HH the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa
Urgyen Trinley Dorje, Part 2

continued from Part 1


The Tai Situpa and the Goshir Gyaltsabpa arrived in Tibet on July 12. After an overnight stay in the capital, Lhasa, and a visit en route to Pawo Rinpoche's monastery where they conferred belssings on hundreds of pilgrims, they arrived at Tsurphu where they were received with grand ceremony. Tsurphu has been the seat of previous sixteen Karmapas and was founded in 1190 by Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa. Until the Cultural Revolution, it housed some 900 monks and had four internal monasteries, set within a vast complex of buildings. One of the four monasteries was the seat of the Goshir Gyaltsabpas, who traditionally represent the Karmapas between incarnations. Gyaltsab means regent.

Drupon Dechen Rinpoche, the present abbot of Tsurphu, was the former retreat master of Rumtek. He had left Tibet in 1959 with HH the Sixteenth Karmapa, when some of Tsurphu's main relics and holy objects had been carried to the safety of Sikkim. They are now stored in the Rumtek treasury. The Sixteenth Karmapa had advised him to return to Tsurphu to supervise its reconstruction. It has indeed risen from its ruins in recent years, thanks to Drupon Dechen Rinpoche and the work of many dedicated people. In particular, Ward Holmes and the Tsurphu foundation he created have stimulated worldwide interest in this remarkable place. Nestling between huge peaks in the To valley, the walled monastic complex sits next to the beautiful bubbling waters of the river, very reminiscent of a powerful Scottish torrent. Geomantically it is a very special site, auspiciously located with respect to the hills and valleys. The neighbouring mountains are considered to be sacred locations where the various energies and blessings of the vajrayana mandala are concentrated.

Meeting with his former disciples and future teachers

The first meeting between the Karmapa and the two Rinpoches was a traditional and formal one. After having been received by the snow lions and masked performers outside the temple, the Tai Situpa and the Gyatsabpa were shown up to the Karmapa's appartment where they paid their first homage to him and presented him with offerings. In the days which followed they also came to know him in less formal, more playful ways. The delicate, loving and respectful bonds between them became forged in great naturalness: immaculate meeting between great beings, the one the future guru of the other, who himself was the former guru of his new teacher. Emanations of Avalokitesvara, Maitreya and Vajrapani were meeting just as they did so many times in the past and in the scriptures. The Tai Situpa and the Gyaltsabpa discovered, as Akong Rinpoche had been doing for more than a month, the remarkable continuity between the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Karmapa; his fearlessness, assuredness, sense of humour and sincere natural compassion just like his predecessors.


At one point a surprise was prepared for the young Karmapa. During one of the picnics arranged for for him in the hills close to Tsurphu, he was led to a marquee where a generator, TV and video had been set up. He enjoyed watching some films and then, his attention suddenly riveted, saw footage of his previous incarnation. This striking moment was captured by Clemens Kuby, in the documentary film he made on the Karmapa's discovery and enthronement, Living Buddha.

Ordination and Enthronement

The next formal step in the Karmapa's installation would be the ordination known commonly as the "hair-cutting ceremony". This was arranged to take place in the holy shrine of the Jokhang temple in Lhasa, in the early hours of August 2, 1992. The Tai Situpa and Goshir Gyaltsabpa conducted the religious ceremony before the sacred image, which represented the Buddha's own presence. It was only the second time that a Karmapa had received this ordination there. Offerings were presented to the Karmapa, including gifts from His Holiness the Dalai Lama: a message for his long life and activity, a blessing scarf and cord and His Holiness' personal prayer beads. Marking their acceptance of the Karmapa reincarnation, representatives of the Lhasa authorities were also present.

After the Karmapa, flanked by the two rinpoches, had made prostration before the Jo-wo image, and appropriate prayers and mandala offerings had been made, the Tai Situpa cut small strands of his hair, to mark renunciation of worldliness. The Gyaltsabpa sprinkled consecrated water on the place of hair-cutting. The Karmapa then received his incarnation name, inscribed on golden silk and read aloud by the two Rinpoches. The name was chosen according to the prophesy of Guru Rinpoche, as found in the discovered treasures (terma) of Chogyur Dechen Lingpa. The Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa's name is:
Pal Khyabdak Rangjung Urgyen Gyalway Nyugu
Drondul Trinley Dorje Tsal Chokle Nampar Gyalway De
Each of these words is charged with dharma significance, worthy of pages of commentary. A simplified meaning would be approximately,
The Glorious All-Pervading Spontaneously-Manifest (Guru of ) Oddiyana, Shoot of the Victorious Ones, Vajra of Enlightened Activity to Teach Beings, Accomplished One, Victorious in each and every Direction.


Over twenty thousand pilgrims assembled at Tsurphu for the Karmapa's enthronement on September 27, 1992. Besides the main organisations of the Karma Kamtsang tradition worldwide, there were representatives of all the other traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, as well as of the Bön religion, and representatives from the different regions. However, most of the twenty thousand were Tibetans, some of whom had made journeys of more than a thousand kilometres to be present. Many tulkus came from all over Tibet and from India and Himalayan areas. For Tibetans, it is considered a very wonderful thing simply to be present at such an occasion, and the chance of just seeing the new Karmapa means more to them than most of us can imagine. This would already have been true before 1959 and was doubly true in 1992 as people's religious faith was reinforced by a ray of hope for the future of Buddhism in their land. The Tolung valley around Tsurphu became a gigantic and colourful campsite. There were Tibetan girls, and wives wearing bright rainbow aprons, sporting a rich variety of regional hairstyles, ornamented with large turqoises, corals and ambers .

People from every quarter of Tibet were present, all wearing costumes specific to their own areas, the Khampa men with bright red or black braids in their hair. The gathering included dance groups and performers. Wearing masks, brocades or just their local costumes, they performed folk dances in front of the temple, often watched by His Holiness from an upper balcony. On the night before enthronement day, it snowed copiously on the nearby sacred mountains. This was taken as a highly auspicious omen.

Some three hundred tulkus and representatives of other monasteries and dharma-centres had also gathered there. Some of the international gathering of Europeans, Americans, South-East Asiand and Africans had also brought their own national costumes to wear at the enthronement ceremony. Gifts and offerings for the Karmapa and his monastery had been pouring in with the pilgrims. Many of these were neatly arranged in the temple in an amazing array: dharma objects such as butter-lamp bowls and offering bowls, ritual objects, some of them finely crafted and adorned with noble metals, religious musical instruments, rolls of cloth and brocade, sack of grains and other foodstuffs, tea and many other gifts. All of these were carefully recorded and a list of donors and donations was proclaimed aloud ceremoniously in gratitude. All in all, it made for an historic international gathering of great colour and excitement.

The Minister for Religious Affairs, representing of the People's Republic of China, presided over the first part of the ceremony, at which officials of the Lhasa authorities were also present. This lasted for some thirty minutes. He announced the official acknowledgement of the Karmapa by the government and assured his government's intention of supporting the religious freedom in China. He presented His Holiness with the written acknowledgement, bearing the State seal. National and regional Chinese TV station cameramen were there to record, and later transmit, the event. Despite the obvious political intentions behind this presence, it represented a watershed in policy trends concerning Tibetan Buddhism. One of Tibet's most important religious leaders has been recognised and enthroned in the traditional way; one with the full support of HH the Dalai Lama. Doubtlessly, the sublime wisdom and foresight of the Karmapa had led him to take rebirth in Tibet for good reason. His vajra mind, that no one can influence or penetrate, will use all its skill in his delicate situation to bring peace and happiness to the people of that land, as well as those of the rest of the world. Karmapa has no boundary.

The officials gone, there was a half-hour pause and the religious ceremony proper commenced. His Holiness took up his seat on the high Tsurphu throne, donning the beautifully-ornate brocade cloak of his station and the small black "activity" crown. The Tai Situpa and the Goshir Gyatsabpa were wearing special robes for the occasion, vivid yet subtle in design and hue and made of rare brocade. The temple itself is a vivid array of colour and ornate decoration—so exotic that in other circumstances it would be garish. But in Tibet's land of bright sunlight, where vivid colour is the norm, and within its feeling of timeless solemnity, the temple gives the impression of noble richness and heightened senses. The Tai Situpa opened the ceremony by presenting His Holiness with the sealed recognition letter of HH the Dalai Lama, the prediction letter written by the former Karmapa and the written prediction of Nechung, the State Oracle of Tibet. This was followed by the chanting of offering prayers, during which time the Tai Situpa made offerings of purification consisting of the eight auspicious substances, the eight auspicious symbols and representations of the seven attributes of a universal monarch, each of which the Karmapa blessed by his touch, signifying acceptance.

This was followed by religious discourses. Khenpo Zhönu Dawa, the Abbot of Palpung, gave an exposition of the perfection of wisdom. Adi Rinpoche, head of the Drukpa Kagyu in the kingdom of Nangchen, taught on enlightened body, speech, mind, qualities and activity and Khenpo Lodro, of Burkar monastery, spoke on the Manjusri prayer. Following these discourses, HE the Goshir Gyatsabpa explained the five auspicious conditions, after which he made the formal thirty-seven offering of the mandala, representing all the finest things in the entire universe of gods and humans. The Tai Situpa then came forward and presented the Karmapa with objects symbolising the enlightened body, speech and mind: a Buddha image, a longevity sutra and a stupa. Urgyen Drodul Trinley Dorje was now enthroned as the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, supreme head of the Karma Kamtsang tradition of Buddhism.

All these events, witnessed by a few hundred special representatives within the temple, were transmitted by a public address system to the tens of thousands listening intently outside. The enthronement proper concluded, the members of this crowd joyfully threw their long white, yellow or red offering scarves towards the monastery. These were picked up in mid air and passed or thrown on, from hand to hand, all the way up to the monastery where they were piled up. It was a marvellous sight, like spume on the ocean waves: an ocean of devoted offerings making its way spontaneously towards the living Buddha within the temple walls.

Inside, the representatives of monasteries and organisations from both Tibet and other countries were making their offerings. This over, His Holiness concluded the enthronement by giving his personal blessing to the crowd, who were now being admitted to the temple. However, it proved impossible to maintain order in the face of the ardent enthusiasm of thousands trying to crush into the temple space and the blessing was halted temporarily to be continued the following day. By the time the blessing was adjourned, the seven-year-old Karmapa had spent some five hours on his throne, maintaining great dignity of bearing. The following morning, some twenty-five thousand people filed before him to receive his personal blessing, many of them presenting offerings they had brought from their villages and encampments.


The following day, September 29, Karmapa Urgyen Trinley Dorje gave blessings for several hours on the temple roofdeck, to individuals and groups of visitors. He then conferred his first formal empowerment as the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa. Although assisted by the Tai Situpa and the Gyaltsabpa, he read the main part of the empowerment in clear ringing tones, from the balcony windows of an upper storey of the monastery, in sight of the tens of thousands below, his voice relayed by a PA. The empowerment was that of Avalokitesvara, Chen.re.sig in Tibetan, the bodhisattva of whom he is seen to be an emanation. Although every action of the Karmapa's life is seen as having significance, this marked the beginning of his enlightened activity as the enthroned Karmapa.

This moving moment was accompanied by many auspicious signs. The sky was bright, with a few patches of cloud, yet a fall of snowflakes, like a rain of flowers, descended. A very exceptional number of birds gathered and circled high in the sky. But most striking was a long straight rainbow which shone in the sky overhead, behind the wheeling birds.


Although Urgyen Trinley Dorje had received some education while at Kalek monastery, his thorough education as a Karmapa had now to begin. Under the overall guidance of the Tai Situpa and the Gyaltsabpa, and with Drupon Dechen Rinpoche, Abbot of Tsurphu, close at hand, he will have many things to learn. Through being the Karmapa, many things are second nature to him. Often he simply need to be told something once or to read through a text once to assimilate it. Sometimes he knows a topic perfectly well before he has been told of it by anyone. He is remarkably bright with a lightning intelligence and spontaneous wit. Nevertheless, he will have to learn all the various aspects of ritual, textual learning, meditation and so forth just as all the previous Karmapas have done in the past. This sets an example of diligence for all to follow: if even he has to learn all those things in the proper fashion, then so much the more so for the likes of ordinary Buddhists!

For the first part of his education he had the assistance of two exceptionally experienced and mature teachers, both formerly in the service of the Sixteenth Karmapa, Omdze Thubten Zangpo and Lama Lodro Sherab. The latter has since returned to Rumtek, where his services are needed. Under the former, he has already learnt the skills required in ritual and has passed his Umdze exam. Umdze means Master of Liturgy and includes many aspects of ritual, religious dance and other monastic skills. A layman, Mr Lodro, is also helping with his education. The young Karmapa memorised by heart one esential part of the liturgy—a text more than a hundred pages long—in less than one month, spending only a fraction of the hour of his daily text lesson on it each day.

The Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa is an extraordinary being. Much of what is extraordinary cannot be put in print. He has performed many, many, things which we would call miracles. It is not customary in the Kagyu tradition to publicise them, and their main purpose is to teach those present at the time. However, some have been so public that they have become common knowledge. The greatest miracle is the presence of his limitless compassion and enlightened wisdom here on Earth. I would like to conclude this chapter, which is but a glimpse of this remarkable person, with the sincere prayer that his life be long and healthy and that many millions of people all over the world may benefit from this ray of enlightenment sent to us from the sun of buddhahood.
The above is some of the story of the discovery and installation of HH the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, from Ken Holmes' book "Karmapa", published by Altea, Scotland 1996.

17th Karmapa, Part One, Kagyu Teachings

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