The Fourth Karmapa, Rolpe Dorje (1340-1383)


WHILE PREGNANT, the Fourth Karmapa's mother could hear the sound of the mantra OM MANI PADME HUNG coming from her womb. The baby said the mantra as soon as it was born. His early life was full of miracles and manifested a total continuity of the teachings and qualities of his former incarnation. He could read books and received many profound teachings in his dreams.

While in his teens he received the formal transmissions of both the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages from the great Nyingma guru Yungtonpa, the third Karmapa's spiritual heir, now very advanced in years. At the age of 19, he accepted Toghon Temur's passionate invitation to return to China. After a long and impressive journey, with many halts to give teachings, he arrived at the imperial palace. He gave teachings in China for three years and established many temples and monasteries there.

On his return to Tibet, while in the Tsongkha region, Rolpe Dorje gave lay ordination to a very special child whom he predicted to be of great importance to Buddhism in Tibet. This was Kunga Nyingpo--'Tsong Khapa'--future founder of the Gelugpa school, famous for its Dalai Lamas.

When Temur died, the Mongol dynasty ended and the Ming dynasty began. The new emperor invited Rolpe Dorje, who declined the invitation but sent a holy lama in his stead. Rolpe Dorje composed wonderful mystic songs throughout his life and was an accomplished poet, fond of Indian poetics. He is also remembered for creating a huge painting (thangka) following a vision of one of his students, who had imagined a Buddha image over a hundred meters tall. The Karmapa, on horseback, traced the Buddha's outline with hoofprints. The design was measured and traced on cloth. It took 500 workers more than a year to complete the thangka, which depicted the Buddha, Maitreya and Manjushri: the founders of mahayana.


Text reprinted with permission of Altea Publishing from Karmapa, by Ken Holmes. Copyright 1995 by Altea Publishing.