Friday, 17 June 2016

The Dance of 17 Lives

It was a long day I had with my friend Kezang whom I was meeting after one whole year. After spending the whole day with her in Thimphu town, she took me to Jigme Dorji Wangchuk Public Library. She previously had a membership there and told me about the availability of lots of books. I was then motivated to have a membership there. The first book I issued for myself was “The Dance of 17 Lives” by Mick Brown. I couldn’t have had a better start than a book on His Holiness Gyalwang Karmapa.

This book was a complete package of what I had been searching and wanting to know about His Holiness. It firstly traced its history dating back to the thirteenth century with the installation of the first Karmapa Duesum Khyenpa. It gave a small account of the origination of the Karmapa Lineage in Tibet. Prince Siddhartha, after attaining enlightenment at Bodhgaya, turned the wheel of dharma three times: Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana. It was the Tantric Buddhist Master Guru Padmasambhava in the eighth century who introduced Buddhism in Tibet with the first monastery established at Samye Ling. Since then a number of Tibetan masters and yogis made their way to the enlightenment and among them were the great Marpa and Milerapa who received the teachings of Mahamudra from the great Indian yogi Naropa who in turn received from Tilopa. Milerapa then transmitted the teachings to Gampopa who then set the transmission to the first Karmapa followed by subsequent reincarnations. The great lineage of Karma Kagyu is known as the golden rosary which is the oldest Buddhist lineage in Tibet.
The 1st Karmapa as depicted in Thangka

The first Karmapa, Duesum Khyenpa was born in 1110 AD in Kham and his birth was prophesized 1600 years earlier by shakyamuni Buddha. He founded the Tshurphu Monastery which became the seat of all subsequent Karmapas. During the time of his death, he entrusted his books, relics and Tshurphu monastery to his most trustworthy disciple along with a letter predicting the circumstances of his rebirth, declaring the coming of Karmapas in the future. And as indicated in the letter, the second Karmapa was found named Karma Pakshi. All of the Karmapas were extraordinary in many ways and made lots of contributions for the spread of Karma Kagyu.

The heartsons (Thuksey) of the Karmapas:
1.       Shamar Rinpoche
2.       Tai Situ Rinpoche
3.       Gyaltshab Rinpoche
4.       Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche

The author then drives the reader’s attention to the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1923-1981) who was the spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism from his enthronement in 1931 until his death. When Chairman Mao’s People Liberation Army of China invaded Tibet and posed  danger to the Tibetan Buddhism, the 14th Dalai Lama and the 16th Karmapa along with thousands of Tibetans flee Tibet for exile in India in 1959. The 16th Karmapa then resided at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim. Rumtek was a Karma Kagyu monastery founded by the 9th Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje some 400 years before the arrival of the 16th Karmapa who took up the permanent residence.

The 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje

With the death of the 16th Karmapa in 1981 in Chicago, the four heartsons took up the responsibility of looking after the school until the next Karmapa was found. It was in 1992, when Apo Gaga born to Loga and Dondrub in the year 1985 was recognized and taken to Tshurphu Monastery for the enthronement as the 17th Karmapa. He was accepted by both the Chinese Government and the Dalai Lama (Tibetan exile government) and was given the name Ogyen Trinley Dorje.
The young 17th Karmapa

Though His Holiness Ogyen Trinley Dorje was supported by the Chinese official, he met with lots of restrictions especially for him to travel to India to meet his heartsons so that he could receive the necessary oral transmission of the age old tradition in the Karmapa lineage. The matter became worse when the heartsons were not allowed to visit Tibet by the Chinese officials. So, the matter settled on planning an escape from Tibet towards the end of 1999, when he was only 14 years old. The escape was a difficult and risky one but the blessings of His Holiness made it much more bearable for the escape party.
Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje

As the escape party reached Dharamsala in 2000 January, Dalai Lama received and gave him the residence at the Gyuto monastery at Dharamsala. Controversies surrounded on many grounds initially when he reached India but the support from His Holiness Dalai Lama and the heartsons, the Indian government gave him his refugee status in 2001. His Holiness the 17th Karmapa then presided over a number of  the Kagyu Menlom Chenmo and even joined Dalai Lama during the Kalachakra at Bodhgaya.
HH Karmapa with HH Dalai Lama
After reading this incredible story of His Holiness, there is no doubt that me as a Buddhist have been drawn more closer to His Holiness and his teachings. Long Live His Holiness and Karmapa Chenno!!

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