The First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa

b.1110 - d.1193
Name Variants: Chokyi Drakpa; Dusum Khyenpa; First Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa; Gepel; Karmapa 01 Dusum Khyenpa; Khampa Usey

The First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa Chokyi Drakpa (karma pa 01 dus gsum mkhyen pa chos kyi grags pa) was born in Tresho (tre shod), Kham, in 1110. His father was a Yamāntaka practitioner named Gompa Dorje Gon (sgom pa rdo rje mgon) and his mother was Latokza Gangcham Mingdren (lha thog gza' sgang lcam ming 'dren), and was given the name Gepel (dge 'phel). His father gave him instructions in the Nyingma tantric traditions, including Ekajaṭī, and he is said to have met Vairocanavajra (bhai ro tsa na badzra, snang mdzad rdo rje), an Indian alchemist who had previously been to the Chinese court where he drank a cup of mercury before the Emperor.
When Dusum Khyenpa was sixteen, in 1124, he took novice ordination with the Kadam monk Trewo Chokgi Lama (tre bo mchog gi bla ma), a disciple of Ngok Lotsāwa Loden Sherab (rngog lo tsA ba blo ldan shes rab, 1059-1109) and his uncle, Ngok Lekpai Sherab (rngog legs pa'i shes rab, d.u.). Chokgi Lama gave him the name Chokyi Drakpa (chos kyi grags pa). He entered into two years of retreat at Treka Drak (tre ka brag) with other Kadam lamas, learning the Cakrasaṃvara and other tantric lineages of Atisha Dīpaṃkara from Yol Chowang (yol chos dbang, d.u.), who was a disciple of Atisha himself, and Geshe Trarawa (dge bshes kra ra ba, d.u.), Yol Chowang's disciple.
It is said that when Dusum Khyenpa was sixteen he was given a black hat woven from the hair of ten thousand ḍākinī. Histories abound of this hat and subsequent versions. Some have it that the first Karmapa to have a physical hat visible to all was the Fifth Karmapa, Dezhin Shekpa (karma pa 05 de bzhin gshegs pa, 1384-1415), given to him by the Ming Yongle Emperor (永樂 r. 1402-1424). Others have it that the Ming Emperor Chenghua (成化, r. 1464-1487) gave the first black hat to the Seventh Karmapa, Chodrak Gyatso (karma pa 07 chos grags rgya mtsho, 1454-1506). The artistic record shows that the Second, Third, and Fourth Karmapas all wore a black hat.

At the age of nineteen Dusum Khyenpa went to U-Tsang, visiting a monastery called Tolung Satang (stod lungs sa thang), where he received teachings on logic and Madhyamaka from Tolung Gyamarwa Jangchubdrak (stod lung rgya dmar ba byang chub grags, d.u.). He took final ordination with Mel Duldzinpa (mal 'dul 'dzin pa, d.u.). He also studied with a number of other Kadam monks, including Ga Lotsāwa (rgwa lo tsA ba, d.u.), who gave him the the Mahākāla tradition later known as the Gonpo Karluk (mgon po kar lugs) which he had brought to Tibet, and Khampa Aseng (khams pa a seng, d.u.), a disciple of Ga, who gave him the Kālacakra teachings of the Jor Druk (sbyor drug). Both lamas were then residing at Gyel Lhakang (rgyal lha khang), a monastery in Penpo ('phan po) that had been founded in 1012 by Nanam Dorje Wangchuk (sna nam rdo rje dbang phyug, 976-1060). At Sangpu Neutok (gsang phu ne'u thog) he studied with the abbot Chawa Chokyi Sengge (phywa pa chos kyi seng ge, 1109-1169) and Patsab Lotsāwa Nyima Drakpa (pa tshab lo tsA ba nyi ma grags pa), who taught him Madhyamaka.
At the age of thirty Dusum Khyenpa set out to meet Gampopa Sonam Rinchen (sgam po pa bsod nams rin chen, 1079-1153), the ordained disciple of the great lay poet-saint Milarepa (mi la ras pa, 1052-1135). At Dakpo Draka (dwags po drag kha) he first met and received teachings from Gomtsul (sgom tshul, 1116-1169) and Sharawa Yonten Drak (sha ra ba yon tan grags, 1070-1141).
He then proceeded to Daklha Gampo (dwags lha sgam po) and received teachings and transmissions from Gampopa. He soon donned the cotton garb ofMilarepa's disciples, training in the heat yogas for nine months. Having shown great accomplishment, Gampopa sent him to Zangri (zangs ri) to continue his meditation, where he sat for four months at a cave named Til and another month and a half at Pakmodru (phag mo gru), before returning to to study with Gampopa for another three years.
Dusum Khyenpa then trained with a number of teachers belonging to the nascent Kagyu tradition. These incuded Milarepa's own disciple Rechung Dorje Drak (ras chung rdo rje grags pa, 1085-1161); Ponpug Tongyal (spon phug ston rgyal, d.u.), a disciple of Rongpa Gardewa (rong pa 'gar dge ba, d.u.); Kyangmo Pangkhawa (rkyang mo spang kha ba), a disciple of Metonp Kunga Nyingpo (mes ston kun dga' snying po, d.u.); and Relchak Tontsul (ral lcags ston tshul, d.u.) of Daryul. From these and other lamas he received the full transmission of Gampopa's teachings, his blending of tantic yoga – such as Mahāmudrā, Cakrasaṃvara, Hevajra, the Naro Chodruk (na ro chos drug) – with Kadampa-derived monasticism. He also studied Lamdre (lam 'bras) with the Sakya master Senpa Dorje Sengge (gsen pa rdo rje seng ge, d.u.) at Yarlung Pukmoche (yar klungs phug mo che).
He spent the next several years in various places in southern and central Tibet and Bhutan meditating in caves and returning to report his progress to Gampopa. Among the sites were Gyu Pelri (brgyud dpal ri) and Shau Tago (sha 'ug stag sgo/ sa 'ug stag mgo), near Sakya. At one point he met a disciple of Naropa residing at a monastery called Zhunye Bardzong (gzhu snye bar rdzong) who gave him additional Mahāmudrā instructions. While in southern Tibet, in 1154, Dusum Khyenpa founded a monastery called Lhalung (lha lung) in Lhodrak (lho brag), which later became the seat of Pawo Tsukla Trengwa (dpa' bo gtsug lag 'phreng ba, 1504-1564/1566).
When Dusum Khyenpa was about fifty years old Gampopa passed away, and, following some last advice that he should return to meditate at Kampo Nenang (kam po gnas nang), he returned to Kham. There he founded the monastery of Kampo Nenang, in 1164. He had previously, in 1147, founded the first seat of the Karma Kagyu tradition, Karma Densa (kar+ma ldan sa), also known as Karma Gon (kar+ma dgon), which remained an occasional residence of Karmapas through to the twentieth century.
While he was there he met and taught Dampa Deshek (dam pa bde gshegs, 1122-1192), the younger brother of Pakmodrupa, who had been in central Tibet for several decades studying. Dampa stayed for some time at Karma Gon, and Karmapa gave him numerous empowerments and commentaries on various tantric deities.
After twenty years in Kham he returned to Tibet, bringing with him a considerable amount of wealth to distribute to the monasteries there. He stated that Gomtsul had charged him with founding monasteries in Tibet, to offer a Prajnamaramita written in gold to Dakla Gampo monastery, and to keep an eye on the violent and disruptive behavior of Lama Zhang, Zhang Yudrakpa Tsondru Drakpa (bla ma zhang, zhang g.yu brag pa brtson 'grus grags pa, 1123-1193). In 1189 Dusum Khyenpa founded Tsurpu Monastery (mtshur phu) in Tolung (stod lung), to the west of Lhasa, which became the principle seat of the Karmapa incarnations.
Dusum Khyenpa famously is said to have made predictions about his future incarnations. According to tradition, he gave a letter to his main disciple, Sanggye Rechen Peldrak (sangs rgyas ras chen dpal grags, 1148-1218), foretelling where his next incarnation would be born and instructing him to locate the boy and train him. However, the historical record seems to indicate that the Karmapa incarnation line only began with the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (karma pa 03 rang byung rdo rje, 1284-1339), who asserted that he was the incarnation of Karma Pakshi (karma pa pak+shi, 1204-1283) and that Karma Pakshi himself had been the reincarnation of Dusum Khyenpa.

Karmapa incarnations:
1. Dusum Khyenpa Chokyi Drakpa (dus gsum mkhyen pa chos kyi grags pa, 1110-1193).
2. Karma Pakshi (kar+ma pakshi, 1206-1283).
3. Rangjung Dorje (rang byung rdo rje, 1284-1339).
4. Rolpai Dorje (rol pa'i rdo rje, 1340-1383).
5. Dezhin Shekpa (de bzhin gshegs pa, 1384-1415).
6. Tongwa Donden (mthong ba don ldan, 1416-1452/3).
7. Chodrak Gyatso (chos grags rgya mtsho, 1454-1506).
8. Mikyo Dorje (mi bskyod rdo rje, 1507-1554).
9. Wangchuk Dorje (dbang phyug rdo rje, 1556-1603).
10. Choying Dorje (chos dbyings rdo rje, 1604-1674).
11. Yeshe Dorje (ye shes rdo rje, 1676-1702).
12. Jangchub Dorje (byang chub rdo rje, 1703-1732).
13. Dutsok Dulwai Dorje (bdud tshogs 'dul ba'i rdo rje, 1733-1797).
14. Tekchog Dorje (theg mchog rdo rje, 1797-1867).
15. Kakyab Dorje (mkha' khyab rdo rje, 1871-1922).
16. Rangjung Rikpai Dorje (rang byung rig pa'i rdo rje, 1924-1980).


Dung dkar blo bzang 'phrin las. 2002. Dung dkar tshig mdzod chen mo. Beijing: Krung go'i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, p. 29-30.
Grags pa 'byung gnas. 1992. Gangs can mkhas grub rim byon ming mdzod. Lanzhou: Kan su'u mi rigs dpe skrun khang, pp. 19-20.
Jackson, David. 2009. "The Black Hats of the Karmapas." In Patron and Painter; Situ Paṇchen and the Revival of the Encampments Style, pp. 39-69. New York: Rubin Museum of Art.
Richardson, Hugh. 1998 (1958-1959). “The Karma-pa Sect: A Historical Note.” In High Peaks, Pure Earth. Michael Aris, ed. London: Serindia, pp. 337-378.
Roerich, George, trans. 1996. The Blue Annals. 2nd ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, pp. 474-480.
Si tu chos kyi 'byung gnas. 1972. Sgrub brgyud ka+rma kaM tshang brgyud pa rin po che'i rnam par thar pa rab byams nor bu zla ba chu shel gyi phreng ba. New Delhi: D. Gyaltshan & Kesang Legshay, vol. 1, pp. 4-44.
Zhwa dmar 02 mkha' spyod dbang po. 1978. Dus gsum mkhyen pa'i rnam thar dgos 'dod kun 'byung. In The Collected Writings (Gsung 'bum) of the Second Zhwa dmar Mkha' spyod dbang po. Gonpo Tseten, Palace Mon., Gangtok 1978, vol. I, pp. 435-504.

Alexander Gardner
December 2009


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