The Fifth Karmapa Deshin Shekpa (1384 - 1415)

“By showing your major and minor marks, you instill in us lucid faith.
You are the tathagata who is guru to the beings of the three realms,
Fulfilling the needs of fortunate ones through supreme siddhi.
Deshin Shekpa, we supplicate at your feet. ”

—from Supplication To The Karmapas (full text)


Deshin Shekpa , the Fifth Karmapa, according to Chinese records, is said to
have manifested 100 days of miracles in
response to the extraordinary devotion of
the Emperor of China.

The fifth Karmapa was born in the Nyang Dam region of southern Tibet to yogin parents. During the pregnancy, they heard the recitation of the Sanskrit alphabet and the Om Ah Ham mantra. Soon after birth, the infant sat upright, wiped his face, and said: "I am the Karmapa - Om Mani Padme Hung Hri."

When the child was brought to Tsawa Phu in Kongpo, Khacho Wangpo immediately recognized him as the incarnation of Rolpe Dorje, and presented him with the Black Hat and other possessions of the fourth Karmapa. He went on to give the Karmapa the full cycle of Kagyu teachings, and the Karmapa soon completed his traditional training.

During the lifetime of the fourth Karmapa, Emperor Yung Lo (also known as Ch'eng-Tsu) of China had a vision of the Karmapa as Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion; subsequently he invited the fourth Karmapa to visit him in China. The visit had never took place; instead, Rolpe Dorje sent a lama as his emissary. Later, the fifth Karmapa, at the age of 23 (1406), made a three-year journey to reach the imperial palace. Yung Lo became an extraordinarily devoted student of the Karmapa, whom he took as his guru. Chinese records speak of the Karmapa's manifestation in response to such devotion as a hundred days of miracles. The emperor recorded these events for posterity in silk paintings with a multi-lingual commentary. Following in the footsteps of the two previous Karmapas, Deshin Shekpa subsequently made a pilgrimage to the famous Wu-tai Shan sacred mountains, to visit his monasteries there.

The emperor achieved some realization, and had a vision in which he saw the wisdom Vajra Crown above Karmapa's head. So that all beings might benefit from seeing something of this transcendent aspect of the Karmapa, the emperor commissioned the creation of a physical replica of the wisdom Vajra Crown, which he saw as a black hat. He presented it to his guru, requesting him to liberate those who saw it by wearing the crown on special occasions. This was the beginning of the Vajra Crown (or Black Crown) ceremony. The emperor also offered Karmapa the highest-ranking title: "Ta Bao Fa Wang," (Great Precious Dharma King) with a golden seal.

In 1410, Deshin Shekpa returned to Tsurphu to oversee the reconstruction of Tsurphu, which had been damaged by an earthquake. He recognized the Shamar reincarnation of Chopal Yeshe and spent three years in contemplative retreat. The next lineage holder, however, was the Karmapa's student Ratnabhadra.

Realizing that he would die at a young age, he left indications of his future rebirth and passed away into parinirvana at the age of 31. In the ashes of his cremation fire were found relics, naturally-formed images of many Buddhas.

Ratnabhadra or Rikpe Raltri (Sokwön Rinchen Sangpo, 15th century)

Ratnabadra was born into the well-known family of Soksam-khar Drongbu Goshir, in Soksam. From a young age, he was ordained as a monastic. He received the higher training in Buddhist philosophy, logic, and other fields of knowledge at Palden Sangphu. He then went on a tour to great monastic institutions in Tibet, engaging in debate and discussion on four main topics - Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, Vinaya, and Abhidharma-Kosha. He became one of the greatest scholars of sutra and tantra and thus was called "Rikpe Raltri" (sword of philosophy and logic). He received the full transmission of the Kagyu lineage from the Fifth Karmapa Deshin Shekpa, through which he attained complete realization of the absolute reality and became one of the supreme meditation masters of the time.

Ratnabhadra passed on the full transmission of the Kagyu lineage to the Sixth Karmapa, Thongwa Dhönden.

Pawo Rinpoche said that the Sixth Karmapa Thongwa Dhonden wrote Ratnabhadra's biography but it was not available at the time of Pawo Rinpoche. So, here is the brief version as recorded by Pawo Rinpoche. These details about Ratnabhadra are compiled from Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa's Feast For Scholars (chos 'byung mkhas pa'i dg'a ston), Beijing edition, vol. 2, pp. 1022-03. May this be virtuous!


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