The Karmapa (honorific title His Holiness the Gyalwa (རྒྱལ་བ་, Victorious One) Karmapa, more formally as Gyalwang (རྒྱལ་དབང་ཀརྨ་པ་, King of Victorious Ones) Karmapa, and informally as the Karmapa Lama) is the head of the Karma Kagyu, the largest sub-school of the Kagyu (བཀའ་བརྒྱུད, Wylie: bka' brgyud), itself one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The historical seat of the Karmapas is Tsurphu Monastery in the Tolung valley of Tibet. The Karmapa's principal seat in exile is the Dharma Chakra Centre at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, India. His regional monastic seats are Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in New York and Dhagpo Kagyu Ling in Dordogne, France.

Due to a controversy within the Karma Kagyu school over the recognition process, the identity of the current 17th Karmapa is disputed by some. See Karmapa controversy for details.

Karmapa16 3 gross
The 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924 - 1981)
Tibetan name
Tibetan རྒྱལ་དབང་ཀརྨ་པ་
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese噶瑪巴
Simplified Chinese噶玛巴
Karmapa's flag

Origin of the lineage

Düsum Khyenpa, 1st Karmapa Lama (Wylie: Dus gsum Mkhyen pa, 1110–1193), was a disciple of the Tibetan master Gampopa. A talented child who studied Buddhism with his father from an early age and who sought out great teachers in his twenties and thirties, he is said to have attained enlightenment at the age of fifty while practicing dream yoga. He was henceforth regarded by the contemporary highly respected masters Shakya Śri and Lama Shang as the Karmapa, a manifestation of Avalokiteśvara, whose coming was predicted in the Samadhiraja Sutra[1] and the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra.[2]

The source of the oral lineage, traditionally traced back to the Buddha Vajradhara, was transmitted to the Indian master of mahamudra and tantra called Tilopa (989-1069), through Naropa (1016–1100) to Marpa Lotsawa and Milarepa. These forefathers of the Kagyu (Bka' brGyud) lineage are collectively called the "Golden Rosary".

Karma Pakshi, 2nd Karmapa Lama (1204–1283), is often said to be the first person ever recognized and empowered as a tulku (Wylie: sprul sku), a reincarnated lama (bla ma).[3]

Black Crown

The Karmapas are the holders of the Black Crown (Wylie: Zhwa-nag) and are thus sometimes known as "the Black Hat Lamas". This crown (Wylie: rang 'byung cod pan "self-arisen crown"), is traditionally said to have been woven by the dakinis from their hair and given to the Karmapa in recognition of his spiritual realization. The physical crown displayed by the Karmapas was offered to Deshin Shekpa, 5th Karmapa Lama by the Yongle Emperor of China as a material representation of the spiritual one.

The crown was last known to be located at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, the last home of the 16th Karmapa, although that location has been subject to some upheaval since 1993 causing some to worry as to whether or not it is still there. An inventory of items remaining at Rumtek is purported to be something the Indian government is going to undertake in the near future.

List of previous Karmapas

  1. Düsum Khyenpa (དུས་གསུམ་མཁྱེན་པ་) (1110–1193)
  2. Karma Pakshi (ཀརྨ་པཀྵི་) (1204–1283)
  3. Rangjung Dorje (རང་འབྱུང་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1284–1339)
  4. Rolpe Dorje (རོལ་པའི་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1340–1383)
  5. Deshin Shekpa (དེ་བཞིན་གཤེགས་པ་)(1384–1415)
  6. Thongwa Dönden (མཐོང་བ་དོན་ལྡན་) (1416–1453)
  7. Chödrak Gyatso (ཆོས་གྲགས་རྒྱ་མཚོ་) (1454–1506)
  8. Mikyö Dorje (མི་བསྐྱོད་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1507–1554)
  9. Wangchuk Dorje (དབང་ཕྱུག་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1556–1603)
  10. Chöying Dorje (ཆོས་དབྱིངས་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1604–1674)
  11. Yeshe Dorje (ཡེ་ཤེས་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1676–1702)
  12. Changchub Dorje (བྱང་ཆུབ་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1703–1732)
  13. Dudul Dorje (བདུད་འདུལ་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1733–1797)
  14. Thekchok Dorje (ཐེག་མཆོག་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1798–1868)
  15. Khakyab Dorje (མཁའ་ཁྱབ་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1871–1922)
  16. Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (རང་འབྱུང་རིག་པའི་རྡོ་རྗེ་) (1924–1981)
  17. Ogyen Trinley Dorje (ཨོ་རྒྱན་འཕྲིན་ལས་རྡོ་རྗེ།) (b. 1985) or Trinley Thaye Dorje (ཕྲིན་ལས་མཐའ་ཡས་རྡོ་རྗེ།)(b. 1983) or The Victorious One (b. 02-1983)

See also


  1. ^ Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche. King of Samadhi Sutra: Oral commentaries given in Rinpoche's monastery in Boudhanath, Nepal, January 1993
  2. ^ The Lankavatara Sutra Archived 2006-01-13 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Karmapa Concept Encyclopedia Analysis". Collab.itc.virginia.edu. Retrieved 2011-10-17.


  • Official websites of His Holiness Karmapa www.karmapa.org or www.kagyuoffice.org
  • Thinley, Karma: The History of the Sixteen Karmapas of Tibet, Boulder, Prajna Press 1980.
  • Douglas, Nick; White, Meryl: Karmapa, the Black Hat Lama of Tibet, Milano 1975.
  • Ken Holmes, Karmapa, Altea Publishing 1995, ISBN 0-9524555-4-4. Author's website (While the book and web site favours one candidate for the 17th the information on 1st-16th is useful and was the original source for this article)

External links

The history of the Karmapa lineage, including biographical details of the historical Karmapas, can be found at the following web sites. Notice that the websites are written to those loyal to one or other of the rival 17th Karmapas, and their accounts of previous incarnations may not be written from a neutral point of view.

Chöying Dorje, 10th Karmapa

Chöying Dorje (1604–1674) was the tenth Karmapa or head of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Chöying Dorje was born in the kingdom of Golok, Amdo. At the age of eight, he was recognized by Shamar Mipan Chökyi Wangchuk, the sixth Shamarpa and received the complete Kagyu transmissions. He traveled extensively through Tibet.

During his life, Tibet faced inner instability as a pro-Kagyu king suppressed - against the will of the Karmapa - the Gelug school and forbade the search for the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. The regent of the Gelug asked Güshi Khan, the warrior king of the Khoshut Mongols, for help.

The Mongolian army attacked Shigatse and forced many monasteries to convert to the Gelug school. The civil war became such that Chöying Dorje had to flee Tibet and he appointed Goshir Gyaltsab as the temporary regent. The Kagyu school was almost completely annihilated in Tsang province, however, it remained in the provinces of Amdo and Kham.

During his exile, Chöying Dorje travelled extensively through Bhutan, Amdo and Kham in East Tibet, Burma and Nepal, founding many monasteries in the process. He returned to Tibet twenty years later, however the Kagyu school was, by then, no longer the dominant school of Tibetan Buddhism.

In 1674 the 5th Dalai Lama met with Chöying Dorje at the Potala Palace, and the reconciliation was welcomed by all after the many conflicts and difficulties.

Deshin Shekpa, 5th Karmapa Lama

Deshin Shekpa (1384–1415), also Deshin Shegpa, Dezhin Shekpa and Dezhin Shegpa, was the fifth Gyalwa Karmapa, head of the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism.

Deshin Shekpa was born in Nyang Dam in the south of Tibet. According to the legend he said after being born: "I am the Karmapa. Om mani padme hum shri." Deshin Shekpa was taken to Tsawa Phu who recognized him as the reincarnation of the Karmapa. Deshin traveled extensively through Tibet and Mongolia and taught people about non-violence.

After having finished his education, he was invited in 1403 by the emperor, because Emperor Zhu Di, the Yongle Emperor, (1402–1424) had a vision of Avalokitesvara. He also required religious ceremonies to be held for his deceased parents.

After a long journey beginning in 1403, he arrived in Nanjing, the then capital on April 10, 1407 on an elephant, at the imperial palace, where tens of thousands of monks greeted him. He convinced the emperor that there were different Buddhist branches for different people and that does not mean that one branch is better than the other.

The Karmapa was very well received during his visit to the capital and a number of miraculous occurrences are reported. He also performed ceremonies for the emperor's family. The emperor presented him with 700 measures of silver objects and bestowed the title of 'Precious Religious King, Great Loving One of the West, Mighty Buddha of Peace'. He also gave him a material representation of the famous and ethereal 'Vajra Crown' which was said to be invisible to all except those of most pure spirit. It was woven in black brocade and studded with jewels.Aside from religious matters, Emperor Cheng Zu wished to establish an alliance with the Karmapa similar to the one the Yuan (1277-1367 CE) emperors had established with the Sakyapa. The Ming emperor apparently offered to send regular armies to unify Tibet under the Karmapa but Deshin Shekpa declined this rather un-Buddhist offer.Deshin left Nanjing on 17 May 1408 CE. In 1410 he returned to Tsurphu where he had his monastery rebuilt which had been severely damaged by an earthquake.

Diamond Way Buddhism

Diamond Way Buddhism (Diamond Way Buddhism - Karma Kagyu Lineage) is a lay organization within the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. The first Diamond Way Buddhist centre was founded in 1972 by Hannah and Ole Nydahl. It is led by Ole Nydahl under the spiritual guidance of Trinley Thaye Dorje, one of two claimants to the title of the 17th Karmapa (See Karmapa Controversy). There are approximately 650 Diamond Way Buddhist centres worldwide.

Düsum Khyenpa, 1st Karmapa Lama

Düsum Khyenpa (Tibetan: དུས་གསུམ་མཁྱེན་པ་, Wylie: dus gsum mkhyen pa, 1110–1193) was the 1st Gyalwa Karmapa, head of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Düsum Khyenpa means "knower of the three times" (past, present and future). It was given to him to refer to knowledge of the three forms of time he gained at enlightenment including the "timeless time" of enlightened awareness.

Karma Gon Monastery

Karma Gon Monastery, (Tibetan: ཀརྨ་དགོན་པ, Wylie: karma dgon pa, THL: karma gönpa ; Chinese: 噶玛寺; pinyin: gámă sì) the original monastery of the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, was founded in the 12th century by Düsum Khyenpa, the 1st Karmapa Lama in eastern Tibet at the age of 76.

Karma Gon (karma dgon, also Karma Dansa, karma gdan sa; Chinese, Gama Si), is located on the eastern bank of the Dzachu River in Chamdo, eastern Tibet. Karma Dansa was the cradle of the karma kagyupas. When established the Karmapa had gathered 1000 monks around him here. Karma Gon was named as Karma Dansa as an administrative unit and the Chinese Ming Court enlarged the monastery’s jurisdiction by adding the Mekong’s middle and upper reaches. It was then also called Gama Dansa Si in Chinese.Other sources, claim it was founded in 1184 by Chödzin Gemphel(chos ‘dzin dge ‘phel), the late 1st Karmapa Düsum Khyenpa (dus gsum mkhyen pa).

Karma Kagyu

Karma Kagyu (Tibetan: ཀརྨ་བཀའ་བརྒྱུད, Wylie: karma bka'-brgyud), or Kamtsang Kagyu (Tibetan: ཀརྨ་ཀཾ་ཚང་, Wylie: kar+ma kaM tshang), is a widely practiced and probably the second-largest lineage within the Kagyu school, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. The lineage has long-standing monasteries in Tibet, China, Russia, Mongolia, India, Nepal and Bhutan, with current centres in over 60 countries. The spiritual head of the Karma Kagyu is the Gyalwa Karmapa; the 2nd through 10th Karmapas were principal spiritual advisors to successive emperors of China. The Karma Kagyu are sometimes called the "Black Hat" lamas, in reference to the Black Crown worn by the Karmapa.

The Kagyu lineage claims a continuity of oral instructions transmitted from master to disciple. This emphasis is reflected in the literal meaning of Kagyu. The first syllable, ka, is said to refer to the texts of Buddha’s teachings and to the master’s verbal instructions. Ka has the double meaning of the enlightened meaning imparted by a teacher’s words, as well as the strength that such words of insight may bear. The second syllable, gyu, means lineage or tradition. The combination of these syllables thus means “the line of orally transmitted instructions.” The elders in the Kagyu lineage, representing the theoretically uninterrupted line of masters and disciples reaching back to Buddha (Vajradhara), are jointly known as the “Golden Rosary.”.

Karmapa controversy

The recognition of the Seventeenth Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, has been the subject of controversy. Since the death of the sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, in 1981, two candidates have been put forward: Ogyen Trinley Dorje (also spelled Urgyen Trinley Dorje, born 1985) and Trinley Thaye Dorje (born 1983). Both have already been enthroned as 17th Karmapa, and both independently have been performing ceremonial duties in the role of a Karmapa. As one academic expert in the field testified in court, while the recognition of Ogyen Trinley "appears to have been accepted by a majority of Karma Kagyu monasteries and lamas, there remains a substantial minority of monasteries and lamas who have not accepted Ogyen Trinley as Karmapa. In particular, these include the Shamar Rinpoche, who historically has been the person most directly involved in the process of recognition." It is difficult to produce an objective description of the events because the most important developments are known only from conflicting accounts by those involved.

The Karmapa lineage is the most ancient tulku lineage in Tibetan Buddhism, predating the Dalai Lama lineage by more than two centuries. The lineage is an important one as the Karmapa is traditionally the head of the Karma Kagyu school.

In October 2018, after many years of discussion, both Karmapa claimants finally met in a rural location in France and issued a joint statement, urging their followers to join in efforts to help preserve the Karma Kagyu tradition.

Mikyö Dorje, 8th Karmapa Lama

Mikyö Dorje (Wylie: mi bskyod rdo rje, 1507–1554) was the eighth Karmapa, head of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Ogyen Trinley Dorje

Ogyen Trinley Dorje (Tibetan: ཨོ་རྒྱན་འཕྲིན་ལས་རྡོ་རྗེ།, Wylie: O-rgyan 'Phrin-las Rdo-rje, Chinese: 鄔金欽列多傑; born 26 June 1985), also written Urgyen Trinley Dorje (Wylie: U-rgyan 'Phrin-las Rdo-rje; is a claimant to the title of 17th Karmapa Lama.

The Karmapa is head of the Karma Kagyu school, one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Ole Nydahl

Ole Nydahl (born March 19, 1941), also known as Lama Ole, is a Danish Lama in the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. Since the early 1970s, Nydahl has toured the world giving lectures and meditation courses. With his wife, Hannah Nydahl (1946-2007), he founded Diamond Way Buddhism, a worldwide Karma Kagyu Buddhist organization of lay practitioners.

Nydahl is the author of ten books in English, including The Way Things Are, Entering the Diamond Way, Buddha and Love and Fearless Death.

Rangjung Dorje, 3rd Karmapa Lama

Rangjung Dorje (Wylie: rang 'byung rdo rje) (1284–1339) was the third Karmapa (head of the Karma Kagyu, the largest sub-school of the Kagyu) and an important figure in the history of Tibetan Buddhism, who helped to spread Buddha-nature teachings in Tibetan Buddhism.

Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, 16th Karmapa

The sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (August 14, 1924 – November 5, 1981) (Wylie Rang 'byung rig pa'i rdo rje) was spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He was born in Denkhok in the Dergé district of Kham (Eastern Tibet), near the Dri Chu or Yangtze River.

Rumtek Monastery

Rumtek Monastery (Tibetan: རུམ་ཐེག་དགོན་པ་, Wylie: rum theg dgon pa), also called the Dharmachakra Centre, is a gompa located in the Indian state of Sikkim near the capital Gangtok. It is a focal point for the sectarian tensions within the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism that characterize the Karmapa controversy.


The Shamarpa (Tibetan: ཞྭ་དམར་པ་, Wylie: zhwa dmar pa; literally, "Person (i.e. Holder) of the Red Crown"), also known as Shamar Rinpoche, or more formally Künzig Shamar Rinpoche, is a lineage holder of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and is regarded to be the mind manifestation of Amitābha. He is traditionally associated with Yangpachen Monastery near Lhasa.

The first Shamarpa, Drakpa Senggé (Wylie: grags pa seng+ge, 1283–1349), was the principal disciple of Rangjung Dorje, 3rd Karmapa Lama. Rangjung Dorje gave this disciple a ruby-red crown and the title "Shamarpa", establishing the second line of reincarnate lamas in Tibetan Buddhism, the Karmapa being the first.

The Shamarpa is often referred to as the "Red Hat Karmapa", especially in early Kagyu texts.

The 5th Dalai Lama saw the Shamarpa as equal to the Karmapa: Since Je Chen-nga Thamchad Khyenpa Chokyi Dragpa (the Fourth Shamarpa) ascended the throne of the Phagdrupa dynasty, there was no longer any difference between the Red Hat and the Black Hat Karmapas. This was the reason why I afforded them both equal status."

Tenga Rinpoche

Tenga Rinpoche (1932–2012) was a Tibetan teacher (lama) in the Karma Kagyu tradition.Born in Kham in 1932, Tenga Rinpoche was recognized as a reincarnation of Lama Samten at the age of seven.As he grew older, he studied at Benchen Monastery and was eventually given the name Karma Tenzin Thinle Namgyal from Situ Rinpoche. Soon after, he was given ordination by Situ Rinpoche and entered a three-year retreat.He was an expert in mandala painting and sculpture.In 1959, Tenga Rinpoche left Benchen for Lhasa. After the 14th Dalai Lama left Tibet in relation with the 1959 Tibetan uprising, he escaped with Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and the brother of Dilgo Khyentse, the 9th Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche. He then eventually traveled to northern India. In India, he settled at Rumtek Monastery, the main seat of the 16th Karmapa. Tenga Rinpoche served the 16th Karmapa for seventeen years, nine of those years in the position of Dorje Lopön.In 1976 Tenga Rinpoche settled in Swayambhunath, Nepal, where he founded a second Benchen Monastery and a retreat center in Pharping.In 1986, Tenga Rinpoche established the new Benchen Monastery in Kathmandu.He visited France regularly, giving teachings at Kagyu-Dzong in Paris and Vajradhara-Ling in Normandy. On September 21, 2003, he laid the cornerstone of the Temple for Peace in Normandy.On 30 March 2012, at 3:24 in the morning Nepali time, Tenga Rinpoche died.Nyima Döndrup, the yangsi (reincarnation) of the previous Tenga Rinpoche was born December 14, 2014 in Nepal. He was discovered in 2017 following the indications of the 17th Karmapa who met him on March 21, 2017 in Bodhgaya for a ceremony at Tergar Monastery.

Trinley Thaye Dorje

Trinley Thaye Dorje (Tibetan: ཕྲིན་ལས་མཐའ་ཡས་རྡོ་རྗེ་, Wylie: Phrin-las Mtha'-yas Rdo-rje) (born 6 May 1983 in Lhasa) is a claimant to the title of 17th Karmapa.

The Karmapa is head of the Karma Kagyu school, one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Ogyen Trinley Dorje and Thaye Dorje are the persisting claimants to that office and title.

Tsurphu Monastery

Tsurphu Monastery (Tibetan: མཚུར་ཕུ་དགོན་པ or Tölung Tsurphu (Tibetan: སྟོད་ལུང་མཚུར་ཕུ, "Tsurphu of Tölong") is a gompa which serves as the traditional seat of the Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. It is located in Gurum in Doilungdêqên District, Tibet Autonomous Region, China, 70 kilometres (43 mi) from Lhasa.

The monastery is about 4,300 metres (14,100 ft) above sea level. It was built in the middle of the valley facing south with high mountains surrounding the complex.

Tsurphu is a 300-square-meter (3,200 sq ft) complex with walls up to 4 meters (13 ft) thick. The gompa, the traditional seat of the Karmapa lamas, is about 28 kilometres (17 mi) up the Dowo Lung Valley on the north side of the river. The original walls of the main building were up to 4 meters thick and 300 meters on each side (90,000 square meters or 970,000 square feet). The monks' residences were on the eastern side.

Wangchuk Dorje, 9th Karmapa Lama

Wangchuk Dorje (1556–1603) was the ninth Gyalwa Karmapa, head of the Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism.

Wangchuk Dorje was born in Treshod, Kham. According to legend, he said after being born: "I am Karmapa." Other sources say that soon after his birth he sat cross-legged for three days and declared he was the Karmapa.He received his education from Shamar Köncho Yenlak, the fifth Shamarpa, in a nomadic camp which traveled through Tibet but also passed through present day Mongolia and Bhutan. During his travels many monasteries were founded. Wangchuk Dorje also wrote many classic Buddhist texts, many of which are still being taught today.Biography of the 9th Karmapa

Wangchuk Dorje was not only a spiritual leader, but also a mediator in conflicts. He was invited by the king of Sikkim to settle a dispute and while there he founded three monasteries one of them being in Rumtek which is currently the most important monastery of the lineage after the Chinese occupation of Tibet. The other two are Phodong and Ralang Monastery

Wyliergyal ba karma pa
Tibetan PinyinGarmaba
Lhasa IPA[kaːmapa]
Standard Mandarin
Hanyu Pinyingámǎbā
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