Wangchuk Dorje - Ninth Karmapa


Ninth Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje was born on seventh month in 1555. His biographers say that right after his birth he wiped his face three times and proclaimed:
- I am Karmapa!

Soon baby became famous and rumours about him reached also Situ Rinpoche, who was living in Karma monastery. Circumstances of boy’s birth coincided to those details given in a prediction letter of Karmapa Mikyo Dorje, which he has written on 28th year of his life. Situ Rinpoche noticed it and sent two assistants to look to the kid. They came to a conclusionthe boy really is Karmapa. Then Situ Rinpoche noticed high lamas at Tsurphu that new Karmapa is finally found.

From Tsurphu were sent some belongings of former Karmapas to Tsurphu monastery: a small black hat, seal, clothes and ritual accessories. Among other things boy did chose correctly the bell, which was used by the Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyamtso. A year later, Shamarpa Konchog Yenlag delivered a few ritual accessories to young Karmapa, which were left to him for preservation by Karmapa Mikyö Dorje.

Approximately at the same time political rulers in Central Tibet sent to different monasteries and educational institutions a letter confirming the appearance and recognition of the new incarnation of Karmapa. It shows how important in political sense was considered personality of Karmapa at the time. Different Buddhist schools willingly or unwillingly were pulled in political games. In those difficult times of Wangchuk Dorje and the next three incarnations of Karmapa this tendency had a big significance in Tibet.

At age of six Wangchuk Dorje was officially enthroned as Karmapa by Shamar Rinpoche. He took a Refuge and Bodhisattva vow and also received initiation of Buddha of Limitless Life (Amitayus) at the ceremony and many other important transmissions for texts, initiations and teachings. Shamarpa was continuing to teach young Karmapa, discussing with him details of Tripitaka texts and some works written by masters of Kagyu school.

Some while later the traveling monastic camp of Karmapa arrived at Tsurphu. On the way Wangchuk Dorje together with Shamar Rinpoche did a pilgrimage to Kampo Nenang, were Dusum Khyenpa had meditated times ago.

Their travel was going on. The caravan passed Surmang Nangchen and then, by the early 1561 reached Tsurphu. There Karmapa gave his first public teaching – on Four Dharmas of Gampopa. There were eleven thousand people listening to him, on most part monks, but among them were also representatives of government of Central Tibet. Then young Wangchuk Dorje, accompanied by Shamar Rinpoche and Pawo Tulku, departed to Southern Tibet. On the way he spent some while in Lekshey Ling monastery to honour the remains of first Tulku Karma Trinley, which were kept here as relics on altar. From there the camp went to Lhodrag, the place were translator Marpa has been born and living, father-founder of Kagyu transmission lineage. Pawo Tulku assisted to Shamar Rinpoche to prepare a ceremony to initiate Karmapa as a novice. Then both teachers started to explain details of Mahamudra teachings and Six Yogas of Naropa.

Almost all childhood of Ninth Karmapa passed away in travels throughout Tibet with monastic camp. They observed a strict discipline in their travel camp; followers of Karmapa meditated a lot and intensively. Scholars of his entourage were studying mostly “Hevajra” and “Chakrasamvara” tantras, foundational for Kagyu tradition treatise of Maitreya “Uttara-tantra” and the work of Rangjung Dorje “Zabmo Nangdon”. Most experienced practitioners in Karmapa’s camp were practicing Six Yogas of Naropa, Mahamudra meditations and Chod. More ordinary lays and monks were meditating on Vajrayogini, Bodhisattva Loving Eyes and Hayagriva. At those times for Buddhists to be fully accepted in Karmapas entourage, he had to be doing a huge amount of spiritual practice.

At Shamar Rinpoche’s monastery in Yangpachen, Wangchuk Dorje was giving different teachings to monks. Then he spent three years in Rinpung at the court of a local ruler Ngavang Jigten Wangchuk. Lama Sonam Gyamtso, the head of Gelug school at the time, visited him there. Sonam Gyamtso (1543–1588) later received a title Dalai-lama (Teacher-Ocean) from Mongolian Altan Khan (1507–1582).

After this Wangchuk Dorje travelled to province Kongpo at south of Tibet, where Kamtsang and Drukpa Kagyu schools were always very strong. On the way he gave many teachings to the future Dalai-lama about treatises of Rangjung Dorje and Mikyö Dorje.

Apart from teaching, Karmapa had also many other important things to do: he was often invited to lead large meditation gatherings and to be a judge in philosophical debates. When his camp again moved to the south of Tsari, Sonam Gyamtso again visited Karmapa. He asked to Wangchuk Dorje to become a mediator to rule out political disagreements that arose in Yarlung province. By common powers Sonam Gyamtso and Karmapa achieved that fighting parties signed a peace treaty for three years and after an exchange of offerings they parted their ways.

In 1580 Wangchuk Dorje received a full monk’s ordination from Shamar Rinpoche and also was studying Vinaya and works of Third, Fifth and Seventh Karmapas. Except teachings of Kamtsang school, he received transmissions of texts of Drikung Kagyu and Kadam transmission lineages from Shamarpa – his main teacher and student.

In 1583 Shamar Rinpoche deceased. Wangchuk Dorje placed his remains and relics in Stupa in Yangpachen monastery. He also shared Shamarpa’s personal belongings among monasteries, gave gifts and tiles of tea to the poor, but for the great monastery in Lhasa he sacrificed a golden mandala. After pilgrimage to holy places of Northern Tibet, Wangchuk Dorje returned in Tsurphu to give texts of Mikyö Dorje and Dikung Kagyu to his second teacher Pawo Tulku. He also gave many initiations to many monks and ordered to artists and artisans to create a huge thangka-statue representing Buddha Shakyamuni from silk.

Once it was necessary for Wangchuk Dorje to go to Rinpung to settle some political disputes.Karmapa was very upset about political problems that were arising in the country in his time. He felt that memories about the early period of Dharma in Tibet could inspire people to dedicate themselves again to the ennobling principles of Buddha's Teachings. With this purpose he started to renovate monasteries which were built by first Buddhist Kings of Tibet – Songtsen Gampo and Trisong Detsen.

When he gave a monastic initiation to the Third Pawo Tulku – Tsuglag Gyamtso, Karmapa went into a one-year retreat in Tsurphu monastery. After that he went on to travel around northern Tibet, where, according to rumours, a king of Naga gave him an offering. It symbolized that from now on this is Karmapa’s territory. Local people believed that thanks to this offering there were good weather and harvests on the next year.

Wangchuk Dorje wrote not so many books as his predecessor Mikyö Dorje; however he has written several very important for Kagyu school treatises. For example, teachings of “One Thought”, derived from Drikung school, are among them.

The most important work by Ninth Karmapa was a treatise “Ocean of true meaning” (Tib.. nges don rgya mtsho ), which contains teachings on foundational practices, which prepare for Mahamudra. Other important work of Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje is named: "Dispelling the darkness of ignorance" (Tibetan: ma rig mun bsal) and also related to Mahamudra. Both works are today widely studied and used as guidance for a practice.

Wangchuk Dorje was actively participating in religious and social life. In Ngagpu he ordained as monks many novices from local residents. He also made a lot of efforts to convince people to stop hunting and fishing and develop kind-hearted attitude towards animals. Karmapa also organized bridge-building in that area.

Once Wangchuk Dorje received news that new incarnation of Shamar Rinpoche has been born in family of Drikung Kagyu followers. He went to that area and officially recognized Shamarpa in the child. During this visit Karmapa gave vows of monkhood to many Drikung followers. In 1594 Karmapa took small Shamarpa to Tsurphu and there the boy received all teachings of Kamtsang tradition.

When Wangchuk Dorje gave him foundations of Teaching, he moved with his camp in direction of Tsari. There he visited a group of monks and yogis, who were meditating in seclusion and taught them Vajrayogini practice. Many of those students received textual transmission of complete works of Gampopa and monk’s initiations.

Then Karmapa with his company arrived in Kongpo, visiting on his way also the old Gampopa’s monastery in Dag Lha Gampo. There disciples of Wangchuk Dorje gave a food and other necessary things to poor people and Karmapa himself gave some money for restoration of shrines and stupas. He remained in Kongpo region for eight years – part of this period he dedicated working for the benefit of people and part he spent in secluded meditation. Very important part of his practice in seclusion was a meditation to Mahakala. In his teachings during this period Wangchuk Dorje emphasized the significance of treatises written by his predecessor Mikyö Dorje.

In Tashi Gungtang, where long time ago was meditating Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, Ninth Karmapa founded a new retreat centre for solitary meditations. Staying there for some while Wangchuk Dorje composed a text-commentary on “Kalachakra-tantra” and division of tantras to four classes and also wrote a sadhana (a detailed guidance to practice) of Vairochana. He finished transmissions of texts of eight Karmapas, which he had started earlier, and then held a festival of auspicious prayers. Finally, after a large ceremony of Kalachakra initiations in monastic camp, Karmapa again went into retreat.

At the end of this period of intensive practice Wangchuk Dorje gave to his disciples, teachings regarding important details of the Kagyu tradition. He started with teachings on the essence of Gampopa’s treatise “The Jewel Ornament of Liberation”, which explains student’s gradual path to Dharma and movement to Enlightenment through stages of Hinayana and Mahayana. Then Wangchuk Dorje was teaching Vajrayana with a special emphasis to Six Yogas of Naropa and Mahamudra and finally, to completely transmit blessings and inspiration of his transmission lineage, in presence of ten thousand people held a ceremony of Black Crown. After ceremony he gave an initiation to young Tai Situpa Chokyi Gyaltsen and introduced the Kagyu doctrine to him.

Ninth Karmapa received numerous invitations from Mongolian authorities in China, but rejected them. However, he agreed to visit the territory Wu and Tsang.On the way, Wangchuk Dorje stopped in the main Drukpa Kagyu monastery called Sang-ngag Choling, and gave many teachings there. Before he returned in Tsurphu Karmapa visited several parts of Tsang and Ripung, celebrated the New Year with many auspicious prayers and initiated in monkhood the Sixth Tulku of Shamarpa named Chokyi Wangchuk.

Karmapa expressed a keen interest for restoration and arrangement of monasteries of Kagyu transmission lineage. He requested the Second Karma Trinley to restore Shedrub Ling monastery and he fulfilled it.

Once, invited by prince Hortu, Wangchuk Dorje arrived in Outer Mongolia. After first compassionate teachings of Ninth Karmapa, the ruler banned death penalty in his land and gave a vow to avoid violence. Afterwards Karmapa held a ceremony of Black Hat and gave profound teachings how to develop awakened compassion by means of meditation to Bodhisattva Loving Eyes.

One of the most influential students of Wangchuk Dorje was Taranatha - the famous scholar and translator, Head of Jonang School, author of "History of Buddhism in India." Karmapa gave him all initiations, transmissions of texts and oral instructions of Karma Kagyu school. During one of their meeting Teacher took a cup of barley, mixed it with a stick and put on Taranatha’s head saying:
- I’m giving you all the same what Karma Pakshi gave to Urgyenpa, - full transmission of Kagyu transmission lineage.

Shortly after the New Year celebrations in 1603 Karmapa didn’t felt good. He realized that death is approaching, and wrote a letter predicting his next rebirth in Kham. On next morning Wangchuk Dorje left his body. His relics were placed in altar in Tsurphu.

Main disciples of Ninth Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje were Shamar Chokyi Wangchuk, Taranatha, Situ Chokyi Gyaltsen, Pawo Tsuglag Gyamtso, lama in Drikung Kagyu tradition, named Rinchen Namgyal and lama from Taglung tradition Chokyi Kung Tashi.