25. 9th Karmapa 1555-1603
“Once again, as Lord of limitless compassion, you manifested as changeless vajra body, speech, and mind and came to this realm as its guide. Wangchug Dorje, we supplicate at your feet.”
— “Supplication to the Karmapas”
The Ninth Gyalwa Karmapa, Wangchug Dorje, resumed his commitment to help disciples who wished to attain liberation from the rounds of samsara and out of deep compassion again took on a birth. He was born in the fire-dragon year in Tagtsang in the region of Treschö, East Tibet. His father’s name was Ador and his mother’s name was Lingtselo. His personal names were Namkha Gyalpo and Kongchogwang before he received his ordination name, Pälden Mipham Chökyi Wangchug. He was heard reciting mantras while in his mother’s womb and sat cross-legged for three days soon after he was born. Like the previous Karmapas, while still a child, he announced that he was the Karmapa. In accordance with the prediction letter left by the Eighth Gyalwa Karmapa, His Eminence the Fourth Tai Situ Rinpoche, Chökyi Gocha, recognized that the 5-year-old boy was the reincarnation of his own Root Guru, the Eighth Karmapa. A year later, the boy was enthroned with the Black Vajra Crown by Kongchog Yanglag, was given all his belongings from his previous incarnation and the extensive transmissions and teachings of the sacred Kagyü Lineage.
Immediately after having received the complete Karma Kagyü Oral transmissions and instructions, Wangchug Dorje began teaching. In the life-story of the Seventh Gyalwa Karmapa in this series of essays, we saw that the Karmapas often didn’t stay in one place a long time but moved from one camp to another. These camps were known as gur-chen (“great tents”) and were equipped with all facilities. In “The Rain of Wisdom” it is written: “In this way, Buddhist teachings were spread throughout a region while the activities of a monastery were preserved.” The Ninth Gyalwa Karmapa didn’t visit China but travelled throughout Tibet, Mongolia, Nepal, and Bhutan while living in tents. He offered many teachings wherever he went and restored many monasteries and temples, specifically Drongwi Gon Nying, the Tsurphu Dukhang.
In “The Songs of Wangchug Dorje” (in “The Rain of Wisdom”), Jetsün Wangchug Dorje made supplications and offered teachings. A few verses he wrote down after having sung them to his devoted disciples that follow his introduction: “In my twenty-seventh year, when I was staying in the upper retreat at the great seat of Tsurphu, a few of my Dharma brothers and sisters said, ‘Please sing a song.’ At this place blessed by the Kagyü forefathers, the place where they visited and where they gave birth to supreme realization of practice, I became confident, thinking, ‘If I practice here, experiences and realizations will certainly arise.’ I remembered with longing the examples of the previous Kagyü forefathers, and I became unhappy at the activities of people these days, like myself, who pretend to be Dharma practitioners. I then made this aspiration, ‘Even if I am now unable to really follow the examples of the Kagyü forefathers, because I lack the good fortune equal to theirs, may I be able in the future to follow them.’ At that time, remembering the good qualities of the Guru and this place, I chanted this song of yearning supplication urging myself and others to virtue.
“Glorious Lokeshvara, Karmapa,
Lord, your vajra body, speech, and mind
Hold the treasury of the secret inexhaustible mandalas.
I pay homage at the feet of this kind father, the Lord of Dharma.
“At a lovely place where auspiciousness spontaneously arises,
On the Jewel Rock of Lofty Green Mountain,
The vast assembly of peaceful and wrathful divine yidams resides.
This is a good place to practice one-pointedly.”
After having sung praises to the sacred sites in the four cardinal directions, the Karmapa’s verse honoring the center that precedes the contemplations of his own limitations are:
“In the center is the vajrasana of supreme Akanishta,
Where Lord Düsum Khyenpa and others,
The Buddhas of the three times, dwell.
This miraculous monastery in the valley of Tsurphu
Is unrivalled in all of Jambudvipa.
Whoever sees it or makes a pilgrimage to it,
Or even remembers it just one time
Certainly clears away the evil deeds and obscurations of a whole kalpa.
“Confused and distracted, my mind is agitated.
At the Lady of Glaciers, Tsurphu, and elsewhere,
The dwelling places of the Kagyü fathers,
I long to practice one-pointedly.
Though I long for this, the power of my antidote is weak,
And I am unable to cut off attachment to this life.
I fabricate in name only the temporary benefit of others.
Day and night, I skitter about like an insect.
When I think of myself now, I become depressed.
While planning to practice the Dharma, my life slips away.
“Moreover, my actions are hypocritical.
My father Guru knows this and knows that it is harmful to me.
Those who now desire to become followers of Karmapa
Should arouse themselves because of the immediacy of death and impermanence.
They should set aside all the affairs of this life
And should make the Dharma practice their essence.
They are certain to attain the permanent goal of life. (…)
“Generally, keep as your main concern the training of bodhicitta.
Selfish goals are despised by holy ones.
With compassion for the six realms of beings, our mothers,
Meditate on the profound path of emptiness and compassion. (…)
“As for the oral instructions granted by the Lord Guru,
First, when you hear them, you should cut your doubts.
Secondly, when you contemplate them, you should put them in order.
Finally, you should meditate one-pointedly.
“When the concepts and kleshas of the mind are completely pacified,
Then the mind becomes firm and unwavering.
The egolessness of all Dharmas is supreme prajna.
Meditate in this natural state, the unity of shamata and vipashyana.
“To the father Guru, the wish-fulfilling gem,
You should fervently supplicate day and night.
Since this confused appearance of dualistic fixation
Is hazy and insubstantial, let go completely!
“On this mind which is free of past and future,
It is futile to put artificial patches.
In the insight nature of whatever arises,
Rest at ease, naturally and continuously.
“One’s mind is primordially buddha.
Since this is so, put your finger on that. (…)
“By whatever virtue is in these words,
May all my students and followers
Headed by you, my chief disciple, who made supplication,
Quickly attain the state of glorious Vajradhara.”
The Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center gives a list of his closest disciples. They were: Karma Tenpel, Tsuglag Gyatso, Karma Tenrung, Geleg Pelzang, Lhagsam Gyatso, Karma Legshe Drachang, Chökyi Wangchug, Chökyi Gyaltsen Chima, Karma Khyentse, Namgyal Tse, Namgyal Dragpa, Rinchen Sherab, Khyabdag Drubchog Wangpo, and Taranatha.
Taking a little time to pay tribute to Jetsün Taranatha, one of the most illustrious scholars and sages of Tibet – a disciple of the Ninth Karmapa: Taranatha (1575-1643) was born as a religious noble of the ancient house of Ra. Ordained with the name Kunga Nyingpo, Taranatha was a main figure of the old Jonang and new Shangpa Traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. A short account of the sacred Shangpa Tradition is available to readers in the essay “Gyalwa Yungtönpa” in the life-stories of the saints of the Kagyü Golden Rosary, whereby the following brief introduction to the Jonang School describes the outer setting during those times.
The Jonang School was founded by the Omniscient Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (1292-1361), who had meditated in his hermitage next to the area in Central Tibet where Taranatha completed the Great Stupa that Liberates on Sight (mthong-‘grol-chen-mo) while establishing Jonang Tagten Phuntsog Ling, which became a splendid monastery and center for scholarship. Even Indian masters were regular visitors and honored guests there. A summary of Gene Smith’s account: Taranatha enjoyed the patronage of the Tsangpa kings, the most dangerous rivals of the rising Gelug state, the Ganden Podrang. The followers of the Jonangpa Tradition emphasized the Shentong (“Void of Other”) outlook and differing practices of the Kalachakra Tantra. By order of the Government of the Ganden Podrang, the works of Dolpopa, Mikyö Dorje, Taranatha, and the Five Patriarchs of the Sakya were confiscated and prohibited. The banning of books and heterodox philosophical discourses is a worldwide phenomenon. They are banned on primarily two grounds: religio-philosophical and political. The proscription of the Jonang teachings is a case of the first type, although there were probably political factors involving alliances and patronage. All of the Jonang monasteries and hermitages in Central Tibet were seized and an exodus of Jonangpa masters to Khams began. Curiously enough, there was a recognition that Taranatha had been reborn in Khalkha Mongolia as the son of the Tushiyetu Khan, beginning the line of the Khalkha Jetsün Dampa Huthogthu, the temporal and spiritual ruler of Mongolia (which continued until the communist revolution came to Mongolia). In Tibet, Tagten Phuntsog Ling Monastery became a Gelugpa monastery and underwent a change of name, becoming Ganden Phuntsog Ling. It became connected with the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) and his regent Sangye Gyatso (1653-1705) and was one of these two rulers' favorite seats in Tsang. Smith added: “Many of the works of the two were carved on to blocks at this monastery.”
Before Jetsün Taranatha arrived in Urga in Khalkha Mongolia (where he then spent twenty years of his life and passed away), approximately at the age of thirty-four he wrote “Gyakar Chöjung – A History of Buddhism in India,” which is a highly esteemed source for historians. The seventeen volumes of Jetsün Taranatha’s collected works also include the text “The Stages of the Path for the Three Types of Individuals” as well as a history of Kalachakra, a concise account of Arya Tara, and an autobiography. Smith concluded “ Banned Books in the Tibetan Speaking Lands” (an abstract of his more detailed books on this subject) with the statement: “The blocks for his sungbum were completely proscribed from about 1645 until the third half of the 19th century when the charming Shalu scholar, Ribug Losal Tengkyong was successful in gaining permission to open the Tagten Puntsog Ling printery and to rearrange the blocks for printing a limited number of sets.” As it is, interested students will find songs or realization that Jetsün Taranatha imparted in “Timeless Rapture. Inspired Verse of the Shangpa Masters.”
His Holiness the Ninth Gyalwa Karmapa received an invitation to visit Sikkim and founded three monasteries there, Rumtek, Phodong, and Ralang. The historical records of these monasteries tell us that the Karmapa consecrated the monasteries while performing a blessing ceremony at Tsurphu – he threw grains that fell on the sites where these monasteries were then built. Rumtek Monastery became the international seat of the Karmapas in the 1960s.
Just like the Eighth Karmapa, the Ninth Gyalwa Karmapa was a brilliant author and wrote many commentaries on the Sutras and Tantras; they comprise about ten volumes. He is especially renowned for having composed treatises on Mahamudra. The most important are: “Mahamudra, the Ocean of Certainty,” “Mahamudra, Eliminating the Darkness of Ignorance,” and “Pointing out the Dharmakaya.” The first is the longest, the second is middle-length, and the latter is a shorter text of the series. These invaluable treatises are central for the transmission of Mahamudra in Tibet. In the link “Buddhist Philosophy Texts” of this website, the following treatise by the Ninth Karmapa is available as a download to students: “ Chagchen Nyedön Jamtso – Mahamudra, the Ocean of Certainty(Lhan-chig-skyes-sbyor-gyi-zab-khrid-nges-dön-rgya-mtsho'i-snying-po-phrin-la-'öd-'phro).” Sadhanas composed by the Ninth Karmapa are also available to practitioners in the section “Puja Texts Collection” of this website: “Tara Puja from Chigshey Kundrol"; “Dzambhala Puja from Chigshey Kundrol"; and “Chigshey Kundrol.“
A few moving words of advice from “The Songs of Wangchug Dorje” in “The Rain of Wisdom” are:
The infallible objects of virtue, the three jewels
Are inseparable from the kind Lord of Dharma.
I supplicate at the feet of the glorious Guru.
Please grant your blessings at all times.
“I, a lazy one, who wanders aimlessly through countries,
In order to benefit my mind a little bit,
Babble forth whatever occurs in my mind,
Wishing that this may be a symphony to urge myself and others to virtue.
“This human body, free and well-favored, is difficult to gain again and again.
This life is impermanent and is certain to come rapidly to an end.
One’s future birth depends on the karma of this life.
If I wander in samsara without being liberated, what can I do?
“Gain and esteem in this life are like a flash of lightning in the sky.
Whatever virtue I accumulate is provision for the next life.
Not committing the merest speck of nonvirtue,
Now the time has come to realize the permanent goal. (…)
“These days, though many boast of being good Dharma practitioners,
They have difficulty knowing their own faults.
Therefore, look up to the examples of the Kagyü forefathers,
And practice accordingly.
“Meditate on the glorious Guru as dwelling inseparably on the top of your head.
Think of his kindness and supplicate him again and again.
If you perfect your devotion, mixing your mind with his,
By this alone, you will accomplish your goal.
“My dry understanding has arisen in this way.
To the ears of my Lord Guru and my Dharma brothers and sisters,
I offer this song of whatever arises in my mind.
On account of our affection, rejoice!”
The Ninth Gyalwa Karmapa, Jetsün Wangchug Dorje, wrote a prediction letter that described where he would take birth again before he entered Parinirvana at the age of 48.
Kagyu Office of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, “The Golden Rosary” (2008).
“The Rain of Wisdom. The Vajra Songs of the Kagyü Gurus,” transl. under the direction of Chögyam Trungpa by the Nalanda Translation Com., Boston & London, 1980 , pages 27-33 & 313.
“Timeless Rapture. Inspired Verse of the Shangpa Masters,” compiled by Jamgon Kongtrul, transl. & intr. by Ngawang Zangpo, Tsadra Foundation, N.Y. & Co., 2003, see pages 144-167.
Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center , “Biographical Data: The Karmapas,” N.Y. (2008).
E. Gene Smith, “Banned Books in the Tibetan Speaking Lands – An Abstract” (2008), pages 187-196.
“Though you’re not able to carry loads weighty or burdensome,
at least feel concerned toward the decline of Buddhism!”
— the Omniscient Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen
(With sincerest gratitude to Khenpo Karma Namgyal for his noble activities, compiled & written for English-speaking students & visitors of Karma Lekshey Ling Institute, near the Great Stupa of Swayambunath in Nepal, by Gaby Hollmann, responsible for all inadequacies, Munich, 2008; copyright.)