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Rangjung Rigpe Dorje - Sixteenth Karmapa

Sixteenth Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje was born in Denkhong village in Kham, in Dege area, near to river Yangtze. He was born on the day of full moon in six month of the year of Wooden Rat (1924). Family of Rangjung Rigpe Dorje belonged to aristocratic kin of Athub. His father’s name was Tsewang Norbu and mother’s name Kalzang Choden. Birth of a great Bodhisattva in family of Athub was already predicted by lama Chokyi Dorje, abbot of a well-known Dzogchen monastery of Nyingma lineage. Following the advice of this lama, Kalzang Choden gave birth to her son in a cave of Guru Rinpoche, called “Lion’s Heavenly Castle”.

Shortly before his birth the boy suddenly disappeared from the womb of his mother for all day, but in evening returned there. In the night of his birth many wonders took place, air was filled by blessings that felt all people of that area.

Soon after the birth of the child, Situ Pema Wangchuk Gyalpo did open the letter with predictions of Fifteenth Karmapa and found there a detailed description of a house in which parents of Rangjung Rigpe Dorje were living. Situpa immediately sent a search group and soon the boy was officially recognized as Sixteenth Karmapa.

At age of seven Rangjung Rigpe Dorje took vows of a novice in Palpung monastery from Situ Rinpoche and Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche. A year later the Black Crown and traditional robes of Karmapa were sent to him in Kham from Tsurphu. After this, Situ Rinpoche invited him to visit Palpung.

While they were on the way to monastery, in their way arrived prince of Dege area Tsewang Dudul and approached Karmapa with a request to come to his palace Dege Lhundrub Teng. His castle, built by Thangtong Gyalpo, a great yogi of Nyingma school in 15th century, was located not far from Dege Gonchen, where the main monastery of Sakya Ngorpa transmission lineage was located. Visiting the monastery, Karmapa went into its typography and blessed the huge printing press.

After some while, procession moved on – to Palpung, where Karmapa was received with great reverence. Four days later Karmapa was officially enthroned. Ceremony, which was held in the main hall of the monastery, was conducted by Situ Rinpoche.

Some while later, young Rangjung Rigpe Dorje and Situpa, accompanied by travel camp of almost thousand monks, called “Garchen”, departed to Tsurphu. In their way His Holiness performed ceremony of Black Crown, for the first time in his lifetime. This auspicious event took place in Nangchen, in a monastery called “Gyina Gompa”. After the ceremony camp stayed for a while in Nyenchen Thangla – area that symbolically belonged to Karma Kagyu tradition. Soon Karmapa arrived in Tsurphu and was warmly greeted by Palpung Kongtrul Rinpoche, Pawo Rinpoche and Gyaltsab Rinpoche.

Soon after that Rangjung Rigpe Dorje paid a visit to Thirteenth Dalai-lama and, for a sign of respect towards this great monarch, went through the ceremony of “cutting hairs” under his guidance. During this old ritual, Dalai-lama Thubten Gyamtso noticed the Black Crown woven from the hair of a hundred thousand dakinis above his head. When His Holiness returned to his main residency, the second ceremony “Golden Throne” in Karma Kagyu history took place, organized by Situpa and Drugchen Rinpoche, Mipham Chokyi Wangpo, the head of Drukpa Kagyu tradition.

The next four years Rangjung Rigpe Dorje was learning from Beru Khyentse Rinpoche and Bo Kangkar Mahapandita, the last great scholar of transmission lineage Kamtsang at the time. Lama Kangkar Rinpoche did remember all Tripitaka texts from memory and among his students were Dezhung Rinpoche (a great scholar of Sakya tradition) and the famous translator Garma Chang. To his teacher Kangkar Rinpoche Karmapa was telling stories from his previous lives.

In 1937, the young Rangjung Dorje Rigpe and his entourage went to Dege, in Kham. Situ Rinpoche was living there. On the way Rigpe Dorje received an invitation to visit the castle of prince of Nangchen and Tsechu-gompa – the monastery of Drukpa Kagyu under prince’s protection. Except of that, Karmapa also visited Kaicha-gompa. So called female monastery of Drukpa tradition in Nangchen was the largest in Tibet with 900 nuns.

During his travel to Kham many very auspicious events took place, showing the power of blessing that was spreading from energy-field of Karmapa.

In area of Drong Tub is a small lake and people say that on its surface Rangjung Rigpe Dorje has left imprints of his feet. These traces can be seen to this day, even in winter, when the lake freezes. In monastery Riva Parma His Holiness held festive rituals dedicated to formidable manifestation of Guru Rinpoche and in the midst of the celebration flames burst out from the cakes.

Several months later Karmapa paid his respects to the last great tertön, yogi Chokgyur Lingpa, visiting monastery where he was living in XIX century. Monastery’s abbot Samten Gyamtso turned to Karmapa with request to perform special rituals of protection against the drought that swept across the land. Rangjung Rigpe Dorje agreed. He asked to bring water and prepare him a bath. While he was washing himself, the rain started and right under his bath a stream was formed.

When Karmapa finally arrived in Palpung, Situ Rinpoche gave him a warm welcome. Then Rinpoche gave teachings to His Holiness, introducing him with the profound meaning of treatises of Kongtrül Lodrö Thaye, the collection “Kagyu Ngagdzo ”that contain the highest tantric teachings brought by Marpa-translator, and “Dam Ngagdzo” that contains classical works by authors from eight most significant traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. During a stroll in monastery’s territory, Palpung, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje and Situ Rinpoche left imprints of their feet on the pathway paved with stone. Then, Karmapa rode through the gates on a horse and left behind deep imprints of hooves of his horse and paws of his dog.

After a short meditational retreat, His Holiness received an invitation from General Chan Kaishi to go to China. Karmapa declined this invitation but chose to send there Beru Khyentse Rinpoche as his representative.

In Dzongsar monastery, the residence of Khyentse Chokyi Lodrö, a great scholar from Rime movement, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje again performed a ceremony of Black Crown. Khyentse Rinpoche saw the energetic Crown hovering in the air at a height of about half a meter above Karmapa’s head. Additionally it appeared to him that Karmapa himself has assumed a form of Düsum Khyenpa. On his return to Palpung His Holiness received initiations, text transmissions and oral instructions to collection of sadhanas (spiritual practices) of Sakya tradition.

In 1940 Karmapa departed in the way back to Tsurphu. In the way cortege visited also Benchen monastery. There an extraordinary event took place: bronze statue of a horse under protector Shing Kyong suddenly started to neigh. After eleven months of travelling Rangjung Rigpe Dorje and his party arrived in Tsurphu. Next three years, while new buildings were built in monastery, His Holiness spent in solitary retreat. In 1944 he went on a pilgrimage - first at Samye, and then Lhodrag, homeland of translator Marpa. The same year Rangjung Rigpe Dorje received an invitation from Jigme Wangchuk – the second King of Bhutan – to pay an official visit to his country.

On the next year aged Situ Rinpoche arrived in Tsurphu to give additional initiations to his spiritual son. Twenty-two years old Rangjung Rigpe Dorje accepted a full set of monastic vows from Situpa. Except of that, his teacher gave to Karmapa teachings on “Gyachen Kadzo”- complete works of Kongtrül Lodrö Thaye – and “Chikshe-kundrol”. His Holiness received from Urgyen Rinpoche all initiations and text transmissions of teaching of tertön Chokgyur Lingpa.

In fourth month of the year of Fire Pig (1947) Karmapa departed to Western Tibet and from there to India and Sikkim. In Nepal he performed ceremony of Black Crown and gave many people his blessings. Travelling through Lumbini that lies on the border between Nepal and India he prostrated to the ruins of city, which was a birth-place of Buddha Shakyamuni. Then Karmapa visited Varanasi and Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first sermon and Bodhgaya, the place of his Enlightenment. Invited by Tashi Namgyal, governor of Sikkim, His Holiness visited Gangtok, where he held ceremony of Black Crown again and gave initiations.

After that Rigpe Dorje went to Rewalsar, a place in Northern India related to the name of Guru Rinpoche. When Karmapa was near the lake, many white snakes showed up on its surface and people considered it a very auspicious event. During his long return to Tsurphu he moved through the neighborhood of Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar. Finally, at eleventh month of year of Earthen Rat (1948) cortege of His Holiness arrived in Tsurphu.

Some while later Rigpe Dorje invited Jamgön Kongtrül from Palpung to arrive to Tsurphu and to give further teachings to him. Kongtrül Rinpoche gave him initiation to the essence of treatise “Rinchen Terdzö”, the Treasury of Precious Termas and gave teachings to Mahamudra and Six Yogas of Naropa. At the end of his studies Sixteenth Karmapa received transmission of texts of transmission lineage from Kongtrül Rinpoche and Situ Rinpoche. On occasion of Karmapa’s realization of the essence of Mahamudra, Palpung Kongtrül composed a poem in which he praised His Holiness as a perfect lineage holder of Mahamudra transmission.

During this period, the smallpox outbreak in the central part of the country has developed into a real epidemic, but it was kept under control, thanks to Karmapa’s timely performed rituals of Diamond Dagger.

In the early 1950s, His Holiness was teaching people and performing administrative work in Tsurphu and other parts of the country. In 1953 Rangjung Rigpe Dorje performed a series of initiations and transmissions of text for hidden treasures (terma), revealed by Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa. Among his students were Mindrolling Rinpoche, the abbot of the monastery Mindrol Ling and Head lama of Nyingma tradition.

In 1954, the Chinese authorities invited His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, several dignitaries and heads of other Tibetan Buddhist traditions to visit Beijing and other parts of the country. Karmapa accepted the invitation, and, together with other members of the delegation, went to the capital of communist China. During this travel, Mahakala appeared to Rangjung Rigpe Dorje and brought a message that new Situ Rinpoche has born. This formidable aspect of Enlightenment also gave details of his birth. His Holiness successfully delivered a letter to Palpung with description of details where small Rinpoche can be found. On his way back Karmapa recognized Situpa and officially enthroned him in Palpung.

Some period Rangjung Rigpe Dorje was traveling a lot throughout Kham as a personal representative of Dalai-lama. He applied many efforts to restore a peace among residents, who were more and more agitated by every day. Except of that to Karmapa regularly arrived lamas, monks and lay people of Kagyu school – for tantric and monastic initiations.

After his return in Tsurphu, Karmapa managed the construction of a residence for His Holiness Dalai Lama, and invited him to visit it. When Dalai-lama with his entourage finally arrived, he was greeted with great honours and asked to give initiation of Thousand-Armed Bodhisattva Loving Eyes. In response Dalai-lama asked Karmapa to perform a ceremony of Black Crown. During this meeting His Holiness Rangjung Rigpe Dorje showed to Dalai-lama all richness of relics, gathered at Tsurphu. The ritual dances of Padmasambhava were performed in honour of a great guest.

In the same 1955 in two regions of Kham – Dege and Nangchen – serious conflicts started. Karmapa visited Chamdo, striving to restore peace among warriors of Kham and Chinese soldiers. In result of talks, both sides pledged to avoid using force for five years.

karmapa friendsIn 1956 His Holiness visited Dechen Chokhor Ling, the main monastery of Drukpa Kagyu school. He gave teachings there and performed purification rituals. Then he arrived in Sikkim, where he met again with ruler Tashi Namgyal. In 1956 throughout the world was celebrated anniversary of the entrance into Parinirvana by Buddha Shakyamuni – according to the dating, accepted at the time, it was 2500 years since that event. Karmapa and his entourage continued their travel, moving to Nepal, to visit all holy places associated with Buddha Shakyamuni. From Nepal they traveled to India, more precisely – to Ajanta caves, where Buddhist murals from times of Gupta dynasty can be found. In Kalimpong Rangjung Rigpe Dorje met Bhutanese princess Azhi Wangmo, who intended to build a monastery for him in east of Bhutan. During these days Karmapa received an invitation to visit Rumtek monastery in Sikkim, founded by Ninth Karmapa. His Holiness declined invitation, adding that he will go there at a later time, when there will be such necessity.

Rangjung Rigpe Dorje returned in Tsurphu at the beginning of 1957, when in Kham riots broke out again. Central Tibet was flooded by refugees. Among them were many lamas from Kagyu school: Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, Situ Rinpoche, Taleb Rinpoche and their followers. They all arrived in Tsurphu. In this period Karmapa found Twelfth incarnation of Gyaltsab Rinpoche, new Palpung Kongtrül Rinpoche and Bongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. Afterwards he received transmissions of texts and instructions for treatise “Longchen Drodun” – the profound work by Longchenpa in seven volumes, dedicated to Maha-Ati doctrine.

The conflict that started in Kham soon continued in Central Tibet. Karmapa sent two young Rinpoche – Situ and Sangye Nyenpa – together with a great meditation master Kalu Rinpoche to Bhutan. The small Jamgön Kongtrül departed to Kalimpong in Northern India and adjoined his family Sandu, which consisted of wealthy merchants. Karmapa himself decided to stay yet, but announced that if situation would worsen, he would move to Bhutan as well. He intended to stay in Tsurphu to the last moment to support refugees.

Throughout all Tibet now fierce clashes were going on between Chinese communist army and resistance movement of Kham. It seemed like old Tibetan Buddhist culture is about to disappear from the surface of earth. One day Karmapa realized it’s time to leave Tibet to help to preserve Buddha Teachings and noticed Dalai-lama about his decision. Later, in a deep night of 1959, dressed as laymen, Karmapa left Tsurphu. Together with him departed 160 people. They managed to take with them many lightweight precious relics and altar attributes. This group consisted of lamas-tulku, monks and lays people, Thirteenth Shamar Rinpoche, Twelfth Gyaltsab Rinpoche, meditation master Drupon Tenzin Rinpoche, Dabtrul Rinpoche, the fourth wife of Fifteenth Karmapa yogi Khandro Chenmo and others – including general secretary of His Eminence, called Dorje Lopen Topga Rinpoche and others.

Group’s route was lying through Himalayas to Bhutan. Reserves of food was enough only for two weeks and people of Southern Tibet were helping them, when their caravan was going through it. Karmapa and his followers briefly took a look into house of translator Marpa in Lhodrag and visited the shrine of Milarepa – the famous ten floors high tower, built by Marpa’s request. In these special places His Holiness was giving initiations of Milarepa and guided meditations with all disciples.

When the group reached the last snowy mountain-pass Menlo Garchung (height of 19.855 feet) through which the Tibetan and Bhutanese border lies, Karmapa started to convince everyone to speed up their step to cross the pass before sundown. With help of guides from local people, his people did it. The same night there was a big snow-fall on this mountain pass and all roads were closed for next several days. Not far from the road, where refugees were moving, were army located and could try to stop them if they wouldn’t listen to Karmapa and cross it right away at that very day.

Three weeks after they had left Tsurphu, Sixteenth Karmapa and his followers arrived in Bumthang – a region of Bhutan where, according to Legend, one hundred thousand Dakinis have left their trace. Azhi Wangmo, the princess, who were ordained as a nun, and many other people received guests with great honours. In Tashichho Dzong Kalu Rinpoche and his monks visited Karmapa. To his example followed Situ Rinpoche. After a conversation with the King of Bhutan Jigme Dorje Wangchuk, which took place in Thimphu, the capital of the country, Karmapa decided to move on to India.

At Baxa, On Bhutan’s border with India, refugees were met by prime-minister of Sikkim Banya Sahib Tashi Dadul. He brought an official letter from maharaja: he invited Karmapa to settle in Sikkim. His Holiness decided to accept this invitation and in 1959 he arrived in Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim with all his followers. Members of local royal family warmly greeted Karmapa. Then they asked in what particular place Rangjung Rigpe Dorje would like to build his residency. Karmapa responded that as Tibetan, he and his disciples would like to have a chance someday to return into Land of Snows. For this reason the status of his residency will be temporal to some degree. However, because Ninth Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje has built his monastery in Rumtek some while ago, so also he, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, would prefer that place to establish his main residency in exile.

Upon arrival in Rumtek, Karmapa officially enthroned Palpung Kongtrul Rinpoche and gave him many initiations. Next winter (1959-1960) Rigpe Dorje travelled in India and first on foreign ground met Dalai-lama. It took place in Benares, and together with Dalai-lama there arrived Pandit Neru, the prime-minister of India, who was very sympathetic towards Buddhism and was taking care for the fate of Tibetan refugees.

During summer Karmapa was giving many teachings and initiations and huge crowds of people were visiting him. Both governments – Indian and Sikkim’s - contributed large sums of money to build a new monastery located at Rumtek on seventy acres of land next to the old building. Their chosen place seemed very favorable: with a view to seven hills, from which flow down seven small rivers, towering mountain behind it and far ahead the snowy ridges are seen, but at the ground a river flows, twisting in the form of a shell. Tibetans were working so enthusiastically that after four years construction was completed.

During the time His Holiness found and officially recognized new Drugchen Rinpoche, two Tulku of Sangye Nyenpa (one of them was born in USA), Surmang Garwang Rinpoche Drongram Jatrul, incarnations of Dzogchen Ponlop and Chokgyur Lingpa.

16th karmapaIn beginning of 1970-s Karmapa started to realize, it wouldn’t be soon, when Tibetans would have an opportunity to return home. And even their life in India and Bhutan was currently stable; he decided that the future of Buddhism will lie in the Western world. In beginning of 1970-s he sent one of his students to Europe and in later years several times travelled himself.

In 1974 he travelled to many cities of Europe, USA and Canada, giving many teachings, blessings and empowerments and several times holding a ceremony of Black Crown. In many places around the world he opened new Buddhist centres.

In 1976-77 he travelled to almost every major European centre with teachings and empowerments. And in 1980-81 he started a new journey, visiting many countries of South-East Asia, Greece, UK and many cities in USA giving teachings, empowerments and interviews. Sixteenth Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje died on November 5, 1981 in a hospital in Zion, Illinois. Doctors at the hospital were surprised that, being in a state of health when most people would feel a terrible pain, Karmapa always refused to take any medicine for pain relief. He was always caring more about others than for himself.

After 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje passed away, his heart remained warm for the next three days. Later his body was delivered to Rumtek monastery in India for cremation. During the seven weeks between his death and his cremation, Karmapa's body spontaneously shrank to the size of a small child. During the cremation a triple circular rainbow appeared above the monastery in a clear blue sky.