Deshin Shekpa - Fifth Karmapa


Deshin Shekpa, Fifth Karmapa, was born at the dawn of the eighteenth day of the sixth month of year of Wood Mouse (1384), in a family of yogi Guru Rinchen and his wife Lhamo Kyi. The period of his mother’s pregnancy was marked by many favorable events, and people heard how immediately after his birth Deshin Shekpa exclaimed:
- I prostrate to all Buddhas. I am Karma Pakshi. Om Mani Peme Hung.

At age of five, Deshin Shekpa was invited to Kongpo Ngagpu, where shortly earlier the great yogi, his name was Shao, slipped on the ice and broke three of his ribs. The small boy did a massage for yogi’s ribs and wounds closed and didn’t cause a pain anymore.

In his early stage of life Deshin Shekpa received several initiations and oral transmissions of texts for his future practice. Six Yogas of Naropa and Mahamudra of Tilopa – core of Kagyu tradition - were among them. When the future fifth Karmapa was seven, he received ordination from the head lama of Ngagpu Monastery Sönam Zangpo and under his guidance young Deshin Shekpa completed full course of studies in Hinayana and Mahayana. After this the formal ceremony of Karmapas enthronement was performed at Tsurphu Monastery. He continued to learn with his teacher until received the full initiation for monastic life. Deshin Shekpa was nineteen at the time and he took his vows together with eighty other young monks – it first time so big ceremony in Tibet.

When Deshin Shekpa completed his education he started to travel. On the road he met tertön (teacher who is searching for hidden treasures of Dharma in Tibet) Sangye Lingpa, whom he knew in his former incarnation. Tertön gave his offerings to Karmapa, ceremonial scarf and some gold. But Deshin Shekpa reminded him:

- You still have the cane that belonged to me in my previous life.

Sangye Lingpa was surprised by the power of mind of Karmapa and felt strong devotion. Continuing his education, Deshin Shekpa received initiation of Vajramala and oral instructions from the great meditation master Yeshe Pala.

Later Karmapa was invited to visit Kham. He gave a lot of teachings to monks and lays there. Karmapas teachings were varying, depending on needs and conditions of his listeners and encompassed all facets of Dharma, starting with general precepts of Mahayana to tantric exercises and Six Yogas. After the trip Deshin Shekpa returned to Tsurphu. Fifth Karmapa devoted much effort restoring the integrity of the fractured communities and sought to introduce non-violence as a norm of behavior in public and political life. He created protected wildlife parks for wild animals and abolished fees for using roads. His compassion was manifesting in both religious and social affairs.

Important part of activities of Deshin Shekpa was relationship with Yung-lo, the Chinese emperor of the new Min dynasty. Once, emperor had a dream about Bodhisattva Loving Eyes. Considering it to be an important sign and according to the wish of his wife, in 1406 Yung-lo invited Karmapa to visit China. In his letter he wrote:

- “My native father and parents of the Empress, my wife, have died long ago. You are my only hope, the essence of Buddha state. I beg you to come, don’t delay. I am sending you a gift of large bullion of gold, one hundred and fifty silver coins, twenty rolls of silk, sandalwood, one hundred fifty bags of tea and ten bundles of incense.”

Three years later Deshin Shekpa arrived to Nanjing, where ten thousand monks celebrated his arrival. Emperor at the court offered a ceremonial scarf and a precious seashell as offerings. “If Karmapa really have the telepathic abilities, which some people assign to him, - Yung-lo was thinking – he should feel I wish to receive exactly the same presents in return”. Barely had he thought about it, Deshin Shekpa pulled out of the folds of his robes an almost identical scarf and a seashell, and bowing down handed them to Yung-lo.

Emperour generously celebrated arrival of his new Lama, presenting him an honourable place at his left hand. In a sign of his devotion he seated Karmapa on a throne, higher than his own. Tables were bending under the weight of gifts and delicacies and there were many performances to see. During the next month, while Karmapa had a rest after the long trip, emperor and his court were continuing to present gifts. Thus the atmosphere of openness and devotion to the Teaching developed.

Finally, on the fifth day of the second month of year of Earthen Mouse, Deshin Shekpa began to teach. During two weeks he gave to emperor and his wife initiations of Jinasagara, Vajrakilaya, Guhyasamaja, Maitreya, Vajradhatu, Hevajra, Tara, Vairochana, Bhaisajyaguru and Thousand Armed Avalokiteshvara (Loving Eyes). During this period Deshin Shekpa revealed to his new students the wonderful nature of enlightened energies, awakened by complete realization of these Vajrayana teachings.

On day first, when Emperor presented an offering of traditional robes to Lama and monks, it seemed like a magic shrine has appeared in the space.
On day second a rainbow appeared, reminding a cup for offerings, and clouds around it reminding a group of Arhats.
On day three the air filled with a delicate fragrance and a light rain was showering with raindrops sweet to taste.
On day four above the house of Deshin Shekpa a rainbow was shining.
On day five the space around was full of beneficial omens and people were surely telling they can see Arhats on streets of the city.
On day six a bright light was radiating from the altar of Deshin Shekpa.
On day seven, above the Buddha statue, that decorated the main shrine, unearthly red glow arose and illuminated the earth near and far.
On day eight two lights appeared in the sky: one above the imperial cemetery another above the monarch’s palace.
On day nine many people saw an older monk who arrived through the air and disappeared at the entrance to monastery.
On day ten a crane and a blue bird, similar to Garuda, were circling in the sky.
On day eleven it appeared to everyone that from a shrine and house, where Karmapa was living, glittering rays appeared in direction to East.
On day twelfth a rain of flowers was falling to emperor’s palace.
On day thirteen people saw several monks in the sky, who were uttering prayers and prostrating towards Karmapa’s residency.
On day fourteen ceremonies came to an end. A flock of cranes were dancing in a sky. Clouds were assuming forms of different Buddha-aspects, Garudas, lions, elephants, dragons and stupas.

On the next day Yung-lo showered his grace to Karmapa, giving him an honorary Chinese title. Afterwards the ruler and Deshin Shekpa staged a grand reception at emperor’s palace, but the closing celebration took place at residency of Karmapa. During all these events the energy of Vajrayana, awakened by Deshin Shekpa, invariably manifested itself in all things.

The ruler of China decided the wonderful events which he had witnessed due to his devotion should be sealed forever for next generations. He selected talented artisans who depicted everything on long rolls of silk. One of them was later stored at Tsurphu. Emperor himself was engaged composing detailed description of all wonders that took place during two weeks of ceremonies. Afterwards this history, written in five languages – Tibetan, Chinese, Mongolian, Uighur and Turkish – was put on a silk.

When all ceremonies and initiations were over, Deshin Shekpa went into pilgrimage to Wu Tai Shan, Five peaks of the mountain of Manjushri. Due to his unshakable devotion to Karmapa, even in absence of his Lama, Emperor clearly experienced inexhaustible inspiration of blessings he had received.

When Karmapa returned from his pilgrimage, he found out the Emperor is creating plans to invade Tibet. Yung-lo was trying to explain his plans to Deshin Shekpa, saying:

- I want to send to Tibet only one troop of cavalry. There are too many different religious schools in your country; they might fight with each other in future. It would be better if they would merge with your school. Then each year in different parts of Tibet we could hold large gatherings of practitioners.

Karmapa didn’t submit to a temptation to support this ambitious project of Yung Lo. To convince the emperor, he said:

- One school cannot help to all types of people, to give the right direction to their lives. It won’t be useful to try to merge different traditions into one. Each one of those schools individually is prepared to bring a particular facet of goodness to perfection. I ask you, don’t send your warriors to Tibet.

Yung-lo was listening to words of his Master and agreed.

Later on Karmapa had to dissuade his royal student, from plans to invade Tibet, again. It took place when a Chinese diplomatic mission in Tibet, not far from a monastery of Drikung, was attacked and destroyed by bandits. As soon as he heard about it, Yung-lo started to prepare a punitive campaign, but Deshin Shekpa again managed to convince him not to respond to aggression with aggression. So Karmapa taught others tolerance and peacefulness.

Emperor’s relationship with Karmapa was permeatedby deep sincerity and trust. Once, during a ceremony faithful Yung-lo saw the essence of Karmapa’s state of mind, his unlimited realization of the nature of all phenomena, in a form of Black Hat of Vajra. Emperor realized that the Crown is always above the head of all incarnations of Karmapa and he could perceive it due to his devotion. He gave an order to make a material copy of that Crown, decorated with precious stones and gold, and brought it as a gift to his Master. Deshin Shekpa elaborated a new ceremony, during which he showed people this material Black Crown, the embodiment of compassion of Bodhisattva Loving Eyes. Thus he was transmitting to others the blessing of his spiritual attainment. Since then the Black Crown became an inherent part of the tradition of Karmapa.

In 1408 Deshin Shekpa told the Emperor about his intention to return to Tibet. Yung-lo, saddened by this news replied:

-You showed your boundless kindness arriving here. But your visit has been very short. In the past Emperors were more powerful as their teachers, but you, my Lama, have a power over me. If you wish to depart, I cannot hold you back, but you should return when I will ask you this favour.

After a long travel, Deshin Shekpa arrived in Tsurphu. There he found the monastery buildings were damaged by an earthquake, and led the restoration work. In addition, he organized that a copy of Tripitaka was casted in gold and silver and engaged in charity, giving to monks and ordinary people in Central Tibet food and money.

People of the times of Karmapa revered him a lot. Once, Tsongkhapa sent a letter to Deshin Shekpa, where he wrote: “You are as Second Buddha. I would like to see you, but I am in a three-year retreat currently. Therefore, I ask: accept a statue of Maitreya, which once belonged to Atisha, as a gift from me. ”

Despite the great responsibility with which the management of Karma Kagyu school was associated, Deshin Shekpa was always gentle and kind. Once, Trung Mase Togden, the founder of monastic complex Surmang, requested Karmapa to publicly chastise the monks from Karma Garchen community, who had violated their vows. Deshin Shekpa responded to him:
- Never in my life have I showed anger. I just cannot be angry.

There is a story about Fifth Karmapa and a lazy student, who loved to sleep more than meditate. Over time Deshin Shekpa started to appear in dreams of the student, more and more often, first just a smiling face, then a whole figure to the belt. These experiences made such an impact to the lazy one, that he was eager to meditate more and gradually he became a very diligent practitioner.

In 1415 Deshin Shekpa received an invitation to visit Kham but declined it, explaining that soon he will anyways meet the people of that region of Eastern Tibet. A few months later he was diagnosed with smallpox, which proved fatal. Karmapa gave his monks instructions on how to handle his books and other relics, and on the full moon of the thirty-second year of his life, left his body. When he was cremated, among the burnt remains many bones were found with drawings of Buddha aspects like Hevajra and Guhyasamaja.

The most important disciples of the Fifth Karmapa Deshin Shekpa were Trung Mase, Emperor Yung-lo and Shamarpa Chöpel Yeshe, and lamas from other lineages - Chenga Dondrub Gyalpo and Minyag Togden.