Summary of Tibet's history
Isolation had been a distinctive feature of Tibet for centuries. The country's geographical inaccessibility and the genuine desire of its inhabitants to have few contacts with outsiders created an ideal situation for seclusion. When the succeeding Chinese dynasties claimed sovereignty over their distant neighbor and pressured Lhasa into submission and acceptance of their graceful patronage, Tibetans didn't give in. Despite Peking's forceful advances, the Himalayan nation managed to go largely undisturbed and forgotten by the outside world. The savage Mongol hordes that laid waste to so much of the country in the middle of the 17th century were more an instrument in the hands of a political faction eager to subdue their domestic rivals than a true foreign aggressor-an instrument that went out of control but still only an instrument consciously imported by politicians in their struggle for power. Thus, throughout Tibetan history, invaders were an unusual sight, and the country remained as secluded at the start of the 20th century as it had been during the time when Buddhism made its first inroads into the Himalayan kingdom around the year 750. Given such enclosed conditions, Tibetans were able to preserve for over a millennium what the successive Muslim invasions meticulously destroyed in northern India about a thousand years ago: the complete teachings of the Buddha.
The first contacts with the West occurred in the 19th century when the Russian and British empires, distrustful of each other's intentions, began to compete for influence in this remote region. European explorers brought home stories of mystic religious systems, of holy lamas and gigantic monasteries. British soldiers had less magical tales to share. Leading, in 1904, an expedition to conquer Lhasa, Colonel Younghusband and his handful of men wiped out nearly the entire Tibetan government army. The military might of the Tibetans was clearly lagging behind their spiritual powers.
After the first connection, a blend of spiritualists, theosophists, and the like immediately took up the subject of the holy kingdom. From the turn of the 20th century, the European public was fed exotic accounts of levitating yogis and had to digest treatises on murky spiritual doctrines that allegedly had their origin in the Land of Snows. The narratives making the rounds fueled the imagination of the readers but had little to do with the real treasures Tibet was guarding. The country was exploited as a source of the mystical and soon became synonymous with everything supernatural.
At about the same time, a number of renowned Orientologists from Scandinavia and imperial Russia managed to make their way into the forbidden city of Lhasa. They met a rich culture supported by a unique religious system. For the first time, the West came into contact with Buddha's complete methods for working with the mind. The scientists' findings, however, remained the exclusive domain of elite universities, and their research did not venture beyond the sphere of intellectual and scientific speculation. For a more extensive and practical impact, Europe had to wait another five decades. It wasn't until 1959, when the Tibetans were brutally forced out of their cocoon by the Communist barbarians, that a true and lasting contact with their culture became possible.
The time for a breakthrough came during the late sixties. The young idealists were on their third journey to the Nepali capital to bring back "substances" that could alter the consciousness of humankind. They firmly believed that drugs could open man's "doors of perception" and show humanity an ultimate truth. Once in Asia, some of them had the great chance to meet lamas as the 16° Karmapa or the others lamas and to change radically way to turn to the internal research lauded by the Buddhism.
This unusual encounter soon gave way to an intense period of apprenticeship in the eastern Himalayas. They were eventually going to fulfil their vision from the sixties. Some returned in West by pursuing their spiritual practice, , passing on Buddhism's great wisdom to the West. The driving force behind the fulfillment of this dream was their devotion for their lama, a devotion that was initially extended to everything Tibetan. Anyone with origins in the Land of Snows was celebrated as highly spiritual, every Tibetan was believed to be a master yogi, and every shaved head in robes half-enlightened. It was this pure vision that helped inspire the idealistic West with the idea that Shangri-La-the pursuit of the sixties' generation-was within reach.
Others, who jumped on the Tibetan bandwagon in the following years, sustained the holy vision with even greater enthusiasm and lesser doses of criticism, making up in zeal what they lacked in knowledge and real transmission. The old Tibet, in particular, was held in great reverence as a heaven on earth. Anything from before the Chinese invasion that bore a Tibetan stamp was devotedly worshipped and idealized. It was a noble response to Communist atrocities and hysterical Chinese propaganda that depicted the conquered country as a feudal, backward, and oppressive society. As a result, the notion that everything Tibetan was holy became the unanimous rallying cry of a first generation of Tibetan Buddhists in the West. The young hopefuls embraced Tibetan Buddhism as much as they embraced the country of Tibet. Nobody wanted to side with the Communist aggressors, and the Tibetans, having experienced in a time of need the disregard of the world's politicians, began for a change to experience the overwhelming attention of Western idealists.
After decades of official indifference, in the end, the champions of the Tibetan cause saw their struggle vindicated. With the Dalai Lama winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, the Western mass media took up the Tibetan agenda, bringing the horrors of Chinese occupation to full light. Celebrities rallied around the Dalai Lama who, becoming a celebrity himself, took to globe-trotting in his semi-official capacity as leader of Tibet. At the same time, the advocates of a free Tibet, riding on the crest of the wave, allowed the uncritical belief in the holy Himalayan kingdom to grow unhindered.
Did the harmonious picture differ much from reality? Was the old Tibet indeed a nation of truth seekers and pious men solely devoted to the support of their lamas and monasteries? Was it truly a land of milk and honey whose people dwelled in peace with their brethren, strictly observing the noble guidelines of Buddhism?
Historical facts speak against this heavenly image. Tibet, for all the aura of mysticism surrounding its history and culture, was a feudal society, perhaps more human, certainly happier than other feudal societies, but by no means an idyllic place.
The landscape of the old Tibet was dotted with wars, political intrigue, and bloody feuds. For centuries, two old, "red-hat" Buddhist schools, the Sakya and the Kagyu, held, one after the other, undisputed sway over the country. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, a new power had emerged and began to threaten the political status quo: the Gelugs, or Virtuous Ones, a "yellow-hat," reformed Buddhist order, founded around 1410 by a disciple of the 4th Karmapa. Led by the mighty 5th Dalai Lama and his authoritative ministers, the Gelugs invited Gushri Khan, the Mongolian warlord, into Tibet in 1638. Their design was to break the power of the Kagyus, take over the government, and secure a hold on Kham in the east and the rebellious Tsang in the south of the country. Given free rein, the ferocious Mongol hordes razed to the ground or converted to the Gelugpa tradition a large number of Nyingma monasteries. The 10th Karmapa had to flee into a thirty-year exile after his camp was attacked by an army operating on orders from the Dalai Lama's ministers. The school of the Virtuous Ones imposed their political hegemony with sword and fire.
The highly fragmented political scene was then subdivided into two main groups. The first group, closely associated with the Gelugs, comprised central as well as southern and western Tibet and was the dominion of the government in Lhasa. The other, a loose configuration of kingdoms each with a chieftain at its helm, extended over eastern Tibet and maintained at all costs its independence from the capital together with its devotion to the Kagyu and the Nyingma, another old, "red-hat" Buddhist school.
Much of the effort of the Gelugpa dominated central government was to bring the free-spirited Khampas of eastern Tibet under the direct authority of Lhasa and thereby convert them to the "yellow-hat" order. To secure this end, the Gelugpa hierarchy spared no efforts, leaving a legacy of treachery, intimidation, and conquest.
After banding together with the Mongols and defeating the Kagyu ruler, the Dalai Lama's administration imposed strict control over the other three Buddhist schools. Karmapa and the Kagyus became the targets of harsh laws and discriminatory taxes. All but a handful of Kagyu monasteries in the vicinity of Lhasa were converted to the Gelug rite. Two intricate directives, "put pressure on the star!" and "milk the female yak!" were inserted into the country's laws and invoked, time and again, in official edicts. It was a well-guarded secret, handed down from one senior minister to his successor, that the enigmatic "star" was, in actual fact, Karmapa, while the "female yak" were the Drikung, a branch of the Kagyu lineage. Having thus brought the old schools to their knees and yet fearful of a possible Kagyu revolt, the powerful 5th Dalai offered himself and his kingdom to the protection of the Ching emperor of China. He was received with open arms; not only did the emperor bestow his generous guardianship but also introduced in Tibet a rotating system of two monarchs: the Dalai and the Panchen Lamas. In the Kagyus' eyes, such submission to the Chinese throne was tantamount to treason. They have not forgiven the Dalai Lama his breach of trust to this day.
Another infamous example of Gelug coercion was the
activity of Phawankapa in the 19th century. A luminary to some within
his lineage and a hideous personality to others, this crusader of the
Gelug cause launched an all-out campaign against the Nyingma tradition.
He managed to wreak so much havoc within the ranks of the old, red-hat
school that the "diamond-cutter" and other valuable transmissions
nearly completely disappeared.
The Karmapa and the Karma Kagyu lineage
In the Lankavatara sutra Buddha declares :
"In the northern country will appear the one
who increases virtue, the supreme spiritual friend. The one who possesses
the greatest enlightened power, who has the greatest ascetic ability,
who many will listen to. He will carry the name of "the knower of
the three times" or "the holder of all the Buddhas' activity:
Karmapa." Whoever sees his face, be it only once, will be freed from
their obscuring veils, as it is prophesied that simply seeing him brings
Karmapa's enlightened activity
Since 12th century, Karmapas are the
most important holders of the teachings from the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan
Buddhism. The 1st Karmapa, Tusum Kyenpa (1110-1193), was recognized as
one of the foremost lamas of his times. Before his death, he had told
disciples where in Tibet he would be reborn.
The 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1204_1283),
was then recognized as the first lama in Tibet to have consciously chosen
his reincarnation. Since then, the Karmapas have reincarnated in Tibet:
they are known in buddhist chronicles as the "Black Hat Karmapas",
because they wear a black and gold hat. Every and each one of the reincarnations
has stated very clearly he was the Karmapa and manifested it by his doings,
beyond any doubt. That reincarnation was then entrusted to the care of
one of the most enlightened disciples of the previous Karmapa.
Karmapas are recognized as great
boddhisattvas, beings who keep coming back for everyone's well being,
and point the path toward Enlightment. To this day, seventeen incarnations
have contributed largely to preserving authentic Buddhist teachings in
Tibet. The 16th Karmapa, Ranjung Rigpai Dorje (1923-1981), who had to
flee into exile to India in 1959, was a main proponent for spreading Buddhist
teachings in the West.
Karmapas manifest uncommon qualities
devoted to a large and incessant activity for all sentient beings. Very
few are those masters who have brought forward such a Buddha activity
in this world. The very name "Gyalwa Karmapa" shows he is a
different being. Gyalwa means Buddha, a fully enlightned being.
Within the Kagyu lineage, only two
masters are called this way: Karmapa himself, and a second emanation,
Shamarpa. Karmapa means "Master of enlightened activity". He
is what is called a tulku, the conscious rebirth of an already realized
But Karmapa differs from other tulkus,
inasmuch as he has reached total realization. He is an emanation of Tchenrezi
(Avalokitesvara in sanskrit), the Compassion Buddha. So, he is seen as
a living Buddha who does not have to fulfill anymore a path toward liberation.
He will emanate himself in this world through pure compassion, as long
as beings will need help.
(Excerpt of Karmapas Papers)
The Karmapa is the first Tibetan
Buddhist master who has continually reincarnated in an unbroken line since
the year 1110.
The 1st Karmapa was Dusum Khyenpa. He left three short oral instructions indicating his next reincarnation as Karma Pakshi with three disciples. In addition, Karma Pakshi himself declared that he was the reincarnation of Dusum Khyenpa. Also his teacher Pomdragpa had a vision of Dusum Khyenpa declaring that he was in fact reborn as Karma Pakshi.
Karma Pakshi said that he would return in an area of Northern Tibet called Lato. He did not leave any written instructions indicating his next incarnation.
It was the 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje
himself who stated that he was the reincarnation of Karma Pakshi.
Through these life-examples of the
Karmapas it becomes clear that they don't always leave written instructions
indicating the details of their next rebirth. Even when a written message
was left behind, it was the reincarnations themselves who always proved
their own authenticity.
The 4th Karmapa Rolpe Dorje could be heard reciting the mantra of Chenrezig while he was still in the womb of his mother. It was reported that directly after birth he declared himself to be the Karmapa. At the age of three he told his mother that he was Karma Pakshi and said what he would do in his life. When taken to Dagla Gampo, lie pointed to the statues of previous Karmapas there and declared: "That is me". He told his teacher, the lineage-holder Yongtonpa, stories about his previous life and full of devotion the latter prostrated at his young student's feet. In similar ways, the other Karmapas also showed extraordinary abilities and convinced people by their unusual behaviour and statements.
The 6th Karmapa was a good example
of this. When asked by a student of the 5th Karmapa to reveal his true
identity, he replied: "I am the unborn, free from all names and places.
I am the glory of all that lives and shall lead many to liberation".
Up until the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje,
there seemed to be no difficulties in identifying the reincarnations.
At the time of Mikyo Dorje a scholar called Amdo Lama announced his son
was 7th Karmapa Chodrag Gyamtso 's reincarnation. His birth was marked
by unusual signs. Amdo Lama gave offerings to Tashi Namgyal, the then
Gyaltsab Tulku and to the monks and administrators of Tsurphu who supported
his claim. At the same time, in Eastern Tibet near Karma Gon, another
boy proclaimed himself to he the Karmapa. This child then five years old
announced that he was the reincarnation of the 7th Karmapa, Chodrag Gyamtso.
He further stated, that the other candidate at Tsurphu was the reincarnation
of a lama from Surmang Monastery. Both children were brought together
and an investigation was made. They were confronted with possessions of
the previous Karmapa, to check which one would recognize them. It then
became evident that the boy from Karma Gon was the true reincarnation.
The recognition and finding of the
16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje also brought some difficulties. The
15th Karmapa had given a letter predicting his reincarnation to his close
disciple jampal Tsultrim, who at first did not disclose this information.
After the death of the 15th Karmapa a very powerful Gelugpa minister got
his son recognized as the reincarnation of the 15th Karmapa. This was
even confirmed by H. IT the 13th Dalai Lama. For this reason the people
from Tsurphu had to accept the child. After some time, however, the boy
fell from the monastery's roof and died. A few years later the genuine
letter was presented which led to the recognition of the true 16th Karmapa.
As these examples show, there have been earlier disputes concerning the Karmapa's reincarnations. However the true one has always proved himself beyond any doubt. There exist extraordinary qualities which only an unsurpassable bodhisattva like the Karmapa can manifest.
In another article, Khenpo Tcheudrak summarizes the
history of the various recognitions of Karmapa in the following way:
- 7 of the previous Karmapas left written instructions
- 5 of them left oral instructions with a disciple
of their choice.
- 4 of them left neither written nor oral instructions.
The reincarnation in those cases themselves made clear who they were.
So there wasn't a procedure of finding them on the basis of any written
or oral instructions left behind.
Furthermore, among the previous Karmapas:
- 3 were identified by 3 of the previous Shamarpas.
- 2 were identified by one of the heads of the Drugpa
Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism.
- 1 was identified by a Nyingma master. The head of the Drugpa Kagyu and the Nyingma master were assisted, in their quest, by various Kagyu lamas, such as one of the Situpas, one of the Jamgon reincarnation and one of the Khyentse reincarnation.
So the identification in those cases were made on
the basis of the combined effort of these people whereas in the case of
the Shamarpas, it was done without the assistance of other Buddhist masters.
For example, the 13th Karmapa was identified by a
Nyingma master Khathok Rinzin Zherwang Lodrop. He approached the then
Situpa and informed him of his thoughts then in combined effort they identified
the 13th Karmapa on the basis of this Nyingma master's findings.
Then there is the 14th Karmapa, who was identified
mainly on the basis of the effort of the then head of the Drugpa Kagyu
School of Tibetan Buddhism Kunzig Chokyi Namwar. However he consulted
Situ Pema Nyingche, the 9 Situ reincarnation, so in combined effort they
made public their findings. However it was mainly based on the effort
of the then Drugpa Kagyu head that the 14th Karmapa was identified.
Then we have the 15th Karmapa, who was mainly identified
again by the then head of the Drugpa Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism,
Kunzig Mingyur Wangyi Dorje. However he did consult Jamgon Lodro Thaye
and Khyentse Wangpo and one of the Pawo Tulkus, so it was again a combined
by Mr. Topga Rinpoche
After the 1st Karmapa's appearance in the world, the
Karma Kagyu lineage evolved rapidly, and by the 12th century A.D. the
Karma Kagyu tradition was spreading quickly and was widely practiced throughout
Tibet. This was a time of political upheaval characterised by the rapid
decline of the dynasties of kings which had formerly ruled. Many prominent
political figures emerged who vied for power, but no individual leader
was able to establish sovereignty over the nation because no one had a
The Karmapas were never interested or involved in
the struggles of the various political factions, and in fact were forced
to actively resist involvement since they were in Particularly vulnerable
positions, in that they were targets of those who were politically ambitious,
because they held tremendous spiritual authority. Also, their religious
followers encouraged them to assume positions of Power because they felt
that they had the required qualities to lead the people.
It was during this turbulent period, sometime in
the 13th or 14th century, that the Sakyapas began ruling Tibet, with the
support of the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan. Then came' Ganges Khan, He
was Tibet's first political -religious leader, and for the first time
since the disappearance of the kings, Tibet was unified under the direction
of a single leader. At this time, powerful rulers from Mongolia and Tibet,
seeing the sway that the high lamas held over the Tibetan people, adopted
a strategy of forming allegiances by plying the Lamas with gifts, extending
invitations to their kingdoms and conveying lengthy titles upon them.
The motivation behind these gestures was often largely political rather
During the Ming Dynasty of the 14th century the 5th
Karmapa, Teshin Shekpa, was invited to China by the -Yunglo", the
Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, who received many instructions from him.
During his visit the Karmapa demonstrated many miraculous feats, which
the Emperor ordered his artists to record daily by depicting them on approximately
20 large scroll paintings. (A few of these were still preserved in Tsurphu
Monastery in Tibet up until the invasion of 1950). The Yunglo was so moved
by these events, and developed such deep faith in the Karmapa that he
proposed the enactment of a plan to convert all the other religious sects
of Tibet to Karma Kagyu. In accordance with his philosophy, Teshin Shekpa
absolutely refused to go along with this proposal, and instead gave a
discourse on the importance of respecting diverse schools of thought by
understanding that different traditions are necessary in order to accommodate
the array of particular inclinations found in the whole of humanity.
Despite the politics of the times, however, the period
from the 13th to the 17th century A.D. was a time of generally favourable
circumstances for the Karma Kagyu tradition. As the teachings spread,
and the number of followers increased, the leaders of the lineage became
more and more prominent figures, and in fact, this period in the history
of Tibet could be termed "the Kagyu Era".
At this time a dramatic change occurred in the power
structure or the country, which was being crushed between the forces of
domestic strife, power struggles and outer political influences. The central
government headed by Desi Tsangpa, a stout supporter of the Karmapa, was
overthrown by the Mongol leader Goshir Khan, and the 5th Dalai Lama became
the leader of Tibet as a whole.
The 10th Karmapa, Choying Dorje, became a victim
of these political events, and had to leave Tibet in the mid-17th century
A.D., for Jang, a province of China. After this the following of the Kagyu
lineage decreased, and continued to do so until the 18th century when,
under the 13th Karmapa Dudul Dorje, Situ Chogyi Jungne led the lineage
towards a period of growth and renewal in which it began to flourish again.
At this time, in particular, lamas of the lineage produced many eminent
philosophical texts and works relating to grammar, Sanskrit and astrology
that benefited Tibet's literary tradition, and the Tibetan people as a
In the present century, during the lifetime of H.H.
the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, the most recent incarnation of the Karmapa, many
dharma centres were established throughout the world in order to provide
the opportunity for people to study and practice the Buddha's teachings,
including this institute itself. Following his departure from Tibet in
1959, he was able to reconstruct his main seat by creating a monastery
in Rumtek, Sikkim, which is known as the Dharma Chakra Centre, as well
as a monastic college, a retreat center and a primary school for monks.
Like his predecessors, the late 16th Karmapa was
primarily a spiritual figure and so was not involved in propagating the
cause of Tibetan freedom, and instead has made efforts in keeping the
spiritual tradition of Tibet intact, and in this way has helped to preserve
the identity of Tibet as a unique and individual culture. At the same
time he never forgot the existence of the very capable and profound spiritual
leader, H.H. the Dalai Lama, who is also the leader of the Tibetan nation
and has all the requisite qualities that such a position demands, as well
as the fact that serving under him there is a large organisation of people
who are very much involved in truly relevant and significant political
movements for the benefit of the Tibetan people.
As stated, all of the establishments created by H.H.
Gyalwa Karmapa have been designed with intention of keeping the tradition
and culture intact, and providing the teachings of the Buddha to people
of all nationalities who feel that they can benefit from the insight and
wisdom of the Buddha.
Signed and sealed by H.H. 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe
Dorje in 1967
The list below gives the status of religious dignitaries
of the Kagyu School in the order of their importance. It has been written
on the fifteenth day of the twelve-month of the Fire Sheep Year according
to the Tsurphu Calendar.
I have listed below the names according to the importance
of the status of the reincarnated masters that have been able to leave
Tibet for India.
I - Heads of the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism
1. Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche
2. Khyenzig Drugchen Rinpoche
3. Tsungme Jamgon Situ Rinpoche
4. Tsungme Chogtrul Taglung Rinpoche
II - The second ranking religious dignitaries of
the Kagyu School
1. Chogtrul Jamgon Rinpoche
2. Chogtrul Gyaltsab Rinpoche
3. Chogtrul Pawo Rinpoche
III - The third ranking religious dignitaries of the Kagyu school
1 . Chogtrul joe Won Ponlop Rinpoche
2. Chogtrul Palpung Khyentse Rinpoche
3. Chogtrul Drungsar Khyentse Rinpoche
4. Chogtrul Surmang Rinpoche
5. Chogtrul Palpung Ongen Rinpoche
6. Chogtrul Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche
7. Chogtrul Traleg Rinpoche
8. Chogtrul Surmang Trungpa Rinpoche
9. Chogtrul Decho Yangdzin Rinpoche
10.Chogtrul Dilyag Dabsang Rinpoche
11. Garchen Tripa Dorje Lopon (however, the Garchen Tripa Dorje Lopon can also be included within the group of second ranking religious dignitaries, because in the same way as the Garchen Tripa in the Gelug School is the status of the head of the main scat of that school, likewise Garchen Tripa Dorje Lopon is the head of the main scat of the Kagyu school.)
IV - The fourth ranking religious dignitaries of the Kagyu school
1. Khentrul Thrangu Rinpoche
2. Bagyo Tuiku Rinpoche
3. Drupon Tulku Rinpoche
4. Dilyag Urgen Rinpoche
5. Dilyag Sabchu Rinpoche
6. Tulku Ongen Mingyur Rinpoche
7. Chogling Tulku Rinpoche
8. Gyalse ThIku Rinpoche
V - The fifth ranking religious dignitaries of the Kagyu school
1 . Salche Tulku
2. Tenga ThIku
3. Palme Tulku
4. Bardo Tulku
5. Drung ThIku
6. Tragar ThIku
7. Yoldrag ThIku
There are many more lower reincarnations.
Signed and scaled by H.H. 16th Karmapa, Rangjung
Rigpe Dorje in 1967
(Written by a group of Khenpos at
The Karma Kagyupa Lineage of Tibetan
Buddhism has enjoyed a distinguished 900-year history that is intertwined
at various points with the Gelugpa School to which the Dalai Lama belongs.
Central to the transmission of the Kagyupa Lineage are the alternating
reincarnations of the Karmapa and the Shamarpa. This brief history discusses
some of the highlights of this cycle and its points of intersection with
the Gelugpa School and the Dalai Lama.
The 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (1110-1193),
founded the Karma Kagyupa Lineage. The Sakyapa School developed about
the same time, and before his lifetime the Nyingmapa Tradition (the Old
School) and Atisha School had already taken root in Tibet. The Gelugpa
School was not founded until the time of Tsongkapa (1357-1413) who coincided
with the 5th Karmapa. The 1st Dalai Lama (Gendun Drub) did not appear
until the 15th century during the lifetime of the 6th Karmapa (1416-1453).
Before he died, the 1st Karmapa predicted
his own reincarnation as the 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1206-1283). With
this prediction, the 1st Karmapa started the lineage system of incarnate
lamas in Tibet and Karma Pakshi became the first incarnate lama of Tibet.
Before he died, Karma Pakshi predicted in his diary that he would be reborn
as two lamas. They would reincarnate one after the other, alternately
as guru and disciple, in order to preserve and continue his lineage without
Thus, in Tibetan Buddhism, the 1st
Shamarpa was the second incarnate lama. Because his name means "red
hat" (sha, hat; mar, red), he is sometimes called the Red Hat Lama,
whereas the Karmapa is referred to as the Black Hat Lama, but not for
reasons having to do with his name.
Since then the successive Karmapas and Shamarpas have worked jointly to spread the Dharma. Indeed, as a result of their leadership the Karma Kagyu Lineage was the most prominent school of Tibetan Buddhism until the time of the 10th Karmapa, Choying Dorje (1604-1674), when it was repressed and suffered a long decline.
During the centuries of the decline,
the successively reborn Karmapas and Shamarpas brought about brief revivals
of the Karma Kagyu Lineage and transmitted its teachings and traditions.
Before the 5th Dalai Lama (1617-1682),
the Kagyupa Lineage ruled Tibet. Two events in the 1630s, however, precipitated
the end of the Karma Kagyu Lineage's political power and the decline of
its religious influence. First, the death of the 6th Shamarpa (1584-1630),
whom the 5th Dalai Lama and many others in Tibet respected, weakened the
Lineage's prestige. Then, in 1639, with the assistance of Mongol troops
invited into Tibet from Sinjiang by the 5th Dalai Lama, the Kagyupa ruling
government was defeated. The 10th Karmapa and his followers were also
attacked, but he managed to escape by flying into the sky. For the next
forty years, penniless and with only one attendant, the 10th Karmapa wandered
into exile from north-eastern India to Yunnan in China.
Without its two leaders, the Karma
Kagyu Lineage was defenceless in Tibet. Twenty-seven monasteries belonging
to the Karmapa and twenty monasteries of the Shamarpa were forcibly converted
to the Gelugpa School. Only the Tsurphu and Yangpachen monasteries, the
seats of the Karmapas and Shamarpas respectively, and a few others of
lesser importance were allowed to continue practicing the Karma Kagyu
tradition. However, they existed under harsh restrictions, especially
Tsurphu and Yangpachen, which were near Lhasa and thus under the government's
The early 18th century saw a brief
revival of the Karma Kagyupa Lineage due to the constant Dharma activities
of the 12th Karmapa, Jangchub Dorje (1703-1732) and the 8th Shamarpa,
Chokyi Thondrub (1695-1732). They travelled together throughout Tibet
and prevented the Lineage from slipping into extinction.
During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries,
the Dalai Lamas enjoyed the patronage of the Ch'ing Dynasty emperors of
China, some of whom were under the tutelage of a series of reincarnated
Gelugpa lamas representing the Dalai Lama in Beijing. Nevertheless, the
fame of the 12th Karmapa and the 8th Shamarpa was so great during the
reign of Emperor Yung Cheng that he decided to invite them to his court
in 1732. Unfortunately, one day after their arrival in Beijing, they both
died of smallpox. In their autobiographies, the two Gelugpa Hutogatu (Hutogatu
is an official title bestowed by the Ch'ing Dynasty emperors on certain
Gelugpa lamas in Beijing) lamas Kyangkya and Thudka explained the deaths
of Karmapa and Shamarpa as follows:
The emperor had invited the Karmapa
and Shamarpa to Beijing. We were of the opinion that the emperor would
follow them and therefore that Gelugpa power would be greatly affected.
We consequently started to do black-magic pujas day and night. Within
a day of their arrival in Beijing, both of them died from smallpox. So
it can be said that our black magic succeeded.
After the death of the 12th Karmapa
and the 8th Shamarpa, the Karma Kagyupa Lineage suffered another period
of decline in central Tibet. Also contributing to its decline were a complicated
series of developments beginning during the time of the 13th Karmapa,
Dudul Dorje (1733-1797), in the reign of the Chinese Emperor Ch'ien Lung.
The powerful 6th Panchen Lama, Palden Yeshe, and the 10th Shamarpa, Chodrub
Gyaltso (1742-1792), were brothers. Because of his kinship with the Panchen
Lama, who after the Dalai Lama was the highest lama in the Gelugpa School,
the 10th Shamarpa hoped that the Tibetan government would reinstate his
monasteries that had been forcibly converted to the Gelugpa sect in the
preceding century. However, before this could happen, the Panchen Lama
died of smallpox in Beijing where he had been invited by the emperor.
Out of deep respect for the Panchen
Lama who was his teacher, the emperor offered a large quantity of gold
coins to the Panchen Lama's brothers and sisters. However, the Drungpa
Hutogatu of Tashi Lungpo Monastery, which was the seat of the Panchen
Lama, did not give the 10th Shamarpa his fair share. When the administration
of the Yangpachen Monastery complained, Drungpa Hutogatu replied that
all the gold belonged to the Tashi Lungpo Monastery. He also slandered
the 10th Shamarpa, claiming that he had plotted a rebellion against the
Tibetan government in order to regain his monasteries. As a result, the
government, which was under the power of two regents in the absence of
the Dalai Lama, became hostile to the Shamarpa. In 1784 he fled Tibet
for the safety of neighbouring Nepal.
In the late 18th century, counterfeit
Nepalese currency was so rampant in Tibet that it even caused high inflation
in Nepal itself. When the 10th Shamarpa sought refuge in Nepal, the Nepalese
King Bahadur Shah thought he could take advantage of this and use the
Shamarpa to negotiate a solution to the currency problem with the Tibetan
government. The negotiations failed and the Tibetan delegation that had
come to Nepal was taken prisoner. King Bahadur dispatched his troops to
Tibet where they captured much territory. The Chinese sent troops to repel
the invading Nepalese, and a peace was finally negotiated in 1792. The
Tibetan government blamed the Shamarpa for the political and military
debacle and in retaliation banned the enthronement of reincarnated Shamarpas
and confiscated the Yangpachen Monastery, converting it to Gelugpa.
In 1792 the 10th Shamarpa died of
jaundice, but rumours were rife that he committed suicide by poison. A
Tibetan minister named Gazhi Dhoringpa, whom the Nepalese troops had earlier
taken prisoner, wrote: "I was released after the peace was settled.
The Shamarpa had died, and I was taken to see his funeral. I did not respect
this Shamarpa. His corpse even smelled so I believed he actually committed
suicide. But during his cremation, I saw with my own eyes five arching
rainbows joined together in the shape of a dome right above the crematory
at Bodhanath, Kathmandu."
In spite of the official ban against
the enthronement and official recognition of the Shamarpa, Shamarpas continued
to be reborn as bodhisattvas. Hence, the 11th Shamarpa, Chowang Rinpoche
of Tsurphu Monastery and the lineage-holder of the Mahakala Tantra, was
reborn as the brother of the 14th Karmapa (1797- ca.1845) who kept his
recognition secret. The 11th Shamarpa transmitted the entire Mahakala
Tantra to the 15th Karmapa, Khachab Dorje (1871-1922). The 12th Shamarpa
took rebirth as the son of the 15th Karmapa. He was first a monk, then
practiced as a yogi with a consort, but he frequently was able to visit
and teach at the Yangpachen Monastery where he was highly respected. The
13th Shamarpa (1949-1951) was recognized by the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung
Rigpe Dorje (1924-1981) in Tsurphu but lived less than two years and was
never officially enthroned.
The second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi,
predicted that "future Karmapas will manifest in two forms."
This statement was clarified later by the 4th Karmapa, Rolpe Dorje, when
he designated the Shamarpa reincarnates as the second manifestation.
Tibetan historical records speak
of the Karmapa as Karma Shanakpa (Karmapa the Black Crown Holder) and
the Shamarpa as Karma Shamarpa (Karmapa the Red Crown Holder). They are
referred to as such in the historical texts of Golo Shonnu Pal (1392-1481),
Pawo Tsuglag Trengwa (1504-1516), the fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lozang
Gyamtso (1617-1682), and the eighth Situpa, Chokyi Jungnay (1700-1774).
He was born in 1952. Just as the 5th
Shamarpa had foretold, the 14th Shamarpa manifested as the nephew of the
16th Karmapa. In Tibetan poetical term, a nephew is a brother-like relative.
Long before the Shamarpa was born, there was a stir of anticipation in
the monastic communities; for it was widely circulated that there was
soon to be an auspicious birth in the Karmapa's family. From the Karmapa,
Black Pills were sent to his sister-in-law, with which, was a special
protective cord for the baby yet unborn. It was at a time, when no one
was even aware that she was an expectant mother.
At the age of six, the child Rinpoche
saw some Yangpachen lamas at a distance coming towards Tsurphu Monastery.
He was delighted, "They are from my monastery" he remarked.
Indeed they were, for the Dechen Yangpachen Monastery was a Shamarpa monastery.
This spontaneous out-burst of recognition had prompted his lamas to plead
for a formal recognition of their Rinpoche, in readiness for future enthronement.
For political reasons, the Karmapa did not think it prudent to do so.
1956 was the year of the pilgrimage
to India, when most of the great Tibetan lamas were invited by the Indian
Mahabodhi Society. The Karmapa and the Shamarpa, on their return, visited
the Dechen Yangpachen Monastery; in the main temple of which, were the
statues of all the previous Shamarpas. The child-Rinpoche came up to them;
from the first to the tenth, he needed no prompting to identify them.
Playfully he took their crowns to try them on, saying: "These are
my hats." He was only four years old, at the time.
Another four years had passed. The
political situation in Tibet, uncertain for sometime, further deteriorated.
The 16th Gyalwa Karmapa with the eight-year-old Shamarpa left Tibet to
settle in Sikkim. Finally when permission was sought, for the official
recognition of the Kunzig Shamarpa, it was granted by H.H. the 14th Dalai
Lama. The enthronement took place in 1964 at Rumtek Monastery, Sikkim.
With the solemn occasion over, the Shamarpa remained in the monastery
until 1979 for some very serious studies. He received all the instructions
of the Kagyu Lineage from the Karmapa. The traditional arts and sciences,
the sutras and the tantras, he studied mainly under Trangu Rinpoche. He
also took some teachings from Kalu Rinpoche. By any standard, those were
very hard years for the Tibetan exiles. And for this student- Rinpoche,
no special privileges, accorded to a great reincarnate, were expected;
and none was given. Under very inclement conditions, and under the vigilant
eyes of his gurus, the special qualities of a true mahayana teacher was
brought to the fullest maturity. In 1979, his studies completed, he left
for Nepal to take up residence as the Chief Representative of the Kagyu
Teachings. In 1981, His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa passed away. Among
his other monastic obligations, the Shamarpa, undertook to complete his
far reaching project of building a large institute of Buddhist studies
in New Delhi. It was inaugurated in February 1990 by the President of
India, Mr. Venkataraman. In accordance with the wishes of His Holiness
the Gyalwa Karmapa that the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute is
to serve as an establishment of higher learning to further universal wisdom
and compassion, based on the correct study and translation of the great
treatises of Buddhism -A wish expressed is to be a wish fulfilled - as
As for the Shamarpa himself, he has
in his vision, the revival of the true spirit of the Mahamudra; the energy
and the essence of which have been sadly dissipated through the gradual
unmindfulness of preceding generations. He has been in the process of
retracing its roots through the ages, by collecting, revising and researching
into the important works of many mahasiddhis, culminating in "The
Treasures of Mahamudra" by the 7th Karmapa. His vision includes the
setting up of a teaching centre with special emphasis on Mahamudra, that
future generations may not be deprived of something, which is the very
essence of Buddhism, and uniquely Kagyu in lineage.
In 1988, H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama
called for a meeting with all the leading Tibetan lamas at Varanasi(Benares)
, India. It was to be the summoning of a consorted effort among the leading
lamas, towards a better future for Tibetans. In the history of Tibet,
lamas have long been the ruling class. Any changes brought about, both
temporarily and ecclesiastically, have always been innovated by lamas.
This form of social structure had given the country enduring stability
and order; and unity too, to a certain extent. It was made possible only
by the unswerving loyalty of the people to their spiritual leaders and
unquestioning faith in their political judgements.
However, in face of injustice, there
was sometimes little redress; where there was discontent, the voices were
too feeble and unorganized to be heard. It was left entirely to the benevolence
and the practical sense of the rulers to see to their every need. The
responsibility must have, at times, been overwhelming. The Shamarpa saw
the basic weakness in the infrastructure of the Tibetan society. Religion
and politics are mutually stifling. The logical solution to it, would
be the segregation of the two, with the religious leaders continue to
see to the spiritual needs of the people, leaving the running of the state
in the hands of the social-minded lay men. The religious leaders thus
far responsible for the general wellbeing of the people, must now feel
responsible to affect some fundamental and drastic changes, adapting to
the changing needs of the people, in accordance with changing times. The
Kunzig Shamarpa is of the firm belief that a better future for the Tibetans,
lies in the carrying out of these social and political restructuring.
It was truly a test of moral courage to give voice to these convictions
before the gathering in Varanasi; to some of whom, the thought of relinquishing
temporal power must have been as new as it was painful.
All lineage holders of all the tibetan buddhist schools attended this meeting in Benares. Speaking one after the other from the platform, they all tried to outdo each other in forced praise for the Dalaï Lama and his policies. When Shamar Rinpoche had finished his address, he walked back to his seat amid an heavy silence, under the dumbfounded gaze of all, and murmurs began about his speech being "a revolt against the Dalaï Lama". In this address he gave, he took major risks. An audio cassette record exists with this speech given in tibetan.