Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Karmapa is the title given to the head of the Karma Kagyu, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Karmapa is variously translated from Sanskrit as "the action of all Buddhas" or "the one who fulfills the manifestation of all buddha activity."
The Karmapa is sometimes said to head the most deeply meditative of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism, and in some respects to occupy a position senior to that of The Dalai Lama, head of the Gelukpa school.
The 1st Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa (1110-1193), was a heart son of the great Tibetan master Gampopa. A gifted child who studied dharma (Buddhist teachings) with his father from an early age, and who sought out great teachers in his twenties and thirties, he would attain enlightenment at the age of 50 while practicing dream yoga. He was henceforth regarded as the Karmapa, a manifestation of Avalokitesvara, whose coming was predicted in the Samadhirajasutra and the Lankavatara sutra .
The source of oral lineage is traditionally traced back to the Buddha Vajradhara , was transmitted to the Indian master of mahamudra and tantra Tilopa (989-1069), through Naropa (1016-1100) to Marpa and Milarepa. These forefathers of the Kagyu lineage are collectively called the golden rosary.
The 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1204-1283), was the first person ever recognized and empowered as a tulku, a reincarnated lama, and thus the Kagyu were the first sect to introduce this important aspect of Tibetan Buddhism. The Karmapa lineage differs from other most other tulku lineages, however, in that the Karmapas are self-recognizing. This means the new tulku is chosen not based on the perception of other lamas, but rather on the basis of a special prediction letter left by the previous incarnation detailing the circumstances of the next rebirth.
The Black Crown
The Karmapas are the holders of the Black Crown (Tib. 'shwa-nag') and are thus sometimes known as the Black Hat lamas. This crown, rangjung chopen (the self-luminous crown), was woven by the dakinis from their hair and given to Karmapa in recognition of his realization. It is said that the sole sight of this crown can awaken deepest mind potential and even bring enlightenment. The physical crown displayed by the Karmapas was offered to the 5th Karmapa by the Chinese Yongle Emperor as a material representation of the spiritual one.
List of previous Karmapas
- Düsum Khyenpa (1110 - 1193)
- Karma Pakshi (1204 - 1283)
- Rangjung Dorje (1284 - 1339)
- Rolpe Dorje (1340 - 1383)
- Deshin Shekpa (1384 - 1415)
- Thongwa Dönden (1416 - 1453)
- Chödrak Gyatso (1454 - 1506)
- Mikyö Dorje (1507 - 1554)
- Wangchuk Dorje (1556 - 1603)
- Chöying Dorje (1604 - 1674)
- Yeshe Dorje (1676 - 1702)
- Changchub Dorje (1703 - 1732)
- Dudul Dorje (1733 - 1797)
- Thekchok Dorje (1798 - 1868)
- Khakyab Dorje (1871 - 1922)
- Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924 - 1981)
Controversy over the current Karmapa
Due to a controversy within the Karma Kagyu school over the recognition process, the identity of the current 17th Karmapa is disputed. See Karmapa controversy for details.
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.
- Karmapa lineage history on kagyuoffice.org, the website of Urgyen Trinley Dorje
- Karmapa lineage history on karmapa.org, the website of Thaye Dorje
- Information on past and present Karmapas from khandro.net, a website supporting Urgyen Trinley Dorje
- Karma Triyana Dharmacakra, the website of the North American headquarters of Urgyen Trinley Dorje
- Kagyu centers in Southeast Asia, a website supporting Thaye Dorje
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