Chödrak Gyamtso - Seventh Karmapa
Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyamtso was born in the first month of 1454 in the north of Tibet. His father's name was Dragpa Paldrub and his mother was Lhamo Kyi. When boy was still in his infancy he was announced as incarnation of the spiritual teacher and in his first year of life he demonstrated the maturity that people more and more were convinced this must be true. Once he spontaneously pronounced syllables AH and Hung, adding to it the following words:
- There is nothing except an emptiness in the world. People think there is a matter, but they are wrong. There is no birth nor death for me.
The boy was brought to a field camp of Gyaltsab Gushri Paljor, the holder of transmission lineage of Karma Kagyu. Lama Gyaltsab recognized the new incarnation of Karmapa in a boy and officially enthroned him. During that, it is said, Chödrak Gyamtso pronounced:
- I am Buddha Vajradhara.
Young Karmapa was living close to Gyaltsab Rinpoche. In 1458, at age of four, he did his first trip to Southern Tibet. Much like it took place with other Karmapas, his realization of the true nature of reality manifested through extraordinary experiences and visions. The inherent dignity of this exceptional child was always felt by anyone who was near him. As their camp was moving on, through the plains of Southern Tibet, Chödrak Gyamtso, using his authority, made efforts to cease the hatred between Naga tribes and people of Bhutan. He also managed to secure the release of hostages and political prisoners. Karmapa was vegetarian and convinced many people to stop hunting and fishing. He was protecting livestock, especially sheep and yaks, and introduced the custom to mark the animal with a ribbon to show that it is not subject to slaughter. Chödrak Gyamtso abolished tolls for crossing bridges and ordered to build them from an iron.
Of Southern Tibet camp gradually moved to Kham. In the monastery Karma, Gyaltsab Rinpoche performed the ceremony of taking the vows of Laity and Bodhisattva vow to eight years old Karmapa. Here Chödrak Gyamtso continued his education, and later he received initiation of novice from Lama Jampal Zangpo, a student of the previous Karmapa and one of the lineage holders of Kagyu tradition. During this time young Lama was studying mostly Vinaya texts, paying his attention to general principles and special characteristics of monastic life. Another Karmapa’s teacher – Situ Tashi Namgyal – gave him many oral instructions of tradition Kamtsang.
In 1465, Chödrak Gyamtso traveled from Karma monastery to the border regions of North-Eastern Tibet. There, he restored peace between local Buddhists and followers of Bon, who had been enemies for long time. Then he taught people the precepts of Buddha Dharma. All gifts he received during this trip he gave away to the poor and to monasteries.
Working for a benefit of others, young Chodrak Gyamtso didn’t forgot his studies. One of his most important spiritual practices was Chod practice, which was brought to Tibet long time ago by the famous yogini Machig Labdron. Going deep into meditation, Karmapa sometimes could even see his own skeleton.
Chödrak Gyamtso, despite his young age, was an excellent scholar. In the monastery Rava Gang he participated in philosophical lessons along with five adult philosophers, debated with them and was correcting their statements. In a monastery Surmang, the residence of Trungpa incarnations, Chödrak Gyamtso wrote several books on various aspects of teachings.
In 1471, seventeen years old Karmapa and his large following made a camp in Kava Karpo – a holy site related to Chakrasamvara.Here he retired into retreat for seven years for intensive meditations to complete his spiritual education this way.
Much like all other incarnations of Karmapa, Chödrak Gyamtso was aware about his close spiritual relationship with Guru Padmasambhava. In a certain sense Karmapa could be considered a personification of this great yogi. Returning from his long retreat to Karma Gon monastery, Chödrak Gyamtso had a vision of Padmasambhava appearing to him, accompanied by Yidams, traditional for Nyingma school. Next to him were Buddha Shakyamuni and Kagyu transmission lineage lamas. This vision led Karmapa to a thought to find some valleys, hidden to the eyes of people, which could serve as a safe haven in times of military actions. Future conflicts in Tibet seemed inevitable to him.
Later Chödrak Gyamtso visited Southern Tibet again, where he restored several Kagyu monasteries and helped their leaders. Later he went to Tsurphu, his main residency and there restored the large Buddha statue, created according to sketch of Karma Pakshi.
Karmapa considered a good education to be of utmost importance and was often declaring it. Being consistent in this work, he established a large education centre (shedra, Tib.: Shes' gra) at Tsurphu monastery, that soon gained a wide recognition.
Once, Lama Tashi Targye – a religious and political head of a province in Southern Tibet – invited Karmapa to his court. Chödrak Gyamtso accepted invitation and when he arrived he held a large course of teachings of Kagyu tradition there. For this grateful Tashi Targye gave all his possessions as an offering to Karmapa – his land, estates and monasteries, including his seat - Chokhor Lunpo monastery. In the court of Tashi Targye His Holiness met the first Tulku of the future lineage of Karma Trinley - his name Chogle Namgyal. Karma Trinley considered Karmapa an incarnation of Buddha Shakyamuni and asked him the secret teachings of Kagyu transmission lineage. Chödrak Gyamtso responded:
- If you promise to become a lineage holder of this tradition later, I will give you what you are asking for.
After that Karma Trinley was learning from Karmapa and practicing Six Yogas of Naropa and Mahamudra until he realized the inner meaning of these teachings. Then Chödrak Gyamtso appointed his new student to be a head of Chokhor Lunpo monastery. Karma Trinley founded an educational centre at monastery where profound courses on philosophy, psychology, rituals and ethics were taught. A graduate could have one of three possible degrees: those who completed the full course of study, and had the highest qualification were awarded by the title "Khenpo" or "Professor", those who had finished the most part of the course - "Lopen" or "Master"; the rest received a diploma of higher education. This institute, led by Lama Karma Trinley had a significant role in preserving and transmission of Buddha Teachings.
The fame about Chödrak Gyamtso spread far beyond Tibetan borders and reached India and China. Abbot of Bodhgaya monastery sent precious presents to him. A few Indian scholars arrived to pay him a visit – Rahula Vinaya and Shila Sagar were among them. Emperor of China was inviting Karmapa to visit him, but Chödrak Gyamtso could not go to him at the time.
In 1498 Karmapa, traveling through Kongpo region, established a retreat centre there and found third incarnation of Tai Situ – Lama Tashi Paljor. Afterwards he returned to Lhasa to hold official meeting of highest teachers. Monks from Drepung and Gaden – monasteries of Gelug school – respectfully greeted him there. In Rinpung Karmapa gave teachings to many – great scholar Sakya Chogden was among them. Karmapa's teachings were mainly related to sutras and works of Nagarjuna and Asanga. Representatives of all different spiritual traditions appreciated the breadth of knowledge of Chödrak Gyamtso.
Seventh Karmapa was a prolific writer: he created many treatises dedicated to Vinaya, Madhyamaka philosophy and Tantra. For a while Karmapa was absorbed by composing of a text of logic, called the "Rigzhung Gyamtso" (Tibetan: rigs gzhungs rgya mtsho), containing commentaries on the seven treatises of Dignaga and Dharmakirti. His assistant Dagpo Rabjam Chogyal Tenpa later remembered Chödrak Gyamtso was just dictating a text to him, without thinking or paging sources, which he was commenting. Karmapa relied on his memory for everything that concerned his line of reasoning, links to other people's books and manuscripts. His thinking was perfectly clear and perfectly consistent. If he had to interrupt dictation for a book, later he returned precisely to the same verse. Sometimes his assistant was asking Karmapa to explain some difficult place in a text, but it seemed like Karmapa is not paying any attention to it. Then, in the course of dictation, the answer came by itself. From time to time Chödrak Gyamtso could add:
- Trust what your Lama tells. All explanations will show up in the right time.
Karmapa led a very simple and austere lifestyle. Even during his travels he remained silent and attentive. Periodically, he interrupted his seclusion, to receive visitors, but never had any meaningless chatter during these meetings. In contrast to the asceticism at Karmapa's home, his traveling camp, with its magnificent decoration, was a beautiful and rich spectacle. Tent for ceremonies was crowned by golden roof. Altar was decorated with most precious relics and above it thirteen beautiful umbrellas were hanging down from a ceiling. The seat of Chödrak Gyamtso was covered with pearls, and behind him a pearl drapery hung.
At age of fifty-two Karmapa felt his death is near. He gave an advice to people of Kongpo to practice Dharma diligently and went into seclusion. But so many people arrived from everywhere, who wanted to see him, that Chödrak Gyamtso was compelled to leave his cell and ascend to his throne in the altar’s room. To pilgrims who were present there it appeared Karmapa was in dharmic robes, characteristic to Buddhas in a state of joy. Karmapa entrusted his transmission lineage to Lama Situ Rinpoche on this day. He predicted the next time he will be born in Kham and announced names of his parents in future. On next morning while in meditation Chödrak Gyamtso left this world.
Karmapa’s personal belongings his disciples shared among different monasteries and his body delivered to Tsurphu and cremated there. All the relics and fragments of bones, that were found on a pyre, monks placed in the Stupa.
Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyamtso had many disciples. The most known among them were Gyaltsab Tulku, Lama Tashi Namgyal, Fourth Shamar Rinpoche, Lama Sangye Nyenpa, Sakya Choden, Karma Trinley, Sakya Wangchuk, Karma Kachodpa, scholar Wangchuk Gyaltsen, known by his treatises on logics, and Samten Lingpa, Tertön from Nyingma school.