The Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339)


THE THIRD GYALWA KARMAPA, Rangjung Dorje, produced a black crown from nowhere at the age of three and announced that he was the Karmapa, telling his young friends that they were indulging in worldliness. At five, he went to see Urgyenpa, who had dreamt of him the night before and was prepared for his visit. He grew up in Tsurphu receiving not only the full Kagyu transmission but also that of the Nyingma tradition. Having spent some time on the slopes of Mount Everest in retreat and then taken full ordination, he further broadened his studies at a great seat of Khadampa learning.

Rangjung Dorje had a tremendous thirst for learning from the greatest scholars and experts of his day. His approach embraced all traditions of knowledge and he had an intelligence and sensitivity which could assimilate and compare all that he studied. Through visions he received of the 'Wheel of Time' (Kalachakra) teachings, he introduced a revised system of astrology. He studied and mastered medicine. In particular, his mastery of the profound Nyingmapa teachings of Vimalamitra meant that, in him, the Kagyu mahamudra and the Nyingma equivalent, dzogchen, became as one. By the end of his studies, he had learned and mastered nearly all of the Buddhist teachings brought to Tibet from India by all the various masters of both the ancient and restoration periods. In the light of that eclectic wisdom, he composed many significant texts, the most famous of which is perhaps the Profound Inner Meaning (, pinpointing the very essence of Vajrayana.

He visited China and there enthroned his disciple, the new emperor Toghon Temur. Through long-life elixir received from the Karmapa, who returned to Samye especially to procure it, the emperor was the longest-lived of all the Mongol emperors of China. Rangjung Dorje established many monasteries in Tibet and China. He died in China and is famous for having appeared in the moon on the night of his passing.


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