The Karmapa (officially His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa, sometimes spelled Gyalwang 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 first Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa (Dus gsum Mkhyen pa) (1110–1193), was a disciple of the Tibetan master Gampopa. A talented 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 and the Lankavatara Sutra.
The source of the oral lineage, traditionally traced back to the Buddha Vajradhara, was transmitted to the Indian master of mahamudra and tantra called 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 second 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 Karmapas are the holders of the Black Crown (Tibetan: Shanag, Wylie: 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 fifth 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
- Düsum Khyenpa (1110–1193)
- Karma Pakshi (1204–1283)
- Rangjung Dorje (1284–1339)
- Rolpe Dorje (1340–1383)
- Deshin Shekpa (1384–1415)
- Thongwa Dönden (1416–1453)
- Chödrak Gyatso (1454–1506)
- Mikyö Dorje (1507–1554)
- Wangchuk Dorje (1556–1603)
- Chöying Dorje (1604–1674)
- Yeshe Dorje (1676–1702)
- Changchub Dorje (1703–1732)
- Dudul Dorje (1733–1797)
- Thekchok Dorje (1798–1868)
- Khakyab Dorje (1871–1922)
- Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924–1981)
- Controversy over whether the true Karmapa is Trinley Thaye Dorje (b. 1983), or Ogyen Trinley Dorje (b. 1985)