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Düsum Khyenpa - First Karmapa

Düsum Khyenpa, the first Karmapa in the future, was born on the year of the Iron Tiger (1110) in the snowy heights of Eastern Tibet, province of Kham. The first Dharma teachings he received from his parents who were advanced practitioners of Buddhist teachings themselves. When Düsum Khyenpo was eleven years old he had a vision of Mahakali, the feminine form of protective energy. Her appearance was a sign of extraordinary spiritual abilities of the boy.

Five years later Düsum Khyenpo became a monk in the local Buddhist community. Under spiritual guidance of Chapa Chokyi Sengye he begun to study Mahayana texts of the Yogacara tradition, taught by the great philosopher Buddhist philosopher Asanga. Around the same time the new novice thoroughly studied works by Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti dedicated to Madhyamika, the Middle Path. Translator Patsab Nyima Drag was helping him to study and Geshe Shavarupa from Kadampa tradition gave several tantric transmissions.

At age of twenty Düsum Khyenpa took a full ordination as a monk from a teacher Mal Duldzin and stayed with him for a while to learn the rules of Vinaya. The great translator Ga gave him tantric teachings of “Kalachakra” and the doctrine of “Path and fruit” that originated from the lineage of Indian mahasiddhi Virūpā.

When Düsum Khyenpa was thirty he travelled to Dag Lha Gampo to find Gampopa, the lineage holder of Kagyu, and to become his student. When they met, Gampopa instructed him regarding details of the “gradual path” (lamrim) in tradition of Kadampa and told him to accomplish it as a preparatory practice.

-  Practice the same way I do, - added Gampopa.

When Düsum Khyenpa accomplished this foundational practice in the path of Sutra, Gampopa allowed him to meditate on yidam Hevajra. During the initiation Düsum Khyenpa saw Gampopa transforming into light-form of Hevajra himself.

Later, according to the advice of his Teacher, Düsum Khyenpa went into seclusion for nine months to practice the calming meditation Shiney (Tib. Zhi gnas).During this seclusion he never stretched his palms for a period longer as a sweat from his palms would become dry. Gampopa recognized him as his most capable student and taught him the meditation Lhatong, “seeing the truth directly”. Düsum Khyenpa practiced it for three years, until his realization did grow so much that it could be compared to the power of rays of the sun penetrating through the clouds. Than Gampopa told him:

You have cut your ties to conditioned existence. You will never return in samsara anymore.

When Gampopa had transmitted to Düsum Khyenpa the oral teachings on Mahamudra and instructions about the practice of Vajrayogini, the female Buddha aspect, he advised Karmapa to practice in a village Kampo Gangra in the Kham and predicted that there he will reach Enlightenment.

Düsum Khyenpa first arrived in Shau Tago, where he built a small secluded house, calling it Drup Zhi Densa (square seat), and was practicing Mahamudra there. The practice brought him the realization of oneness of Samsara and Nirvana. At that time Karmapa heard rumors that his teacher has passed away and he returned to the monastery Daglha Gampo and had a vision of his teacher Gampopa in the sky in front of him.

Now Düsum Khyenpa recalled his teacher was asking him to meditate in Kampo Gangra and he had a vision of the protector of mountains Kampo Dorje Paltseg, embodiment of elemental energies of that area, expecting him there. But another disciple of Gampopa, Phagmo Drupa, whose disciples founded 8 minor branches of Kagyu tradition, was trying to object him, saying:

- If you will go to Kham you will have to give many initiations and it can shorten your lifetime.

-Thanks, - responded Düsum Khyenpa – It’s a good advice, but I will live eighty-four years anyway, whatever I would do.

At age of fifty Karmapa arrived in Kampo Nenang – and immediately achieved Enlightenment there while practicing dream yoga. He realized the essential identity of the day and night, sleeping and waking, meditation and daily life. This realization corresponds to the fourth level of Mahamudra, called “non-meditation” (Tibetan. Bsgom med).

The moment of Enlightenment by Düsum Khyenpa was marked by appearance of many Dakinis who gave him the Black crown woven from their hairs as a gift, symbolizing his Vajra-mind. It is said this Black crown is constantly present above the head of each Karmapa incarnation, marking his realization of the true nature of reality.

Than the mandala of yidam Hevajra appeared in a vision in front of Düsum Khyenpa, created from nine figures and the mandala of his female counterpart Nairatmya consisting of 15 figures and many other Buddha-aspects. Due to his perfection in dream yoga, Düsum Khyenpa transferred himself to Ceylon in a dream, where he received the transmission of spiritual practice to yidam Chakrasamvara from tantric yogi Vajra Ghanta and paid a visit in Tushita – the spiritual homeland of the future Buddha Maitreya.

Düsum Khyenpo spent eighteen years in Kampo Nenang and built a monastery and retreat center there. The fame of his spiritual attainments spread around, and that's when he became known as Düsum Khyenpa (Tib: dus gsum mkhyen pa), which translates as the Knower of Three Times (past, present and future), and means that thanks to his understanding of the unborn nature of mind It has overcome all limits of time.

Soon a pandit from Kashmir called Sakya Shri, specifically invited to Tibet to establish a new tradition of initiation in religious order in monastic community, declared Düsum Khyenpa being the “activity of all Buddhas” or Karmapa, whose appearance was predicted in “Samadhiraja Sutra”. This view was supported by Lama Zhang, the founder of Tsalpa Kagyu tradition. Also in a while both teachers stated that Düsum Khyenpa is not only the embodiment of the enlightened compassion (Avalokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of Loving Eyes) but also Karmapa will take birth as Buddha Simha when the age of future Buddha Maitreya will be over.

Once, at the age of 75, Karmapa arrived to a place Drelong, located in Kham. At the time it was ridden by many rivalries and conflicts. His Holiness calmed down the factions fighting there since long time and for a while there was a peace. Karmapa was working a lot and helping the sick, healing many diseases, including blindness and paralysis. The healing power of his compassion was immense. He established two more monasteries, in Markham and Karma Gu, where he met Drogon Rechen, the main disciple and lineage holder in Karmapa’s tradition.

When Düsum Khyenpa was already old, he returned to Dag Lha Gampo, according to the wish of Gampopa. He brought gifts to the monastery, renovated several buildings and was giving teachings to community of monks. Later Karmapa established Tsurphu Monastery as his main residence and it retained its status until 1959. The head teacher of the monastery Bodhgaya, located in India, sent to Tsurphu a ritual musical instrument in the form of a white sea-shell, as a token of his respect and gratitude to Düsum Khyenpa for his powerful manifestation as a teacher of the Dharma.

Being in Tsurphu Düsum Khyenpa put an end to the controversy involving Lama Zhang of the Tsalpa Kagyu school. Lam Zhang, being a great yogi and ruler of the principality Tsalpa, had at the same time a very aggressive nature, which was able to pacify only Karmapa.

One night, practicing dream yoga, Düsum Khyenpa received the transmission of spiritual practice of Vajrayogini, with four faces and twelve hands from the tantric yogi Indrabhuti.

Soon after, he had another visual experience of meeting the Buddha-form - this time Vajrayogini herself was instructing him. Karmapa shared the received teachings with his disciples, but very soon he had a dream that five girls dressed in red and jewelry appeared in front of him, and told:
- You should not give the secret Vajrayana teachings to anybody who asks it.

A few days later Düsum Khyenpa again was teaching a group of people and in the night after that again five girls appeared in front of him in a dream telling:

- We are messengers of the princess Lakshminkara. You should not give the secret Vajrayana teachings to everyone who asks without exception.

After three days Karmapa was again giving teachings to Lama Khampa Kungva and in the night again girls appeared to him in a dream – riding on white clouds they told:

- We told you to teach secret Vajrayana teachings only exclusively, but you didn’t listen to us.

Three months passed, and before the death of Karmapa Düsum Khyenpa multiple rainbows appeared, light trembling of the earth was felt, the roar was heard - people said the invisible Dakinis are playing their drums. Agitation of elements clearly heralded some significant event. At age of eighty-four, on the first day of the year of Water Bull (1194) Düsum Khyenpa entrusted Tsurphu Monastery with all his books and relics to the care of his chief disciple Drogon Rechen. He also handed to Drogon a letter with predictions regarding circumstances of birth of next Karmapa. All his other possessions he shared between Kagyu communities.

In the morning of the third day of the new year Düsum Khyenpa instructed his disciples in the Dharma for the last time. Then he sat down, turned his gaze to the sky and fell into meditation. At noon, the Karmapa passed away.

A week later during the post-death rituals many people experienced different visions. Some people saw the body of Karmapa in a cloud of smoke that rose over the pyre, others - many suns in the sky and dakis with dakinis dancing among the suns.

When the smoke cleared, where Karmapa’s body was burnt, students of Karmapa found in the ashes his heart and tongue - symbols of his love for all beings and his profound teachings – completely unharmed. Also pieces of Karmapa’s bones were found, with seed-syllables visible on them and other relics.

Cremation ashes were put in the stupa, built according to model of Dhanyakataka Stupa in Southern India, where Buddha Shakyamuni has been giving teachings on Kalachakra. This Stupa with relics of Karmapa was placed in the Tsurphu Monastery.

Düsum Khyenpa had many students who attained perfection in practice. Due to their efforts his entire heritage was preserved in the school of Kamtsang Kagyu and many of his teachings penetrated in other traditions. The lineage holder of Karmapa tradition became Drogon Rechen who transferred this function to Pomdrakpa later and he in turn – to the Second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi. Four important Lamas who were disciples of Karmapa founded their own transmission lineages: Taklung Thangpa established Taglung Kagyu school, Lingje Repa, a great Mahamudra practitioner, became a spiritual father of Drugpa Kagyu, a state’s religion of Bhutan today, Tsangpa Gyare – it’s direct founder; and finally Lama Kadampa Desheg created Katog Nyingma school. Five other students became famous with their extraordinary gifts: Dechung Sangye with telepathic abilities, Dagden Batsa – miracles, Tava Kadampa impressed all with his Bodhisattva activities, Drogon Rechen – the power of his blessing and Ge Chutsun – with the depth of realization of truth.