His Holiness the XVIth Karmapa Lama of Tibet



Lord Karmapa with the Venerable Namgyal Rinpoche


The Sixteenth Karmapa Lama, supreme spiritual head of the Kargyu school of Tibet, was an incredible being. He was one of those rare beings of whom it may be said, here indeed was a living Buddha, a fully realized "awake" human being. It is hard to describe him. His personality radiated in a tremendous way, his love was palpable, and though he walked amongst us as a man, one was left with the impression that behind the human personality there existed an ancient, unmoving vastness - the Buddha-mind itself. The Karmapa was utterly fearless.

When we first came to hear of the Karmapa, he was a refugee-Lama from Tibet, residing in Rumtek, Sikkhim. The first to tell me about this incredible Enlightened Master was one of his more ardent devotees, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, when I was a kid of seventeen years old, but I really did not come to know the Karmapa personally until many years later. I remember, in the monastery, under Trungpa Rinpoche's abbotship, we westerners used to daily make salutation to the Kargyu lineage, and part of the words of prayer we uttered referred to "Knower of the Three-Times, Omniscient Karmapa" (du-sum chos-je kun-khyen kar-mapa....), yet at that time we hardly understood to whom we were honoring. It was the Venerable Namgyal Rinpoche who actually made the connection, which enabled many of his students (myself included) to meet the Lord Karmapa. The photograph above shows the Karmapa Lama at the Dharma Centre of Canada, in Ontario, Canada, with Namgyal Rinpoche, as his foremost western disciple, sitting at his feet, and demonstrates I think, the wonderful closeness of their relationship.

When one came before the Karmapa, this blazing presence would shoot towards one, and at that moment one knew - one really knew - that one was kneeling before a truly great being. Great in the most spiritual sense of greatness. Not ego greatness. Not politically great, not great in an ecclesiastical sense (although, in the Kargyu school he was that, too, of course), but great in a uniquely human way. He was a sort of huge meaningful presence, full of goodness and light and love. Everything about him was good. There was was light too. Sometimes this light was quite tangible, an aura of rainbow translucence that seemed to radiate from his form, to vibrate in the air around him.

I think of the Karmapa Lama not so much as a teacher of mine, as rather my Teacher's Teacher. Although I did in fact receive teachings and empowerments from His Holiness, just as many of us did, it was seeing the unique "master-disciple" relationship between Karmapa and Namgyal Rinpoche which leaves the greatest impression upon my mind. It was in that relationship that there was born an understanding of what real love between disciple and master is all about. It was through that relationship, that I came to understand how this love has nothing to do with "obedience," or "following" another person, or one person being "higher" and the other "subservient," as the Guru-disciple bond is often portrayed, but rather it is a matter of completely true love. And the tighter that bond, the more egoless it becomes.

I was for a short while fortunate enough to receive a little grace from the blessed presence of Jean Dunn, the late woman disciple of the Master Nisargadatta Maharaj. At the time I knew her she was mortally ill. Nothing was spoken between us, and no verbal discourse on her part took place, yet the teachings which it was possible to receive from that beautiful woman during the few months when I knew her were of the deepest and the most profound nature. The vehicle of her wisdom was love, and it was simply through the communion of one heart with the other, in the depths of meditation, that understanding was mercifully communicated. The grace of that was all due to her. This is the only way in which I can draw a parallel to the visible relationship which existed between His Holiness the Karmapa and my teacher Namgyal Rinpoche. I am not saying that they did not communicate in words, but it was the far more immense silent communication that went on between them, which was by far the most significant.

His Holiness the XVIth Karmapa Lama was considered the 16th reincarnation in succession of Gampopa's disciple Du-sum Khyenpa who lived between 1110-1193 AD. Gampopa was the main disciple of the great yogi Milarepa. Milarepa's teacher, in turn, was Marpa, and Marpa was the disciple of the Indian master Naropa. This lineage of great masters was founded by a famous tantrik yogi from Bengal named Tilopa. Even prior to Tilopa we have lists of various masters, male and female, through whom knowledge was passed down. Thus, this lineage represents the passing down of a accumulative stream of very ancient wisdom, the knowledge of how human beings can come to know the intrinsic nature of their own mind. The Kargyu school of Tibet, headed by the Karmapa, was formed in Tibet to preserve and teach this knowledge, and as such this school may be considered a store-house of various wisdom-lineages.

The first Karmapa Lama, Du-sum Khyenpa, had a great natural ability for meditation and spent many years as a hermit, meditating in the forest and living alone in mountain caves. After years of meditation, he attained complete enlightenment, and the sages of the earth acknowledged him a living Buddha. Du-sum Khyenpa acquired a very great number of powerful disciples who instituted a line of work in the Kargyu school which caused it to become known specifically as the "practice tradition" of Tibet. Here the term "practice" implies the custom amongst Kargyu lamas of spending many years in isolated retreat, alone in the wilderness. The headquarters of the school was established at Tsurphu monastery, a little north of Lhasa in the center of Tibet, and Tsurphu was the principal seat of the Karmapa Lamas for seven hundred years, until the recent invasion of Tibet. Destroyed by the communists, Tsurphu is swiftly regaining its distinction as the Karmapa's "home," and unquestionably shall hold that position for the future.

The second Karmapa Lama (1204-1283) was the first "reincarnation" to be so recognized. He was found as a baby and put through rigorous tests, to prove that he was infact the re-birth of Du-sum Khyenpa. Once recognized, he was put through an intense course of education, and drilled in meditation, to regain the full state of accomplishment of his previous life. Then, as an enlightened wisdom-master, he was entrusted once more with all the ancient wisdom embodied in the ancient Tantric texts and oral lineages of knowledge. Since then, each successive reincarnation of the Karmapa has always been viewed as a special custodian of the secret wisdom of the mystics of this world. The second Karmapa's renown was so great that he was asked to visit the imperial court of Kublai Khan, who in that era was supreme ruler of most of Asia, Russia and the Middle East. There is an historical record to the effect that Kublai Khan held a grand council at his court, to which all representatives of the world religions were invited. Teachers over every major religion on earth attended. The Pope of Rome sent cardinals. Magi from Persia were present. India's most respected sages went. Of all these wise men and ecclesiastics, the one who impressed the Great Khan the most was the Karmapa, and it was he who was given the imperial title of "Pakshi," meaning highest spiritual teacher.

I cannot list nor describe the worthy qualities of all the successive Karmapa's here. The third Karmapa (1284-1339) was a renowned meditator and hermit, and an author of some of the finest meditation instruction manuals belonging to the Kargyu school. He also introduced Dzogchen doctrines from the old Nyingma tradition into the Kargyu school. The fifth Karmapa Lama (1384-1415) was the spiritual guide of the Chinese emperor Yung-lo. And so on down through history, this quite unique being, life after life, has preserved Kargyu wisdom and with infinite compassion, kept a watching eye over the doings of the world.

The XVI Karmapa incarnation was born in 1924. Shortly after his birth, a Kargyu lama called Situ Rinpoche opened a sealed envelope that had been left by the previous XV Karmapa, and found there in a "prediction letter" describing where and under what circumstances the new child could be recognized. Situ Rinpoche summoned the parents and told them that the child born to them would be enthroned as the XVI Karmapa. His Holiness the Dalai Lama confirmed the recognition.

The XVI Karmapa Lama began to display miraculous powers around the age of eight. When he first performed his assumption of the Black Crown, a Kargyu mystical ceremony repeated by each Karmapa Lama, it is said that thousands of people were amazed to see supernatural rainbows filling the air and a rain of flowers, which covered the ground all around this exceptional Lama.

In 1959 Lord Karmapa left Tibet with a group of 160 refugees. At Rumtek he founded a new, temporary seat. There he ordained during his residence over 3,000 monks and nuns, and inspired untold numbers of foriegn students from all over the world to take up the practice of the Dharma. He died on 5th November 1981. Since then his reincarnation has been found and is currently undergoing training.

It is hard, if you have never met an exceptional being like the Karmapa, to actually believe that all this reincarnation stuff is true, or that such a miraculous being could exist on earth. I am sure that some of you have read about various saints, prophets, or saviors, or yogis and avatars, in religious scriptures or in metaphysical books. However, it always seems that they lived a very long time ago, and it is questionable if their so called "miracles" were authentic, or just stories which have "grown in the telling" over the centuries. Jesus is said to have walked on water. Moses spoke to God face to face. And in Buddhism too, we have plenty of stories, legends, etc., about saints out of the past - quite frankly, many of these legends are probably pure myth. But I do believe that human saints can, and have, worked genuine miracles, and one of these Great Beings was the Karmapa Lama, whom I knew, and about whom I can testify. He was without question a miracle-worker, a powerful saint. He was a miracle-worker, nevertheless that is not the point I want to make: the real miracle that came out of the life of the XVI Karmapa was the phenomenal love with which he touched all of us. Most of all, if you want to know what the Karmapa was like, it would be this that I would emphasize. Karmapa was Love. He was love incarnate.

And now, I truly wait for the next incarnation to make his impact upon our sorry world.


Source: A Buddhist Library

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