Biography

His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, was born to nomadic parents in 1985 in the Lhathok region of Tibet. The parents, who had many daughters and one son, wanted to have another boy. They were told by the yogi abbot of Kalek, a Karma Kagyu monastery, that they might have a son but if they did they must place him at Kalek monastery. They agreed and a short time later they had a son.

Biography

17th Karmapa Ögyen Trinley Dorje

HIS HOLINESS, the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, is the spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu lineage, one of the major traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Born in Eastern Tibet on June 26th, 1985, he was recognized at the age of seven through a prediction letter, known as the Last Testament. Written by his previous incarnation, it indicated the place and year of his future birth along with the names of his parents and the special signs that would appear. The Karmapa’s early years were divided between the pastoral life of his large nomadic family and Buddhist training at the nearby Karlek Monastery. Then, in the spring of 1992, contrary to his usual behavior, the Karmapa insisted that his parents move their camp early and knowing their son was special, they complied. This allowed the Karmapa to be in the exact place predicted by the Last Testament when the search party came to find him. In June of 1992, he returned to Central Tibet and Tolung Tsurphu Monastery, the main seat of the previous Karmapas.

In that same month, the Dalai Lama confirmed the recognition of the Karmapa stating that he had experienced "a kind of dream of the area where the present incarnation was born." He described precisely the area of the Karmapa’s birth as if he were actually there, saying that there were stones and meadows but no trees, animals or people and that two rivers flowed down on the right and left. "Then someone, some source without form, was telling me, ‘This is the place where the Karmapa is born.’" This close connection between the two spiritual leaders would to continue up to the present day.

In 1992, he suggested to his parents that they move their camp early. This decision to move placed them in the spot where the predictive letter written by the Sixteenth Karmapa had said the Seventeenth Karmapa would be found. Apo Gaga told his parents his monks were coming for him, and packed his things.

The Karmapas were the first lineage of tulkus (reincarnate lamas) in Tibet and the 17th Karmapa was the first one to be officially recognized by both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government. The enthronement of a tulku marks the public recognition of this special status and begins the official activity of bringing benefit to all living beings. This ceremony was held in September 1992 with 20,000 people coming to celebrate from all over Tibet and the world outside. The next day, the young Karmapa gave his first empowerment, which was of Chenrezig, the embodiment of compassion. Both the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa are considered emanations of this most popular deity in Tibet.

While staying at Tsurphu, the Karmapa completed basic studies of Buddhist texts in addition to becoming very adept at Tibetan language and literature. Even at a young age, his poetry was profound and lyrical. During the other parts of his day, the Karmapa was overseeing the rebuilding of Tsurphu, making official visits, and recognizing other reincarnate lamas, a well-known ability of the Karmapas. Thousands made the pilgrimage to Tsurphu to receive his blessing and he presided over the numerous rituals and meditation retreats that shape the calendar of Tibetan Buddhism.

In Tibetan Buddhism, lineage is extremely important, since the tradition is sustained through teachers passing along their knowledge and wisdom to the next generation of disciples. In late 1999, in order to meet his teachers in India, the Karmapa left Tibet. Once in India, the Karmapa traveled directly to see the Dalai Lama who received him with great warmth. The image of the Karmapa and the story of the escape was on the cover of newspapers and magazines the world over.

The Indian government kindly granted the Karmapa refugee status, and he continues to stay at his temporary residence in Gyuto Monastery, not far from the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala. The Karmapa’s wish to receive further instruction and meet with his former teachers is being fulfilled as he studies Buddhist philosophy and meditation while receiving the transmissions and empowerments from the masters of his lineage. Though young in years when he first arrived in India, the Karmapa has showed a wisdom and maturity well beyond his age. With a special interest in books, he has worked to preserve ancient texts; he has also encouraged the practice of the meditative rituals, which were brought from India to Tibet centuries ago and which form the core practices at all his monasteries inside and outside Tibet.

With the passing years, the Karmapa’s artistic abilities have flourished. In addition to writing poetry, he has become a skilled artist in drawing, painting, and calligraphy. Recently, he composed new meditative rituals for the Kagyu Prayer Festival, a yearly gathering of monks and lay people in Bodh Gaya, India, the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment. The Karmapa has presided over these major ceremonies since 2001. There are thousands who come to the festival and also to visit the Karmapa at Gyuto Monastery where he gives public teachings.

Now at last in 2008, His Holiness the Karmapa is able to travel abroad. During this initial visit, he will spend eighteen days of May and June traveling in the United States. We are overjoyed to receive him at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, where he is returning for the first time as the 17th Karmapa to meet his disciples, bless the monastery, and give an empowerment and teachings. We look forward to numerous such occasions in the future.

The vast scope of activities of His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, including spiritual travels to offer teachings, consecration ceremonies, and blessings, his teaching schedules, as well as official visits and participation in a variety of conferences, can be viewed in the Karmapa News Archives.

Official website of the Office of Administration of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, http:/www.kagyuoffice.org

Rebirth Prediction Letter

In January of 1981, the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa gave to his heart son, the Twelfth Tai Situpa, a protection amulet with a brocade cover and said, "This is your protection amulet. In the future, it will confer great benefit." This protection amulet contained the letter predicting the rebirth of the Karmapa as Ogyen Trinley Dorje. It described unerringly the names of the Seventeenth Karmapa's parents, the area of his rebirth, and the time of his rebirth.

On the basis of this prediction letter, His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa was found and enthroned in 1992. The letter was translated by Michele Martin at Rumtek in 1992.

 

The Sacred Letter from His Holiness Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa

Emaho. Self-awareness is always bliss;

The dharmadhatu1 has no center nor edge.

From here to the north [in] the east of [the land] of snow

Is a country where divine thunder spontaneously blazes2

[In] a beautiful nomad's place with the sign of a cow3,

The method is Döndrub and the wisdom is Lolaga4.

[Born in] the year of the one used for the earth5

[With] the miraculous, far-reaching sound of the white one6;

[This] is the one known as Karmapa.

 

His is sustained by Lord Donyö Drupa;

Being nonsectarian, he pervades all directions;

Not staying close to some and distant from others, he is the protector of all beings:

The sun of the Buddha's Dharma that benefits others always blazes.


1Chos kyi dhying, the expanse of all phenomena and equivalent to sunyata or emptiness.

2The Seventeenth Karmapa's place of birth is Lhathok: "Lha" means divine and "thok" means thunder. In the text, thunder is poetically called "gnam chags" or "sky iron."

3The name of the nomadic community where the Karmapa was born is Bakor; "ba" means "cow," and the Dharma term for cow, "dodjo," is used in the text.

4Method refers to the father and wisdom to the mother.

5His Holiness was born in the Wood Ox year; a tree lives from the earth and an ox is used to plow it.

6This refers to the sound of the conch shell that miraculously resounded in the air for about an hour after His Holiness' birth.

 

Birth of the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa

His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa was born on the eighth day of the fifth Tibetan month in the year of the Wood Ox (June 26, 1985 using the Western calendar) in Lhathok, located in the nomad community of Bakor in eastern Tibet. His father is Karma Dondrup and his mother, Loga. Just before the sun rose, His Holiness was born without any difficulty. In the afternoon of the third day after his birth, the wide-ranging sound of a conch shell resonated for about one hour. For another half hour, the tones of various musical instruments were clearly heard by all the people in this nomad community. The resounding of the conch shell in the sky and on the earth was a wondrous event.

Parents of His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa

Before the Karmapa was born, a beautiful bird never seen before landed on the roof of the family's tent and sang a lovely song. Another time, a rainbow appeared over the tent. In this way, many wonderful signs appeared which were directly perceived, and which led all the people of the area to believe that this child was a very special one.

When His Holiness was four years old, Amdo Palden from Kalek Monastery invited him to go there and subsequently, he began his studies. The Karmapa possessed great qualities within his physical form, great compassion within his mind, and the knowledge of past and future time. For example, one day when he was playing with his youngest sister, he said: "Father's car has fallen down." When his sister rebuked him, saying "Don't talk like that," His Holiness answered, "Everything is all right." When the Karmapa's father came back, they found out that the Karmapa had known exactly what happened: his father's vehicle had fallen off the road, but no one was hurt.

The valley in eastern Tibet where the Seventeenth Karmapa was born

His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Confirmation

Following the discovery of the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, the Karma Lekshey Ling School in Katmandu, Nepal, published a beautiful booklet titled His Holiness the XVII Gyalwang Karmapa. It includes many beautiful pictures of His Holiness and lineage holders, along with photos of some of the most important historic documents such as the Buktham Rinpoche, His Holiness Dalai Lama's official confirmation of the identity of His Holiness Karmapa.

Text from this booklet explains that "from 1981 to 1992, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been constantly informed by high incarnate lamas of the Kamtsang [Kagyu] lineage about the developments relating to the discovery of the XVII Gyalwang Karmapa. All the leaders of the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism and masters of the non-sectarian teachings were requested to pray for the swift incarnation and discovery of the XVII Karmapa.

"On June 9, 1992, Situ Rinpoche and Gyaltsap Rinpoche informed His Holiness the Dalai Lama about the details of the search for and discovery of the XVII Gyalwang Karmapa. On the basis of his flawless wisdom, His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave his approval to the reincarnation. On June 30, 1992, he granted the official letter with his seal of confirmation, the Buktham Rinpoche.

Left to right: H.E. Tai Situ Rinpoche, H.H. the Dalai Lama, and H.E. Gyaltsap Rinpoche

"At the same time, His Holiness also gave advice, which was taped, to all Kagyu followers and also gave a blessing for the long life and activity of the XVII Gyalwang Karmapa. He blessed the two Rinpoches on their journey to Tibet and sent with them a blessed scarf, a blessing cord, a special protection cord, and his personal mala to be presented to the XVII Karmapa.

The Buktham Rinpoche

"Granted by His Holiness the Dalai Lama: The boy born to Karma Döndrub and Loga in the Wood Ox year (of the Tibetan calendar) identifies with the prediction letter (left by the late Karmapa) and is hereby recognized as the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa. With prayers for his well-being and for the success of his activities. The Dalai Lama. Translated by Kalön Tashi Wangdi

The 3rd of the fourth Tibetan month in the water monkey year, June 3, 1992 

A Summary of the Advice Given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

"It is mainly Situ Rinpoche along with Tsurphu Gyaltsap Rinpoche and those closely connected, who are responsible for finding the reincarnation of the XVII Gyalwang Karmapa, and I am very happy about this. There is a proverb that says where there is great Dharma, there is immense Mara. Although there have been some difficult situations, from now on, everyone should maintain firmly their faith and samaya. I pray that this precious reincarnation will have a long life and that his activity will flourish. I wish you all Tashi Delek."

The Enthronement

On July 13, 1992, Their Eminences Situ Rinpoche and Gyaltsap Rinpoche arrived at Tsurphu Monastery to meet His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa. They were received in an elaborate ceremony by the upper and lower monasteries of Tsurphu, as well as by other Kamtsang monasteries in the surrounding area.

This meeting was to be their first formal one with the Seventeenth Karmapa. Subsequently, at the request of Tsurphu Monastery, the two Rinpoches conducted an elaborate ceremony at the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, in the presence of the Jowo, the most revered statue of the Buddha in Tibet. The extensive ceremony began with the presentation to the Seventeenth Karmapa of gifts kindly sent by His Holiness the Dalai Lama: a kata (blessing scarf), blessing cord, and the Dalai Lama's personal mala.

The seat of the Karmapas, Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet

According to the prophecy of Guru Rinpoche found in the treasure of Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa, the name Pal Khyabdak Ogyen Gyalway Nyugu Drodul Trinley Dorje Tsal Chokle Nampar Gyalway De was offered to the Karmapa during this profound ceremony.

According to the wishes of all the lamas, monks, and lay community of Tsurphu Monastery, as well as the Karma Kamtsang monasteries of upper, middle, and lower Tibet, His Holiness was enthroned at Tsurphu Monastery, the main seat of all the Gyalwa Karmapas, on September 27, 1992.

The Buktham Rinpoche, and the prediction of the Nechung Oracle were offered to the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa during the enthronement ceremony.

Participants in the ceremony included tulkus and lamas (or their representatives) from the many Karma Kamtsang monasteries and the main schools of Tibetan Buddhism and the Bonpo tradition; representatives from the government of the People's Republic of China and from the government of the Tibetan Autonomous Region; disciples from dharma centers abroad; and monks and devotees from all over the world.

First Public Ceremony

On September 29, 1992, His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje performed his first public ceremony, bestowing the empowerment of Standing Red Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara). The empowerment was received by over 20,000 of his fortunate devotees. He was assisted by H.E. Tai Situ and H.E. Gyaltsab Rinpoche, and read the core of the ceremony himself in a voice clear and steady. It was a moving moment for any who had known the previous Karmapa. The Seventeenth Karmapa had begun his great compassionate activity, and it was acknowledged not only by the people present but also by a contingent of eagles which circled in a clockwise direction above the monastery, and by a horizontal rainbow that appeared in a virtually cloudless sky during the empowerment.

Over 20,000 followers received the Karmapa's first empowerment

From the time of the First Karmapa (through this empowerment of Avalokiteshvara), the line of the Karmapas remains pure and unbroken. The lord of the dharma, the glorious First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, was of the nature of all the Buddhas of the three times. There have been countless bodily manifestations of him: bodhisattvas such Avalokiteshvara; accomplished masters such as Saraha; learned pundits such as Sri Vira (Ashvagosha) and Nagabodhi; kings, such as Indrabodhi; and in Tibet, Gyalwa Choyang, Putowa Rinchen Sel, Kharak Gomchung, and others.

In the treasure predictions of Ratna Lingpa it is said: "Upholding the activity of Avalokiteshvara, the mantric yogi with awesome behavior, endowed with the name Human Saint Karmapa will transverse the whole land. He will tame beings and protect them with skillful means and compassion."

Thus he has been praised as being an emanation of Avalokiteshvara in the various treasure predictions of all the undisputed great revealers, the renowned representatives of Padmakara, who have appeared up through the fifteenth, sixty-year cycle such as Dorje Lingpa, Karma Lingpa, and others.

Ogyen Rinpoche, with his vajra speech, has said: "When seeing his face for but the fraction of an instant, the karmic obscurations of seven rebirths will surely be dispelled."

In these ways it has clearly been demonstrated in the prophecies that he is not different from the Noble Compassionate One.

Miraculous Activity of His Holiness Karmapa

The following account was written in 1996 at Tsurphu Monastery in Tibet by Ward Holmes, a student of His Holiness Karmapa.

"I was leading a group overland from Kathmandu to Tibet, returning to Tsurphu Monastery on May 3, 1996. At that time, I found His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, looking radiant and wonderful. After receiving His Holiness's blessing, the tour group went to visit the Venerable Drupon Dechen Rinpoche, the head lama responsible for rebuilding the whole of Tsurphu Monastery over the last ten years, as it had been completely destroyed in the cultural revolution.

"Rinpoche proceeded to tell us of the miraculous events that took place in Tsurphu with His Holiness this winter. On the twelfth day of the first Tibetan month (Friday, March 1, 1996), His Holiness set out with sixteen monks on the longest, most difficult of the circumambulation treks at Tsurphu called the Tse-Khor. There are three main kora walks and this is by far the most strenuous. In my ten years of going to Tsurphu, I had never yet attempted this one!

"On the sacred mountain of Gyab-Ri-Thugje-Chenpo, His Holiness stopped at a place along this great walk known as Damchenpa, and there proceeded once again to stick his right hand into solid rock, making a clear impression of his hand (first hand print was performed in April 11, 1993). He and the group then continued higher and higher into the mountain, where few foreigners have ever ventured to go. Again near a fresh water spring, next to a cave that the Fourth Karmapa had meditated in, he stuck three fingers into solid rock, making a black indented mark distinctly seen!

"Then, toward the end of this lengthy kora, they returned to a place very near the current three-year retreat center of Samten Ling. Behind it, about 100 feet away or so, His Holiness Karmapa inscribed the famous mantra 'Karmapa Khyenno' with his maroon robe (the dzen) into the solid rock. The mantra writing was brownish red, written on a grayish-black colored rock. The monks couldn't believe it, so one of them, Lama Nyima (his writing teacher), tried to wash off a portion of what appeared to be a red chalk. However the writing would not come off, even after washing the rock quite vigorously. In fact it then appeared even clearer.

"After hearing these amazing stories from Drupon Rinpoche, I decided I would go myself to see these miraculous occurrences. So, on May 11, a doctor from my group, Gary Septon, along with the caretaker of the Tsurphu guest house, whose name is Tsedrup, and I hiked to the place where the first hand print was to be found. The other people in our group continued along the main kora. After about a half-hour walk above the main path, which is about a one-and-a-half hour's walk from the monastery itself, we came across a place with many prayer flags and there it was, the first of the new hand prints.

"At first, I think I didn't really want to believe it. I asked the doctor if he saw it and he said, 'Yes, it is quite obvious.' We proceeded to take many, many pictures from all angles. Then we met Kelsang Tashi, a lama from Tsurphu, who has been to Hong Kong and Taiwan on a few occasions. He had a camera from some Taiwanese disciples and was also taking pictures of these miracles. He said he was now going to continue on the long trek to the spring to take pictures of the miracle of His Holiness's three fingers imprinted into the rock. We said good-bye to him and eventually came down to the main Ri-khor path to walk to the place of the site of the mantra Karmapa Khyenno inscribed in stone by His Holiness. The mantra, in Tibetan characters, was clear enough and easily seen by all of us. The others did not read Tibetan, so it may not have meant too much to them; nevertheless they were quite amazed at what they saw and a little baffled too. Since I could read Tibetan, it was quite obvious to me, except for the No (Na naro No in Tib.) at the end of the mantra.

"At around three o'clock that same day, I was able to have a photo session with the Karmapa that had been arranged the day before. I saw His Holiness the previous day but he was acting a little shy because many monks where around. I went in alone for this photo session and he acted happy, joking and racing around, and helping to organize a procedure he knew so well, since this was our seventh or eighth photo session in the past four years. It brought me great joy to know he was his joyous and playful self, yet I noticed a powerful dignified maturity had definitely manifested.

"His Holiness has changed a lot, but when the setting and situation is right, he still becomes very dynamic, energetic, and sometimes a bit wild! I was able to notice this change immediately, as we had played and studied together for an hour or so each day for over six months, during 1992-93 and part of 1994. Those days are sadly over, as it is not possible for him to study English now. They say, in the near future, he will again be able to learn English. 


"One day in the early part of this year a Tibetan man from Kham offered His Holiness a very large, extremely friendly adult deer which is now living in the compound of the lower summer garden. His Holiness foretold that the deer would come to visit him. The next day without anyone leading this deer, he found his way from the lower summer palace and on his own, traveled up to the monastery, proceeding to walk up two flights of difficult steep stairs, and entering directly into the room of His Holiness. There, the deer received his blessing! EH MA HO!

"It was certainly a joyous trip to reunite with the Karmapa and to see the clear evidence of his miraculous powers and activities. When I had stayed at Tsurphu in October 1995, I requested a few divinations (mo in Tib.) that later turned out to be exactly correct.