Depicting Lama Teacher Karmapa Rolpai Dorje
The bottom register, beginning at the right, includes red Maharakta Ganapati with an elephant head and twelve arms, yellow Vasudhara with six arms, followed by the Five Deities of the Mahamaya Cycle, Simhanada Avalokiteshvara riding a lion, and blue Mahachakra Vajrapani with three faces and six arms.
Table of Contents
- 1 - The 4th Karmapa Rolpe Dorje
- 2 - Karmapa Lineage
- 3 - Dharmakya Budha Vajradhara
- 4 - Tilopa
- 5 - Naropa
- 6 - Guru Marpa
- 7 - Milarepa
- 8 - Gampapo
- 9 - Karma Dusum Khyenpa
- 10 - Karmapa Mikyo Dorje
- 11 - Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje
- 12 - Karmapa Karma Pakshi
- 13 - Karmapa Rangjung Dorje
- 14 - Karmapa Rolpe Dorje
- 15 - Karmapa Dezhin Shegpa
- 16 - Karmapa Thongwa Donden
- 17 - Karmapa Chodrag Gyatsho (1454-1506)
The 4th Karmapa Rolpe Dorje
Rolpe Dorje, the fourth Karmapa, was born in Al la Rong in the Konpo province of Tibet. At the age of nineteen, the Karmapa went to China, at the invitation of the Emperor Toghon Temur, where he was received at the Tai ya Tsu palace. The Karmapa gave the Emperor the empowerment of Vajrayogini and Chakrasamvara.
The Karmapa spent several years in China, establishing monasteries and monastic orders. The Karmapa returned to Tibet where he preached until his death at the age of forty-four.
Among his more famous disciples was Tsongkapa, who later went on to establish the Gelugpa sect.
Shamar Kha Chod Wangpo. The second incarnation in the Shamar lineage and disciple of Karmapa Rolpe Dorje.
The Mikyo Dorje thanks have a small image of the Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje seated on a cushion. This indicates that the series was completed during the lifetime of Wangchuk Dorje and was probably commissioned by him.
The small image below the Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje appears to be that of Shamar Kunchok Yenlak. It is very possible that the Tangka series was done during the time when the Karmapa and the Shamar Tulku traveled together.
There are records that state that tangkas depicting the two of them together were painted at the time and presented to the Karmapa for consecration. Thus we can safely date this series to the sixteenth century, and maybe more precisely between 1561 and 1564 AD.
the years when the Shamar Tulku and the Karmapa Here traveling together. The thanks series is extremely important for its historicity.
The portraits are delicately painted, capturing the character of the personages. Each Tangka shows good composition; the Buddhas line the upper half of the thanks, the Karmapa and his teacher or pupil make up the central image with their tutelary deities in between.
The Karmapa Lineage which is given below:
- Dharmakaya Buddha Vajradhara (Celestial Buddha)
- Tilopa (988- 1069)
- Naropa (1016- 1100)
- Marpa ( 1012- 1096)
- Milarepa (1052- 1135)
- Gampopa (1079- 1153)
- Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa (1110- 1193)
- Karmapa Karma Pakshi (1200-1283)
- Karmapa Rangjung Dorje (1284- 1339)
- Karmapa Rolpe Dorje (1340- 1383)
- Karmapa Dezhin Shegpa (1384- 1415)
- Karmapa Thongwa Donden (1416- 1453)
- Karmapa Chodrag Gyatsho (1454-1506)
- Karmapa Mikyo Dorje (1507 -1554)
- Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje (1556- 1603)
Dharmakya Budha Vajradhara
According to the Kagyu lineage, Buddha Vajradhara is the primordial Buddha, the Dharmakaya Buddha. He is depicted as dark blue in color, expressing the quintessence of Buddhahood itself and representing the essence of the historical Buddha’s realization of enlightenment.
The life of the Mahasiddha Tilopa, thought to have been composed in the 11th century by the renowned Tibetan yogi Marpa Lotsawa, is a compelling account of the complete liberation’ of the guru of Naropa, and belongs to the genre of ‘Buddhist hagiology’.
Naropa (1016 – 1100) was a great scholar and master of Mahamudra who became the most prominent Authoritative Indian Mahasiddha from whom Marpa (1012 – 1096) received the transmission of the Six Yogas and Mahamudra. Tilopa had already prophesied the importance of Marpa long before Naropa met Marpa.
Naropa, known as Abhayakirti was born in Kashmir into the Brahmin caste, according to Taranatha and other sources, who say that he was born in a place called Jambu in the eastern part of India. His father was Shantivarman and mother, Shrimati.
In his childhood, he quickly learned reading and writing. Guru Marpa learned Sanskrit from Drogmi Lotsava who was well versed in the Path and Fruition doctrine of Sakyapa tradition.
Guru Marpa had two Nepali Gurus, Paindapa and Chitherpa from whom he learned the Chakrasamvara and Chatuhpith Tantras for three years. These two Nepalese teachers gave Guru Marpa a great deal of dharma instruction and language.
Guru Marpa with his great zeal and assiduity learned the vast range of Tantric teachings from Naropa, Maitripa, Kukkuripa, and others. Guru Marpa came back to Tibet with these vast resources and taught his disciples extensively.
Among his disciples, Tibet’s great yogi Milarepa was the foremost and he had many outstanding disciples of his own through whom Kagyudpa lineage is continued uninterruptedly till today.
Guru Marpa is said to be a very fat one with hair standing five fingers straight up off his head and with an angry-looking face.
But in some commentaries of Venerable Karma Chagme, he is described as having matted hair and wearing a Chuba with big Chinese style sleeves and a large-cap.
Milarepa was a major figure in Tibetan Buddhism and one of Tibet’s most famous yogis and poets. His writings, often referred to as the Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, are canonical Mahayana Buddhist texts.
Gampopa was given the name Dharma Drak at his birth in Nyal, East Tibet. His father’s name was Nyima Sangye Gyalpo and his mother’s name was Shomo Zante.
In East Tibet, Gampopa (1079 – 1135) was the son of a doctor, and a doctor himself. Gampopa was trained as a physician who devoted himself to the Dharma after the death of his wife. Guru Gampopa became the heart son of Milarepa and was the root guru of the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyempa.
Beginning at the age of 5, the boy received instructions on the medical sciences from his father and from an Indian physician called Kyemey, from a Central Tibetan doctor called Usil, from a Nepalese doctor called Viji, and from thirteen other Chinese and Tibetan physicians.
It is his synthesis of the traditions of Dharma teachings melded with the experiential meditative teaching of Milarepa that formed the Kagyu tradition, as we know it today. Guru Gampopa wrote the “Jewel Ornament of Liberation” and is usually depicted wearing robes and a red hat, which has become synonymous with the Kagyu School.
Guru Gampopa married in his early twenties and fathered two sons. Several years later, an epidemic took both their lives, despite his skill. His wife falling sick of the same disease, and similarly failing to respond to his ministrations, begged him as she died not to marry again, but to become a monk.
One might question her motives, but nevertheless, at the age of twenty – six, Guru Gampopa became a novice in the Kadampa tradition. Guru Gampopa applied himself, working with many masters, and achieved a high degree of proficiency before – at thirty – two hearing talk of Milarepa. Feeling a surge of devotion in response to these tales, and understanding that this must be his true teacher, he set out on a grueling but eventually successful search to find him.
Gampopa, a talented writer, of great insight, was entrusted by Milarepa with the complete Kagyu transmission – the only one of Milarepa’s students so honored – before leaving Milarepa to go into retreat at Dagpo in southeast Tibet. There he founded the monastery of Daglha Gampo, where he drew many disciples.
Four of these were to found the four “major” Kagyu branches. Eight “minor” branches would appear later. One of the four, Dusum Khyenpa was both the next Kagyu lineage – holder, and the first Karmapa.
Karma Dusum Khyenpa
The Second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi, was born in in the Derge region of Khams. His father was Gawang Tsurtsa Prangtai. They were a noble family of yoga practitioners believed to be descended from King Tri Songde.
Karmapa Mikyo Dorje
Dondup Tseten Dorje was the penultimate prince of the Rinpungpa Dynasty which held power in Tsang between 1435 and 1565.
Dondup Tseten Dorje was the second son of the Rinpungpa lord Ngawang Namgyal. He succeeded his father as the prince of Tsang at an uncertain date in the mid-sixteenth century, probably in 1544, since his elder brother Padma Karpo had died young. He was reputedly a valiant warrior.
Like his predecessors, he was a patron of the Karmapa sect of Buddhism. He assisted the Karmapa hierarch Mikyo Dorje to build the Sungrap Ling monastery.
The prince had good religious knowledge and received instruction in Vajrayanasikhara mysticism in the school of the lama Tashi Palzang. Even before the death of his father, he expanded Rinpungpa territory by gaining possession of the fief Lhundrubtse in the Nam region.
The dynasty tried unsuccessfully to continue the westward expansion initiated by Ngawang Namgyal. Dondup Tseten Dorje or his brother Ngawang Jigme Drakpa suffered a notable defeat in 1555 when the Rinpungpa vainly attacked the Mangyül Gungthang kingdom in western Tibet.
The prince himself is not known for political activity after the mid-sixteenth century, although he lived a long life and died in 1620.
His junior brother Ngawang Jigme Drakpa is referred to as the ruler of the Rinpungpa in the 1560s when the power of the dynasty was decisively broken by the new Tsangpa Dynasty.
Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje
Wangchuk Dorje (1556–1603) was the ninth Gyalwa Karmapa, head of the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism.
Wangchuk Dorje was born in Treshod, Kham. According to legend, he said after being born:
“I am Karmapa.”
Other sources say that soon after his birth he sat cross-legged for three days and declared he was the Karmapa.
He received his education from Shamar Koncho Yenlak, the fifth Shamarpa, in a nomadic camp that traveled through Tibet but also passed through present-day Mongolia and Bhutan. During his travels, many monasteries were founded.
Wangchuk Dorje also wrote many classic Buddhist texts, many of which are still being taught today.
Wangchuk Dorje was not only a spiritual leader, but also a mediator in conflicts. He was invited by the king of Sikkim to settle a dispute and while there he founded three monasteries one of them being in Rumtek which is currently the most important monastery of the lineage after the Chinese occupation of Tibet. The other two are Phodong and Ralang Monastery.
Karmapa Karma Pakshi
His teacher, Pomdrakpa, had received the full Kagyu transmission from Drogon Rechen, the first Karmapa’s spiritual heir.
Pomdrakpa realized, through certain very clear visions, that the child in his charge was the reincarnation of Dusum Khyenpa, as indicated in the letter given to Drogon Rechen.
The young Karma Pakshi is said to have assimilated the deepest teachings effortlessly and required only one reading of a text to be familiar with it as he was already enlightened.
Nevertheless, Pomdrakpa made a point of formally passing on all the teachings through the traditional empowerments, so that the stream of the empowerment lineage would be unbroken. This has been the case ever since: despite their innate clarity, young Karmapas receive all the transmissions formally.
Karmapa Rangjung Dorje
Rangjung Dorje visited China, where the emperor Toghon Temur became his disciple. Upon his death, Rangjung Dorje’s face is said to have appeared in the moon there.
As a group, the Karmapa Lamas were among the earliest recognized Tulku, or lamas reincarnated as deities or lineage of deceased teachers. The first Karmapas were influential in the Yuan and Ming courts as well as the TangutWestern Xia Kingdom.
Karmapa Rolpe Dorje
Rolpe Dorje (1340- 1383) was the fourth Gyalwa Karmapa. According to legend the fourth Karmapa’s mother, while pregnant, could hear the sound of the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum while the child was in her womb and the baby said the mantra as soon as he was born.
His early life was full of miracles and manifested a total continuity of the teachings and qualities of his former incarnation, including receiving teachings in his dreams.
While in his teens, he received the formal transmissions of both the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages from the great Nyingma guru Yungtonpa, the third Karmapa’s spiritual heir, now very advanced in years. At the age of nineteen, he accepted Toghon Temur’s invitation to return to China where he gave teachings for three years and established many temples and monasteries.
Karmapa Dezhin Shegpa
Dezhin Shekpa (1384–1415), also Deshin Shegpa, Dezhin Shekpa, and Dezhin Shegpa were the fifth Gyalwa Karmapa, head of the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism.
Dezhin Sherpa was born in Nyang Dam in the south of Tibet. According to the legend he said after being born.
Dezhin Shekpa was taken to Tawa Phu who recognized him as the reincarnation of the Karmapa. Dezhin traveled extensively through Tibet and Mongolia and taught people about non-violence.
Karmapa Thongwa Donden
Thongwa Donden (1416–1453) or Tongwa Donden, was the sixth Karmapa, head of the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism.
Thongwa Dönden was born in Ngomto Shakyam near Karma Gon in Kham. He was recognized during his first visit at the Karma Gon monastery and joined the monastery to be taught by the Shamarpa.
Up to then the Kagyu lineage had mainly given the emphasis on meditation and considered rituals and prayers of lesser importance and therefore it had been neglected.
Thongwa Dönden, therefore, set out to write many prayers and form many rituals. He was also very active with the printing and copying of Buddhist texts and the founding of a Buddhist university.
Thongwa strengthened the lineage by having the Shangpa and Shijay lineage join their lineage and making sure that the different teachings were compatible with each other
Karmapa Chodrag Gyatsho (1454-1506)
he Seventh Karmapa, Chodrak Gyatso, was heard to say “A ma la” (mother) when born and to declare, “AH HUNG, there is nothing in the world but voidness,” at five months of age.
At nine months his parents took him to Gyaltsab Rinpoche, who recognized the new Karmapa incarnation.
In particular, he encouraged individuals and groups of people to recite many millions of Mani mantras
“The best cure for anything.”
Chodrak Gyatso spent much of his life in retreat or half-retreat.
He was an extremely erudite scholar and author and it was he who founded the monastic university at Tsurphu. He also restored the large statue commissioned by Karma Pakshi.
Often a peacemaker, he is remembered for his visions of Guru Rinpoche which led him to discover hidden valleys of refuge for people in times of war.
He maintained contact with the remaining Buddhists of India and sent much gold to Bodh Gaya for the Buddha image there to be gilded.
Knowing that he would pass away at the age of 52, he left details of his next incarnation and passed on the lineage to Tashi Paljor.