Rangjung Rigpe Dorje

The 16th Gyalwa Karmapa
(1924 - 1981)

Spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu lineage, Karmapa fostered the transmission of Tibetan Buddhism to the West.

larger image


Karmapa's GiftDharma Haven

The Karmapas of Tibet
About 2500 years ago, Sakyamuni Buddha discovered that it is possible for human beings to free themselves from suffering. Each of us has, as our fundamental birthright, an intrinsic nature which is no different than the nature of a fully enlightened buddha.

Realizing one's clear, compassionate mind, not just in the sense of intellectual belief, but as a living reality -- making our relaxed awake mind the mind we normally use in all our activities -- has very remarkable benefits. Buddhas -- people who are awake -- can heal illness, understand what is really going on in a situation, know how to truly help someone, and so on. 

One of the wonderful qualities of a buddha is the ability to choose a rebirth. Having freed themselves from the chains of karma, buddhas don't have to be reborn at all -- but out of great compassion for those of us who are still suffering, they chose lives that will let them continue to help others.

In Tibet, one of these awakened individuals developed a new way of carrying on his work of teaching and helping people. In the Twelfth Century, the first Karmapa, Tüsum Khyenpa, wrote a letter stating where his next incarnation would be found after his death. His successor was found according to these instructions and trained to take over the Karmapa's responsibilities. He was the first tulku -- the completely awakened Tibetan Buddhist teachers who return again and again to work with their students. Since that time the Karmapas have predicted the details of their own rebirths, and as the spiritual leaders of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, they also give instructions for finding the new incarnations of many other teachers.

The 16th Karmapa is no longer with us, but the new Karmapa, Thaye Dorje, has been recognized, and is beginning to teach.

The 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Thaye Dorje
The 17th Gyalwa Karmapa
Thinley Thaye Dorje
"By seeing, hearing, touching him or thinking of him they will be led to happiness."
-- Buddha Sakyamuni: Samadhi Raja Sutra

Many people believe that the Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of all the Tibetan people, but that is untrue. Tibetans in the Kagyu tradition are devoted to the Karmapa as their spiritual leader, just as people in the Gelugpa tradition are devoted to the Dalai Lama. (The other ancient traditions of Tibetan Buddhism also have their own leaders.)

Another similarity between the Karmapa and the Dalai Lama is that both are considered to be embodiments of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Chenrezig. So one can learn more about the Karmapa, or about the Dalai Lama, by learning about Chenrezig.

Chenrezig is said to be the awakened nature of each being's own mind, the love and compassion primordially present in pure transcendent awareness. Love and compassion are not qualities added to the mind by meditation practice -- they are inherent in our true nature, which can be revealed by meditation practice. 

To learn more about Chenrezig, take a look at our page titled

Chenrezig: The Embodiment of Compassion

It is said that Chenrezig manifests in whatever forms are necessary to accommodate the mental capacities, circumstances, and aptitudes of sentient beings. Certainly it is very helpful for us to have an actual living person as a teacher. One can learn more about how Chenrezig works with human beings -- and birds -- by learning more about the Karmapa. 

The Karmapa always acts to benefit people in countless ways, and whenever possible he gives them a way to learn about and practice the Dharma. Knowing that difficulties arising in Tibet would make real Buddhist study and practice very difficult there, His Holiness the 16th Karmapa decided to leave, and helped many  lamas and other Tibetans to escape to India and other areas south of Tibet. Later he asked high Kagyu lamas, like Trungpa Rinpoche and Kalu Rinpoche, to go to Western countries to make the Dharma available to people there. He also asked his first Western students, Ole and Hannah Nydahl, to begin starting Karma Kagyu buddhist centers.

That was over thirty years ago. It's no longer necessary to go to Nepal to receive authentic Tibetan Buddhist training. Trungpa Rinpoche's son, the Sawang Mipham Rinpoche, now heads over a hundred Shambhala Centers, and nearly 300 Diamond Way Centers are guided by Lama Ole Nydahl. Both these groups study and practice in the native languages of the participants, as much as possible. For example, the main group practice at the Diamond Way centers, The Guru Yoga of the 16th Karmapa, has so far been translated into almost 19 languages. 

Other Kagyu centers in the West offer a style of teaching and practice that is closer to the traditional Tibetan style. 

Specificaly, this particular Web page, and the Dharma Haven Web site altogether, would not exist at all had it not been for the generosity of the Karmapa and the Kagyu lamas. 

In the next section, Karmapa's Compassionate Blessings, we focus on several different expressions of his powerful wishes for our well being.

top of page

Karmapa's Compassionate Blessings
meditationsblack crowndream flagmantra
Meditations for Western Students

The Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, was known as a living embodiment of boundless compassion. After he left Tibet, he gave his Western students several simple but powerful meditation practices that let us connect to his enlightened awareness. 

Karmapa's Gift: Meditations for Western Students

Karmapa asked his a students to make this meditation widely available to people in Western lands. Respecting that wish, hundreds of centers now offer Karmapa's teachings and meditation practices.

Karmapa's Black Hat

In the Vajra Crown Ceremony His Holiness puts on the Black Crown and enters into a meditative state in which his mind is merged with the mind of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. It is said that whoever sees the Karmapa wearing this Black Crown, even in an image like the one here, will receive his blessing and eventually attain liberation.

The 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Thaye Dorje
Karmapa 16 with Black Crown
"One's innate nature, uncorrupted by conceptual mind, is the body of the guru, the play of self-existing space." 

Showing the Vajra Crown

Karmapa's Mantra
Here on the right, and on the background of this page, is Karmapa Chenno in Tibetan script. Most mantras came from India and are said in Sanskrit, but this one is said in Tibetan. 
Karmapa Chenno

The mantra is translated as "Power of all the Buddhas, work through us, become one with us." Repeating this mantra at any time brings us closer to Karmapa's awakened mind.

Karmapa's Dream Flag

The 16th Karmapa saw this flag in a dream, and announced "Wherever this banner is flown, the Dharma will expand." Historically, the Karmapas' predictions have been correct.

He called it "Victorious Flag of the Buddha's Wisdom."

More about the Dream Flag

Making the First Dream Flag

Namchen Banner -- "Dream Flag" now available from 

Deborah Luscomb Brocades

40" x 70" Nylon, sewn -- $125

"deborah luscomb" <brocade@hfx.eastlink.ca>


Vajradhatu Department of Publishing and Archives

Large nylon (40"x72"), sewn, with grommets  $115 +shipping.
Small silkscreened, nylon, (10"x18")   $20 + shipping.

shop@shambhala.org or call 902 421-1550

top of page -- more about Karmapa

books, videosweb sites

Web Resources
Related Pages from Dharma Haven

Karmapa's Gift: Meditations for Western Students

Karmapa and the Vajra Crown

The 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, Thinley Thaye Dorje

Answers to Questions About the New karmapa

Chenrezig: Embodiment of Compassion

Index of Dharma Haven's Tibetan Pages

The 16th Karmapa's "Song of Mahamudra"

The Karma Kagyu Lineage

Karmapa -- The Black Hat Lama of Tibet

The 16th Gyalwa Karmapa -- Images

The 17th Galwa Karmapa -- Images

Ideas of the 16th Karmapa about Dharma in the West

No Need for Too Much Tradition -- Shamar Rinpoche

Diamond Way Buddhism

Aspirations for Mahamudra

Books and Videos

The Lion's Roar (Video)

Documents the extraordinary life, teachings and death of His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, supreme head of the Kagyu tradition.

The Life of Milarepa
Lobsang P. Lhalungpa (Translator)

Tibet's great yogi, one of the founders of the Kagyu tradition. For centuries, one of the most popular books among Tibetans of all backgrounds and lineages

The Life of Gampopa: The Incomparable 
Dharma Lord of Tibet
Jampa MacKenzie Stewarth

The life of Milarepa's student Gampopa, the extraordinary details of his meditative experiences, and direct insights into the practice and realization of Mahamudra.

Illusionís Game: The Life and Teaching of Naropa
Chögyam Trungpa

The story of the Indian master Naropa, one of the first enlightened teachers of the Kagyu lineage, as he ascends the various levels of spiritual development to meet his teacher's mind.

Cloudless Sky: The Mahamudra Path of the Tibetan Buddhist Kagyu School

Jamgon Kongtrul

The Great Kagyu Masters: 
The Golden Lineage Treasury
Translated by Khenpo Könchog Gyaltsen

A recent work highlighting the contributions of the enlightened masters who passed the Vajra Dharma from generation to generation, down to the time of Gampopa: Vajradhara, The Buddha, Tilopa, Naropa, The Four Great Dharma Kings of Tibet, Marpa, Jetsun Milarepa, Atisha, Gampopa, and others. 

The Rain of Wisdom: The Essence of the Ocean of True Meaning ..., the Vajra Songs of the Kagyu Gurus
Chögyam Trungpa and the Nalanda Translation Committee
Over a hundred spontaneous songs by  the great masters of the Practice Lineage, expressing their spiritual understanding and devotion to their teachers. Includes songs by several of the Karmapas, including Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa."

 For books on the centrality of compassion in Tibetan Buddhism, on Chenrezig and on the Bodhisattva Path, please look at the "Books" section of our page Chenrezig: The Embodiment of Compassion.

top of page

Dream Flag

Your Comments and Suggestions

Contacting Dharma Haven

Revised on May 25,2002
Copyright © 2001 Dharma Haven
top of page