Thinley Thaye Dorje

The 17th Gyalwa Karmapa
(1983 -)

Spiritual Leader of the
Karma Kagyu Lineage

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Our New Karmapa, Thaye Dorje
"By seeing, hearing, touching him or thinking of him they will be led to happiness."
-- Buddha Sakyamuni: Samadhi Raja Sutra

After the Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, passed away in a suburb of Chicago in 1981, people who knew him and knew his reputation expected to learn soon about the identity of the new Karmapa incarnation, who would be trained to take over the Karmapa's responsibilities as the spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.

Since the Twelfth Century, when the first Karmapa, Tüsum Khyenpa, wrote a letter stating where his next incarnation would be found after his death, the Karmapas have always recognized themselves. The Karmapa was the first of the tulkus -- the completely awakened Tibetan Buddhist teachers who return again and again to work with their students. 

Thaye Dorje recognized himself in a very direct way. As a very young child, about three years old, he was telling everyone, "I am the Karmapa." Over the years he manifested many other remarkable qualities. For example, once as a young boy he was reading an ancient Buddhist text about the logic of emptiness. After reading the first section through once, he knew it by heart -- he just recited the whole text by heart to the people present.

At the age of 11, after the he and his family had fled from Tibet, he was officially recognized as the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa by the 14th Kunzig Shamarpa, the second highest Lama in the Karma Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Traditionally, it is the Sharmapa's responsibility to recognize the new Karmapa and to make sure that he is trained appropriately. Thaye Dorje's training emphasizes philosophy and meditation, and for the first time a Karmapa is learning Western languages, preparing to teach directly in English, French and other languages without a translator.

People who were devoted to the 16th Karmapa are delighted to meet his successor. In an interview, Lama Ole Nydahl, who worked closely with the 16th Karmapa for many years, spoke of going to see Thaye Dorje: "He filled the entire room with intense blessing and we felt as if we had never been separated from him."

Although his training will continue for years, when he was 17 years of age Karmapa Thaye Dorje began to travel and teach. In late 1999 and early 2000 he visited Karma Kagyu centers in several South East Asian countries, and then traveled to Europe. In Düsseldorf, Germany, for example, he performed empowerments for several thousand people, who had come from several dozen countries. After being welcomed with a standing ovation, Karmapa, who was clearly touched, smiled. Then Lama Ole introduced the audience to him: "These are all your students."

Although he clearly values the opportunity to work with people and help them connect more deeply to the dharma, and to their own minds, being treated like a god doesn't help that process, and although he puts up with it, he doesn't really appreciate it. In an interview after his visit to Southeast Asia he made the following comments:

"It is totally wrong to see a Lama like some kind of supramundane being. A Lama is someone who shows the path to enlightenment, and that's it. He's simply a teacher. It is similar with the Three Jewels: you can rely on the Buddha and the Sangha because they've been through this samsara, know what it is and how to overcome all this suffering; the Dharma is the path for this aim. This kind of special treatment that you mentioned, I really don't expect it and I don't want it; it is not important for me. All I want is to help people to find real happiness. And here I'm not just talking about happiness in this samsaric world. What I mean is the real happiness that is achieved in the state of liberation. I myself go through my spiritual practices in order to become able to guide others on this path. It is for this sake that I am getting the teachings from all the high lamas, the teachers, and professors."

It's hard to do a standing ovation over the Internet, but we can make Karmapa smile just by studying and practicing the dharma, and by being kind to one another. What a delightful world!

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Web Resources 
Related Pages from Dharma Haven

The 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje

Karmapa's Gift: Meditations for Western Students

Answers to Questions About the New Karmapa

Karmapa and the Vajra Crown

Chenrezig: Embodiment of Compassion

Index of Dharma Haven's Tibetan Pages

Karmapa -- The Black Hat Lama of Tibet

Recognition of the 17th Karmapa, Thaye Dorje

Ole Nydhal on Meeting the New Karmapa

The 17th Karmapa in the West

Interview with Karmapa Thaye Dorje

The 17th Galwa Karmapa -- Images

The Karmapa Controversy -- Students of Thaye Dorje

Karmapa Symposium: A Balanced View of the Current Situation

Diamond Way Buddhism

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Revised on March 11, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Dharma Haven
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