10. 2nd Karmapa 1204-1283

grub chen karma pakshi

“Mastering the Yidam, you gained control over the world of appearance.

You tamed the haughtiness of the emperor of Mongolia, a proponent of non-Buddhist ways,

and you conquered the energy of fire, water, poison, weaponry and demons.

Karma Pakshi, we supplicate at your feet.” – Ven. Mikyö, “Supplication to the Karmapas”


Nalandabodhi Dharma Center lets us glimpse at the tradition of reincarnate Lamas and wrote: “Tibetans hold that realized teachers who die can choose to be reborn in a new life so as to continue to teach. This tradition began in the Twelfth Century, when Düsum Khyenpa predicted his rebirth by leaving a prediction letter before his death, describing the details of his reincarnation. The practice of recognizing reincarnated Tibetan teachers then spread throughout Tibet.” Furthermore, “Traditionally, only supreme reincarnations, such as His Holiness Dalai Lama and His Holiness Karmapa, are held to have the spiritual accomplishment and ability to legitimately recognize others as reincarnations.”


In the short life-story of the First Gyalwa Karmapa on this website, we learned that he had written a letter concerning his next incarnation for his main disciple Drogon Rechen, but that his heart-son, Pomdragpa Sönam Dorje, retrieved it. In the proceeding life-story, we saw that Pomdragpa recognized that the boy he was in charge of was the reincarnation of the Glorious One who would be Lineage-holder in the succession of greatest scholars and saints of the Kagyü Golden Rosary.


The Second Gyalwa Karmapa, Drubchen Karma Pakshi , was born of a noble family in the Kyil-le Tsakto region of East Tibet. His father’s name was Gyawang Tsurtsa Pangtar, and his mother’s name was Mangki. The great scholar Khache Panchen (the official site of His Holiness Karmapa states “the Nyingma master Kathok Jampa Bum”) gave the boy the name Chözin, “Dharma Bearer.” Being a child prodigy, by the time he was 10 he had a remarkable understanding of Buddhist philosophy and practice. In order to further his studies and practice, he left home, went to Tsurphu Monastery in Central Tibet that was established by the First Gyalwa Karmapa, and met Pomdragpa Sönam Dorje there. As we saw in the introduction above, Pomdragpa recognized that his young disciple was the reincarnation of Düsum Khyenpa and passed on all empowerments and instructions of the Kagyü Practice and Whispering Lineages to him. Karma Pakshi spent half of his life meditating in caves and retreat enclosures, mostly in the Tolung Valley near Tsurphu. It is said that his mother meditated there for many years too.


His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa described Tolung Valley and Tsurphu in two verses in the song, “Blissful Roar of Melodious Experience” that he composed in 1961. These verses are:


“Glorious Tolung Tsurphu is Akanishta, supreme region of the mind
is a place where oceans of Dakinis gather like clouds.
The mountain behind is the richly arrayed pure realm of Chenrezik.
On the mountain in front is a vast and dense forest, a swirling ocean of fierce deities.


The mountain between is Tushita, the joyful mind and pure realm of great Maitreya.
Let us go to that pure realm where Lamas, Yidams, and Dakinis gather like clouds.
Having planted the victory banner of the Buddha’s teachings in the land of Dharma,

let us raise in the country of snow mountains and Kailash, too, the sun of happiness and well-being for all people.”


In the instructions he offered on “The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer,” Thrangu Rinpoche tells us that deities like Chenrezig reside in realms that are not accessible to ordinary people. He taught: “Connecting with Chenrezig involves a relationship with someone living in this world, in a human form on this earth.Guru Rinpoche, Padmasambhava, went to Tagtsang in Bhutan and manifested the form of Dorje Drolo. Manifesting that way, Guru Rinpoche was able to subjugate all negative forces in Tibet and establish the Dharma there. Later there was the manifestation of the Second Gyalwa Karmapa, Karma Pakshi. He had clairvoyance, power, and miraculous abilities. He was able to manifest all these powers too. So, Dorje Drolo and Karma Pakshi had slightly different physical forms, but in essence they are the same – in essence they are one.” And therefore, so that they would relinquish their disruptive tendencies and establish the ultimate source of happiness, Karma Pakshi introduced the chanting of the beneficent Mantra of Noble Chenrezig, the “Lord of Compassion,” to the people living in “the country of snow mountains.” When he was approximately 47 years old, Karma Pakshi set out on a journey to Mongolia.


Alexander Berzin wrote that Khublai Khan (younger grandson of Chinggis Khan and student of Pagpa, who was appointed by Sakya Pandita as Lineage-holder of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism that was already introduced and established in Mongolia) had invited Karma Pakshi to his camp. He arrived around 1255. Khublai Khan, ruler over the former Tangut region, urged Karma Pakshi to stay, but Karma Pakshi declined and went instead to the court of the Grand Khan Mongke in Karakorum. Mongke Khan was intent on completing the conquest of China that was begun by his grandfather Chinggis and his uncle Ogedei. In 1256, Khublai, as holder of the fiefdom of northern China, had already built a palace for himself at Khanbaliq, north of present-day Beijing. From there, Khublai joined Mongke in a campaign against South-West China. Before setting out, Mongke ordered Khublai to have a second meeting held so that Buddhists and Daoists could debate the issue of Buddha being a disciple of Laozu. Pagpa represented the Buddhist side and defeated the Daoists. As a result, the Sakya School won supremacy in Mongolia. Upon Mongke Khan’s death in 1259, a struggle for the position of Grand Khan ensued between Mongke’s two brothers, Khublai and Ariq Boke. Mongke had left Ariq Boke in charge at Karakorum when he went on another campaign. In 1260, while Ariq Boke was elected Grand Khan in Karakorum, Khublai was elected to the same position in Khanbaliq. War raged between them, and Khublai finally defeated Ariq Boke. Khublai wanted to allow the practice of only Pagpa’s Sakya School, but Pagpa insisted that other Tibetan Buddhist Schools be allowed to practice in Tibet as well, including Karma Kagyü. Because of Karma Pakshi’s refusal of Khublai’s invitation to stay and because he was suspected of supporting Ariq Boke, Khublai offered him no patronage. Instead, he had Karma Pakshi arrested and banished to Dali, present-day Yunnan in South-West China. Karma Pakshi was only allowed to return to Tibet in 1269. He was then 65 years old.


Both the Official Website as well as the Dharma Fellowship of His Holiness Karmapa, in contrast, wrote that ancient history books state that Karma Pakshi stayed in the capital of Mongolia for three years and, through miracles, brought peace to the divided empire that was stuck in strife. In these essays, we read that Chinggis Khan had been succeeded as Grand Khan by his third son, Ogedei. Like his father, Ogedei was open to the advice and prayers of leaders from the various religions. When Chinggis Khan’s grandson, Mongke, became Khan, he kept in his court not only outstanding figures from the native Mongol shamanist tradition, but also from the Chinese Chan Buddhist and Daoist schools, Nestorian Christians, as well as Kashmiri Buddhist teachers. And so, Mongke Khan was interested in organizing official debates among them. In the presence of Christian missionaries at one court meeting, Karma Pakshi caused the emperor’s cup to miraculously rise to his hand, and the rather perplexed Christian missionaries declared this to be the work of the devil. The emperor’s conviction that Buddhism is superior brought Karma Pakshi onto the public stage and popularity at the royal court, which was not what he wanted. Both essays in the websites state that Mongke Khan gave him the “Great Golden Seal of Tishri,” ti-shri meaning “Imperial Preceptor.” After Mongke Khan died in 1260, Khublai Khan became emperor. Karma Pakshi turned down Khublai Khan’s invitation to reside in the palace that the Khan had built for himself in the imperial city in North-East China. His refusal to stay earned him disfavour and eventual prosecution. Khublai Khan did everything he could to prove that Karma Pakshi wasn’t a very important person. For instance, the Khan invited Karma Pakshi to his palace and, wanting to make a fool of him, beckoned him to take a seat on the throne that he had placed over what he thought were sacred scriptures, inciting the royalties to condemn Karma Pakshi for sitting on the sacred words of the Buddha. Karma Pakshi stood up, took out the scripts that were under his seat, and showed Khublai Khan and the assembled ministers that they were not written in a language that anybody there knew or was able to read. And so, he had evidence that their accusations were quite out of place. Nevertheless, the Khan had Karma Pakshi imprisoned and made him hang by his beard; he even had him dragged behind a speeding chariot, only to give a few examples of the pain that Karma Pakshi had to endure at the hands of the cruel Khan. But, due to Karma Pakshi’s miraculous abilities, Khublai Khan regretted, mended his ways, and ordered that a 16 meter-high statue of Buddha Shakyamuni be erected at Tsurphu Monastery. Thrangu Rinpoche told us that the statue turned out to be slightly tilted. Having returned to Tsurphu - in one of the most well-known miraculous stories of the Karmapas - Karma Pakshi straightened the statue by assuming the same tilted posture. The moment he straightened himself, the statue straightened too.


Drubchen Karma Pakshi – grub-chen being the Tibetan honorific term for “Mahasiddha, Great Perfected One” -visited and restored many monasteries that were established by the First Karmapa. He also founded a monastery at Pungri that lies in the Nyingchi area of South-East Tibet. He also composed over 100 volumes of texts that were enshrined at the library of Tsurphu. His closest disciples were Orgyen Rinchenpäl, Tashi Tragpa, Tragpepäl, and Dengom. Yeshe Wangpo, said to be a preceding incarnation of the Tai Situ Rinpoche, was Karma Pakshi’s attendant; in that emanation, he opened the sacred ground that is situated slightly south-west of Lhasa in Central Tibet and that formerly had been unveiled by Lha-je Gampopa.


Stating that he would be reborn in the western direction, Drubchen Karma Pakshi, the Second Gyalwa Karmapa, gave the prediction letter of his rebirth to his heart-son and spiritual heir, Orgyen Rinchenpäl, Orgyenpa. Before passing away at the age of 80, the Second Gyalwa Karmapa had imparted the full Kagyü empowerments and instructions to Orgyenpa.


The Official Website of His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa tells us: “After the renowned Master Padmasambhava, the most famous miracle worker in Tibetan history was the indomitable saint Karma Pakshi.” Venerable Chöje Lama Phuntsok pointed out: “Karma Pakshi is not separate from the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje – they are by nature the same.”


“From this life onward, may we not be mistaken as to the Lord of All Families, but uphold the mandala of the wrathful Bhagavat. Drinking amrita from the lotus of prajna, may we purify existence into the essence of enlightenment” – Dedication Prayer in “Supplication to the Karmapas” by Ven. Mikyö



Official Website of H.H. the 17 th Gyalwa Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, “The Golden Rosary,” (2008).

His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, “Blissful Roar of Melodious Experience,” in: Nalandabodhi Dharma Center, “Songs and Prayers of the Karmapas,” Seattle (2008).

“Supplication to the Karmapas. The Short Supplication to the Successive Manifestations of the Lord of Victorious Ones.” The root text was composed by Ven. Mikyö and was then supplemented during the time of each successive master. Translated under the guidance of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche & Acharya Sherab Gyaltsen Negi by Tyler Dewar of the Nitartha Translation Network in 2002, in: Kagyu Office of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, “Kagyu Lineage histories” (2008).

Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, “’The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer,’ by Bengar Jampäl Sangpo,” presented at the Shambhala Center in Halifax in 2000, in: Karma Lekshey Ling Institute, “Teachings in English,” KLLI website, Nepal, 2007.

Chöje Lama Phuntsok, “His Holiness the Second Gyalwa Karmapa, Karma Pakshi,” presented at Karma Theksum Tashi Chöling in Hamburg in 2006, in: Karma Lekshey Ling Institute, “Teachings by Lamas of Karma Lekshey Ling Institute,” KLLI website, Nepal, 2007.

Simhanada, “Lineages - The Second Karmapa - Karma Pakshi,” (2008).

Nalandabodhi, “The Karmapa – A Glimpse at the Tradition of Reincarnate Lamas in Tibet,” Seattle (2008).

The Dharma Fellowship of H.H. the Gyalwa Karmapa, “A Brief History of the Kagyü Tradition,” Denman Island, B.C. (2008).

Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center , “Biographical Data: The Karmapas,” N.Y. (2008).

Alexander Berzin, “A Survey of Tibetan History: Historical, Cultural, & Comparative Studies – Lamas and Mongol Patrons,” in: The Berzin Archives (2008).


May the jewel of the teachings spread to all parts of the world and remain!


(Compiled & written for English speaking students & visitors of Karma Lekshey Ling Institute in Nepal by Gaby Hollmann, July 31, 2008; copyright.)

© Karma Lekshey Ling Shedra, Post Box No.8435, Swoyambhu, Kathmandu, Nepal