The Tibetan title of Shamar means “the lama of the ruby-red crown”, named after the replica of the Karmapa’s own crown which he bestowed on the Shamarpa. The successive incarnations of the Shamarpas are also known as the “Red Hat Karmapa”.
Table of Contents
- 1 - Birth and Early life
- 2 - Founder of Bodhi Path Buddhist Centers
- 3 - The Shamarpa lineage
- 4 - Death of Rinpoche Shamarpa
Birth and Early life
The 14th Shamarpa was born on the 27th October 1952 in the Kingdom of Derge, Eastern Tibet. In 1956 he traveled with his brother, Jigme Rinpoche, to Tsurphu Monastery, the main seat of the Karmapas, where they stayed for two years.
In the summer of 1956, at four years old, he revealed his identity as the Shamarpa by recognizing old monks from Yangpochen monastery, the ancestral seat of the Shamarpas. Later that year, the 16th Karmapa and his entourage, including Shamar Rinpoche and Jigme Rinpoche, traveled to Bodh Gaya, India where they had been invited to participate in the 2,500th Buddha Jayanthi celebrations.
Having traveled for several months in India and Nepal, they returned to Tibet, visiting Yangpochen monastery on the way. It was the first time in this incarnation that Shamar Rinpoche had set foot there. The monastery had been converted to the Gelugpa sect during the time of the Tibetan Government’s ban on the institution of the Shamarpas.
The statues of the former Shamarpa incarnations remained, however, it is said that their red hats had been replaced with yellow ones. Pointing to the statues, the young Shamar Rinpoche exclaimed, “This is me,” and placed on his head a red hat that had rested in the lap of one of the statues.
Founder of Bodhi Path Buddhist Centers
He was known as the Red Hat Lama of Tibet. The Shamarpa lineage is the second-oldest reincarnate lineage in Tibetan Buddhism, dating to the thirteenth century.
Shamar Rinpoche spent many years studying in India with Buddhist scholars. He began to travel and teach in various Buddhist centers throughout Asia and the west starting in 1980, and in 1982 went to U.C. Berkeley to study English for ten months.
In 1996 he started to organize the Bodhi Path Buddhist Centers, a network of centers based on a non-sectarian approach to Buddhism.
Atisha ‘Root of Bodhi Path centers’
The curriculum of Bodhi Path centers is grounded in the teachings of the 11th-century Indian Buddhist master Atisha, as they were transmitted by Gampopa. Atisha’s methods are the most effective for taming the mind and deepening wisdom, and in addition, can be taught and employed in a secular way.
Shamarpa did not encourage most of his students to become monks and nuns, instead emphasizing the idea of being a layperson who studies and practices Buddhism. This is because becoming a monk or nun requires virtuosic dedication and discipline, and should not be undertaken by those unwilling to follow the full set of guidelines explained in the Vinaya (the code of conduct). For monks that means 253 rules, and for nuns 364.
The journey of Shamarpa Shar Minub in Kathmandu, Nepal
In order to provide a shining example of how the renounced followers of the Buddha are really supposed to live, in 2005, Shamarpa founded the retreat center of Shar Minub in Kathmandu, Nepal. At Shar Minub, twenty resident monks strictly maintain the full 253 vows of the Vinaya. These monks are total renunciants and dedicated meditators. Shar Minub is at the present time the only monastery among the many in the Himalayan regions where the monks are fully committed to the Buddha’s Vinaya discipline.
Read more about Shar Minub Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Establishment of Infinite Compassion Foundation to promote animal rights by Shamar
In January 2009 Shamar Rinpoche founded the Infinite Compassion Foundation to promote animal rights. The Infinite Compassion Foundation was formed to promote the humane treatment of animals that are raised for consumption of their meat and other products (especially dairy and eggs). Instead of promoting vegetarianism, Shamar Rinpoche instead advocated a transformation of the meat industry, such that animals will no longer be forced to live and die in brutal conditions.
Rinpoche Shamar and Books
Shamar Rinpoche authored several books. In The Path to Awakening, Shamarpa provides an extensive commentary on Chekawa Yeshe Dorje’s Seven Points of Mind Training. Chekawa’s text was based on the Mind Training teachings brought to Tibet by Atisha in the 11th century, and Shamarpa’s commentary elucidates the inner meaning of Chekawa’s Seven Points. It is both a guide to living a fulfilling life as a Buddhist and a comprehensive manual of meditation techniques.
In Creating a Transparent Democracy: a New Model, the first book written about democracy by a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, lays out a framework for establishing a genuinely democratic system of governance that promotes the welfare and prosperity of a population. This model proposes a system of democracy based on the decentralization of political power, the promotion of political literacy among the population of democratic states, and an end to campaigning. It is Shamarpa’s wish that this new model of democracy will inspire volunteers to dedicate themselves to improving the lives of their fellow citizens through sincere engagement with the structures of their governments.
The Shamarpa lineage
The Karma Kagyupa Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism has enjoyed a distinguished 900-year history that is intertwined at various points with the Gelugpa School to which the Dalai Lama belongs. Central to the transmission of the Kagyupa Lineage is the alternating reincarnations of the Karmapa and the Shamarpa.
Shamarpa considered to be successive reincarnations are listed in “The Garland of Moon Water Crystal” by the 8th Tai Situpa Chökyi Jungne and Belo Tsewang Künkhyab.
- Mipam Chokyi Wangchug (1584-1630)
- Khedrup Drakpa Senge (1284–1349)
- Shamar Khachö Wangpo (1350–1405)
- Shamar Chöpal Yeshe (1406–1452)
- Shamar Chokyi Drakpa Yeshe Pal Zangpo (1453–1526)
- Shamar Köncho Yenlak (1526–1583)
- Shamar Mipan Chökyi Wangchuk (1584–1629)
- Palchen Chökyi Döndrup (1695–1732)
- Könchog Geway Jungnay (1733–1741)
- Mipam Chödrup Gyamtso (1742–1793)
- Unknown, presumed forced into hiding by the Tibetan government.
- Tugsay Jamyang (1895–1947)
- Tinlay Kunchap (1948–1950)
- Mipham Chokyi Lodro (1952–2014)
Death of Rinpoche Shamarpa
Rinpoche was traveling to different countries in Europe to teach his students and had just completed several days of teachings in Germany. On June 11, 2014, Rinpoche died suddenly of a heart attack, at his main center in Renchen-Ulm, at the age of 61.
Rinpoche then entered the meditative Thugdam state, in which masters of Buddhist meditation can practice after death, and remained there for 2 days. On the auspicious full moon day of Saga Dawa, when Buddha Shakyamuni entered into parinirvana, Rinpoche left his meditation state with all the signs of enlightenment. Rinpoche’s students and many lamas who had come from all over the world immediately began prayers for his swift rebirth so that we can again benefit from his teaching and blessing.