main disciple and
lineage holder was the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje.

These details about are compiled from Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa's Feast For
Scholars (chos 'byung mkhas pa'i dg'a ston), Beijing edition, vol. 2, pp. 913-918.
May this be virtuous!

The Third Karmapa
Rangjung Dorje (1284 - 1339)

“Through your miraculous ability in commenting on the many sutras and tantras,
You reveal the heart meaning to the diverse host of beings,
Vastly propagating the teachings of the great siddhas.
Rangjung Dorje, we supplicate at your feet.”
—from Supplication To The Karmapas (full text)

Rangjung Dorje, the Third Karmapa, learnt and mastered nearly all of the Buddhist
teachings brought to Tibet from India

Born to a family of a tantric practitioners of the Nyingma lineage in

Dingri Langkor, in the Tsang region of Central Tibet, Rangjung Dorje
sat up straight at the age of three and proclaimed that he was the
Karmapa. At the age of five, he went to see Orgyenpa, who had

prepared for his visit on the basis of a prescient dream. Orgyenpa
recognized the child as the reincarnation of Karma Pakshi, and gave him
the Vajra Black Crown and all the possessions of the second Karmapa.

Master Of All Buddhist Traditions Of Knowledge

Rangjung Dorje grew up in Tsurphu, receiving the full transmissions of

both the Kagyu and Nyingma tradition. At the age of 18 (1301), he
received the preliminary monastic ordination. After a retreat on the
slopes of Mt. Everest, he took full ordination, and further broadened his
studies at a great seat of the Khadampa lineage. Not content with this,
Rangjung Dorje sought out and studied with the greatest scholars and
experts of different traditions of knowledge, learning from all Buddhist
traditions of the time. By the end of his studies, he had learnt and
mastered nearly all of the Buddhist teachings brought to Tibet from

Founder Of The Karma Nyingthik

In particular, during a retreat in his early twenties he had the vision at

sunrise of Vimalamitra and then Padmasambhava, who dissolved into him
at a point between his eyebrows. At that moment, he realized and
received all the teachings and transmissions of the dzogchen tantras of
the Nyingma lineage. He wrote many volumes of teachings on dzogchen
and founded the Karma Nyingtik lineage. Through his mastery of the
profound Nyingmapa teachings of Vimalamitra, he unified the Kagyu
mahamudra and the Nyingma dzogchen.

At the age of 35 (1318), through visions he received of the "Wheel of

Time" (Kalacakra) teachings, he introduced a revised system of astrology,
which continues to this day called the "Tsur-tsi" or the Tsurphu

Tradition of Astrology, and which forms the basis for the calculation of
the Tibetan calendar in the Tsurphu system. He also studied and
mastered medicine, which is in part related to astrological studies in the
Tibetan system.

Over the course of his life, Rangjung Dorje also wrote many treatises,
including the universally renowned Profound Inner Meaning (Zab mo
nang don), one of the most famous Tibetan treatises on Vajrayana.

The Karmapa established many monasteries in Tibet and China. He

visited China in 1332, where he enthroned his disciple, the new emperor,
Toghon Temur. Rangjung Dorje later passed away into parinirvana in
China. It is said his image appeared in the moon on the night of his

Among his many disciples, some of the main ones were Khedrup Drakpa
Senge, Dolpopa, Yakde Panchen, and many others, and in particular the
one who was to become the next lineage holder, Gyalwa Yungtonpa.

Gyalwa Yungtönpa

Gyalwa Yungtön Dorje Pal, was born into a family of Nyingma tantric
practitioners at Tsongdu Gurmo, in Southern Tibet, in the Wood
Snake year. He was named Dorje Bûm. From an early age, he started to
study the five sciences and developed incomparable knowledge in sutra
and tantra. Most of his studies were at Shalu. He received the Do-gyu-
sem-sum, teachings on Mahayoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga of Dzogchen
from Zur Champa Senge. He then received the Yamantaka cycle of
teachings and abhisheka from Shangpa Shakbum. He studied and
practiced hard under many masters and became one of the most
respected and renowned teachers of the time.

Gyalwa Yungtönpa made great contributions of material offerings to
Sakya, Trophu, Shalu, and Sangphu. At the request of his mother, he
accepted a consort and when the first child was born he asked permission
from the family and received monastic ordination. He was named Dorje
Pal. He then met the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje and received all
the key instructions and transmissions of the lineage in full and attained
highest realization. He practiced in Tibet and also in Paro, Bhutan for

He composed a text differentiating the views of Buddhahood in Sutra

and Tantra and impressed and outshined many great scholars of the time,
such as Yakde Panchen, who became his students. He manifested as a
hidden yogi and benefited many sentient beings. At the age of eighty-
two, in the Wood Snake Year, he passed into parinirvana with many
great signs of realization.

Among countless students, his main disciple and lineage holder was the
Fourth Karmapa, Rolpe Dorje.

Pawo Rinpoche said that there are short and longer versions of
autobiographies of this master.

These details about Gyalwa Yungtönpa are compiled from Pawo Tsuklak
Trengwa's Feast For Scholars (chos 'byung mkhas pa'i dg'a ston), Beijing edition,
vol. 2, pp. 948-950. May this be virtuous!

The Fourth Karmapa
Rolpe Dorje (1340 - 1383)

“In various languages, you tame many types of beings.

Through reasoning that is free of the extremes, you dispel all wrong assertions,
And with perfect speech reveal the true state of things.
Rölpay Dorje, we supplicate at your feet. ”
—from Supplication To The Karmapas

Rolpe Dorje, the Fourth Karmapa,

engineered a 300 foot painting (thangka) of
the Buddha by tracing the design of the
Buddha's outline with the hoofprints of a
horse he was riding.

The fourth Karmapa was born in Kongpo province, in central Tibet. It is

said that while pregnant, his mother could hear the sound of the mantra
Om Mani Padme Hung coming from her womb, and that the baby said

the mantra as soon as he was born. At the age of three, he announced
that he was the Karmapa.

At a young age, he manifested the ability of the Karmapas to perform

extraordinary activities, as spontaneously reading books and receiving
many profound teachings in his dreams. As a teenager, he received the
formal transmissions of both the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages from the
great Nyingma guru Yungtönpa, the third Karmapa's spiritual heir. At
age nineteen, Emporer Toghon Temur invited the Karmapa to return to
China. He accepted and began an extended journey, stopping many
places along the way to give teachings. He taught for three years in
China, establishing many temples and monasteries there. Temur was the
last Mongol emperor of China. The subsequent emperor of the Ming
dynasty later invited the Karmapa to China, but Rolpe Dorje sent a lama
in his place.

An Auspicious Meeting

During his return to Tibet from China, Rolpe Dorje gave upasaka, lay
ordination, to a very special child whom he named Kunga Nyingpo. Rolpe
Dorje predicted that this child, from the Tsongka region, would play an
important role in the Buddhism of Tibet. The child was to become known
as the great master Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa school.

An accomplished poet, Rolpe Dorje was fond of Indian poetics, and

composed many wonderful dohas, or songs of realization, a form of
composition for which the Kagyü lineage is famous. After one of his
students had a vision of a Buddha image over 300 feet tall, the fourth
Karmapa engineered a huge painting (thangka) of the Buddha. It is said
the Karmapa traced the design of the Buddha's outline with the
hoofprints of a horse he was riding. The design was measured and traced

on cloth, and five hundred workers completed the cloth painting of the
Buddha and founders of the mahayana after laboring for over a year.

He passed into parinirvana in eastern Tibet. Among many disciples, his

main disciple who became the next lineage holder was the second Shamar
Rinpoche, Khachö Wangpo.

Khachö Wangpo

Khachö Wangpo was recognized as the reincarnation of Khaydrup

Dragpa Senge, the first Shamar Rinpoche (1283-1349) by the fourth

He was born in Chema-lung of Namshung, northern Tibet, in the Iron

Tiger year. From an early age, he had numerous visions. At the age of
seven, he met the Fourth Karmapa Rolpe Dorje and received upasaka
and bodhisattva vows. The Karmapa gave him the Authentic Vajrayana
Empowerments, Mahamudra transmissions, The Six Dharmas of
Naropa, and the ear-whispered lineage transmissions of the Kagyu
Lineage. Khachö Wangpo also studied the sutras and the tantras with
numerous great masters of Kagyu and Nyingma. The Fourth Karmapa,
Rolpe Dorje, granted the ceremonial ruby Red Crown to the Second
Shamar Khachö Wangpo. When the Fourth Karmapa passed into
parinirvana, Khachö Wangpo continued the lineage activities and
enthroned the 5th Karmapa.

Khachö Wangpo was one of the first lineage teachers to record some of
the key instructions put into writing. His collected works were recorded
as having eight volumes.

At the age of Fifty six, Wood Rooster Year, he passed away into
parinirvana with many wondrous signs of realizations.

Among many students, Sokwön Rikpe Raldri became an important

disciple who later became the principal teacher of the 6th Karmapa
Thongwa Dhönden. He transmitted the full Kagyu lineage to the Fifth
Karmapa, Deshin Shekpa.

The Fifth Karmapa
Deshin Shekpa (1384 - 1415)

“By showing your major and minor marks, you instill in us lucid faith.
You are the tathagata who is guru to the beings of the three realms,
Fulfilling the needs of fortunate ones through supreme siddhi.
Deshin Shekpa, we supplicate at your feet. ”
—from Supplication To The Karmapas

Deshin Shekpa , the Fifth Karmapa,

according to Chinese records, is said to
have manifested 100 days of miracles in
response to the extraordinary devotion of
the Emperor of China.

The fifth Karmapa was born in the Nyang Dam region of southern
Tibet to yogin parents. During the pregnancy, they heard the recitation
of the Sanskrit alphabet and the Om Ah Ham mantra. Soon after birth,
the infant sat upright, wiped his face, and said: "I am the Karmapa - Om
Mani Padme Hung Hri."

When the child was brought to Tsawa Phu in Kongpo, Khacho Wangpo
immediately recognized him as the incarnation of Rolpe Dorje, and
presented him with the Black Hat and other possessions of the fourth
Karmapa. He went on to give the Karmapa the full cycle of Kagyu
teachings, and the Karmapa soon completed his traditional training.

During the lifetime of the fourth Karmapa, Emperor Yung Lo (also

known as Ch'eng-Tsu) of China had a vision of the Karmapa as
Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion; subsequently he invited
the fourth Karmapa to visit him in China. The visit had never took place;
instead, Rolpe Dorje sent a lama as his emissary. Later, the fifth
Karmapa, at the age of 23 (1406), made a three-year journey to reach
the imperial palace. Yung Lo became an extraordinarily devoted student
of the Karmapa, whom he took as his guru. Chinese records speak of the
Karmapa's manifestation in response to such devotion as a hundred days
of miracles. The emperor recorded these events for posterity in silk
paintings with a multi-lingual commentary. Following in the footsteps of
the two previous Karmapas, Deshin Shekpa subsequently made a
pilgrimage to the famous Wu-tai Shan sacred mountains, to visit his
monasteries there.

The emperor achieved some realization, and had a vision in which he saw
the wisdom Vajra Crown above Karmapa's head. So that all beings might
benefit from seeing something of this transcendent aspect of the
Karmapa, the emperor commissioned the creation of a physical replica of

the wisdom Vajra Crown, which he saw as a black hat. He presented it to
his guru, requesting him to liberate those who saw it by wearing the crown
on special occasions. This was the beginning of the Vajra Crown (or
Black Crown) ceremony. The emperor also offered Karmapa the
highest-ranking title: "Ta Bao Fa Wang," (Great Precious Dharma
King) with a golden seal.

In 1410, Deshin Shekpa returned to Tsurphu to oversee the

reconstruction of Tsurphu, which had been damaged by an earthquake.
He recognized the Shamar reincarnation of Chopal Yeshe and spent
three years in contemplative retreat. The next lineage holder, however,
was the Karmapa's student Ratnabhadra.

Realizing that he would die at a young age, he left indications of his future
rebirth and passed away into parinirvana at the age of 31. In the ashes of
his cremation fire were found relics, naturally-formed images of many

Ratnabhadra or Rikpe Raltri

(Sokwön Rinchen Sangpo, 15th century)

Ratnabadra was born into the well-known family of Soksam-khar

Drongbu Goshir, in Soksam. From a young age, he was ordained as a
monastic. He received the higher training in Buddhist philosophy, logic,
and other fields of knowledge at Palden Sangphu. He then went on a
tour to great monastic institutions in Tibet, engaging in debate and
discussion on four main topics - Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, Vinaya,
and Abhidharma-Kosha. He became one of the greatest scholars of
sutra and tantra and thus was called "Rikpe Raltri" (sword of philosophy
and logic). He received the full transmission of the Kagyu lineage from
the Fifth Karmapa Deshin Shekpa, through which he attained complete

realization of the absolute reality and became one of the supreme
meditation masters of the time.

Ratnabhadra passed on the full transmission of the Kagyu lineage to the

Sixth Karmapa, Thongwa Dhönden.

Pawo Rinpoche said that the Sixth Karmapa Thongwa Dhonden wrote
Ratnabhadra's biography but it was not available at the time of Pawo
Rinpoche. So, here is the brief version as recorded by Pawo Rinpoche.

These details about Ratnabhadra are compiled from Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa's
Feast For Scholars (chos 'byung mkhas pa'i dg'a ston), Beijing edition, vol. 2, pp.
1022-03. May this be virtuous!

The Sixth Karmapa
Thongwa Dönden (1416 - 1453)

“Through receiving prophecies from great siddhas, yidams and Dakinis,

You display numerous miraculous abilities in yogic conduct.
Protector of gods and humans, your power vanquishes arrogance.
Thongwa Dönden, we supplicate at your feet.”
—from Supplication To The Karmapas

The Sixth Karmapa, Thongwa Donden, is

well-known for the body of liturgies he
composed for the Kamtsang lineage. He
also joined the lineages of the Shangpa
Kagyu and the Shijay (Chöd - "cutting
through egotism") into the main Kagyu
lineage transmissions.

The sixth Karmapa was born in Ngomtö Shakyam, near Karma Gön in
eastern Tibet, to a family of devoted yogins. Shortly after his birth, while
his mother was carrying the young child, he suddenly became very excited
when their path crossed that of Ngompa Chadral, a student of the fifth
Karmapa. Ngompa Chadral asked the name of the child, who smiled and
replied "I'm the Karmapa." Ngompa Chadral cared for the infant for
seven months and then took him to Karma Gön.

The young Thongwa Dönden immediately began to teach. Shamar

Chopal Yeshe came to Karma Gön during this period to crown the
Karmapa. Thongwa Dönden received teachings and Kagyu transmission
from Shamar Chopal Yeshe, Jamyang Drakpa, and Khenchen
Nyephuwa. In particular, he received the full lineage transmission from
Ratnabhadra, who was his principal lineage teacher.

At a young age, he began to compose many tantric rituals, eventually

establishing a body of liturgies for the Kamtsang lineage. He also joined
the lineages of the Shangpa Kagyu and the Shijay (Chöd - "cutting
through egotism") into the main Kagyu lineage transmissions.

He dedicated his activity to composition, teaching, restoring many

monasteries within Tibet, printing books and strengthening the sangha.
He began to develop the shedra system, the monastic university, in the
Karma Kagyu lineage.

Realizing that he would die at an early age, he entered retreat, and

conferred a regency on the First Gyaltsab, Goshir Paljor Döndrup,
indicating where he would next take birth. The sixth Karmapa's main
spiritual heir was Pengar Jampal Zangpo, author of the "Mahamudra
Lineage Supplication." This renowned prayer of the Kagyü lineage
represents his spontaneous utterance upon realizing mahamudra.

Thongwa Dönden passed into parinirvana at the age of thirty eight

Bengar Jampal Sangpo

(15th - 16th century)

Bengar Jampal Zangpo was born to the family of Nyemo Dzongpa,

siddhas in Damshang (most likely located in eastern Tibet). He began
study and practice at a very young age. At the age of twenty, he began
studying Sutrayana and Vajrayana scriptures with the maha-pandita
Rongton. Later, he received the Kagyu lineage transmissions and
teachings such as the Six Dharmas of Naropa from the Sixth Karmapa,
Thongwa Dhönden and followed his instructions one-pointedly. He
became a highly realized master of the lineage.

Bengar Jampal Sangpo became the principal teacher of the Seventh

Karmapa. He gave the full transmission and training of the Kagyu lineage
to the young Karmapa, who became learned, disciplined, and with noble
heart, just like Bengarwa himself.

These details about Bengar Jampal Sangpo are compiled from Pawo
Tsuklak Trengwa's Feast For Scholars (chos 'byung mkhas pa'i dg'a
ston), Beijing edition, vol. 2, pp. 1032. May this be virtuous!

Goshir Paljor Dhöndrup

(1427 - 1489)

Goshir Paljor Dhöndrup was born at Nyemo in Central Tibet. Under

the guidance of the Sixth Karmapa Thongwa Dhönden, he received
transmissions of the Kagyur, Tengyur, and many others. He was fully
trained in buddhist philosophy and meditation by Karmapa, as well as by

Bengar Jampal Sangpo and other lineage masters. Later, he was
appointed as the General Secretary of the Karmapa. He offered his
service to the activities of Karmapa and the lineage. Paljor Dhöndrup is
the first incarnation of Gyaltsab Rinpoche.

He passed into parinirvana when the Seventh Karmapa reached twenty-

five-years, with many wondrous signs of accomplishments. He received
the full lineage transmission from the Sixth Karmapa, which he fully
passed on to the Seventh Karmapa, Chödrak Gyatso.

These details about Goshir Paljor Dhöndrup are compiled from Pawo Tsuklak
Trengwa's Feast For Scholars (chos 'byung mkhas pa'i dg'a ston), Beijing edition,
vol. 2, pp. 1031. May this be virtuous!

These details about Khachö Wangpo are compiled from Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa's
Feast For Scholars (chos 'byung mkhas pa'i dg'a ston), Beijing edition, vol. 2, pp.
980-900. May this be virtuous!

The Seventh Karmapa
Chödrak Gyatso (1454 - 1506)

“Tamer of deceptive one's negative friends,

You made vast numbers of representations of the three jewels.
Your disciples' attainment of siddhi spreads your fame in all lands.
Chödrak Gyatso, we supplicate at your feet. ”
—from Supplication To The Karmapas

The Seventh Karmapa, Chödrak Gyatso, was

heard to say Ama-la (mother), while in his
mother's womb, and "there is nothing in the
world but emptiness" at five months of age.

Born to a family of tantric practitioners in Chida in northern Tibet, the

seventh Karmapa was heard to say Ama-la (mother), while he was being

carried in the womb. At birth he spoke the Sanskrit mantra "AH
HUNG," a sanskrit mantra, which symbolizes the ultimate nature,
emptiness-luminosity. At five months of age, he said "There is nothing in
the world but emptiness."

At nine months of age, his parents took him to Goshir Gyaltsab

Rinpoche, who recognized him as the seventh Karmapa, in accordance
with the instruction letter of the Sixth Karmapa, Thongwa Dönden. At
four, he was given a series of empowerments by Goshir Paljor Döndrub,
and at eight, he was given the Kagyu teachings from Pengar Jampal
Zangpo and Goshir Paljor Döndrub at Karma Gön.

Chödrak Gyatso dedicated much of his life to retreat. He was also an

extremely accomplished scholar, who authored many texts, such as a
commentary on Abhisamayalamkara called The Lamp Of The Three
Worlds. His most famous text is The Ocean Of Reasoning, his
commentary on pramana (logic and reasoning) literature.

The Karmapa formally established monastic universities at Tsurphu and

other places. He also restored the large Buddha statue commissioned by
Karma Pakshi at Tsurphu. Something of an activist, he settled disputes,
worked to protect animals, initiated bridge construction, and sent gold to
Bodhgaya for the gilding of the statue of the Buddha at the place of the
Buddha's enlightenment. He also convinced numerous people to recite
millions of Om Mani Padme Hum mantras as a universal cure for all ills.
Before passing into parinirvna at the age of 53, he provided details of his
next incarnation and passed on the lineage to Tashi Paljor.

Tashi Paljor
(1457 - 1525)

Denma Drubchen was born in the Denma area of Derge, in eastern

Tibet. When he was five, upon hearing only the name "Karmapa," he
showed great devotion. A year later, he met the Seventh Karmapa, who
bestowed upon him the name Tashi Paljor. He studied in Denma with the
scholar Sangye Pal. At sixteen, Tashi Paljor decided to follow the
Karmapa, and for the next seven years he studied with the Karmapa and
received the full transmission of the Kagyu lineage. Afterwards, under
the guidance of the Karmapa, he went to the mountains of Kham and
Central Tibet to practice, following the example of Milarepa's life. After
practicing twenty years in solitary retreat, he attained full realisation, and
became known as the first Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche.

He became the principal teacher of, and passed on the full lineage
transmissions to, the Eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje.

These details about Tashi Paljor are compiled from Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa's Feast
For Scholars (chos 'byung mkhas pa'i dg'a ston), Beijing edition, vol. 2, pp. 1200-
1205. May this be virtuous!


The Eighth Karmapa

Mikyö Dorje (1507 - 1554)

“Your intelligence in regard to the modes of knowable objects is unobstructed.

Thus, you are free of hesitation when elucidating the intended meaning of the scriptures.
Of interfering with this conduct, distractions had not the slightest chance.
Mikyö Dorje, we supplicate at your feet.”
—from Supplication To The Karmapas

The Eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje, realized the

activity of the Karmapas and Guru Rinpoche as
the activity-aspect of all thousand Buddhas of
our universe.

Born in a small village called Satam, in the region of Kartiphuk of
Ngomchu, in eastern Tibet, to a family of devoted yogins, the eighth
Karmapa was said to have spoken the words "I am the Karmapa" at birth.
Upon hearing this report, Tai Situpa confirmed the child to be the new
Karmapa. He spent the next years at Karma Gön.

When he was five, a child in Amdo was put forward as the Karmapa. The
Karmapa's regent, Gyaltsab Rinpoche, set out from Tsurphu to
investigate the two children. However, on meeting Mikyö Dorje, he found
himself spontaneously prostrating and knew that he was the real Karmapa.

Tai Situ Rinpoche, along with Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche and other
students of the previous Karmapa, devised a test, which the child not only
passed but to which he was heard to say "E ma ho! Have no doubts, I am
the Karmapa." Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche enthroned him the following
year when he was six.

Mikyo Dorje studied with Sangye Nyenpa Tashi Paljor, Dulmo Tashi
Öser, Dakpo Tashi Namgyal, and Karma Trinleypa. He took the
essential Kagyu teachings from Sangye Nyenpa, Tashi Paljor. The
Karmapa received an invitation to China when quite young, but declined
on the ground that the Emperor would pass away before he could arrive,
a prediction that turned out to be true.

Mikyö Dorje was one of the most renowned of the Karmapas, a great
meditation master as well as a prolific and learned scholar, author of over
thirty volumes of work, including very significant commentaries on the
sutrayana treatises and pithy instructions on tantras. The eighth
Karmapa was also a visionary artist, to whom we owe the Karma Gadri
style of thangka painting- one of the major schools of thangka

composition. Mikyo Dorje also composed many sadhanas, practice
liturgies, and other devotional practices for the Karma Kagyu school.

The eighth Karmapa had many visions of the inseparability of his own
manifestations and those of Guru Rinpoche. Guru Rinpoche carries out
the activity of the Buddha himself, and is considered one of the ways in
which the Buddha accomplishes his enlightened activity. The eighth
Karmapa realized his prior manifestation was coincident with the Guru
Rinpoche manifestation activity of another historical Buddha,
Dipamkara, who according to Buddhist cosmology preceded Buddha
Shakyamuni in an era prior to the history of the current era. In Buddhist
cosmology, it is said there are to be 1000 such Buddhas, and hence the
Karmapa and Guru Rinpoche can both be said to be the activity-aspect
of all thousand Buddhas of our universe.

Foreseeing his imminent passing, he entrusted a letter of prediction to the

Shamar Konchok Yenlak and entered parinirvana at the age of 47.
Among his many disciples, the main ones were Shamar Konchok Yenlak
and Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa. His prediction letter said: "In the life
following this one, I will be born as the glorious, self-arisen lord
(Wangchuk) of the world. In the upper regions of the snowy region of
Tre-shö to the east, a place where there is the sound of water and the
dharma is heard. I have seen the signs that it will not be long before I am
born in there."

Könchok Yenlak

Könchok Yenlak was born in upper part of Kongpo called Kyen, in the
Wood Rooster year. The Eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje, recognized
him as the fifth Shamar incarnation. He studied with the Eighth

Karmapa as well as with his student, Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa, and
became a great scholar and meditation master. He received the full
transmission of the Kagyu lineage and the Karmapa empowered him as
the lineage holder. Könchok Yenlak's collected writings number many
volumes. Shamar Könchok Yenlak recognized the Ninth Karmapa and
became his principal teacher. At the age of fifty nine, he passed into
parinirvana with many great signs of realization.

He passed on the full lineage transmission to the ninth Karmapa,

Wangchuk Dorje.

These details about Könchok Yenlak are compiled from Karma Gyaltsen's book
called kam tshang yab sras dang dpal spungs dgon pa, Szechwan edition, p. 134.
May this be virtuous!

The Ninth Karmapa
Wangchuk Dorje (1556 - 1603)

“Once again, as lord of limitless compassion,

You manifested as changeless vajra body, speech and mind
And came to this realm as its guide.
Wangchuk Dorje, we supplicate at your feet.”
—from Supplication To The Karmapas

The Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje,

wrote three mahamudra treatises which
have played a major role in Tibet on the
teaching and transmission of mahamudra.

As predicted by the eighth Karmapa, the ninth was born in the Treshö region of
eastern Tibet. He was heard reciting mantras in the womb during pregnancy and he,

too, sat cross-legged for three days soon after birth and declared he was the

In accordance to the prediction letter left by the eighth Karmapa, he was

soon recognized by the Tai Situpa Chökyi Gocha, who was staying not
far away, and by the Sharmapa Konchok Yenlak. A year later,
Shamarpa enthroned him at the age of six and gave him extensive

Once Wangchuk Dorje had received the complete Kagyu transmission,

he began to teach throughout Tibet, traveling in a monastic camp, which
strictly emphasized meditation practice. Wangchuk Dorje did not visit
China but made important trips to Mongolia and Bhutan. He gave many
teachings and restored monasteries and temples wherever he went.

The ninth Karmapa also received an invitation to visit Sikkim and under
his guidance, established three monasteries in Sikkim: Rumtek, Phodong,
and Ralang. The Karmapa blessed and consecrated them from Tibet.
Rumtek subsequently became the seat of the Karmapas in India in the
early 1960's.

Like the eighth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje was also a creative author
and wrote many condensed commentaries on sutras and tantras, including
three mahamudra treatises: The Ocean Of Definitive Meaning,
Dispelling The Darkness Of Ignorance, and Pointing Out The
Dharmakaya. These treatises have played a major role in Tibet for the
teaching and transmission of mahamudra.

At the age of 48 he passed into parinirvana, leaving his prediction letter

along with instructions about the next incarnation to the sixth Shamarpa
Chökyi Wangchuk.

Chökyi Wangchuk

Chökyi Wangchuk was born in Drikhung area of Central Tibet and the
Ninth Karmapa enthroned him as the Sixth Shamar incarnation. From
an early age, he followed and studied with the Ninth Karmapa and
received the full transmission of the Kagyu lineage. He became one the
most renowned Panditas of the time, in Sutra and Tantra, composing
many commentaries.

He was the teacher of Desi Tsangpa, who ruled Central Tibet at that
time. He rebuilt the monastery in Kampo Neynang. He also traveled
extensively to China and Nepal. He taught Buddhism in the original
Sanskrit to the king, Laxman Naran Singh, in Nepal and to other
devotees. He eventually passed away in the mountains of Helambu,
Nepal. He passed on the lineage teachings to the Tenth Karmapa.

He traveled to Kham, in eastern Tibet, and recognized and became the

principal teacher of the Tenth Karmapa Chöying Dorje.

These details about Chökyi Wangchuk are compiled from Karma Gyaltsen's book
called kam tshang yab sras dang dpal spungs dgon pa, Szechwan edition, p. 135.
May this be virtuous!

The Tenth Karmapa
Chöying Dorje (1604 - 1674)

“As that same being, you reveal the array of the great nirmanakaya
To supreme, middling and common disciples,
Insuring that all connections you make through being seen and heard are meaningful.
Chöying Dorje, we supplicate at your feet.”
—from Supplication To The Karmapas

The Tenth Karmapa, Chöying Dorje,

anticipated the disturbances in
central Tibet and traveled with an
attendant, spending more than three
years living in the wilds of Bhutan,
and then going to what is today
northern Yunnan, Burma and Nepal.

As predicted, the tenth Karmapa was born in the Golok region, in the far
northeast of Tibet. He was recognized and enthroned by Shamar
Chokyi Wangchuk, from whom he received the full Kagyu transmission.

By the age of six, he was a better painter than his teachers, as well as a
gifted sculptor. Chöying Dorje anticipated the wars and political strife
that were soon to come, realizing that certain political interests in Tibet
would enlist the Mongol armies in the Gelugpa cause. Knowing he would
be forced out of central Tibet by the political strife, the tenth Karmapa
gave away most of his wealth to the poor and appointed Goshir
Gyaltsab his regent.

Gushri Khan's Mongol armies attacked Shigatse and then continued

the attack through much of Tibet, causing considerable destruction
throughout the land, and eventually overrunning the Karmapa's camp.
Chöying Dorje was forced to leave the area. With an attendant, he
traveled throughout Tibet and then spent more than three years living in
the wilds of Bhutan. They later traveled to what is today northern
Yunnan, Burma and Nepal. As always, wherever the Karmapa went, he
fostered the dharma and he was able to establish some monasteries along
his route.

Twenty some years passed before he could return to his homeland. He

recognized the next incarnations of Shamar Yeshe Nyingpo, Goshir
Gyaltsab, and Pawo Rinpoche, and gave the transmission of the Kagyu
teachings. Shamarpa became his main spiritual heir. At the age of 71,
Chöying Dorjé passed into parinirvana, leaving instructions and a
prediction letter. Goshir Gyaltsab Norbu Sangpo became the regent at

By this time the political landscape in Tibet had changed for good.
Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, the fifth Dalai Lama, had become the
official ruler of Tibet, and this role of the Dalai Lamas would continue to
be filled by his successive incarnations.

Yeshe Nyingpo
(1631 - 1694)

Yeshe Nyingpo was born in Golok region of east Tibet and the Tenth
Karmapa recognized him as the Seventh Shamar incarnation. He was
extremely devoted to and followed the instructions of the Tenth
Karmapa Chöying Dorje. He received the full transmission of the Kagyu
lineage and had many signs of accomplishment in both Mahamudra and
Dzogchen meditation. Yeshe Nyingpo passed into parinirvana at the age
of sixty-four, the Wood Dog year.

Yeshe Nyingpo recognize and became his principal teacher of the

Eleventh Karmapa, Yeshe Dorje.

These details about Yeshe Nyingpo are compiled from Karma Gyaltsen's book
called kam tshang yab sras dang dpal spungs dgon pa, Szechwan edition, p. 136.
May this be virtuous!

The Eleventh Karmapa
Yeshe Dorje (1676 - 1702)

“As that same being, you manifest your kaya out of compassion
For as many eons as there exist beings to be tamed like us,
And bestow supreme great bliss the very instant you are recalled.
Yeshe Dorje, we supplicate at your feet. ”
—from Supplication To The Karmapas

The Eleventh Karmapa, Yeshe Dorje,

blended both the Kagyu and Nyingma

Yeshe Dorje was born in the Mayshö region in east Tibet to a devoted
Buddhist family. Shamar Yeshe Nyingpo and Gyaltsab Norbu Sangpo

recognized him as the next Karmapa in accordance with the instructions
of the previous Karmapa. Yeshe Dorje went to central Tibet and was
enthroned at Tsurphu monastery.

Yeshe Dorje received teachings and the mahamudra lineage

transmissions from Shamarpa. He also received the Terma teachings,
which are the hidden teachings of Padmasambhava, from Yong-ge Mingur
Dorje and Taksham Nüden Dorje. This fulfilled a prophecy of
Padmasambhava that the eleventh Karmapa would hold certain terma
lineages. Yeshe Dorje was a great visionary who performed many miracles.

Yeshe Dorje also located and identified the eighth Shamarpa, Paichen
Chokyi Dondrub, who became his close student and next lineage holder.
However, he was to be the shortest lived of the Karmapas. During his
precious but brief existence, he blended both the Kagyu and Nyingma
teachings. He passed into parinirvana, leaving a detailed letter
concerning his next incarnation with Shamar Palchen Chökyi Döndrup.

Palchen Chökyi Dhondrup

(1695 - 1732)

Chökyi Dhöndrup was born to a Nepalese family in Yolmo (Helambu), in

the Kingdom of Nepal. The Eleventh Karmapa Yeshe Dorje sent an
envoy with precise instructions on how to find this boy. With the
permission of his parents, he was taken to Tibet at the age of seven, and
enthroned by the Karmapa as the eighth Shamar incarnation. He
received the full transmission of the lineage from the Karmapa and he also
studied with the third Treho Tendzin Dhargye, Goshir Dhönyö
Nyingpo and other masters. He traveled to China and Nepal and

benefited many beings through his teachings. He passed away at the age
of thirty eight, in the Water Mouse year.

He passed on the full Kagyu lineage to the Twelfth Karmapa,

Changchup Dorje.

These details about Palchen Chökyi Dhondrup are compiled from Karma
Gyaltsen's book called kam tshang yab sras dang dpal spungs dgon pa, Szechwan
edition, p. 136-7. May this be virtuous!

The Twelfth Karmapa
Changchub Dorje (1703 - 1732)

“You embody the nonconceptual, great bliss dharmadhatu,

And expand the wisdom that knows the profound and luminous non-dual nature.
Dispeller of the darkness of ignorance, sole friend of all beings,
Changchub Dorje, we supplicate at your feet.”
—from Supplication To The Karmapas

The Twelfth Karmapa, made pilgrimage to

the sacred places of the Buddha in India
and Nepal accompanied by the Shamar,
Situ, and Gyaltsap Rinpoches.

As predicted by the previous Karmapa, the twelfth Karmapa was born at

Kyile Tsaktor in Derge province of eastern Tibet. Chökyi Dhöndrup
sent a search party and his envoys brought the child to Karma Gön

where Shamarpa met with the young child and recognized him in
accordance with the previous Karmapa's prediction and instructions.

The young Karmapa studied under many illustrious masters. He gave

profound Kagyu teachings to the famous Nyingma master of Katok
monastery, who in turn shared his Nyingma teachings.
Changchup Dorje left troubled Tibet in order to make pilgrimage to
India and Nepal, accompanied by the Shamar, Situ, and Gyaltsap
Rinpoches. Upon reaching Nepal, he was greatly honored by the King
of Nepal, who credited him for stopping a raging epidemic and for making
rain that ended a serious drought. In India, they visited the sacred places
of Lord Buddha.

After the Karmapa returned to Tibet, he accepted an invitation to

China, and set out accompanied by the Shamarpa. However, foreseeing
difficult political times ahead and realizing the need to leave his body, the
Karmapa sent the eighth Tai Situpa a letter with details of his next
incarnation and then succumbed to smallpox, as did the Sharmapa two
days later. Tai Situpa became his spiritual heir.

Chokyi Jungney
(1699 or 1700 - 1774)

The Eighth Situ incarnation, Chokyi Jungney, otherwise known as the

Situ Panchen, was born in Derge, Kham, in the Earth Hare year. He
studied and received the full transmissions from the 8th Shamar Chökyi
Dhöndrup and the Twelfth Karmapa Changchup Dorje. He also
studied extensively with many other teachers such as Rikdzin Tsewang
Norbu. Chökyi Jungney went to see the Karmapa and Shamar Chökyi
Dhöndrup when they were on the journey to China sometime around

1735. He was one of the most renowned scholars and meditation masters
of Tibet. One of his major activities was editing and seeing to the
printing of the woodblock editions of the Kagyur and Tengyur project of
the King of Derge. This production is now well-known around the world
as the Derge edition, which is considered as one of the best original
prints of these central texts of the Tibetan tradition. The activities of
Situ Panchen flourished widely and he restored or established
monasteries, retreats, and study centers all over Tibet and Jang.

Situ Panchen recognized and enthroned the 13th Karmapa and the next
incarnation of Shamar Rinpoche.

He gave the full transmission of the Kagyu lineage to the Thirteenth

Karmapa, Düdul Dorje.

These details about Chokyi Jungney are compiled from Karma Gyaltsen's book
called kam tshang yab sras dang dpal spungs dgon pa, Szechwan edition, pp. 85 - 88
/ 167 - 214. May this be virtuous!



The Thirteenth Karmapa

Dudul Dorje (1733 - 1797)

“With the great sun of vajra wisdom, you vanquish without remainder
The darkness of agitated mind,
Those forces that are the expressions of the degenerate age.
Düdül Dorje, we supplicate at your feet.”
—from Supplication To The Karmapas

The Thirteenth Karmapa, Dudul Dorje,

consecrated a distant monastery.
from Tsurphu by throwing blessing
grains in the air at the time of the

consecration ceremony there. It is
said the grains were seen to shower
down from the heavens at the
monastery though located hundreds
of kilometres away.

In accordance with the prediction, the 13th Karmapa was born in Nyen
Chawatrong in southern Tibet. Found by Tai Situpa Chökyi Jungney,
the child was brought to Tsurphu. He was recognized at the age of four
and enthroned by Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche.
From the age of eight, Karmapa received full transmission and teachings
of the Kagyu lineage from his main guru, Tai Situpa. He also studied
with many great masters of the Nyingma and Kagyu lineages of the time,
such as Kathok Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu, Kagyu Trinley Shingta, Pawo
Tsuklak Gawa, and others.

At one point the famous Jo-kang temple, home of the Jo-wo image, was
threatened by rising flood waters. A prophecy from Guru Rinpoche had
foreseen this and predicted that only the Karmapa could do something to
stop it. Aware of the prophecy, the Lhasa authorities requested him to
come. Unable to leave Tsurphu immediately, he resolved the problem by
writing a special letter of blessing and invoking the compassion of
Avalokitesvara. Later, when he was able to come to Lhasa, the thirteenth
Karmapa offered a white scarf (kata) to the Jowo image, and it is said
that the arms of the statue changed position to accept it and have been
that way ever since. Dudul Dorjé was also asked to consecrate a distant
monastery. Remaining at Tsurphu, he threw blessing grains in the air at
the appropriate moment of the consecration ceremony. It is said that they
were seen to shower down from the heavens at the monastery in question

hundreds of kilometres away.
Düdul Dorje and Tai Situpa with Kathok Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu
recognized the Shamarpa's reincarnation, Chödrup Gyatso, the
younger brother of the fourth Panchen Lama, Palden Yeshe.
He passed into parinirvana and Situpa Pema Nyinchey became his
spiritual heir. He left behind the detailed prediction letter and
instructions on his next incarnation.

Mipham Chödrup Gyatso


Mipam Chödrub Gyatso was born in Tashi Tse in Tsang region of

Central Tibet as a younger brother of 6th Panchen Lama, Lobsang
Palden Yeshe of Tashi Lhunpo. He was recognized and enthroned by
the 13th Karmapa and the Situ Chökyi Jungne. He studied many years
with Situ Chökyi Jungney as well as with Pawo Tsuklak Gawa and
Rikdzin Tsewang Norbu and thus developed into a great scholar and
meditation master. He went to Nepal in the 1780s, where he continued
his bodhisattva activities of restoring the Swayambhu Stupa, a
renowned pilgrimage site, and benefited many students in Nepal and
Tibet. He passed away in Nepal, near the Boudhanath Stupa.

He gave the full transmission of the full Kagyu lineage to the Ninth Situ
incarnation, Pema Nyinje Wangpo.

These details about Mipham Chödrup Gyatso are compiled from

Karma Gyaltsen's book called kam tshang yab sras dang dpal spungs
dgon pa, Szechwan edition, pp. 137-40. May this be virtuous!

Pema Nyinje Wangpo

Pema Nyinche Wangpo was born in Yilhung in east Tibet in the Wood
Horse year. The thirteenth Karmapa recognized him as the ninth
incarnation of Situ Rinpoche, with assistance of Shamar Chödrup
Gyatso, and Pawo Tsuklak Gawa. The Indian master Padmasambhava
predicted this incarnation of Situpa. He studied and practiced with many
masters and especially with his two principal teachers, the 13th Karmapa
and the 10th Shamar. He became a great scholar and meditation master
and his dharma activities flourished throughout the land. He established
many retreat centers, where he taught and greatly inspired many to
practice and teach the Kagyu meditation practices. It is recorded that he
his collected writings filled three volumes.

He became the principal guru of the Fourteenth Karmapa and also

Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye and gave full lineage transmission to the
Fourteenth Karmapa, Thekchok Dorje.

These details about Pema Nyinje Wangpo are compiled from Karma Gyaltsen's
book called kam tshang yab sras dang dpal spungs dgon pa, Szechwan edition, pp.
88-89. May this be virtuous!

The Fourteenth Karmapa
Thekchok Dorje (1798 - 1868)

“Endowed with inconceivable knowledge, activity and skillful means,

And indestructible vajra-like samadhi,
Protector of the world who personifies effortless compassion,
Thekchok Dorje, we supplicate at your feet.”
—from Supplication To The Karmapas

The Fourteenth Karmapa, Thekchok

Dorje, lived very simply and exemplified
the ideal monk.

Theckchok Dorje was born in the village of Danang in the Kham region
of eastern Tibet. He was born in mid-winter, and the histories say that
flowers spontaneously blossomed and many rainbows appeared. The
baby recited the Sanskrit alphabet. He was recognized by Drukchen
Kunzig Chokyi Nangwa, the holder of the thirteenth Karmapa's letter

giving the details of his forthcoming reincarnation. He was enthroned and
later ordained by the ninth Tai Situpa. The Karmapa received
teachings and the lineage transmissions from Situ Pema Nyinche
Wangpo and Drukchen Kunzig Chokyi Nangwa.

Theckchok Dorje lived very simply and exemplified the ideal monk. He
was gifted in poetry and dialectics and participated in the ri-me (non-
sectarian) movement, whereby many noted scholars showed great interest
in each others' traditions and teachings. This exchange was particularly
intense between the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions, with the Karmapa
passing on teachings to Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche. Thekchok Dorje
received some tantras from the Nyingma visionary treasure-revealer
Chogyur Lingpa and those rituals were subsequently introduced into the
Tsurphu calendar.

Chogyur Lingpa had important visions of future Karmapas, up to the

twenty-first. These were noted down and memorialized in a thangka, a
Tibetan form of sacred painting. The fourteenth Karmapa's spiritual heir
was the great ri-mé (nonsectarian) master and prolific author, Jamgon
Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. Thekchok Dorje taught widely in Tibet and
recognized the tenth Situpa, Pema Kunzang. Thekchok Dorje passed
into parinirvana at the age of 71, leaving detailed instructions on his next

Lodrö Thaye

Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, Lodrö Thaye, was born in the village of
Rong-gyap in Derge, in east Tibet. The coming of this great master was
prophesized by the Buddha Shakyamuni, in the Samadhiraja-sutra, as
well as by the Great Indian Vajra Master, Padmasambhava, in many of his

termas (hidden teachings, for later revelation). He studied and mastered
the teachings of the Buddha in general and tantrayana in specific
including the Bön religion of Tibet. Among his many teachers, his
primary teachers were the Fourteenth Karmapa, Situ Pema Nyinje
Wangpo, the Great Khyentse, and many other masters of the time. He
not only became one of the greatest masters and the lineage holder of
Kagyu School but of all four Schools of Tibetan Buddhism as well as
the Bön religion.

Lodrö Thaye co-founded the non-sectarian movement in Tibet with the

Great Khyentse in 19th century. He became the teacher of the fifteenth
Karmapa Khakhyap Dorje, giving him the full Kagyu teachings. He is
renowned as an accomplished master, scholar, writer, poet, and artist, and
authored and compiled more than 100 volumes of scriptures. Among
these, the best known is the Five Treasuries, made up of The Treasury
of Kagyu Mantras, Treasury of Key Instructions, Treasury of Precious
Termas, Treasury of Vast Teachings, and the Treasury of Knowledge.

He became the principal teacher of and gave the full transmission of the
lineage to the Fifteenth Karmapa, Khakhyab Dorje.

These details about Lodrö Thaye are compiled from Karma Gyaltsen's book called
kam tshang yab sras dang dpal spungs dgon pa, Szechwan edition, pp. 100-118. May
this be virtuous!

The Fifteenth Karmapa
Khakyab Dorje (1871 - 1922)

“You are the single embodiment of all the life examples, qualities and activity
Of all infinite victorious ones combined.
Protector of the Land of Snows, Gyalwang Karmapa,
Blissful Khakhyab Dorje, we supplicate you.”
—from Supplication To The Karmapas

The Fifteenth Karmapa, Khakyab

Dorje, was born with the very
auspicious circle of hair between the
eyebrows (found on the young
Sakyamuni and known as one of the
32 marks of an enlightened being).

Born with the very auspicious circle of hair between the eyebrows (found
on the young Sakyamuni and known as one of the 32 marks of an
enlightened being), Khakyab Dorje spoke the mantra of Avalokiteshvara

at his birth in Sheikor village of the Tsang province in central Tibet. He
was recognized and enthroned by the Kyabgon Drukchen, Migyur
Wanggi Gyalpo along with Jamgon Kongtrul, Jamyang Khyentse
Wangpo, Terchen Chokgyur Lingpa, and Pawo Tsuklak Nyinchey.

He grew up receiving a very thorough education from very famous

scholars and eventually received the Kagyu transmission from Jamgon
Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, who also passed on to him the essence of his
hundred compositions embracing the profound teachings of all Tibetan
Buddhist traditions, as well as the fields of medicine, art, linguistics and
general Buddhist studies. He studied with many great masters such as
Khenchen Tashi Ozer.

He continued his activities of teaching and giving empowerments

throughout Tibet, and preserved many rare texts by having them
reprinted. Khakyab Dorje is the first in the line of Karmapas to get
married, and had three sons, one of whom was recognized as the second
Jamgon Kongtrul Palden Khyentse Öser. His life was a brilliant example
of the bodhisattva with an insatiable desire for learning in order to help
other beings.

Among many disciples, his closest students were Tai Situ Pema
Wangchok Gyalpo, Jamgon Kongtrul Palden Khyentse Öser, and
Beru Khyentse Lodro Mize Jampe Gocha.

Some years before his passing into parinirvana, he entrusted a prediction

letter to his closest attendant

Pema Wangchok Gyalpo
(1886 - 1953)

Pema Wangchog Gyalpo was born in Lithang, east Tibet. He was

recognized as the eleventh incarnation of Situ Rinpoche and enthroned
by the Fifteenth Karmapa. He studied with many great masters of the
time including Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye and Khenchen Shenga
Rinpoche, and he became accomplished scholar of sutras and tantras.
He received the extraordinary Kagyu lineage transmissions from the
Fifteenth Karmapa and regarded him as the principal teacher.

Situ Pema Wangchok later found, enthroned, educated, and offered the
full transmission of the Kagyu lineage to the Sixteenth Gyalwang
Karmapa, Rangjung Rikpe Dorje.

These details about Pema Wangchok Gyalpo are compiled from Karma
Gyaltsen's book called kam tshang yab sras dang dpal spungs dgon pa,
Szechwan edition, pp. 91-97. May this be virtuous!

Palden Khyentse Öser

(1904 - 1953)

Palden Khyentse Öser was born at Tsurphu as a son of the 15th

Karmapa. At the age of twelve, he was recognized as the second
incarnation of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye and enthroned at
Tsurphu by the 15th Karmapa. He spent many years at Tsadra
Rinchen Trak, the seat of the First Jamgon Kongtrul and studied with
excellent masters. He received the full education and lineage transmission
from the Karmapa. He expanded his teaching activities throughout Tibet
and benefited many beings in Tibet and China. Palden Khyentse Öser
was one of the most renowned Mahamudra masters, and held the ultimate

He passed the innermost lineage of Mahamudra to the Sixteenth
Karmapa, Rangjung Rikpe Dorje.

These details about Palden Khyentse Öser are compiled from Karma Gyaltsen's
book called kam tshang yab sras dang dpal spungs dgon pa, Szechwan edition, pp.
118-26.. May this be virtuous.



The Sixteenth Karmapa

Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924 - 1981)

“Unerringly seeing the nature of dharmas and dharmata just as it is,

You expand the wisdom of omniscience
And give glorious bliss to the minds of all beings.
Rikpe Dorje, we supplicate at your feet.”
—from Supplication To The Karmapas

The Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe

Dorje, oversaw the establishment of his
exile seat in Rumtek, which he named
"The Dharmachakra Center, a place of

erudition and spiritual accomplishment,
the seat of the glorious Karmapa."


The sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa, Rangjung Khyapdak Rigpe Dorje,

was born in Denkhok of the Derge province in east Tibet, the son of a
noble family called Athup. Having received instructions from different
masters in Derge that she would bear a great bodhisattva son, his mother
had gone to stay in a holy cave, once used by Guru Rinpoche, where she
waited to give birth. She was accompanied by a Khenpo who instructed
her on the cleansing ceremony. It is said that, at one point at the very end
of the pregnancy, the future Karmapa disappeared entirely from his
mother's womb for a whole day. The day of his birth, his mother returned
to normal pregnancy size and soon gave birth to this great bodhisattva.
Those present heard him say to his mother that he would be leaving soon .

The details of the birth coincided precisely with those of a prediction

letter given by the Fifteenth Karmapa to his attendant, Jampal Tsultrim,
which set forth the circumstances of this new incarnation. Jampal
Tsultrim handed the letter to the authorities at Tsurphu monastery, who
then asked Tai Situpa, Beru Khyentse, and Jamgon Kontrul to clarify
certain points. A search party subsequently located the incarnation. The
Eleventh Tai Situpa soon recognized the child as being the new
reincarnation of the Gyalwang Karmapa and sought confirmation from
HH the Dalai Lama.

The Karmapa received first ordination and then bodhisattva vows from
the Tai Situpa and Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, the two foremost
disciples of the Fifteenth Karmapa. Eventually, the Dalai Lama gave his

While still residing in Derge, when he was eight years old he received the
Vajra Crown and ceremonial robes of the Karmapa brought to him from
Tsurphu. On the way to Palpupng Monastery, he stopped to visit and
bless the Derge Monastic Publishing House, foreshadowing his
publication of the Buddhist cannon in India. T'ai Situ Rinpcohe
enthroned him as the Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Khyabdak Rigpe
Dorje, by Tai Situpa. Tai Situpa then accompanied him on the long
journey to Tsurphu, the seat of the Karmapas in central Tibet, where
the new incarnation was greeted by Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche, Jamgon
Kongtrul Rinpoche and Nenang Pawo Rinpoche.

Soon after his arrival at Tsurphu, the sixteenth Karmapa was received
by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama who performed the "hair-cutting"
ceremony. While so doing, the Dalai Lama had a vision of the ever-
present wisdom-crown on the Karmapa's head.

After this ceremony the Karmapa was officially enthroned at his main
seat of Tsurphu, by Tai Situpa and the Head of the Drukpa Kagyu
school. He received the full Kagyu lineage transmissions from Tai
Situpa Pema Wangchok Gyalpo and Jamgon Kongtrul Palden
Khyentse Öser. The Sixteenth Karmapa then studied many sutrayana
texts with Gangkar Rinpoche and tantric teachings with Khyentse
Rinpoche. He received the mahamudra transmission from Jamgon
Kongtrul Palden Khyentse Öser, and many other great masters of the

Karmapa then visited the Lithang Pangphuk monastery, where, in the

tradition of the Karmapas and their inconceivable activity, he is said to
have left footprints in solid rock.

1941 - 1944

The 18-year old Karmapa returned to Tsurphu and between 1941 and
1944 spent much time in retreat. Tsurphu monastery was extended in size
during this period.


Beginning in 1944, His Holiness began to strengthen relationships with

neighboring Buddhist states in the Himalayan region, as well as with India.
During a pilgrimage in southern Tibet, the sixteenth Karmapa accepted
an invitation from His Highness Jigme Dorje Wangchuk, the King of
Bhutan. The Karmapa and his party then visited Bumthang (in northern
Bhutan) and other areas in Bhutan, engaging in many spiritual activities.


The Karmapa and his party continued their pilgrimage to Nepal, India,
and Sikkim (India), visiting the major places of the Buddha's life: Lumbini,
just inside Nepal where the Buddha was born, Benares (Varanasi)
where he first taught, and Bodhgaya, the place of Buddha's


After travelling through Kinnaur (Himachal Pradesh in northern India)

and Purang to visit Mount Kailash, His Holiness returned to Tsurphu
Monastery in Tibet.


With His Holiness the Dalai Lama, H.H. the Sixteenth Karmapa and
other high lamas of Tibet visited China. The Sixteenth Karmapa

subsequently returned to Tibet, stopping along the way at many
monasteries in eastern Tibet.


The Karmapa and party traveled to Sikkim and from there continued on
pilgrimage. H.H. the Dalai Lama, H.H. the Panchen Lama, and H.H.
the Karmapa visited India, at the invitation of the Mahabodhi Society of
India, to join in the celebration of the 2,500th anniversary of Buddhism.
During this trip, the Karmapa and his party revisited the holy sites of
India as pilgrims.

During this visit, the Karmapa strengthened his ties to his disciples Tashi
Namgyal, the King of Sikkim, and Ashi Wangmo, the Bhutanese
Buddhist princess. The King of Sikkim invited him to visit Rumtek, a
monastery in Sikkim that the ninth Karmapa had founded at the end of
the 16th century. His Holiness was unable to accept his invitation at that
time but said that he would go there in the future, when it would be


Foreseeing the communist Chinese invasion of Tibet, and the inevitable

destruction of Buddhist institutions in Tibet, the Karmapa informed the
Dalai Lama of his intention to leave his homeland in the spring of 1959.
The Sixteenth Karmapa, accompanied by a large entourage, left
Tsurphu, and fled Tibet. The escape was organized by Dhamchoe
Yondu, the General Secretary for His Holiness. The party also carried
with them the sacred statues, paintings, reliquaries, and other precious
items of the lineage of the Karmapas. The timing and organization of the
departure made for a relatively easy journey to Bhutan. After three

weeks, the party arrived safely in northern Bhutan, where the most senior
Bhutanese government officials received them.

The Choegyal (King) of Sikkim extended a formal invitation to His

Holiness to set up his seat in Sikkim, and two months after entering
Bhutan the party arrived in Gangtok, Sikkim. Of the several sites
proposed by Choegyal Tashi Namgyal, the Karmapa chose to settle at
Rumtek. The Karmapa stated that Rumtek could be his seat outside
Tibet, although he hoped one day to return to Tibet.

The Karmapa and his party left Gangtok for Rumtek shortly after the
Choegyal extended his offer to settle in Rumtek. Although Rumtek
monastery had been established many centuries earlier by the ninth
Karmapa, by 1959 it lay almost in ruins. The area around Rumtek was
also undeveloped and had no facilities for supporting the Karmapa and
his party. The Karmapa, teachers and community lived in temporary
quarters for many years, while His Holiness gathered resources to begin
construction of new facilities to support his monastic seat and the lay
people surrounding the monastery.


Construction of a new monastery and other facilities for the Karmapa's

monastic seat in Rumtek began in earnest three years later. The
foundation stone of the new monastic center was laid by the new King of
Sikkim, who had assumed responsibility for the kingdom after the
previous Choegyal had passed away. Construction was led by the
General Secretary for His Holiness, Dhamchoe Yongdu. It was funded
primarily through the generosity of the Sikkimese royal family and of the
Indian government, the latter occurring after the Karmapa's meeting with
Pandit Nehru.


Construction of the monastery was completed in four years and the

sacred items and relics brought out from Tsurphu were installed there.
On Tibetan New Year's day (losar) H.H. the Sixteenth Gyalwa
Karmapa officially inaugurated the new seat called "The Dharmachakra
Center, a place of erudition and spiritual accomplishment, the seat of the
glorious Karmapa."


H.H. the Sixteenth Karmapa set out on his first world tour, visiting the
United States, Canada, and Europe. Accompanied by other teachers,
a full entourage of monks and other staff, he performed the Vajra Crown
ceremony in the Western hemisphere for the first time, gave
empowerments, and dispensed dharma advice.


In mid-January, H.H. the Sixteenth Karmapa flew to Rome and met with
His Holiness the Pope Paul VI.


His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa again traveled to the West for a
more extended visit, follwed by a wide-ranging world tour. He visited
religious centers in four continents and met heads of state, heads of
religion, elders of many traditions and people from the world of arts.

1960's - 1970's

The Karmapa was given a palace and a large piece of land upon which to
establish a major monastery by the royal family of Bhutan. The Karmapa
strengthened his ties with Bhutan over these early decades.


On November 28th, H.H. the Sixteenth Karmapa laid the ground for
the construction of Karmae Dharma Chakra Centre southeast of New
Delhi, at a ceremony attended by the President and Prime Minister of
India. The Centre was envisioned as a study, meditation, and translation
center .


In May 1980, His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa began his last world
tour, travelling through Greece, England, the United States, and
Southeast Asia. During this tour, H.H. gave teachings, Vajra Crown
Ceremonies, empowerments, interviews, audiences, and engaged in many
beneficent activities.

Nov. 5th 1981

H.H. the Sixteenth Karmapa passed away into parinirvana at the

American International Clinic in Zion, near Chicago, Illinois, USA. His
Holiness' kudung (body) was flown back to India.

Dec. 20, 1981

Karmapa's cremation ceremony took place in Rumtek monastery. Indian

dignitaries and several thousand of his disciples from all over the world
attended the services.

Dec. 21, 1981

The reliquary box ("Jangchub Chorten") for

the sacred relics of His Holiness the 16th

A general Karma Kagyu meeting was held in Rumtek at the request of

Mr. Dhamchoe Yongdu, the General Secretary to the 16th Karmapa.
He requested Shamar Rinpoche, Tai Situ Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul
Rinpoche, and Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche to form a council of regents
to take joint responsibility for the spiritual affairs of the Karma Kagyu
lineage. He also asked them to locate Karmapa's instructions concerning
his next rebirth and thus bring forward his next incarnation. The four
Rinpoches accepted the task and expressed their sincere desire to fulfil
the wishes of the Sixteenth Karmapa.

The Seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje

The Seventeenth Karmapa
Ogyen Trinley Dorje (1985 - )

Karmapa means "the one who carries out buddha-activity" or "the

embodiment of all the activities of the Buddhas." In the Tibetan tradition,
great enlightened teachers are said to be able to consciously arrange to
be reborn as a teacher who can carry on the teachings of a predecessor in
a prior life. Pursuant to this tradition, the Karmapas have incarnated in
this form of manifestation body (Skt. nirmanakaya), for seventeen
lifetimes, as of the present, and all have played the most important role in
preserving and propagating the Buddhist teachings of Tibet.

Prior to the birth of the first Karmapa, the arrival of a Buddhist master
who would be known as the Karmapa had been prophesied by the historic
Buddha Shakyamuni and the great tantric master of India, Guru
Padmasambhava. Throughout the centuries, Karmapas have been the
central figure in the continuation of the vajrayana lineage in general and
Kagyu lineage in particular, and have played a very important role in the
preservation of the study and practice lineages of Buddhism.

Birth and Early Years of the 17th Karmapa

In 1985 a male infant was born into a nomad family in the Lhatok region of
Eastern Tibet. In the months prior to his birth, his mother had wonderful
dreams during her pregnancy. On the day of his birth, a cuckoo landed on
the tent in which he was born, and a mysterious conch-like sound was
heard by many throughout the valley in which the family of the infant lived.

In Tibet, such events are considered auspicious portents of the birth of

an enlightened teacher.

The young nomad was called Apo Gaga. While his early years seemed,
to his family, full of blessing, Apo Gaga did not talk of any connection to
the Karmapas. However, in 1992, he asked his family to move the
location of their nomadic home to another valley, and told them to expect
a visit from traveling monks. Soon after setting up their home in the new
location, followers of the Sixteenth Karmapa came to that valley
pursuant to the secret instructions of the Sixteenth Karmapa, contained
in his letter of prediction. The birth and the other details of Apo Gaga's
life matched the predictions of the letter. Apo Gaga was discovered to
be the Seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Drodul Trinley Dorje.

In addition to his letter of prediction, the Sixteenth Karmapa wrote many

poems, or songs, predicting that though he would leave his traditional main
seat in Tsurphu, Tibet, he would soon return to Tsurphu again, that his
root teacher would be HE Situ Rinpoche, and that he would study in
India. After the death of the 16th Karmapa, it became clear that these
predictions applied to his successor. Furthermore, the 19th Century
master Chogyur Lingpa made a number of predictions about the lives of
the Karmapas, and for the 17th, Chogyur Lingpa's predictions matched

the details of His Holiness's birth. Since these predictions were to be
fulfilled in themselves without recognition by any other master, it is
traditionally said that the Karmapa is "self-recognized."

The Karmapa's Return To Tsurphu In Tibet, The Historic Seat Of

The Karmapas

In His Holiness's historic return to Tsurphu Monastery, Tibet in June 1992, he

donned ritual clothing and approached on horseback

The Seventeenth Karmapa did in fact return to Tolung Tsurphu

Monastery in Central Tibet in 1992, where he was enthroned on
September 27, 1992, with the permission of the Chinese government.

At Tsurphu, over 20,000 supplicants assembled to witness the return of

His Holiness Karmapa. The following morning, some 25,000 people
filed before His Holiness to receive a personal blessing.

At Tsurphu, the Karmapa studied the Buddhist sciences of mind,

learned ritual, and practiced sacred arts, such as dance. Each day he
received hundreds of visitors from throughout Tibet and around the
world. He eventually began to offer empowerments and participated in
various rituals at the monastery. At the age of about 10, His Holiness

recognized the rebirth of reincarnate teachers, including such eminent
teachers as Pawo Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and the
Dabzang Rinpoche.

While His Holiness was at Tsurphu, the monastery underwent extensive

rebuilding to restore the temples, shrines, stupas, a shedra, and
residences that had severely decayed and been neglected over the years,
fulfilling one of the main duties of a Karmapa. As the years went by,
however, His Holiness sought to receive the empowerments and
transmissions of the lineage, but was unable to do so fully because many
of the Kagyu lineage teachers remained in India. To fulfill his spiritual
duty, he and a handful of attendants left Tibet for India.

Karmapa's Journey to India

His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa meets His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the
first time upon his arrival in Dharamsala on January 5, 2000

After months of careful planning, on December 28, the fourteen-year-

old Karmapa pretended to enter into a solitary retreat, instead donned
civilian garb, and slipped out a window. Leaving Tsurphu Monastery with
a handful of attendants, he began a daring journey by car, foot,
horseback, helicopter, train and taxi, a heroic journey which was to
become the stuff of headlines throughout the world. On January 5, 2000

he arrived, to the great surprise and overwhelming joy of the world, in
Dharamsala, India, where he was met by His Holiness the Fourteenth
Dalai Lama. He received refugee status from the government of India in

From 2000 through 2007, His Holiness continued to live near

Dharamsala. He has been permitted by Indian governmental authorities
to engage in tours to Buddhist sites in India, and annually traveled to
Bodhgaya and Sarnath for important Kagyu ceremonies over which he
presides. He has also travelled to Ladakh, Tibetan settlements in
southern India, Calcutta and elsewhere in Himachal area. His Holiness
still awaits permission from the Indian authorities to leave Dharamsala and
return to Rumtek Monastery, the traditional seat of the Karmapas in
India. In 2008, His Holiness received permission to travel to the United
States to teach the dharma for his first time in the West. Information
about His Holiness historic first visit to the West is at

Information about His Holiness's extensive activities since his arrival and
his current schedule are also available at An index of
activities in India provides chronological links to detailed information
about His Holiness's travels.


Buddhism has many faces, traditions and practices. But ultimately, they
all stretch back to the teachings or words of the historical Buddha,
Shakyamuni, and the realizations that he experienced 2560 years ago in
Bodgaya, India. And as the written word can be translated in many
different ways, and each word can have many literal translations, over time,
meanings can be distorted and erroneous practices can arise.

That is why it is so important to have the direct experience of a realized

master who has a conceptual understanding of these non-conceptual, or
non-referential teachings. With the history of Vajrayana Buddhism
being mostly esoteric, and the writings and practices of tantra being
largely mysterious, for an adequate level of transmission to withstand the
ravages of 2560 years is next to impossible without oral commentary to
supplicate the written word.

That is why it is considered so important to compliment the sutras

(written words of The Buddha) with the esoteric instructions of tantra
(continuity of transmission from teacher to student). In Tibetan
Buddhism, there are two approaches to gaining insight, or ultimate
bodhichitta, and they are both legitimate practices.

One trandition stresses theory before practice. Typically, the novice

practitioner will study the teachings or sutras for up to twenty years
before gaining instruction into the esoteric practices of tantra. Then with
these pointing out instructions, the practitioner would head of for retreat

and practice what was introduced for the next 12 years. Then, having
gained insight into the unltimate nature of reality and mind, the
practitioner would return from solitary retreat and begin to teach.

The other tradition stresses practice before theory, where theory arises
from experience itself. The lineage of understanding that arises in this
tradition is supported by just enough theory to push deeper while
maintaining experience as the leading edge. This approach is direct and
ideal for people who don’t have years to spend in study or in solitude.

This approach is also ideal for practitioners of higher capacity for

dharmic understanding. The realizations gained in experiential learning
are then translated into a direct experience of the unborn qualities of
mind that lay at the heart of esoteric Buddhist philosophy. The time
spent on solitary retreat becomes a vehicle to deepen the realizations
attained in the practice, and allow for profound realizations on the
ultimate nature of mind and reality to be realized much quicker. This then
leads the practitioner to begin teaching earlier than in the previous model.

Fortunately, there exists many practices, paths and views of Buddhism in

the world today. From the Theravadin paths of Southeast Asia that
stress the more rigid practices of renunciation and monastic vows, to the
Mahayana paths of Central Asia that stress the more altruistic
approach to Buddhist learning and the ultimate emptiness of all

When we reach the high plateau of Asia, in Tibet and Mongolia, we find
the practices of the more esoteric level of Buddhism, or Vajrayana,
solidly in place. These teachings and practices are only around today
because of the intense dedication of the practioners to the strict
discipline of practice and maintaining the continuity (skt. Tantra) of
instruction from one generation to the next.

I for one, am in gratitude for those who came before me and those who
currently hold the lineage stream of such profound philosophical and
spititual realizations, and humbly supplicate them all to continue teaching
so that all sentient beings may benefit from their wisdom.

Additionally, I would like to dedicate the merit so that all may obtain
omniscience and learn to defeat the enemy, wrong actions that arise from
our deludedminds. Then from the stormy seas of birth, old age, sickness
and death and the rocky existence of samsarice suffering, may the merit
generated by this book free all beings.

Tashi Dalek!!