In the Kagyu tradition of the Karmapas, songs of realization play an important role. They express the deep insights of enlightened masters regarding liberation from suffering and attainment of enlightenment. Specific songs also sometimes contain ‘mundane’ details about future predictions or specific circumstances within the society or world. Because of the importance of the Karmapas as enlightened leaders of a large community, songs and predictions about them are legion. In some instances, one Karmapa may also allude to the future or past circumstances of another Karmapa. “A Song,” composed in 1941 while His Holiness was visiting Palpung Monastery in Tibet (the great seat of the Situpa Rinpoches), is regarded in the tradition as providing an example of the 16th Karmapa’s insight into the trying times that were to beset Tibet shortly thereafter.


by H.H. the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924 – 1981)

This song is ala thala thala,
Ala is the way it arose.
Thala is the way it is expressed in words.
In a pure land, rich with turquoise leaves,

On a throne of brilliant, white shell
Is the deity of long life, the mother Lady Tara.
I pray to her from the depths of my heart.
May there be no obstacles to long life.

If you do not recognize this place,
It is the Retreat House of Palpung.
If you do not recognize a person like me,
There is the upper valley of delightful Shukra

And the lower valley of delightful Shukra;
In the place between the two Shukras[1]
Is a child who descends from Tshazhang Denma[2]
If you call him by name, it is Thubten Gelek. [3]

Not now, but on a distant tomorrow it will be decided.
Both the vulture and I know where to go.
The vulture soars into the expanse of the sky;
Our people do not stay, but go to India.[4]

In the springtime, a cuckoo comes as a guest.
In the fall when the harvest ripens, it knows where to go:
Its only thought is travel to the east of India.[5]
In the lofty land of Tibet, the inhabitants, high and low,

And in particular, you, Tai Situ, the Lord and
Protector Maitreya,
Who remains above the crown of our head,
May your activities, like the sun and moon set in space,
Be continuous, stable, and without hindrance.

I pray that we meet again and again.[6]
May the three roots–the lamas, yidams, and dakinis–
Protect him from negative conditions and obstacles.
Keep the precise meaning recorded here in the
depth of your heart.

In the sixteenth rabjung’s [sixty year cycle’s] year of the iron dragon, the sixteenth incarnation of the Karmapas, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, composed this song when he was seventeen years old at Palpung Chökhor Ling. May it be auspicious. Under the guidance of Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, translated by Michele Martin of New York © April 1994.

Footnote annotations by Ven. Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

[1] This indicates the birthplace of the XVIth Karmapa, situated between the two Shukra valleys with a river flowing across one end. [note on navigating footnotes: click on footnote in body of song to view footnote reference; click on footnote reference to return to note location in body of song.]

[2]He was one of the chief ministers of Gesar of Ling, the great Tibetan warrior and emanation of Guru Rinpoche.

[3] Thubten Gelek is a childhood name of the XVIth Karmapa.

[4] Here the Karmapa is clearly predicting the future flight of the Tibetans to India.

[5] Following its pattern of migration, the cuckoo comes in the spring and leaves in the fall; in this same natural way, the Karmapa knows when it is time to leave Tibet for the eastern part of India, where he will take up residence in Rumtek, Sikkim.

[6] The Karmapa is alluding to the fact that Tai Situ Rinpoche will meet the Karmapa again when he reincarnates as the XVIIth Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorje. It is Tai Situ Rinpoche who discovered the XVIIth Karmapa and takes responsibility for him; thus they meet again and again.