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Karmapa16 3 gross.jpg
The 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924 - 1981)
Tibetan name
Tibetan: རྒྱལ་བ་ཀརྨ་པ་
Wylie transliteration: rgyal ba karma pa
Tournadre Phonetic: Karmapa
pronunciation in IPA: [kaːmapa]
official transcription (PRC): Garmaba
other transcriptions:
Chinese name
traditional: 噶瑪巴
simplified: 噶玛巴
Pinyin: gámǎbā

The Karmapa (officially His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa) is the head of the Karma Kagyu, the largest sub-school of the Kagyupa (Tibetan Bka' brgyud), itself one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The historical seat of the Karmapas is Tsurphu Monastery in the Tolung valley of Tibet. His Holiness' principal seat in exile is the Dharma Chakra Centre at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, India. His regional monastic seats are Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in New York, Dhagpo Kagyu Ling in France and Tashi Choling in Bhutan.

Due to a controversy within the Karma Kagyu school over the recognition process, the identity of the current 17th Karmapa is disputed. See Karmapa controversy for details.


Origin of the lineage

The 1st Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa (Dus gsum Mkhyen pa) (1110-1193), was a disciple of the Tibetan master Gampopa. A gifted child who studied dharma (Buddhist teachings) with his father from an early age and who sought out great teachers in his twenties and thirties, he is said to have attained enlightenment at the age of fifty while practicing dream yoga. He was henceforth regarded as the Karmapa, a manifestation of Avalokitesvara (Chenrezig), whose coming was predicted in the Samadhiraja Sutra[1] and the Lankavatara Sutra.[2]

The source of the oral lineage is traditionally traced back to the Buddha Vajradhara, was transmitted to the Indian master of mahamudra and tantra Tilopa (989-1069), through Naropa (1016-1100) to Marpa and Milarepa. These forefathers of the Kagyu (Bka' brGyud) lineage are collectively called the "golden rosary".

The 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1204-1283), is often said to be the first person ever recognized and empowered as a tulku (sprul sku), a reincarnated lama (bla ma).

The Black Crown

Karmapa's Flag

The Karmapas are the holders of the Black Crown (Tibetan: ShanagWylie: Zhwa-nag) and are thus sometimes known as the Black Hat Lamas. This crown (Tib. rang 'byung cod pan, lit. self-arisen crown), is traditionally said to have been woven by the dakinis from their hair and given to Karmapa in recognition of his spiritual realization. The physical crown displayed by the Karmapas was offered to the 5th Karmapa by the Chinese Yongle Emperor as a material representation of the spiritual one.

The crown was last known to be located at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, the last home of the 16th Karmapa, although that location has been subject to some upheaval since 1993 causing some to worry as to whether or not it is still there. An inventory of items remaining at Rumtek is purported to be something the Indian government is going to undertake in the near future.

List of previous Karmapas

  1. Düsum Khyenpa (དུས་གསུམ་མཁྱེན་པ་) (1110–1193)
  2. Karma Pakshi (ཀརྨ་པཀྵི་) (1204–1283)
  3. Rangjung Dorje (རང་འབྱུང་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1284–1339)
  4. Rolpe Dorje (རོལ་པའི་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1340–1383)
  5. Deshin Shekpa (དེ་བཞིན་གཤེགས་པ་)(1384–1415)
  6. Thongwa Dönden (མཐོང་བ་དོན་ལྡན་) (1416–1453)
  7. Chödrak Gyatso (ཆོས་གྲགས་རྒྱ་མཚོ་) (1454–1506)
  8. Mikyö Dorje (མི་བསྐྱོད་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1507–1554)
  9. Wangchuk Dorje (དབང་ཕྱུག་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1556–1603)
  10. Chöying Dorje (ཆོས་དབྱིངས་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1604–1674)
  11. Yeshe Dorje (ཡེ་ཤེས་རྡོ་རྡྟེ་) (1676–1702)
  12. Changchub Dorje (བྱང་ཆུབ་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1703–1732)
  13. Dudul Dorje (བདུད་འདུལ་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1733–1797)
  14. Thekchok Dorje (ཐེག་མཆོག་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1798–1868)
  15. Khakyab Dorje (མཁའ་ཁྱབ་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1871–1922)
  16. Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (རང་འབྱུང་རིག་པའི་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1924–1981)
  17. (Controversy over whether Ogyen Trinley Dorje (ཨོ་རྒྱན་འཕྲིན་ལས་རྡོ་རྗེ།) (b. 1985), Trinley Thaye Dorje (མཐའ་ཡས་རྡོ་རྗེ།) (b. 1983) or both is the true Karmapa.


See also


  • Ken Holmes, Karmapa, Altea Publishing 1995, ISBN 0-9524555-4-4. Author's website (While the book and web site favours one candidate for the 17th the information on 1st-16th is useful and was the original source for this article)
  • Maheshwari, Anil, The Buddha Cries!: Karmapa Conundrum, UBS Publishers' Distributors LTD. 2000, New Delhi, India. ISBN 8174763058
  • Michele Martin, Music in the Sky: The Life, Art and Teachings of the Seventeenth Karmapa, Karmapa Orgyen Trinley Dorje, Snow Lion Publications 2003, ISBN 1559391952
  • Mick Brown, The Dance of 17 Lives: The Incredible True Story of Tibet's 17th Karmapa, Bloomsbury 2005, ISBN 1582345988.
  • Naher, Gaby. (2004). Wrestling the Dragon: In Search of the Boy Lama Who Defied China. Vintage Books, Random House. Sydney, Australia. ISBN 1844132315.
  • "Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart of Tibetan Buddhism Today" by Erik D. Curren, Alaya Press, Feb 2006, Paper. ISBN 0-9772253-0-5.

External links

The history of the Karmapa lineage, including biographical details of the historical Karmapas, can be found at the following web sites. Notice that the websites are written to those loyal to one or other of the rival 17th Karmapas, and their accounts of previous incarnations may not be written from a neutral point of view.


Simple English

File:Karmapa16 3
16-th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924 - 1981)

Karmapa is tibetan buddhist teacher or lama. He is the first one from tibetan lamas, who consciously incarnates in subsequent order of Buddhist masters. Karmapa is the head of Karma Kagyu- the biggest subschool or lineage of Kagyu school of tibetan Buddhism. The first Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa (12041283) is student of Gampopa(1079-1153) .


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