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Karmapa - the Head Lama of Karma Kagyu

Karmapa is the head Lama of the Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism since the XII century.

The first Karmapa Düsum Khyenpa (1110-1193) was a yogi from the Kham, a region in the eastern Tibet. He arrived to the monastery of Gampopa Sonam Rinchen (1079–1153), one of the most prominent Buddhist teachers of the time, a direct disciple of Milarepa, around 1140. Karmapa was already very familiar with the teachings of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist schools and Gampopa immediately noticed his extraordinary abilities, even though his behavior was not always perfect. In beginning Düsum Khyenpa and two of his closest friends, who were also from Kham and in the future founded two influential Buddhism lineages themselves, were continuing to live in the monastery the same way they were used to live when they were living and meditating in the mountains. One day they were celebrating the day of the Dakini drinking beer, singing and dancing, and the monk responsible for a discipline at the monastery decided to expel them immediately from the community. Only the intervention of Gampopa saved them from accusations and complaints, when he noticed that with departure of three yogis also all birds and many invisible protective Dakinis have left the monastery.

Düsum Khyenpa was studying and meditating so diligently that soon Gampopa was calling him the best student. Later Dusum Khyenpa according to the wish of Gampopa went into seclusion and after a short time, less than a year of meditations, he reached Enlightenment during his practice of Six Yogas of Naropa.

In a moment of Enlightenment Karmapa received a crown from a hundred Dakinis, it was woven from the hair of their wisdom that granted the knowledge of the past, present and future. Since then, above the head of every Karmapa is an energy field of pentagonal form in black color – the so called Black Crown. It is believed that the Crown, given by Dakinis, is not visible to ordinary people without yogic perfections. But it is constantly above the head of Karmapa and all of his next incarnations as a black mandala – energy field in pentagonal form. For those who can see it – Bodhisattvas at the high levels of spiritual growth – it brings immediate realization of the true Buddha nature of the mind. For this reason it is called “liberating through seeing”.

Once a disciple of the Fifth Karmapa, the Chinese Emperor Yung Lo, saw the energy crown over the head of his teacher and made a the material copy of it, adorned with gold and precious stones. It was Karmapa who became the founder of the Tulku tradition –the conscious rebirth - in Tibet. Shortly before his death in 1193 Karmapa left the keys of his Tsurphu monastery and leadership over his transmission lineage to his closest disciple Drogen Rechen and a sealed letter with prediction of his next rebirth. The letter contained all details regarding the time and place where the Second Karmapa will take birth again.

Drogen Rechen died before the rebirth of second Karmapa, but he left the letter with information to his successor Pomdrakpa, who found the boy according to the instructions he received.

Later this method of spiritual succession with slight variations was adopted by all other Buddhist schools in Tibet and institution of Tulku established everywhere.

All incarnations of His Holiness Karmapa

1. First Karmapa Düsum Khyenpa (1110–1193)
2. Second Karmapa Karma Pakshi (1204–1283)
3. Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje (1284–1339)
4. Fourth Karmapa Rolpe Dorje (1340–1383)
5. Fifth Karmapa Deshin Shekpa (1384–1415)
6. Sixths Karmapa Thongwa Dönden (1416–1453)
7.Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso (1454–1506)
8. Eight Karmapa Mikyö Dorje (1507–1554)
9. Ninths Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje (1556–1603)

10. Tens Karmapa Chöying Dorje (1604–1674)
11. Elevenths Karmapa Yeshe Dorje (1676–1702)
12. Twelfths Karmapa Changchub Dorje (1703–1732)
13. Thirteenth Karmapa Dudul Dorje (1733–1797)
14. Fourteen Karmapa Thekchok Dorje (1798–1868)
15. Fifteenth Karmapa Khakyab Dorje (1871–1922)
16.Sixteenth Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924–1981)
17. Seventeenth Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje (b. 1983)