Details of the Seventeenth Karmapa’s life were foretold with startling prescience in the vision of Chogyur Dechen Lingpa (1829-1870), a great nonsectarian master and one of the most renowned discoverers (“tertöns”) of sacred hidden texts of the last few centuries.
The most famous prediction about the 17th Karmapa is by Chogyur Dechen Lingpa. During a visit to Karma Monastery, Guru Rinpoche appeared to him in a vision. (Guru Rinpoche, the great Indian master who came to Tibet in the Ninth Century, is considered the teacher most responsible for disseminating Buddhism in Tibet. For more details on Guru Rinpoche and the terma tradition, see the Nyingma School.)
In the vision, Guru Rinpoche was surrounded by twenty-one manifestations of the Karmapa. In addition to the traditional appearance of each of the fourteen incarnations who had taken birth through the period up to the time of Chogyur Lingpa, seven future incarnations appeared. The settings for their appearance were prophetic indications about the circumstances and manifestation of their activity in the future. In the center, seated on a white snow lion, Guru Rinpoche appeared and taught on the different manifestations of the Buddha.
Chogyur Dechen Lingpa explicitly described his vision of the prophecy to Karmai Khenchen Rinchen Tarjay, Supreme Abbot of Karma Monastery, who instructed artists to render the vision in painted murals. Chogyur Lingpa’s oral explanation of his vision was recorded in a text called Sounding the Tones of the Melody of Auspiciousness.
Since Chogyur Lingpa was a contemporary of the 14th Karmapa, the visionary details about the 15th through 21st Karmapas were prophecies. Though the statement in the predictions are brief, there are several important points to note about Chogkyur Lingpa’s predictions about the 15th, 16th and 17th Karmapas that have been borne out by their lives.
Prophecies about the 15th and 16th Karmapa
Excerpt from a thangka of the vision of the great tertön Chogyur Dechen Lingpa, who foresaw that the 17th Karmapa would receive teachings from Situ Rinpoche somewhere outside Tibet.
Chogyur Lingpa foresaw that the 15th Karmapa would achieve great accomplishment in his yoga practice of meditating on the bindus. The life of the 15th Karmapa, Khakyab Dorje bore out this prediction. The prediction on the 16th Karmapa was also strikingly accurate. The vision saw the 16th Karmapa residing in a two-story building. On the lower floor was seated the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. On the upper floor was a statue of Sakyamuni Buddha. This illustration foretold that the 16th Karmapa would be a very pure monk with many pure disciples.
Altering the Landscape for the Transmission
Chogyur Lingpa’s oral recounting of his vision about the 17th Karmapa states:
“Under a verdant tree,
on a rocky mountain
is the seventeenth incarnation
with Khentin Tai Situpa.
Through the inseparability of their minds,
the tree of the Buddha’s teachings
will flourish and bear abundant fruit,
the very essence of transmissions from Gampopa.”
In the accompanying painting, the Seventeenth Karmapa, named Pal Khyabdak Ogyen Gyalway Nyugu Drodul Trinley Dorje Tsal Chokle Nampar Gyalway De by Padmasambhava in the vision, is depicted on a verdant outcropping surrounded by flowers, under a leafy tree in discussion with Tai Situ Rinpoche.
Thus the prophecy in words and in the thangka depiction indicated that the 17th Karmapa would be together with Tai Situ Rinpoche on a mountain with verdant trees. This scenery simply does not depict the barren valley in which Tsurphu monastery sits. It does, however, bear a striking resemblance to the landscape to which His Holiness Karmapa escaped at end of 1999.
Next: The Prophetic Songs of the Sixteenth Karmapa