Kagyu Lineage

THE KARMA KAGYU LINEAGE OF TIBETAN BUDDHISM traces its origins to Shakyamuni Buddha through Marpa the Great Translator, who three times traveled to India to bring back authentic Buddhist teachings to Tibet. His teacher, Naropa, received the lineage transmission from Tilopa and so on, back to the Buddha himself. Marpa's most famous student was the greatest yogi in all of Tibet, the renowned Jetsun Milarepa, who passed the teachings on to Gampopa, who in turn transmitted the teachings to the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa. Since then, the Kagyu Lineage has been headed by a succession of reincarnations of the Gyalwa Karmapa. The line of the Karmapas is said to be self-announced, because each incarnation leaves a letter predicting his next rebirth. All great Kagyu teachers regard His Holiness Karmapa as the embodiment and source of all of the blessings of the lineage.


VAJRADHARA, OR DORJE CHANG (Tib.) is the primordial Buddha. This teaching on Vajradhara was given by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche.

First we need to cultivate a positive attitude in whatever we are doing, whether it be listening to, contemplating, or meditating upon a teaching, or even participating in a worldly activity.

Attitude is a matter of thinking. Right thinking and wrong thinking differentiate spirituality and materialism. In the material world we study and work hard for such selfish aims as becoming famous. Because we have had a selfish point of view throughout beginningless time, we experience the sufferings of the six realms and are unable to liberate ourselves from samsara.

Therefore, when we are practicing or listening to the Dharma, we need to develop the pure attitude of wanting to benefit all living beings, not only in a temporary way, but also to ultimately free all beings in the six realms from suffering. This is the positive attitude.

The aim of meditation practice is liberation from the sufferings of conditioned existence and the experience of ultimate bliss. Whether or not meditation practice will lead to realization really depends upon the mental attitude of the practitioner. If our mental attitude is impure, then it is like mixing poison with food. We can see that food is beneficial for our health, but if it is mixed with poison, it becomes dangerous. Similarly, Dharma is beneficial, but whether our meditation will be effective or not depends upon our attitude.

One specific meditation practice given by a teacher can lead to different results, depending upon the mentality of the students. For example, a student with a positive attitude will have the best result; and a student who is totally unable to develop a positive attitude will have no beneficial result at all, despite his or her practice of meditation. Instead, because of indulging in negative thoughts, this student may experience an increase of conflicting emotions. This serves to prove the importance of attitude.

You might wonder what type of pure attitude we really need to develop during the stages of listening to, contemplating, and meditating upon the teachings so as to experience the fullness and fruition of our meditation. We must try to develop the altruistic attitude, which begins with the awareness that sentient beings are not only suffering at the present time, but have been suffering endlessly throughout beginningless time. The reason why they are experiencing such beginningless and endless suffering is that throughout beginningless time until now, they have been consistently motivated by the selfish purpose of gaining selfish benefits. They want to experience selfish happiness, pleasure, and joy. In order to experience that selfish happiness, pleasure, and joy, they use the conflicting emotions of anger, jealousy, pride, and so forth. Because of the negative karma they have accumulated due to conflicting emotions, they actually experience more suffering, instead of a greater sense of happiness. Therefore, we must wish to liberate all beings for all time from the causes of suffering. This altruistic attitude of wanting to ultimately liberate all beings from suffering is known as the enlightened mind, or bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is very profound and can be very effective if one can maintain such an enlightened state of mind.

So having first developed an altruistic attitude, please listen attentively. The teaching today is based on the lineage gurus who appeared on this earth. When speaking of them, we need to understand that in the past there have been fully enlightened beings who have appeared on the earth to turn the wheel of the Dharma. It is said that in the future there will be another thousand enlightened beings who will also come for the same purpose.

We are presently under the guidance of the teachings of fourth buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha, who took birth in India and lived 81 years, during which time he turned the wheel of the Dharma three times. From Shakyamuni Buddha, a nirmanakaya aspect of enlightenment, an unbroken transmission was passed down to such great masters as Nagarjuna and Asanga, and they in turn brought the teachings to Tibet, where the four great schools of Tibetan Buddhism developed. All these teachings originated from the nirmanakaya aspect of enlightenment. The origin of the nirmanakaya is the sambhogakaya aspect of enlightenment, and the origin of the sambhogakaya is the dharmakaya. An example of the nirmanakaya, sambhogakaya, and dharmakaya aspects is that of the clarity and light in this room originating from the clarity and light outside the house, and the clarity and light outside the house originating from the sun. Therefore, the origin of the teachings and the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism is the dharmakaya aspect or that of Vajradhara or Samantabhadra, the realization of the ultimate state of enlightenment.

We are dependent upon the light outside the house to brighten this room. As I have mentioned earlier, the clarity and light outside originates with the sun. To realize the state of Vajradhara or Samantabhadra is to become like the sun itself and no longer dependent upon the light outside for illumination.

It is for this reason that in all the schools of the Kagyupas, Gelugpas, and Sakyapas, the transmission of lineage goes back to Vajradhara. Why it goes back to Vajradhara and not to Shakyamuni Buddha is that it refers directly back to the essence of enlightenment, the origin of the light, which is the sun itself and not just the light of the sun. It is the same in the Nyingmapa tradition, where the teachings do not originate with Padmasambhava or Shakyamuni Buddha, but with Samantabhadra. Since the ultimate source is the dharmakaya, all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism originated with Vajradhara or Samantabhadra. The activity of Vajradhara is to benefit all beings without discrimination or judgement.

There is sometimes confusion in the minds of new students as to whether either Vajradhara or Samantabhadra is superior to the other. There is nothing that indicates the superiority of one over the other as they are both equal. In a sense, it is a name differentiation. For example, if you are in the East, people think that the sky is the eastern sky; if you are in the West, people think that the sky is the western sky; but the sky is just one. It is not as if the eastern sky is superior to the western sky or that the western sky is superior to the eastern sky, as there is no superiority inherent in the sky being either eastern or western. Both are sky, the only difference being that they are over different parts of the world; it is we who have the idea of "our" and "their" sky. So there is actually no difference at all between Vajradhara and Samantabhadra.

In one sense there is no difference between the two, but we can note that there are two names. The Sanskrit word "Samantabhadra" in Tibetan is Kuntuzangpo, "kuntu" meaning "ultimately" and "zangpo" meaning "goodness." What is known as "Kuntuzangpo" is primordially free from any fault, stain, or mental confusion, and therefore is not only presently pure, but also can never be defiled in the future. The Sanskrit word "Vajradhara" in Tibetan is Dorje Chang, "dorje" meaning "indestructibility" and "chang" meaning "permanently possessed." The quality that enlightened beings have realized is within all sentient beings. What is known as Dorje Chang is the full realization and stabilization of the enlightened quality within all beings.

It can be further noted that when Samantabhadra and Vajradhara are depicted in thangka paintings, one is shown without ornaments and garments, and the other is shown with ornaments and garments. Samantabhadra (Kuntuzangpo) is depicted naked, without ornaments and garments, to symbolize that his state of realization is unconditionally free from mental projection and primordially pure, as is the dharmakaya. Vajradhara (Dorje Chang) is depicted with heavenly ornaments and garments to symbolize his capacity to ceaselessly benefit and fulfill the needs of all living beings through the means of sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya emanations.

In the Uttaratantra Shastra, Maitreya explains that the actual enlightened being is Samantabhadra or Vajradhara, and the emanation aspect of enlightenment is Shakyamuni Buddha, who appeared on the earth. Shakyamuni Buddha himself explained that he had not spoken any words nor had he ever given teachings, and that it was only through the karmic manifestation and karmic capacity of sentient beings that they had heard him teach. Why Shakyamuni Buddha said that he never taught any teachings is that in the dharmakaya or ultimate aspect of enlightenment, he never gave teachings. Shakyamuni Buddha was an emanation and not an ultimate aspect of enlightenment. It was through the emanation or nirmanakaya aspect of enlightenment that people heard different teachings according to their karmic capacity. 

The sun and Vajradhara never actually appear on the earth, it is rather the light of the sun and the emanation of Vajradhara that sentient beings experience through their capacity and purity of mind. For example, enlightened beings are beyond mental conception. Like the sun, they have no wish to shine only on this part of the world or to benefit only here or there, they just simply shine. The luminosity of the sun is perceived in its different aspects by many beings according to their capacity. The beings who have physical form experience the warmth of the sun and are benefited, although the sun did not purposely give that warmth to benefit them. The sentient beings who have bodies experience warmth simply because they have physical form. The light of the sun enables beings to see things clearly because they have eyes. Just as the light of the sun enables those with eyes to see clearly, it is the capacity and purity of mind that enable beings to experience the nirmanakaya aspect of enlightenment. Vajradhara does not actually appear on the earth.

For that reason, although Shakyamuni Buddha passed into nirvana about 2530 years ago, we are still able to experience his blessing through our devotion, confidence, and practice because the ultimate realization of buddhahood, the dharmakaya or Vajradhara aspect of enlightenment, never dies. As long as the sun is above in the sky, a temporary cloud may obscure its light, but that does not mean the sun has lost its light; the sun is always shining. Likewise, although there is a very long lapse of time between the passing away of Shakyamuni Buddha and our present age, if we practice diligently with faith and confidence, we are still capable of experiencing the blessing of the Buddha because Vajradhara is still there. The Vajradhara aspect is ceaselessly present.

The activity of Vajradhara is to benefit all beings without discrimination or judgement, just as it is inherent in the nature of the trees that grow on the earth to burn when set on fire. The nature of any wood, regardless of where it is grown, is to burn; the nature of the activity of Vajradhara is to benefit sentient beings, regardless of what type of living being they may be. It is not only in the buddha nature of the Vajradhara aspect of ultimate enlightenment to benefit sentient beings; buddha nature is also inherent in all living beings like ourselves as well.

We can all agree that the nature of wood is that it burns; but it must meet with the cause of burning as it cannot burn itself. Although the buddha nature or Vajradhara aspect of enlightenment is within all living beings like ourselves, without meeting the cause to ripen this quality, we are unable to realize it. That is why all the teachers in all the schools emphasize the importance of the lineage gurus who have obtained the unbroken transmission. By practicing according to their teachings, we are meeting the cause to ripen our buddha nature.

Meeting the cause of ripening our mind is necessary to experience the enlightenment of our mind. In the teachings it is said that one butter lamp lights another. It is like having a hundred candles. When one candle is burning, the next candle can also be lit when it meets the flame of the first candle, and then the third candle can be lit when it meets the flame of the second, and the same with the fourth, and so forth. If you leave a candle on a shrine, it cannot light up without meeting a flame; it needs to meet with such a cause.

Without knowing the meaning of the actual Vajradhara, many students new to the Dharma ask questions such as who the father or mother of Vajradhara are, and when Vajradhara took birth. There are other students who think that Vajradhara is a superior human being living high above in the sky. These ideas stem from a lack of understanding of the enlightenment aspect. Because of this lack of understanding, Vajradhara is believed to exist actually in physical form, abiding above us in some heavenly place, although he is beyond words and conception. Although the state of Vajradhara is beyond words and conception, it is something within ourselves which through our diligence and practice we are able to experience. Vajradhara is not anything separate or different from ourselves.

When we state that there is no physical form to Vajradhara, the argument can still be made that we can see a dark blue human being who wears ornaments and silks and holds a bell and vajra in tangka paintings. These are all really symbolic gestures to enable students to understand the enlightened aspect. The dark blue color, bell, and vajra symbolize the indestructibility of Vajradhara. The dark blue also connotes his ceaseless activity to benefit beings, and his ornaments symbolize the preciousness of benefiting all living beings.

Those who are familiar with the mahamudra supplication prayer know we begin it by reciting, "Great Dorje Chang (Tibetan for Vajradhara), Telo, Naro. . ." It is very important to have an understanding of Vajradhara be cause everything that comes later is based on this ultimate aspect of enlightenment. If we misunderstand anything now, then we might become confused later. We must be sure that we correctly understand the meaning of Vajradhara, so we can correctly relate to future teachings.


This teaching was given by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche at KTD, Woodstock, March 25-30, 1986. It was translated by Chojor Radha, and edited by Tina Armond. 

Tilopa (988-1069)

TILOPA WAS BORN THE KING of a province in India. Although as a king he had always possessed wealth and title, his mind was not completely satisfied, and he left his kingdom to find a teacher of the Dharma. He searched India in all directions for such a master.

Nagarjuna, knowing that Tilopa was searching for a teacher and would soon be approaching, pretended that he was stuck in the middle of a very wide river. When Tilopa came to that place, he asked Nagarjuna what he was doing. Nagarjuna answered that he wanted to cross the river but was stuck in the middle, unable to cross and unable to return. Tilopa promised that he would carry him to the other side. Nagarjuna replied that since he was very big and Tilopa was very small, how could he possibly be able to carry him to the other side of such a huge river? Tilopa, however, was intent upon keeping his word, and because of his determination was able to carry Nagarjuna to the other side.

After Tilopa helped Nagarjuna cross the river, Nagarjuna said, "Oh courageous son of a noble family, it is your courage and determination that enabled us to cross the wide river!" Nagarjuna predicted that because Tilopa's courage and willpower were so effective, he would be able to work to benefit living beings, and told him to return to his kingdom and become a king once again.


When Tilopa returned to his kingdom to look after his people he found his country in a state of crisis and engaged in a war with another powerful state in India. Because Tilopa was king, his subjects feared that they would be unable to defeat their enemy as Tilopa seemed so small, weak, and powerless. Tilopa made a public pronouncement in which he told his people that they need not fear; he knew of a way the enemy could be defeated without bloodshed.

Tilopa went out to defend his country. The army marching against his kingdom was great in number and intent upon victory. Alone, Tilopa approached the forest where the army was encamped. When the soldiers saw him approach, they prepared to charge; Tilopa instantly transformed all the trees in the forest into soldiers ready to follow his command. When Tilopa ordered, "Look at the enemy!" all the trees that were transformed into soldiers gazed at the enemy. When Tilopa ordered, "Charge!" they all ran toward the enemy. Since there were uncountable trees, the trees were transformed into uncountable soldiers whose numbers were so frightening that the enemy fled the country without a battle. In this way, Tilopa's prediction to his people, that he could defeat the enemy without bloodshed, came to pass.


Next, Tilopa went to the northern part of the country to practice the Dharma. There he obtained teachings from the dakinis and went to meditate in a cave. After making a commitment to meditate there for twelve years, he chained both his legs together so he would not be able to come out of the cave. In this way he meditated for twelve years.

After twelve years passed, the chains that were tied around Tilopa's legs broke of themselves; he had achieved some realization as a result of his diligent meditation but had not yet accomplished the ultimate realization of Vajradhara. He wished to go out and wander and lead the simple life of a siddha.

However, the dakinis were hesitant to let Tilopa leave his cave and his practice. As it was not proper for him to disobey, he thought he would try to influence them by demonstrating his realization. He picked up a fish in his hand and transferred its consciousness out of its body. The dakinis witnessing this saw that he was a highly realized being and gave him permission to wander as a simple siddha, just as he wished. His goal was to travel to the eastern part of Bengal and find Nagarjuna.

When Tilopa was abiding in a certain cave, Nagarjuna sent the dakini Matongha to give him teachings. When Matongha appeared, Tilopa inquired about Nagarjuna and was told that Nagarjuna was not in the human realm at that time but was giving teachings in the god realm. Matongha also told Tilopa that Nagarjuna knew Tilopa would be in this particular cave and had sent her to give him teachings.

As Nagarjuna requested, Tilopa received teachings from Matongha. During this time, Matongha noticed that because Tilopa had been king and of royal caste, his mind possessed a strong pride that hindered his progress, and she told him that his arrogance must be removed. Tilopa was given instructions to go to a certain village to seek out a woman there who was a prostitute and to work for her. The woman worked during the day making oil out of sesame seed and worked at night as a prostitute. As he was instructed, he worked for the woman during the day by pounding sesame seed, and during the night by soliciting her customers. In this way Tilopa lived as the prostitute's helper.


One day as Tilopa was pounding sesame seeds in the village, he realized ultimate buddhahood, the Vajradhara aspect of enlightenment. As a sign of his achieving complete realization, Tilopa levitated to the height of seven royal palm trees while still holding a mortar and pestle in his hands and continuing to grind sesame seeds. The news that Tilopa hovered in the air at the height of seven royal palm trees quickly spread through the village.

When the prostitute who employed Tilopa heard that someone was levitating very high in the sky, she hastened to see who it was. To her surprise she discovered that it was her employee in the sky, and that he was still working for her, even as he hovered, by continuing to grind sesame seeds with a mortar and pestle. She felt ashamed to have given such work to a highly realized being, and with great regret, she confessed this to Tilopa and requested him to accept her as his student. As she mentally made this request, Tilopa threw a flower down to her from the sky. The flower hit her on the head, instantaneously causing her to reach complete realization. She then levitated to the same height as Tilopa.

So once again, the news went out and quickly spread among a great number of people. When the news reached the king, he went out himself to witness the blessed event along with all his people. With everyone assembled below, Tilopa sang a song of the Dharma, using the example of the sesame seed in his teaching. In his song, Tilopa explained that although a sesame seed contains oil, it cannot produce oil by itself; without the hard work of grinding the seed, the oil cannot be extracted. So although buddha nature is within every living being, without the hard work of practicing the Dharma, there is no way to realize our inherent buddha nature.

As Tilopa sang this song, the king and all his people immediately understood his teaching and came to complete realization. At the instant of their enlightenment, the village appeared to be momentarily empty of all its inhabitants.

After that day, Tilopa became very famous. His great renown came about not only because of his profound realization, but also because, as he sang in many of his songs, he had no human guru. This was to show that he had received his transmission directly from the Vajradhara aspect of enlightenment.


This teaching on the Life of Tilopa was given by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche at KTD, Woodstock, NY, March 25-30, 1986. It was translated by Chojor Radha, and edited by Tina Armond.

Naropa (1016-1100)

NAROPA WAS BORN A PRINCE in India. From the day of his birth, he was a very exceptional being endowed with special qualities. As an infant, Naropa was so pleasant to behold that simply to gaze at him was to experience joy and a sense of happiness. Even in childhood, he possessed profound wisdom and a sense of loving-kindness and compassion for others.

The king, queen, and all the attendants agreed that the most appropriate place for such an extraordinary son of a noble family would be a monastery. Just as precious jewels should not be kept in filthy water but placed upon an immaculate shrine, it did not seem befitting for Naropa to dwell in the midst of worldly people. His rightful place was to be among practitioners of the Dharma.

When he came of age, Naropa was most happy with the decision for him to go to a monastery, and he went off to study with many scholars and become properly educated. Naropa's wisdom became so profound that he surpassed all of his teachers all of the time. He became one of the most famous and world-renowned scholars of his day and went to Nalanda University in India.

It was the custom at that time in India for different traditions to debate with each other, with the beliefs of the winner declared supreme. Hundreds of scholars of different traditions would come to Nalanda University to debate with Buddhist scholars. At that time, Nalanda had four gates at each of the cardinal directions. At each gate there were five hundred world-renowned scholars known as "gate keepers." Naropa became one of the scholars at the northern gate. In that capacity he debated daily with many scholars of various schools, and each day he further proved himself to be one of the most learned among them all. In this way he became very famous.

One day, as Naropa was sitting quietly in his room reading a Buddhist sutra text, a very fearful shadow fell upon the floor. He immediately looked up to see what it was. To his great surprise he saw a very ugly, wrinkled, old woman without a single tooth in her mouth standing in front of him. She was so old that she was not able to stand without the aid of a cane. She asked Naropa, "What are you reading?" Naropa replied, "I am studying the teachings of the Buddha." The old woman then asked, "Do you understand the teachings?" Without any hesitation Naropa replied, "I understand every single word of the teachings of the Buddha." This response elicited great joy and happiness in the old woman, and she laughed and giggled, and danced in an ecstatic manner. She said, "It is very fortunate for this earth that such a scholar as yourself exists!"

The ugly woman next asked Naropa, "You might understand the literal meaning of the teachings of the Buddha, but do you understand the inner and ultimate meaning of the teachings?" Since the old woman had displayed such great joy and happiness at his merely saying that he understood the literal meaning of the sutras, Naropa thought that she would be even more joyful if he said that yes, he understood the inner, essential meaning of the Dharma. So Naropa replied, "Yes." As he replied yes, the expression of the face of the ugly old woman turned from one of joy to one of sadness, and she fell to the floor and beat it with both her hands and cried, "To think that such a great scholar as you knows how to tell lies!" This embarrassed Naropa, who inquired," Is there anyone who really understands the inner meaning of the Dharma?" The old woman replied, "Yes, my brother, Tilopa."

The instant that she uttered the name "Tilopa," devotion arose in the mind and heart of Naropa and tears came to his eyes. Naropa asked the old woman,"Where can I find this master? In which direction does he reside?" The old woman replied, "There is no particular direction for Tilopa or his residence. He could be anywhere. If your mind is filled with devotion and confidence, and you yearn to meet him, this is the right direction." Having spoken thus, the old woman, who was actually Vajrayogini, disappeared like a rainbow fading in the sky. Because his negative karma was not completely purified, Naropa was only able to see her as a very ugly, old woman. His mental stains prevented him from seeing her true form.

Naropa requested leave from the Abbot of Nalanda University. He was a great favorite of the Abbot and scholars, and although they wanted very much for him to stay, he had made up his mind to leave and search for Tilopa.

With an intolerable yearning, Naropa went out in search of his master. He experienced extreme hunger and thirst and overexposure to the elements, but he did not allow any of these unbearable conditions to deter him in his search for Tilopa. The many unfavorable circumstances that he encountered have become known as the "Twelve Fearful Experiences of Naropa." Twelve times he encountered ferocious dogs, wild animals, poisonous snakes, terrifying women, and other adverse situations that hindered him on his path to meet his teacher and frightened him almost to death. Nevertheless, he would not turn back in his search for Tilopa. After each terrifying encounter he went forward, and each time he did this, he would hear an affirmation resounding from the sky that what he had just experienced was the manifestation of his guru.

After suffering the pain and hardships of passing through the "Twelve Fearful Experiences," Naropa found himself in a village. From out of the sky sounded the words, "Not far from this village is the master whom you seek. You must have faith and confidence in him." Filled with excitement, Naropa went to the outskirts of the village and asked everyone he saw if they knew a master called Tilopa. They all replied that they did not know a master called Tilopa, but there was a fisherman down by the river drying fish who was called by that name.

Naropa was surprised to hear that Tilopa was a fisherman but he immediately remembered that all his recent experiences had actually been manifestations of his guru, and he realized that if he had to meet his teacher in the form of a fisherman, it must be because of his impure mind. So without any doubt or hesitation, and with devotion and trust, he went down to the river to meet Tilopa. As he got closer, he could see Tilopa was transferring the consciousness of each fish to a pure realm with a snap of his fingers. Afterwards he would pick up each fish and bite off its head, discarding the head to one side, and placing the body to dry on the sand in preparation for taking it to market.

Naropa prostrated to Tilopa as a gesture of respect and asked to be accepted as his student. Tilopa scrutinized Naropa from head to toe three times and said, "No matter from what angle I look at you, you seem to be of a royal family. You look like royalty and speak like royalty, and yet you come here to be a student of a fisherman, one of a lowly caste. This is not at all proper."

Tilopa was about to take his leave, but Naropa, out of desperation and devotion, clung to Tilopa without any shame or embarrassment and again requested him to be his teacher. Saying neither yes nor no to Naropa's request, Tilopa walked away. Naropa tried to follow Tilopa, but although Tilopa appeared to be walking normally, and although Naropa was running, he was unable to catch up, no matter how fast he ran. Naropa could see the form of Tilopa in front of him, but he was unable to get closer. As this area in India was particularly hot and arid, it became very difficult for Naropa to keep running after Tilopa, and although he subjected himself to thirst, hunger, and fatigue, he was not able to catch u

Eventually, Naropa saw Tilopa sitting on a very high cliff. He went over to him and prostrated, again requesting Tilopa to be his teacher. Tilopa responded by saying, "If you were really desperate and determined to learn about the teachings, you would obey my order to jump off this cliff without any hesitation because you would be able to understand how important it is to follow the commands of your master." Naropa jumped off the high cliff and fell to the ground. All his bones and joints were broken into many, many pieces. Tilopa went down to Naropa and inquired, "Are you experiencing any pain?" Naropa replied, "The pain is killing me!" This is how Naropa got his name. ("Na" in Tibetan means "pain," "ro" means "killing" and "pa" makes the word a noun.) Tilopa gently touched Naropa's body and all his broken bones joined together and were healed.

After undergoing so much suffering, Naropa once again asked Tilopa to give him the profound teachings. Tilopa said, "You are not yet pure enough to be introduced to the nature of mind!" With a wrathful expression, Tilopa removed his slipper and slapped the face of Naropa so hard that Naropa fainted. When he regained consciousness, Naropa's mental state of realization was equal to that of his teacher.

Becoming very peaceful, Tilopa lovingly explained to Naropa why he had to be so very wrathful and subject him to so much suffering. He explained, "The fact that I led you into so many painful circumstances does not mean that I am a cruel person. Your negative karma could not be purified by your own effort alone. Only by your actually experiencing hardship could you purify the negative karma that prevented you from realizing the ultimate nature of buddhahood. Throughout all your experiences of hardship, you did not develop any doubts, hesitation, or wrong views, and you diligently obeyed all commands. In this way you were able finally to overcome the conflicting emotions and experience realization."

If we compare the life stories of Milarepa and Naropa, both experienced extreme hardships. However, Naropa experienced more intense pain than Milarepa, but the duration of Milarepa's experiences was longer.

In case any of us might still be wondering if such harshness is really necessary to reach enlightenment, let us take the example of a vessel that is encrusted with rust. The rust on the metal container is so rough that trying to remove it with a soft cloth and gentle hand, we would not be able to remove any rust at all. The more effective way to remove the rust would be to find another very rough substance even rougher than the rust. If we rub the container with this, then the rust can be removed. Similarly, the negative karma obscuring the true nature of mind cannot be removed by softness or gentleness, nor can the achievement of realization occur if a teacher is overly kind. Harshness is needed. If a teacher allows his students to be lazy and is too soft-hearted, the students will be unable to uncover and purify their mental stains. Harshness and roughness on the part of the teacher are essential.

After Naropa reached the stage of realization equal to his teacher, Tilopa assured him that they were inseparable. They had never been separate in the past, were not separate in the present, and would never be separate in the future.

Tilopa and Naropa became so famous throughout India that in the eyes of the people they were as familiar as the sun and the moon. Renowned for their realization, wisdom, and profound learning, Tilopa and Naropa turned the wheel of Dharma uncountable times in all directions.


This teaching on The Life of Naropa was given by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche at KTD, Woodstock, NY, on March 25-30, 1986. It was translated by Chojor Radha and edited by Tina Armond. Part I appeared in Densal Vol. 8, No. 1, Winter 1986/87; Part II appeared in Densal Vol. 8, No. 2, Spring 1987.

Marpa Lotsawa (1012-1097)

Marpa Lotsawa

MARPA WAS BORN in the southern part of Tibet known as Lhodak. His father's name was Wangchuk Oser and his mother's name was Gyamo Sa Dode. Marpa was born in 1012, and he was one of four sons. From birth Marpa was naturally very powerful, and he displayed many energies and strengths. Just as the nature of fire is warmth, the nature of Marpa was to be powerful. As a fire grows, its warmth increases; and as Marpa grew, his power too increased. His natural magnetic power was so great that even his own parents, if they looked directly into his eyes, were unable to bear the feeling of strength coming from him.

When he was young, he was sent to a teacher named Lugyepa to study. Again, Marpa's understanding and wisdom was so profound that whatever the teacher taught him on one day, he would know by heart the next. So in that manner he surpassed his own teacher.

Not only did Marpa look fearsome, he was also quite aggressive. His natural look of power and strength so frightened all the people in his village that he was not welcome in many homes. In fact, the only people Marpa could visit in his village were his teacher and his one friend. All the rest developed a fear of the magnetic power that Marpa displayed, and they would not welcome him.


Owing to his aggressiveness and fearful appearance, and the resultant unpopularity of Marpa in the village, his father felt it best to send him to a different area to be educated. And so he was sent far from where he was born, to a teacher known as Drokmi Lotsawa, the Translator. From him Marpa was to learn Tibetan writing and reading, poetry, drama, and so forth. Marpa studied under Drokmi the Translator for fifteen years, and became a master not only in the Tibetan language but in the Sanskrit language as well.

Having mastered those languages, Marpa returned to his home village, but he was not to stay long. He decided to go to Nepal for further study, even though the journey from Tibet to Nepal was very long, hard, and dangerous. To help him get there, he collected all the possessions he could get from his friend and from relatives, and made the journey. But when he reached Nepal he learned that one of the most famous scholars and masters of meditation, Naropa, was in India. So he sought out this most accomplished teacher.

Traveling in India at that time was full of hardship. The journey itself was a hardship, and of course there was a good chance of meeting robbers and bandits. At that time India was also divided into many states and kingdoms, all with different kings; because of this, the biggest hardship was the problem with customs. To get through the country, one was always leaving one state and about to enter another, and to enter each state one had to go through customs again. In customs they would take anything valuable that one had, so by the time one reached one's destination, one would probably be walking naked, so to speak, through India. You must go to visit India to know about this.

Despite all these hardships, Marpa prevailed and met his teacher. And because of the hardships that Marpa was willing to go through, all the Karma Kagyu traditions and teachings became available, and are available in the same way now. Without him they would not be available; without him the Kagyu tradition would not exist.

At that period of time, when Marpa was translating the teachings from Sanskrit to Tibetan, translating did not mean only the literal word-for-word translation. Marpa himself went through all the hardships of the practice and communicated in the translation the experience of the teachings as well. He experienced it for himself. In Tibetan this is called "tasting the realization." Then he made the teachings available in their fullness. In that manner, Marpa really studied, worked, translated, and practiced for over forty years, and made all that he experienced available to others.

During that time in Tibet, no translators were allowed to give word-for-word literal translations of teachings. They had to first practice, and reach some realization of the inner meaning of the teachings. Literal translations only gave one the shallow, surface meanings of what was taught, whereas "tasting the flavor of the realization," as the saying goes, gave the translator the real experience of the hard work and fulfillment of the actual practice. Only then were the translators allowed to actually translate, as then they brought experience and understanding to the words. Thanks to the dedication and persistence of these past translators, many practitioners have achieved realization from following their words, a further proof that the teachings were accurately translated, with the inner meaning conveyed.

Marpa had already visited India twice when the dakinis predicted that he must visit India again. But he was quite old at this time, and his students in Tibet were very concerned about his undertaking such a rough journey. Since he was not very strong or in very good health, they suggested that he might send his son, Dharma Dode, in his place. Not listening to the advice of his students, Marpa left Tibet for India, according to the predictions of the dakinis.

As Marpa journeyed from Tibet to India, he met Lord Atisha, who said to him that Naropa had already "left." Now Atisha used a very polite form of the word "left" so that it translated as "passing away," and he gave Marpa no hint as to which pure realm Naropa was currently in. Atisha then suggested that he could travel to India with Marpa and himself become his translator. But again without listening to another's advice or suggestions, Marpa went on to India.

When Marpa arrived in India, he met friends and advanced students of Naropa. When he asked where Naropa was, they told him that Naropa had just disappeared, again suggesting that he had passed on to another realm. They felt, though, that Marpa, because of his deep devotion to and trust in Naropa might be able to meet him again if he looked for him.

So Marpa went to seek his teacher, without any clear idea of where he was or how to find him. He began searching in some very remote regions. Then at one point he recognized the footprints of Naropa on a rock. This filled him with new confidence and devotion. Making prayers and supplications, he went once again in search of Naropa.

He then came near a tree known as ashik and saw a vision of Dakmema, the consort of Hevajra. The image of her in the ashik tree was as clear as a mirror, and Marpa saw that at her heart were swirling mantras, all very clear. Then Marpa paid his respects and made supplications and said his prayers, but still he did not remain at the tree, but went in search of his guru. Finally, on top of a big rock, he saw Naropa, adorned with six ornaments of bone. Since he had been searching for Naropa for so long, he became filled with joy, and went to him on top of the rock and embraced him immediately.

Naropa was very pleased to see and meet with Marpa, and he said to him, "At this time I am going to reveal a teaching that has never been introduced in the snowy country of Tibet ever in the past. You will be the one who will take such a precious teaching to Tibet." Upon hearing that, Marpa offered all the gold that he had brought with him to Naropa. Although Naropa said that he had no real use for gold any more, Marpa still insisted that he should have it in return for the valuable teaching that he was going to give to Tibet. Taking all the gold dust in his hands, Naropa threw it in the air, in the forest, and it fell everywhere on the ground. As Naropa threw the gold and it scattered, Marpa felt a little regret about this action, probably because he had had so much hardship in bringing such precious gold with him. Naropa seemed to be reading his mind, and with a smile on his face, he opened his palms, and all the gold dust that he had thrown in the air was now again in his palm. Not only that, but Naropa pointed his finger, and at that very moment, the ground where they were sitting was transformed into solid gold.

Having done that, Naropa said to Marpa, "Now you must be hungry. Let's eat something." And so saying, Naropa gazed up in the sky. At that moment, from the sky fell a huge fish, whose body was filled inside with tsok (feast offerings). Naropa told Marpa it came from the heavenly realm where Tilopa resided, and it came as a heavenly gift, a blessing from Tilopa. So they enjoyed the feast of tsok, and as they did, Marpa's inner strength, wisdom, and realization matured, simply by enjoying the offering from Tilopa from the heavenly realms.

Having taken and enjoyed this blessing, Marpa once again experienced vital energies. He became stronger and more youthful, physically obtaining all his old strengths back, and he was no longer feeling the weakness of his old age. Naropa then asked Marpa to purify himself further by taking a bath in the small river that was nearby. Marpa went there to take a bath, and took off all his clothes, including a very precious protection that he wore around his neck as a blessing, called a mandala protection. He left that on top of his clothes, and went into the river to bathe. At that moment, a black crow swooped from the sky and took his mandala blessing into its beak and flew away with it. Naropa, seeing that Marpa's blessing was being taken away by a black crow, pointed his finger toward the crow, and at that moment, both the crow and the blessing fell to the ground. Now this was a symbolic omen of something in Marpa's future. It seemed to say that Marpa was going to experience some negative obstacles and hindrances, not only for himself but also for the lineage of transmission, the mahamudra. It foretold that this transmission would experience some unfavorable circumstances. Naropa promised Marpa that these obstacles he was supposed to experience would be eliminated through his special blessing, which he gave Marpa.

With that promise, Marpa's guru once again gave him all the empowerments that he had already given him before, to refresh the memories of his teachings. In addition to that, he gave a very profound teaching that he had never revealed to anyone before, and that was called the Six Doctrines of Naropa. Naropa then said, "Now, Marpa, your realization is entirely equal to my realization. There is no need for you to obtain further instructions or empowerments from me. You must go back to Tibet as my regent, and spread and cultivate this lineage." At that time Naropa predicted that, although Marpa had seven sons, there would be no continuity of his family in the future, just as no flower could grow in the sky.

However, Naropa predicted that the line of the lineage holder would continue into the future, and that each successive lineage holder and his students would be brighter and have greater opportunity to achieve realization. And when he heard that Marpa's student was Milarepa, he immediately folded his hands together in a gesture of reverence and respect, and bowed toward the direction of northern India. Naropa predicted that where there are beings living in the womb of darkness, Milarepa would be like the sun radiating upon the stainless snow, removing the darkness. It is said that because of this gesture of profound respect, all the trees there seem to also bow in that direction.

Having received such a blessing and empowerment, Marpa offered a great feast. With the precious teaching from Naropa, Marpa returned to Tibet. Although the journey through India to Tibet was very dangerous, because of his determination and courage he was able to return safely.

On his return, Marpa gave many teachings. He was especially trying to spread the teaching of ejection of consciousness, of which he had had a very special transmission. With the accomplishment of this practice one can enter into the physical body of any dead being, and then become that being.

But as we mentioned, Marpa was not too successful during his lifetime at accumulating students. He remained a short-tempered and aggressive teacher, and not many students liked him, and not many believed in his realization and his accomplishment.

But when Marpa was passing away, he performed many miracles. And after he passed into parinirvana, his transmissions became very widely cultivated and spread around Tibet. Only then did the people in his village and other villages realize what a highly realized and important person Marpa really was; only then did they start to develop profound feelings for him.

After his passing, there were four students who continued to spread Marpa's teachings, or the transmission of Marpa. There were three students who emphasized the learning of the skills that Marpa taught, and only one student, Milarepa, who emphasized meditation, the practice, the experience of Marpa's teaching.

Milarepa was born in the year 1052 in the upper part of Tibet, in the state known as Upper Tsang. His father's name was Sherap Gyaltsen and his mother's name was Kargyen. His parents had a son and a daughter, and Milarepa was the older child. The life story of Milarepa has been put into many books now, and all the detailed information can be found there. But in essence the meaning of Milarepa's life was to be found in the progress of his life and is a teaching in itself.

At the beginning of his life, his family had wealth, property, and land. It did not give them pleasure or happiness, but led him and his family to difficulties and hardship. It is first a teaching on the meaninglessness of samsaric possessions. After the death of his father, Milarepa's life became one of pain and torture dealt out to him at the hands of his own aunt and uncle. It is a tale that really brings many tears to many beings. This led to the next lesson. Because of the terrible punishment inflicted on Milarepa, he desired to seek revenge. He learned and performed feats of black magic for the destruction of many beings. Yet he became a great realized being, a saint, because he found and followed the right guru, and through his guidance overcame past negative accumulations and became purified.

We then go on to learn from Milarepa's life that, in order to remove not only the negative karma of this lifetime but all that we have accumulated throughout many lifetimes, we need to have determination, perseverance, and diligence in removing faults. Milarepa learned the importance of persistence and diligence in following the teacher's directions, and the importance of developing deep devotion for the guru.

Milarepa's life was also an example of the rewards of devotion to the practice. He never gave up, he never surrendered, he kept on practicing with a kind of determination and enthusiasm that is necessary to actually get rid of negative karma. Then finally he showed that, if one develops all those qualities, meeting the right guru, having devotion and perseverance, without giving up, it leads to the positive result of realization; it is not simply a waste of one's self or energy or time. Through his practice Milarepa achieved realization, performed miracles, and eventually became the strongest person, comparable to the diamond. By following and staying on the path to enlightenment, he reached the complete fruition of his goal. This is a symbolic example to all.


This teaching on the Life of Marpa was given by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche at KTD, Woodstock, NY, on March 25-30, 1986. It was translated by Chojor Radha and edited by Andrea Price. Part I appeared in Densal Vol. 8, No. 1, Winter 1986/87; Part II appeared in Densal Vol. 8, No. 2, Spring 1987; and Part III appeared in Densal Vol. 8, No. 3, Summer 1987.

Jetsun Milarepa (1052-1135)

Jetsun MilarepaHOW COULD GENUINE or authentic dharma be defined? Genuine Dharma can cleanse whatever impure or confused concept we may have, and in this way the Dharma pacifies kleshas, or the afflicting emotions.

The word in Tibetan "cho" (chos) has many different meanings, and one of them is phenomena or something that appears like this. The phrase can also mean the Dharma that appears like this, because the word for phenomenon and Dharma is the same in Tibetan. The dual meaning here points to whatever appears and also to the true nature of whatever it is that appears. The term operates on both an ultimate and relative level of meaning. In this context cho refers to the external and the internal world which belong to the level of apparent reality. The external world, which is often called the environment or the vessel, refers to phenomena such as mountains, valleys, rivers and so forth--what we generally know as the environment in which we live. The internal world refers to the inhabitants of this environment, or the sentient beings of the six different realms.

How is it, then, that we become confused or deluded by samsara and so remain caught within it? Clinging to samsara deludes us. It is not through the appearances of the six different realms of sentient beings or the external world of our environment that we are bound and confused: it is our attachment to these that binds. As Tilopa spoke to Naropa: "My son, we are not bound by appearances; we are bound by our clinging to them."

If we do not examine or analyze samsara, using our intelligence to see what it really is, we could remain in a certain kind of happiness or pleasure. This would indicate, however, that we have not looked directly into samsara and analyzed it carefully. We must use our intelligence to look into the many different forms in which sentient beings appear: large, small, and so forth, and into the great variety of forms we see in the environment around us. We could analyze all these to discover the cause and conditions for their arising. To look at the existence of beings, we can look at our minds and body and see how it is that they create karma. If we investigate like this, we will begin to understand how our realm of existence comes into being, and we will see that the nature of samsara is suffering. Traditionally, suffering is divided into three different types: all-pervasive suffering, the suffering of change, and the suffering of suffering.

How then do we liberate ourselves from samsara? It is not through our body, but through our mind. All the various kinds of suffering that could possibly appear are experienced by the mind, and so it is through the mind that we are liberated from them. The karma that we have is not something substantial or material; it is of a mental nature. For example, if we take the metaphor of the body as a car and the mind as the driver, then it is clear that whether a car goes to the north or the west, or whether it goes up the mountain or down into the valley, depends upon the driver. It is the mind that determines what actually happens. The body has various experiences which are the basis for accumulating virtue or unwholesome karma, but what kind of karma it is really depends upon the mind. Whether we attain liberation or the Buddha's omniscience depends upon the mind. Our birth into any of the six realms also depends on the mind.

For all these reasons, it is very important to train our mind, to familiarize it with the authentic Dharma. There are many different ways of doing this: shamata or calm-abiding; superior insight or vipasyana meditation; and the various methods for purifying negative activities. Another way to train our mind is to read spiritual biographies of the masters, called "namthar." These aid our practice because they inspire our faith, trust, and belief, helping them to grow. So there are many different ways of practicing the Dharma, and the goal of them all is to blend our mindstream together with authentic Dharma. In this teaching, following the tradition of listening to spiritual biographies, we will be looking at that of Jetsun Milarepa.

Famous and revered among all four lineages in Tibet, Jetsun Milarepa belongs in particular to the Kagyu lineage, which is especially known for faith and devotion. It is often through faith and devotion that the true nature of the mind is discussed. Milarepa's lineage comes down through Vajradhara (Dorje Chang) to Tilopa, the Indian Siddha who met Vajradhara directly face to face. Tilopa passed his lineage on to Naropa, and these three figures belong to the Indian history of the lineage. Vajradhara, of course, is the symbol or the visualized form of the dharmakaya which has no form, so when we speak of meeting the lama face to face as Tilopa met Vajradhara, it is not as if two people are meeting on a street comer. It means that Tilopa realized the dharmakaya, and it is out of this realization that the lineage flows.

The Tibetan part of the lineage starts with Marpa the translator (Marpa Lotsawa), who went to India many times to obtain teachings from Naropa. Marpa passed on this lineage to his disciple Milarepa, who then transmitted it to Gampopa. These three are often called in Tibetan "Mamiga sum": "ma" refers to Marpa, "mi" to Milarepa, "ga" to Gampopa, and "sum" means three. These three are considered the fathers of the Kagyu lineage within Tibet.

As we have discussed, attaining the level of Buddhahood and practicing the genuine Dharma depends mainly upon the mind. From beginningless time to the present, we have accumulated negative karma, which includes two main kinds of obstructions: the cognitive obstructions, and the afflictive or emotional obscurations. Both of these depend on habitual mental patterns. To purify all of these we must purify the mind, and when this is accomplished we attain the tathagatagarbha, or Buddha nature, the level of Buddhahood which is also called stable peace or stable bliss. One way to move towards Buddhahood is to listen to spiritual biographies.

Milarepa's spiritual biography is divided into fifteen sections and we will look at the first nine of these. The first tells of how he was born and of his family history. The second deals with his study of black magic, how he destroyed the house of his aunt and uncle and sent hail into the valley. The third treats how he met the genuine Dharma. The fourth covers how he practiced strictly according to his master's word. The fifth concerns the initiations he received and his yidam practice, including how the deities directly appeared to him. The sixth chapter deals with his first retreat, where he stayed for eleven months. The seventh shows how he came out of retreat, met Marpa for the last time, and returned to his home country. The eighth tells how he came home, experienced the suffering of having lost his parents and his family, and then travelled to White Horse Tooth Rock Cave to practice. The ninth chapter covers the various austerities in which he engaged.

From a Dharmic point of view, Milarepa's lineage comes through Vajradhara, Tilopa, and Naropa, but in terms of his family lineage, he was born in a northern area of Tibet in a place called Kya Ngatsa, and his father's name was Sherab Gyaltsen. How did the name Mila come into his family? The earliest record of the family goes back to Khyungpo Josay, who was the son of a Nyingma lama. He was a naljorpa, or a practitioner very skilled in mantra. Khyungpo Josay went on a pilgrimage to another country, which was plagued by many ghosts and elemental spirits. If you believe in these beings, you are prone to see them. Apparently in this area there were many people who believed in them and Kyungpo Josay, who was skilled in subduing spirits, gained quite a reputation and also financial rewards from his ability.

Once there was a family who was plagued by a powerful demon, but they had no faith in Khyungpo Josay's skill. They called on many other lamas who did numerous prayers and performed many ceremonies, but nothing helped. A friend of the family told them: "There is one man who can help you and his name is Khyungpo Josay, you should invite him." The head of the family replied: "I don't really like him, and I don't believe in him. He probably won't help very much, but if you have a wound and dog fat will help to heal it, well then, you'd better try some." Thinking like this, he said: "Go ahead, invite him. Maybe he can do something."

So Khyungpo Josay was invited, and as he was coming along, he sang a song: "Wherever I go, all demons and spirits are tamed. No one can ever escape me!" The demon got wind of this and was terrified. He came to Khyungpo Josay and said: "I won't disturb this family anymore, and what's more, wherever you go I won't make any disturbances. Just don't put any obstacles in my way. Please don't give me a hard time." Actually, the first word the demon uttered when he met Khyungpo Josay was "mila!" This means something like "O, what an amazing person!" or "What a powerful being!" "Mi" means human being or man, and "la" here emphasizes or underscores what a powerful being he was. This is how Milarepa's ancestors received the name Mila.

Khyungpo Josay had a son, whose name was Mila Dhoton Senge, and his son was called Mila Dorje Senge. Mila Dhoton Senge and his son, Mila Dorje Senge, migrated to Kya Ngatsa, where they remained, accumulating a great deal of wealth and possessions. Mila Dorje Senge married a young woman from his village, and they had a son, Mila Sherab Gyaltsen, who was the father of Milarepa. At the age of 21 Sherab Gyaltsen married Nyangtsa Kargyen, who was to become Milarepa's mother. The couple lived in their village of Kya Ngatsa (also known as Tsa) where they were very happy and lived a life of ease.

If we go back one generation from Milarepa's father to Mila Dorje Senge, it is important to know that his cousins also moved to Tsa. Their names were Yungdrup Gyaltsen, who was the evil uncle, and Khyung Tsha Peydon who was the evil aunt. When this aunt and uncle arrived in Tsa, Milarepa's family, who had been settled there a long time, had a wonderful house, land, and a thriving business in trade. According to the custom, Milarepa's family helped their relatives to establish a business, to find land and to build a house, and so things went well for these relatives as well.

When Nyangtsha Kargyen was pregnant with Milarepa, her husband was away on a trading tour, and during this time the child was born. A messenger was sent to find the father, who informed him that he had a new son. The messenger also asked if he would give a name and if he would return for a festival. (It is considered auspicious to have a special festival to celebrate the birth of a child.)

The father replied: "This is truly wonderful. Within each generation of our family, there is only one son born. I am delighted to hear that this son has been born, and I will call him Thopa Ga." "Thopa" means to hear, and "ga" means happy or joyous, so his name meant "Milarepa a Joy to Hear" or "Milarepa Good News." This name actually accords very well with Milarepa's attributes, since later as a great practitioner he sang wonderful songs, and when people heard them their minds were filled with delight.

After a while, the father returned home and gave a big celebration in honor of their son. A few years after Milarepa's birth, a daughter was born into the family and she was called Peta Gonkyi.

When Milarepa was seven years old, his father, Sherab Gyaltsen, became very sick. Realizing that he was not going to recover from his illness, he called together all the relatives for a meeting, which included Yungdrung Gyaltsen and Khyung Tsha [Peydm], the evil uncle and aunt. The father told them: "I am giving you the responsibility of my lands and all my goods, the house and so forth, because I realize that I will not get over this illness. You must take care of everything until my two children come of age. Please see to it that no harm comes to them, protect them from difficulties, and help them in whatever way you can. He also said that Zessay, a young woman from the village, had been promised Milarepa as his future wife through arrangements made with her parents. When Milarepa was of age, he was to be married to her, and all the property was to be given over to them. A letter was written as a testament, and signed and sealed. The aunt and uncle agreed to carry out these wishes, and having settled his affairs, Sherab Gyaltsen died.

Afterwards, the aunt and uncle took the money and the land, everything entrusted to them, and used it for their own benefit. Milarepa, his sister Peta, and his mother were forced to work as servants for the aunt and uncle. They were given clothing and food that was of lower quality than the other servants, and burdened with a tremendous amount of work. The aunt and uncle made it extremely difficult for them.

The mother, however, had managed to find a little bit of funds, and when Milarepa was fifteen years old, she bought a lot of beer, and invited the people from the village, including the aunt and the uncle. She said to them, "Thopa Ga, Good News, is now 15 years old, and it is time for him to get married to Zessay, his fiance, and to begin his own life. Now please give us back what has been entrusted to you for all these years."

The aunt and uncle replied, "We don't have anything to give you. We have been taking care of you for so long that you have used up all your resources. There is nothing here for you, not even a needle or a thread left to give you." They spoke at length like this, denying that there was anything left. In addition, they beat Milarepa's mother.

The parents of Milarepa's fiance, Zessay, were kind to him, giving him new boots and clothing. They comforted him, saying, "Wealth is nothing permanent, but something that is made by people through their work. In the beginning your ancestors had no money, but they made it through working. For lack of money, don't be disappointed or discouraged. You must study and develop capabilities, and while you are doing this, whatever you need we will provide for you." In this way, they inspired and comforted him.

Milarepa's teacher from the village, as was often the case, was also the local priest, and he went around to the different houses performing pujas and so forth. Milarepa accompanied him as an attendant, and on these rounds, they were often given food and drink.

One day when Milarepa was returning home earlier than his teacher, his mother was on the roof of the house and saw him coming. Milarepa was a little bit tipsy and singing a song. When his mother saw this, she became outraged and yelling at him in a loud voice, came tearing down the steps of the roof with a stick in her hand. This stick was one used to push a stone mill to grind barley for tsampa, so it was quite a powerful one. She came after him with this stick, crying: "Mila, you are a child with no father, and you are going around with your belly full of food and singing away drunk. Your sister and I are here in great suffering. What are you doing? Your mind has become totally deluded. Your aunt and uncle have taken all of our cattle and our money, and here you are just wandering around drunk. We had great hopes that you would study and at least learn how to earn some money and develop good qualities, yet here you are wandering around in the gutter."

Milarepa then wept and said: "You are right. I have been behaving terribly, and whatever you say I will be glad to do. I had a little bit to drink at the house of a patron, but the song that I sang arose out of sadness. In the future I won't drink. Please be patient with me." Milarepa and his mother stood there crying, and his sister Peta joined them.

While Milarepa was studying, Zessay provided him with what he needed, but the mother now said: "I will take a job in another house, and I will work to get money for your clothes, your boots, and food. I will provide you with what you need. In our family there is a lineage of men who have been powerful in the use of mantra, and so I want you to go to a capable and skilled lama from whom you will learn how to perform various kinds of magic. Do this until you can create various signs that everyone can see. It must be obvious that you have these powers. If you can't do this I will jump off the roof of the house and kill myself. If you can do it, I will offer wonderful prayers for you.

Milarepa's mother sent him on his way, and he arrived in Utsang, the central part of Tibet, where he met Yungton Trogyel of Kyorpo. From him Milarepa learned black magic and also how to send hailstorms. Back in his village of Tsa, the aunt and uncle's son had come of age, and in their house they were giving a large party for him to which many relatives had been invited. Through his black magic, Milarepa was able to make the house collapse and thirty-five people were killed. Through his other magical powers, he was able to send hail on the village and that destroyed the harvest.

His mother was filled with happiness. She took all the red cloths she had, tied them to the end of a stick, and, waving it like a victory banner at the top of the house, she communicated in a loud voice to the whole village the following message: "The son that was born to Sherab Gyaltsen and myself has come of age and has been helpful to us. He has given an answer to our enemies and conquered them. My mind is finally satisfied. I am happy. Now if there are others in this village who wish to harm us, please come forth." With such proclamations, she went around the village.

Although Milarepa's mother was delighted with all his feats, Milarepa himself was disappointed; he had a sense that it was not right to kill and to send hail which had caused such destruction. His mind became a bit depressed, and while he was staying with the teacher who taught him these magical powers, he began to think: "I have given an answer to my enemies, and I have become very famous, but I have also committed great negative actions. The only result of these actions for myself and for my mother is rebirth in a hell realm. The only way to free us from this is to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime. There is nothing else that can help." Steeped in these thoughts, Milarepa was disturbed and uneasy both day and night. He did not dare mention this discomfort to his teacher, but kept it inside.

One day the teacher came to Milarepa with, literally, a "black smile", an uncomfortable or unnatural smile indicating that his mind was not at ease. Milarepa asked him: "Why are you wearing this black smile today? What is the cause of this?"

The teacher answered: "I had an excellent sponsor who died last night. All things that are composite are impermanent. Through exercising magic and sending hail, I have been able to accumulate a bit of wealth in this life, but when it comes to death, this will not help me. The only thing of benefit is the practice of Dharma, and that is what I wish to do. But I am old now and it is difficult to practice, yet since there is no other way to liberate myself from the evil consequences of my deeds, I must do it. You, on the other hand, are not as old as I. You have a lot of energy and diligence and could practice genuine Dharma. Doing this, you would be able to attain in one life the level of Buddhahood. You could liberate the consciousness of all the beings we have killed."

Milarepa was very happy to hear this: "That is the way it is. Yes, I have been thinking like that myself, but I haven't spoken of it to you. I will practice Dharma. Please tell me the name of a lama who can give me the teachings that lead to liberation in one life, in one body."

The teacher replied: "This is excellent. You practice the Dharma, and I will provide you with what you need and help to create favorable conditions for your practice. I know of a wonderful lama, Rongton Lhaga, who teaches the Great Perfection, Dzogpa Chenpo or Mahasandhi tradition, and you should go and study with him."

Milarepa was delighted to hear the name of this lama, and he thanked his teacher for advising him. He said: "I will accomplish what you suggest, and I will complete this practice, achieve in one life, in one body, the level of Buddhahood."

Milarepa then went to the western part of central Tibet and came before the lama Rongton Lhaga. Having bowed to him, he said: "I am a man who has committed great negative actions. I have tremendous fear of samsara; therefore, please teach me the Dharma which will allow me to liberate myself in this life."

The lama replied: "If you can practice from the depths of your being, if you can totally involve yourself in this practice, then if you meditate for one day, this Dharma of the Great Perfection that I teach will bring liberation in one day. If you meditate only one night you will be liberated in one night. For fortunate beings, merely hearing this Dharma will bring liberation."

Milarepa thought to himself, "Well, I must be one of these fortunate beings, who once they hear this teaching will be able to realize liberation in one life. In only twelve days of studying and practice, I was able to achieve the magical powers that allowed me to destroy the house and produce hail. No one else was able to do that, and so I am sure I can accomplish this practice. All you have to do is hear it and your mind becomes happy. I have heard this, and I feel pretty happy." Thinking in this way, Milarepa went and slept for seven days.

After a week passed, the lama came and inquired: "What kind of experiences did you have? What kind of realizations arose?" Milarepa replied: "My mind is most peaceful and happy. I've had a fine time sleeping here." The lama responded: "I probably gave you this teaching a little bit too early. You are someone who has accumulated a lot of negative actions, and although this teaching has great qualities in it, I am not the one who will be able to train you. We don't have the karma to be teacher and disciple. You should go to a country called Drowolung, in southern Tibet where Marpa the Translator lives. He is skilled in the secret mantrayana. You should go and study with him."

When Milarepa heard the name of Marpa, an inexpressible experience of joy arose within him. He set out on the road to Marpa's house and came to a place called Dharma Ridge, where children were playing. A man, who was covered with the dust of the road, stood nearby. Milarepa asked him: "Where is the king of translators, Marpa's house?" The man replied: "I don't know where the king of translators is, but there is a Marpa who lives over there." And he pointed down the road, which Milarepa followed thinking: "This must be the way to Marpa's house."

The night before Milarepa was to arrive at Marpa's house, Marpa's wife, Dagmema, had a dream. In that dream, Naropa presented a crystal stupa, which had a slight bit of dirt, and along with it a golden vase. With the water in the golden vase, Marpa purified the crystal stupa which was placed on the peak of a mountain. From this peak, luminous rays of the sun and the moon filled the trillocosm. That night as well, while Marpa was resting in clear light, a dream came to him in which Naropa appeared and gave Marpa a golden dorje, which also had some dirt on it, and along with it, a vase. With the water of that vase, the stains were washed away from the golden dorje, and it was placed on top of a victory banner from whence light radiated to the whole world. The next morning Marpa awoke with a certain pride, meaning that he felt there was something beneficial and good to accomplish. Thus when Dagmema came to bring him his morning meal, they told each other of their dreams.

Dagmema asked Marpa: "Are these dreams good omens? Do they foretell positive causes and conditions?" Marpa replied: "They are dreams, and dreams aren't true. Nevertheless, I am going out to plow the field today. Get me some good beer." Dagmema was surprised: "You never plow the fields. Never. You are a great lama. Why are you going out and plowing the fields? People in the town are going to talk, and I'll be embarrassed and shamed by all of this." But Marpa did not listen to her. He drank a full measure of beer, got a little bit drunk, and took another vase with him out while keeping a sharp eye out for whoever was coming along the road.

Milarepa was walking along the road and came upon a group of children playing. Among them was a child who was well cared for and had long hair that was slicked down with oil. This was Karma Dode, Marpa's son. Milarepa inquired of this young child: "I am looking for the king of translators, Marpa, who is supposed to live in this area. The child replied: "You are probably looking for my father. I will lead you to where he is." So they walked along the path and came to a field where someone was plowing. This person had a well filled-out body, with a certain brilliance radiating from it. The field was all plowed, but for a small part that was not yet finished. As soon as Milarepa saw this person, he was filled with such an intense emotion that he was unable to speak for awhile. When words came, Milarepa asked: "Do you know where the palace (the polite way of saying house in Tibet) of the king of translators, Marpa, is?" Marpa took a long, slow look at him from head to foot, and said: "You stay here. Drink this beer, plow the field, and I will introduce you to Marpa."

Milarepa finished off the pot of beer and plowed the field. Before long the child whom he had met before came to him and said: "Come with me. The lama said to come, and I will lead you there." Milarepa did not leave right away, but finished plowing the field and then went to Marpa's house. There Milarepa found, sitting on two cushions covered with a rug, the same man who was plowing the field. Marpa said to him: "I am Marpa, so you can make your prostrations now." Milarepa offered his prostrations and said: "I am a great sinner and have committed tremendous negative actions. I offer you, however, my body, speech, and mind. Please give me food, clothing, and the teachings of Dharma so that I can in this one life attain the level of Buddhahood."

Marpa responded: "It doesn't really concern me if you have committed all these negative actions. What is important is that you have offered me your body, speech, and mind. Now as for food, clothing, and Dharma: If I give you Dharma, you will have to get your food and clothing elsewhere. If I give you food and clothing, you will have to get your Dharma elsewhere. So this depends on you. Whether you attain enlightenment or not—that depends on you."

Milarepa decided to receive Dharma from Marpa and to find his own food and clothing. In order to gather these together, Milarepa had to leave for the countryside. Wishing to leave his precious texts in a safe place, he put them in Marpa's shrine hall. When Marpa saw them there, he exclaimed: "Take those books back! They are covered with obscurations. They stink of your negative practices and will pollute all my texts. Remove them immediately from the shrine hall." Milarepa thought: "Marpa probably thinks these are my black magic texts." And he took them out of the shrine hall.

So, Milarepa had chosen to receive the Dharma from Marpa and provide himself with food and clothing. In order to beg for these, he went to the areas surrounding Marpa's home and received twenty-one measures of wheat, fourteen of which he used to buy a large copper pot with four handles. Milarepa had to go a long way on his begging rounds, and the road back was very difficult for him shouldering the big pot and heavy load of wheat. When he returned to Marpa's house, he was very relieved and quickly let his burden drop onto the floor of the house. It shook. Marpa left the meal he was eating to come and speak to Milarepa: "Young man, you are very strong. Dropping this load of grain you carried has shaken the whole house. Perhaps you are getting ready to kill me." (Marpa was recalling Milarepa's black magic that had caused his aunt and uncle's house to collapse and kill many people.) "Don't leave this grain here. Take it out!" Milarepa thought: "Well, Marpa's a little quick to anger. He's the wrathful type." So he took his sack of grain outside and left it there. He then offered Marpa the copper pot with the four handles, saying: "Please give me the secret oral instructions that will allow me to free myself from suffering in this lifetime."

Marpa lifted up the cooper pot and said, "I offer this to Lord Naropa." Tears came to his eyes and he made a prophecy: "You gave me an empty pot and this means that in this life while you are practicing in retreat, you may have a bit of difficulty with food, but when I hit the pot it gave off a wonderfully resonant sound. This is a sign that you will become very famous. The four handles facing the four directions are a sign that I will have great spiritual sons." (Milarepa would be one of them.) Finally, so that the lineage that Marpa was carrying would be rich and prosperous Marpa filled the copper pot with ghee (liquid butter) and inserted many wicks so that it glowed with the warm light of a great butter lamp. "In the future, this copper pot should be placed within a great stupa," he said.

In response to Milarepa's request for the Dharma, Marpa replied: "I've heard that you killed a number of people with your magic by sending hail. Is this true or not?" Milarepa had to admit that it was true. Marpa then told him: "In the village behind you, there is a place where my students must pass when they come to see me and the villagers treat them terribly. They beat them, they steal from them, and sometimes they don't even let them through. I want you to go there and send hail onto this village. If you can do it, there is no way that I could not be able to give you this precious, profound lineage of Naropa I have received with such hardship."

Milarepa walked to the village and spoke to the people there, telling them how poorly they had treated Marpa's students and that there was no reason for this. He berated them severely and they responded with anger, attacking and beating him. As they were ready to kick him out of town, Milarepa said, "You've made problems for the lama and his students, and now I will make trouble for you. Through my magic, I will send a powerful sign to you. It will not be pleasant."

Milarepa left to perform his magic, and this time the result was to make the villagers fight, beating and knocking each other down. They finally realized that this was the result of Milarepa's magic, so they came to see Marpa and apologized. They offered their good will and promised not to hurt his disciples as they came through the village. Afterwards, Marpa gave Milarepa a new name, the Gentleman of Great Magic.

Having fulfilled this task for Marpa, Milarepa again asked for the teachings. And Marpa said: "Well now, there is another place a little bit distant from here, and the people in that village also give my students a hard time creating all kinds of difficulties for them. So I want you to go and send hail on their harvest. And then once you have done that, I will give you teachings."

With the thought that in accomplishing the commands of the lama, he would obtain the teachings and thereby the level of Buddhahood in this life, Milarepa left for this second village. When he came to the countryside nearby, he stayed with an old woman. At this time of the season, the harvest was growing very well, and crops were flourishing. Milarepa told the old women that he was going to send hail and it would not only destroy the crops, but when the hail melted, the water would carry away the topsoil.

The old woman became very depressed at the thought of losing her land and harvest. So Milarepa suggested that she draw a picture of her land. He took a metal pot and covered the part of the map that was the old woman's land except for a little piece of it. He then performed his magic and the hail came. The harvest was destroyed and the topsoil was carried away, except for the small piece of land that belonged to the old lady. The small portion that was not covered by the pot was also carried away, but all that was covered was saved, while the rest of the village was devastated.

The villagers were stunned and surprised that everything was destroyed except for the old woman's land. They came to speak with her: "Why is it that your land was not destroyed?" She replied: "Well, I kept by me a little monk who was very clever. I gave him food and lodging. You should ask him. So they went to Milarepa. "Why did this happen?" they asked. He answered: "You have made a lot of trouble for the students of my lama Marpa. If you go to him and confess, then in the future such things will not happen." So they went to Marpa and confessed, promising not to harm his disciples.

Afterwards, thinking about what he had done, Milarepa became depressed and discouraged. In the past he had killed human beings and he now realized that in sending hail he had killed a lot of small sentient beings as well. "If I think of the causes and conditions for rebirth in a future life, I have killed many people, and now I have killed small sentient beings as well. I haven't been able to practice the Dharma properly and certainly I'll be born in the hell realms." He went to Marpa and begged him: "My negative activity is increasing and certainly in the next life I will be born in a burning hot hell. Please, through your great compassion grant me the teachings of the Dharma."

Marpa said: "Indeed you have committed many negative actions and the antidote for the karma you have accumulated is the Dharma. However, if you think right now you are ready to get the precious Dharma for which I had to accumulate much gold to offer Naropa, and then travel along the hazardous route to India, if you think you are ready to get this now, you are overstepping yourself. Whatever work I have set out for you, you have done earnestly and well; however, in order to receive my Dharma, you must be someone who is willing to put their whole heart into it. Only that kind of person can truly receive my Dharma. Now I am going to test you to see if you have that kind of heart. I want you to build a house for my son Dharma Dode. Once you have completed the house, I will give you the Dharma, and not only will I give you the Dharma, I will give you food and clothing as well.

Milarepa asked, "What happens if I die building this house before I can receive the Dharma?" Marpa promised: "I guarantee you will not die in building this house. You will receive the Dharma."

Not far from where Marpa lived there was some open land in the middle of a village. The residents had all agreed that no one would own this land and it would be held in common. They all signed a paper to this effect, except for Marpa, because he wanted to build a house there for his son. But he had to be clever about it. If he just went there and built it, the villagers would protest, so he had Milarepa first build a round house in the eastern direction. When Milarepa was half finished, Marpa said: "Well, I really don't think this turned out very well." He told Milarepa to tear it down, return all the stones to the place where he had taken them, and all the earth back to the holes where he had dug it. So Milarepa returned all the stones to their place, all the earth to where it belonged, and then went back to Marpa: "I have followed all your commands, now please teach me the Dharma."

Marpa replied, "It is not quite time yet. On the peak to the south, I want you to build a house in the shape of a hemisphere. Once you have finished building it, I will teach you the Dharma."

Milarepa again went out and started collecting stones and earth and began to build up the walls of this second house. When he had gotten quite far along, Marpa came to see him: "Who told you to build this house?" Milarepa said, "You are the one who told me to build it." Marpa replied "I must have been drunk or crazy. I don't remember anything about telling you to build this house." So Milarepa again had to take down the house and return all the stones and all the earth back to their places.

Having completed the task, Milarepa went back to Marpa and said, "I have finished all the work you told me to do. Please grant me the teachings of Dharma." Marpa said to him "Now in the future you shouldn't be doing work that you weren't told to do. Actually what really needs to be built is a triangular-shaped building, which should be put on a peak in the western direction. If you finish this house, I will teach you the Dharma, and not only that, I will celebrate it with a great feast."

This time Milarepa was a little anxious about the directive: "Lama Rinpoche, Precious Lama, the first time you said you hadn't thought it through very well, it wasn't what you really wanted, and the next time you said you really didn't remember having told me to build that house. Now again you are telling me to build a triangular-shaped house. Would you mind if I brought in your wife as a witness to this?" Marpa agreed that his wife Dagmema could be the witness.

Dagmema said: "Maybe this is work my husband doesn't really need. I am not really sure what the reason is behind all this work he has given you, but if it is done for the sake of the Dharma, then it is good work so I will be a witness." They wrote a letter that said once these walls were built, they would not be torn down and that Milarepa would receive Dharma teachings.

One more time, Milarepa went to gather together earth and rocks to make a house, and slowly the walls of the house were built up. It was such heavy work however, that large sores began to appear on his back. Since he could no longer carry things on his back, he carried them on his hip, but then sores also developed there, and so he carried things on his chest and sores developed there. He was surrounded by sores, and not only that, the water and earth he was carrying to make mortar entered into them and it was very painful for him. Yet he thought, "Well, this is the command of my lama" and continued his work with diligence and energy.

Though he was in such pain Milarepa reflected: "I can't really show these sores or speak of these problems to Marpa because he is a very high lama and also he would probably get angry with me. His wife is full of compassion and kindness but if I show them to her, she would probably think I am proud of all the work I've done." With no place to turn, he was filled with despair and weeping in the house. Dagmema came and asked him why he was crying, but Milarepa did not reply. She lifted up his chin and said: "Don't cry, you will get the Dharma teaching."

Milarepa finally told her his real feelings: "You are kind to me as a mother. And in order to obtain the precious Dharma, I must build this house. Yet in building this house my body is becoming nothing but a huge wound. Until now I have worked as hard as I can carrying stones and earth, but it is extremely painful." Dagmema now looked at Milarepa's body which had been covered before, and seeing all his festering, open sores, she cried: "You are right. I've never seen such wounds on a human being before. Your situation is even worse than an animal's. A horse only gets saddle sores on its back, but you have them all over your body. I don't understand why Marpa is making you go through all of this. But stay here and I will take care of you. I will go to Marpa on your behalf and try to see if I can't arrange for you to receive the Dharma."

Dagmema went to Marpa and described to him what Milarepa was going through, and Marpa also cried, "Such diligence and great effort made for the sake of Dharma and to fulfill the commands of the lama makes me very happy." Marpa agreed that until Milarepa's wounds were healed, he could stay; Dagmema could give him good food and bring him back to health. She took good care of him and Milarepa was happy. His mind, however, was not satisfied; he had not yet received the Dharma.

One day, Marpa was giving the initiation of Chakrasamvara (Demchok). Many of his students had come and brought wonderful offerings. Milarepa also went and happily joined the crowd. But Marpa looked at him and said, "What do you have to offer?" Milarepa replied, "Well, I've been building this house and that's my offering." Marpa admonished him: "You're building this house but it's not finished. It's a finished house that you must offer." And he chased Milarepa away, but Milarepa did not leave immediately even though he'd been told to. He made his request again: "Please, let me stay and receive this initiation." Marpa came up to him, cuffed him across the face and tossed him outside. Milarepa went sobbing to Dagmema, who comforted him, "Don't worry. Slowly, with time, you will receive the Dharma."

Sometime after this initiation, Marpa came to Milarepa. "We had a little bit of a go-to the other day. Has your mind not turned against me for this?" Milarepa replied, "I have committed monstrous negative actions. They are the cause of the bad things that happen to me. My faith in the lama has not changed, not at all." Marpa said, "That's true. I went through great difficulties in order to bring the Dharma back from India. So now, you go back and finish building the walls."

One day, Marpa came to Milarepa who was in the process of building the triangular-shaped house. "Great Magician, who told you to build this house?" "Lama, you were the one who told me to build this house." "This is a triangular-shaped house. Triangular-shaped houses are for evil magicians who use mantra in their practices. What are you doing? Planning on staying here and performing black magic on me? Are you going to kill me?" Marpa commanded that he tear down this magician's palace and replace the stones where they came from and carry the earth back to its place.

Once more Milarepa returned and reported to Marpa that he had fulfilled his command. Marpa replied, "Well, what do you need then?" "I need the Dharma. Please give me the Dharma," begged Milarepa. Marpa finally agreed and told Dagmema to make a very good meal and give it to Milarepa. Then Marpa gave him refuge vows and advice. He also gave him the short spiritual biography of Naropa that describes the twelve difficulties he had to go through. Marpa said to Milarepa, "I have given you now what is called the common or general Dharma. As I said, if you want the uncommon or exceptional Dharma, you must have the capacity to go through extreme difficulties to demonstrate faith in the lama and to maintain stable, unchanging samaya. Is this something you can do?"

There are many aspects to this story of Milarepa's trials but since we do not have that much time, I will summarize. If you remember, there was a piece of land that was owned communally and that the villagers had signed a piece of paper saying that they agreed that no one would build on this piece of land, but Marpa had not signed the document. The fourth house that Milarepa built was to become the famous nine-storied tower called Se Kar Gu Tok, "the house with nine stories for the son."

Marpa had drawn the plan for it on the ground, and Milarepa had started the construction. As the tower was located on the land of the village where no one was supposed to build, the people became concerned: "What's going to happen with this house that's going up on our land?" Some thought, "Well, maybe Marpa won't really build it. He's started all these other houses and they've come down." Other people said: "Well, I think he's just crazy. He's having all these houses put up by this student who's real strong. Three-cornered houses and four-cornered houses, and they're just going up and down and this one is going to come down, too, just like the rest of them." And then they said, "If he doesn't destroy this house, then we'll gather together and fight him. We'll bring it down ourselves."

The nine-story tower was built all the way up to the top. The only thing missing was the roof. At last when the villagers realized that this one was not going to be destroyed, they got together and decided to attack it. Realizing what was happening, Marpa created an illusory army that circled the tower in all directions preventing anyone from coming close. The villagers were astounded. "Where did all these soldiers come from to protect Marpa?" Seeing they were up against a force beyond their strength, they went to Marpa, apologized, and promised that they would not destroy this tower.

Following this incident are a number of stories about the difficulties that Milarepa went through in finishing this last building, but you can read about all of these in his spiritual biography. In brief, no matter what Milarepa did, Marpa did not give him the teachings.

Milarepa finally despaired: "It looks as if I'm not going to get Dharma teachings from Marpa. I'll have to go to another lama." He went to Dagmema, and explained his thoughts to her. She consoled him, "Well, it's all right. You're not to blame for this. The lama's very difficult, and he's given you a difficult time. Keep working on the house, and I will work something out so that you can receive Dharma teachings."

One day, Dagmema wrote a letter making it seem as if it came from Marpa, and sent it to one of his main disciples, Lama Nyokpa. It read, "I'm extremely busy. There's much to do, too many students, and I can't give teaching to this Great Magician. Please, give him some Dharma teachings."

There was a festival coming up, a grand ritual celebration, and Dagmema had made some beer, actually very strong beer, which she gave to Marpa during the ceremonies. He got quite drunk and she was able to take his seal and stamp the letter. In Tibet, letters are not signed, but stamped with a personal seal, which is guarded carefully. Then Dagmema borrowed, so to speak, a ruby mala that had belonged to Naropa and also bone ornaments that had belonged to him. She sent these along with the letter as a sign that this was the real thing.

Giving the letter, the ruby mala, and the bones to Milarepa, Dagmema said: "Here, take these blessed objects and this letter, but don't say I'm the one who gave them to you. Pretend they are from Marpa and that you are one of his disciples. Take these to Lama Ngokpa. I will say prayers for you. Practice diligently. Don't have any wrong views about Marpa. I have great hope that you will indeed receive teachings from him eventually." She gave him tea, butter, and something like Tibetan cheesecake and sent him on his way.

When Milarepa left, he was of two minds. On the one hand, he was very happy because he was finally going to receive the Dharma, and on the other he was sad for he had to separate from Dagmema, who had been so kind to him. He shed tears and asked her, "Please do not forget me. Keep me in your prayers. Make prayers that we will meet again, and I will do the same." And so he parted from her.

As Milarepa went along his way, he asked where Lama Ngokpa's house was and finally found it. As he approached, Lama Ngokpa was sitting on a high throne teaching many thousands of students. When Milarepa came to him, he was reciting these lines: "I am the one who explains, I am the Dharma that is explained, and I am those who have gathered to hear the teachings. I am the guide of the world and the one who creates the world. I am of the world and beyond it. I am the true nature of spontaneous bliss." In Tibetan tradition, the point at which teachings are interrupted by such an event are considered very significant. Milarepa bowed to Lama Ngokpa from a distance. The lama stood up on his high throne, took off his hat, and bowed in response to Milarepa's prostrations.

The students were surprised and asked their lama, "Who is this that you're treating with such respect?" Lama Ngokpa replied, "Ask him who he is. His way of prostrating is like that of Marpa, so I assumed he was his disciple and bowed to him."

One of the students approached and questioned Milarepa who responded as Dagmema had told him—he lied. He said that he was a student of Marpa's, that he had come to take Dharma teachings from Lama Ngokpa, that Marpa had sent him, and that he had brought a ruby mala and bone ornaments from Naropa as confirmation. When Lama Ngokpa heard this from his students, he was extremely happy. "Wonderful! Tell him not to come right away, but to wait." The students brought Milarepa some beer to drink, and said that they were going to form a great procession for him in the traditional style with victory banners, music, and the monks wearing all their fine robes. Milarepa was asked to wait until they could receive him properly. He was exuberant. With all the brilliant ceremony he thought had arrived in the land of the gods and now at least he was going to receive the teaching. He reflected this was all due to the kindness of Dagmema and shed tears remembering her.

Lama Ngokpa gave Milarepa teachings and also taught him how to practice. Milarepa meditated for quite a while, but nothing happened—nothing at all. There were no signs of realization, no experiences, nothing. Lama Ngokpa was astounded: "With these teachings, there's no way that nothing can happen. What's going on?" He began to have some doubts, so he questioned Milarepa more closely, and finally Milarepa told the truth: "Well, actually, that letter wasn't from Marpa and neither was the mala or the bone ornaments." Lama Ngokpa replied, "Well, that must be the truth, because without the lama's blessing, experience and realization cannot arise."

About this time, a letter arrived for Lama Ngokpa from Marpa. It read: "The house is finally finished and I'm going to have a big celebration in honor of this occasion. Please come with your students and bring whatever you have to offer. As for that lousy student of mine, you can bring him along, too." Except for one goat with a bad leg, which he thought wasn't good enough to offer and thus left at home, Lama Ngokpa took everything he had gathered throughout his life as an offering to Marpa. As they approached Marpa's house, Lama Ngokpa felt a little tired, it having been a long journey, and so he said to Milarepa: "You go on ahead, and from the house bring me out some beer to drink. Before we get there, I'd like to just rest up a little bit."

Milarepa went to the house and met Dagmema, who was delighted to see him. He delivered Lama Ngokpa's message and Dagmema said, "Fine, but first we should go and greet Marpa." Milarepa explained to Marpa that Lama Ngokpa had come, that he was a little tired from the journey and that he would like some beer. Marpa became furious: "What! I went to India at the risk of my life to get this Dharma teaching from Naropa. No one was there to greet me with beer. What's this person talking about? If he wants beer, he can come to the house."

Once again Dagmema demonstrated kindness, and sent beer out to them. Soon, the party arrived at Marpa's house. Lama Ngokpa then said to Marpa, "I give you power over my body, speech, and mind, and all the wealth that I have. Whatever I possess, I offer to you. The only thing I haven't offered you is one goat with a bad leg. I ask you to give me the special instructions of the Dakinis." Marpa replied, "All the other Dharma I know I have given you, but if you want to receive this secret instruction of the Dakinis, you'll have to bring me that goat." Lama Ngokpa himself went back to his house and fetched the goat. It took him one day to return to his house, and then he walked the whole night back with the goat on his shoulders and offered it to Marpa.

Marpa was very happy: "In order to receive these teachings, I really didn't need this goat. However, there was a purpose in your going to get it. You demonstrated great respect for these teachings, and showed that you're the proper kind of student. Whatever kind of difficulty you're given, you're able to carry through. (Literally rendered, the Tibetan text reads: "you're not satisfied with any hardship; you keep taking on hardships one after the other.") This shows the strength of your devotion."

Lama Ngokpa and all his students assembled for the initiation, and one more time Milarepa was not allowed to attend. At this point, he was totally miserable. He was so disappointed he said: "I'm going to jump in the river. I'm going to end it all. This is more than I can take." As he lifted up his things to put them on his back, he reflected that this indeed was a human body he had attained, despite having done a lot of negative things; moreover, in the future it wasn't certain that he would again attain a human body and meet a real lama. So again, he decided to stay and remained in a very distressed state of mind.

Through his omniscient knowledge, Marpa knew what was happening within Milarepa's mind. When Dagmema came before him again, she said: "Through all these hardships, this wonderful student of yours has neither rejected you nor the Dharma. Not once has he turned his mind away from the Dharma no matter how difficult it was." She begged Marpa to give him teachings. Marpa finally assented and told Lama Ngokpa and his students to fill the shrine with abundant offerings, for that day the guest of honor would be Milarepa.

First, they made a place for Milarepa to sit because he didn't even have a seat of his own. Then Marpa briefly gave him a teaching on the Dharma in general, which included fulfilling the commands of the teacher and undergoing hardships for the sake of the Dharma. During the initiation of Chakrasamvara, Milarepa experienced directly the face of the yidam deity. Marpa held up a kapala filled with amrita, which functioned as a support for visualization. He dipped his index finger in the amrita and told Milarepa to look at it with great faith. In the sky in front of him, Milarepa saw the full mandala of Chakrasamvara—the main deity and retinue with all the offerings complete.

In complete unity with the deity Chakrasamvara, Marpa made a prophesy about Milarepa based on the empty copper pot with four handles that Milarepa had given him when he first came. The four handles represented the four main heart sons of Marpa, of which Milarepa was one. The fact that the pot was empty meant that he was going to have some problems with food during his practice in this life, but Marpa had filled it with melted butter and this meant that, in the future, his lineage would be very fruitful. He would have many excellent students and through them, the Buddha's teaching would spread widely.

Gods and men would sing praises to Milarepa and he would be able to prolong his life through the practice of samadhi. Above in the sky, all the gods were happy. In the earth, all the nagas were happy. And in between, in the realm of human beings, everyone was happy.

After receiving initiation into the lineage of the deity, the reading transmission, and the secret oral instructions for the practice, Milarepa began his formal practice by going into retreat for eleven months. Balancing a full butter lamp on top of his head, he stayed in a cave that was walled in. Day and night he practiced in this way. At the end of the eleven months, Marpa and Dagmema came see him. Through the sealed cave, Marpa asked him, "You've been in retreat now for eleven months. Tell me, what are your experiences? What are the realizations you have achieved?"

Milarepa had been inside the cave for so long he was hesitant to come out. He didn't feel he could break down the wall himself, as he had taken a vow to be in retreat. Ever helpful, Dagmema said "You're right. I'll break it down for you. Then come out swiftly to meet your teacher, for your minds are in harmony. You have not broken any of your promises, so it's all right to come out." The wall to the cave was broken, and Milarepa emerged, made prostrations to Marpa and received his blessing. Milarepa was then led into the circle of disciples.

Marpa gave Milarepa a kapala (skull cup) full of amrita, and Milarepa drank it all. Then, together with all the disciples, Marpa gave teachings on the nature of the mind. In addition, he bestowed initiations of various yidam deities, which matured the vajra body, speech, and mind of Milarepa. (It was these yidam deities who gave Milarepa the name Zhepa Dorje, the Laughing Vajra.) There were many auspicious signs at the time, such as flowers falling from the sky. Marpa and Dagmema gave Milarepa another name: Mila Dorje Gyaltsen, Vajra Victory Banner.

After the initiations, Marpa gathered all students around him and addressed Milarepa. "Great Magician, you are my karmically connected son. I knew this from the very beginning. When I was plowing the field, that was my way of going out meet you." (In Tibet, there is the tradition that when someone important comes, you don't wait home, but you go out to meet them. The more important they are, the farther out you meet them.) "However, you had killed many people and other sentient beings. In order to purify these negative actions, you had to go through all trials. Eight times you were thrown into despair. All these occasions were to purify negative actions, to make stronger your renunciation of samsara.

Now, during this time, my wife, Dagmema, who has great compassion, was very kind to you. She gave you food and comforted you again and again, but this made for an imperfect situation. She did not challenge you enough, and, therefore, not all of your negative actions have been purified. You must go to a solitary place in the mountains and practice in retreat to slowly purify yourself of these negative actions. Although you went through great difficulties, never did you have wrong views, either about Dharma or myself. This is very wonderful: due to this circumstance, in the future your students will be genuine practitioners. They will also have faith and will not generate a negative view."

Marpa continued: "The view and the practice of Dharma that I teach is extremely important, wondrous, and most unusual, because within the secret Vajrayana, there's a special link between the lama and the student. Whatever happens between the two of them happens in order to develop the qualities of the student. If anger arises, it's not a normal arising of anger. There is a purpose to it. All of the Dharma teachings that I brought back from India at the risk of my life, I will give to you. First, you have stayed eleven months in retreat, please tell us what kind of experience and what kind of realization you have attained."

Milarepa responded: "Thanks to the blessings of the Buddhas, the Bodhisattvas, my lama and his wife, I was able to attain a little bit of experience, a little bit of realization. In this completely matured body, this physical form of mine, it is possible to reach Buddhahood. This body is a boat that will take me across samsara to Buddhahood. However, it's also possible that I can use this very body to accumulate negative karma, and this will lead to rebirth in the hell realms. There is a choice. I can turn my mind towards positive activity and achieve Buddhahood in one lifetime or I can turn my mind toward negative activity and go to the hell realm.

In order to cross over this fearsome ocean of samsara, the only protection is the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. I go to them for refuge. Amongst these three, the most important is the lama. It is through faith and samaya with the lama that protection comes.

There are also the four thoughts that turn the mind: the precious human rebirth, impermanence, karmic cause and effect, and the imperfections of samsara. Meditating upon these turns one's mind away from samsara. Then one generates bodhicitta, the mind of awakening, practices and dedicates any virtue for the benefit of all sentient beings. In this way, one enters the Mahayana path." (Milarepa spoke further, but this is a brief summary of what he said.)

Within the Tibetan tradition, after one receives an introduction to the nature of the mind or some instruction from a lama and practices it, one offers to the lama one's experience of realization. Whatever happened during the practice, exactly as it happened, without exaggerating or without forgetting anything, one relates only to the lama, not anyone else. Marpa was extremely happy with Milarepa's account: "This is most excellent. You are truly a karmically connected, strong student. And in the future," Marpa said, "I will give you progressively all the oral instructions, and you must then give yourself fully to these practices." After celebrating Milarepa's emergence from the retreat, Marpa gave him more instructions in private for his next meditation practice. Not long into the next retreat, though, a blue dakini with golden hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes appeared to Milarepa in a dream . She said to him, "Practicing the Six Yogas of Naropa is very good. However, there is one teaching that has not been obtained. It's called 'The Instantaneous Attainment of Enlightenment.' It is a kind of powa practice enabling you to send your consciousness into another body after you die. You must go ask for this." Having given this advice, she disappeared. Milarepa then broke down the wall of his cave and went to Marpa, who was astounded to see him. "Well, I just put you in retreat, what are you doing here? Why did you come out so quickly? Isn't this an obstacle to your practice?"

Milarepa explained to him that a dakini had appeared to him and told him that this teaching of powa had not been received and that it should be asked for. "Was this appearance real or not? Was it a hindrance or not? Please tell me," he asked.

Marpa replied, "This is a true prophesy from a dakini. When I was with Naropa, he did speak of this kind of powa practice, but I really don't remember whether I have received the teachings or not." So they pulled out all the texts that Marpa had brought back from India, and spent days going through them looking for the teaching, but they could not find it. So Marpa again undertook the arduous journey to India to meet Naropa.

Marpa did not find him in his usual place, as Naropa had become a realized siddha, and moved freely. After a long search, he found him, and together they went to Pullahari, north of Bodh Gaya, where Naropa had a place of retreat. It was there that Marpa asked Naropa for the powa instructions. Naropa asked: "Is this something coming from you yourself? Did you want to receive this, or is this something that a yidam deity told you to request?" And Marpa said, "No, it isn't from me. I did not receive this from a yidam. It was my student Good News."

Naropa put his palms together and, bowing towards Tibet, he recited these famous four lines: "In the thick darkness of the north, like the sun glistening on the snow, there is one called Good News; it is to this one that I bow." It is said that at Pullahari, all the trees around the retreat hut of Naropa remain bowing towards Tibet.

Naropa also gave Marpa many other teachings, including the Whispered Lineage of the Dakinis. He prophesied that, in the future, the Dharma lineage of Marpa would be masters of this practice, and that his Dharma descendants would maintain his lineage and practice it well. When Naropa had finished giving him these teachings, Marpa emerged from the hut, and once outside he bowed again to Naropa. (This was actually the last time he met him.) As Marpa was making his bows, he left a footprint in the rock that is still visible.

When Marpa returned to Tibet, he gave Milarepa, his main disciple, every single initiation that he had received, including the Whispered Instructions of the Dakini lineage. Marpa told Milarepa and the assembled disciples, "Now I have given you everything I received from Naropa." There were, however, other disciples of Naropa who received different teachings, and Marpa encouraged Milarepa and his other students to go and meet them in order to obtain the remaining instructions. In this way, Marpa's students would maintain Naropa's lineage.

While Marpa was in India, Naropa had also prophesied to him that Milarepa should go back into retreat and pointed out a particular cave. Following these instructions, Milarepa went back into retreat, with the continuing support of Marpa and Dagmema. During this practice, he had deep experience and realization.

After many years, Marpa called all of his students together. He said, "We are maintaining the lineage of Naropa, and we should now look into the future to see what will happen to this lineage. Tonight, watch your dreams carefully, and in the morning, let me know what you've seen." Milarepa dreamt of four great pillars, one in each direction. In the eastern direction was Tsurton Wangye, one of the four main disciples. The snow lion on top of his pillar signified that he had a heart like a lion. In the southern direction was Lama Ngokpa, to whom Dagmema had sent Milarepa for teaching. On top of this pillar was a tiger, symbolizing the character of Lama Ngokpa. In the western direction was Meton of Tsangrong, and his symbol was the garuda. On the northern pillar was a vulture, and this represented Milarepa. Each one of the four has an extensive explanation but here we will focus on Milarepa.

In Tibet, the vulture is considered a being who can endure all kinds of hardship. Vultures also come to eat the bodies that are offered at the cemeteries. They can even eat the bones, which indicates that they have a lot of fire in their bodies that allows them to digest anything. Milarepa's specialty was the practice of tummo, which is related to fire.

In the dream, the vulture's feathers were all in place and they were beautiful with no fault whatsoever. This was a sign that all of the instructions Milarepa received would abide within his mindstream and he would remember them perfectly. The vulture's nest is usually high up on the rocks, and this was a sign that Milarepa would have a long life. Milarepa also dreamed that the vulture had many offspring, and that was a sign that Milarepa would have incomparable disciples.

Flying around the vulture in the sky were many different kinds of birds. This was a sign that the Kagyu teachings would increase and spread. The vulture's eyes looked upward into the sky, signifying that Milarepa had cut his ties to samsara and that in the future, he would not need to take physical birth. At the end of the dream, the vulture flew into the sky, showing that Milarepa would reach the expanse of liberation, or the level of Buddhahood.

After interpreting the dream, Marpa said, "I have explained all this to you and my work now is finished. It's your turn, my disciples, to do the work. And if my words are not false, but true; and if they have the strength to endure, then in the future, this practice lineage will flourish."

According to Marpa's prophesy, one of the little vultures represented Gampopa, who became one of Milarepa's foremost disciples. It is said that his sun-like disciple was Dakpo Laje, the doctor from Dakpo, or Gampopa, and that his moon-like disciple was Rechungpa, Rechung Dorje Drakpo. Milarepa had many other close and highly realized disciples who taught and matured their own disciples and so the lineage continued. Flowing from Milarepa's teaching and lineage, the Kagyu tradition did spread and flourish.


This teaching was given at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra by Bardor Tulku Rinpoche in December of 1992. It was translated and edited by Michele Martin.

Je Gampopa (1079-1153)

Je Gampopa

GAMPOPA WAS ONE of the great fathers of the Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He was the most famous disciple of Jetsun Milarepa, and is known for combining the Kadampa tradition with the Mahamudra teachings. The following spiritual biography of Gampopa was presented by the Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche.

Milarepa's foremost student was Dakpo Rinpoche, Gampopa, who was born in the year 1016. Gampopa was already a bodhisattva during his many previous lives and incarnations. During the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, the fourth Buddha, Gampopa was his student, and a bodhisattva and healer who healed people by giving herbal medicine. Sometimes also, merely through the hearing of his name, or sometimes just by his touching the place of illness, he could heal diseases.

During the period of Shakyamuni Buddha, he heard Buddha reciting and teaching on the Vulture's Peak in India. He invited Shakyamuni Buddha and all his other students, all the other bodhisattvas, to his home. There, Shakyamuni Buddha gave a teaching on the sutra known as the Samadhi Raja Sutra.

Having revealed this teaching on the Samadhi Raja Sutra, Buddha then asked all his students to volunteer to spread the teaching of the Samadhi Raja Sutra, giving the teaching in its essential meaning.

Dakpo Rinpoche stood up among all those accomplished students (generally when Dakpo Rinpoche is mentioned, he is not Dakpo Rinpoche yet), and promised in front of Shakyamuni Buddha that he would spread that sutra and make that sutra available for future beings. When he made that commitment, Shakyamuni Buddha also promised that during the time when Dakpo Rinpoche would actually spread the sutra and benefit all living beings, he himself, the Buddha, would help cultivate and establish the teaching firmly.

So, having promised the Buddha to spread the teaching of the Samadhi Raja Sutra, Gampopa later took rebirth in 1079. In his childhood he displayed many splendid qualities. At a very young age he was interested in many teachings. Because of his interest, his openness, and his devotion, he received many teachings from many gurus. In addition, he was highly interested in medicine, as he had been in the past. So he studied medicine and became a doctor. During that time his name was Sonam Rinchen. He had such qualities as to be able to study Dharma, become a doctor and a healer, and also he had a wife and a family life.

He lived a family life until he was 24 years old, at which time his wife became very ill. It did not matter that he was a great doctor and healer; she still became very ill. And regardless of what medicine or method he tried to heal her with, it did not work. And although she was in great pain and seemed to be dying, she was unable to experience death. Realizing this, he asked her why she seemed to be so attached to her life.

His wife said, "I am not attached to possessions, nor wealth, nor faith, but I am very attached to you. Because you are only 24 years old, and you are very handsome, it is very hard for me to leave you. It is because my attachment to you is so very strong that I am unable to experience death." Knowing there was no cure for her illness, and at the same time understanding that her attachment to him prevented her from dying properly, Dakpo Rinpoche promised that he would take the vow of complete celibacy, never to marry another woman, and to become a monk. This promise released her from her unnatural attachment, and she experienced her natural death.

So, as he had promised his wife, he took the vow of a monk in the Kadampa tradition and went into retreat. There he practiced meditation through the Kadampa tradition and saw signs and had many mystical experiences. Yet this practice did not satisfy him completely.

Although he was in retreat, one evening he saw three beggars outside his cave. They seemed pretty hungry, and they were sitting around fantasizing about what they wanted. One of the beggars said, "I wish a cup full of tsampa, with lots of butter, would fall from the sky, and we could all enjoy it."

The other beggar said, "Come on, that is too small a thing to wish for, just a cup full of tsampa. That is nothing. I wish I were a king. In fact, I wish I had the power and the wealth of the kings of all Tibet." Then the third one said, "Well, gaining possessions or becoming a king seem very temporary to me. Since everything is impermanent, everything is bound to change. I wish," he said, "that I had the power and realization of the great yogi Milarepa. That realization, that energy and power, is not destructible, is not subject to change." On hearing the name of Milarepa spoken thus by the beggars, Dakpo Rinpoche immediately fainted; so strong was the connection sparked in him when he heard Milarepa's name, that he just passed out.

The next morning he made a special Tibetan butter tea and tsampa and invited the three beggars to have breakfast with him. He asked the older beggar about wanting to be like Milarepa, where Milarepa lived, and the direction of the path. When he obtained that information, he immediately and without a second thought left the retreat hut to find Milarepa.

With eager excitement, Dakpo Rinpoche walked for about a month and a half to where Milarepa was. While on the way he came to a house and asked if he could stay the night. The elderly woman who answered the door was wrapped in many cotton cloths. She asked who he was, and he said he was Sonam Rinchen and had come to meet the great yogi known as Milarepa. The lady then insisted that he stay at her house, because not only she, but her daughter also, were devoted students of Milarepa. In fact, Milarepa had told her and her daughter that the son of a very noble family was coming to be his student, and that they were to assist him in any manner they could. Milarepa had also told her daughter that they would accumulate great merit in accommodating him, so they hoped he would stay the evening.

The next day, Dakpo Rinpoche went to see Milarepa. Before he got there, Milarepa sent one of his students to meet him. The student gave him a bunch of wood, dry twigs, and tea, with a message "You have developed pride, you have become quite egoistic, therefore you must remove the stain, the obscuration of that pride. Keep the wood, go under a rock, and stay there until you have purified the stain of pride." So Dakpo Rinpoche stayed under a rock for half a month to purify that stain.

After half a month, Dakpo Rinpoche was really not expecting anything to happen, having lost the hope of expectation. When Milarepa called for him to come, he still had no expectations. At this time, Milarepa was sitting on top of a rock. There he told Dakpo Rinpoche that their connection was very profound. "Actually," Milarepa told him, "although you have just come to see me, we were never really separated before." And when Milarepa said that, Dakpo Rinpoche realized that the three beggars who were fantasizing outside his retreat hut were really emanations of Milarepa himself.

Milarepa then asked him what his name was now, and he replied that it was Sonam Rinchen. Milarepa then told him that "Sonam" means "merit," and that his merit was inexhaustible and infinite; and that "Rinchen" means "precious," so he would be very precious to all sentient beings.

Having explained this, Milarepa then offered Dakpo Rinpoche a skull cup full of beer. At this time Dakpo Rinpoche was hesitant to take the beer. After all, he was a Kadampa practitioner, a fully ordained monk who was supposed to abstain from any drinking. Also, he was with the great Milarepa and surrounded by all of his students, who were also yogis. Because of all this, he was reluctant to take the beer cup.

Milarepa said, "Get beyond this inhibition, abandon all these thoughts and preconceptions. Drink without any hesitation." So Dakpo Rinpoche drank all the beer that was in the skull cup, without leaving a single drop. In this way, he symbolically obtained the total and complete teaching from Milarepa. As he was able to drink the beer without leaving a drop, he was able to obtain the complete teaching from Milarepa without missing any points or teachings at all.

After that, Dakpo Rinpoche offered to Milarepa what he had brought: some gold dust and a bag full of tea. Milarepa said, "I have no pot, no vessel to boil the tea in, and," he said, "I am not that favorable to gold, either. You keep the tea. Also, you keep the gold dust. You might need to use it yourself."

Saying that, Milarepa gave a very basic teaching and sent Dakpo Rinpoche off to meditate on that teaching for seven days. After seven days of practicing, he gained such vital energy that he did not have to rely on clothes for warmth. He was able to maintain his bodily warmth with a very thin layer of cotton cloth. He was also able to become absorbed in a very profound meditation. He only needed to breathe just once a day. He had reached a stage where his meditative contemplation became very deep and profound.

When he went back to Milarepa and reported his great progress, Milarepa did not praise him nor find fault with him, but just told him to keep on meditating.

So he went back to practicing meditation. This time he experienced being in a very dark world, so dark he was unable to see anything. At the same time he heard cries, but because everything was so dark he could not tell what was happening. Once again Dakpo Rinpoche went back to Milarepa and told him about this experience. Again Milarepa said that this signified neither grace nor damnation, and that he should keep on meditating. "In fact," he said, "when you are meditating there are changes in your nerve impulses and channel systems. So when you are sitting and feeling some changes in your usual perception, you are experiencing the meditative experience."

Following the advice of Milarepa, Gampopa went and kept on practicing, and in his next experience he became very uncomfortable. He experienced dizziness and felt nauseous, and he thought that he must be sick. So he went to Milarepa and told him that he must be sick because he felt dizzy and nauseous. Milarepa said that he must keep on meditating, just as he had explained before, no matter what he experienced. But Milarepa added that this time the cause of the problem could possibly be that Gampopa had tied his meditation rope too tightly, and so he should loosen it.

Then, Milarepa taught him some more yogas. Now, when we use the term "yoga," many of us immediately think of physical activity or exercise. The yoga that was taught to Gampopa at this time had much to do with vital air, or channels, which we call "tsa," and "tummo," the inner heat. It was yoga in that sense that Milarepa taught to Gampopa. Then he sent Gampopa back to meditation.

So Gampopa went back and meditated. Now, when we are relating these biographies of enlightened beings, their progress seems to go so fast. But please, you must not expect results overnight yourselves. Although we heard that he (Gampopa) felt this, then went back, and then felt that and went back, he was probably meditating in isolation for many months. I am just telling a quick story, so please understand that.

Gampopa went back with the instructions of Milarepa, and this time his experience was very fascinating. He was able to see very clearly the beings of the six realms, from the god realm to the hell realm. Not only that, he saw that they were all enjoying the milk of the stars, and it was a very fascinating experience. However, he also saw his own mother in a very weak condition. She seemed to be sick, with a very weak physical body. She was suffering from hunger and thirst, while all the other beings were enjoying the milk of the stars.

He went back to Milarepa and told him of this experience, and Milarepa said, "Those are simply meditative experiences. Your previous experience of feeling nauseous was also a meditative experience. They come from the vital air entering the nerve channels and systems."

Milarepa continued, "Now this experience of seeing beings of the six realms enjoying the milk of the stars happens when the 'tigle' enters into the vital nerve system. The reason you experience the suffering and starving of your mother is that you have one nerve system that was not opened when the tigle entered." Because of that blocked channel, Dakpo Rinpoche experienced suffering.

Giving him another yoga instruction, Milarepa then told Dakpo Rinpoche to go back and meditate without fear, expectation, or hope. At the same time Milarepa mumbled a word or two, and Dakpo Rinpoche thought he said, "There is a supreme being." When he went back and meditated, this time he saw the mandala of the deities, the complete mandala of Chakrasamvara. He was able to see this complete mandala of the deities because he thought that was what Milarepa had meant by saying that there was a supreme being.

Milarepa once again told Dakpo Rinpoche that this was neither a good nor a bad experience, and that he must go back and continue to meditate without fear or hope. He then gave him another yoga practice. This led to his next experience, seeing the solar and lunar eclipses at the same time. The way he saw it in his vision, the eclipse was caused by a very thin, thread-like cloud. This thread-like shadow had the capacity to completely obscure the sun and the moon.

Dakpo Rinpoche went back again and told Milarepa about the experience of the eclipse. Milarepa said that it was neither good nor bad, it was just a meditation experience. This one was caused when the tigle entered into the two nerve channels, called "roma" on the left and "kyangma" on the right. The entering of the tigle into the right and left nerve channels causes the experience of the fine, thread-like eclipse.

Although Milarepa again told Dakpo Rinpoche that his experience was neither good nor bad, and that he must continue meditating, this time he gave him some advice. "It seems," he said, "that you are exhausting your enthusiasm for meditation. You must meditate with less force, less tension. You must relax." Then, taking these words, and some new yoga instructions, Dakpo Rinpoche went back to meditate, as instructed by his guru Milarepa.

Milarepa sent Sonam Rinchen (Gampopa) back to meditate many times and gave him many yoga instructions. Gampopa had by this time become very advanced in his meditations, and could accomplish them in very difficult situations with no discomfort. He learned lung (breath) practice (or prana, as it is called in Sanskrit) and supplication prayers to his guru Milarepa.

Because of this advanced practice of meditation, he did not require much sleep at all. One night, after his midnight supplication, he took a short nap. During that nap he had a very auspicious dream, which was really composed of twenty-one very auspicious dreams, each revealing to him an auspicious sign. When he awakened, the sun was already up and shining. He set off immediately to tell Milarepa about these dreams and signs.

Milarepa was sitting on a big rock with his head wrapped in a blanket, as though he were asleep. Gampopa said, "Master, wake up. I have to tell you about my dreams." Milarepa replied, "Come on, don't be so excited. I have experienced the same dreams. I will tell you the actual meaning of the symbols." (There is also a symbolic meaning to the entire story. That is, when Gampopa went to see Milarepa and met him wrapped in a blanket as though asleep, with the sun shining brightly on the ground, it symbolized that this was the last time Gampopa was actually going to see his guru, meaning that Gampopa's Buddha activity would begin, and he would spread the teachings or transmission of Milarepa all over the world.)

Gampopa explained his twenty-one dreams precisely, one after another. Milarepa said, "In the past, I have not explained to you the meanings of the experiences you have had in meditation. This time I will explain every dream and every symbol."

In the first dream, Gampopa dreamt that he was wearing a white hat, or crown, with a very long point. This symbolized that although there were many vehicles for the teachings, many traditions of teachings, his tradition was superior, as shown by the high point of the hat. This hat was also surrounded by multicolored string, symbolizing Gampopa's complete union of profound prajna and compassion. The edge of the hat was also decorated with animal fur; this fur was black, with a red color within the black. This symbolized that Gampopa would not need to mix, or mingle, with other traditions; that he would have his own completely independent transmission. Gampopa also dreamt that on the top of his hat, at the very point, there was the feather of an eagle. This symbolized that Gampopa would realize the supreme, stainless view of mahamudra.

Again Gampopa dreamt that he was wearing brand-new shoes, completely free from dust, mud, or stain. These symbolized the stainless commitment of Dakpo Rinpoche to keep every vow he took, such as the vows of the Hinayana, the Bodhisattvayana, and the Vajrayana. The shoes were new and very attractive, symbolizing how Gampopa would become an example, keeping and maintaining the Hinayana, Bodhisattvayana, and Vajrayana vows in the future.

The shoes were also decorated with four blue circles: one on the point of the left and another on the point of the right, and one on each back. These four circles symbolized that Gampopa in his lifetime would come to complete realization of the four kayas: dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya, and the svabhavikakaya.

Also, they were Tibetan shoes, the kind of Tibetan shoes, or boots, that come to below the knee and have to be tied with a string or rope. Gampopa dreamt that at both ends of the rope that tied the shoes were two silver rings. These symbolized the unselfish conduct and behavior of past bodhisattvas, and that throughout the life of Gampopa he would never show selfishness, but always compassion, in the manner of past bodhisattvas.

Gampopa also dreamt that he was wearing a very thin white cotton cloth wrapped around him. This cloth symbolized that although Gampopa as a teacher would have many defiled and neurotic students in his lifetime, his mind would always remain as stainless as the white cotton cloth.

Gampopa also dreamt of a golden-colored silken shirt, symbolic of Gampopa's unshakable, immovable kindness to all living beings. It meant that he would never discriminate between good and bad students, or high or low castes; his kindness would always extend to all beings. He was like gold, in that no matter what you do to it, whether you burn it or beat it, the color of gold always stays the same. Such was the immovable kindness of Gampopa.

The cotton cloth in the dream had many multicolored dots on it. These symbolized that every living being could benefit through Gampopa's skillful means, and that each would benefit according to its capacity.

Gampopa dreamt that he wore a woven belt, wound around his waist three times. This symbolized that in the past, present, and future, Gampopa would keep pure and stainless the commitment, the samaya of the Hinayana, Bodhisattvayana, and Vajrayana vows. The belt was decorated with white flowers connected with white pearls. These symbolized that Gampopa would master the three learnings, those of discipline, meditative contemplation, and wisdom, and that he would become an example to future students of how to master the three learnings.

He was also wearing a white blanket made of pure wool over the white cotton cloth. This symbolized that whatever Gampopa might be doing externally—walking, teaching, sleeping, meditating, whatever—his mind would never be separate from the essential nature of dharmakaya. This white wool blanket was stitchless, free from any threads, and not cut, just naturally the right shape. This symbolized that Gampopa's realization of the dharmakaya was stainless and free from any doubts or conflicts. Gampopa's experience was pure, free from any negativities, and that purity was symbolized by the blanket having no threads or cuts.

The white blanket was decorated with a silver coin, round and somewhat flat. This symbolized that his realization of dharmakaya was not inferior or superior to that of Shakyamuni Buddha.

In the dream he was carrying a long stick that was made of sandalwood, which symbolized that Gampopa had found an authentic master. The sandalwood stick was decorated with fine precious stones, symbolizing the knowledge and qualities of his master, his guru Milarepa. Along the middle of the stick there was an interwoven golden line. The golden line symbolized the unbroken, exact, ear-to-ear transmission that Gampopa had received and realized, deep in his heart. It was interwoven, symbolizing that in the future Gampopa would be able to spread this ear-to-ear transmission to many other practitioners. His holding of the stick in his right hand symbolized that whoever became his student, whoever followed his teachings, in the future would become liberated from suffering and would progress toward complete Buddhahood.

Gampopa dreamt that in his left hand he was holding an empty skull (kapala), symbolizing the emptiness of all phenomena as well as the realization of that emptiness. This empty kapala was being filled with a yellow-gold nectar (amrita), symbolizing that Gampopa's spiritual growth would always develop and increase. The yellow color of the nectar symbolized Gampopa's ability to remain in the natural state of clear light.

Dakpo Rinpoche dreamt that on his right shoulder were two tsampa bags filled with white rice, and that his left shoulder was covered by an animal skin. This was a kind of skin that is exactly in the form and shape of the animal it came from, with the legs and head left on. By covering his left shoulder, it symbolized that he would maintain the mindfulness, alertness, and accomplishment of the bodhicitta. Its having the four limbs and head symbolized that Gampopa would be benefiting all sentient beings, again with the mindfulness of the bodhicitta of the four limitless meditations. He began to use this skin as his mat, which symbolized that he would accomplish the realizations of emptiness compassion, and inspire such in his followers.

In the dream, Dakpo Rinpoche looked on his right side and there beautiful meadows of small hills covered with yellow grass. That symbolized Dakpo Rinpoche's mastering the knowledge and meditations of his own tradition, as well as all the traditions of all beings. In fact, he became known as the Knower the Three Times, meaning that nothing is excluded from his knowledge.

In this same meadow he saw a beautiful mountain also covered with yellow grass, with baby yaks and lambs grazing on this meadow, enjoying the grass. This symbolized that Dakpo Rinpoche would not only benefit living beings through revealing the Dharma and making teachings available, but by giving the generosity of protection and of loving-kindness. Then, in the dream he became a shepherd, someone to look over the lambs and young yaks. This symbolized that Dakpo Rinpoche's activities to benefit beings would be endless, just as sentient beings are endless.

Then, Dakpo Rinpoche looked on his left side, and there he saw another meadow, perfectly even, covered with a beautiful blue grass, the color of turquoise. This was symbolic of his profound meditative realization, or samadhi, and his realization of the ability to remain in this profound state regardless of day or night.

This beautiful meadow was also filled with flowers of varied colors: red, white, yellow, and so forth, symbolizing that he would also accomplish and experience the physical warmth of the meditation. This is not just ordinary physical warmth, but meditation warmth.

In this dream, Dakpo Rinpoche also dreamt that uncountable attractive women were prostrating themselves to him, with reverence and devotion. These were uncountable beautiful dakinis. By maintaining the unbroken and pure discipline of the monk, and other samayas, he symbolically subdued all the dakinis.

In the very center of the meadow, forming a beautiful garden, were many groups of yellow flowers growing together. This symbolized that Dakpo Rinpoche would attract uncountable students and followers, effortlessly attracting them in the future. Just like clouds gather in the sky without needing the sky to invite them, students would gather and form around him in the future, effortlessly, naturally.

In the center of all the yellow flowers, growing higher than all the others, was a huge yellow lotus, which had about a thousand petals. This symbolized that through the strength of Dakpo Rinpoche's prajna, his wisdom, he would be superior to, or above, all the beings of the three worlds. This means the complete attainment of enlightenment.

In the dream, Dakpo Rinpoche sat on top of that lotus with a thousand petals in a bodhisattva posture, symbolizing that in the future he would benefit beings with ceaseless, endless emanations. Dakpo Rinpoche also dreamt that having sat on top of that lotus flower, in front of him he saw a huge fountain of water springing from the earth. This symbolized that he was the source of all the four greater Kagyu schools, the eight lesser Kagyu schools, and, in short, all the Kagyu traditions. Not only was he the origin, but he would continue, like the water fountain, to be the source of the Kagyupa traditions.

Behind him emanated a white light, or aura, which symbolized that his lineage, his teaching would be established and spread in all Tibet, as the sun gives forth light to all beings everywhere.

He dreamt his body was surrounded by huge burning flames, symbolizing that the blissfulness of his realization and the warmth of his meditation would burn away all external pain, suffering, and cold.

He dreamt that from his heart was radiating the light of the sun and the moon, symbolizing that from that very moment until the end of his life, Dakpo Rinpoche would not experience any need for sleep, but would instead transform all his sleep into the clear luminosity.

Having explained the many significances of Dakpo Rinpoche's dream, Milarepa noted all the auspicious predictions in it for his future.

"However," he said, "although it is very auspicious, and a good omen for the future, you must again learn not to become attached to the dream, or to develop expectations from the dream. Nothing can be so positive that it could not turn negative if we hope or expect."

In the same way, Milarepa advised Dakpo Rinpoche not to take any negative dreams seriously either. All negative or painful dreams are illusions, not real. If we can see them as they are, and avoid becoming attached to their negative meanings, they become positive things for us and enrich us for further development on the spiritual path. "So," Milarepa advised Gampopa, "you must learn to see the negative dreams as illusion and not to take them seriously, nor should you become attached to the meanings of positive dreams; that is the practice of the yogi."

Having explained the dream to Dakpo Rinpoche, Milarepa now said, "You no longer have to stay with me. As you have reached complete realization, you must go out and benefit beings." And Milarepa directed him to the East, to a place called Gampo Trashi Rewo, where he was to begin benefiting beings. In this place there was one huge mountain, and like a jewel in a mandala it was encircled by seven other mountains, or like a king on a throne it was surrounded by seven reverent bowing ministers. (Khenpo Rinpoche notes that of all the scenery in Tibet, this landscape seems to be the most breathtaking.) And this is where Milarepa sent Gampopa to begin benefiting beings.

As his parting teaching, Milarepa explained to Gampopa: "While you are out there alone, benefiting beings, you may miss many things. Sometimes you may miss food, and at these times you must enjoy the food of meditation; sometimes you may experience cold and miss having clothes, and at these times you must enjoy the inner heat of tummo; sometimes you may miss your guru, and at these times you must remember that your mind and the mind of the guru are inseparable. There is no greater guru than the awareness or realization of the inseparability of your own and the guru's mind."

When Gampopa left, Milarepa told his students, with a sense of extreme joy, that the "U-pa Tonpa" (another name for Gampopa) would be a great being and benefit many beings. ("U" is central Tibet, and "pa" means "person," so "U-pa" means a person who comes from central Tibet, and "Tonpa" means "teacher.") Milarepa told them that he had had a dream about a white crane that flew high in the sky and perched on top of a huge, tall mountain. Having perched there, he then attracted uncountable other cranes, which landed there. Suddenly they all scattered, and the land of Tibet became white with cranes. This dream symbolized, said Milarepa, that Gampopa would be spreading the Dharma widely in Tibet.

According to the advice of Milarepa, Dakpo Rinpoche went toward that special mountain, and as he went he attracted many students. Now all the students that he attracted were really emanations of students of Shakyamuni Buddha. (Remember that in the very beginning of this story, Dakpo Rinpoche was present for the teaching by Shakyamuni Buddha of the Samadhi Raja Sutra, when all the other students made a commitment to support him in spreading the Buddhadharma.) Because of this, these students had been in the Dharma for a long time. Therefore, when Dakpo Rinpoche simply gave one instruction, they all had realization, without having to go through hardships of the practice. So in that manner, the 51,600 students, who were emanations from the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, received Dakpo Rinpoche's teachings and promised to support them.

Out of all these students gathered together, there were three outstanding students who became known as the three Khampas, because they all came from the eastern part of Tibet, known as Kham. One of these students, whose name was Dogyal, was a direct emanation of the Buddha himself, who had promised, with his students, to support Dakpo Rinpoche in spreading the Dharma. The second one was from Due, the Due Khampa. This student's name was U-ser, and he was to be His Holiness Karmapa, The First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa. He was called U-ser because "U" means "head," and "ser" means "gray". Since he had been born with gray hair, he got the nickname "grayhead." The third one's name was Saltong Shok-gam and he was from Namchen. "Sal" means "clarity," "luminosity," and "tong" means "emptiness," "sunyata." "Shok-gam" means "harelip," so his name, Saltong Shok-gam, meant "the one born with a harelip who has the realization of clarity and emptiness."

Except for the three Khampas, all the rest of the 51,600 students kept extremely pure discipline of the vinaya, or monastic ordination. The three Khampas, however, were very, very wild. Because they were completely realized, they were beyond any negative accumulations for their actions. So they did not keep the strict discipline of a monk. Over and over again they asked permission of Dakpo Rinpoche to let them drink alcoholic beverages. Finally he gave them permission and told them they could have three skull caps of barley beer each. They were pretty happy with that.

One day, they took their beer up into the mountains to a beautiful location. It was the Vajrayogini day, the 25th of the month on the Tibetan calendar. So because of the day, and because they wanted to show how the beer didn't really affect them, they decided to perform some miracles, as a gesture. So Dorje Dogyal was chasing the trees of the forest, and they were all running from him. And Saltong from Namchen was bringing water in a fish net. Then U-ser performed a miracle such that from the tip of one finger came the wind, and from the tips of all his fingers on his other hand came air and fire together. And they were having a wonderful time performing miracles.

They had a great day on top of the mountain. They enjoyed the beer, performed many miracles, and sang many doha songs. In the evening they returned to the monastery, where all the other students lived. Yet they were still excited, having enjoyed themselves so much, and they were still singing and dancing.

Now every monastery has a chotrim, someone to take care of the discipline. You might call him a monk bully, or bouncer. Singing and dancing were not permitted at all in the monastery, and this disturbance annoyed the chotrim very much. He began to beat them with his long, broad stick and told them they must leave the monastery immediately. Dogyal requested that they be allowed to spend the night, as it was already dark outside. The chotrim let them stay the night, but they had to agree to leave before dawn.

So before dawn, the three of them left the monastery, beginning the long climb down the mountain into the valley. Now it happened that Dakpo Rinpoche himself was not actually in the monastery but above it, in a retreat hut, practicing meditation. He told one of his attendants that he had seen, as if in a dream, a vision of all the dakas and dakinis leaving the monastery, and he wanted to know what was happening there. Dakpo Rinpoche felt that maybe something had happened to those three yogis (he called them Milarepas). So he sent his attendant down to see if anything had happened. When his attendant reached the valley, he saw the three yogis prostrating themselves toward Dakpo Rinpoche. They were doing this because they had not been able to say good-bye to Dakpo Rinpoche, because the chotrim had made them leave. The attendant returned and informed Dakpo Rinpoche that not only were the three yogis leaving, but all the birds were leaving along with them and not only were they making prostrations, but the grass and trees were bending toward where they were departing. Dakpo Rinpoche knew that their leaving was not good; he knew that the gathering of so many students was because of the commitment of these emanations from the time of Shakyamuni Buddha. So Dakpo Rinpoche himself went down to the valley and asked them please not to depart.

After requesting them not to depart, he sang a song that explained who these three yogis were, how they were not ordinary beings but emanations of past enlightened beings who had been present during the time of Shakyamuni Buddha. Knowing this, the others at the monastery never again had negative feelings toward the Khampas' unusual behavior.

Dakpo Rinpoche passed away in 1053, and later the four main students of Dakpo Rinpoche (there were four by then) spread his teachings by what have come to be known as the "four great" schools of the Kagyupa. Then there were eight students of Dogyal, who also spread the teachings in the "eight lesser" schools of the Kagyupa. Now the four schools of the Kagyupa are not very different from each other except in very little ways, all having the same origin. The various forms of teachings only make them more available to many.

In total there are twelve traditions, twelve schools of Kagyupa, (four greater and eight lesser), all deeply rooted and cultivated in the soil of Tibet, and spread very effectively in China.


This teaching was given by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche at KTD. Woodstock, March 25-30, 1986. It was translated by Chojor Radha, and this article was edited by Andrea Price.

The First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (1110-1193)


THE FIRST KARMAPA was a gifted child who studied and practiced Dharma intently from an early age. Already quite learned by the age of twenty, he became a monk and studied the sutras and tantra intensively for a further ten years. At thirty, he went to Daklha Gampo—Gampopa's monastery—to receive teachings from him. Although this was an historic meeting of two great Buddhist bodhisattvas emanating on Earth with a profound purpose, Gampopa nevertheless first made Dusum Khyenpa train in the foundation practices of the Khadampa tradition and, following that, in the general philosophy of the sutras. This set a fine example for all future Kagyu followers and showed the need for the correct basis of knowledge even when—especially when—one does the most powerful of Vajrayana practices.

The First Karmapa received empowerments and instruction in the Hevajra tantra and spent four years in strict retreat, training in the peaceful stability (shamatha) and profound insight (vipasyana) aspects of meditation. He then received the full transmission of the inner instructions of the Kagyu tradition. In nine days he absorbed what Naropa had received over 12 years from Tilopa. Rechungpa, the 'moon-like' disciple of Milarepa, also instructed him, principally in the Six Yogas of Naropa. His attainment in one of these—tummo, inner-heat—was particularly boosted by his own natural compassion and produced rapid results. Following his teacher's instruction he then went away to meditate.

Gampopa eventually died, and Dusum Khyenpa returned to Daklha Gampo to honor his remains. He had a powerful vision of his teacher and knew that it was time to implement one of his final instructions: to go to the place where he would achieve enlightenment—Kampo Kangra—and there to practice mahamudra. He promised that he would live until the age of 84, in order to benefit the Dharma. He achieved enlightenment at the age of fifty, while practicing dream yoga. He had a vision at that time of the celestial beings (dakinis) offering him a vajra crown woven from their hair. His name—Dusum Khyenpa—means 'Knower of the Past, Present and Future', referring to the total lucidity he attained at enlightenment, giving him knowledge of the three modes of time, and the 'timeless time' of enlightened awareness.

From then onwards, his teaching activity was intense. At the age of 58 he founded a monastery at Kampo Nenang. He later established an important seat at Karma Gon in eastern Tibet and, at the age of 74, another seat at Tsurphu in central Tibet, in the valley of the Tolung, which feeds into the Brahmaputra. It is interesting to note, in the light of the Sixteenth Karmapa's prediction letter, that the abbot of the Buddhist monastery at Bodh Gaya, in India, the place of the Buddha's enlightenment, sent a conch shell to Dusum Khyenpa at Tsurphu, as a token of the latter's significance for buddhadharma. This conch shell symbolism is found in many stories of the sixteen Karmapas.

The First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, made predictions about future Karmapas. In particular, he was the First Karmapa to present a prediction letter detailing his future incarnation. He gave it to his main disciple, Drogon Rechen, predecessor of the Tai Situ line (they were only called Tai Situ after this title was conferred by the Chinese emperor in the early 15th century). He passed away at the age of 84, as predicted. His heart was found intact in the funeral pyre and some of his remaining bones bore self-manifesting shapes of Buddhas. (The similarities with the passing of the Sixteenth Karmapa are remarkable.) Among his other main disciples were Tak-lungpa, founder of the Ta-lung Kagyu, Tsangpa Gyare, founder of the Drukpa Kagyu (widespread in Bhutan these days) and Lama Khadampa Deshek, founder of the Katok Nyingma lineage.


Text reprinted with permission of Altea Publishing from Karmapa, by Ken Holmes. Copyright 1995 by Altea Publishing.

Drogön Rechen (1148-1218)

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Pomdrakpa (1170-1249)

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The Second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1203-1283)

THE SECOND KARMAPA was a child prodigy who had already acquired a broad understanding of Dharma philosophy and meditation by the age of ten. 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 assimilated the deepest teachings effortlessly and required only one reading of a text to be familiar with it. 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.

The second Karmapa spent much of the first half of his life in meditation retreat. He also visited and restored the monasteries established by the first Karmapa and is famous for having introduced to the Tibetan people communal chanting of the OM MANI PADME HUNG mantra of compassion.

At the age of 47 he set out on a three-year journey to China, in response to an invitation from Kublai, grandson of Ghengis Khan. While there, he performed many spectacular miracles and played an important role as a peacemaker. Although requested to reside there permanently, he declined, not wishing to be the cause of sectarian conflicts with the Sakyapas, whose influence was strong in China at that time. Over the next ten years the Karmapa travelled widely in China, Mongolia, and Tibet and became famous as a teacher. He was particularly honored by Munga Khan, Kublai's brother, who ruled at that time and whom the Karmapa recognized as a former disciple. After Munga's death, Kublai became the Khan. He established the city of Cambalu, the site of present-day Beijing, from which he ruled a vast empire stretching as far as Burma, Korea, and Tibet. However, he bore a grudge against the Karmapa, who had refused his invitation to remain in China some years before and had been so close to his brother. He ordered his arrest.

Each attempt to capture, or even kill, the Karmapa was thwarted by the latter's miracles. At one point the Karmapa 'froze' a battalion of 37,000 soldiers on the spot, by using the power of mudra, yet all the time showing compassion. He eventually let himself be captured and put in exile, knowing that his miracles and compassion would eventually lead to Kublai Khan having a change of heart—which did in fact happen. Returning to Tibet towards the end of his life, he had an enormous (sixteen-meter) statue of the Buddha built at Tsurphu, to fulfill a dream he had had long before. The finished work was slightly tilted and Karma Pakshi straightened it by sitting first in the same tilted posture as the statue and then righting himself. The statue moved as he moved. Before dying, he told his main disciple, Urgyenpa, details concerning the next Karmapa's birth.

Text reprinted with permission of Altea Publishing from Karmapa, by Ken Holmes. Copyright 1995 by Altea Publishing.

Karma Pakshi Guru Sadhan and Tsok Offering Practice

Drubtob Urgyenpa (1230-1300)

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The Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339)


THE THIRD GYALWA KARMAPA, Rangjung Dorje, produced a black crown from nowhere at the age of three and announced that he was the Karmapa, telling his young friends that they were indulging in worldliness. At five, he went to see Urgyenpa, who had dreamt of him the night before and was prepared for his visit. He grew up in Tsurphu receiving not only the full Kagyu transmission but also that of the Nyingma tradition. Having spent some time on the slopes of Mount Everest in retreat and then taken full ordination, he further broadened his studies at a great seat of Khadampa learning.

Rangjung Dorje had a tremendous thirst for learning from the greatest scholars and experts of his day. His approach embraced all traditions of knowledge and he had an intelligence and sensitivity which could assimilate and compare all that he studied. Through visions he received of the 'Wheel of Time' (Kalachakra) teachings, he introduced a revised system of astrology. He studied and mastered medicine. In particular, his mastery of the profound Nyingmapa teachings of Vimalamitra meant that, in him, the Kagyu mahamudra and the Nyingma equivalent, dzogchen, became as one. By the end of his studies, he had learned and mastered nearly all of the Buddhist teachings brought to Tibet from India by all the various masters of both the ancient and restoration periods. In the light of that eclectic wisdom, he composed many significant texts, the most famous of which is perhaps the Profound Inner Meaning (zab.mo.nang.don), pinpointing the very essence of Vajrayana.

He visited China and there enthroned his disciple, the new emperor Toghon Temur. Through long-life elixir received from the Karmapa, who returned to Samye especially to procure it, the emperor was the longest-lived of all the Mongol emperors of China. Rangjung Dorje established many monasteries in Tibet and China. He died in China and is famous for having appeared in the moon on the night of his passing.


Text reprinted with permission of Altea Publishing from Karmapa, by Ken Holmes. Copyright 1995 by Altea Publishing.

Gyalwa Jungtönpa (1296-1376)

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The Fourth Karmapa, Rolpe Dorje (1340-1383)


WHILE PREGNANT, the Fourth Karmapa's mother could hear the sound of the mantra OM MANI PADME HUNG coming from her womb. The baby said the mantra as soon as it was born. His early life was full of miracles and manifested a total continuity of the teachings and qualities of his former incarnation. He could read books and received many profound 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 19, he accepted Toghon Temur's passionate invitation to return to China. After a long and impressive journey, with many halts to give teachings, he arrived at the imperial palace. He gave teachings in China for three years and established many temples and monasteries there.

On his return to Tibet, while in the Tsongkha region, Rolpe Dorje gave lay ordination to a very special child whom he predicted to be of great importance to Buddhism in Tibet. This was Kunga Nyingpo--'Tsong Khapa'--future founder of the Gelugpa school, famous for its Dalai Lamas.

When Temur died, the Mongol dynasty ended and the Ming dynasty began. The new emperor invited Rolpe Dorje, who declined the invitation but sent a holy lama in his stead. Rolpe Dorje composed wonderful mystic songs throughout his life and was an accomplished poet, fond of Indian poetics. He is also remembered for creating a huge painting (thangka) following a vision of one of his students, who had imagined a Buddha image over a hundred meters tall. The Karmapa, on horseback, traced the Buddha's outline with hoofprints. The design was measured and traced on cloth. It took 500 workers more than a year to complete the thangka, which depicted the Buddha, Maitreya and Manjushri: the founders of mahayana.


Text reprinted with permission of Altea Publishing from Karmapa, by Ken Holmes. Copyright 1995 by Altea Publishing.

The Fifth Karmapa, Dezhin Shegpa (1384-1415)


THE FIFTH GYALWA KARMAPA, Dezhin Shegpa, was heard reciting mantras and the Sanskrit alphabet whilst in his mother's womb. He was the wonder child of yogin parents. He received the full transmissions of his lineage and soon completed his traditional training.

At the age of 22, he received a moving invitation from Emperor Yung Lo (also known as Ch'eng-Tsu), who had had a vision of him as Avalokiteshvara. It took three years for him to reach the imperial palace, where he was warmly received by ten thousand monks. The combination of Yung Lo's devotion and the Karmapa's spirituality produced some extraordinary events: a hundred days of miracles that on the order of the emperor were recorded for posterity as silk paintings with a commentary in five languages. Following this, Dezhin Shegpa made a pilgrimage to the famous Wu-tai Shan holy mountains, as the previous two Karmapas had done, to visit his monasteries there.

The Fifth Karmapa saved Tibet from bloody war on several occasions by dissuading the emperor from imposing a single religious system there and by pointing out the value of alternative systems, suited to different mentalities. The emperor himself soon became an accomplished bodhisattva and one day, in purity of vision, saw the celestial vajra crown above his guru's head. So that all beings might benefit from seeing something of this transcendent aspect of the Karmapa,

he had a physical replica of it made, presented it to his guru and requested him to wear it on special occasions to bring liberation to those who saw it. This was the origin of the Vajra Crown ceremony.


In 1408, Dezhin Shegpa set out for Tibet. There he supervised the reconstruction of Tsurphu, damaged by an earthquake, and stimulated the Buddha-Dharma. He spent three years in contemplative retreat. Realizing that he would die at a young age, he left indications of his future rebirth and died at 31. The bones left in the ashes of his funeral pyre bore naturally-formed images of many Buddhas.


Text reprinted with permission of Altea Publishing from Karmapa, by Ken Holmes. Copyright 1995 by Altea Publishing.

Rinchen Zangpo / Ratnabhadra (c. 1400)

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The Sixth Karmapa, Thongwa Donden (1416-1453)


THE MIRACULOUS BIRTH, prodigious qualities, and formal education of the sixth Karmapa echoed those of his predecessors. As a young man, he integrated the Shangpa Kagyu and the Shijay (the renowned practice of chod--'cutting through egotism') lineages into the Kagyu mainstream. He was a visionary who had many significant insights into Avalokiteshvara, Tara and other aspects of enlightenment. He composed many prayers for use in the traditional practices of his own lineage and thereby established a body of Kamtsang liturgy.

Thongwa Donden's life was mainly dedicated to this literary work and to travelling within Tibet, founding and restoring monasteries, having sacred books printed and strengthening the Sangha.

Realizing that he would die at an early age, he entered retreat, making Gyaltsab Rinpoche his regent and giving him indications of where he would next take birth. His main spiritual heir was Bengar Jampal Zangpo, composer of the famous 'Short Prayer to Vajradhara', frequently used in modern Kagyu centers. The prayer represents his spontaneous utterance upon realizing mahamudra and homes in on the very heart of the practice.


Text reprinted with permission of Altea Publishing from Karmapa, by Ken Holmes. Copyright 1995 by Altea Publishing.

The Seventh Karmapa, Chödrag Gyatsho (1454-1506)

7th-Karmapa-Chödrag-Gyatsho-28THE SEVENTH KARMAPA, Chödrak 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. When only some five years of age, he brought peace to the southernmost parts of the Tibetan plateau, where the people of Nagaland and Bhutan were at war.

He worked hard for the protection of animals and instigated all sorts of projects, such as the construction of bridges. In particular, he encouraged individuals and groups of people to recite many millions of Mani mantras—"The best cure for anything."

Chödrak 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.


Text reprinted with permission of Altea Publishing from Karmapa, by Ken Holmes. Copyright 1995 by Altea Publishing.

The Eighth Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje (1507-1554)

8th-Karmapa-Mikyo-DorjeTHE EIGHTH GYALWA KARMAPA, Mikyo Dorje, was heard to say, "Karmapa" at birth. This was reported to the Tai Situpa who confirmed the child to be the new Karmapa but asked the parents to keep this fact secret for three months, to protect the young incarnation. He devised a test, which the baby not only passed but to which he was heard to say, "E ma ho! Have no doubts, I am the Karmapa."

He spent the next years at Karma Gon. When he was five, another postulant for the Karmapa title was put forward in Amdo. The Karmapa's regent, Gyaltsab Rinpoche, set out from Tsurphu to investigate the two children. However, on meeting Mikyo Dorje, he found himself spontaneously prostrating and knew that he was the real Karmapa. He enthroned him the following year.

The Eighth Karmapa had many visions during his life revealing the inseparability of his own emanations and those of Guru Rinpoche, both being the emanations of Buddhas to accomplish enlightened activity for however long their teachings are extant. Thus he saw he had been the Guru Rinpoche of the former Buddha Dipamkara and, in general, the activity-aspect of all thousand Buddhas of our universe.

Mikyo Dorje was one of the most renowned of the Karmapas, being a powerful meditation master, a prolific and erudite scholar, and author of some thirty important works, including very significant texts on the profoundest philosophy known to Buddhism: the devoid of other (shentong) view. This represents the zenith of the Middle Way (madhyamika) school of mahayana Buddhism and is a valuable antidote for misunderstandings of voidness. He expounded this view at length and debated Mikyo Dorje was also a visionary artist, to whom we owe the Karma Gadri style of thangka painting--a very spacious, transparent and meditative style. He also composed one of the main devotional practices of the Kagyu school, known as the Four-Session Guru Yoga.

He had been invited to China when quite young, but declined, knowing that the emperor would be dead by the time of his arrival. His refusal offended the envoys carrying the invitation, who returned to China only to find that his prescience was correct. The emperor had died.

Realizing the imminence of his own passing, he entrusted a letter of prediction to the Shamarpa and passed away at the age of 47.


Text reprinted with permission of Altea Publishing from Karmapa, by Ken Holmes. Copyright 1995 by Altea Publishing.

The Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje (1555-1603)

THE NINTH GYALWA KARMAPA, Wangchuk Dorje, was heard reciting mantras in the womb. He sat cross-legged for three days soon after birth and declared he was the Karmapa. He was soon recognized by the Tai Situpa, who was staying relatively close by, and a year later by the Shamarpa who enthroned him at the age of six.

Much of his life was spent in a travelling monastic camp, in which strict emphasis was placed on meditation practice. His itinerant party received invitations to visit many places. They were unable to visit China, but made important trips to Mongolia and Bhutan. Wangchuk Dorje gave many teachings in southern Tibet and restored monasteries and temples wherever he went. He also received an invitation to visit Sikkim. Unable to go himself, he sent a senior representative who established three monasteries there. The Karmapa blessed and consecrated them from Tibet. One of them was Rumtek, the present seat of the Karmapas in India.

Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje was not a prolific author but several of his texts, such as Mahamudra, The Ocean of Definitive Meaning and Mahamudra, Dispelling the Darkness of Ignorance, have made an important impact on the teaching of mahamudra. He and the next three Karmapas all played the role of peacemaker during the troubled political times in which they lived.

Text reprinted with permission of Altea Publishing from Karmapa, by Ken Holmes. Copyright 1995 by Altea Publishing.

The Tenth Karmapa, Choying Dorje (1604-1674)

THE TENTH GYALWA KARMAPA, Choying Dorje, took seven steps in each of the cardinal directions at birth. By the age of six, he could paint better than any of his teachers and was a gifted sculptor.

Choying Dorje foresaw the wars and political strife that were soon to come as a result of the Gelugpa-Mongol pact against the King of Tsang, whose family, followers of the Kagyu lineage, ruled most of Tibet. Thus, the tenth Karmapa distributed his wealth among the poor and needy and made Gyaltsab Rinpoche his regent, knowing he would be absent for a long time. There was much bloodshed as Gushri Khan's Mongol armies attacked first Shigatse and then the Karmapa's own camp, wreaking havoc and death. His followers saw Choying Dorje flying off through space holding the hand of his chief attendant. They 'landed' in the forests of Bhutan and spent more than three years living wild, helped by animals. They eventually went to what is today northern Yunnan, where the local monarch received them joyously.

Altogether the Tenth Karmapa spent some thirty years in exile. As always, wherever he went, he fostered the Dharma and recognized incarnations of Kagyu tulkus.

Text reprinted with permission of Altea Publishing from Karmapa, by Ken Holmes. Copyright 1995 by Altea Publishing.

The Eleventh Karmapa, Yeshe Dorje (1676-1702)

THE ELEVENTH GYALWA KARMAPA, Yeshe Dorje, was a great visionary who performed many miracles. However, he was to be the shortest lived of the Karmapas. During his precious but brief existence, he blended together the Kagyu and Nyingma teachings. He died, leaving, as his predecessor had done, a detailed letter concerning his next incarnation.

Text reprinted with permission of Altea Publishing from Karmapa, by Ken Holmes. Copyright 1995 by Altea Publishing.

The Twelth Karmapa, Changchub Dorje (1703-1732)


THE TWELFTH GYALWA KARMAPA, Changchub Dorje, studied under many illustrious masters as a young child. He gave profound Kagyu teachings to the famous Nyingma master of Katok monastery, who in turn shared his Nyingma teachings.

Changchub Dorje left troubled Tibet in order to make a pilgrimage to India and Nepal, accompanied by the Situ, Shamar, and Gyaltsab Rinpoches. In Nepal he was thankfully honored by the king for stopping a raging epidemic and for making rain to end a serious drought. They continued on to India, visiting the places of Lord Buddha's birth and death. The young Situpa, who impressed Indian Buddhist scholars with his erudition, became a master of languages and went on to be one of Asia's greatest scholars of all time.

Returning to Tibet, the Karmapa accepted an invitation to China, and set out for that land accompanied by the Shamarpa. However, foreseeing difficult political times ahead and realizing the need to leave his body, the Karmapa sent the Tai Situpa a letter with details of his next incarnation and succumbed to smallpox, as did the Shamarpa two days later.


Text reprinted with permission of Altea Publishing from Karmapa, by Ken Holmes. Copyright 1995 by Altea Publishing.

The Eight Situpa, Chökyi Jungne (1700-1774)

8th-Situpa-Chökyi-JungneTHE EIGHTH TAI SITU was Chokyi Jungne, who was a doctor, an astrologer, a poet, an artist, a consummate scholar, and author of many texts. His famous Tibetan Grammar is still the foremost advanced text in practical use today. Chokyi Jungne founded Palpung Monastery in eastern Tibet, which became the monastic seat of the Tai Situpas as well as an important center of learning and culture. With his disciple Tenpa Tsering, he set up the Derge Printing Press that produced over half a million wood block prints. The work is of such fine quality that much of it has been reprinted in modern editions and circulated to Tibetan archives in libraries throughout the world.

The Thirteenth Karmapa, Dudul Dorje (1733-1797)


THE THIRTEENTH GYALWA KARMAPA, Dudul Dorje, had a powerful vision as a tiny child of the wrathful protector Mahakala and told many stories of his previous lives. He was recognized at the age of four and enthroned by Gyaltsab Rinpoche. At the age of eight, he met his main guru, the great Eight Situpa, Chökyi Jungne, whose long life had spanned all of the twelfth Karmapa's and was to span most of the thirteenth's. Dudul Dorje received the Kagyu transmissions from him and also studied the Nyingma teachings very extensively. He was very fond of animals and famous for communicating with them.

At one point the famous Jokhang temple, home of the Jowo image, was threatened by rising flood waters. A prophecy from Guru Rinpoche had foreseen this and predicted that only the Karmapa could do something to stop it, as it was caused by a powerful serpentine spirit (naga). The Lhasa authorities requested him to come. Being unable to leave immediately, he resolved the problem by writing a special letter to the naga and invoking the compassion of Avalokiteshvara. On arrival at Lhasa, the Thirteenth Karmapa offered a white scarf (kata) to the Jowo image, and the arms of the statue changed position to accept it. They have been that way ever since. Dudul Dorje was also asked to consecrate a distant monastery. Unable to attend, he threw blessing grains in the air at Tsurphu at the moment of the consecration ceremony, and they were seen to shower down from the heavens hundreds of kilometers away at the monastery in question.


Text reprinted with permission of Altea Publishing from Karmapa, by Ken Holmes. Copyright 1995 by Altea Publishing.

Ninth Situpa, Pema Nyingche Wangpo (1774-1859)

9th-Situpa-Pema-Nyingche-WangpoTHE NINTH TAI SITUPA, Pema Nyingche, fostered an important renaissance of Buddhist thought in the stimulating intellectual climate of Palpung. One of his main disciples was JThe First Jamgön Kongtrül, Lodrö Thaye (1813-1899), an accomplished scholar and author of over 200 definitive texts that consolidated much of the learning of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Fourteenth Karmapa, Thegchog Dorje (1798-1868)

14th-Karmapa-Thegchog-DorjeTHE FOURTEENTH GYALWA KARMAPA, Thegchog Dorje, was born in midwinter, yet flowers spontaneously blossomed and many rainbows appeared. The baby recited the Sanskrit alphabet. He was discovered, enthroned and later ordained by the Ninth Tai Situpa .

Thegchog Dorje lived very simply and exemplified the ideal monk. He was gifted in poetry and dialectics and participated in the spirit of the times, known now as rime (nonsectarian), whereby many noted scholars showed great interest in each other's traditions and teachings. There was a particularly intense exchange between the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions, with the Karmapa passing on teachings to Kongtrul Rinpoche and Jamyang Chentse Wangpo.

Thegchog Dorje himself received the Vajrakilaya tantra from the Nyingma visionary treasure-text-finder Chojur Lingpa. The ritual was subsequently introduced into the Tsurphu calendar. Chojur Lingpa had important visions of future Karmapas, up to the twenty-first. These were noted down and painted in a thangka.

The Fourteenth Karmapa's spiritual heir was the great rime master and prolific author, Jamgön Kongtrül, Lodrö Thaye.


Text reprinted with permission of Altea Publishing from Karmapa, by Ken Holmes. Copyright 1995 by Altea Publishing.

The First Jamgön Kongtrül, Lodrö Thaye (1813-1899)

AMONG THE MULTITUDES of disciples of Guru Padmasambhava during the time that he visited Tibet, twenty-five were exceptional in that they equalled Padmasambhava's realization.

One of these disciples was the Great Lopon Vairotsana, a deeply realized being, a scholar and translator. When Vairotsana passed away, he was among the first of the practitioners in Tibet to enter into the rainbow body. This accomplishment is in itself a great mark of realization.

Jamgon Kongtrul the Great is an emanation of Lopon Vairotsana. As a matter of fact, his emanations go back in the past as far as Shakyamuni Buddha. But the emanation referred to here was among the first Tibetan incarnations and because of his vows and practice in Tibet, he incarnated there from that time on. All of his incarnations were great scholars and realized beings, always actively involved in important sequences of the Dharma in Tibet.

The birth of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche was predicted in the Larkauatara Sutra where the Buddha said:

A great being and liberator by the name of Lodro Thaye,
Shore of the five fields of knowledge,
Will come into existence.
He will be a Bodhisattva of ineffaceable qualities.

As prophesied by the Buddha, Jamgon Kongtrul the Great was born in Upper Eastern Tibet, to the east of Lhasa, in a place called Kongpo. That is how he got his name: Kong as in Kongpo and trul from trulku or the Tulku of Kongpo.

When Jamgon Kongtrul the Great was born, he manifested many miracles which indicated that he was the reincarnation of an enlightened being. As a young child he proved beyond doubt to be learned and realized. At that time in Kongpo the Bon tradition, an indigenous religion of Tibet, was quite prevalent and the Bon people, nevertheless, recognized and upheld him as their supreme spiritual guide. The Bon followers offered him the name of Teny Yungdrung Lingpa (which means "second to none," as Padmasambhava was called. He was as realized as the Buddha; they had not previously experienced one so realized).

In the earlier part of his life he appeared as this Bon teacher, yet inwardly he manifested as a great Vajrayana Master. Thus, he imparted the profound Vajrayana teachings to the Bon followers in the most skillful ways and for the first time among the Bon followers a number of practitioners entered the rainbow body. Later on he travelled all over Tibet receiving teachings and transmissions from over one hundred of the most learned and realized masters of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism: Kagyu, Gelug, Sakya, and Nyingma. He performed all these activities as a simple monk carrying his basic needs on his back and seeking alms whenever food was needed. He never revealed himself as a greatly learned and awakened being.

Finally, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche compiled the most important teachings of the Buddha common to all the lineages of Tibetan Buddhism; these teachings are called "Five Great Treasures (mDzod-lnga) of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great." They include:

Rinchen Terzo 60 volumes plus
Gyachen Kardzo of 5 volumes
Dam Ngadzo
Sheja Dzo of 3 volumes.

(Each volume has a different number of folios from at least one hundred to an average of 300 to 400.)

In these Five Great Treasures he has provided very clear and complete commentaries. He also went through the painstaking task of making sure that all these teachings maintained an unbroken line of empowerment, instructions and other forms required in a continuous line of transmissions. Because of the great responsibility he had assumed toward the preservation and spread of the Great Teachings, he was recognized by all the schools of Buddhism in Tibet as one of the greatest Rime (non-sectarian) masters.

Among all his renowned teachers, his personal root guru was Situ Pema Nginje Wangpo, the 9th Situpa. Because of this, Jamgon Kongtrul the Great is among the golden chain of Kagyu Lineage masters. Not only did he preserve the essence of Buddhadharma through the Five Great Treasures, but during his lifetime he personally helped to sustain these unbroken lineages by giving empowerments and oral transmissions to numerous practitioners of the Dharma.

When Communists invaded Tibet in 1950s, the existence of Buddhism was destroyed really. Yet mainly due to the work of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, the unbroken line of Dharma teachings has been preserved; without him the teachings might have degenerated, possibly even if Communism had not taken over Tibet. In short, the presence and activity of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great was most timely and in accordance with the predictions of the Buddha that when there will be degeneration of the Dharma, a great Bodhisattva will uphold it by preserving the teachings in writing and by transmitting the Dharma through an unbroken lineage.

Jamgon Kongtrul the Great (Lodro Thaye) lived well into his eighties and before passing away he prophesied that he would have five incarnations of Body, Speech, Mind, Qualities and Activities. He also prophesied that his mind incarnation would make his main seat the great retreat caves Tsen near Palpung, the seat of the Situpas. In accordance with such predictions, the second Jamgon Kongtrul, Khentse Oser, was born as a prince son of the Fifteenth Karmapa, Khakhyab Dorje, and established his seat at Tsen. During his lifetime he maintained an immensely important role in the preservation of the Kagyu Lineage and became teacher to His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa. Thus again, he was among the golden chain of the Kagyu Lineage.

At the end of his life, Khyentse Oser alerted his close disciples that soon he would be passing away. When his disciples made an ernest request that he live longer, he told them that it was time for him to go, but they should not mourn or worry because his emanation would be born soon. He prophesied that the birth would be in a family related to his mother and in fact, the house where he would be born could be seen from the house of his present mother. When his disciples requested more information, he convinced them that there was no need as the all-knowing wisdom mind of the Karmapa will see whatever other information was necessary.

He also said that the Third Jamgön Kongtrül would, in fact, play a more important and expansive role in the spread and preservation of the Buddhadharma. So in 1954, precisely in accordance with the predictions of the Second Jamgon Kongtrul, the Third Jamgon Kongtrul was born into a noble family from a dakini mother with noble qualities.

From the time he was a little child, he was brought up under the special care of His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa. He received full transmission and education from both His Holiness and other eminent masters of the Kagyu Lineage. In 1984, His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche was one of the four regents of His Holiness Karmapa. He was fully matured and manifested the wisdom, compassion and presence of the Kongtrul Lineage as well as that of His Holiness Karmapa. He paid close attention to the many important wishes of His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa and diligently fulfilled them with tremendous confidence and enthusiasm.

For those who had the good fortune to experience his presence and teachings during his short visit to the United States in 1984, it was abundantly clear that His Eminence was an awakened heartfelt son of His Holiness Karmapa, and that he was completely trustworthy.


By Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche; translated by Ngodrup Tsering Burkhar


The Fifteenth Karmapa, Khakhyap Dorje (1871-1922)


THE FIFTEENTH GYALWA KARMAPA, Khakhyab Dorje, was born with the highly auspicious 'treasure-hair' growing on his brow. This is one of the thirty-two marks of an enlightened being and was noted on the young Shakyamuni.

He grew up receiving a very thorough education from famous scholars and eventually received the Kagyu transmission from Jamgön Kongtrül, Lodrö Thaye, who also passed on to him the essence of his hundred compositions embracing the profound teachings of all Tibetan Buddhist traditions, as well as the domains of medicine, art, linguistics and general Buddhist studies.

His life was a brilliant example of the bodhisattva with an insatiable desire for learning in order to help other beings. Some years before his passing, he entrusted a prediction letter to his closest attendant.


Text reprinted with permission of Altea Publishing from Karmapa, by Ken Holmes. Copyright 1995 by Altea Publishing.

The Eleventh Situpa, Pema Wangchuk (1886-1952)

The Eleventh Situpa, Pema Wangchuk

THE ELEVENTH TAI SITUPA, Wangchuk Gyalpo, was a dynamic teacher and spiritual leader. He was responsible for recognizing the Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. He remained the Sixteenth Karmapa's root Lama and transmitted to him the main teachings and empowerments of the Kagyu lineage.

All indications are that the Eleventh Tai Situ Rinpoche was a very great saint and most learned personage. Around the age of fifty he retired to Surmang monastery, where he passed the remainder of his life in meditation. The monks of Surmang reported that they witnessed many unexplained miracles during the time he resided amongst them.

The Eleventh Tai Situ Rinpoche died at the age of 67 in 1952.


Information kindly provided by The Dharma Fellowship.

The Second-Jamgö-Kongtrül-Khyentse-Ozer (1902-1952)


THE SECOND JAMGON KONGTRUL, Khyentse Ozer, was born in 1902 in the garden of Samdrub Choling at Dowolung Tsurphu, the unexcelled heart center of the dakinis, as the son of the Fifteenth Karmapa, Khakhyab Dorje, of whom he was the heart son as well. He studied, mastered, and practiced to perfection the treatises of the sutras and tantras in general, and in particular, the Five Treasuries, the path of liberation, which focuses on the Mahamudra as it is elucidated in the special teachings of the Kamtsang Kagyu.

Khyentse Ozer attained realization of the ultimate lineage and became the lineage holder of the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa. Many times over, he gave teachings, empowerments, and reading transmissions from the old and new traditions, such as the Rinchen Ter Dzö, and he rebuilt the retreat center of Tsandra Rinchen Drak (his residence at Palpung Monastery), supplying it with everything needed.

He passed away on the 10th of May, 1952, having accomplished great deeds for the benefit of the teachings and sentient beings.


Photo of the Second Jamgon Kongtrul and biographical information: Courtesy of Jamgon Kongtrul Labrang.

The Third Jamgön Kongtrül, Karma Lodrö Chokyi Senge (1954-1992)


THE THIRD JAMGON KONGTRUL RINPOCHE was born in 1954 to a prominent Lhasa family. Extraordinary signs accompanied his birth. Even at an early age, his devotion to His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa was unsurpassed. His entire life example manifested the perfection of a great bodhisattva. After the passing of His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa in 1981, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche became one of the foremost holders of the Kagyu Lineage, and wore the mantle of regency with humility and great dignity. Revered by disciples of His Holiness Karmapa throughout the world, he was especially dear to students in the West who had the immeasurable good fortune to see or hear him during his short life. In the absence of His Holiness' physical manifestation, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche virtually adopted Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, and was a frequent visitor and teacher.

In 1984, in order to celebrate the visit of H.E. Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche to Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, the Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche gave a short teaching on the life and activity of Jamgön Kongtrül the Great, concluding that for "those who had the good fortune to experience [His Eminence the III Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche's] presence and teachings during his short visit to the United States, it was abundantly clear that His Eminence is an awakened heartfelt son of His Holiness Karmapa."

Following the passing of His Eminence Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, his life story was published by the Jamgon Kongtrul Labrang at Rumtek as an offering of Dharma for free distribution. The life story was written by the Ven. Bokar Tulku Rinpoche as "A Brief Biography of H.E. the 3rd Jamgon Kontrul Rinpoche." Also included in this memorial to H.E. Jamgon Kongtrul Karma Lodro Chokyi Senge was a translation of the Guru Yoga for the III Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, called "Billowing Clouds of Blessing."


Visit the official web site for the Office of H.E. Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche.

Also Available:

Teachings by the Jamgon Rinpoche on this site:

The Fourth Jamgön Kongtrül Rinpoche (1995)

The Fourth Jamgön Kongtrül Rinpoche

THE FOURTH JAMGON KONGTRUL RINPOCHE was born in the wood pig year in Central Tibet on the 26th of November 1995. His birth was prophesied by The Seventeenth Karmapa, Ögyen Trinley Dorje, who also recognised, confirmed the authenticity of his incarnation, and proclaimed it to the world!

The prophecy, the search, and the recognition of His Eminence the Fourth Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche are told in the book E MA HO! published by the Jamgon Kongtrul Labrang and can be obtained from Pullahari Monastery and viewed on www.jamgonkongtrul.org.

Today, His Eminence spends time between Kagyu Tekchen Ling and Pullahari Monastery, the monastic seats in India and Nepal founded by the Third Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche. Jamgon Kongtrul Labrang is prioritising His Eminence’s studies, training, and the receiving transmissions from the Lineage Masters at this time. Though still young in years, His Eminence has started to assume responsibilities of the activities of his predecessors. Annually, he also graces his presence at the Kagyu Monlam in Bodhgaya, India, led by His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, and leads the Kagyu Monlam in Kathmandu, Nepal.

At Pullahari Monastery, His Eminence grants daily audiences between 10.30am and 11.30am (except on Wednesdays).



By His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje

Om Swasti! The one whom the Glorious One’s flawless prophecy foretold would accomplish the enlightened activity of all the Victorious Ones, and to whom the great emperors of China paid homage by calling him “Rasuso Huwang, King of the Precious Dharma” is Karmapa, Ogyen Drodul Trinley Dorje. This proclamation is his.

To the people of the world, particularly to those residing in Tibet, Great China, India, Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal, Hongkong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Switzerland, Singapore, Japan, America, and others; to the people of these great lands, to lamas, tulkus, laymen and women of every station, I offer this to you.

In this world, the sole source of happiness and benefit is the precious teachings of the perfect Buddha. That these teachings remain, flourish, and spread depends solely upon those who are capable of upholding them. In the lands of India and Tibet, many great beings holding high the incomparable blazing white parasol of the doctrine have come, and continue to come. The greatest of all of them is the one who, in this age of strife, performs enlightened activity that is truly miraculous – he is like the moon, the lord of the stars, who alone amongst the midst of luminaries is able to emit the cooling light. As the Victorious One, son of Shuddodanah, said in the Samadhi Raja Sutra, “The One who will perfectly benefit sentient beings will be called ‘Lodro Thaye’. This is my prophecy.”

The third incarnation of this great being, whose coming was foretold in the Victorious One’s flawless prophecy, was without rival in the entire Land of Snow. He was lord of the completely perfect teachings; like a wish-fulfilling jewel, he dispelled the inner torments of all beings. He was the crown ornament of the lineage upholding the definitive meaning, the Karma Kamtsang. It is impossible to speak his name lightly or idly. The great sound of his name, “Jamgon Lodro Chokyi Senge,” reduces samsara to shreds. According to his intention he has come again, this great friend of the Teacher’s doctrine and of all beings, even those who do not know him. He was born to the south of the Glorious Karmapa’s seat of Tsurphu, in Chushur district amidst many villages, the circumstances of his birth being in accord with my description in the Letter Describing the Signs earlier, held in faith by gods and men.

Now in this special purpose, I offer, to the son born in the year of the Pig to Yab Gonpo and Yum Yangkyi, this recognition as being the genuine reincarnation of the Third Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Chokyi Senge.

I hereby bestow upon him the name Jamgon Lodro Chokyi Nyima Tenpey Dronme Chok Thamched Le Nampar Gyalwe De. I sing his praises, and empower him to sit on the towering throne of Dharma. All sentient beings should examine the legacy of his predecessors, respect him, serve him, and pay him homage. Even though he has not reached adulthood, all should hold this supreme tulku in only the highest regard.

Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, August 25, 1996



By His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje

To all those genuine, unbiased, supreme tulkus who are the glorious protectors of the doctrine and beings, and to the sangha of scholars, masters, and monks, I offer the following:

The one whom the Great Fourth prophesied in many sutras and tantras, and whom the Second Victor, the Great Guru, also foretold, was the genuine being Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. His name was renowned as the sun and moon. The Third in the garland of his incarnations was the great Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Chokyi Senge, whose reincarnation has now indisputably appeared.

Being completely certain as to his authenticity, I have bestowed upon him the name Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Choyki Nyima Tenpey Dronme. And I hereby request all unbiased and supreme tulkus, and the sangha of scholars and masters, to pray that through this supreme tulku’s mastery of the Three Wheels and the three types of scholarship, he may bear the awesome responsibility of disseminating the Great Fourth’s flawless teachings throughout the hundred directions, and in so doing make his predecessors’ legacy his own; that his lotus feet be unshakeably planted here on earth; that he be as indestructible as the vajra; that he and his activity be surrounded by only the most excellently favourable conditions; and that these favourable conditions increase and increase. I request all the aforementioned to give whatever assistance to him that they, in their wisdom, know to be necessary.

This proclamation of the authenticity of the Fourth in the garland of emanations of Jamgon Kongtrul is made by Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje in his Seat of the Pure Land of Tsurphu.

September 2, 1996


For more information please contact:

Tenzin Dorjee
General Secretary to H.E. Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche

Pullahari Monastery
P.O. Box 11015, Kathmandu 

Tel: +977 (1) 4800896
Fax: +977 (1) 4800890

Also Available:

The Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924-1981)

16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje

THE SIXTEENTH GYALWA KARMAPA, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, was born in Tibet in 1924. He was recognized by the Eleventh Situpa. Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje accomplished extensive retreats in his youth. His Holiness went on pilgrimage to Samye, Lodrak, and then to Bhutan. In 1945, Tai Situpa gave him full ordination vows and further comprehensive Kagyu teachings on the giving of empowerments. He also received from the Nyingma master Urgyen Rinpoche complete transmission of the Nyingma teachings of Terton Chojur Lingpa.

In 1959, during the communist invasion that had begun in 1951, the Karmapa left Tibet with portable spiritual treasures and relics and 150 tulkus, monks and lay people. He settled in Rumtek, Sikkim, India. By 1966, the construction of the new Rumtek monastery was complete, and the relics were installed. This was to be the hub from which Kagyu Dharma would spread throughout the world.

In 1974, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje set out on his first world tour. He took a second tour in 1977. As did the previous Karmapas, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje performed startling miracles. Numerous times he left footprints in rocks. He once tied sword blades in knots. During a visit to the Hopi reservation in northeastern Arizona, he made rain for the drought-stricken area.

The Sixteenth Karmapa died in 1981 in Zion, Illinois, north of Chicago. After his death, his body remained upright in meditation posture for three days, and the area over his heart was warm. During his cremation, his heart fell from the blazing body. The heart is now a venerated relic, stored in a stupa at Rumtek monastery. Bones that remained after the cremation of Rangjung Rigpe Dorje formed Buddhas and many relics. The Sixteenth Karmapa is best known for having brought the Dharma out of Tibet into the Western world.

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The Twelfth Situpa, Pema Dhonyö Nyinche

12th Situpa, Pema Dhonyö Nyinche

THE GREAT LAMA Chokyi Gyaltsen (1377-1448) was the first to bear the title Tai Situ, which means "far-reaching, unshakable, great master, holder of the command."

The current, Twelfth Tai Situpa was born in 1954 to a family of farmers in the Palyul district of the Derge Kingdom. He was traditionally recognized and enthroned at Palpung Monastery at the age of eighteen months.

When he was six years old, political conditions forced him to leave Tibet with only a few attendants. He traveled to Bhutan first and then to Sikkim, where he joined the Sixteenth Karmapa who had also come out of Tibet. After recovering from illness and exhaustion, Tai Situpa went to live at the newly constructed Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, the new seat of the Sixteenth

Karmapa. He received his formal religious training under the guidance of the Sixteenth Karmapa, until 1975, when at the age of twenty-two, he assumed his own traditional responsibilities. He established his first monastic project, called Sherab Ling, at the request of his Tibetan followers who had settled in northern India.

In 1980, Tai Situpa made his first tour to European countries at the request of Buddhist organizations. Since then, he has traveled widely in North America, Europe and Southeast Asia lecturing on Buddhist philosophy and meditation. He founded Maitreya Institute in 1984 in response to Western interest in multicultural activity and spirituality. Tai Situpa visited his homeland, Tibet, in 1984, for the first time since fleeing the communist invasion. During his visit, he ordained more than 2,000 men and women and presented to the Chinese authorities a plan for the rebuilding, preservation, and propagation of the Tibetan Buddhist culture. His Eminence was instrumental in the identification and enthronement of His Holiness Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa, head of the Karma Kagyu Lineage. Currently, His Eminence is involved in the advancement of interfaith and intercultural humanitarian efforts around the world. 

Photo courtesy of Wen-lin Chiu

A more extensive biography of the Twelfth Tai Situpa can be found here.

Khentin Tai Situ Rinpoche is an emanation of the future Buddha, Maitreya

To learn about activities of H.E. Twelfth Tai Situ Rinpoche, please visit the Palpung Web Center at www.palpung.org

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The Seventeenth Karmapa, Ögyen Trinley Dorje (1985)

17th Karmapa Ögyen Trinley Dorje

HIS HOLINESS, the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, is the spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu lineage, one of the major traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Born in Eastern Tibet on June 26th, 1985, he was recognized at the age of seven through a prediction letter, known as the Last Testament. Written by his previous incarnation, it indicated the place and year of his future birth along with the names of his parents and the special signs that would appear. The Karmapa’s early years were divided between the pastoral life of his large nomadic family and Buddhist training at the nearby Karlek Monastery. Then, in the spring of 1992, contrary to his usual behavior, the Karmapa insisted that his parents move their camp early and knowing their son was special, they complied. This allowed the Karmapa to be in the exact place predicted by the Last Testament when the search party came to find him. In June of 1992, he returned to Central Tibet and Tolung Tsurphu Monastery, the main seat of the previous Karmapas.

In that same month, the Dalai Lama confirmed the recognition of the Karmapa stating that he had experienced "a kind of dream of the area where the present incarnation was born." He described precisely the area of the Karmapa’s birth as if he were actually there, saying that there were stones and meadows but no trees, animals or people and that two rivers flowed down on the right and left. "Then someone, some source without form, was telling me, ‘This is the place where the Karmapa is born.’" This close connection between the two spiritual leaders would to continue up to the present day.

In 1992, he suggested to his parents that they move their camp early. This decision to move placed them in the spot where the predictive letter written by the Sixteenth Karmapa had said the Seventeenth Karmapa would be found. Apo Gaga told his parents his monks were coming for him, and packed his things.

The Karmapas were the first lineage of tulkus (reincarnate lamas) in Tibet and the 17th Karmapa was the first one to be officially recognized by both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government. The enthronement of a tulku marks the public recognition of this special status and begins the official activity of bringing benefit to all living beings. This ceremony was held in September 1992 with 20,000 people coming to celebrate from all over Tibet and the world outside. The next day, the young Karmapa gave his first empowerment, which was of Chenrezig, the embodiment of compassion. Both the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa are considered emanations of this most popular deity in Tibet.

While staying at Tsurphu, the Karmapa completed basic studies of Buddhist texts in addition to becoming very adept at Tibetan language and literature. Even at a young age, his poetry was profound and lyrical. During the other parts of his day, the Karmapa was overseeing the rebuilding of Tsurphu, making official visits, and recognizing other reincarnate lamas, a well-known ability of the Karmapas. Thousands made the pilgrimage to Tsurphu to receive his blessing and he presided over the numerous rituals and meditation retreats that shape the calendar of Tibetan Buddhism.

In Tibetan Buddhism, lineage is extremely important, since the tradition is sustained through teachers passing along their knowledge and wisdom to the next generation of disciples. In late 1999, in order to meet his teachers in India, the Karmapa left Tibet. Once in India, the Karmapa traveled directly to see the Dalai Lama who received him with great warmth. The image of the Karmapa and the story of the escape was on the cover of newspapers and magazines the world over.

The Indian government kindly granted the Karmapa refugee status, and he continues to stay at his temporary residence in Gyuto Monastery, not far from the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala. The Karmapa’s wish to receive further instruction and meet with his former teachers is being fulfilled as he studies Buddhist philosophy and meditation while receiving the transmissions and empowerments from the masters of his lineage. Though young in years when he first arrived in India, the Karmapa has showed a wisdom and maturity well beyond his age. With a special interest in books, he has worked to preserve ancient texts; he has also encouraged the practice of the meditative rituals, which were brought from India to Tibet centuries ago and which form the core practices at all his monasteries inside and outside Tibet.

With the passing years, the Karmapa’s artistic abilities have flourished. In addition to writing poetry, he has become a skilled artist in drawing, painting, and calligraphy. Recently, he composed new meditative rituals for the Kagyu Prayer Festival, a yearly gathering of monks and lay people in Bodh Gaya, India, the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment. The Karmapa has presided over these major ceremonies since 2001. There are thousands who come to the festival and also to visit the Karmapa at Gyuto Monastery where he gives public teachings.

Now at last in 2008, His Holiness the Karmapa is able to travel abroad. During this initial visit, he will spend eighteen days of May and June traveling in the United States. We are overjoyed to receive him at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, where he is returning for the first time as the 17th Karmapa to meet his disciples, bless the monastery, and give an empowerment and teachings. We look forward to numerous such occasions in the future.

The vast scope of activities of His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, including spiritual travels to offer teachings, consecration ceremonies, and blessings, his teaching schedules, as well as official visits and participation in a variety of conferences, can be viewed in the Karmapa News Archives.

Official website of the Office of Administration of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, http:/www.kagyuoffice.org