Over the course of four weeks, the Gyalwang Karmapa will teach on the life and lessons of the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje. This special event is live streamed daily as part of the Arya Kshema winter gathering of Kagyu nuns. The transcriptions, summary and YouTube recordings are listed below, and you can view the schedule here.
In December 2020, the Winter teaching on The Four Dharmas of Gampopa was the focus for the Kagyu Winter Dharma Debate, held annually for the monks’ shedras. This teaching is the Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Gathering directed at the nuns’ shedras, though monks’ shedras, dharma centres and a worldwide audience of laypeople are also watching.
Seven nunnery shedras are participating: Tilokpur and Palpung Yeshe Rabgyeling in India, Ralang Kyegue Dhagmo Chosling in Sikkim, Karma Samten Ling, Thrangu Tara Abbey and Karma Thekchen Leksheling in Nepal, and Karma Drubdey Palmo Choskyi Dingkhang in Bhutan. Before the webcast commenced, the nunneries made mandala offerings to the 17th Karmapa. Nuns from Karma Drubdey nunnery provided the backing as His Holiness sang The Praise “He searched thoroughly” and recited the opening prayers.
Introducing the topic for the month’s teaching, the Gyalwang Karmapa commented on how many scholars within the Kagyu tradition felt a particular affinity for Karmapa Mikyö Dorje:
It is not just that he wrote commentaries on the Middle Way, Prajnaparamita, Vinaya, and Abhidharma. It is also because he used the power of his own diligence at learning and the power of his intelligence to write many complete and unerring explanations of the intent of the sutras and tantras; the assertions of the great texts; the view, meditation and conduct of the Kagyu masters of the past, and so forth.
At one point during the teaching, His Holiness quipped, ‘Today I’m just telling stories all day long!” But, as he had explained earlier, this teaching was not intended to be a history lesson. The Gyalwang Karmapa’s aim was twofold. His first intention was to help us understand the origins of the lineage and appreciate its greatness:
If we think we should uphold, preserve, and spread well the teachings of the Practice Lineage, we need to know what its origins are, how the forefathers initially established the teachings, how later masters upheld them, and in the end, how much hardship and effort they went through in order to spread them… The more we research and study this, the more we can understand what the majesty, the essence, and the true value of this lineage are.
Secondly, we are dharma practitioners and any study needs to be internalised. The real instructions of the great masters of the past were not written down but are evident in the way they lived their lives, their thoughts and activities; the test of authenticity is whether the guru’s thoughts and activities accord with the dharma. These two autobiographies demonstrate how “an ordinary person, an ordinary monk worked hard to make his life be in harmony with the dharma…they are direct instructions from his experience during his lifetime.. profound instructions on real practice”.
Citing a wide range of sources as evidence —Tibetan histories, sacred biographies, Chinese texts, and documents discovered at Dunhuang —His Holiness explored the origins and meaning of the name “Karmapa”, the origins of the Black Crown, and the relationship between the first three lineage holders, Dusum Khyenpa, Karma Pakshi and Rangjung Dorje. He concluded from his research thatDusum Khyenpa was the first bearer of the Black Crown, that Karma Pakshi was the first to be known as Karmapa, and that Rangjung Dorje, the Third Karmapa, was the first to be recognised as a tulku. This is further substantiated by Karmapa Mikyö Dorje who wrote, “the omniscient Rangjung Dorje, was the second to bear the name Karmapa and the third bearer of the Black Crown”.
The Karmapas have become known as the Black Hat Lamas. The Karmapa asserted that the Black Crown tradition definitely originated with Dusum Khyenpa and the first black crown was either made by him or by others under his direction. It was not offered to him by a king, high lama or any other person. Dusum Khyenpa was the first to wear the Black Crown, and his students visualised him wearing a black crown. Karma Pakshi supports this:
Because he [Dusum Khyenpa] was the same in essence as Saraha, as a symbol of the unchanging dharma nature, he wore a crown of black silk with a gold blaze such as had never appeared anywhere before on earth, representing the unrepresentable through co-emergent wisdom mahamudra and through various symbols…
These early crowns were unelaborate and stitched from ordinary material. An example still exists— Karma Pakshi’s crown at Karma Gön. Further, His Holiness pointed out that the Karmapa’s crown is not black but a very dark blue. There are several explanations for this, one being a connection with Buddha Akshobhya in the Vajra Buddha family in tantric practice. His Holiness quoted another explanation of its symbolism as described by Rangjung Dorje:
Namo guru! I prostrate to the lord gurus.
Dakinis, grant your blessings.
I shall explain in part the qualities
Of this black crown with garuda wings and gold blaze.
The base being slightly dark
Is a symbol of the unchanging dharmakaya.
The sides being square is a symbol
Of the four immeasurables.
Having two garuda wings
Is a symbol of the inseparability of means and prajna.
Having three points is a symbol
Of the three kayas being complete in him.
Having four colours is a symbol
Of accomplishing the four activities.
Being adorned with five silks
Is a symbol of the five families dwelling above the head.
Having the parasol, sun, and moon
Is a sign that the guru is a wish-fulfilling jewel
And always accompanies, never apart.
Having a blaze on the forehead
Is a symbol of knowing the one dharma that liberates all
And understanding everything known to be one.
This crown that has these symbols
Is the rainbow of the great Brahmin.
It was bestowed by the dakinis.
It is the crown of Dusum Khyenpa.
May those with faith and devotion for this crown
Meet glorious Dusum Khyenpa.
The Black Crown itself has changed many times during its history. In the Chinese court, hats indicated status, and the histories and biographies clearly state that the Mongol and Chinese emperors gave crowns to the Karmapas. Karma Thinley mentions two such crowns in the Great Encampment: “one made of Mongolian fabric that the Mongol emperor Timur Khan offered to Rolpay Dorje [Fourth Karmapa], and one called Dzamling Yeshak studded by many jewels given by the Chinese emperor Qing Ha to Lord Tongwa Donden [Sixth Karmapa]”.
Indeed, the Karmapas accumulated a great treasury of gifts and offerings they had received, but many of these treasures were lost at the time of the Tenth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje, during the war with Gushri Khan. Even more were lost during the cultural revolution. All that remains is locked away in the treasury at Rumtek Monastery.
In addition to wearing the Black Crown, the Karmapas also perform the Black Crown ceremony, but, as His Holiness acknowledged, its origins are less clear. The histories suggest that it began during the time of the Seventh and Eighth Karmapas, but it is possible that it began earlier. In his biography of Sonam Gyatso [Third Dalai Lama (1543 CE – 1588 CE)], the Great Fifth Dalai Lama recounts how the Karmapa performed a Black Crown ceremony specially for Sonam Gyatso, which had a great effect on the latter.
The format of the ceremony has changed several times. Even during the lifetime of the Sixteenth Karmapa, many small changes were introduced. The main point, however, is that the ceremony was a thongdrol or “liberation on seeing” and its aim was to encourage virtue. Participants were urged to recite ten million mani mantras, to perform life releases, and to keep pure conduct.
Another tradition associated with the Black Crown ceremony, and widespread across Tibetan culture, is reciting the six-syllable mantra [OM MANI PADME HUM], singing it to a melody, and carrying a mani prayer wheel. This tradition of mani recitation originated with Karma Pakshi, whose main yidam deity was Red Chenrezig, Gyalwa Gyatso. Karma Pakshi spread the practice across Tibet.
There seem to have been two different crowns used in the Black Crown ceremonies which can be identified— Meaningful to See and Dzamling Yeshak. These appear to have been more elaborate and jewelled than earlier crowns, but the basic features remained the same. No one is sure which of these the 16th Karmapa wore.
The mani mantra was used by the Karmapas from the time of Karma Pakshi until at least the time of the Fifth Karmapa, Deshin Shekpa, and then it was replaced gradually by “Karmapa Khyenno” meaning “Karmapa! Please watch over me. Please protect me.” However, as His Holiness reminded everyone, the name “Karmapa” means “the one who accomplishes the Buddha’s activities” and as such applies to any authentic guru. Whenever we recite “Karmapa Khyenno” we should visualise that we are supplicating all the lineage gurus and spiritual friends not just those in the Karmapa lineage.
Following the recitation of the opening prayers, on the second day, His Holiness emphasized two important but interrelated topics – how liberation stories reveal the path to practitioners and the crucial necessity of faith.
Regarding liberation stories, His Holiness first contextualized the background on the collected works of the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje. He explained that the Fifth Shamar Könchok Yenlak compiled the complete catalogue of Mikyö Dorje’s collected works, but a few of Mikyö Dorje’s liberation stories are found elsewhere.
For instance, Sangye Paldrup’s commentary on the Good Deeds says:
…The liberation story prepared by Akhu Atra, the liberation story by the master of siddha Gampo Khenpo Shakya Senge, and the liberation story by Lama Pönyik…
Sangye Paldrup mentions several different stories of Mikyö Dorje’s liberation. Other than the one prepared by Akhu Atra, the other two liberation stories are not found in the collected works.
His Holiness explained the texts to be discussed in this teaching are: The Life of Karmapa Mikyö Dorje Called “Good Deeds” Written by Himself and the Praise “He Searched Thoroughly…”. The Good Deeds is the longest and most complete autobiography of Mikyö Dorje. The edition of the Good Deeds that he is using comes from the first volume of the Collected Works of Mikyö Dorje that has been preserved in the Drepung Nechu Lhakhang library.
His Holiness shared a story about his delight in first encountering the Collected Works of Mikyö Dorje. When he was in Tibet, there were more than one-hundred old Kagyu manuscripts and texts in the libraries of the Potala, Norbulingka, and Drepung Nechu Lhakhang.The old texts were from the Tse Lhagang Monastery in Kongpo in the same location as the treasury of the Karmapas. According to the Great Fifth Dalai Lama’s autobiography, the texts were brought to Ü when this monastery was destroyed.
Many of these cloth-wrapped texts were still sealed with red stamps and had not been opened and read in 300 years, but Tsurphu Khenpo Loyak carried all these old manuscripts back to Tsurphu Monastery. His Holiness shared his fond memory of the experience,
“I still remember that day very well. I brought a stick of incense down to welcome the texts. It was the first time in my life that I was an incense bearer. We arranged silks on top of a table and placed the books there. At that time, I was next to Lagen Drupnam and he opened up a volume of Mikyö Dorje’s collected works. Mikyö Dorje’s collected works were held together with wooden boards and leather straps. When the leather straps were undone, they fell apart into many pieces because they were so old. When we touched the cloth covering the text, dust clouds billowed up. Looking at it from the outside, you would have thought the text inside had decomposed. Instead, the pages shone. Most of the text was handwritten and we were so delighted to see it; we all gasped ‘Ah!”
His Holiness animatedly expressed his pure joy when he encountered the collected works of Mikyö Dorje or any of the Karmapas. While at Tsurphu his quarters were right across from the library, so he would always get texts and read them including the collected works of the Thirteenth Karmapa and Fifteenth Karmapa. One story he particularly enjoyed was in the Thirteenth Karmapa’s collected works. In the story called “Dharma Taught to the Little Mouse Drupgyu Tenzin,” a mouse teaches meditation to a vole. The vole was unable to sit cross-legged so they made a meditation belt out of grass so that he could.
Gyalwang Karmapa went on to explain the meaning of the title “Karmapa”, the one who performs activities. He commented that in the word “Karmapa”, karma is from Sanskrit, not Tibetan. When we translate it from Sanskrit into the Tibetan term, las, it means action. Then it includes the nominalizer, pa, signifying the person who performs the action. Many Tibetans do not know that the term ‘karma’ comes from the Sanskrit. So when they write it in Tibetan, they use spellings for other Tibetan terms that sound similar such as ‘star’ (skar ma) or ‘white’ (dkar po) instead of the spelling as transliterated from Sanskrit (karma pa).
Next, His Holiness shared the meaning behind liberation stories. When the Sanskrit term vimoksha is translated into Tibetan, namthar (rnam thar), it means liberation story. Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thaye’s autobiography describes liberation stories classified according to the three types of beings – the greater, middling, and lesser type of individual. For the lesser type of individuals, they achieve liberation from rebirth in the three lower realms due to having pure faith and believing in karma, cause, and effect. Middling individuals achieve liberation from the ocean of samsara through the true wish for emancipation. Greater individuals achieve liberation from both extremes of existence and peace through the altruistic intention to benefit all sentient beings. These liberation stories tell how masters have been liberated from suffering and its causes and then freed other beings from their bonds.
In Acharya Aryaśūrapada’s Jataka Tales, it says:
These fine tales of those with marks of fame,
Teach the path of becoming a sugata.
Those who lack faith will gain faith.
They will be delighted with dharma tales.
The liberation stories of great beings show us what is the path and what is not the path. Also, those who lack faith will develop faith. In this way, liberation stories are directly related to faith.
His Holiness illustrated the importance of faith through the example of the Buddha’s decision to turn the wheel of Dharma. After the Buddha was enlightened, he did not immediately teach the Dharma. During that time, Brahma came down to the human realm and asked the Buddha to turn the wheel of Dharma. The first time he made this request, the Buddha replied that the Dharma was so profound that ordinary people would be unable to understand it. When Brahma asked him a second time, the Buddha thought to himself, “All buddhas teach Dharma in order to tame all sentient beings and I should do the same.” So, he promised to turn the wheel of Dharma. Then, the Buddha said to Brahma, “Today, I have uncovered the flavour of amrita nectar, all those with faith will be delighted. I shall teach them the true Dharma.”
His Holiness emphasized that “the Buddha said, ‘all those with faith will be delighted’.” Gyalwang Karmapa elaborated:
The Buddha did not say all those who are generous will be delighted, nor did he say that all those who keep discipline will be delighted, nor did he say all those who practice will be delighted, nor did he say that all those who have diligence will be delighted, nor did he say that all those who meditate on prajna will be delighted. He did not say those who have great prajna will be delighted. He only said that those who have faith will be delighted. The reason for this is that the true Dharma is profound and immeasurable. It is inconceivable. So those with great worldly prajna cannot realize it. It can only be realized by the omniscient. So worldly people will not be able to immediately understand the teachings of the Buddha. Therefore, the condition for ordinary people to enter the Dharma is based upon faith.
His Holiness concluded by describing the interconnection between faith and liberation stories. The main point is that liberation stories reveal the great qualities of liberated beings. Since beginners must rely on faith and devotion, liberation stories show great beings’ qualities such as little desire or attachment to the world, intelligence as scholars, experience and realization as meditators, and how their deeds on behalf of the teachings make a lasting imprint.
Part 2 – The Homage in Good Deeds
For the second part of his teachings, His Holiness directed our attention to the text Good Deeds. Mikyö Dorje’s liberation story recounts thirty-three of his different good deeds. His Holiness rhetorically asked and replied, “What is a good deed? A good deed should be understood as a virtuous act.”
In the sutras, the Buddha taught the three types of harmful deeds and good deeds. Harmful deeds refer to the unvirtuous actions of body and so forth whereas the virtuous actions of the body and so forth are called good deeds.
The three types of good deeds are also called purifiers. For example, all the good deeds of body, purify the body, the good deeds of speech, purify speech, and the good deeds of mind, purify mind. The reason they are called purifiers is that the stains of harmful actions of body, speech, and mind are purified through good deeds.
Sangye Paldrup, a direct disciple of Mikyö Dorje, wrote a meaning commentary on Good Deeds with an outline of three main sections of the text as follows:
The Autobiographical Verses called “The Good Deeds”
- Homage and pledge to compose
- The nature of the biography
For this teaching, His Holiness covered the first topic. Regarding the first section it is divided into two parts, paying homage to great beings and the pledge to compose, as seen in the verses:
To those with unrivaled compassion—the Three Jewels
And gurus—I pay homage with respect.
Great beings would see nothing wondrous here,
But some childish beings might enjoy these words.
A few high masters have encouraged me
By saying that it would be meaningful
If I recounted some of my good deeds.
Since I know best what I experienced, I’ll relate a few.
Among the first of these two parts is paying homage to the great beings; the text states:
To those with unrivaled compassion—the Three Jewels
And gurus—I pay homage with respect.
His Holiness explained the meaning in general terms. Mikyö Dorje is paying homage to the Three Jewels and the gurus. He is prostrating to them. What are these three jewels and who are the gurus to whom he pays homage? The Three Jewels refers to the Buddha as described in the Mahayana – a buddha with the nature of the three kayas. The Dharma means the truth of cessation, freedom from attachment, and the truth of the path which leads to freedom. The Sangha is the irreversible noble beings with the qualities of awareness and liberation. The basis for that is all them, is all glorious gurus.
Gyalwang Karmapa noted, “The homage is extremely important.” Generally in Tibet, all authors begin texts with an homage to the buddhas, bodhisattvas, and gurus. The purpose of this is to prevent any obstacles to writing or completion of the text. As His Holiness explained, Good Deeds begins with prostrations, offerings, and praise because Mikyö Dorje’s greatest aim was to protect all sentient beings from endless suffering now and in future lifetimes. Writing his autobiography depended upon favorable conditions including the kindness and great compassion of the Three Jewels and the great lineage holders.
As emphasized in the Kadampa oral tradition, no matter what action you do, you should prostrate and make offerings to the Three Jewels. Prostrating to the Three Jewels and the gurus removes obstacles and helps us accomplish our desired aims. In fact, there is nothing more powerful than having belief in the Three Jewels and the gurus.
His Holiness then turned to the second of these two parts – the pledge to compose. This comprises five different points:
- Expression of modesty
- How this is for the faithful and receptive
- The actual topic
- Refuting that this is inappropriate
- Dispelling exaggerations and denials
For the expression of modesty, we see the line:
Great beings would see nothing wondrous here,
The meaning of this line is that the great beings are already free from delusion about what should be done or rejected. Great beings would not feel amazement since they have already reached nirvana and omniscience.
The second point of these five is – How this is for the faithful and receptive. This relates to the line:
But some childish beings might enjoy these words.
Childish beings refers to the ordinary individual, in particular, those who have a longing for the Mahayana. When they see or hear the story of Mikyö Dorje’s liberation, they might feel faith, develop delight, and train and follow in his example. He is teaching this liberation story specifically for their sake.
The third point is the actual topic. The text states:
If I recounted some of my good deeds.
The meaning is that the author, Mikyö Dorje, will recount several of his good deeds.
The fourth point is refuting that this is inappropriate. The passage states:
A few high masters have encouraged me
By saying that it would be meaningful
His Holiness explained this passage. Here, Mikyö Dorje was neither influenced by the eight worldly dharmas nor is he a charlatan. In fact, the author did not feel that he had to tell this story but his students consistently encouraged him to do so.
The fifth point is dispelling exaggerations and denials. The text reads:
Since I know best what I experienced, I’ll relate a few.
If someone else had written this liberation story, a different author, they might have exaggerated Mikyö Dorje’s qualities. Since his experience of his deeds is only vivid to him, he wrote the text himself.
His Holiness ended the session by elaborating on this. When the students write their guru’s liberation stories, they make too many proclamations and only praise the guru. But when the guru composes his own story, his experience of liberation is clearly recorded, just as seen in the Good Deeds.
His Holiness began by offering welcome to the khenpos, teachers, nuns, shedra students, and all others listening to his teaching.
Aided by appealing graphics, he then began explaining the second of the three main sections of Mikyö Dorje’s autobiographical text, Good Deeds. This section, “The Nature of the Biography,” has two parts:
A. The preliminaries: how to enter the dharma
B. The main part: how he practiced the paths of the three types of individuals
Part A has six subsections:
- The meaningful deed of a supreme nirmanakaya
- Abandoning the impediment to dharma, negative friends
- The favorable condition: following great spiritual friends
- Abandoning meaningless distractions
- Giving up on this life because impermanence has taken root in his being
- Going for refuge to the undeceiving Three Jewels
The second stanza of Good Deeds demonstrates the first point, “the meaningful deed of a supreme nirmanakaya.”
Once I had gained a human life with leisures and resources,
I dared not squander it pointlessly. With single-minded focus,
I did all I could to practice dharma just as the Buddha taught.
I subjugated forcefully any wrong thought that arose.
I think of this as one of my good deeds. (1)
In this passage, Mikyö Dorje explains how he took on a human body, entered the gate of the Buddha’s teachings, made vows, and performed virtuous deeds to make his life meaningful. This is the first of the thirty-three good deeds given in the text.
His Holiness began illuminating this stanza by explaining a prophesy made by the 7th Karmapa, Chödrak Gyatso, based on his pure vision of gurus, yidams, dakinis, and especially Padmasambhava, who predicted that if he entered strict retreat for three years, he would live to the age of eighty-eight. Intending to follow this guidance, Chödrak Gyatso went to Kongpo and spent a few months in retreat. But the people of Kongpo had a great desire for an audience with the Karmapa, and the monks in the encampment asked him to grant this request because they were running out of food and needed offerings to support themselves. The 7thKarmapa granted their request but said, “Are you going to eat the meat without milking the cow?” He left retreat in 1506, dissolved his nirmanakaya and appeared in sambhogakaya form to a hundred thousand people who gathered to see him. He passed away the next morning with no illness, leaving a testament saying, “I have no birth but will display a birth.” Chödrak Gyatso specified where he would be born and the names of his parents. He left this on his table.
His successor, the Karmapa Mikyö Dorje, was born in Upper Dokham near the monastic seat of Karma Gön. This was the same region where the 6th Karmapa Tongwa Donden was born. There’s a debate about the identity of the 8th Karmapa’s father. According to Mikyö Dorje’s autobiographical Account of the Past Actions of Mikyö Dorje, his biological father was Ser Jadralwa Jampa Shennyen, but he was raised by Ajam. His mother was named Dongsa Lama Drön.
Mikyö Dorje’s conception and birth were miraculous. Spheres of light appeared inside his parents’ house, as if the sun was shining inside. He probably entered his mother’s womb at that time, and she had a wondrous dream about a plain filled with beautiful flowers. Inside a majestic tent were splendid offerings, texts, and statues; pieces of white conch shaped like stupas fell like rain. A turquoise-colored mist surrounded the scene. Boys and girls adorned with jewels danced and sang as they circumambulated the tent. The mother put on bone ornaments and also danced while picking up a golden vajra in her hands. Seeing another woman with a white conch, she took it and made a beautiful sound. Everyone heard the conch. There was a throne inside the tent, on which a monk sat. He said that everyone had heard the conch she blew. Ajam had a prayer wheel and began singing the mani melody while others joined in. Then the monk gave the mother a mala made of conch and told her to recite the mani mantra. She woke up to the sound of the mantra. Enveloped with feelings of pleasure, she experienced great joy. In general, parents of the Karmapas are often associated with white conch shells, His Holiness added.
From the time of conception until Mikyö Dorje was born, there were sounds of scriptural recitation around his house. Light surrounded his mother and his home. He also protected her when he was in her womb. When she went to collect wood for a fire, a voice told her there was going to be a great hail storm. She got back inside her house just before the storm began. The baby also chanted OM MANI PADME HUM within her belly. Once his father and mother got into a fight, and he hit her with a frying pan. The child within admonished him not to do that.
During this time, when his father was coming back from the fields, he saw a person with bone ornaments, who gave him a black crown made of rainbow light. Some thought he had seen a ghost, and they did repulsion rituals. Even the neighboring villagers had miraculous dreams during this time.
In 1507, his mother gave birth to Mikyö Dorje without discomfort. He immediately sat up, wiped his face and said, “I’m the Karmapa.” There was a rain of flowers, the scent of incense, and a rainbow-colored column of light that went up from the roof of his house into the sky. Significantly, the Ming Emperor Zhengde was enthroned on the same day in China. He said that he was an emanation of the Karmapa.
After he was born, Mikyö Dorje said OM MANI PADME HUM and made other holy utterances. Because of that, some people believed that he was the rebirth of Chödrak Gyatso. Many people came to see him in Ngom. At this time, Situ Tashi Paljor visited the area, learned about the baby, and consulted the 7thKarmapa’s prediction letter. Mikyö Dorje’s father confirmed the facts of the letter, except that the names of the parents were not one hundred percent the same. His birth year indicated that there would be an obstacle to his life. Situ Rinpoche gave instructions to overcome these obstacles and told the father that the child might say something significant. In fact, he did say, “E Ma Ho. Do not have any doubt in me. I am called the Karmapa.” Situ Rinpoche sent one of his patrons, Tsokye, who also examined him. Mikyö Dorje said the six-syllable mantra seven times. Another group from a local monastery visited him, and Mikyö Dorje spoke again, happy to see them. As a result, they felt a lot of faith.
The tulku had tiny teeth, the size of mustard seeds. His father touched them, and that night they disappeared. From that time onward, his tongue was somewhat inflexible, and his speech was a little bit uncomfortable.
From the time of his birth, Mikyö Dorje told stories about people he knew in previous lives and displayed other miraculous abilities. When he was only seven months old, he was invited to Riwoche Monastery, the major seat of the Taklung Kagyu lineage. The master of Riwoche was Jigten Wangchuk, and he was extremely kind to Mikyö Dorje. He gave him food and clothing and unconditional support during a succession dispute between the Eastern and Western candidates. But Jigten Wangchuk engaged in violent activities. He supported the military, and his faith in Mikyö Dorje did not get stronger. However, Mikyö Dorje had a dream about a house in which Jigten Wangchuk lived. The tulku saw Avalokiteshvara on a lotus seat inside the house. He felt faith in Jigten Wangchuk as if he were Avalokiteshvara. (The Karmapa had this dream much later when he 31.)
The early period of the 8th Karmapa’s life was somewhat unsettled. When he was nine months old, Mikyö Dorje was brought to Lhorong Dzong Monastery. Until he was six years old, he was shuttled between Dzongsar, Lhorong and Riwoche Monasteries.
The last part of His Holiness’s presentation concerned a succession dispute that complicated Mikyö Dorje’s recognition as the 8th Karmapa. He began this topic by noting:
So with the situation of the 16th Karmapa, there are two or three people recognized as the tulku. People think that this is unprecedented, and they can’t get their minds around it. This has actually happened before in history, so we should . . . understand this.
One difference between now and the time of Mikyö Dorje, however, is that the Karma Garchen [Great Encampment] still existed in Tibet, and it functioned as the main center of the Kagyu lineage. The tulku had to be recognized by the Karma Garchen before he could be enthroned as the Karmapa. Even though it was widely known throughout Kham that Mikyö Dorje was the reincarnation of the 7th Karmapa, he had to be recognized by the Karma Garchen.
The regent of the Karmapa at that time was the Second Gyaltsap Rinpoche, Tulku Tashi Namgyal. A lama named Sönam came to Gyaltsap Rinpoche and told him that the rebirth of the 7th Karmapa had occurred in Ngom. However, there was another lama from an area in Amdo called Kongpo who was a crafty fellow—a bit audacious. He had a child, and when this son was born, there were also miraculous appearances and auspicious dreams. The lama trained his son to act like a tulku. Because most of those in the Encampment were from Kongpo, and since the crafty lama bribed them with beer and other things, many were on his side. In addition, a student of Chödrak Gyatso also verified that the Kongpo candidate was the reincarnation of his teacher. Gyaltsap Rinpoche looked into the testament and was convinced that Mikyö Dorje was the Karmapa, but he was forced to examine the other candidate. When Gyaltsap Rinpoche presented the child a kata, the recipient inauspiciously gave it back three times. This was a bad sign. These days, the receiver immediately gives the kata back to the offerer; but in the old days, the offerer would give a kata and then the one being offered the kata would give a different one. To return the offered kata was a sign of disrespect, as if to say, “I don’t need this.” So Gyaltsap Rinpoche did not feel good about the Amdo candidate.
To resolve the matter, Gyaltsap Rinpoche and the head of the Encampment invited the Amdo candidate to an important monastery where all the treasuries of the first six Karmapas were kept. The Amdo tulku was asked to do a bit of a retreat there. When Gyaltsap Rinpoche examined his dreams during this time, all of the regions to the West were black and unpleasant looking, while the Eastern ones were filled with light and very beautiful. Likewise, he dreamed of a white lion in the West who could not roar, but in the East there was a grand dragon, and when it roared, the lion in the West turned into a white dog. In fact, most intelligent people believed that Mikyö Dorje was the true incarnation of the 7th Karmapa. The head discipline master recognized that the father of the Eastern candidate was very crafty. The father had even admitted, “It’s very easy to make a tulku. . . The child just needs to know a few sentences to become a tulku.” However, the majority of people in the Encampment still favored the Western candidate.
Few people in the Encampment took any interest in the parents of the real tulku. For that reason, food and clothing became very scarce for Mikyö Dorje’s parents during his early life. They had to live as beggars. The earlier Karmapas were recognized at a very young age, and their needs were always addressed. Mikyö Dorje wasn’t recognized until he was seven. He had illnesses that nearly caused him to die, but his parents didn’t have the resources to do anything about it. It was a very difficult situation. At that time, he thought to himself:
Once you are named as a rebirth or tulku, you can’t do anything for the sake of future lives. You have to spend all your time working for this lifetime. In this lifetime, you don’t even have control over your food and clothing. . . You are caught in the great mire of suffering. . . Let me be considered an ordinary person. If I’m not given the name Karmapa, in the future, I’ll go to a monastery in Ü Tsang in Central Tibet and practice listening and contemplating and meditation in the same way as the great masters of the past did. And in that way, I’ll do whatever I can to restore the teachings that have been lost and to benefit sentient beings.
His Holiness added jovially, “And so he thought about it, and he was kind of happy. I don’t have to be the Karmapa! It’s kind of nice.”
At that point, many students of the previous Karmapa did a divination and had Mahakala Bernakchen possess the Eastern candidate. A prophesy emerged that this boy would be recognized as the Karmapa by the emperor of China and all the people throughout the world. At the same time, masters with samadhi recognized Mikyö Dorje as the reincarnation of his predecessor. Simultaneously, those who examined the Western candidate could find no reason to affirm his status as the tulku. Other affirmations of the Eastern candidate were presented, and at that point, Gyaltsap Rinpoche invited Mikyö Dorje to the encampment. Those who came to welcome him decided not to prostrate to him or ask for blessings when he entered the compound. The situation was similar to that of the Buddha’s first five disciples when they first met him after his enlightenment. They were unhappy with Shakyamuni and made a rule not to venerate him when they saw him again. But when the Buddha approached, they were so overwhelmed by his magnificence that they prostrated to him without hesitation. Likewise, when the lamas and monks actually met Mikyö Dorje, their perception changed. They prostrated and offered katas—everything that they said they weren’t going to do. He recognized almost all those who had served the previous Karmapa and called them by name. They shed tears due to the power of faith, and everywhere there was a joyous noise.
Mikyö Dorje then met Gyaltsap Rinpoche, who asked many questions designed to determine if the boy was the actual tulku. Mikyö Dorje answered with confidence, but still the monks of the Encampment were uncertain and couldn’t decide. The tulku addressed Akhu Atra, a student of the previous Karmapa, and Jangchup Rinchen, the Secretary of the Encampment:
None of you teachers and students in the Encampment know how to make a discussion. You don’t know how to make any plans. I’ve shown so many signs that I actually remember past lives. . . and [there are] so many omens, but none of you understand anything, no matter how many signs I show. . . How are you actually going to recognize the Karmapa? Will anything good come of this? . . . You must decide the question with your mind.
In the end, members of the Encampment summoned both candidates—the one from the East and the one from the West—and asked them questions. They tested them with the previous Karmapa’s teacup. The Amdo tulku was seven (by Western calculations). He failed the tests and started crying. The boy’s father tried to scare the Eastern tulku. But Mikyö Dorje was not afraid; he was in fact a little bored. “There’s no point to this,” he thought.
Despite the clear outcome of these tests, the father of the Western candidate still had many under his thumb, and Gyaltsap Rinpoche couldn’t do anything about it. It was a difficult, sad situation. Those from Mikyö Dorje’s homeland were so incensed that they were about to attack the Kongpas. They wanted to kill the supporters of the Eastern tulku, so the Kongpas backed down and said to Gyaltsap Rinpoche that he could do what he wanted.
At last, Gyaltsap Rinpoche prayed to the deities to find out who was the real tulku, and he had a visionary dream. Mikyö Dorje came to him in this dream, offended. “You still have doubts about me. . . Do what you are going to do,” he said. Gyaltsap Rinpoche offered him the best cushion, but the tulku didn’t take it and left. A little later, a woman came before Gyaltsap Rinpoche with a huge white conch. She said, “I have blown this conch in every land. . . But you still aren’t taking care of the conch. So what’s that about?” She left in the direction that the tulku had gone. Then a woman with a wrathful appearance came to him, counseled him not to listen to lies and then went away. After this visionary dream, Gyaltsap Rinpoche developed faith that Mikyö Dorje was the unmistaken successor to the 7th Karmapa.
So finally, on an auspicious day, the Eastern tulku was enthroned and, at that point, everyone felt profound faith. They could not believe they had previously doubted Mikyö Dorje was the authentic Karmapa. Where did the Western tulku go? Mikyö Dorje proclaimed that he was a tulku from Surmang; the boy entered monastic life while his father, the Amdo lama, fled. After that, things didn’t go well for him.
With this, the Karmapa concluded his brief account of the dispute between the Eastern and Western candidates. He ended the session by announcing that in the next teaching, he would speak about the birth places and birth dates of the previous seven Karmapas.
His Holiness opened the teachings by greeting everyone warmly. He then announced that today was Chamgön Vajradhara Tai Situpa’s birthday. He asked the audience to join him in reciting Long Life Prayers for Tai Situ Rinpoche, as written by the previous Drupön Dechen Rinpoche, and pray that Tai Situ Rinpoche accomplish his vast activity just as he wishes.
Researching the lives of the first eight Gyalwang Karmapas
His Holiness has conducted extensive research on the lives of the first eight Gyalwang Karmapa reincarnations, examining and comparing historical texts, documents, and chronologies of the Karma Kamtsang written by past Kagyu masters. In particular, the First Gyaltsap Rinpoche’s biography of the Seventh Karmapa titled The Liberation of Rangjung Kunkhyen Tsokye Dorje Mipham Chökyi Gyalpo, and a manuscript named The Dates of the Incarnations of the Karmapas were used as the bases for the first part of His Holiness’ teaching today.
From these sources, His Holiness was able to collect biographical information on the first eight Gyalwang Karmapas. This information included the names of their family clans, birthplaces (as they are known today), birthdates, parents’ names, names when young and after ordination, and the dates of their passing. His Holiness presented tables for each Karmapa summarizing the essential information he has uncovered. He then thanked the many dharma friends who assisted him by travelling to the Karmapas’ various birthplaces in China to research old place names and to take pictures of the various regions as they appear now.
The First Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa: His birthplace clarified
According to the table, His Holiness had made, Dusum Khyenpa was born to Gompa Dorje and Lhatok Sagang in the year of the Male Iron Tiger (1110 CE). He was named Chökyi Drakpa after taking ordination, and he lived until the age of 84 according to the Tibetan way of calculating one’s age.
There had previously been some confusion about the First Karmapa’s birthplace, which His Holiness now clarified. The First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, was born in Raktak (also Ratak, Rathak, and Ratsak) in Tre (also called Trewo, Krewo, and more recently Treho), located in the Kardze district of Kham. Later, the Ninth Karmapa and one or two Shamar Rinpoches were also born in Tre. For this reason, up until the 10th Karmapa, many Kagyu monasteries and teachings flourished in the region of Trewo. However, the Mongol invasion destroyed all but three Kamtsang monasteries and, as a result, as the years passed, fewer and fewer people took an interest in Karma Kagyu history. In addition, the stories of the Karmapas and Shamapas have been mixed up. His Holiness hoped that with today’s explanation, histories would become clearer.
These days, people often say Dusum Khyenpa was born in Bochok; some of his descendants continue to live there, there are many stories related to this, and there are many of Dusum Khyenpa’s artifacts that they can show. In 2010, for the 900th anniversary celebration of Dusum Khyenpa’s birth, his birthplace was listed as Bochok in His Holiness’ book and on the internet. However, His Holiness noted that in written texts, Dusum Khyenpa’s birthplace was said to be Raktak. As it happened, one or two years ago, His Holiness received an old document called the Vajra Splinter Travelogue, written by the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje’s personal physician and attendant, Gelong Shangkarwa Jikme Ngakgi Gyatso. His Holiness then showed on screen excerpts from the Travelogue, paired with modern photographs of the regions described. Among the descriptions of the various regions through which these attendants passed and among the details of the journey presented in the Travelogue, His Holiness was able to confirm that Dusum Khyenpa’s birthplace was Tre (called Trewo Rangtak in the Travelogue). An examination of another text, the Golden Garland of the Kamtsang, which quotes an autobiography of Karma Pakshi, also indicates that Kamkhyim in Tre was Dusum Khyenpa’s place of birth. His Holiness’ research suggests that Bochok was actually the birthplace of one of the Shamar incarnations, whereas Dusum Khyenpa was, in fact, born in Raktak in Tre.
The First Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa: Establishing the Three Seats
According to His Holiness, one of Dusum Khyenpa’s most important deeds was founding several monasteries, including the three main monastic seats, and establishing the foundation for the teachings of the Karma Kamtsang. There are several ways in which the three monastic seats have been described and identified. For example, they have been called the Upper, Middle, and Lower seats (a classification scheme based on the monasteries’ geographic location) or the Places of the Three Chakras of Body, Speech, and Mind.
For today’s teachings, His Holiness used the Sixth Shamar Rinpoche Chökyi Wangchuk’s Guidebook to Kampo Nenang in which he wrote:
Gampopa had students as numerous as stars in the sky, but [Gampopa} said to Dusum Khyenpa, “I have the highest hopes in you, white-haired Khampa”, and he entrusted the teachings of the Karma Kagyu to Dusum Khyenpa. He said to Dusum Khyenpa, “Go to Kampa Gangra in Kham and do retreat there,” and predicted, “Your benefit to beings will spread throughout Kham, Ü, and Tsang.”
For that reason, Dusum Khyenpa went to Kampo Nenang in Kham, made a retreat, and realized the Dharma Nature. He then nurtured many students and founded the first monastic seat, Kampo Nenang.
The three principal seats associated with the Karmapas were:
- Kampo Nenang – the lower seat – the chakra of body (now a Gelug monastery)
- Karma Gön – the middle seat – the chakra of speech
- Okmin Tsurphu – the upper seat – the chakra of mind
The Sixth Shamar Rinpoche also wrote of Five Sacred Sites. In addition to the sites of Body, Speech, and Mind, he named Pongri in the east as the site of qualities and Dapba Pangpuk as the site of activity. Subsequent teachers, such as the 13th Karmapa and Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye, had different classification systems. For example, Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye’s Nonsectarian Dharma History lists two places of qualities: Pungri in the east and Kamkhyim in Tre, near Dusum Khyenpa’s birthplace; and two sites of activities: Bara and Drama Drushi.
Many famous monasteries were founded by successive Karmapas and their heart sons, but in terms of history, there were three seats and five sacred sites of body, speech, and mind. His Holiness said it is better if we consider these to be the monasteries founded by Dusum Khyenpa. He reminded listeners that Dusum Khyenpa practiced at Karma Nenang, realized the truth of the dharmata, and established a monastery at that site. The people of Karma Nenang monastery became known as the Karma Nenangpas, or the Karma Kamtsang.
The Second to Seventh Karmapas: Biographical overviews
His Holiness continued by briefly covering the biographical information he had collected about the Second to Seventh Karmapas. Generally, he stated, all incarnations of the Karmapa are the heads of the Karma Kamtsang teachings, and therefore the seats they established are the most sacred. Dusum Khyenpa’s monasteries in particular provide the foundation of Karma Kamtsang’s teachings. Many of these monasteries have now fallen into disrepair. Nevertheless, His Holiness urged listeners to respect them and recognize why those sites are important.
The Second Karmapa, the mahasiddhi Karma Pakshi (1206-1283), restored Dusum Khyenpa’s three monasteries and preserved and spread the teachings. It was during his time or later that the name “Karma Kagyu” emerged. The year of Karma Pakshi’s birth is uncertain; there are differing accounts, perhaps because there were different traditions of counting years. Consequently, between the passing of the First Karmapa and the birth of the Second, there was a gap of at least ten years but possibly more. His Holiness noted that this is the longest gap between two successive Karmapa incarnations.
His Holiness continued by presenting information on the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339), who passed away in Xanadu, one of the two capitals of the Mongol Empire. The day after his passing, many people saw Rangjung Dorje’s image in the moon, leading to the tradition of painting the Third Karmapa in a full moon.
The information on the Fourth to Seventh Karmapas was similarly covered.
The Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje: Beginning The Praise “He Searched Thoroughly”
The first stanzas in the autobiographical praises the Good Deeds and He Searched Thoroughly are related. His Holiness noted that Mikyö Dorje initially offered The Praise “He Searched Thoroughly” to Karma Trinleypa, who felt he did not have the qualities to accept it. Therefore, he offered it back to Mikyö Dorje.
The Praise “He Searched Thoroughly” is taught in terms of nine different points. The first point explains how the Eighth Karmapa first entered the teachings and then brought others to them. The first two stanzas read:
He searched thoroughly for the unerring essence
Of the teachings of the unrivaled Teacher,
Had the discipline that leads to the true ways,
And practiced the teachings in full—to him I pray.
Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa explained that when Mikyö Dorje entered the teachings of the Buddha, he was not satisfied with merely the names of teachers or with the saying that monasteries and representations of the body, speech, and mind were teachings. Instead, Mikyö Dorje felt compelled to understand the actual meanings of scriptures. Only at that point did he enter the teachings. Afterwards, he was able to introduce the teachings to others.
His Holiness spoke of the stages by which Mikyö Dorje entered the teachings– through the Vinaya. Primarily vows of individual liberation, the Vinaya includes novice vows that one may take upon entering the teachings and the bhikshu vows of ordination. His Holiness’ explanation included the vows Mikyö Dorje took from the age of seven to full bhikshu ordination. Additionally, His Holiness talked of the first two Gyaltsap Rinpoches, as the Second Gyaltsap Rinpoche, Tashi Namgyal, conferred lay and novice vows upon Mikyö Dorje.
His Holiness concluded by saying that the teaching would continue on Day Five with the second topic, the difficulties the Eighth Karmapa faced, especially regarding abandoning harmful friends, and how, because Mikyö Dorje did not have much power, he came under the control of attendants and stewards.
His Holiness the Karmapa started today’s teachings by sending his greetings to Bokhar Khen Rinpoche, whom he saw in the audience yesterday, as well as to the Khenpos and Geshes, the nuns of the shedras, foremost among the sangha, as well as all the Dharma friends who were watching over the webcast.
Referring to what he had mentioned the day before, he explained that although he had planned to speak about Mikyö Dorje’s birthplace and birth region, he decided that it would be much better to say as much as he could at the respective time rather than trying to push through, thinking, “I have to say this, I have to say that, I have to teach this today and that tomorrow”… Thus, although he had prepared a schedule accordingly, he found that to follow such a schedule did not really work.
Following his initial remarks, the Karmapa then turned towards the second verse of Mikyö Dorje’s autobiographical text, Good Deeds:
Without disdaining inauthentic gurus and companions
Or following them along the paths they taught,
I did all I could to overcome the thoughts of the three poisons—
Impediments to reaching the dharma’s culmination.
I think of this as one of my good deeds.
His Holiness explained that the topic of the second good deed is inauthentic gurus and companions and refraining from following the paths they taught. He reminded us briefly of the first of Mikyö Dorje’s good deeds, which describes how Mikyö Dorje entered the teachings and began to practice the dharma.Once we have entered the dharma, His Holiness commented, there are many impediments and harmful conditions, and if one were to follow negative friends, then many difficulties would arise. Mikyö Dorje’s second good deed, therefore, relates how he overcame impediments to practicing the dharma, such as negative friends.
However, Mikyö Dorje did so many amazing things that people could see; they immediately felt great faith and respect for him as the reincarnation of the Karmapa. Furthermore, Situ Tashi Paljor looked at the testament left by the Seventh Karmapa and, to a great degree, accepted that Mikyö Dorje was the Karmapa and instructed people to respect him as the tulku. Unfortunately, Situ Tashi Paljor passed away soon after the Karmapa was born and was unable to continue working towards his recognition as the tulku.
Then Mikyö Dorje went to Riwoche, where the master of Riwoche, Jigten Wangchuk, showed him great respect and said that there was no mistake in recognizing him as the reincarnation of the Karmapa. As Jigten Wangchuk was the leader of the Lhorong community there at that time, he told the people Mikyö Dorje was the reincarnation of the Karmapa and that they needed to take great care of him. The Lhorong community accepted this and agreed. They invited Mikyö Dorje to Lhorong monastery and promised that they would provide well for him in terms of food and clothing.
In an autobiographical liberation story of Mikyö Dorje’s, written when he was at Namtrö mountain, he related how the people of Lhorong failed to keep their promise. Instead, when he reached Lhorong, they treated him like a lowly herdsman, someone who looks after donkeys, horses or dogs. They did not give him more than to such a person. Also, the Garchen had supported the claim of the western tulku, and so there was doubt whether Mikyö Dorje was the true reincarnation of the Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso. Consequently, they failed to take care of him. Until he reached the age of seven, he and his entire family were reduced to living as beggars in the region of Lhorong. Thus, before he was recognized as the Karmapa, he faced great difficulties, lacking basic necessities such as food and clothing.
Even though Mikyö Dorje displayed so many wondrous signs, they did not recognize him but instead listened to the audacious Amdo lama and took care of the western tulku, and were about to recognize him as the reincarnation of Chödrak Gyatso.
His Holiness explained that these situations arose because the people in the Garchen did not listen to the regent Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal, even though he had been appointed by the Seventh Karmapa and held the highest rank in the Garchen. During the time of the Seventh Karmapa very strict rules were enforced in the encampment; beer and meat were forbidden inside the encampment, and women could only enter during the daytime and were not allowed to stay overnight. However, after Chödrak Gyatso passed away, people began to disregard these rules. In addition, there was much criticism of Gyaltsap Rinpoche. He was even accused of causing the death by poisoning of a monk called Tashi Döndrup from Karma Gön Monastery. Finally, it was made too difficult for him to stay in the Garchen and he went to Jang.
The Seventh Karmapa had many great students but the Garchen monks had no respect for them. Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, for example, who later become one of the most important teachers of Mikyö Dorje, was vilified as a bad person and a charlatan. He had no power or influence in the Garchen. The monks had a modicum of faith in Chöje Karma Trinleypa, who was well-versed in both dharma and politics, but they did not give him the chance to come to the encampment to give them his advice or guidance. As for appointing a tutor for Mikyö Dorje, it should have been someone suitable and worthy of being his tutor, such as Shamar Chökyi Drakpa, but the people in the encampment accused Chökyi Drakpa of breaking samaya with the previous Karmapa, and warned that if his shadow were to fall on anyone, they would go to hell. Even when Mikyö Dorje invited Shamar Chökyi Drakpa to the encampment, the people would not even allow them to meet. The main reason they thought so badly of Shamar Rinpoche was that he had become quite powerful politically and religiously, so the members of the encampment envied him.
The leaders of the encampment decided that Drom Tashi Döndrup would be the best tutor for Mikyö Dorje, but on his way to the encampment, just before he arrived, he vomited blood and died. He was the custodian of the Seventh Karmapa’s sacred objects, and when he died, his wife and servants appropriated them.
His Holiness reiterated that these problems were caused by the deterioration of conduct in the encampment. The monks didn’t keep the monastic rules and didn’t even wear robes.
After Chödrak Gyatso passed away, the Garchen should have erected a stupa for his relics. But when Chödrak Gyatso’s remains were cremated, a miracle happened and there was an image of Avalokiteshvara in each of his vertebrae. Eventually, they were placed in a stupa. However, as Mikyö Dorje remonstrated, from the start they should have been placed where everyone could see them, but they were not. Consequently, nobody was taking proper care of all the sacred objects and relics and nobody was making offerings; it was really a very bad situation.
Later, when Gyaltsap Rinpoche returned from Jang, he built a reliquary for the remains of Chödrak Gyatso and recognized Mikyö Dorje, the eastern tulku, as the Karmapa. This turned out well until Gyaltsap Rinpoche suddenly fell ill and passed away. Not only that, nobody took care of his remains properly; they were buried in sand. Later, there were many ringsel the size of mustard seeds. His Holiness suggested they might have buried him in sand because they thought that he had been poisoned.
Such really depressing, revolting situations, His Holiness continued, are not mentioned in many liberation stories. However, Mikyö Dorje later wrote a letter, criticizing and scolding the people in the encampment and explaining these events in great detail. This letter is no longer extant but we know of its existence from the namthar of Six Kamtsang Gurus and Students written by Ne Gowa Karma Shenpen Gyatso at the time of the 13th Karmapa. Likewise, the Fifth Dalai Lama’s autobiography briefly mentions that these events happened. Sangye Paldrup also describes many similar events in his commentary on the Good Deeds.
The Vajra Vidya library published an edition of the Good Deeds based on a manuscript from Drepung Monastery library. When the Good Deeds were being translated into English and Chinese and proofread [prior to this teaching], His Holiness fortuitously found another old manuscript of the Good Deeds. By comparing these two editions, in which sometimes a couple of lines or pages were different, it was possible to fill in missing sections. Sangye Paldrup’s commentary is particularly important because it was reviewed by Mikyö Dorje himself, who told him what should be deleted and what needed to be added.
Next, His Holiness described incidents that illustrate how Mikyö Dorje was not in the least influenced by negative friends. For example, in the recently discovered edition it says that when Mikyö Dorje was young, most of his attendants would use a ganachakra offering as an excuse to eat an entire sheep. Mikyö Dorje forbade them from doing this; he maintained that eating these weak animals while calling it a ganachakra had no benefit and was dangerous.
Another time a brick of tea went missing. The monks seized a suspect and put him in the encampment prison. The attendants then threatened Mikyö Dorje and pressurized him to pretend that his clairvoyance confirmed that this man was the thief. Knowing that the man was innocent, Mikyö Dorje refused to lie, whatever the attendants threatened to do to him.
Later, his attendants suggested that Mikyö Dorje act in certain ways in order to acquire things from people, but he refused because it constituted breaking the precepts; it was taking what is not given. If people had faith and offered things, that was fine. He was not influenced by the negative friends around him but stood on his own two feet.
People would tell him to wage war on others or to cast a spell on them. Mikyö Dorje said he did not know how to do it.
During the Mahakala puja, the monks would bring meat and beer, claiming that they were offerings to Bernakchen. They would then eat and drink as much as they could. In response, Mikyö Dorje explained that the important thing was to act in accord with faith and samaya. If one practiced in the correct manner, things would be fine, but if one were to engage in negative deeds while requesting the support of the dharma protectors, they would become misdeed protectors, and in the end, the ruin would fall on oneself. So Mikyö Dorje said it was better to stop the practices entirely rather than committing unvirtuous acts and harming sentient beings.
People advised him on how to behave, arguing it was the tradition of the Karmapas. Later Mikyö Dorje said that, from his childhood, many people had come to teach him the eight worldly concerns. He could have followed their advice, but because this human life is just momentary, he would rather spend his time practicing dharma. Thus, he chose to practice the dharma, gave up non-dharmic actions, and advised people to do likewise.
At the same time, he showed equanimity towards evil people and said that he had unbearable compassion for them. Mikyö Dorje’s character was such that when he actually saw or heard of people’s suffering or that they were doing non-virtuous actions, he could not bear it and it made him sick to merely think about it. Nor could he bear the way in which the attendants in his retinue would criticize each other, or the dharma practitioners would try to point out each other’s faults. People would criticize the great masters too.
In the twenty-one volumes of his collected works, Mikyö Dorje sometimes refutes scholars from other lineages, Karma Kagyu scholars, and even his tutors Karma Trinleypa and Tashi Öser. He used his own intelligence to get to the heart of the matter. It didn’t matter which tradition the scholar belonged to. He used logic to test everything. Irrespective of tradition, if it was logical, Mikyö Dorje would approve it. If it was illogical, he would refute it, even if it was from his own tradition. People did not understand this and he was criticized, in particular for refuting the secret mantra Nyingma tradition.
But this does not mean that he lacked faith in the masters of other traditions. For instance, he composed a praise of five great beings who had written the great treatizes: Sakya Pandita, Jonang Kunkhyen (Dolpo Sangye), Omniscient Butön, Bodong Panchen, and Je Tsongkhapa.
The Karmapa recounted how one time, when he had gone to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama, they had spoken about Mikyö Dorje’s praise of Tsongkhapa. In that praise Mikyö Dorje said it was very well-known and undisputed in Tibet that Tsongkhapa spread the teachings of the vinaya throughout Tibet. And although Mikyö Dorje occasionally made refutations of Tsongkhapa, he wrote praises of him too.
The Karmapa then shared the praise which he finds most evocative. It comes from the Collected Songs of Mikyö Dorje and is what is called in Tibetan a gur, a type of song which primarily describes feelings and experiences .
In the snow land of Tibet,
When people merely wear the robes of the vinaya,
The one called Lord Lobsang Drakpa
Took the ways of the Bhagavan Shakyamuni,
And innumerable monks, wearing the saffron colored banner,
With conduct like Shariputra
Filled the world.
If you do not have faith in this lord, who do you have faith in?
In this praise, Mikyö Dorje makes a supplication and confession to Je Tsongkhapa, Lobsang Drakpa. At a time when people did not heed the Vinaya teachings, Tsongkhapa was like Buddha Shakyamuni actually appearing in the world. He upheld the teachings of the Vinaya. Moreover, he had many students who were like Shariputra and Maudgalayana and they “filled the world” i.e. the land of Tibet. Then, Mikyö Dorje is asking, if one has no faith in someone like Lord Tsongkhapa, then whom does one have faith in?
People who had been partisan maligned him.
I had been caught by harmful friends
And confess my wrongs done from ignorance.
Please look after me in all my lives.
His Holiness filled in the background drawing on his own experience. There was a long-standing tradition of rivalry between the Kagyupas and Gelugpas, which was exacerbated when the armies of the Mongol Gushri Khan attacked the Karma Kagyu at the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama and the 10th Karmapa. The Karmapa recounted how, when he was young, a thangka of the thirty-five confession buddhas hung on the wall at the back of his room, and Je Tsongkhapa was depicted at the top of this thangka. His attendant said that this was not good, so he covered the part which showed Tsongkhapa. However, His Holiness continued, from the time he was young, he had had special faith in Je Tsongkhapa and also some affection for the Fifth Dalai Lama, as the latter had written a poetry text which the young Karmapa had studied. He appreciated the Fifth Dalai Lama’s writing but felt somewhat strange when the Fifth Dalai Lama criticized the Kagyu.
The next verses praise:
- Bodong Rinpoche, Chokle Namgyal, who was an incredible scholar. His collected works contain over a hundred volumes. They include works on how to read the alphabet all the way through to Kalachakra tantra. There are excellent works on sutra, tantra and other fields of knowledge. He had about fifteen secretaries, who could write a great amount of texts in a short time.
- Je Ngorchen, who was one of the three great tantric practitioners. At that time in Tibet, ganachakraswere used as an opportunity to kill animals in order to eat their flesh and to drink alcohol. Je Ngorchen asserted the moral conduct which accords with the practice of secret mantra, including abstention from killing.
- Je Rongchen Shakya Gyaltsenwho is very important in our philosophical tradition. His explanation of difficult texts ‘shone like the sun’ and he had a great influence on Mikyö Dorje when the latter was writing texts on sutra and tantra.
The summary at the end of this praise is very important. [What follows is a rough translation.]
Now innumerable beings uphold the precious teachings of the Buddha,
and the realm of the fortunate aeon flourishes.
The supreme refuge rare in the world, the jewel of the sangha covers the earth,
so joy is equal to space.
His Holiness explained that the “precious teachings of the Buddha” is inclusive of all traditions of Buddhism, not just Tibetan Buddhism, though here Mikyö Dorje is referring primarily to Tibetan traditions. The teachings spread and flourish because of the kindness of the masters from all lineages, as does “the jewel of the sangha”. This is a source of joy.
Instead of being envious
that other dharma lineages flourished in the path,
there is no way but to be caught up
by the horse of regret.
I feel such great regret that I dare be like this.
It is intolerable, so I confess.
In the past, Mikyö Dorje confesses he may have felt envious when he heard of the success of other lineages but now he deeply regrets that.
Though I feel intense regret now,
until my awareness is clear in an isolated place
and I am filled with the light of devotion
for the undisputed Kagyu mahasiddhas
such as Sangye Nyenpa, I will supplicate fervently.
I understand this is authentic blessing.
His mind had become clear while he was in retreat. Now he feels such intense regret that he is driven to confess. He feels great devotion for the Kagyu mahasiddhas and realizes that this strong regret is an authentic blessing.
If you think you follow me,
do not make dharma lineages into me and you.
It is fine for the Buddha’s teachings to spread.
Do not think with bias
that your own friends should flourish.
May the worry about teachings of all lineages
burn intolerably as the wind in the heart.
This advice is for those who consider themselves his students. Our concern should be for all lineages to flourish, not just for our own lineage. And this concern should burn intolerably in our hearts. His Holiness emphasized that we need to have a much wider perspective because the entire framework of the Buddha’s teachings needs to survive. If the teachings were to disappear, there would be no Tibetan Buddhism and no Kagyupa either. When Buddhism divides into factions, we see others’ teachings as a fault, they see our teachings as a fault, and this creates great danger to the teachings themselves.
Mikyö Dorje was a great lama of wisdom and power; however, he himself said he was just an ordinary person, and admitted to feeling anger and jealousy in the past. Subsequently he developed regret. Very few teachers mention in their autobiographies that in the past they had afflictions such as desire, hatred or envy. Or that they felt regret for doing so. In contrast, Mikyö Dorje spoke very clearly and forthrightly and made his intentions very clear; if we want to follow him, I, is in our hands.
In brief, Mikyö Dorje always thought about other sentient beings and worried about them; because of that, he became very thin and did not sleep well, due to which his body became very weak. When we look at paintings of Mikyö Dorje, we can see that his cheeks look very hollow. His attendants and others tried to persuade him to commit misdeeds but he maintained his equanimity towards them. He was also humble. Of his own experience, he commented that the times were degenerate. There were people who pretended to be monastics whose conduct was even worse than that of lay people. They were not tainted by even a whiff of the dharma, yet they enjoyed the offerings to the Three Jewels with abandon. He did not adopt their behaviour, neither did he criticize or scold them, but stayed in a state of equanimity and worked even harder for their sake. He was never apart from enjoying the true Dharma, which he considered one of the best things he had done.
He studied diligently and focused carefully on his work. If thoughts of the eight worldly dharmas occurred, he paid them no attention. Before he went to bed, he would pick up his mala and count all his good and bad thoughts that day. Then he would count the good and bad words, he had uttered; he happily dedicated all the virtue for the benefit of sentient beings and confessed the unvirtuous actions, promising never to repeat them again.
Mikyö Dorje was surrounded by many different types of people, not only monks but laypeople. Consequently, some were critical and opined that he should surround himself with scholars and meditators, increasing his status and bringing in more offerings.
One story tells of a visit from Lama Shab-Jenpa. He scolded Mikyö Dorje saying, “Of all the incarnations of the Karmapas, you are the one who has done the most harm to the Kagyu teachings.” Lama Shab-Jenpa claimed that if he were to take the Karmapa’s place, it would only take him a minute to gather 5000 bhikshus. In Kham, he boasted, he had 500 good monks who wore the dharma robes properly and abstained from drinking alcohol, whereas the Karmapa was surrounded by people who drank beer. Mikyö Dorje replied, “I prostrate to those who are able to gather a retinue of those who have the three robes and the three trainings, and gather as many sangha as Tsongkhapa.” Later, Mikyö Dorje said that Lama Shab-Jenpa was not an authentic spiritual teacher. It was reminiscent of the tale of the lion. Many people thought that they could kill the lion easily but they were unable to get close to him. However, the lion had a weak spot– it never hurt anyone wearing dharma robes, so they put on monastic robes.
Mikyö Dorje would never say that he was in meditative equipoise and should not be disturbed. Every day, he would memorize texts, make tsatsas, meditate, do yogic breathing exercises and practice as an authentic vajra master. Yet, being very humble, he never displayed this to others. Where he mainly put his effort was in teaching the Dharma and explaining philosophy to others. Many people at that time said that Mikyö Dorje was really lazy and, because they thought he was not doing practice or giving empowerments, they claimed that he was harming the teachings.
In any case, His Holiness concluded, Mikyö Dorje went through many difficulties in his life, particularly when he was young, which for people like us, would be really difficult to bear. It was important to realize how high a vision Mikyö Dorje had. Because of his efforts, he is one of the greatest among all the incarnations of the Karmapas, one who really stands out.
During the last part of the teachings His Holiness briefly related some of the difficulties he had faced in his life. The first seven years of his life were the happiest, because he had no responsibilities; he was with his parents and described his home as a very beautiful place. Then, from the age of seven, he was recognized as the Karmapa. People think of this as a very high position. They assume that as someone in such a position, he would get very good food and clothes, and that his attendants would obey his orders immediately. But that, His Holiness confirmed, is not how it is.
He gave some examples. After His Holiness was brought to Tshurpu monastery, people made offerings to him, which were then taken by the people behind him. For example, there were people he knew from Taiwan who came. They were aware that the steward would usually take any money they offered to the Karmapa. Thus, secretly, they would secrete offering envelopes under the carpet for His Holiness to retrieve and give to his parents later. But the steward found this out, and when His Holiness had to leave his quarters to attend a puja, the attendants would search his room and remove any gifts they found. If they were challenged, they would claim that they needed to check for poison. These items were never returned.
On another occasion, His Holiness was asked to recognize the reincarnation of Pawo Rinpoche, and the director of Nenang monastery made an offering to him of a chain with a large golden buddha. A day later, the same lama asked His Holiness why the steward was wearing the golden buddha round his neck. Not only that, the steward even told others to take a look at it, saying, “Doesn’t it look beautiful?”
His Holiness continued. The tradition was for the monastery of a tulku to offer his parents a house but they failed to do this, and the young Karmapa was hardly able to see his family because his mother and sisters were not permitted to visit him at Tshurpu monastery. Finally, his father reached the end of his tether, and confronted the labrang officials: “We do not need many offerings; we just want to see our child when we want to and that his siblings can meet him. If you do not like that, then I will take my son with me and go!” Upon which the officials became worried. They agreed to family visits and gave His Holiness’s parents lots of new clothes.
When he was a little boy, the steward bullied him too, hurt him physically and reduced him to tears.
Approaching the end of the teachings, His Holiness reminded us of the difficulties the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje faced, particularly when he was young. To begin with, there was the controversy over the western and eastern tulku, and not only did he have to live in that environment, but he also had to perform the activities of the Karmapa.
For that reason, what we need to think is —though Mikyö Dorje was probably an emanation of a buddha or bodhisattva, though we cannot know for sure— as an ordinary human being he faced a lot of difficulties. We should remember what he did for the benefit of sentient beings and the teachings. That is why we should consider him so important and identify that really clearly. Only then will we ourselves get some real confidence in this lifetime and feel that we can do something on behalf of the teachings and sentient beings.