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Gyalwang Karmapa’s Teachings on the Vajradhara Lineage Prayer Session One: Great Masters of the Karma Kamtshang Lineage

26 February, 2012 Bodhgaya (Monlam Pavilion)

February 26 is the first of the three days of teachings by the Gyalwang Karmapa to both the lay and ordained sangha. Coming from all over the world, they fill the ground under the vast blue arch of the tent, reminding us that the early incarnations of the Karmapa traveled widely with his retinue who stayed in tents, hence the name Tsurphu Gar, the Encampment of Tsurphu. Flanked on either side by four stands of flowers, the Karmapa’s carved wooden throne is set up between the apron of the stage and the stairs that ascend up to the Buddha statue. Just behind the Karmapa’s throne are paintings of central figures from the four different lineages in Tibet.

Accompanied by the sound of gyalings, the Karmapa enters the Monlam Pavilion, makes three bows, and takes his seat on the Dharma throne. With three bells, everyone makes their bows and then recites in Sanskrit the refuge and two short teachings plus a dedication, which is followed by the Short Vajradhara Lineage Prayer.  While translators of ten different languages sit in front of him, the Karmapa includes in his prayers one to teach the Dharma in many different tongues. After an offering to him for his long life, the teachings begin.

The text the Gyalwang Karmapa will be teaching for three days is entitled “The Short Vajradhara Lineage Prayer.” He began playfully by saying that just looking at the name, you might think that there is a short Vajrdhara and a tall Vajradhara. Actually, it means the short prayer of Vajradhara as compared to longer prayers of Vajradhara. The author is Bengar Jampal Zangpo, who is regarded as a reincarnation of the Kadampa Geshe, Langri Tsangpa. Bengar Zangpo was also a root teacher of the Seventh Karmapa, Chodrak Gyatso.

Usually, teachings about this prayer are preceded by an explanation of how to meditate on the lineage, displayed in a refuge tree either as a gathering of lamas or as a line with one set directly above the other. Today, however, the teachings will be a commentary on the meaning rather than an extensive explanation of this meditation.

In India, the mahamudra lineage comes through Tilopa, Naropa, and Maitripa, and in Tibet, through Marpa, the great translator. He went to India three times and studied with the masters of meditation and texts, Naropa and Maitripa, who were famous all over India. Studying with many others, Marpa received teachings on all four sections of the tantra. He received a prediction that his disciples would be more advanced than their teacher and that their students would be even more realized, so that his lineage would be like a river ever increasing in its flow. Marpa’s main students were known as the four pillars. From among them, it was Ngok Choku Dorje who received the transmission of the teaching lineage of the tantras. Due to him, this lineage continues, not only in the Kagyu but also in other schools.

Another tantric lineage that Marpa brought back from India was that of the practice lineage, which was transmitted to Milarepa. He preserved it through following exactly his teacher’s instructions and through undergoing great hardships—meditating in the remote areas of high snow mountains and subsisting on nettles. Milarepa attained most profound experiences of the lineage.

Milarepa had numerous great students who were highly realized, the two greatest of whom are known as the sun-like and moon-like disciples. The latter was Rechungpa, famous for his hearing lineage and for passing away without leaving any physical remains. One of his famous disciples was Khyung Tsangpa, and his student was Lorepa. There are many supreme masters who maintain this special hearing lineage of Rechungpa.  Another student was Nyandzong Repa Changchup Gyalpo, who had a lineage called the Nyendzong hearing lineage.

The most important lineage holder of Milarepa was Gampopa, who founded the Dagpo Kagyu. He is also known as Noble Dawa Shonnu (Youthful Moon) and Dakpo Lhaje (the Doctor from Dakpo). In three sutras, he was predicted by the Buddha, saying there will be someone called Gelong Tsoze, which means a Bhikshu who is a doctor. His nephew was Gompo Tsultrim Nyingpo (or Gomtsul), who held the lineage of the main seat of Gampopa, known as Densa Kagyu, which his descendants continued. Gomtsul’s main student was Shang Yudrakpa or Tsondru Drakpa, from who stems the Tsalpa Kagyu, one of the four elder Kagyu schools.

It was also predicted that Gampopa would have 500 purified students and 500 still to be purified.  From among these, there were 800 highly qualified meditators and of these, the principal ones were the three men from Kham. One of them, the Grey-Haired Khampa or Dusum Khyenpa (the First Karmapa), founded the lineage of the Karma Kamtsang. Another of the three, Khampa Dorgyal or Palden Pakmodrukpa, founded the Pakdru Kagyu. This lineage spread the most widely since all the eight younger schools of Karma Kagyu stem from him. Another direct student of Gampopa is Barompa Darma Wangchuk who started the Barom Kagyu lineage, home to many great masters. His student was Trishi Repa, who became a teacher of the Chinese emperor, and his teachings continue to this day.

The Vajradhara Prayer speaks of “the four elder lineages” and these come from Gampopa and his nephew Gomtsul, who were very similar in their realization. There were no students of Gampopa who did not also receive teachings from Gomtsul as well. These four lineages are the Tsalpa Kagyu, Karma Kagyu, Barom Kagyu, and Pakdru Kagyu; some add the Densa Kagyu to make five. These are called the elder lineages as they all come directly from Gampopa and his nephew Gomtsul; the younger lineages all come from the students of Gampopa’s students.

This is an extremely important point because one might misunderstand (especially if the termche is translated as “greater” and chung as “lesser”) and think that the four elder lineages are better— more powerful, valuable, or famous—and that the eight younger lineages are not as good—being smaller, weaker, or not so important. But this is not the case. The direct disciples of Gampopa and Gomtsul are the elder, and the next generation stemming from them, especially Pakmodrukpa, are known as the younger.

Some writers say that the term four elder and eight younger (che bzhi chung brgyad) was not there before Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, a contemporary of the Fourteenth Karmapa, but this is not correct. In writings of Taklung Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, who lived at the time of the Tenth Karmapa, we find this term so it predates Jamgon Kongtrul.

When translating the Kagyu Monlam Prayer Book, we decided to use the terms “elder” for the direct disciples of Gampopa and Gomtsul and “younger” for the lineages of their students. This way of translating also follows a tradition related to three families of Ling Gesar, in which these terms che, chung, and also bar (middle) appear: the first was the lineage of the elder and the second of the younger, which was actually more powerful.  So in Tibetan the term che can mean “the elder brother”and chung can mean “younger brother.” It’s very important to be clear about this so that we do not use the term to mean than some lineages are better than the others.

Since this is a Drupgyu Karma Kamtshang gathering, it might be useful to explain this name, too.  Drupgyu (sGrub brgyud) refers to the practice lineage; Karma is from Karmapa, the one who performs the activities of all the buddhas; and Kam comes from Kampo Gangra, the name of a place in Lithang in Eastern Tibet; Tshang literally means “nest” and by extension, “dwelling or place,” so the name could be translated as “the Karmapa’s practice lineage from Kampo Gangra.” This sacred place of Chakrasamvara is where Gampopa told Dusum Khyenpa to practice, and if he did, his activity would spread throughout Tibet. Dusum Khyenpa’s final realization was also here at Kampo Gangra.

In addition to the name of Karma Kamtshang, we also find Karma Kagyu (Kar ma bka’ brgyud). The first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, was not popularly known as Karmapa, though in a vision he had received this name as the performer of the activities of all the buddhas. People have different theories about the origin of this name. Some say that it comes from the fact that the Dusum Khyenpa stayed for a long time in Karma Gon, and so his lineage took its name from this place. Some historians say the name Karmapa was given only to the second Karmapa, so the Karmapas begin with him, and Dusum Khyenpa is then considered the first holder of the Black Crown. So there are different ways of explaining the origin of the name Karmapa and, by extension, of Karma Kagyu.

There is also a variety of predictions about the number of the Karmapa’s incarnations. Chokgyur Lingpa wrote that for seven generations, the Karmapa’s rebirth or reincarnations (yangsi, yang srid) will appear and then there will be thirteen manifestations (trulpa, sprul pa) making for a total of twenty-one. There is a prediction from Guru Rinpoche that the Karmapa will have only seven reincarnations. The Fifth Karmapa predicted that there will be twenty-five. Drupchen Nyakre Sewo stated that there will be 1002 Karmapas, and though they might not be throne holders or carrying the name of the Karmapa, they will be performing the Karmapa’s activities, so it is said that the Karmapa’s activities will not finished until all the activity of the 1000 buddhas comes to a close.

Others say that his activity will last until the end of samsara. Let us take a brief look at the differences between what are known as reincarnations and as manifestations. A manifestation arises from  its own basis, or foundation, and there can be many manifestations. For example, an arhant can produce manifestations, but they have no independent power to think or act for themselves; the basis that produced them (the arhant in this case) must first think and act. By contrast, manifestations of the Buddha can think and act on their own. Now in the case of a reincarnation, the basis of manifestation itself takes rebirth. Further, the way manifestations happen depends on the capacity of the people who are manifesting. For example, if they have the level of realization, they can emanate manifestations of their body, speech, mind, qualities, and activity.

Tulkus can be recognized in two main ways: through connection and through similarity. Not all tulkus are manifestations of buddhas or bodhisattvas. When people make powerful prayers, practice well, maintain good conduct and discipline, and gather the accumulations, they create the auspicious connection to take birth as a special individual; due to the aspirations they have made in the past, they will now have the capacity to help numerous living beings. A highly realized master can see this potential and will give them the name of a tulku. This benefits them in developing their positive potential as they will have more opportunities to increase their merit and wisdom will come to them. Since their aspirations are genuine, they are able to benefit others. In a lighter tone, His Holiness added that we cannot call everyone a tulku. If we did, who would be left to offer respect to the tulkus?

Through many generations, the Karmapa has had uncountable numbers of students; the greatest among them, he recognized as having attained his  level of abandoning what is negative and attaining what is positive. These disciples are known collectively as the father Karmapa and his heart sons (rgyal ba yab sras). Their relationship is that of a teacher and student, but calling them father and son points to their special connection: a father does not have so many children, and a teacher can have many students. His Holiness presented the heart sons in their historical order.

Shamar Rinpoche

The first of these special students is the Shamarpa. The Second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi, predicted that about one hundred years later, he would have two reincarnations with the equivalent level of abandonment and realization, even though they would be described as teacher and student. One of them would wear the Black Hat and the other a Red Hat.  This lineage of enthroned reincarnations continued through to the Tenth Shamarpa. At this time, problems arose and so the Tibetan government did not allow his reincarnations to be recognized or enthroned.

Just previous to this Tenth Shamarpa, there were two claimants for the reincarnation of the Ninth Shamarpa, because two lamas had recognized two different children. Due to Chinese influence, there was a lottery system of selecting a name from a golden vase, so in this way, Tashi Tsepay (his family name) Shamar was enthroned. The second reincarnation, Nam Ling (his family name) Shamar continued to take birth up to the time of the Fifteenth Karmapa.

When the Tenth Shamarpa passed away, there were three generations of lamas who were said to be reincarnations of the Shamarpa, but they were not enthroned. Therefore, if one counts all who were enthroned, the present Shamarpa is the eleventh, and if one counts those who were not enthroned, he is the fourteenth. Since for three generations, the Shamarpas were not enthroned, when the Sixteenth Karmapa came to India, he asked the Fourteenth Dalai Lama to allow the recognition of Shamarpa. His Holiness gave his consent, and this is how the present Shamarpa was enthroned.

Situ Rinpoche

The First Situpa was a direct disciple of the Fifth Karmapa, Dezhin Shekpa. Since then the Situpas held responsibility for the seat of Karma Gön, one of the three main seats of the Karmapa. In general, all the Situpas were important but especially so was the Eighth Situ Chokyi Jungne, also known as Situ Panchen. When Karmapa and Shamarpa went to China, Situ Rinpoche requested to travel with them, but the Karmapa asked him to remain in Tibet. As it happened, on the way to China, both the Karmapa and Shamar Rinpoche passed away within a few days of each other, so the responsibility for the lineage fell on the shoulders of Situ Rinpoche. He carried this responsibility magnificently and engaged in vast activity. He established Palpung Monastery in Kham and helped to preserve all aspects of Tibetan culture.  He was a great scholar in all the branches of study found in India and Tibet as well as a superb artist. We owe Situ Chokyi Jungne tremendous gratitude.

After the Fourth Situpa, Mingyur Chokyi Gocha, and the Fifth Situpa died at a young age, yet his incarnation is still counted among the numbers of Situpas, making the present one the Twelfth Situpa. Another Situpa, Lekshey Mrawa, (born between the Seventh and Eight Situpas) was recognized, but at that time, the Kagyu school was undergoing a period of weakness. Since the members of the family were rather arrogant, they did not offer their child for enthronement, so this incarnation died at a young age and is not numbered among the Situpas.

The Eleventh Situpa was a serious person who published all the words of the Eighth Karmapa Mikyo Dorje, including his profound commentaries, so it is thanks to him that we still have these texts. He also established a shedra or an institute for the study of Buddhist philosophy. We will talk about the present Situpa on the last day of he Monlam.

Gyaltsap Rinpoche

The First Gyaltsap Rinpoche, Goshir Paljor Döndrup, was a contemporary of the author of our text, Pengar Jampel Sangpo. Both masters were teachers of the Seventh Karmapa, who received the vinaya and ordination from Pengar Jampel Sangpo and most of the teachings and transmissions from the First Gyaltsap Rinpoche. Pengar Jampal Sangpo was also known as Lama Rinpoche Wang Gyapa (Precious Lama with Hundreds of Empowerments) as there was not one empowerment he did not have from all the lineages. This came about because the Sixth Karmapa knew that he would be his teacher in the next life, so he sent him everywhere to receive all the reading transmissions, empowerments, and instructions, which Pengar Jampal Sangpo could then pass on to the Seventh Karmapa, allowing all of this precious Dharma to remain intact in Tibet. After this first incarnation, the Gyaltsap Rinpoches incarnated in unbroken succession. During a war between Central and Western Tibet, which involved the Mongolians as well, the Karma Kamtsang school suffered greatly and almost disappeared. Using skillful means, the Eighth Gyaltsap Rinpoche made a connection with the Mongolian leader Goshri Khan and, thereby, was able to save Tsurphu Monastery and preserve the Kamtsang lineage as well as other Kagyu schools. That the Kamtsang Kagyu remains today is thanks to Gyaltsap Rinpoche.

Pawo Rinpoche and Treho Rinpoche

In the Kagyu tradition, the First Pawo Rinpoche, Tsuklak Trengwa, was a supreme scholar of the history of Tibetan Buddhism, and to this day his history is still highly respected and widely read. We do not know much about Treho Shabdrung Rinpoches. It is said that his name is one of a certain position or rank, of which there are two, senior and junior. The one included in the six father and sons is the junior one.  His incarnations have continued. This has been a brief introduction to the five sons and their father, the Karmapa. Tomorrow, we will continue this discussion of the lineages that have given us such a rich heritage of scholarship and practice.

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