36. 4th Karmapa 1798 - 1868
“Endowed with inconceivable knowledge, activity and skillful means,
And indestructible vajra-like samadhi,
Protector of the world who personifies effortless compassion,
Thekchok Dorje, we supplicate at your feet.”
The Fourteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Thegchog Dorje was born in the village of Zalmo Gang Danang in the district of Kham in East Tibet. It is recorded that on that auspicious winter-day flowers spontaneously blossomed and many rainbows appeared in the sky. His father’s name was Gonpo Lhadar, and his mother’s name was Sönam Lhamo. Shortly after his birth, he was heard reciting the Sanskrit alphabet. He was recognized and found by Drukchen Kunzig Chökyi Nangwa who had been entrusted with the Thirteenth Karmapa's prediction letter concerning his rebirth. As noted in the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center, his recognition by Chökyi Nangwa, who gave him the name Thegchog Dorje, was “authenticated through the use of the golden urn when the boy was 18 years old.” His Eminence the Ninth Tai Situpa, Pema Nyingche, enthroned and ordained Thegchog Dorje as the Fourteenth Gyalwa Karmapa and, together with Chökyi Nangwa, imparted the entire Karma Kamtsang Lineage instructions and transmissions to him.
Thegchog Dorje lived a very simple life, exemplifying the ideal monk to his eminent disciples and everyone who met him. He banned hunting, saved countless animals from slaughter, and demanded the release of innocent prisoners. Being free of narrow-mindedness, he was a gifted poet and eminent dialectician. His main students were Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Chögyur Lingpa, Tashi Özer, Mingyur Wangyal, Tsuglag Pawo Nyingche, Pema Kunzang (the Tenth Tai Situpa, 1854-1885), Nedön Tenpa Rabgye, Sangnag Tenzin, and Lubum Geshe.
In verses of praise composed due to “the urging of Lama Karma Tsultrim Gyatso,” Thegchog Dorje described the goal that his Root Guru, the Ninth Tai Situpa, embodied in “The Song of Thekchok Dorje” (that is published in “The Rain of Wisdom”). Each following verse precedes a longer verse of supplication:
“NAMO GURAVE (…)
“Dressed in monks’ robes but acting like laymen,
Our actions run contrary to the dharma.
To us who possess the marks of the present times,
Grant your blessings so that we may act properly.
“Wasting our human life in falsehood and ignorant babble,
Accumulating unvirtuous actions and undermining others,
We are burdened by our evil deeds of speech.
Grant your blessings so that whatever we say may follow the dharma.
“Boasting of proficiency in spiritual practice,
Passing day and night in pervasive confusion,
Our lives have been aimless, empty, and wasted.
Grant your blessings so that our minds may be workable.
“Taking great pride in little virtues,
Self-regard and perverted views have obscured sacred outlook.
I and those like me are bundles of bad faults.
Grant your blessings so that our beings may be completely purified.
“Squandering human life in the activities of this life,
Committing evil deeds merely for food and clothing,
We unfortunate ones are unable to practice the dharma.
Grant your blessings so that we may act in accord with the dharma.
“Though many profound teachings flourish, practice wanes.
Charlatans, the destroyers of the teaching, fill the land.
The practitioners of nondharma are exalted
And those who practice dharma properly are as rare as a star in the daytime.
When I think upon sentient beings who are without refuge, I am overwhelmed by compassion.
When I think of the intensity of samsara’s confusion, sadness arises.
When I see the self-destruction, I burst into tears.
Remembering the misery of the lower realms, I am terrified.
“Through your loving kindness, consider myself and others,
We children of gullible understanding,
Who have been deceived by confusion from beginningless time.
“As ground, may revulsion and renunciation be the foot of practice.
As path, may our beings be steeped in devotion and compassion.
With the completely pure action of samaya as an aide,
May we attain the fruition of dharmakaya in this life.
Lord glorious guru, grant your blessings.”
The spiritual exchange that took place among great scholars and saints was particularly intense between the Kagyüpas, Nyingmapas, and Sakyapas, especially after His Holiness the Karmapa had transmitted the sacred Kagyü Lineage instructions to Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye the Great. In the words of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche: “Nowadays, even famous masters and scholars have very little faith in and knowledge of the various Buddhist teachings in general; their education is restricted to their own tradition, based on the study of just a few scriptures. Most people, both the influential and the ordinary, are not learned and have little understanding of the meaning of the teaching. In particular, at the present time many persons who are partial and lack the eye of understanding the doctrine arrogantly proclaim which Buddhist tradition is good and which is bad, which teaching lineage is pure and which impure. Like the blind yak that flees imagined dangers, they are dubious and cautious of their own school, to say nothing of other traditions.” Jamgon Kongrul tells us: “In particular, I’ve felt devotion toward Guru Rinpochay since my childhood and faith toward those practices which contain the essence of the million meditations (he taught). My diligent practice of these has produced believable and visible signs of success: the omniscient Dorjay Ziji Tsal (Jamyang Kyentsay Wangpo), who is Vimalamitra appearing in the form of a spiritual friend, and Orgyen Chok-gyur Daychen Lingpa, the representative of the great master from Oddiyana, his emanated messenger of peace to the world, have both come to this place often (Tsari, the seat of the Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoches in East Tibet), in the past and recently, to open the secret treasury of an ocean of tantric teachings. They have given me many consecrated substances and very sacred objects (of the treasure texts), etc. and they have created a boundless number of positive auspicious connections.” At the end of his first three-year retreat, Jamgon Kongtrul wrote: “In particular, Karma Chakmay, the emanation of Powerful All-Seeing One, was exclusively concerned with furthering the advancement of the long-standing tradition uniting the Oral and Ancient Instruction Lineages. In later years, both the fourteenth Karmapa and the omniscient emanation of the bodhisattva Loving-Kindness, Tenpa Nyingjay, through the series of his incarnations, did even more to spread this tradition far and wide. As a result, the common stream of the philosophical view, activity, and meditation of the Oral and Ancient Instruction Lineages continues unbroken (to the present day).” Both Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and the Sakya Master Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo possessed rare transmissions which they in turn bestowed upon the Gyalwa Karmapa.
The Fourteenth Gyalwa Karmapa received the “Vajrakilaya (Dorje Phurba) Tantra” from Tertön Chögyur Lingpa and therefore was able to introduce the Cham ceremonial dances, which enacted the eight manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava, and founded the Phurpa Drubchen during the month of Saga Dawa at Tsurphu Monastery. Vajrakilaya is a wrathful manifestation of the enlightened activity of purification. The practice of Vajrakilaya is carried out to remove intense inner and outer obstacles to peace, happiness, and enlightenment. Drubchen means “great accomplishment” in Tibetan and is one of the most elaborate forms of Vajrayana practice; it is a rare opportunity to concentrate body, speech, and mind in application, resulting in realization and merit to sustain spiritual development in this and future lives. Participation in a Drubchen is said to engender merit and potential realization equal to one year of retreat. Dedicating the practice for the welfare of all sentient beings extends this benefit and enhances world peace and prosperity. As we saw, Chögyur Lingpa is referred to as a student of the Karmapa, so their Guru-disciple relationship was quite intensive. The Tertön had received a visionary prediction from Guru Padmasambhava in which the fifteenth through twenty-first incarnations of the Karmapa were recorded in writing and in painting.
Having enthroned the Tenth Tai Situpa with the Red Vajra Crown and later having left detailed instructions about his next incarnation, Thegpa Chögi Dorje, “Vajra of the Supreme Way,” passed into Parinirvana at the age of 71. The Gyalwa Karmapa’s spiritual heir was his heart-son, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye, who became the thirty-seventh revered bead in the Golden Rosary of Kagyü Mahasiddhas.
“The world we live in is getting smaller and people's actions have tremendous impact. In the era in which we live people cannot get away with clinging to their beliefs. We need to step outside the boundaries of Buddhism and really go out and share the benefits of our Buddhist practice with the rest of the world."
Kagyu Office of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, “The Golden Rosary” (2008).
Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Taye, “Myriad Worlds. Buddhist Cosmology in Abhidharma, Kalacakra, and Dzog-chen,” transl. & ed. by the International Transl. Com. founded by the V.V. Kalu Rinpoche, N.Y., 1995, pages 27 & 29.
“The Rain of Wisdom. The Vajra Songs of the Kagyü Gurus,” transl. under the direction of Chögyam Trungpa by the Nalanda Translation Com., Boston & London, 1980, pages 76-80.
Simhanada, “The 14 th Gyalwa Karmapa” (2008).
May all living beings experience joy that comes from combining the view, activity, and meditation!
(With sincere gratitude to Khenpo Karma Namgyal for his immense generosity, compiled & written for English-speaking visitors of Karma Lekshey Ling Institute by Gaby Hollmann, responsible for all mistakes, Munich, 2008; copyright.)