The Kagyu (Lineage of Transmitted Mastery) began with the songs of Dakini’s calling to Tilopa one thousand years ago. Thus began a remarkable odyssey transmitted from Master to Disciple unto this present age. The teachings of the dakini, revealing the nature of mind, are couched in their secret speech: ‘secret’ in the sense of self-secret, naturally discreet, because it only makes sense to those sufficiently awakened to understand. Their discrete terms reveal jnana, the bright lamp of essence-awareness which automatically dispels the darkness of ignorance. — from TILOPA by Tai Situ Rinpoche, perhaps the ultimate Dakini Realm instruction manual, published by Kagyu Samye Ling, Eskdalemuir, Scotland, the first Tibetan Buddhist center in the West.
Two Heart Sons followed close behind. Jamgon Kongtrul and Tai Situ Rinpoche have forged close bonds with Western students. Bringing traditional teachings along with a strong command of Enlish these teachers have assured the survival of Tilopa’s legacy.
Today the Kagyu Lineage is identified with Karmapa, the Black Hat Lama. The First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa pictured above on the left was one of three wild yogis who studied under Gampopa, who instituted the monastic tradition that exists to this day. Dusum Khyenpa and his companions were expelled for consuming alcohol and dancing wildly in celebration of a Dakini festival. Gampopa realized his most talented students had been expelled by the master of discipline when he saw the birds flying away from his monastery and the dakas and dakinis departing. He left his retreat cave and chased after the three yogis imploring them to stay.
Dusum Khyenpa eventually became known as Karmapa, Knower of the Three Times, Man of Action. Many miraculous events are associated with Dusum Khyenpa but none more incredible than the letter he left detailing where he would be reborn. Thus Karma Pakshi became the first incarnate lama in Tibet. This sequence has repeated itself now seventeen times. Before Rangjung Rigpe Dorje died in 1981 he left an amulet with Tai Situ Rinpoche. The prediction letter within the amulet led to the discovery of Orgyen Trinley Dorje born in Tibet in 1985.
The Second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi, above, born in 1204, set the standard for intensive mystical mastery we expect of Karmapas. Caught between the demands of conflicting Chinese rulers, Karmapakshi was forced to drink poison, thrown off a cliff and into flames by Kublai Khan. Each time he emerged unharmed forcing the Emperor to recognize his ultimate nobility. While in China he arranged for a giant Buddha statue to be constructed at his monastery, Tsurphu near Lhasa. Upon his return to Tibet he discovered the statue was leaning to one side. He sat in meditation in front of it and, imitating the statue, he leaned to the side. As he slowly righted himself, the statue straightened along with him. (photo by Lawrence Birney)
BELOW – 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso w/ 16th Karmapa (left) & 17th Karmapa (right)
Sangye Tenzin Rinpoche, a great and wonderful teacher of the Dharma (below), of Kham, Tibet with the 17th Karmapa. Sangye Tenzin was a veritable wellspring of information and inspiration to all those who came in contact with him. He shone with a genuine desire that all of his students truly ‘get it’, that we appreciate the wish fulfilling gift which he was bestowing on us. His presence was a Rain of Blessing.
The most pronounced quality of the Kagyu is the relationship between students and master which is passed on from one lifetime to the next, each recognizing the other. Tai Situ (far reaching, unshakeable) Rinpoche is the root lama of the Karmapa. He was the one given the letter by Rangjung Rikpe Dorje that led to the discovery of the 17th Karmapa. Here they are shortly after their reunion in a wonderful photo from Ken Holmes’ book Karmapa that details the entire chain of events. Ken is a long time student of the Karmapa and Situ Rinpoche and has lived and taught at Samye Ling in Scotland for many years. He has edited the classic books by Situ Rinpoche published there. He and his wife Katia have also translated Dharma texts.
Kalu Rinpoche, a meditation master who lived from 1905 to 1989, was instrumental in training many young incarnate lamas. After studying under the 11th Situ Rinpoche, Padma Wangchuk, he helped train the current Situ Rinpoche, Pema Donyo Nyingche Wangmo. They are shown here together shortly after the Tibetan diaspora in 1959. Kalu Rinpoche spent many years in solitary retreat in the Himalayas before the Karmapa asked him to visit the West and teach the Dharma. He first established a traditional three year retreat program in France. His life story is well told in The Chariot for Travelling the Path to Freedom by Ken McLeod. The drawings of Tilopa and the dakinis Sukhasiddhi and Niguma are from this book which is a must have for Kalu Rinpoche students. Homage to Khyab Je Kalu Rinpoche published by Lama Lodu and KDK Publications in San Francisco is another must. The wonderful photo of Kalu Rinpoche, the Karmapa and Chögyam Trungpa is from this book.
Yangsi Kalu Rinpoche was born September 17, 1990. He was recognized by Situ Rinpoche and made his first visit to the United States in 1995. I was part of the welcoming party when he arrived at Kennedy Airport with his former student, then teacher, Bokar Rinpoche. I had met the previous Kalu Rinpoche and received one empowerment from him. My faith in Situ Rinpoche was complete, but I was apprehensive meeting the new Kalu Rinpoche. After all, we were there to welcome a four year old boy. This was my first experience meeting a young tulku. When they walked through customs the hairs on my arm stood on end. I realized that THIS ACTUALLY WAS KALU RINPOCHE.
No experience to date can match that for confirming the authenticity of Vajrayana teachings. The next month was magical. Bokar Rinpoche gave many teachings and transmissions from the Shangpa Kagyu tradition, and we also shared Kalu Rinpoche’s joy at having a fresh young body. Since the previous Kalu Rinpoche had projected such a stern exterior, albeit with an inner radiance and glow, this new incarnation was a fresh bloom on the rose. (Yangsi Kalu Rinpoche photos by my friend and construction collaborator, Steve Petty from Salt Spring Island.)
In 2011, Kalu Rinpoche visited the United States for the first time since completing his formal training. Unfortunately, he chose not to visit New York. Therefore many devoted students who were closely connected to the previous Kalu Rinpoche were unable to see him during that visit. Hopefully, he will return to the US soon and give teachings in New York at his monastery or anywhere else that he feels is appropriate. In fact, I extend an invitation to teach at my home anytime he would like.
Chögyam Trungpa was a phenomenon. Arriving at Cambridge University from India in the mid-sixties, he perfected his English, learned Western psychology and mastered the culture. After founding Samye Ling in Scotland with Akong Rinpoche he moved on to America, and we are so thankful that he did. Trungpa was a tireless teacher until his death in 1987. He authored close to thirty books which have had a wide impact in introducing Vajrayana to the West. His first book BORN IN TIBET was published in 1966. I read it in the early 70’s. It set me on (as of now) a forty year cascade through the most powerful mental training system on the planet.
The lion’s roar is fearlessness in the sense that every situation in life is workable. Nothing is rejected as bad or grasped as good. But everything we experience in our life-situations, any type of emotion, is workable. From THE MYTH OF FREEDOM.
DRAGON THUNDER: My Life With Chögyam Trungpa by Diana Mukpo, his wife of nearly twenty years, is one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in a long time. This is an entertaining view behind the roller coaster carnival of Trungpa’s life. DRAGON THUNDER IS A MUST READ! Chögyam Trungpa: His Life and Vision by Fabrice Midal offers a thoughtful and complete review of Trungpa’s work.
Shambhala was an enlightened society that manifested nonagression. Its geographical location was in the middle of Asia, in the middle, or the heart, of the Orient. The Shambhala society was able to transmute aggression into love. Consequently, everybody in Shambhala attained enlightenment. So they no longer needed to domesticate their animals, and they no longer needed to fight wars. Finally, the whole society, the whole country — including all the buildings — ceased to exist on the earthly plane. This is the story of Shambhala. — Chögyam Trungpa from Midal’s book.
Above all, Trungpa championed the ideal of Shambhala and presented it to the West. Shambhala is a Pure Land, a beyul, the home of the sacred Kalachakra teachings, the Highest Tantra vehicle. In a novel written with my wife Angelina, the Shambhala teachings are highlighted through a fictional journey which explores their current need in creating peace in the world. PURE VISION: The Magdalene Revelation encourages a closer look at the spiritual forces that infuse the world’s political battles.
Trungpa’s genius manifested itself in many ways, but none more impressive or lasting than the creation of Naropa University in 1974. Today it is a thriving liberal arts college boasting among other accomplishments, The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. The university was named after Naropa, who was the illustrious abbot of Nalanda in eleventh century India. After an encounter with a powerful Dakini, Naropa recognized his knowledge was useless without wisdom. The Dakini empowered Naropa to seek her brother Tilopa who straightens Naropa out, so to speak.
Our story began with Tilopa, or rather with the Dakini’s call to Tilopa. Feminine Wisdom is mother of the Buddhas. Without the discrete terms of the dakini, teachings revealing mind, the lamp of essence awareness dispelling ignorance’s darkness, known of itself, occurring by itself and lucid in itself cannot be recognized — From Situ Rinpoche’s TILOPA as is the calligraphy below.Tilopa’s Kagyu oral transmission lineage sprang from the discrete terms of the Dakini, Mahamudra, The Great Seal, Wisdom Beyond Knowledge. The punishing apprenticeship he put Naropa through is the stuff of legend. Naropa passed his lineage on to Marpa who carried the teaching to Tibet, he himself undertook three arduous journeys to India to obtain his treasures. Milarepa, the poet-yogi, earned his mantle through another epic apprenticeship. Gampopa, guru to Dusum Khyenpa, the First Karmapa, studied under Milarepa.
Tilopa’s teachings are summed up in The Ganges Mahamudra, which he emparted to Naropa on the banks of the great river. There are numerous commentaries and translations of this root text but my favorite is found in MOTHER OF THE BUDDHAS by Lex Hixon. Hixon was a great contributor to our modern spiritual dialogue. Born on Christmas Day 1941, he began his studies with Vine Deloria, a Lakota Sioux elder, at the age of nineteen. Six years later he began studying with Swami Nikhilananda, a disciple of Sarada Devi, Ramakrishna’s wife. Hixon’s epic work on Ramakrishna, GREAT SWAN, is brilliant. It is always worth recalling Ramakrishna, as his life in nineteenth century Bengal is an open mirror to Tilopa’s eleventh century India.
The dedicated practitioner experiences the spiritual way as a turbulent mountain stream, tumbling dangerously among boulders. When maturity is reached the river flows smoothly and patiently with the powerful sweep of the Ganges. Emptying into the ocean of Mahamudra, the water becomes ever-expanding light that pours into great Clear Light – without direction, destination, division, distinction or description. Tilopa – Mother of the Buddhas.
The Kagyu lineage web has been spun by generations of students standing upon the shoulders of their teachers, who in turn became the students in their next life. A story line like this could only continue with the ability to identify these departed masters upon their return.
The third Jamgon Kongtrul, pictured at left with the 16th Karmapa, was universally loved by all who met him. I had the great honor of taking the Kalachakra and Shitro empowerments from him. His death in 1992, at the height of the search for the 17th Karmapa, was a shock to the entire Vajrayana community.
There is no more serious task for any Karmapa than orchestrating the search mission for incarnate lamas. In 1996 the 17th Karmapa informed representatives of Pullahari Monastery that he had information concerning the rebirth of Jamgon Kongtrul. At the moment the Karmapa handed over the letter containing his instructions, there was a single clap of thunder. The Karmapa himself was only eleven years old at that time!
The Karmapa indicated that the 4th Jamgon Kongtrul would be found south of Tsurphu, the Karmapa’s seat in Tibet. In his exercise book he drew some pictures of the mountains, a river and the house (two storeys with the door facing exactly east) where he would be found. The Karmapa also mentioned by name several nearby villages and the number of persons in the family (eight). He even informed them of the most auspicious day to begin their search, several months hence. Even so, there were difficulties with the search and the party had to return to Tsurphu for clarification. Perhaps, their faith in an untested eleven year old Karmapa was shaky. The Karmapa seemed to toy with them and merely repeated his instructions. On their return to the area, the group found the fourth Jamgon Kongtrul. The entire story can be found online in E MA HO.
(left) The Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorje and the Fourth Jamgon Kongtrul, Karma Lodro Chokyi Nyima in 1996. Jamgon Kongtrul today and Tai Situ Rinpoche (above).
As Tilopa promised, the Kagyu lineage will continue to bring a great deal of both temporal and ultimate benefit to the world.