Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa, was born in eastern Tibet in September 1923. His arrival followed the particulars laid out in A Dying Song — The Hidden Significance of a Bamboo Flower, An Ornament for the People by Khakhyab Dorje, the 15th Karmapa.
THE MIRACULOUS 16TH KARMAPA, edited by Norma Levine is a compilation of first hand accounts of life changing encounters with Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. His first visit to the West in 1974 preceded the Dalai Lama by five years. The visit was initiated by an invitation from the Dharma Center of Canada at the behest of Lama Namgyal Rinpoche (shown below with the Karmapa, Kinmount, Ontario 1974). Namgyal had been the Canadian seeker George Leslie Dawson before starting to practice Theravada Buddhism in 1956. He traveled to Burma and studied under U Thila Wunta. First he became a monk then an Acharya (Dhamma teacher). He met the Karmapa at Rumtek in 1968. It was his inspired vision that prompted the Mahabodhi Society of the UK to offer Johnstone House, an old hunting lodge in Eskdalemuir, Scotland to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Akong Rinpoche. So began Samye Ling, Vajrayana Buddhism’s beachhead in the West.
Trungpa and Akong both played pivotal roles while implementing the Karmapa’s vision for Western Vajrayana Buddhism, albeit while exercising their own totally different styles. In any case none of this would not have been possible without the foresight and wisdom of Gelongma Karma Kechog Palmo, the first Western woman to take ordination in Tibetan Buddhism. Freda Houlston was born in Derby, England, February 5, 1911 She married an Indian man, taking the name of Freda Bedi. She moved to India and took an active role in Gandhi’s freedom campaign. She was invited by Prime Minister Nehru to work for the Central Social Welfare Board. This took her to northern India where she established a school for Tibetan tulkus, Young Lama’s Home School. She took a particular interest in Trungpa and Akong, even inviting them to live in her home. (At left: Chögyam Trungpa, Freda Bedi, Karmapa, Baba Pyare Bedi (Freda’s husband) and Akong Rinpoche – Delhi 1961). It was her insistence that led Trungpa to Oxford to pursue his studies in classical Western philosophy. Akong supported his friend by taking work as a janitor. In 1964 the Karmapa ordained her as a nun, she frequently served as his translator, including his first visit to the West in 1974. Gelongma Palmo was a central figure in Rangjung Rigpe Dorje’s mandala when she died in 1977. Vicki Mackenzie has written an excellent new (March 2017) biography, The Revolutionary Life of Freda Bedi: British Feminist, Indian Nationalist, Buddhist Nun. Let us give praise to this blue eyed, English accented woman who transformed Vajrayana Buddhism.
There is a Hopi legend that states the Hopi and Tibetan people were once one. During the Karmapa’s first visit to America he expressed a desire to visit the Hopi, a meeting with tribal elders was arranged at the reservation near the Grand Canyon. When he exchanged his turquoise, silver and coral ring with one worn by Chief White Bear the rings were identical. During the meeting Sun Chief Dan told the Karmapa the land was enduring a long drought. “I will pray about it,” was Rangjung Rigpe Dorje’s reply. When the group began driving to Phoenix the sky was cloudless, upon arrival at the motel the skies darkened, thunder rumbled and a deluge of rain followed. The drought was over. The Lion’s Roar, narrated by James Coburn, is an excellent film account of Rangjung Rigpe Dorje’s life with a focus on his first visit to America. DHARMA KING (shown below) is a stunning photo biography of the 16th Karmapa prepared under the guidance of the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje.
Many excellent books have been written on the Karmapa. A superb view of the complex story surrounding the 17th Karmapa’s discovery and journey to India is found in Mick Brown’s The Dance of 17 Lives. Mick is of course the author who introduced us to the indomitable Mr. Creme in his fascinating overview of the world spiritual community in The Spiritual Tourist. Now out of print but available in limited supply is Karmapa The Black Hat Lama of Tibet. The authors, Nik Douglas and Meryl White offer an in depth look at the Karmapa lineage. The photos alone make it a must have. The author’s were privileged to receive a private tour of the treasure room at Rumtek monastery in Sikkhim. The photos and descriptions tell it all. The Situ Tulku lineage dates from Drogon Rechen who lived at the same time as Dusum Khyenpa, the First Karmapa. The 16th Karmapa’s greatest legacy lives on in the masterful presence of the Situ, Gyalstap and Jamgon Kontrul tulkus.The photo below shows a young Rangjung Rigpe Dorje and Padma Wangchuk Gyalpo, the 11th Situ Rinpoche (1938).
16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje and 12th Situ Rinpoche, Pema Tönyö Nyinje -1958 (below)
Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Woodstock, New York is the Karmapa’s seat in the West, founded by the 16th Karmapa in 1976. KTD has been under the continuous guidance of Abbot Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche (left) ever since his arrival in America.(with Tai Situ Rinpoche above) [Taken by my friend Tsulzang/Steve on the occassion of his ordination at Karma Triyana in 1998] Khenpo Karthar’s loving care is a continuous tide of kindness and wisdom washing the minds of seekers who arrive in Woodstock, New York from around the world hoping to establish, re-discover or invigorate their connection with the Karmapa’s mind stream.
Jamphel Drakpa, (left with Chögyam Trungpa) Akong Rinpoche’s brother, served as private secretary for the Karmapa at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim and then as the secretary and treasurer of Karma Triyana in Woodstock. He became a monk, named Yeshe Losal by Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, and did a five year retreat in a tiny cottage behind the main shrine building in Woodstock. He then became abbot of Samye Ling Monastery in Scotland. Below, Khenpo Karthar tugs on Lama Yeshe’s beard at the first Thrangu Tsedrup-Long Life Puja held at Karma Triyana in 2016. On this occasion Khenpo Karthar said, “I want to say how happy I am and how fortunate I feel that Lama Yeshe Losal was able to join us for this event. Lama Yeshe Losal is someone who was very much loved and trusted by the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa. And therefore when KTD was first established, the Karmapa placed him here as an assistant or deputy to Lama Tenzin Choyni. At that time he was instrumental in the very founding and proper functioning, creation and maintenance of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra.”
Tenzin Chonyi (center above with Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the17th Karmapa) was eleven years old when his family fled Tibet and joined the Karmapa. In 1974 Rangjung Rigpe Dorje named Tenzin-La his personal representative to the West. He was the president of Karma Triyana for 38 years. Chojor Radha (right) translated for Rangjung Rigpe Dorje at Rumtek Monastery before studying in England at Cambridge. He joined KTD in 1981 and translated for many great teachers. His death in 2008, shortly after the 17th Karmapa’s first visit to Woodstock, deprived the Vajrayana community of a precious gem of unparalleled sweet sincerity. I miss my friend.
Thinley Chojor was much loved and respected in the Vajrayana community for his knowledge of the Dharma and his meticulous skill in maintaining the traditional elements of Buddhist Temple art. He came from a long line of Tibetan artisans, his family helped build the Potala during the Fifth Dalai Lama’s reign. He was the shrine master at KTD until his death shortly before the Karmapa’s visit in 2008. We honor his many contributions and his graciousness.
Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, is nudging the Kagyu lineage forward which is not easy with a monastic tradition thrust into a jet stream data driven world from a Tibet that had changed little in the 900 years since the death of the 1st Karmapa Düsum Khyenpa. His artistic talent is evidenced by the Tara painting at left. The attention and insight he brings to environmental awareness is inducing a paradigm shift in the relationship between mystical and earthly reality. Today the Karma Triyana community in America is addressing social issues with an openness heretofore unseen in Vajrayana Buddhism. I fully expect Ogyen Trinley Dorje to elevate female practitioners to their rightful place in the Kagyu mandala which arose spontaneously from Tilopa’s first encounter with Vajrayaogini, Mother of the Buddhas. Tilopa and Naropa both gained enlightenment under the tutelage of dakinis, now the Kagyu lineage will turn full cycle and restore the feminine wisdom foundation of this supreme tradition.
As the Kagyu has moved Westward from Tibet it has been strongly served by the deep reserve of profound transmitted teachings held by great masters and the dedicated faith, steeped in study, of Western students such as Tony Duff of the Padma Karpo Translation Committee.
‘Devotion is the head of meditation and non-distraction is the body of mediation.’ The Dorge Chang Thungma, written by Benkar Jampal Zangpo over five hundred years ago, is a profound aspiration prayer dedicated to the Kagyu lineage of Gampopa. It’s recitation is a fundamental practice forming a bedrock for understanding the nature of thought. Tai Situ Rinpoche has provided us with unparalleled commentary on the life and teachings of Tilopa as well as the Dorje Chang Thungma. This classic prayer can be experienced on the Power of Lineage Blessing CD/DVD recorded at Sherabling in October 2009. Enlightenment is a continious evolvement of our relationship with the Dharmakaya which is mind’s true nature. This state of mahamudra can never be attained without heeding the voice of the dakinis and the blessings of a teacher.
Several commentaries on the life and teachings of Tilopa have been published in recent years. Situ Rinpoche’s classic TILOPA published by Samye Ling in 1988 to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Tilopa’s birth best captures the essence of Tilopa’s timeless message: The Voice of the Dakini. Yet, Tilopa’s spirit has survived as a distinctive voice with a message that resonates with each new generation of students. Kiley Jon Clark’s STONES TO SHATTER THE STAINLESS MIRROR:: The Fearless Teachings of Tilopa to Naropa clearly articulates Tilopa’s voice. Kiley Jon Clark‘s work involves bringing Dharma teachings to homeless people.
What follows are excerpts from Situ Rinpoche’s teaching on Tilopa and the origin of the Kagyu – ‘The unbroken lineage of profound and intimate guidance in the four forms of transmitted mastery’. It all began with Tilopa’s encounter with an aged dakini while he tended his families buffalo as a young boy. Throughout his life wisdom dakinis guided Tilopa’s path.
Tilopa was well advanced on the path when he ventured to Orgyen to receive the lineage transmission showing the way to authentic realization from the faultless wisdom dakini. That dakini issued three challenges to Tilopa before sharing her secrets. The value of re- obtaining these teachings directly from their source would be in the freshness and directness they would have and which Tilopa could pass on, via his own students, to future students of his lineage.
1- For the general wish-fulling gem one needs the key of experience and guidance. Without that guidance, it can never be disclosed.
2- For the wish-fulfilling gem of samaya one needs the profound key of transmitted mastery: without the remedies, it can never be disclosed.
3- For the wish-fulfilling gem of true nature one needs the key of deep supreme awareness: without realisation, it can never be disclosed.
Tilopa responded to her challenge with his own three assertions. First, 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; This key of prophetic guidance and experience – I possess.
The teachings of the dakini, revealing the nature of mind, are couched in their secret speech: ‘secret’ in the sense of self-secret, naturally discrete, because it only makes sense to those sufficiently awakened to understand.Their discrete terms reveal jnana, the bright lamp of essence-awareness which automatically dispells the darkness of ignorance.Essence-awareness totally transcends duality. Knowing itself simultaneously with anything, it is auto-cognisant. Occurring all by itself, it is a spontaneous manifestation that was never produced by causality and conditioning. Naturally clear and therefore scintillatingly intelligent, it is lucid in itself. That is the key of prophetic guidance and experience which he possesses..
Tlopa’s second reply, concerning the wish-fulfilling gem of samaya: Without any production whatsoever, mind itself is the self-liberated (rangdrol) dharmakaya within which arises self-liberated mahamudra: this key, of self-liberated samaya, I possess.
Mind itself is not a product. No process of causality or conditioning has produced it. Therefore mind itself needs no freeing. There is no process to undo or modify, nothing to be liberated and no need for a related causal liberator. The self-liberated character of mind is called dharmakaya. It is really like that and because that is precisely the way it is, the natural radiance and expression of its freedom – the advice of mahamudra pointing to the self-liberation that is already there – occurs in those who become aware of this, mind’s inherent condition.
Of the third key, concerning mind, Tilopa replied: By not making any mental objectification and not creating even an iota of recollection, mind’s essence, everything’s essence, is seen as dharmakaya; this key of realization, I possess.
Tilopa also possessed the third key, that of realization — insight within an undifferentiated dharmakaya, mind as it really is, the essence of everything. He had gained such a profound vision of things through devloping skill in non-speculation; neither making mental objectification (contrived conceptual activity) nor even one iota of recollection. The jnanadakini concluded her transmission to Tilopa with these final words of guidance:
One wishing to acheive a perfect body must strive in the visualization stages. One wishing to achieve ultimate speech must recite the essence mantras. One wishing to achieve nobility of mind must strive in mahamudra.Now go to Cudamani hermitage — there care for Naropa. You will nourish many disciples and bring benefit to many sentient beings.
Having said these verses, the dakini all melted into light and disappeared.
The above teaching on Tilopa were given by Tai Situ Rinpoche at Samye Ling in Scotland in 1988 to mark the 1000th anniversary of Tilopa’s birth. Unfortunately, Rinpoche’s book on these teachings is out of print. Perhaps Dzalendra Publishing and Samye Ling will once again make this masterpeice available.