The Karmapa is the head of the Karma Kagyu (Bka’ rgyud), the largest of the lineages that make up the Kagyu school, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
The 1st Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa (Dus gsum Mkhyen pa) (1110-1193), was a disciple of the 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 is said to have attained enlightenment at the age of fifty 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 the 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 (Bka’ Rgyud) lineage are collectively called the golden rosary.
The 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1204-1283), is often said to be the first person ever recognized and empowered as a tulku (sprul sku), a reincarnated Lama (bla ma).
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, rang ‘byung chopen (the self-luminous crown), is traditionally said to have been woven by the dakinis from their hair and given to Karmapa in recognition of his spiritual realization. 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.
It is currently held in Rumtek in Sikkim, which was the last home of the 16th Karmapa.
List of previous Karmapas
- Düsum Khyenpa (dus gsum mkhyen pa) (1110 – 1193)
- Karma Pakshi (1204 – 1283)
- Rangjung Dorje (rang ‘byung rdo rje) (1284 – 1339)
- Rolpe Dorje (1340 – 1383)
- Deshin Shekpa (de zhin gshegs pa)(1384 – 1415)
- Thongwa Dönden (1416 – 1453)
- Chödrak Gyatso (1454 – 1506)
- Mikyö Dorje (1507 – 1554)
- Wangchuk Dorje (dbang phyug rdo rje) (1556 – 1603)
- Chöying Dorje (1604 – 1674)
- Yeshe Dorje (1676 – 1702)
- Changchub Dorje (Byang chub rdo rje) (1703 – 1732)
- Dudul Dorje (1733 – 1797)
- Thekchok Dorje (1798 – 1868)
- Khakyab Dorje (1871 – 1922)
- Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (Rang ‘byung rig pa’i rdo rje) (1924 – 1981)
- (Controversy over whether Urgyen Trinley Dorje (b. 1985) or Trinle Thaye Dorje (b. 1983) is the true reincarnation.)
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.
Karma-Kagyü Karmapa Gyalwa Кармапа