Life Story of His Holiness the XVI Gyalwa Karmapa by Venerable Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche

The embodiment of all the enlightened activity of the Buddhas of the three times, who, though having attained supreme enlightenment, out of his limitless compassion; chooses to take rebirth in this dark age in order to subdue the suffering of sentient beings--the supreme lineage of Tulkus, self-recognizing, who continually takes rebirth for the benefit of all beings--whose name, Karmapa, is as renowned as the sun and moon.

Dharma Activities of His Holiness Karmapa

From the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa to the Fifteenth Karmapa Khakhyab Dorje, they have performed their Dharma activities principally in Tibet, China, Mongolia, Sikkim and Bhutan. His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, branched out His Buddha activity to encompass the entire world.

Early Life and Recognition of His Holiness the Karmapa

His Holiness was born at Denkhok in the Dege region of Kham, near the river Yangtse, on the full moon day of the sixth month of the year of the Wood Mouse (1923 A.D.). He was born in an aristocratic family named Ahthub. His father's name was Tsewang Norbu and his mother's name was Kalzang Chodan. The birth of a great Bodhisattva in the Ahthub family had been previously predicted by Dzogchen Tulku Chokyi Dorje, head of the famous Nyingma Monastery of Dzogchen.

Acting on his advice, the mother had given birth in the nearby cave of Padmasambava , called the "Lion Sky Castle". Before the child's birth he disappeared entirely from the womb for one whole day, and then returned the next. On the actual night of his birth, the atmosphere was charged with portents, which everybody in the locality could sense.

Shortly thereafter, Situ Padma Jangchub Gyalpo opened the previous Karmapa's letter of prediction and discovered therein a detailed description of the house in which His Holiness' parents dwelt. A search party was sent, and the child was speedily recognized to be the Sixteenth Karmapa incarnation.

Lay Ordination of the His Holiness Karmapa from Situ Rinpoche

His Holiness stayed with his family for several years. When he was seven years old, he received a lay ordination from Situ Rinpoche and Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche of Palpung, and a year later the Vajra Crown and the robes of the previous Karmapa were brought from Tsurphu to Kham for him. Situ Rinpoche then invited him to visit Palpung Monastery. His Holiness was given a great welcome there, and four days later, he was enthroned by Situ Rinpoche in the main square of the Monastery.

Vajra Crown Ceremony Held for First Time

Two months later, His Holiness and Situ Rinpoche accompanied by a monastic camp of a thousand people, set out for Tsurphu. His Holiness' love of animals was very evident on this long journey and many guinea pigs were presented to him as pets. Along the way , His Holiness performed the Vajra Crown ceremony for the first time in this lifetime at Gyinagang. After this auspicious event, the party visited Nyenchen Thanglha, an environment symbolically dedicated to the energy of the Karma Kagyu tradition. On his subsequent arrival at Tsurphu, His Holiness was welcomed by Palpung' Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Pawo Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche.

Second Golden Throne Ceremony

After a short period of time, His Holiness visited the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, in Lhasa. During this visit, the Dalai Lama perceived the Vajra Crown, woven from the hair of one hundred thousand dakinis above His Holiness Karmapa's head. After His return to Tsurphu, His Holiness was given a second golden throne ceremony by Situ Rinpoche and Drukchen Rinpoche, Mipham Chokyi Wangpo.

Study of Scriptures

For the next four years, His Holiness studied with Kangkar Rinpoche, who was acclaimed as the greatest Kagyu scholar of the time. He had memorized the entire contents of the Kangjur, and also numbered among his students the most profound Sakya contemporary scholar, Dezhung Rinpoche. While studying with Kangkar Rinpoche, His Holiness related stories of his previous lives to his guru.

His Holiness the Karmapa's Journey to Kham

In 1937, His Holiness and his entourage set out on a journey to Kham, Derge to visit Situ Rinpoche. On the journey many highly symbolic events took place which conveyed the inspiration of Karmapa's energy. On this journey, His Holiness visited the monastery of Chogyur Lingpa, the nineteenth century Baram Kagyu master, in the Nangchen area. There Lama Samten Gyatso requested His Holiness to bring an end to the drought that was afflicting the monastery. In response, His Holiness asked for some water in which to wash himself. As he bathed, it started to rain and a spring came up under the washtub.

When His Holiness finally arrived at Palpung monastery, he was welcomed by Situ Rinpoche. Subsequently, Situ Rinpoche instructed His Holiness in Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye's profound works,the Kagyu Nak Dzod and Dam Ngak Dzod. On a visit to Palpung monast ery, His Holiness and Situ Rinpoche left their footprints on stone, while outside the temple, His Holiness' dog and horse also left clear footprints on the rock.

At the Dzongsar Monastery of Khyentse Chokyi Lodro, the great Rimed scholar, His Holiness performed the Vajra Crown Ceremony. Khyentse Rinpoche envisaged the spiritual form of the Vajra Crown floating about eighteen inches above His Holiness' head. In addition, he saw His Holiness in the form of Dusum Khyenpa, the First Karmapa. On his return to Palpung, His Holiness received the empowerments, transmissions and instructions of the collected spiritual practices of the Sakya tradition.

His Holiness' Journey Back to Tsurphu, Pilgrimage to Samye

In the ninth month of the year of the Iron Dragon (1940 A.D.), His Holiness began the journey back to Tsurphu. On the way, he visited Benchen Monastery where, on his arrival, a statue of a horse on which the Dharmapala Prithavapati was seated, began to nei gh. After a journey lasting 11 months, His Holiness and his entourage reached Tsurphu. For the next three years, His Holiness entered into intensive practice, while new construction work was carried out on the monastery. In 1944, he went on pilgrimage, first to Samye Monastery and then on to Lhodag, the home of Marpa Lotsawa. That same year His Holiness visited Bhutan at the request of His Majesty the King, Jigmed Dorje Wangchuk. During His stay, he performed the Vajra Crown Ceremony several times and gave many empowerments.

Full Ordination of His Holiness Karmapa

In the following year, the aged Situ Rinpoche traveled to Tsurphu to give further teachings to his spiritual son. His Holiness, then 23 years old, received full ordination as a monk from Situ Rinpoche. In addition, His guru instructed him in the Gyachen Ka'dzo collection of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye and the Cigshe Kun-grol collection of the Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje. From Ogyan Tulku, His Holiness received the complete empowerments and transmissions of Terton Chogyur Lingpa's teaching. This teaching has, in fact, exerted a powerful influence on both the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions in the modern period.

His Holiness's Journey to Western Tibet, India and Nepal

In the fourth month of the year of the Fire Pig (1947 A.D.), His Holiness journeyed to Western Tibet and from there into India and Sikkim. In Nepal he performed the Vajra Crown Ceremony and gave his blessings to the people. His Holiness then traveled to Lumbini , the birthplace of Sakyamuni Buddha. He also visited Varanasi, the site of Sakyamuni's first sermon, and Bodhgaya, the place of his enlightenment. At the invitation of the Chogyal of Sikkim, Tashi Namgyal, His Holiness visited Gangtok where he performed the Vajra Crown ceremony and gave empowerments.

His Holiness then traveled to Rewalsar (Tso Pema) in northwest India, which is sacred to Guru Padmasambava. Many white snakes appeared on the surface of the Rewalsar lake and this was regarded as a very auspicious event. The long journey back to Tsurphu passed through the area of Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar. Finally, His Holiness and his party arrived back in Tsurphu in the 11th month of the year of the Earth Rat (1948 A.D.).

Karmapa Received Instructions on Mahamudra and Six Yogas of Naropa from Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche

His Holiness invited Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche of Palpung to come to Tsurphu and give him further teachings. Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche gave him the Rinchen Terdzö, which is a sixty three volume collection of Ningmapa Terma texts and instructions in Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa. At the completion of His studies, His Holiness received the transmission of the lineage from Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Situ Rinpoche. To celebrate His Holiness' mastery of Mahamudra, Palpung Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche composed a poem, in which he praised him as a perfect holder of the Mahamudra lineage.

In 1953, His Holiness gave the empowerments and transmission of Dechen Chogyur Lingpa's Terma teaching to Mindroling Chung Rinpoche, who as head of the important Mindroling Monastery was in effect the senior Lama of the Nyingma tradition.

Karmapa's Visit to China

In 1954, the Chinese authorities in Peking invited His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the heads of other Tibetan religious traditions, together with other notaries, to visit Peking and other parts of China. His Holiness Karmapa accepted the invitation and together with the rest of the party, traveled to Peking. While there, His Holiness received a visionary intimation from Mahakala indicating the circumstances of the rebirth of Situ Rinpoche. He was able to send a letter to Palpung describing the whereabouts of Situ Rinpoche's incarnation. On the return journey, His Holiness formally enthroned the new Situ Rinpoche at Palpung. Many Kagyu lamas and students came to His Holiness while he traveled to receive empowerments and teachings.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Visit to Tsurphu

Following his return to Tsurphu, His Holiness supervised the construction of a residence for the Dalai Lama, whom he invited to visit. The Dalai Lama and his entourage were greeted with great festivities and he was requested to give the empowerment of the One Thousand Armed Avalokitesvara. In return, the Dalai Lama asked His Holiness to perform the ceremony of the Vajra Crown. A ritual Padmasambava dance was also held in his honor.

Karmapa's Pilgrimage to India During 2500th Anniversary of Buddha's Parinirvana

In 1956, His Holiness visited Drug Dechen Cho Khorling, the principal Drugpa Kagyu Monastery. He gave teachings and also performed a purification rite. From there he traveled to Sikkim, where he again met the Chogyal Tashi Namgyal. The year 1956 was celebrated worldwide as the 2500th anniversary of Lord Buddha's Parinirvana. So, His Holiness and his party extended their journey into India and Nepal where they visited all the sacred places of pilgrimage. During this journey, His Holiness was asked to visit Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, which had been established during the lifetime of the Ninth Karmapa. However, His Holiness declined the invitation, saying that he would be coming to it in the future, when he had need of it.

Trouble in Tibet, Recognition of Rinpoches by His Holiness Karmapa

When His Holiness returned to Tsurphu early in 1957, serious hostilities had broken out again in Kham. A stream of refugees were pouring into Central Tibet. Among these refugees were many Kagyu Lamas such as the Ninth Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche and the Twelfth Gyaltsab Rinpoche, both of whom came to Tsurphu. During this time, His Holiness recognized the Twelfth Gyaltsab Rinpoche incarnation and the new Palpung Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche.

His Holiness Karmapa Receives Instructions

From Zechen Kongtrul Rinpoche His Holiness himself received the transmissions and teachings of the Longchen Dzo Bun, the profound seven-volume work of Lonchenpa which deals with Maha Ati Yogas.

Conflict Spread in Central Tibet, His Holiness Stayed in Tibet to Assist the Refugees

Inexorably, the conflict spread from Kham into Central Tibet. His Holiness sent Situ Rinpoche, Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche and the venerable meditation master Kalu Rinpoche to Bhutan. The young Palpung Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche was sent to Kalimpong in India to stay with his family, the Sa Du family of wealthy merchants. However, His Holiness himself decided not to leave at that time, saying that he would come to Bhutan if the situation deteriorated. It was his intention to stay behind at Tsurphu until the last possible moment to render assistance to the refugees.

Karmapa's Decision to Leave Tibet

The hostilities between the Chinese People's Liberation Army and the Khampa refugee forces were now raging throughout Tibet. His Holiness saw that the ancient Buddhist culture of Tibet was about to be extinguished like the light of a lamp. Realizing that he must leave Tibet then, in order to help preserve Buddha dharma, His Holiness informed the Dalai Lama of his plans.

His Holiness Escaped Into Bhutan

Subsequently, in the middle of the fourth night of the year of the Earth Pig (1959 A.D.), His Holiness, dressed in lay clothing, together with a party of one hundred and sixty people, left Tsurphu. The party included incarnate Lamas, monks and lay people. With His Holiness were the 13th Shamar Rinpoche, the Twelfth Gyaltsab Rinpoche, the meditation master Drupon Tenzin Rinpoche, and the saintly fourth consort of the 15th Karmapa, Khakyab Dorje Khandro Chenmo. The party's escape route lay over the Himalayas into Bhutan.

Kings of Bhutan, Sikkim and Government of India Extended Invitations to His Holiness to Take Up Residence

As all the successive Karmapas had been the head lamas of the Kings of Bhutan and Sikkim, they always enjoyed a close Dharma connection. And thus the Chogyal of Sikkim, Tashi Namgyal, and His Majesty the King of Bhutan, Jigme Dorje Wangchuk extended their invitations to His Holiness and His followers to take up residence in their respective countries. The Government of India also extended an official invitation to His Holiness, as they had made preparations for receiving and settling His Holiness the Dalai Lama and all the eminent Lamas who were fleeing Tibet.

His Holiness' Visit to Dharma Chakra Centers Abroad Bestowing Teachings

In 1974 at the invitation of Dharma centers in the west His Holiness went abroad for the first time. During his five-month tour, His Holiness visited America, Canada and Europe, bestowing teachings and instructions for the future at each Centre. During His Holiness' visit to Arizona, the Hopi Indians were most grateful to him for performing the miracle of bringing rain to the parched land, afflicted by drought.

Donation of Lands in U.S.A. and France for Construction of Monasteries

Dr. and Mrs. C.T. Shen, wealthy and devoted Buddhists and residents of America, offered to His Holiness 400 acres of land in the vicinity of New York for the construction of a monastery (This offering has now changed to be in Woodstock, New York, where a traditional monastery has been built, Karma Triyana Dharmachakra the main seat of the Karmapas in North America). Similarly, a disciple in France offered a 500-acre plot of land. In accordance with the wishes of His Holiness, the various works for the establishment of these monasteries, retreat centers and institutes are already in progress.

Setting Up of Karma Kagyu Trust Abroad

In order to facilitate the monastery construction projects and to unify and strengthen the existing centers, His Holiness set up Karma Kagyu Trusts in America, Canada, England and France according to the laws of the respective countries. The concerned governments showed a great deal of devoted interest and respect to His Holiness' project and also gave their full recognition and cooperation.

His Holiness's Visit to Vatican at the Invitation of Pope John

While in France, His Holiness received an invitation from Pope John XXIII to visit Rome. His Holiness visited the Vatican, staying for several days, during which time he discussed with the Pontiff the establishment of harmony among all world religions.

Printing of Kagyu and Derge Kagyu Texts

Soon after returning from the Dharma tour, His Holiness took up the project of printing some one hundred very rare texts, commentaries of the Kagyu Tradition of the Kangjur in 102 volumes, making it available to all monasteries and libraries irrespective o f sect. Subsequently, these precious texts have become the indispensable objects of devotion for all benefactors, monks and lay people

Construction of Ka-Nying Shedrup Ling Monastery in Nepal

In 1976, His Holiness paid a visit to Nepal at the requests of various monasteries there. During this visit, His Holiness consecrated the newly founded Ka-Nying Shedrup Ling Monastery and gave teachings to Tulkus, lamas and lay people numbering over 1000 for an entire month. His Majesty and the King of Nepal, Maharaja Birendra, was present for the opening ceremony of the monastery, and His Holiness requested the King to take the monasteries and Dharma people of Nepal under his government's protection and assistance. His Holiness visited a number of monasteries, and returned to India by way of Lumbini.

Donation of a Plot of Land in New Delhi by Government of India

The Government of India made all necessary arrangements for His Holiness' stay in New Delhi, the capital of the country. His Holiness had a meeting with the Prime Minister, Shrimati Indira Gandhi, at which time the Government of India expressed its willingness to offer a plot of land in New Delhi to His Holiness for the construction of a monastery.

His Holiness's Second Visit Abroad

In 1977, His Holiness made his second international Dharma tour, proceeding to the Centers which he had established in southeast Asia, America, Canada and Europe. His Holiness bestowed many teachings and performed the Vajra Crown ceremony, besides fulfilli ng the various other spiritual needs of the individual disciples. At the same time, he initiated the establishment of some twenty new Dharma Centres and performed the consecration ceremonies for the construction of several monasteries.

Renovation of Calcutta Monastery

At the end of 1978, His Holiness returned to India. Upon arrival, His Holiness began renovation of the Calcutta Monastery and sent 30 Lamas abroad as resident teachers for centers, to instruct and guide the many disciples along the Path of Dharma.

Laying of Corner Stone of The Karmae Dharma Chakra Centre in Delhi

In 1979, the Government of India gave official confirmation of the allotment of land for the construction of the New Delhi Monastery. And on 28th November 1979, in the presence of the Honorable Vice President of India and host of other government officials and dignitaries and devoted benefactors, His Holiness and His Excellency the President of India, Shri Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, laid the cornerstone of Karmae Dharma Chakra Centre.

Sudden Illness and Recovery of His Holiness

Shortly thereafter, His Holiness became suddenly ill. At the request of His Excellency the President and His Excellency the Former Governor of Sikkim, Shri B.B. Lal, His Holiness was admitted in to All India Institute of Medical Science, New Delhi, for examination and treatment. Comprehensive treatment was offered and within a month's time His Holiness had fully recovered. Thereafter, he returned to his main seat, Rumtek.

Request by the Tibetan people in Tibet to Recognize Incarnate Lama in Tibet

At that point in time, due to the liberalization policies of the Chinese Government, communication was opened with Tibet. Many people in Tibet requested His Holiness to recognize the rebirths of Tulkus who had passed away in Tibet over the past 20 years. And subsequently, His Holiness recognized 32.

His Holiness's Third World Tour

In 1980, His Holiness made his third world Dharma tour. He was admitted into several world-renowned hospitals for check-ups and gradually was able to visit all the centers and universities which had extended invitations. A hearty welcome was extended to His Holiness upon his arrival in Washington, D.C., the capital of America, and the government expressed in a letter its gratitude to His Holiness for coming to the country. Above all, Senator Charles H. Percy of Illinois and his family arranged a luncheon in honor and devotion to His Holiness at the Capitol Building. In a speech to the official dignitaries, His Holiness spoke extensively on the Dharma and on world peace and happiness.

His Holiness' Visit to Hong Kong

Later, at the request of the Hong Kong Buddhist Association, His Holiness proceeded to Hong Kong and stressed the importance of mutual understanding among the various Buddhist traditions existing there. He established a new Tibetan Dharma Centre in Hong Kong.

His Holiness' Prediction for Future Reincarnation

After his return to India, His Holiness began preparing new small robes, and often in his conversations he mentioned that impermanence might strike at any moment, and that in the near future, he would return as a small child and at that time he should be well looked after. His Holiness gave the impression that he would not stay on for long. His Holiness caused his body to weaken in order to demonstrate impermanence for the benefit of all. And at the persistent requests of many benefactors from all walks of life, he proceeded to Hong Kong for medical treatment. However, His Holiness did not say clearly that he would stay on, but only agreed to go for treatment.

Proceeded to Hong Kong for Treatment, then His Holiness Passed into the Dharmadhatu Samadhi

The Government of Sikkim made special arrangements for His Holiness to proceed to Hong Kong, and provided a physician to accompany him. Later, at the advice of a Hong Kong doctor, His Holiness went on to America, where the American International Clinic, Zion, in Chicago, Illinois offered their treatment. However, eventually His Holiness chose to leave his body and passed to the Dharmadhatu. He remained in samadhi for three days, after which the Precious Kudung was transported to Rumtek, and approximately 500 Tulkus, lamas and monks performed the 49-day pujas.

Thousands of People Paid Tribute to the Precious Mortal Remains

During this time, hundreds and thousands of people came to receive blessings and pay their tribute to the Precious Kudung. The holy cremation ceremony was performed on 20th December 1981. At that time the great multitude had the blessed opportunity of witnessing the miraculous signs which expressed the noble qualities of His Holiness, the Living Buddha. This invoked and strengthened their devotion in the noble Dharma. His Holiness' devotees and followers all offered and continued to offer constantly their heartfelt prayers for the quick rebirth of His Holiness' next incarnation, the Protector of all sentient beings.

Four Heart Sons Took Responsibilities of International Kagyu Centers

His Eminence Sharmar Rinpoche, His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche, His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and His Eminence Gyaltsab Rinpoche, who are the Four Heart-Sons of His Holiness, are taking full responsibility for carrying out the Dharma activities and fulfilling His Holiness' wishes, so that the Golden Chain of Kagyu Lineage will continue to flourish for all times.


His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche
A brief life sketch

The Third Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche of Palpung, Karma Lodro Chokyi Senge, was born in an aristocratic family known as Sadutehang, in Lhasa on 1st October 1954.

When he was two years old, His Holiness recognized him, at which time the servants of the previous Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, carrying the recognition letter written by His Holiness, went in search of the new incaration. And in Lhasa, in a dwelling situated at the back of the famous statue of Lord Sakyamuni Buddha, they discovered the child who was easily identified to be the new Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche of Palpung.

It was thought to take the new incarnation to his monastery, Palpung, for his enthronement. However, due to growing unrest in Tibet with the Chinese occupation, His Holiness instructed that he would go to stay with his family at Kalimpong, India, where they had already established a residence. And so he went, staying with his family until the age of six, Rinpoche then joined His Holiness at Rumtek, Sikkim, and was formally enthroned in Rumtek Old Monastery. Since that time, Rinpoche has been residing in Rumtek receiving numerous empowerments, transmissions and teachings from His Holiness, and studying Buddhist philosophy with eminent teachers such as Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche and others.

During the past 7-8 years, Rinpoche remained constantly with His Holiness and had accompained His Holiness on His several world Dharma tours. Now aged 27, Rinpoche continues to reside at Dharma Chakra Centre, Rumtek.

As the First and Second Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoches were the Gurus of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapas respectively, they are included in the list of lineage holders. Since His Holiness has passed away His Emience Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche is one of the Four Seat-Holders who are taking full responsibility for continuing of His Holiness' Dharma projects and the fulfillment of His wishes.



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