Category Archives: My precious teachers

12th Tai Situpa

March 2006,by DhonnamThe present twelfth Kenting Tai Situpa, Pema Donyo Nyingche Wangpo, was born in the male wood-horse year (1954) in the Palyul District of Derge to a family of farmers. He was found and recognized by H.H the sixteenth Karmapa Rigpe Dorje.

The present twelfth Kenting Tai Situpa is a renowned Buddhist master. He is the main Guru of H.H. the 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinlay Dorje in Mahamudra and training in turn the next generation of Buddhist masters. On a more personal level the present twelfth Kenting Tai Situpa is a scholar, poet, calligrapher, artist, author, architect and geomancer.

As a Buddhist teacher, he regularly tours the world giving teachings and empowerments at the request of the Dharma centers. These teachings are collected and published to nine books till now.

Kenting Tai Situpa’s paintings are collected and published to four books till now. They are: Matition Art, Creativity: Magnification Images Will Be Born, Awakening: Meditation Art of the 12th Tai Situpa, Relative World, Ultimate Mind: The Art of the 12th Tai Situpa.
And, a collective book of Kenting Tai Situpa’s photographs, Eye of the Eye, was published in 2000 in Taiwan.

Most of these art works and Kenting Tai Situpa’s calligraphies were assembled to the book “Collection of the Creative Art Works of Xii Tai Situpa” in 2004 in Taiwan. Most of the paintings, photographs and calligraphies in this web site are scanned from this book.


9th Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje

The 9th Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje

Shugsep Jetsun

Shugsep Jetsun, the Story of a Tibetan Yogini

The great female master Shugsep Jetsun Rinpoche (1852–1953) was revered as one of the last century’s best known woman teachers. She was the Abbess of Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet and passed away in 1953 at the age of 101.Tibetan yogini Shugsep Jetsun

Jetsun means “reverend” or “venerable”. She was also known as Lochen Chönyi Sangmo, as Ani Lochen (Ani means “nun”), and as Jetsun Rigdzin Chönyi Sangmo. Many consider her one of the most influential women in Tibetan spiritual history.

This great yogini was a recognized incarnation of Machig Labdrön, a renowned Tibetan Tantric yogini born in 1055. She was also an exemplary practitioner of Chöd, also known as “The Beggars Offering” or “Cutting Through the Ego.”

Many extraordinary stories are told of her remarkable abilities, such as the time on retreat when she left her body and “died” for a period of three weeks and visited the Copper Coloured Mountain Paradise of Guru Padmasambhava.

The late Tibetan scholar, Lobsang Lhalungpa, visited Shugsep Jetsun in the early 1940s at Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet and he wrote of her great spiritual beauty, even into old age. He said, “During my first two-week visit, I met with Jetsun Lochen for several hours a day, sometimes in the company of her main disciples. She was an extraordinary woman, small in stature, with a serene face radiating compassion and sensitivity. Only her white hair betrayed her age… In her presence we felt an awesome power that permeated our whole stream of being… Her teachings and blessings have given me inner strength and inspiration ever since. To me she was the personification of the great woman teachers of Tibet.”Shugsep Jetsun Tibetan yogini


Shugsep Jetsun (Lochen Chönyi Sangmo) was born in Tso Pema, a village on a lake sacred to Padmasambhava in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, India. Her mother, Pema Dolma and her father Dundup Namgyal were pilgrims who had settled in Tso Pema for some time.

During her pregnancy, her mother experienced many wonderful dreams. In one she was standing by a crowd of women washing their hair in the stream. She suddenly looked up and saw, staring down at her, someone attired like the deity Heruka. She was convinced that her dreams were a sign that she was carrying a very special child. On the 15th day of the first month of the Wood Ox year (1852), Pemba Dorje gave birth to a female child whom she named Lochen. The delivery was painless accompanied by a slight earth tremor and a rain of flowers. Voices were heard reciting mantras and it is said that the child was born cross legged, her arms crossed across her chest in the gesture of holding a vajra and bell. Those who witnessed these events were filled with respect and awe. However, her father was very unimpressed and disappointed that the child was a girl. He treated her and her mother badly, eventually leaving them for another women in Nepal.

When she was six years old, Lochen began to show her remarkable facility for understanding the Dharma and giving teachings. A patron encouraged her to travel from town to town explaining the meaning of stories concerning the Avalokiteshvara thangka that she would put up in the market place and stand on tiptoe to reach as she gave her discourse. People were so moved that tears would stream down their faces.

Lochen was very fond of saving animals from slaughter and would spend the money people gave her for her teachings on buying and rescuing sheep and goats. She traveled throughout the Western region of Tibet riding a large goat that was so tame that it would get down on its knees so that she could mount it easily. It is said that wherever she and her mother traveled they were helped by the protectors. In one dangerous place full of wild animals where they could find no water, she spotted a raven, the embodiment of Palden Lhamo, flying above them, which directed them to a spring where they could quench their thirst.

When Lochen first heard the name of Pema Gyatso, the lama who was to become her teacher or root Guru, she was filled with great emotion and determined to find him. She traveled for several months from Tso Pema to Kyirong (West Tibet) in search of him. Eventually she met a nun called Ani Tsultrim who was drawing water from a stream. Through this auspicious meeting she reached the lama’s cave where she made him an offering of a vessel of milk. It is said that the result of this was that many years later she was offered a cow for her nunnery at Shugsep Nunnery. Though it bore no calf for eight years it produced milk continuously. Pema Gyatso said that if she would be prepared to accept the aesthetic precepts known as the Ten Innermost Jewels of the Kadam then he would be prepared to accept her as his disciple. She accepted and he explained the Six Cause and One Result method of achieving the altruistic mind of enlightenment.

She stayed with Ani Tsultrim for a few days until she was joined by her mother and built a hermitage in a cave screened with bamboo. From Pema Gyatso she received the transmission of Kunsang Lama along with all the transmissions and empowerments of Longchenpa, the Heart Essence Instruction of the Dzogchen or The Great Completion as well as the 100 Initiations of Chö. People showed great respect and generosity to Lochen which caused one monk who lived nearby to feel jealous of her popularity. He went to Pema Gyatso and turned him against her by telling him that Lochen was boasting that she was an emanation of Dorje Pagmo (or Vajravarahi, a form of Vajrayogini). When she next visited her Guru with an offering he was angry and grabbed it, climbed up onto the roof of the nunnery and flung it down along with his boots. Though Lochen was hurt she crouched down to pick up the boots and placed them on her head as a mark of respect. After this incident she continued to attend her master’s teachings even though he ignored her.

Her difficulties in that community continued until the lama ordered her to leave and go to Nepal. While there an attendant of the local king heard her singing about her lama. He misinterpreted her song as a criticism of his master who sent out an emissary to punish her. Instead of her they found one of her two friends, Tsering Gyalmo and locked her in prison. After fruitless attempts to get her released, Lochen and her other friend, Kandro went out begging for tsampa. On their way they were crossing a rope bridge across a river when one of cables snapped and Kandro fell straight into the torrent below. Lochen prayed to her Lama and meditated on the vase like wind and wishing that all sentient beings be free from cyclic existence, jumped into the water. She landed near Kandro who was struggling for breath and managed to pull her onto a large rock. The local people who had been watching from the riverbank concluded that she must be a Dakini and reported what happened to the king. He was impressed and, regretting his action, released Tsering Gyalmo. He asked Lochen for religious instruction and offered her many gifts.

Soon after this Lochen and her friends decided to return to the Nunnery hoping that Pema Gyatso’s anger would have abated. Lochen knew that despite the ill treatment she had received from him her faith in her Lama had remained intact and she was more willing to face his anger than to stay away. When she arrived she prostrated to him and he was pleased to accept her back. Following this, Lochen accompanied Pema Gyatso and other disciples on pilgrimage in Western Tibet. Later they again went to Nepal and visited many other holy sites in Tibet. While they were in Lhasa they met Lama Kyabdon Dharma Sengye who lived in retreat. Together with him they had an audience with the 13th Dalai Lama. They offered him a mandala and he gave them transmission of the Hundred Deities of the Land of Joy (Ganden Lha Gya Ma) and the teaching on the prayer to Je Tsong Kha Pa. Following this she performed Chö fire offering in the cremation ground and slept there.

One day Pema Gyatso became ill after eating pork in a patron’s house. Despite all her efforts he never recovered. When he passed away she saw rainbows over his head. After her lama’s death Lochen ceased wandering and settled down spending the winter in a cave at Sangyey Dak and the summer at Shugsep which became her nunnery. According to Samnye Rinpoche she had more than 500 disciples, most of whom were nuns but at least 40 or 50 were monks. She taught the Bodhisattvas Way of Life 100 times to her disciples and spent the rest of her time in retreat meditating on her personal deity. One day, while she was meditating she heard the yelp of an animal. A dog trembling with fear rushed into her cave and took refuge on her lap swiftly followed by a leopard which thrust in it’s head into her cell and was about to pounce on the dog. Lochen firmly meditated for a few moments on great compassion, then she gestured to the leopard to sit, knowing there was no need for fear because all phenomena are illusions.

It is said that while in 6-month retreat in the Sangyey cave, Lochen passed away for three weeks. The shock of returning to life made her suddenly remember her lama and renewed her faith in him. On another occasion she reached such a state of meditation that she visited the pure lands and other realms before returning to her body. During her retreats she had many extraordinary experiences that caused her mother to feel that she needed the constant direction of a lama, so, just before she died, she left her in the care of Samney Thopden Rinpoche at Shugsep. A little later Lochen again fell ill for one night during which time she experienced the appearance of 100 peaceful and wrathful deities.

Once, while she was in retreat, a disciple named Tenzin Yeshe came to her to perform self-initiation after completing a retreat meditation on Avalokiteshvara, Although the cave had walls, he could only feel empty space and walked through them. While performing the self-initiation he saw Shugsep Jetsunma in the form of Avalokiteshvara with 1000 arms. One of her disciples always saw a white man accompanying her wherever she went. She finally told Shugsep Jetsunma who had no idea who it was. Suddenly the white man appeared to her. She was surprised and asked who he was. He replied, “Don’t you know me? I have been with you all these years like a servant helping you accomplish your good deeds.” Shugsep Jetsunma realized she was speaking to Tamchen, one of her protectors.

Painting of Shugsep JetsunmaIn the latter part of her life Shugsep Jetsun attracted a number of special disciples. In 1938 Reting Rinpoche expressed a desire to meet her. Because she was old and frail she would have to be carried on someone’s back but as they were preparing he himself came to her cave to meet her.

The official manager of the Great Prayer Festival, Dorje Dandul and his wife also visited her. They left their jobs and took teachings from her, gradually achieving high realizations. The 16th Karmapa visited her and requested her to give her the long life initiation since she a real Chö practitioner. She replied, “If you want to realise immortality you must realise the deathless nature of your mind.” She gave him the White Tara Initiation and asked him to perform the Black Hat ceremony three times. She was also visited by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s father and Sera Kelda Tulku and they offered tsok together.

Lochen Chönyi Sangmo spent many years of her life on pilgrimage throughout the Himalayas and spent time at the holy sites in Lhasa. According to her biographers, “When she arrived at Ganden monastery wearing her thin cotton robe, many of the monks, having heard that a yogini had come, crowded round to see her, staring and whispering to each other. She sang the following verses to them:

Father, revered guru Pema Gyatso
Acharya in Sanskrit and Naljorpa (yogi) in Tibetan
I prostrate to you, who have realized the true nature of the mind
When I arrived at Ganden monastery,
Hearing that there was a yogini,
Many gathered in crowds to stare at me.
I examined myself (to see) whether I was a yogini or not
And it seems you are right (in implying I am not).
The white yogi is Padmasambhava
Who taught the entire doctrine of sutra and tantra,
The white yogi is Tsogyal (Padmasambhava’s consort)
I am just a beggar who is only their follower.
Atisha was the multicoloured yogi
Who has spread the Dharma wide in India and Tibet
And from whom emerged the new and old traditions of Kadam.
The mother Tara is the many coloured yogini,
I am just a beggar who has received her blessing.
The black yogi is the father Dampa,
Who taught the doctrines of peace and of Chöd.
I cut off the self-grasping consciousness and realized emptiness.
The black yogini is mother Labdron
Ugly though I am, I preserve her doctrine
All that I hear, see and feel
Are the blessings of three yogis.
May I be the liberator of all mother sentient beings
And may the Dharma shine like the sun.

People who visited her at Shugsep remember a very small woman, they say she became smaller and smaller as she grew older, who could no longer walk at the end of her life. Whoever attended prayers at her nunnery say everyone was welcome whether they be laymen, women, children; all were entitled to a share of the offerings.

 inauguration of Shugsep Nunnery

The inauguration of Shugsep Nunnery re-established in India. Photo courtesy of Susan and Carl Shrader.

Shugsep Nunnery has been re-established in India by the Tibetan Nuns Project. If you would like to sponsor a nun at Shugsep or support the nunnery, please visit our website.

A full story of Shugsep Jetsun’s life is available as “The Story of a Tibetan Yogini: Shungsep [sic] Jetsun 1852-1953” prepared by Kim Yeshi and Acharya Tashi Tsering with the assistance of Sally Davenport and Dorjey Tseten, pp. 130-143, Chö Yang, 1991. The above story is an abbreviated version. One final note: there is a bit of  inconsistency about her age at death; some reports say that she was 103 but the years of her life given in the Chö Yang article are 1852-1953 which would make her 101 when she passed.


The great Indian Buddhist Master Atisha (982-1054 AD) was responsible for reintroducing pure Buddhism into Tibet.

Although Buddhism had been introduced into Tibet some two hundred years earlier by Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita, Buddhist practice in the country had largely been destroyed during the anti-Buddhist purges of the Tibetan king, Lang Darma (circa 836 AD), a follower of Bön, the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet.

Invited by Jangchub Ö, a ruler of Ngari in western Tibet, Atisha was asked to present a Dharma that everybody could follow and that would show how all the paths of Sutra and Tantra could be practiced together.

Read Advice from Atisha’s Heart

How wonderful!

Friends, since you already have great knowledge and clear understanding, whereas I am of no importance and have little wisdom, it is not suitable for you to request advice from me. However because you dear friends, whom I cherish from my heart, have requested me, I shall give you this essential advice from my inferior and childish mind.

Friends, until you attain enlightenment the Spiritual Teacher is indispensable, therefore rely upon the holy Spiritual Guide.

Until you realize ultimate truth, listening is indispensable, therefore listen to the instructions of the Spiritual Guide.

Since you cannot become a Buddha merely by understanding Dharma, practise earnestly with understanding.

Avoid places that disturb your mind, and always remain where your virtues increase.

Until you attain stable realizations, worldly amusements are harmful, therefore abide in a place where there are no such distractions.

Avoid friends who cause you to increase delusions, and rely upon those who increase your virtue. This you should take to heart.

Since there is never a time when worldly activities come to an end, limit your activities.

Dedicate your virtues throughout the day and the night, and always watch your mind.

Because you have received advice, whenever you are not meditating always practise in accordance with what your Spiritual Guide says.

If you practise with great devotion, results will arise immediately, without your having to wait for a long time.

If from your heart you practise in accordance with Dharma, both food and resources will come naturally to hand.

Friends, the things you desire give no more satisfaction than drinking sea water, therefore practise contentment.

Avoid all haughty, conceited, proud, and arrogant minds, and remain peaceful and subdued.

Avoid activities that are said to be meritorious, but which in fact are obstacles to Dharma.

Profit and respect are nooses of the maras, so brush them aside like stones on the path.

Words of praise and fame serve only to beguile us, therefore blow them away as you would blow your nose.

Since the happiness, pleasure, and friends you gather in this life last only for a moment, put them all behind you.

Since future lives last for a very long time, gather up riches to provide for the future.

You will have to depart leaving everything behind, so do not be attached to anything.

Generate compassion for lowly beings, and especially avoid despising or humiliating them.

Have no hatred for enemies, and no attachment for friends.

Do not be jealous of others’ good qualities, but out of admiration adopt them yourself.

Do not look for faults in others, but look for faults in yourself, and purge them like bad blood.

Do not contemplate your own good qualities, but contemplate the good qualities of others, and respect everyone as a servant would.

See all living beings as your father or mother, and love them as if you were their child.

Always keep a smiling face and a loving mind, and speak truthfully without malice.

If you talk too much with little meaning you will make mistakes, therefore speak in moderation, only when necessary.

If you engage in many meaningless activities your virtuous activities will degenerate, therefore stop activities that are not spiritual.

It is completely meaningless to put effort into activities that have no essence.

If the things you desire do not come it is due to karma created long ago, therefore keep a happy and relaxed mind.

Beware, offending a holy being is worse than dying, therefore be honest and straightforward.

Since all the happiness and suffering of this life arise from previous actions, do not blame others.

All happiness comes from the blessings of your Spiritual Guide, therefore always repay his kindness.

Since you cannot tame the minds of others until you have tamed your own, begin by taming your own mind.

Since you will definitely have to depart without the wealth you have accumulated, do not accumulate negativity for the sake of wealth.

Distracting enjoyments have no essence, therefore sincerely practise giving.

Always keep pure moral discipline for it leads to beauty in this life and happiness hereafter.

Since hatred is rife in these impure times, don the armour of patience, free from anger.

You remain in samsara through the power of laziness, therefore ignite the fire of the effort of application.

Since this human life is wasted by indulging in distractions, now is the time to practise concentration.

Being under the influence of wrong views you do not realize the ultimate nature of things, therefore investigate correct meanings.

Friends, there is no happiness in this swamp of samsara, so move to the firm ground of liberation.

Meditate according to the advice of your Spiritual Guide and dry up the river of samsaric suffering.

You should consider this well because it is not just words from the mouth, but sincere advice from the heart.

If you practise like this you will delight me, and you will bring happiness to yourself and others.

I who am ignorant request you to take this advice to heart.

This is the advice that the holy being Venerable Atisha gave to Venerable Jang Chub Ö.

Translation © Geshe Kelsang Gyatso & New Kadampa Tradition

In response, Atisha wrote Lamp for the Path, the original Lamrim text that served as the basis for all subsequent Lamrim instructions. The revival of pure Buddhist practice in Tibet at this time was largely due to Atisha.

To learn more about Atisha, see Joyful Path of Good Fortune by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.

17th Karmapa

Who is the Karmapa?

Karmapa means “the one who carries out buddha-activity” or “the embodiment of all the activities of the buddhas”. In the Tibetan tradition, great enlightened teachers are said to be able to consciously control their rebirth in order to continue their activity for the benefit of all sentient beings. The first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, was born in 1110. He was the first of the great Tibetan masters to establish an incarnating lineage. Since his death in 1193, successive  Karmapas have incarnated in this form of manifestation body (Skt. nirmanakaya), for sixteen lifetimes so far, and all have played a most important role in preserving and promulgating the Buddhist teachings of Tibet.

Prior to the birth of the first Karmapa, the arrival of a Buddhist master, who would be known as the Karmapa, had been prophesied by the historical Buddha Shakyamuni and the great tantric master of India, Guru Padmasambhava. Throughout the centuries, Karmapas have been the central figure in the continuation of the vajrayana lineage in general and the Kagyu lineage in particular, and have played a very important role in the preservation of the study and practice lineages of Buddhism. (For more on the Karmapas prior to the Seventeenth, see the page on the Seventeen Karmapas.)

Birth and Early Years of the 17th Karmapa

In June 1985 a son was born into a nomad family in the Lhatok region of Eastern Tibet. In the months prior to his birth, his mother had wonderful dreams. On the day of his birth, a cuckoo landed on the tent in which he was born, and many people in the neighborhood heard a mysterious conch-like sound, resounding throughout the valley. In Tibet, such events are considered auspicious portents of the birth of an enlightened teacher.

The young nomad boy was called Apo Gaga, “Happy Brother”. From the beginning, his family regarded him as special, and believed that he might be the reincarnation of a rinpoche. When he was four years old,  they sent him to the local monastery to begin his education, though he continued to spend much of his time at home with the family. Then, in the late spring of 1992, the  now seven-year-old announced to his parents that they should move their encampment to a different  valley, and told them to expect a visit from traveling monks. They did as he said and, shortly after  setting up home in the new location, a group of Karma Kagyu lamas arrived. Unbeknown to the family, the lamas were searching for the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa, following instructions  left  in a secret prediction letter, written by the 16th Karmapa before he died. This letter contained details of the year of his rebirth, the location, and the names of his future mother and father, and the details matched Apo Gaga’s life exactly. He  was duly recognized as the 17th Karmapa, and given the name Ogyen Drodul Trinley Dorje. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama  issued a formal letter, supporting the recognition of Apo Gaga as the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, and the Chinese Government supported the choice too.

During his lifetime, the 16th Karmapa wrote many poems and songs, predicting that, though he would leave his traditional seat of Tsurphu in Tibet, he would return to Tsurphu again soon, that his root teacher would be HE Situ Rinpoche, and that he would study in India. After the death of the 16th Karmapa, it became clear that these predictions concerned his reincarnation.

Furthermore, the 19th Century master Chogyur Lingpa made a number of predictions about the lives of the Karmapas, and those he made concerning the 17th Karmapa  matched the details of Apo Gaga’s birth. (These points are discussed in detail in the section on the Historical Background of the Karmapas.)

The Karmapa’s Return to Tsurphu in Tibet, the Historical  Seat of the Karmapas

On His Holiness’s historic return to Tsurphu Monastery, in June 1992, he  entered the monastery on horseback, wearing  the traditional, silk brocade clothes and golden, riding hat of  a high lama.


Over 20,000 devotees assembled to witness his return. The following morning, some 25,000 people filed past His Holiness to receive a personal blessing, and then, two months later, before thousands of Tibetans and foreign devotees, he was enthroned, on September 27, 1992,

At Tsurphu, the Karmapa began his studies in Tibetan, the Buddhist sciences of mind, ritual, and  the sacred arts, such as dance. Each day he also gave audiences to hundreds of visitors from across Tibet and around the world. He soon began to bestow empowerments and participate in various rituals at the monastery. At the age of ten, His Holiness began to recognize  the reincarnations of other  Kagyu lamas, including such eminent teachers as Pawo Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Dabzang Rinpoche. In addition, while His Holiness was at Tsurphu, the monastery underwent extensive rebuilding to restore the temples, shrines, stupas, a shedra, and residences that had been badly damaged during the Cultural Revolution and then neglected over the years, fulfilling another of the duties of a Karmapa.

However, in order to exercise his future role, His Holiness needed to receive all the empowerments and transmissions of the lineage, but he was unable to do so in Tibet as many of the Kagyu lineage teachers were living in exile in India. With this at the forefront of his mind, he and a handful of attendants left Tibet for India. (Details of this time period are covered in the section of this website about the Karmapa in Tibet.)

Karmapa’s Journey to India

HHDl+HHK-KOHis Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa meets His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the first time upon his arrival in Dharamsala on January 5, 2000

After months of careful planning, on December 28, 1999, the fourteen-year-old Karmapa pretended to enter into a solitary retreat.  Instead, he slipped out of his monk’s robes, donned civilian garb, and climbed out of a window, accompanied by his personal attendant, Drubngak. Leaving Tsurphu Monastery with a handful of attendants, he began a daring journey by car, foot, horseback, helicopter, train and taxi: an heroic journey which was to become the stuff of headlines throughout the world. On January 5, 2000 he arrived, to the great surprise and overwhelming joy of exiled Tibetans and foreign devotees, in Dharamsala, India, where he was met by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. A year later, in 2001, he received refugee status from the government of India.

During the 13 years he has lived in India as a guest of the Indian government, His Holiness has continued his traditional monastic training and philosophical education, but has also begun studying more modern subjects such as Science and English language.

Each year, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa receives tens of thousands of visitors  from all over the world at his residence in Dharamsala. Since 2004, he has led the Kagyu Monlam Chenmo, an annual winter Dharma gathering in Bodhgaya, that draws thousands of people from around the world and from various Buddhist traditions.

In May 2008, His Holiness made his first, long-awaited trip to the West, travelling to the United States where he visited his North American seat in New York, and some of the many Dharma centres under his spiritual guidance. In addition, the Gyalwang Karmapa  travelled across India to participate in the cultural and religious life of his adopted home. From inaugurating temples for Sai Baba in Tamil Nadu to commemorating the 100th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s birth in Calcutta, His Holiness has met with many other spiritual leaders in a spirit of mutual respect and tolerance. In November 2009, His Holiness was invited to speak at a TED India conference, becoming the youngest person ever to do so, at that time. In January 2010, over 12,000 people attended the live performance of a six-act play on the life of Milarepa that His Holiness wrote and produced, combining elements of traditional Tibetan opera and modern theatre.

In 2011 he visited the United States for a second time.

As a scholar and meditation master, as well as painter, poet, songwriter and playwright, the Gyalwang Karmapa embodies a wide range of the activities that Karmapas have engaged in over the centuries. As an environmental activist, computer enthusiast and world spiritual leader whose teachings are often webcast live, the Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa has brought the Karmapa lineage’s activities fully into the 21st century.

Information about His Holiness’s extensive activities since his arrival and his current schedule are also available on this website. Please use the sidebar on the right to navigate to the different times in the Karmapa’s life.

Shakyamuni Buddha

Shakyamuni Buddha

In 563 or 566 B.C.E., a prince was born to a noble family of the Shakya clan, in a very beautiful park called Lumbini Grove, which lay in the foothills of the Himalayas (in present-day southern Nepal). This beautiful park was not far from the capital city of the Shakya kingdom, Kapilavastu. The prince’s father, King Shuddhodana, named his son Siddhartha. He was a member of the Kshatriya, or royal warrior caste, and his clan lineage, the Gautamas, was ancient and pure. His mother was Mahamaya or Mayadevi, daughter of a powerful Shakya noble, Suprabuddha. Before the conception of Siddhartha, Queen Mahamaya dreamed that a white elephant, extraordinary and utterly beautiful, entered her body. Soon after the birth, soothsayers predicted that the young prince would become either a Chakravartin, a universal monarch, or an “awakened one,” a buddha. So from the very beginning of his birth, he showed signs of perfection.

Seven days after the birth, Queen Mahamaya died; her sister, Siddhartha’s aunt, Mahaprajapati Gautami, who was also married to King Suddhodana, thereafter raised and brought up Siddhartha like her own child, with great care and love, in the wealthy circumstances of a noble family.

His father naturally wanted his son to be his successor and provided him the very best possible education and pleasurable occupations. He tried to prevent Siddhartha from coming into contact with any religious or spiritual path in order to steer him toward becoming the next king of the Shakyas.

As a young prince, Siddhartha was fully educated and mastered the arts and sciences of his day, including even the art of war and other trainings, displaying a sharp intellect and the strength and power of a great physique. When the young prince reached the age of sixteen, he married Yashodhara and engaged in the pleasures of the world. He continued to relish the comforts of the palaces, gardens, and varieties of wealth of the royal lifestyle.

In his late twenties, Prince Siddhartha encountered the “four signs” during excursions from the palace. They made an extremely strong impression on him. These signs were: an old man, a sick person, a corpse, and a monk or a yogin. Through them he realized that the vanity of youth, as well as one’s health, and even life, may end at any time; furthermore, he realized that the only way out of this suffering world of samsara was through finding and following the right spiritual path.

At twenty-nine, after the birth of his son, Rahula, Siddhartha left the palace and kingdom behind and engaged in an ascetic path. He became a homeless, wandering yogi, seeking the truth for the sake of all sentient beings. He began to practice, mainly under the guidance of two ascetic teachers, Arada Kalama and Rudraka Ramaputra.

When Siddhartha realized that he was not reaching his goal, liberation, he gave up the ascetic way of life and turned to meditation, deciding to seek enlightenment on his own. After six years of hardship and practicing near Nairanjana River, he began to travel and gradually came to the region of Gaya. Siddhartha went to Bodhgaya, where he sat under what was later to be known as the Bodhi-tree, vowing to exert himself in his meditation until he reached his goal of enlightenment.

After forty-nine days, at the age of thirty-five, Prince Siddhartha attained complete enlightenment, or buddhahood, overcoming all the obscurations and temptations of Mara. At this point, Siddhartha was a buddha, a fully awakened or enlightened one, and he knew that for him, there would be no further rebirth in samsaric realms.

Seeing that what he had achieved was not possible to communicate directly, he remained silent for seven weeks. Buddha gave his first discourse in Deer Park in Benares, which is known as “the first turning of the wheel of dharma.” In this discourse, he taught the four noble truths, the interdependent nature, and the law of karma, at the request of Indra and Brahma. His earlier five ascetic companions became his first disciples and began to form the bhikshu (monastic) sangha. At Vulture Peak Mountain near Rajagriha, Buddha turned the second wheel of dharma, in which he taught the nature of all phenomena as being shunyata or emptiness and anatma or selflessness. There followed a period of many years of teaching at a variety of places, such as Vaishali. The teachings of this period are known as the third turning of the wheel of dharma, in which Buddha taught a variety of subjects, including the notion that all sentient beings possess tathagata-garbha – the basic heart of buddha.

Through these teachings, Buddha showed the way that leads all beings to the experience of awakening and liberation from samsara. This demonstrates clearly his limitless compassion and loving-kindness towards all beings who are looking for liberation and freedom from the realms of samsaric existences.

King Bimbisara of Magadha became a follower of Buddha and offered a monastery near Rajagriha, the capital of Magadha, which became very important historically for the development of the sangha. Buddha spent a great deal of time mainly in the region of Rajagriha and Vaishali, moving from place to place and living on alms. The number of his followers grew very fast. Buddha’s most important students were Kashyapa, Shariputra, Maudgalyayana, and Ananda. Buddha later founded orders of nuns, or bhikshuni, and had many followers and establishments in these regions.

Since he was born as the prince of the Shakyas, after his enlightenment he was known as “the Shakyamuni” or “the Sage of The Shakyas,” and from his clan name, he was later called Gautama Buddha.

During his life, his cousin, Devadatta, who had always been jealous of what Siddhartha had achieved, sought to become the head of the Buddha’s sangha or community. Devadatta planned to destroy the Buddha. Though he did not succeed, he brought about a schism among the monastic communities in Vaisali that caused great harm to the sangha’s spiritual development.

At the age of eighty, Shakyamuni Buddha empowered his close disciple, Kashyapa, as his regent to continue the sangha’s activities. Lying on his right side and facing west, Buddha entered into parinirvana. (Other accounts and some sutras state that Buddha partook of spoiled food, which caused him to pass away.) His relics are distributed and enshrined in seven stupas and elsewhere.


Famous quotes from Shantideva

May I become at all times, both now and forever: a protector for those without protection; a guide for those who have lost their way; a ship for those with oceans to cross; a bridge for those with rivers to cross; a sanctuary for those in danger; a lamp for those without light; a place of refuge for those who lack shelter; and a servant to all in need.

All the suffering in the world comes from seeking pleasure for oneself. All the happiness in the world comes from seeking pleasure for others.

If the problem can be solved why worry? If the problem cannot be solved worrying will do you no good.

Whatever happens, I will not let my cheerfulness be disturbed. Being unhappy won’t get me anywhere and will dissipate all my goodness. Why be unhappy about something if you can change it? And if you can’t, how will being unhappy help?

It is not possible to control all external events; But, if I simply control my mind what need is there to control other things?

As long as space abides and as long as the world abides, so long may I abide, destroying the sufferings of the world.

May those whose hell it is to hate and hurt be turned into lovers bringing flowers.

All those who are unhappy in the world are so as a result of their desire for their own happiness. All those who are happy in the world are so as a result of their desire for the happiness of others.

All the harm, fear, and suffering in the world are caused by attachment to the self: Why should I hold on to this great demon?

Instead of trying to cover the whole world with leather, put on some sandals.

It is natural for the immature to harm others.
Getting angry with them is like resenting a fire for burning.

The renunciation of doing harm is the perfection of discipline

We are all slaves of our own actions. Why be angry with anyone else?

There is no evil like hatred, and no fortitude like patience.

May I be a light for those in need of light. May I be a bed for those in need of rest. May I be a servant for those in need of service, for all embodied beings.

May the pain of every living creature be completely cleared away. May I be the doctor and the medicine and may I be the nurse for all sick beings in the world until everyone is healed.

How wonderful will it be when all beings experience each other as limbs on the one body of life.

All happiness comes from the desire for others to be happy.

In the ages marked by scarcity and want, may I myself appear as drink and sustenance.

May I be like a guard for those who are protectorless,
A guide for those who journey on the road.
For those who wish to go across the water,
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

What need is there to say more? The childish work for their own benefit, The Buddhas work for the benefit of others. Just look at the difference between them.

That which is seen and that which is touched are of a dream-like and illusion-like nature. Because feeling arises together with the mind, it is not [ultimately] perceived.

All the happiness there is in this world Arises from wishing others to be happy. And all the suffering there is in this world Arises from wishing oneself to be happy.

Why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied? And what is the use of being unhappy about something if it cannot be remedied?

Take advantage of this human boat;
Free yourself from sorrow’s mighty stream!
This vessel will be later hard to find.
The time that you have now, you fool, is not for sleep!


Shantideva was an eighth-century Indian Buddhist monk and is among the most renowned and esteemed figures in the entire history of Mahayana Buddhism. His Holiness the Dalai Lama comments that the Bodhicaryavatara (Bodhisattva Way of Life) his classic treatise, is the primary source of most of the Tibetan Buddhist literature on the cultivation of altruism and the Spirit of Awakening.

Shantideva, like Buddha Shakyamuni, was born into a royal family and was destined for the throne. But on the verge of his coronation, Manjushri, a divine embodiment of wisdom, and Tara, a divine embodiment of compassion, both appeared to him in dreams and counseled him not to ascend to the throne. Thus, he left his father’s kingdom, retreated to the wilderness, and devoted himself to meditation. During this time, he achieved advanced states of samadhi and various siddhis, and from that time forward constantly beheld visions of Manjushri, who guided him as his spiritual mentor.

Afterward, he served for a while as minister to a king, whom he helped to rule in accordance with the principles of Buddhism. But this aroused jealousy on the part of the other ministers, and Shantideva withdrew from the service of the king. Making his way to the renowned monastic university of Nalanda, he took monastic ordination and devoted himself to the thorough study of the Buddhist sutras and tantras. It was during this period that he composed two other classic works. But as far as his fellow monks could see, all he did was eat, sleep, and defecate.

Seeking to humiliate him and thus expel him from the monastery, the other scholars compelled him to recite a sutra before the monastic community and the public, a task they thought far exceeded his abilities. After some hesitation, Shantideva agreed to the request and asked them, “Shall I recite an existing text or an original composition?” “Recite something new!” they told him, and in response he began chanting the Bodhicaryavatara. During this astonishing recital, when he came to the verse “When neither an entity nor a nonentity remains before the mind…,” it is said that he rose up into the sky. Even after his body disappeared from sight, his voice completed the recitation of this text.

Biography of Shantideva (Santideva Sanskrit), adapted from the introduction to A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life (Bodhicaryavatara) by Santideva. Translated from the Sanskrit and Tibetan by Vesna A. Wallace and B. Alan Wallace. Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York US.

Meditation to quiet the monkey mind

How to Shush your Monkey Mind

How You Can Meditate Everywhere, Anytime by Mingyur Rinpoche.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is a Nepalese teacher and master of the Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche possesses a rare ability to present the ancient wisdom of Tibet in a fresh, engaging manner. His profound yet accessible teachings and playful sense of humor have endeared him to students around the world. Most uniquely, Rinpoche’s teachings weave together his own personal experiences with modern scientific research, relating both to the practice of meditation.

Born in 1975 in the Himalayan border regions between Tibet and Nepal, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is a rising star among the new generation of Tibetan Buddhist masters. From a young age, Rinpoche was drawn to a life of contemplation. He spent many years of his childhood in strict retreat. At the age of seventeen, he was invited to be a teacher at his monastery’s three-year retreat center, a position rarely held by such a young lama. He also completed the traditional Buddhist training in philosophy and psychology, before founding a monastic college at his home monastery in north India.

In addition to extensive training in the meditative and philosophical traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, Mingyur Rinpoche has also had a lifelong interest in Western science and psychology. At an early age, he began a series of informal discussions with the famed neuroscientist Francisco Varela, who came to Nepal to learn meditation from his father, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. Many years later, in 2002, Mingyur Rinpoche and a handful of other long-term meditators were invited to the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where Richard Davidson, Antoine Lutz, and other scientists examined the effects of meditation on the brains of advanced meditators. The results of this groundbreaking research were reported in many of the world’s most widely read publications, includingNational Geographic and Time.

Mingyur Rinpoche teaches throughout the world, with centers on five continents. His candid, often humorous accounts of his own personal difficulties have endeared him to thousands of students around the world. His best-selling book, The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness, debuted on the New York Times bestseller list and has been translated into over twenty languages. Rinpoche’s most recent books are Turning Confusion into Clarity:
A Guide to the Foundation Practices of Tibetan Buddhism
, Joyful Wisdom: Embracing Change and Finding Freedom, and an illustrated children’s book entitled Ziji: The Puppy that Learned to Meditate.

In early June, 2011, Mingyur Rinpoche left his monastery in Bodhgaya, India to begin a period of extended solitary retreat. In November of 2015 Mingyur Rinpoche returned after four years of solitary retreat. He is currently teaching his monastic and western students living around the world.

Khenchen Thrangu Tulku

The Ninth Khenchen Thrangu Tulku,  Karma Lodrö Lungrik Maway Senge

The Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche was born in Kham, Tibet, in 1933. At the age of five, he was formally recognized by His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa and Tai Situpa as the ninth incarnation of the great Thrangu tulku. He entered Thrangu monastery, where, from the ages of seven to sixteen, he studied reading, writing, grammar, poetry, and astrology, memorized ritual texts, and completed two preliminary retreats. At sixteen, under the direction of Khenpo Lodro Rabsel, he began the study of the three vehicles of Buddhism while in retreat. At twenty-three he received full ordination from the Karmapa.

Because of the Chinese military takeover of Tibet, Thrangu Rinpoche, then twenty-seven, was forced to flee to India in 1959. He was called to Rumtek monastery in Sikkim, where the Karmapa has his seat in exile. Because of his great scholarship and unending diligence, he was given the task of preserving the teachings of the Kagyu lineage; the lineage of Marpa, Milarepa, and Gampopa, so that one thousand years of profound Buddhist teachings would not be lost.

He continued his studies in exile, and at the age of thirty-five he took the geshe examination before 1500 monks at Buxador monastic refugee camp in Bengal and was awarded the degree of Geshe Lharampa. Upon his return to Rumtek, he was awarded the highest Khenchen degree. Because many of the Buddhist texts in Tibet were destroyed, Thrangu Rinpoche helped in beginning the recovery of these texts from Tibetan monasteries outside of Tibet. He was named Abbot of Rumtek monastery and the Nalanda Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies at Rumtek. Thrangu Rinpoche, along with Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, was one of the principal teachers at the Institute, training all the younger tulkus of the lineage, including The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, who was in the first class. He was also the personal tutor of the four principal Karma Kagyu tulkus: Shamar Rinpoche, Situ Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, and Gyaltsab Rinpoche. Thrangu Rinpoche established the fundamental curriculum of the Karma Kagyu lineage taught at Rumtek. In addition, he taught with Khenpo Karthar, who had been a teacher at Thrangu Rinpoche’s monastery in Tibet before 1959, and who is now head of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Woodstock, New York, the seat of His Holiness Karmapa in North America.

After twenty years at Rumtek, in 1976 Thrangu Rinpoche founded the small monastery of Thrangu Tashi Choling in Boudhanath, Kathmandu, Nepal. Since then, he has founded a retreat center and college at Namo Buddha, east of the Kathmandu Valley, and has established a school in Boudhanath for the general education of Tibetan lay children and young monks in Western subjects as well as in Buddhist studies. In Kathmandu, he built Tara Abbey, which offers a full dharma education for Tibetan nuns, training them to become khenpos or teachers. He has also established a free medical clinic in an impoverished area of Nepal.

Thrangu Rinpoche recently completed a large, beautiful monastery in Sarnath, India, overlooking the Deer Park where the Buddha gave his first teaching on the Four Noble Truths. This monastery is named Vajra Vidya after the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, and it is now the seat for the annual Kagyu conference led by His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa. In January of this year, His Holiness the Dalai Lama came to Sarnath to perform a ceremony in the Deer Park with the Karmapa, Thrangu Rinpoche, and other high lamas.

Around 1976, Thrangu Rinpoche began giving authentic Buddhist teachings in the West. He has traveled extensively throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States. In 1984 he spent several months in Tibet where he ordained over one hundred monks and nuns and visited several monasteries. In the United States, Thrangu Rinpoche has centers in Maine and California, and is currently building the Vajra Vidya Retreat Center in Crestone, Colorado. Highly qualified monks and nuns from Thrangu Rinpoche’s monastery will give retreatants instruction in various intensive practices. He often visits and gives teachings in centers in New York, Connecticut, and Seattle, Washington. In Canada, he gives teachings in Vancouver and has a center in Edmonton. He is the Abbot of Gampo Abbey, a Buddhist monastery in Nova Scotia. He conducts yearly Namo Buddha seminars in the United States, Canada, and Europe, which are also part of a meditation retreat.

Rinpoche has now taught in over twenty-five countries and has seventeen centers in twelve countries. He is especially known for making complex teachings accessible to Western students. Thrangu Rinpoche is a recognized master of Mahamudra meditation.

Because of his vast knowledge of the Dharma and his skill as a teacher, he was appointed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to be the personal tutor for His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa.


gampopaGampopa, also known as Dakpo Rinpoche, is one of the most important figures in the Kagyu lineage. The foremost disciple of Jetsun Milarepa, he truly consolidated the Kagyu tradition by integrating its special teachings with those of the other main trends of Buddhism. Thus the mahamudra, Six Yogas of Naropa and other vajrayana teachings which are unique to the Kagyu lineage became firmly set within the monastic lineages that form the basis of hinayana Buddhism and the bodhisattva teachings of mahayana Buddhism. The latter came in the very complete and pure form in which they were taught to Gampopa through the Kadampa lineage.

Both Gampopa and Dakpo Rinpoche are names derived from places (Mount Gampo and the Dakpo region of Tibet) where he later taught. He was born in the year 1079. He had already been a bodhisattva on the threshold of Buddhahood (i.e. a 10th-level bodhisattva) for many cosmic aeons. He manifested during the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, the fourth Buddha, as one of his most brilliant disciples, a bodhisattva and healer called Chandra Prabha Kumara, who cured people by giving herbal medicine. Sometimes merely hearing his name or physical contact with him could heal diseases. He invited Shakyamuni Buddha and his other bodhisattva disciples to his home. There, Shakyamuni Buddha gave a teaching on the sutra known as the Samadhi Raja Sutra.

Having revealed this teaching on the Samadhi Raja Sutra, Buddha then asked members of the assembly to volunteer to spread the teaching of the Samadhi Raja Sutra in much later times, giving the world its teaching in their essential meaning. Chandra Prabha Kumara promised Shakyamuni Buddha that he would spread that sutra and make its profound teaching on the nature of mind available for future beings. When he made that commitment, Shakyamuni Buddha also promised that during the time when the bodhisattva would actually spread the sutra and benefit all living beings, he himself would help cultivate and establish the teaching firmly. Many thousands of bodhisattvas spontaneously ofered to also emanate at that time to help him. This is seen as the birth of the Kagyu/mahamudra lineage.

To fulfil this promise, the bodhisattva took birth in Tibet. He was a gifted child, interested in many things, who grew up to be both a doctor and a wise Buddhist, receiving teachings from various gurus.At that time his name was Sonam Rinchen. He had a wife and two children but this only lasted until he was 24 years old, at which time his children died from an epidemic, one shortly after the other. Then his wife became very ill. Even his skilful medicine could not do anything to heal her. But although she was in great pain and seemed to be dying, she was unable to actually let go of life and die. Realizing this, he asked her why she seemed to be so attached to her life.

His wife said, “I am not attached to possessions, nor wealth, nor faith, but I am very attached to you. Because you are only 24 years old, and you are very handsome, it is very hard for me to leave you. It is because my attachment to you is so very strong that I am unable to die.” Knowing there was no cure for her illness, and at the same time understanding that her attachment to him prevented her from dying properly, Sonam Rinchen promised that he would take the vow of complete celibacy, never to marry another woman, and to become a monk. This promise released her from her unnatural attachment, and she left her pain-racked body and died.

Fulfilling his promise, and inwardly very happy to renounce worldly life, he took monk’s vows, within the Kadampa tradition and went into retreat. There he practiced meditation through the Kadampa tradition and saw signs and had many mystical experiences. Yet this practice did not satisfy him completely.

Although he was in retreat, one evening he saw three beggars outside his cave. They seemed pretty hungry, and they were sitting around fantasising about what they wanted. One of the beggars said, “I wish a cup full of tsampa, with lots of butter, would fall from the sky, and we could all enjoy it.”

The other beggar said, “Come on, that is too small a thing to wish for, just a cup full of tsampa. That is nothing. I wish I were a king. In fact, I wish I had the power and the wealth of the kings of all Tibet.” Then the third one said, “Well, gaining possessions or becoming a king seem very temporary to me. Since everything is impermanent, everything is bound to change. I wish,” he said, “that I had the power and realization of the great yogi Milarepa. That realization, that energy and power, is not destructible, is not subject to change.” On hearing the name of Milarepa spoken thus by the beggars, Sonam Rinchen immediately fainted; so strong was the connection sparked in him when he heard Milarepa’s name, that he just passed out.

The next morning he made a special Tibetan butter tea and tsampa and invited the three beggars to have breakfast with him. He asked the older beggar about wanting to be like Milarepa, where Milarepa lived, and the direction he should take to get there. When he obtained that information, he immediately and without a second thought left the retreat hut to find Milarepa.

With eager excitement, Sonam Rinchen walked for about a month and a half to where Milarepa was. While on the way he came to a house and asked if he could stay the night. The elderly woman who answered the door was wrapped in many cotton cloths. She asked who he was, and he said he was Sonam Rinchen and had come to meet the great yogi known as Milarepa. The lady then insisted that he stay at her house, because not only she, but her daughter also, were devoted students of Milarepa. In fact, Milarepa had told her and her daughter that the son of a very noble family and a future great disciple was coming to be his student, and that they were to assist him in any manner they could. Milarepa had also told her daughter that they would accumulate great merit in accommodating him, so they hoped he would stay the evening. They appraised Sonam Rinchen of these facts and he felt some pride.

The next day Sonam Rinchen went to see Milarepa. But before he got there, Milarepa sent one of his students to meet him. The student gave him a bunch of wood, dry twigs, and tea, with a message “You have developed pride, you have become quite egoistic, therefore you must remove the stain of that pride. Keep the firewood, go under a rock, and stay there until you have purified the stain of pride.” Sonam Rinchen stayed under a rock for half a month to purify his small impurity of self-importance.

After half a month, Sonam Rinchen was really not expecting anything to happen, having lost the hope of expectation. When Milarepa called for him to come, he still had no expectations. At this time, Milarepa was sitting on top of a rock. There he told Sonam Rinchen that their connection was very profound. “Actually,” Milarepa told him, “although you have just come to see me, we were never really separated before.” And when Milarepa said that, Sonam Rinchen realized that the three beggars who were chatting outside his retreat hut were really emanations of Milarepa.

Milarepa then asked him what his name was now, and he replied that it was Sonam Rinchen. Milarepa then told him that “Sonam” means “merit,” and that his merit was inexhaustible and infinite; and that “Rinchen” means “precious,” so he would be very precious to all sentient beings.

Having explained this, Milarepa then offered Sonam Rinchen a skull cup full of beer. At this time Sonam Rinchen was hesitant to take the beer. After all, he was a Kadampa practitioner, a fully ordained monk who was supposed to abstain from any drinking. Also, he was with the great Milarepa and surrounded by all of his students, who were also yogis. Because of all this, he was reluctant to take the beer cup.

Milarepa said, “Get beyond this inhibition, abandon all these thoughts and preconceptions. Drink without any hesitation.” So Sonam Rinchen drank all the beer that was in the skull cup, without leaving a single drop. This was token of him obtaining, in the future, the complete teaching from Milarepa. As he was able to drink the beer without leaving a drop, he would be able to obtain the complete teaching from Milarepa without missing any points or teachings at all.

After that, Sonam Rinchen offered to Milarepa the offerings he had brought: some gold dust and a bag full of tea. Milarepa said, “I have no pot, no vessel to boil the tea in, and,” he said, “I am not that favorable to gold, either. You keep the tea. Also, you keep the gold dust. You might need to use it yourself.”

Saying that, Milarepa gave a very basic teaching and sent Sonam Rinchen off to meditate on it for seven days. After seven days of practicing, he gained such vital energy that he no longer needed ordinary clothing to remain warm but just a very thin layer of cotton cloth. He was also able to become absorbed in a very profound meditation, needing only to take one special breath a day. When he went back to Milarepa and reported his great progress, Milarepa did not praise him nor find fault with him, but just told him to keep on meditating.

He returned to his meditation. This time he experienced great darkness, so obscure that he was unable to see anything. At the same time he heard cries, but because everything was so dark he could not tell what was happening. Once again he went to Milarepa and told him about this experience. Again Milarepa said that this signified neither blessing nor curse, and that he should keep on meditating. “In fact,” he said, “when you are meditating there are changes in your nerve impulses and channel systems. So when you are sitting and feeling some changes in your usual perception, you are in the meditative experience.”

Following the advice of Milarepa, Gampopa went and kept on practicing, and in his next experience he became very uncomfortable. He experienced dizziness and felt nauseous, and he thought that he must be sick. So he went to Milarepa and told him that he must be sick because he felt dizzy and nauseous. Milarepa said that he must keep on meditating, just as he had explained before, no matter what he experienced. But Milarepa added that this time the cause of the problem could possibly be that Gampopa had tied his meditation rope too tightly, and so he should loosen it.

Then, Milarepa taught him some more ways of mastering the various energies and their channels in the ‘subtle body’. These are known as yogas. He taught him the various skilful methods of inner heat, known as tummo in Tibetan or candali in Sanskrit. Then he sent Gampopa back to meditation.

Gampopa was then able to see very clearly the beings of the six realms, from the god realm to the hell realm. Not only that, he saw that they were all enjoying the milk of the stars, and it was a very fascinating experience. However, he also saw his own mother in a very weak condition. She seemed to be sick, with a very weak physical body. She was suffering from hunger and thirst, while all the other beings were enjoying the milk of the stars.

He went back to Milarepa and told him of this experience, and Milarepa said, “Those are simply meditative experiences. Your previous experience of feeling nauseous was also a meditative experience. They come from the vital air entering the nerve channels and systems.”

Milarepa continued, “Now this experience of seeing beings of the six realms enjoying the milk of the stars happens when the ‘tigle’ enters into the vital nerve system. The reason you experience the suffering and starving of your mother is that you have one nerve system that was not opened when the tigle entered.” Because of that blocked channel, Sonam Rinchen experienced suffering.

Giving him another yoga instruction, Milarepa then told Sonam Rinchen to go back and meditate without fear, expectation, or hope. At the same time Milarepa mumbled a word or two, and Sonam Rinchen thought he said, “There is a supreme being.” When he went back and meditated, this time he saw the mandala of the deities, the complete mandala of Chakrasamvara. He was able to see this complete mandala of the deities because he thought that was what Milarepa had meant by saying that there was a supreme being.

Milarepa once again told Sonam Rinchen that this was neither a good nor a bad experience, and that he must go back and continue to meditate without fear or hope. He then gave him another yoga practice. This led to his next experience, seeing the solar and lunar eclipses at the same time. The way he saw it in his vision, the eclipse was caused by a very thin, thread-like cloud. This thread-like shadow had the capacity to completely obscure the sun and the moon.

Sonam Rinchen went back again and told Milarepa about the experience of the eclipse. Milarepa said that it was neither good nor bad, it was just a meditation experience. This one was caused when the tigle entered into the two nerve channels, called “roma” on the left and “kyangma” on the right. The entering of the tigle into the right and left nerve channels causes the experience of the fine, thread-like eclipse.

Although Milarepa again told Sonam Rinchen that his experience was neither good nor bad, and that he must continue meditating, this time he gave him some advice. “It seems,” he said, “that you are over-taxing yourself in meditation. Meditate with less force, less tension. You must relax.” Then, taking these words, and some new yoga instructions, Sonam Rinchen went back to meditate, as instructed by his guru Milarepa.

Milarepa sent Sonam Rinchen (Gampopa) back to meditate many times and gave him many yoga instructions. Gampopa had by this time become very advanced in his meditations, and could accomplish them in very difficult situations with no discomfort. He learned lung (breath) practice and supplication prayers to his guru Milarepa.

By now, Sonam Rinchen’s meditation was so advanced that he normally required little sleep. One night however, after his midnight practise, he dozed off. He had a very auspicious dream, in which were 21 very auspicious indications. When he awoke, the sun was already shining. He set off immediately to tell Milarepa about these dreams and signs.

Milarepa was sitting on a big rock with his head covered by his robe, as though he were asleep. Gampopa said, “Master, wake up. I have to tell you about my dreams.” Milarepa replied, “Don’t be so excited. I have had the same dreams and will tell you the meaning of its symbols.” (There is also a symbolic meaning to the entire story: when Gampopa met Milarepa wrapped in a blanket as though asleep, with the sun shining brightly on the ground, it symbolized that this was the last time Gampopa would see his guru, meaning that Gampopa’s Buddha activity would begin, and he would spread the teachings or transmission of Milarepa all over the world.)

Gampopa explained his twenty-one dream experiences precisely, one after another. Milarepa said, “In the past, I have not explained to you the meanings of the experiences you have had in meditation. This time I will explain every dream and every symbol.”

In the first dream, Gampopa dreamt that he was wearing a white hat, or crown, with a very long point. This symbolized that although there were many vehicles for the teachings, many traditions of teachings, his tradition was superior, as shown by the high point of the hat. This hat was also surrounded by multicolored string, symbolizing Gampopa’s complete union of profound prajna and compassion. The edge of the hat was also decorated with animal fur; this fur was black, with a red color within the black. This symbolized that Gampopa would not need to mix, or mingle, with other traditions; that he would have his own completely independent transmission. Gampopa also dreamt that on the top of his hat, at the very point, there was the feather of an eagle. This symbolized that Gampopa would realize the supreme, stainless view of mahamudra.

Again Gampopa dreamt that he was wearing brand-new shoes, completely free from dust, mud, or stain. These symbolized his stainless commitment to keep every vow of the Three Yanas he took: the vows of Vinaya, the Bodhisattvayana, and the Vajrayana. The shoes were new and very attractive, symbolizing how Gampopa would become an example, keeping and maintaining the three types of vows in the future. The shoes were also decorated with four blue circles: one on the point of the left and another on the point of the right, and one on each back. These four circles symbolized that Gampopa in his lifetime would come to complete realization of the four kayas: dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya, and the svabhavikakaya.

Also, they were Tibetan shoes, the kind of Tibetan shoes, or boots, that come to below the knee and have to be tied with a string or rope. Gampopa dreamt that at both ends of the rope that tied the shoes were two silver rings. These symbolized the unselfish conduct and behavior of past bodhisattvas, and that throughout the life of Gampopa he would never show selfishness, but always compassion, in the manner of past bodhisattvas.

Gampopa also dreamt that he was wearing a very thin white cotton cloth wrapped around him. This cloth symbolized that although Gampopa as a teacher would have many defiled and neurotic students in his lifetime, his mind would always remain as stainless as the white cotton cloth. Gampopa also dreamt of a golden-colored silken shirt, symbolic of Gampopa’s unshakable, immovable kindness to all living beings. It meant that he would never discriminate between good and bad students, or high or low castes; his kindness would always extend to all beings. He was like gold, in that no matter what you do to it, whether you burn it or beat it, the color of gold always stays the same. Such was the immovable kindness of Gampopa.

The cotton cloth in the dream had many multicolored dots on it. These symbolized that every living being could benefit through Gampopa’s skillful means, and that each would benefit according to its capacity.

Gampopa dreamt that he wore a woven belt, wound around his waist three times. This symbolized that in the past, present, and future, Gampopa would keep pure and stainless the commitment, the samaya of the Hinayana, Bodhisattvayana, and Vajrayana vows. The belt was decorated with white flowers connected with white pearls. These symbolized that Gampopa would master the three disciplines: those of right conduct, meditation and wisdom, and that he would become an example to future students of how to master these three.

He was also wearing a white blanket made of pure wool over the white cotton cloth. This symbolized that whatever Gampopa might be doing externally–walking, teaching, sleeping, meditating, whatever–his mind would never be separate from the essential nature of dharmakaya. This white wool blanket was stitchless, free from any threads, and not cut, just naturally the right shape. This symbolized that Gampopa’s realization of the dharmakaya was stainless and free from any doubts or conflicts. Gampopa’s experience was pure, free from any negativities, and that purity was symbolized by the blanket having no threads or cuts.

The white blanket was decorated with a silver coin, round and somewhat flat. This symbolized that his realization of dharmakaya was not inferior or superior to that of Shakyamuni Buddha.

In the dream he was carrying a long stick that was made of sandalwood, which symbolized that Gampopa had found an authentic master. The sandalwood stick was decorated with fine precious stones, symbolizing the knowledge and qualities of his master, his guru Milarepa. Along the middle of the stick there was an interwoven golden line. The golden line symbolized the unbroken, exact, person-to-person transmission that Gampopa had received and realized, deep in his heart. It was interwoven, symbolizing that in the future Gampopa would be able to spread this person-to-person transmission to many other practitioners. His holding of the stick in his right hand symbolized that whoever became his student, whoever followed his teachings, in the future would become liberated from suffering and would progress toward complete Buddhahood.

Gampopa dreamt that in his left hand he was holding an empty skull (kapala), symbolizing the voidness of all phenomena as well as the realization of that voidness. This empty kapala was being filled with a yellow-gold nectar (amrita), symbolizing that Gampopa’s spiritual growth would always develop and increase. The yellow color of the nectar symbolized Gampopa’s ability to remain in the natural state of clear light.

He had dreamt that on his right shoulder were two grain bags filled with white rice, and that his left shoulder was covered by an animal skin. This was a kind of skin that is exactly in the form and shape of the animal it came from, with the legs and head left on. By covering his left shoulder, it symbolized that he would maintain the mindfulness, alertness, and accomplishment of the bodhicitta. Its having the four limbs and head symbolized that Gampopa would be benefiting all sentient beings, again with the mindfulness of the bodhicitta of the four limitless meditations. He began to use this skin as his mat, which symbolized that he would accomplish the realizations of voidness compassion, and inspire such in his followers.

In the dream, Gampopa looked on his right side and there beautiful meadows of small hills covered with yellow grass. That symbolized Gampopa’s mastering the knowledge and meditations of his own tradition, as well as all the traditions of all beings. In fact, he became known as the Knower the Three Times, meaning that nothing is excluded from his knowledge.

In this same meadow he saw a beautiful mountain also covered with yellow grass, with baby yaks and lambs grazing on this meadow, enjoying the grass. This symbolized that Gampopa would not only benefit living beings through revealing the Dharma and making teachings available, but by giving the generosity of protection and of loving-kindness. Then, in the dream he became a shepherd, someone to look over the lambs and young yaks. This symbolized that Gampopa’s activities to benefit beings would be endless, just as sentient beings are endless.

Then, Gampopa looked on his left side, and there he saw another meadow, perfectly even, covered with a beautiful blue grass, the color of turquoise. This was symbolic of his profound meditative realization, or samadhi, and his realization of the ability to remain in this profound state regardless of day or night.

This beautiful meadow was also filled with flowers of varied colors: red, white, yellow, and so forth, symbolizing that he would also accomplish and experience the physical warmth of the meditation. This is not just ordinary physical warmth, but meditation warmth.

In this dream, Gampopa also dreamt that uncountable attractive women were prostrating themselves to him, with reverence and devotion. These were uncountable beautiful dakinis. By maintaining the unbroken and pure discipline of the monk, and other samayas, he symbolically subdued all the dakinis.

In the very center of the meadow, forming a beautiful garden, were many groups of yellow flowers growing together. This symbolized that Gampopa would attract countless students and followers, effortlessly attracting them in the future. Just like clouds gather in the sky without needing the sky to invite them, students would gather and form around him in the future, effortlessly, naturally.

In the center of all the yellow flowers, growing higher than all the others, was a huge yellow lotus, which had about a thousand petals. This symbolized that through the strength of Gampopa’s prajna, his wisdom, he would be superior to, or above, all the beings of the three worlds. This means the complete attainment of enlightenment.

In the dream, Gampopa sat on top of that lotus with a thousand petals in a bodhisattva posture, symbolizing that in the future he would benefit beings with ceaseless, endless emanations. Gampopa also dreamt that having sat on top of that lotus flower, in front of him he saw a huge fountain of water springing from the earth. This symbolized that he was the source of all the four greater Kagyu schools, the eight lesser Kagyu schools, and, in short, all the Kagyu traditions. Not only was he the origin, but he would continue, like the water fountain, to be the source of the Kagyupa traditions.

Behind him emanated a white light, or aura, which symbolized that his lineage, his teaching would be established and spread in all Tibet, as the sun gives forth light to all beings everywhere.

He dreamt his body was surrounded by huge burning flames, symbolizing that the blissfulness of his realization and the warmth of his meditation would burn away all external pain, suffering, and cold.

He dreamt that from his heart was radiating the light of the sun and the moon, symbolizing that from that very moment until the end of his life, Gampopa would not experience any need for sleep, but would instead transform all his sleep into the clear luminosity.

Having explained the many significances of Gampopa’s dream, Milarepa noted all the auspicious predictions in it for his future.

“However,” he said, “although it is very auspicious, and a good omen for the future, you must again learn not to become attached to the dream, or to develop expectations from the dream. Nothing can be so positive that it could not turn negative if we hope or expect.”

In the same way, Milarepa advised Gampopa not to take any negative dreams seriously either. All negative or painful dreams are illusions, not real. If we can see them as they are, and avoid becoming attached to their negative meanings, they become positive things for us and enrich us for further development on the spiritual path. “So,” Milarepa advised Gampopa, “you must learn to see the negative dreams as illusion and not to take them seriously, nor should you become attached to the meanings of positive dreams; that is the practice of the yogi.”

Having explained the dream to Gampopa, Milarepa now said, “You no longer have to stay with me. As you have reached complete realization, you must go out and benefit beings.” And Milarepa directed him to the East, to a place called Gampo Tashi Riwo, where he was to begin his enlightened activity to benefit beings. It it through his long sojourn there that Sonam Rinchen became known asGampopa – the One from Gampo. In that place there was one huge mountain, like a jewel in a mandala encircled by seven other mountains, or like a king on a throne it was surrounded by seven reverent bowing ministers.

As his parting teaching, Milarepa explained to Gampopa: “While you are alone there, benefiting beings, you may miss many things. Sometimes you may miss food, and at these times you must enjoy the food of meditation; sometimes you may experience cold and miss having clothes, and at these times you must enjoy the inner heat of tummo; sometimes you may miss your guru, and at these times you must remember that your mind and the mind of the guru are inseparable. There is no greater guru than the awareness or realization of the inseparability of your own and the guru’s mind.”

When Gampopa left, Milarepa told his students, with a sense of extreme joy, that the “U-pa Tonpa” (another name for Gampopa) would be a great being and benefit many beings. (“U” is central Tibet, and “pa” means “person,” so “U-pa” means a person who comes from central Tibet, and “Tonpa” means “teacher.”) Milarepa told them that he had had a dream about a white crane that flew high in the sky and perched on top of a huge, tall mountain. Having perched there, he then attracted uncountable other cranes, which landed there. Suddenly they all scattered, and the land of Tibet became white with cranes. This dream symbolized, said Milarepa, that Gampopa would be spreading the Dharma widely in Tibet.

Following Milarepa’s advice, Sonam Rinchen went to that special mountain, to which were attracted many bodhisattvas who were to become his disciples. They were, in fact, emanations of followers from the time of Shakyamuni Buddha: those who had promised to help Chandra Prabha Kumara spread its inner meaning. These bodhisattvas had been practising Dharma for many lives and so, when Gampopa simply gave one instruction, they all attained realization, without having to go through hardships of the practice. So in that manner, the 51,600 students, who were emanations from the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, received Gampopa’s teachings and promised to support them.

Out of all the bodhisattvas gathered together, three were particularly outstanding. They became known as the three Khampas, because they all came from the eastern part of Tibet known as Kham. One of these students, whose name was Dogyal, was a direct emanation of the Buddha himself, who had promised, with his disciples, to help Chandra Prabha Kumara spread the Dharma. The second one was from Due, the Due Khampa. This student’s name was U-ser, and he was to be His Holiness Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa. He was called U-ser because “U” means “head,” and “ser” means “gray”. Since he had been born with gray hair, he got the nickname “grayhead.” The third one’s name was Saltong Shok-gam and he was from Namchen. “Sal” means “clarity,” “luminosity,” and “tong” means “emptiness,” “sunyata.” “Shok-gam” means “harelip,” so his name, Saltong Shok-gam, meant “the one born with a harelip who has the realization of clarity and emptiness.”

Except for the three Khampas, all the rest of the 51,600 students kept extremely pure discipline of the vinaya, or monastic ordination. The three Khampas, however, were very, very wild. Because they were completely realized, they were beyond any negative accumulations for their actions. So they did not keep the strict discipline of a monk. Over and over again they asked permission of Gampopa to let them drink alcoholic beverages. Finally he gave them permission and told them they could have three skull cups of barley beer each. They were pretty happy with that.

One day, they took their beer up into the mountains to a beautiful location. It was the Vajrayogini day, the 25th of the month on the Tibetan calendar. So because of the day, and because they wanted to show how the beer didn’t really affect them, they decided to perform some miracles, as a gesture. So Dorje Dogyal was chasing the trees of the forest, and they were all running from him. And Saltong from Namchen was bringing water in a fish net. Then U-ser performed a miracle such that from the tip of one finger came the wind, and from the tips of all his fingers on his other hand came air and fire together. And they were having a wonderful time performing miracles.

They had a great day on top of the mountain. They enjoyed the beer, performed many miracles, and sang many doha songs. In the evening they returned to the monastery, where all the other students lived. Yet they were still excited, having enjoyed themselves so much, and they were still singing and dancing.

Now every monastery has a Discipline Master. Singing and dancing were not permitted at all in the monastery, and this disturbance greatly annoyed the Discipline Master. He began to beat them with his long, broad stick and told them they must leave the monastery immediately. Dogyal requested that they be allowed to spend the night, as it was already dark outside. He let them stay the night, but they had to agree to leave before dawn.

Before dawn, the three of them left the monastery, beginning the long descent down the mountain into the valley. Now it happened that Gampopa himself was not actually in the monastery but above it, in a retreat hut, practicing meditation. He told one of his attendants that he had seen, as if in a dream, a vision of all the dakas and dakinis leaving the monastery, and he wanted to know what was happening there. He felt that maybe something had happened to those three yogis (he called them Milarepas). So he sent his attendant down to see if anything had happened. When his attendant reached the valley, he saw the three yogis prostrating themselves toward Gampopa. They were doing this because they had not been able to say good-bye in person when the Discipline Master made them leave. The attendant returned and informed Gampopa that not only were the three yogis leaving, but all the birds were leaving along with them and not only were they making prostrations, but the grass and trees were bending toward where they were departing. Gampopa knew that their leaving was not good; he knew that the gathering of so many students was because of the commitment of these emanations from the time of Shakyamuni Buddha. So Gampopa himself went down to the valley and asked them please not to depart.

After requesting them not to depart, he sang a song that explained who these three yogis were, how they were not ordinary beings but emanations of past enlightened beings who had been present during the time of Shakyamuni Buddha. Knowing this, the others at the monastery never again had negative feelings toward the Khampas’ unusual behavior.

Gampopa passed away in 1053, and later the four main students of Gampopa (there were four by then) spread his teachings by what have come to be known as the “four great” schools of the Kagyupa. Then there were eight students of Dogyal, who also spread the teachings in the “eight lesser” schools of the Kagyupa.


The 4 Dharmas of Gampopa