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The life and legacy of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa lives on through his reincarnation, Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa.The remarkable life story of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa is presented here. You can also use the links below to navigate to a particular period in his life.
When Karmapa was seven years old, Situ Tulku and Jamgon Kongtrul Tulku visited the palace and performed his primary ordination. A ceremonial empowerment of Vajravarahi was completed and on the twenty-seventh day of the first month of the Female Iron Sheep Year (1931), the young incarnation was ordained as a novice monk. Then Khyentse Rinpoche, Zimpon Legshe Gyaltsen and Donyer Gyaltsen Zangkyong together offered the 16th Karmapa his ceremonial robes and hat.
The party reached Radza Dzong in the mountains, where there was a great shortage of drinking water. The Lama Samten Gyamtso explained to the 16th Karmapa that the nearest spring was three miles away, and asked for a blessing to help the situation. The 16th Karmapa ordered that a wooden tub should be brought and placed near the monastery. Then he said he wanted to take a bath, so people carried water to fill it up. After the bath he told the attendants to empty the water onto the ground. Immediately it started to rain and a new spring broke forth from the spot where the tub had been standing. The water shortage of the monastery was resolved.
In 1940, the Karmapa traveled to Tsurphu, visiting the Benchen monastery on the way. In that place there was a statue of the Protector Shingkyong, riding on a horse. As soon as the 16th Karmapa approached, the horse started to neigh, much to the surprise of everyone. He proceeded to Dam Chung, where the main deity offered him a large unpierced nine-eyed Zi-stone, a type of precious banded agate. For the next few years, the 16th Karmapa engaged himself in his study and meditations, while the monastery was extensively rebuilt.
Situ Tulku travelled from Kham to Tsurphu, meeting the 16th Karmapa there in 1945. At age twenty-three, the 16th Karmapa received the detailed final ordination, together with the initiations and explanations of the higher Kagyu teachings. In 1947 he left for the upper area of western Tibet, and Situ Tulku returned to his monastery in Kham.
The party travelled on due north, via Kunu and Purang, to the holy mountain of Kailash. The 16th Karmapa made three complete circumambulations of this mountain, taking three days for each one, and also went around the holy lake of Manasarovar. He visited all the places of pilgrimage in the region. Then he travelled across Tibet, via the Mendong Kagyu monastery, and reached Tsurphu in 1948.
In 1954 the 16th Karmapa visited China, together with the Dalai Lama, Chong Rinpoche and other high lamas. The lamas tried to negotiate with the Chinese government to improve relations between their countries and prevent a war, with limited success. After a stay in Peking and other parts of China, Karmapa returned to Tibet, traveling via many monasteries in Kham and Do, where he bestowed teachings and blessings. On this occasion he was asked to represent His Holiness the Dalai Lama who was himself unable to make the journey.
While in Chamdo, the 16th Karmapa had numerous visitors and bestowed many empowerments and blessings to create stability in the area. Then he travelled to Lhasa, where he explained the situation to His Holiness the Dalai Lama before returning to his monastery at Tsurphu.
Under the direction of the 16th Karmapa, the party was able to bring along the most precious of the sacred statues, ritual items, relics, icons, paintings, books and costumes that had been preserved at the Tsurphu monastery over the centuries. The hazardous and difficult journey, taking twenty-one days in all, passed through Lhodrag in southern Tibet, the birthplace of Marpa the Translator. Rites were performed at various sacred places on the way, for the welfare of all sentient beings and for the preservation of the Buddhist Dharma in the difficult times ahead.
In his contemplation, the 16th Karmapa felt that Sikkim would be the best place to set about creating the conditions for the fulfillment of his mission. Sikkim was considered especially suitable on account of the natural Buddhist inclinations of the people and particularly as the country had been sanctified by a visit of Guru Padmasambhava in the distant past. Therefore he readily accepted the kind invitation to establish himself in that country.
Accompanied by Her Royal Highness Tsultrim Palmo of Bhutan, the 16th Karmapa led the party to Gangtok. Sir Tashi Namgyal, the Maharaja, offered him the choice of several sites in his kingdom for the location of the new monastery. Karmapa selected the site at Rumtek, where a Karma Kagyu monastery had been built during the time of his ninth incarnation, Wangchuk Dorje. This place possessed all the auspicious attributes needed for the site of a seat of the Karmapa: seven streams flowing towards it, seven hills facing it, a mountain behind, snow ranges in front, and a river below, spiralling downhill like the form of a conch shell.
The 16th Karmapa and his party immediately arranged to proceed directly to Rumtek. At that time Rumtek consisted of a monastery that was mostly in ruins, and about half a dozen huts surrounded by jungle. There was neither adequate accommodation nor facilities for preparing food.
He also travelled to the Kyichu temple in Paro, there performing special rites for peace and tranquility in the world and for the preservation and propagation of the Dharma everywhere. His Royal Highness the King and Her Royal Highness the Queen Mother most generously presented the Tashi Cho Ling palace at Bumthang, together with its entire landed property, to the 16th Karmapa.
In 1971, the 16th Karmapa conducted readings of the Buddhist scriptures and gave initiations to a large gathering of Buddhists from many different countries at the new Rumtek Center. In the same year one thousand ten-inch-high gilded statues of Lord Buddha were made, filled with herbs and dharanis and blessed.
In this way, the 16th Karmapa was able to establish direct contact with his overseas centers and to spread his teachings more widely. To all those seeking the Way of Dharma, he acted, as in his previous incarnations, as a guide, teacher, and true example.
In 1976, the 16th Karmapa arrived in New York for his first visit to the USA. Afterwards, in 1977 he came for his second tour to Europe, visiting, among others, France, Belgium, England, Germany, Holland, Greece, Austria, Norway, and Sweden. In due course, a great number of meditation centers all over Europe came into being started by his students.
In November 1979, the 16th Karmapa laid the foundation stone for the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute (KIBI) in New Delhi, at a site that was originally given to him by Indira Gandhi for a center for advanced Buddhist studies. His vision was to foster wisdom and compassion through the study and translation of the great Buddhist treatises.
Shortly afterwards, the 16th Karmapa showed signs of being ill with cancer and was operated on for the first time. Nevertheless, he accepted another invitation for a teaching tour to the United States, giving many empowerments and transmissions.
Suddenly, in the middle of the ceremony, a huge rainbow surrounded the sun, even though the weather was clear and dry. During the cremation, the heart of the 16th Karmapa rolled out from the stupa on the side facing Tibet. Hundreds of Rinpoches and students, from all over the world, took part in this event.
His Holiness the 16th Karmapa was one of the greatest meditation masters of the 20th century. Find out why he was the inspiration and guide for so many people in the life of the 16th Karmapa.
Now, out of space in front of us, condenses the golden, transparent form of the 16th Karmapa - a radiant field of energy and light. He wears the Black Crown, the shape of which can awaken mind's deepest awareness. His face is golden and mild. He sees us, knows us and wishes us everything good. His hands hold a dorje and a bell crossed at his heart. They express the state of compassion and wisdom inseparable. Seated in meditation posture, he is surrounded by light.
Jigme Rinpoche accompanied the 16th Karmapa on his journey from Rumtek to Europe in 1974. They offered Buddhist teachings and meditation practices to Westerners. During this visit, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje designated a property donated to him by Bernard Benson in Dordogne as his central seat of activity. He asked Jigme Rinpoche to live there, and oversee construction and spiritual development. He also asked Gendün Rinpoche and Pawo Rinpoche to move to the property. When the 16th Karmapa appointed Lama Jigme Rinpoche as director of Dhagpo Kagyu Ling he said, "In the person of Lama Jigme Rinpoche, I leave you my heart". Jigme Rinpoche acted as the representative of Rumtek in several European countries (the seat of the Karma Kagyu lineage in India after leaving Tibet) starting in 1980.
In 1977 the 16th Karmapa made a second journey to the West. The donation of the property in France was finalized. Karmapa blessed the site and gave the center its final name of "Dhagpo Kagyu Ling", named after the site where the historic lineage holder Gampopa taught.
For the first time, H.H. 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje, head of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, gave teachings about the meditation on the 16th Karmapa. This meditation is the most common form of guru yoga, (meditation on the teacher) practiced in Diamond Way Buddhism. H.H. 17th Karmapa himself led his students in a 12-hour meditation on the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. This unique chance was a powerful way to start the part of course that focussed directly on the masters of the Karma Kagyu lineage.
Ogyen Trinley Dorje was born into a nomad family, in 1985 in the Lhatok region of Kham, Eastern Tibet. In the late spring of 1992 a group of Karma Kagyü lamas, searching for the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa, discovered the young boy by following instructions left by the previous Karmapa before his death. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama issued a formal letter, supporting the recognition of the boy as the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, and the Chinese Government supported the choice too. 2b1af7f3a8