History of Karmapa incarnations

A Brief Account Of The Successive Karmapa Incarnations.

The following brief account of the successive Karmapa reincarnations is extracted from the booklet “A Short History of the Karma Kagyü Lineage” published by KIBI in 1994, Compiled and translated by members of the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute’s Department of Translation.

 

1KarmapaThe First Karmapa, Dysum Khyenpa (1110-1193)

Excerpts from The Garland of Moon Water Crystal (dawa-chu-shel-gyi-phreng-ba) by the eighth Situ, Chökyi Jungnay, and Belo Tsewang Künkhyab.
Düsum Khyenpa was born in the village of Ratay in East Tibet. His father was a Buddhist practitioner, and he received teachings from him as well as from many other teachers. Thus Düsum Khyenpa studied and practised Buddhism from an early age.At the age of twenty he travelled to Central Tibet, where he studied extensively for twelve years with many great scholars such as Kyabpa Chökyi Senge and Patsab Lotsawa Nyima Trag.

He met with Gampopa at the age of thirty and received Kagyü teachings for three years. He also received teachings from Rechungpa and other disciples of Milarepa. Thus, he studied and practised meditation for twelve years. The miraculous powers he developed enabled him to visit holy sites of the Vajrayana in India. In Uddhiyana, also a sacred Vajrayana site, he met dakinis from who he received extensive teachings.

At the age of forty-four he returned to East Tibet, where he remained until his death. During this period he constructed three well-known monasteries, spread the Kagyü teachings and attracted a great number of disciples. He had many students capable of carrying on the Kagyü lineage. From among those, Drogön Rechen became the lineage holder. Düsum Khyenpa passed away at the age of eighty-four.

 

2KarmapaThe Second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1204-1283)

Excerpts from The Garland of Moon Water Crystal by Situ Chökyi Jungnay and Belo Tsewang Künkhyab.

Karma Pakshi was born at Chilay Tsakto in Eastern Tibet. By the age of six he was fully proficient in reading and writing, even though he had had no teacher. At ten he just needed to read a text once to understand and remember the contents.At this time the young Karmapa set out on a journey to Central Tibet in order to make further studies there. On the way he met with Pomdragpa Sönam Dorje who told him to remain with him as he had had a vision of Düsum Khyenpa who told him that the young boy would become a lineage holder.

Karma Pakshi received the entire cycle of the Kagyü teachings from him. He became a famous siddha with extraordinary powers and accomplishments. He had disciples throughout Tibet, Mongolia and China. Among his foremost students were Drubtop Urgyenpa, who became the next lineage holder. Karma Pakshi passed away in his eightieth year.

 

3KarmapaThe Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339)

Excerpts from The Garland of Moon Water Crystal by Situ Chökyi Jungnay and Belo Tsewang Künkhyab.

Rangjung Dorje was born in Dingri Langkor. At his birth he sat up and proclaimed that he was the Karmapa. At the age of three he made himself a black hat and again insisted he was the Karmapa.When he was five years old he met Drubtob Urgyenpa, who saw that he was the reincarnation of Karma Pakshi and gave him the Black Crown and all the belongings of the second Karmapa. He transmitted all the Kagyü teachings to him.

Rangjung Dorje received instructions of all the Buddhist traditions existing at the time. He studied with masters such as Trophu Künden Sherab, Nyenre Gendün Bum and many others. He became known as one of the greatest masters of his time and had innumerable disciples.

He constructed many meditation-centers as well as bridges to aid people crossing rivers and mountain precipices. A great scholar, he authored numerous texts and treatises.His foremost disciples were Gyalwa Yungtön and the first Shamarpa, Dragpa Senge. Gyalwa Yungtön, a Nyingmapa, became the next lineage holder.

Rangjung Dorje passed away at the age of fifty-six.

 

4KarmapaThe Fourth Karmapa, Rölpa’i Dorje (1340-1383)

Excerpts from The Garland of Moon Water Crystal by Situ Chökyi Jungnay and Belo Tsewang Künkhyab.

Rölpe’i Dorje was born in the Kongpo province of Central Tibet. As soon as he was born he sat up and recited, ‘Om Mani Padme Hum Hri’, the mantra of Chenrezig.The secretary of the previous Karmapa, Rinchen Pal, had been given instructions that indicated the next reincarnation and, following these indications, he found the child.

At the age of six Rölpe’i Dorje received the refuge vows and the precepts of a lay-practitioner from Tokden Gön Gyalwa, with whom he studied and practised the Tantrayana.

At the age of twelve, on a journey to Central Tibet, he met with Gyalwa Yungtön Dorje Pal. The young Karmapa told him of many events relating to Rangjung Dorje, the previous Karmapa. This convinced Gyalwa Yungtön that the boy was the authentic reincarnation of his guru. Rölpe’i Dorje informed him that he would, in this life, be his teacher and requested him to transmit all the Kagyü teachings to him. Having finished his education, the Karmapa travelled throughout Tibet and China spreading the Kagyü doctrine. His foremost disciple was the second Shamarpa, who became the next lineage holder.

Rölpe’i Dorje passed away at the age of forty-three.

 

5KarmapaThe Fifth Karmapa, Deshin Shegpa (1384-1415)

Excerpts from The Garland of Moon Water Crystal by Situ Chökyi Jungnay and Belo Tsewang Künkhyab.

Deshin Shegpa was born in the region of Nyang Dam in Southern Tibet. As soon as he was born he sat up, wiped his face and said, ‘I am the Karmapa. Om Mani Padme Hum Hri’. The secretary Rinchen Pal, who acted as the secretary of three Karmapas, heard of this unusual child and brought him to Tsawa Phu in Kongpo where a large group of the previous Karmapa’s disciples were living. There he met Shamar Kachö Wangpo, who at once recognised him as Rölpe’i Dorje’s reincarnation.

Shamarpa gave him the Black Crown and all the other possessions of the previous Karmapa that he had been entrusted with. The young Karmapa received the entire cycle of Kagyü teachings from Kachö Wangpo. Throughout his life he travelled far and wide, to Tibet, Mongolia and China, bestowing teachings and empowerments. He was invited to China by the Emperor Tai Ming Chen and became his guru. Having spent some years in China, he returned to Tibet where he continued teaching as well as constructing many stupas and shrines. He found the young Shamar reincarnation, Chöpal Yeshe, supervised his ordination and transmitted the Kagyü teachings to him.
Among his foremost disciples Ratnabhadra became the next lineage holder. Deshin Shegpa passed away at the age of thirty-one.

 

6KarmapaThe Sixth Karmapa, Tongwa Dönden (1416-1453)

Excerpts from The Garland of Moon Water Crystal by Situ Chökyi Jungnay and Belo Tsewang Künkhyab.

Tongwa Dönden was born at Ngomto Shakyam near Karma Gön in Eastern Tibet. Many auspicious signs occurred at his birth. When he was only a month old his mother took him on a begging round, during which they encountered Ngompa Chadral, a disciple of the previous Karmapa. The infant became very excited and smiled at Ngompa Chadral, who asked him who he was. The child sat up and said, ‘I’m the Karmapa’. Ngompa Chadral cared for the infant during the following seven months. Then he took him to Karma Gön, one of the three principal monasteries of the Karmapa in Tibet, where Tongwa Dönden, at this early age, gave many teachings.

He met Ratnabhadra at the age of three and was given the complete Kagyü transmission. At the age of six he composed many Tantric rituals. During this time the third Shamarpa, Chöpal Yeshe, came to Karma Gön. He enthroned the Karmapa and gave him teachings on Kagyü practice.
Tongwa Dönden took ordination at the age of nine from Khenchen Sönam Zangpo at the Wolkar Tashi Tang Monastery.
He spent the rest of his life travelling throughout Tibet, teaching the Dharma as well as restoring and constructing numerous monasteries and shrines.
Among his foremost disciples were Bengar Jampal Zangpo and the first Gyaltsap, Goshir Paljor Döndrub. Both became lineage holders and the principal gurus of the seventh Karmapa, Chödrag Gyamtso.

 

7KarmapaThe Seventh Karmapa, Chödrag Gyamtso (1454-1506)

Excerpts from The Garland of Moon Water Crystal by Situ Chökyi Jungnay and Belo Tsewang Künkhyab.

Chödrak Gyamtso came from Kyilha in Northern Tibet. As soon as he was born he wiped his face and said ‘Ah’ (a sanskrit syllable that symbolises the true nature of reality).
Chö Paljor, a disciple of the Sixth Karmapa and the head of one of the Karmapa’s smaller monasteries, Nyewo Ngarteng Monastery in the vicinity of Kyilha, had dreamt that his guru was reborn at Kyilha.
He sought out the young infant, who was then just seven days old. To ensure that the child was the authentic reincarnation, he had brought with him the possessions of the sixth Karmapa in order to see if the child would be able to recognise those possessions. The infant was able to do so without hesitation, and he also placed his hands on the head of Cho Paljor to bless him.
When only two months old, the Karmapa was brought to Arik Thang, a place where his predecessor had taught and a throne-like seat made out of stone slabs had been kept. There he gave blessings to over ten thousand people who had gathered for the occasion.

At the age of four he received a series of empowerments from Goshir Paljor Döndrub. When eight years old he went to stay at Karma Gön where he received the Karma Kagyü teachings from both Benkar Jampal Zangpo and Goshir Paljor Döndrub.
As Karmapa was invited to many places, he began travelling. He gave teachings and empowerments to thousands of people as well as authoring many texts and treatises. Chödrag Gyamtso spent his life travelling from place to place with a large gathering of disciples. Many thousand people lived a nomadic life in tents following their guru and receiving teachings. All the members of the group had to adhere to the rigorous schedule of study and meditation practice set up by the Karmapa.
At Nyriro Dong Tse he met the fourth Shamarpa, Chökyi Tragpa, to whom he imparted the teachings of the lineage.
Among his disciples, Denma Drubchen Tashi Paljor became the next lineage holder. Karmapa Chödrak Gyamtso passed away in his fifty-second year.

 

8KarmapaThe Eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje (1507-1554)

Excerpts from The Garland of Moon Water Crystal by Situ Chökyi Jungnay and Belo Tsewang Künkhyab.

Mikyö Dorje was born in the province of Ngam Chu, Eastern Tibet. As soon as he was born, he sat up and declared ‘I am the Karmapa! I am the Karmapa!’
The Karmapa’s father went to see Situ Tashi Namgyal who was in the vicinity to tell him about his newborn son. Situpa said that he was almost certain that the boy was the Karmapa reincarnation and told the father to keep that in mind and care for the child accordingly.
At about the same time the Amdo family of Kongpo in Central Tibet claimed that their son was the Karmapa reincarnation. At the request of many people Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal took charge of this child.
The Karmapa reincarnation born in Ngamchu was brought to the province of Riwo Che and to Lho Rong, where many of the previous Karmapa’s disciples were staying. They were convinced that the child in their care was the true incarnation.

Many problems ensued as the two parties could not agree. Therefore, Gyaltsap had both children brought together in order to determine who was the true Karmapa. When a situation like this occurs, it is tradition to see if the candidates are able to pick out the possessions of the predecessor from a stack of things which is a mix of the belongings of the previous incarnation and other objects.
The child from Ngam Chu was able to single out the possessions of his predecessor whereas the other child failed to do so. Thus it was established who was the true reincarnation. The young Karmapa announced that the other candidate was the reincarnation of Zurmang Chungtsang from the Zurmang Monastery in Eastern Tibet.

The eighth Karmapa received all the Kagyü teachings from Denma Drubchen Tashi Paljor. He also studied with and practised under the guidance of many other masters.

He established many monastic colleges and authored a great number of well-known treatises.
He transmitted the innermost teachings of the Kagyü lineage to the fifth Shamarpa, Könchog Yenlag, who became the next lineage holder.
Mikyö Dorje passed away in his forty-seventh year.

 

9KarmapaThe Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje (1556-1603)

Excerpts from The Garland of Moon Water Crystal by Situ Chökyi Jungnay and Belo Tsewang Künkhyab.

Wangchuk Dorje was born in the region of Treshod in Eastern Tibet. As soon as he was born the child sat up, wiped his face and declared, ‘I am the Karmapa!’ Very soon people from the area started talking about this unusual child.
Kyamo Nangso Chokyong Tashi, a follower of the previous Karmapa, had been told by him that he would serve the next Karmapa. He thus went to see the child in Treshod and brought him to the Kyamo Lhundrub Tse Monastery.
The fame of the child spread far and wide, reaching Shamar Könchog Yenlag and Situ Chökyi Gocha. Both determined that the child was the Karmapa reincarnation. Situpa went to see him and offered the long-life empowerment of Amitayus, the Buddha of Boundless Light.

Shamarpa met with the new Karmapa at a place called Lhundrub Tse. He gave the young boy the refuge vows and taught him extensively.
Wangchuk Dorje received the entire cycle of Kagyü teachings from Shamar Könchog Yenlag.
The Karmapa travelled far and wide in Tibet. He taught the Dharma and frequently acted as a mediator in different parts of the country where there was unrest. He also improved the living conditions of many. Hence he was regarded as Tibet’s contemporary head.
He found the sixth Shamar reincarnation, Chökyi Wangchuk, who became his principal disciple and the next lineage holder. Wangchuk Dorje passed away in his forty-seventh year.

 

10KarmapaThe Tenth Karmapa, Chöying Dorje (1604-1674)

Excerpts from The Garland of Moon Water Crystal by Situ Chökyi Jungnay and Belo Tsewang Künkhyab.

Chöying Dorje was born at Khaytri Tang in the Golok province in the far North East of Tibet. The sixth Shamarpa, Chökyi Wangchuk, identified and enthroned the Karmapa and transmitted all the teachings of the Kagyü lineage to him.
Chöying Dorje travelled far and wide in Tibet, teaching and benefiting beings in many other ways. However, due to a pact between the Mongol ruler Goshir Khan and the fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lozang Gyamtso, who was the first Dalai Lama to become Tibet’s ruler, the Karmapa underwent many difficulties, and the Kagyü doctrine became very weak as a result of the political climate. Due to this sectarian persecution the Karmapa had to leave Tibet.

He travelled through Nepal and Burma to Yunnan in China. Chöying Dorje constructed many monasteries in the areas he travelled through. He was able to return to Tibet after twenty years in exile.

He found and enthroned the seventh Shamarpa, Yeshe Nyingpo, and transmitted the entire cycle of the Kagyü teachings. Yeshe Nyingpo became the guru of the eleventh Karmapa, Yeshe Dorje.

Karmapa Chöying Dorje passed away in his seventieth year.

 

11KarmapaThe Eleventh Karmapa, Yeshe Dorje (1676-1702)

Excerpts from The Garland of Moon Water Crystal by Situ Chökyi Jungnay and Belo Tsewang Künkhyab.

Yeshe Dorje was born at Mayshö in Eastern Tibet. He was identified as the reincarnation of Karmapa Chöying Dorje by Shamar Yeshe Nyingpo, who initially brought him to his seat, Yangchen Monastery in Central Tibet. From there the young Karmapa went to Tsurphu Monastery, one of the three seats of the Karmapa in Tibet, where he was enthroned.

Shamarpa transmitted the Kagyü teachings to him. He also received Terchö teachings that originate with the Indian master Padmasambhava from Yöngay Mingyur Dorje and Taksham Nuden Dorje. The scriptures tell us that Padmasambhava had foretold that the eleventh Karmapa would be the holder of certain Terchö lineages.

The Karmapa found and identified the eighth Shamarpa, Palchen Chökyi Döndrub, who became his principal disciple and the next lineage holder. Karmapa Yeshe Dorje passed away in his twenty-seventh year.

 

12KarmapaThe Twelfth Karmapa, Changchub Dorje (1703-1735)

Excerpts from The Garland of Moon Water Crystal by Situ Chökyi Jungnay and Belo Tsewang Künkhyab.

Changchub Dorje was born at Chile Chakhor in the Derge province of Eastern Tibet. Shamarpa heard of the remarkable child and sent a search party, and the child was brought to Karma Gön Monastery, one of the three seats of the Karmapa in Tibet. There he met Shamar Palchen Chökyi Döndrub. The two remained together for the rest of their lives.

Situ Chökyi Jungnay says in his autobiography “The Clear Crystal Mirror” (page 32, line 3 in the edition of Dr. Lokesh Chandra) that the Karmapa and the Shamarpa are of equal status and that this is indicated by the fact that their throne-like seats are of the same height.

The Karmapa and the Shamarpa transmitted all the Kagyü teachings to the eighth Situpa and declared him to be the next lineage holder.

 

13KarmapaThe Thirteenth Karmapa, Düdül Dorje (1733-1797)

Excerpts from The Garland of Moon Water Crystal by Situ Chökyi Jungnay and Belo Tsewang Künkhyab.

Düdül Dorje was born at Champa Drongsar in Southern Tibet. He was recognized by Kato Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu and Situ Chökyi Jungnay.
Tibet was being ruled by the seventh Dalai Lama, Kalzang Gyatso, and his prime minister Sönam Topgyal at the time. As they wanted all government officials to be Gelugpa followers, that rule was initiated. Previously, officials who adhered to other traditions had been allowed to work in the government’s administration. Because of this political decision, it became necessary to request the Dalai Lama’s seal of approval of the new Karmapa reincarnation. This was a purely political matter brought about by the sectarianism of the time.

The Karmapa was brought to Tsurphu Monastery when five years old. At the age of twelve he received all the Kagyü teachings from Situ Chökyi Jungnay and the sixth Kyabgön Drukchen, Kagyü Trinlay Shingta. He also received Nyingma teachings from Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu.

Problems arose concerning the tenth Shamar reincarnation, when the Gyaltsap Tulku claimed that the son of the well-known Ger Namsay Ling family was the reincarnation and the Karmapa and the Situpa declared that the Panchen Lama’s younger brother was the Shamar reincarnation. After a series of difficulties the dispute was settled. It was recognized that Gyaltsap had failed to find the true reincarnation.

Thus the Karmapa and the Situpa jointly recognized the tenth Shamarpa, Mipham Chödrub Gyamtso. He became a principal disciple of both of them.
Düdül Dorje also found and identified the ninth Situpa, Pema Nyinche Wangpo. Both the tenth Shamar and the ninth Situ were close disciples of the Karmapa, and both became lineage holders.

Karmapa Düdül Dorje passed away in his sixty-fourth year.

 

14KarmapaThe Fourteenth Karmapa, Thegchog Dorje (1798-1868)

Excerpts from Additional Records of the Golden Kagyü Lineage (gser-phreng-ka-skhong) by Topga Yulgyal.

Thegchog Dorje was born in the Danang village of the Do Kham region in Eastern Tibet. Drukchen Kunzig Chökyi Nangwa who had been entrusted with the thirteenth Karmapa’s letter that indicated this reincarnation, identified Thegchog Dorje as the fourteenth Karmapa.

The Karmapa received ordination from Drukchen Kunzig Chökyi Nangwa and Situ Pema Nyinche Wangpo. He also obtained all the Kagyü instructions from these two masters. Jamgön Lodrö Thaye, a close disciple, also gave teachings to the Karmapa as he had received rare Terchö teachings that Thegchog Dorje had not been able to obtain.
The Karmapa travelled throughout Tibet spreading the Kagyü teachings. He found and identified the reincarnation of the tenth Situpa, Pema Kunzang. He gave the innermost Kagyü teachings to Jamgön Lodrö Thaye who became the next lineage holder.

Thegchog Dorje passed away in his sixtieth year.

 

15KarmapaThe Fifteenth Karmapa, Khakyab Dorje (1871-1922)

Excerpts from Additional Records of the Golden Kagyü Lineage (gser-phreng-ka-skhong) by Topga Yulgyal.

Khakyab Dorje was born in Shelkor village in Tsang province in Central Tibet. As soon as he was born he uttered the mantra of Chenrezig, and at the age of five he was able to read the scriptures. The ninth Kyabgön Drukchen recognized and enthroned Khakyab Dorje.

The Karmapa received the entire cycle of Kagyü teachings from Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye. He also studied with Khenchen Tashi Özer and many others.

He travelled throughout Tibet giving teachings and empowerments.

He identified the reincarnations of Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye and the Situpa and performed the rituals at their respective enthronements. Khakyab Dorje was a married master and had three sons. The second Jamgön Kongtrul and the twelfth Shamarpa, Jamyang Rinpoche were his sons.

The Karmapa also reprinted many scriptures that had become rare and difficult to obtain. His closest disciples were Situ Pema Wangchog Gyalpo, Jamgön Palden Khyentse Özer and Beru Khyentse Lodrö Mizay Jampa’i Gocha.
Khakyab Dorje passed away in his fifty-first year.

 

16KarmapaThe Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpa’i Dorje (1924-1981)

Excerpts from Additional Records of the Golden Kagyü Lineage (gser-phreng-ka-skhong) by Topga Yulgyal.

Rangjung Rigpa’i Dorje was born in Denkhok in the Derge province of Eastern Tibet.

His predecessor’s personal attendant, Jampal Tsültrim, had been entrusted with the letter that indicated the sixteenth reincarnation’s birthplace, parents and so on. Jampal Tsültrim gave this letter to the administration of Tsurphu Monastery. They asked Beru Khyentse, Situpa and Jamgön for clarification concerning some unclear points. A search-party was sent out and the reincarnation was found.

The young Karmapa was brought to Palpung Monastery where he received teachings from Situ Pema Wangchok. He also received ordination and the bodhisattva vow from him.

He received teachings on Tantra from Beru Khyentse Lodrö Mizay Jampa’i Gocha. He studied the sutras with Bo Kangkar Rinpoche. Jamgön Palden Khyentse Öser taught him the Six Yogas of Naropa and Mahamudra. Situ Pema Wangchok and Jamgön Palden Khyentse Öser were the main gurus of the Karmapa.
He travelled and taught throughout Tibet. From 1950 onwards the Chinese Military took control of Tibet. The Dalai Lama and government officials went to Beijing for talks. H.H. the sixteenth Karmapa and many other great lamas accompanied them to participate in the discussions. The talks brought about some good results for the Tibetan people. However, in 1959 the Chinese annexed Tibet at which point the Karmapa fled to India. He settled in Sikkim. The king, Tashi Namgyal offered land where the Karmapa constructed Rumtek Monastery. He went to Bhutan at the invitation of the king, Jigme Dorje Wangchuk. He also travelled to Ladakh, where he gave teachings at different monasteries after which he went on pilgrimage to the holy sites of India and Nepal.

In 1974 he went abroad for the first time. Dharma centers were established throughout the world. He spread the Buddhist teachings and had a large number of followers.

Karmapa Rangjung Rigpa’i Dorje passed away in his fifty-eighth year.

APPENDIX

When one counts this reincarnation, Khakyab Dorje becomes the sixteenth Karmapa and Rangjung Rigpa’i Dorje becomes the seventeenth Karmapa.
That clarifies the fifth Karmapa Deshin Shegpa’s prediction that between the end of the sixteenth Karmapa’s life and at the beginning of the seventeenth Karmapa’s life the Buddhist Doctrine will deteriorate in Tibet, the people of China will rise up against their Emperor, his family line will come to an end, the people of China will invade and occupy Tibet, and the two countries will suffer and become poor.

Please share:
Words of Wisdom
Practice of Timeless Happiness