The First Fifteen Gyalwa Karmapas, Part 2

The following are extracts from Ken Holmes' book "Karmapa",
published by Altea 1996

The 9th Gyalwa Karmapa,Wangchuk Dorje

(1555-1603) was heard reciting mantras in the womb. He sat cross-legged for three days soon after birth and declared he was the Karmapa. He was soon recognised by the Tai Situpa, who was staying relatively close by, and by the Sharmapa, a year later, who enthroned him at the age of six. Much of his life was spent in a travelling monastic camp, in which strict emphasis was placed on meditation practice. His itinerant party received invitations to visit many places. They were unable to visit China, but made important trips to Mongolia and Bhutan. Wangchuk Dorje gave many teachings in southern Tibet and restored monasteries and temples wherever he went. He also received an invitation to visit Sikkim. Unable to go himself, he sent a senior representative, who established three monasteries there. The Karmapa blessed and consecrated them from Tibet. One of them was Rumtek, the present seat of the Karmapas in India.

Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje was not a prolific author but several of his texts, such as Mahamudra, Ocean of Certain Beneficial Meaning and Mahamudra Dispelling the Darkness of Ignorance have made an important impact on the teaching of mahamudra. This and the next three Karmapas all played the role of peacemakers during the troubled political times in which they lived.

The 10th Gyalwa Karmapa, Chöying Dorjé

(1604-1674) Took seven steps in each of the cardinal directions at birth. By the age of six, he could paint better than any of his teachers and was a gifted sculptor. Chöying Dorjé foresaw the wars and political strife that was soon to come, due to the Gelugpa-Mongol pact against the King of Tsang, whose family, followers of the Kagyu lineage, ruled most of Tibet. Thus, the tenth Karmapa distributed his wealth among the poor and needy and made Gyaltsab Rinpoche his regent, knowing he would be absent for a long time. There was much bloodshed as Gushri Khan's mongol armies attacked first Shigatse and then the Karmapa's own camp, wreaking death and havoc. His followers saw Chöying Dorjé flying off through space, holding the hand of his chief attendant. They "landed" in the forests of Bhutan and spent more than three years living wild, helped by animals. They eventually went to what is today northern Yunnan, where the local monarch received them joyously. Altogether the tenth Karmapa spent some thirty years in exile. As always, wherever he went, he fostered the dharma and recognised incarnations of Kagyu tulkus.

The 11th Gyalwa Karmapa,Yeshé Dorjé

(1676-1702) was a great visionary who performed many miracles. 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 died, leaving, as his predecessor had done, a detailed letter concerning his next incarnation.

The 12th Gyalwa Karmapa, Changchup Dorjé

(1703-1732) studied under many illustrious masters as a young child. He gave profound Kagyu teachings to the famous Nyingma master of Katok monastery, who in turn shared his Nyingma teachings. Changchup Dorjé left troubled Tibet in order to make pilgrimage to India and Nepal, accompanied by the Situ, Shamar and Gyaltsap Rinpoches. In Nepal he was thankfully honoured by the king, for stopping a raging epidemic and for making rain to end a serious drought. They continued on to India, visiting the places of Lord Buddha's birth and death. The young Situpa, who impressed Indian Buddhist scholars with his erudition, became a master of languages and went on to be one of Asia's greatest scholars of all time. Returning to Tibet, the Karmapa accepted an invitation to China, and set out for that land accompanied by the Shamarpa. However, foreseeing difficult political times ahead and realising the need to leave his body, the Karmapa sent the Tai Situpa a letter with details of his next incarnation and succumbed to smallpox, as did the Sharmapa, two days later.

The 13th Gyalwa Karmapa, Dundul Dorjé

(1733-1797) has a powerful vision of the wrathful protector Mahakala as a tiny child and told many stories of his previous lives. He was recognised at the age of four and enthroned by Gyaltsab Rinpoche. At the age of eight, he met his main guru, the great eighth Situpa Chöji Jungnay, whose long life had spanned all the twelfth Karmapa's and was to span most of the thirteenth's life. Dundul Dorjé received the Kagyu transmissions from him and also studied the Nyingma teachings very extensively. He was very fond of animals and famous for communicating with them.

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, as it was caused by a powerful serpentine spirit (naga). The Lhasa authorities requested him to come. Being unable to leave immediately, he resolved the problem by writing a special letter to the naga and invoking the compassion of Avalokitesvara. On arrival at Lhasa, the thirteenth Karmapa offered a white scarf (katta) to the Jowo image, and the arms of the statue changed position to accept it. They have been that way ever since. Dundul Dorjé was also asked to consecrate a distant monastery. Unable to attend, he threw blessing grains in the air at Tsurphu, at the moment of the consecration ceremony, and they were seen to shower down from the heavens hundreds of kilometres away at the monastery in question.

The 14th Gyalwa Karmapa, Tekcho Dorjé

(1798-1868) Was born in mid-winter, yet flowers spontaneously blossomed and many rainbows appeared. The baby recited the Sanskrit alphabet. He was discovered, enthroned and later ordained by the ninth Tai Situpa.

Tekcho Dorjé lived very simply and exemplified the ideal monk. He was gifted in poetry and dialectics and participated in the spirit of the times, known now as ri.mé (non-sectarian), whereby many noted scholars showed great interest in each others traditions and teachings. This was particularly intense between the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions, with the Karmapa passing on teachings to Kongtrul Rinpoche and Jamyang Chentse Wangpo. Tekcho Dorjé himself received the Vajrakilaya tantra from the Nyingma visionary treasure-text-finder Chojur Lingpa. The ritual was subsequently introduced into the Tsurphu calendar. Chojur Lingpa had important visions of future Karmapas, up to the twenty-first. These were noted down and painted in a thangka. The fourteenth Karmapa's spiritual heir was the great ri-mé master and prolific author, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye.

The 15th Gyalwa Karmapa,Khachab Dorjé

(1871-1922) was born with the highly auspicious "treasure-hair" growing on his brow. This is one of the 32 marks of an enlightened being and was noted on the young Sakyamuni. He grew up receiving a very thorough education from very famous scholars and eventually received the Kagyu transmission from Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye, 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 domains of medicine, art, linguistics and general Buddhist studies. His life was a brilliant example of the bodhisattva with an insatiable desire for learning in order to help other beings. Some years before his passing, he entrusted a prediction letter to his closest attendant.

These few words are but a glimpse of the lives of one of the greatest beings ever to grace this planet. A hunded times these words written by the finest of pens would not suffice to describe the wisdom, compassion, power, peace, grace and joy of that remarkable being known as Karmapa.

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