Day 7: The Blessings of Many Authentic Gurus

Day 7: The Blessings of Many Authentic Gurus

Arya Kshema Spring Dharma Teachings:
17th Gyalwang Karmapa on The Life of the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje

February 24, 2021

After a two-day break, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa continued teaching on the extraordinary life and Dharma activities of the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje. Again taking up the topic of "following the gurus," he started by addressing the third stanza of The Praise "He Searched Thoroughly . . .." 

When he realized that all wishes for here and the everlasting
Come from the holder of all, the spiritual friend,
Irreversible longing swelled to perfection.
His faith became transcendent—to him I pray.

Shamar Könchok Yenlak's commentary states that this stanza concerns "how he followed the guru." The main point of this teaching is that the spiritual friend provides the foundation for the entire path. Following an authentic guru is the life force for all of us who embrace the Dharma, and Mikyö Dorje exemplified this wisdom. As His Holiness mentioned the other day, the Eighth Karmapa had four main teachers, including Sangye Nyenpa, for whom he had great devotion. When Nyenpa Rinpoche passed away, Mikyö Dorje erected a memorial statue to him. Later it was brought to Tsurphu Monastery and became known as the "space statue." Normally when the remains of someone are brought to the charnel grounds, the Eighth Karmapa Four Session Guru Yoga is recited. During this time, this statue is brought to the ceremonies and then returned to the monastery. So it is a very sacred statue.

Among the four teachers of Mikyö Dorje, Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal is not mentioned as one of them, but—as we have seen—he was also very kind to the Eighth Karmapa. He recognized and enthroned Mikyö Dorje and gave him the fasting vows of the Mahayana and the vows of going forth. He was the first of all the lamas that Mikyö Dorje followed in his lifetime.

At this point, the Karmapa showed portraits of Mikyö Dorje's teachers and gave their dates. He began with a picture of Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal from an old thangka kept in the labrang of Gyaltsap Rinpoche, probably painted during the time of the Sixth Gyaltsap Rinpoche. Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal lived from 1487 to 1515, only 29 years. His long hair indicates "not the best conduct," said His Holiness. Next he showed pictures of Mikyö Dorje's subsequent lamas—the four "official" ones. Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche's image was taken from the Golden Garland of the Kagyu. Nyenpa Rinpoche may have been born some time around 1457 and lived to 1525. Then came Dulmo Tashi Öser, whose dates are difficult to find. His Holiness showed a statue that captured what he looked like. Khenchen Chödrup Senge, 1451 to 1530, was his third teacher, who gave Mikyö Dorje full ordination. His Holiness concluded his visual presentation with Mikyö Dorje's fourth teacher, Karma Trinleypa, who lived from 1456 to 1531, and whose picture he will include in the next teaching.

Dulmo Tashi Öser 

Having covered the biographies of Gyaltsap Tashi Namgyal and Sangye Nyenpa in the previous teaching, His Holiness spent the rest of this session on Mikyö Dorje's three other teachers, beginning with Dulmo Tashi Öser. He was a direct disciple of the Seventh Karmapa, Chödrak Gyatso, and was considered very venerable throughout Ü Tsang and Kham. He kept his vows very purely, first studying at Ganden, a Gelukpa monastery, where he was well-educated in the sutras and tantras, before becoming a student of the Seventh Karmapa. Born in Dritö near Yushu, he was the son of the Dulmo Lord [originally Dumo]. We don't know the year he was born, and he has no separate namthar. His life does appear in the Golden Garland of Kagyu Biographies and the Feast of Scholars. He met the Seventh Karmapa when he was young and was given the name Tashi Öser, as well as a transmission of the mani mantra. Chödrup Sangpo gave him full ordination in the Khenchen Shakya Shri tradition of vows, as well as the empowerment of Chakrasamvara. Returning to Kham, he took the southern route and met Chödrak Gyatso at Namtö Mountain in Kongpo. Receiving the Karmapa's blessings, he felt uncontrollable faith and gave up the idea of going back to his homeland. Tashi Öser stayed with Chödrak Gyatso and received instructions on Mahamudra, the Six Yogas of Naropa, Pointing Out the Three Kayas, and many other texts. In particular, Chödrak Gyatso gave him his own incomplete commentary on the Prajnaparamita Sutra. Well-educated by the Seventh Karmapa, Tashi Öser went to Central Tibet and gained renown in public debates and discussions. From Situ Tashi Paljor, he received the five sets of five deities of Dusum Khyenpa and the cycles of Bernakchen. He also practiced diligently in mountain retreats.

Regarding the five sets of five deities, His Holiness emphasized that this is something we really have to know very well. He mentioned the other day that one of Dusum Khyenpa's main activities was founding the three main seats of the Karma Kagyu. Another contribution was the five sets of five deities. What are they? The five deities of Vajravarahi, the five deities of Chakrasamvara, the five deities of Hevajra, the five deities of Hayagriva and the five deities of Tara. We should be able to name them if someone asks us, or we will be embarrassed!

Later, Tashi Öser went to Surmang, Ga, Denma, Drichu Lhogyü, and Kyapdü, and performed great activities in these places. He instructed on the Profound Inner Principles and several other teachings from the lineage. He imparted all that he had learned from Chödrak Gyatso, just as if he were pouring from one vase into another. Mikyö Dorje treated him with the same respect as he felt for Sangye Nyenpa. 

How did Tashi Öser meet Mikyö Dorje? When the Eighth Karmapa was eight years old, he was in the area around Yushu. Sangye Nyenpa and Tashi Öser went together to the Great Encampment and there met Mikyö Dorje. The Eighth Karmapa felt great faith for both of them and thought it would be wonderful to study with Tashi Öser. Under his guidance, the Eighth Karmapa studied all the pith instructions—from vinaya to the highest yoga tantras, and also poetry and grammar.

About his teacher, Mikyö Dorje wrote:

By the power of this master's example and blessings, I was enthralled by the three baskets; sutras, tantras, and their commentaries; the major and minor areas of knowledge for determining them; and even the subtlest of terminology. I gained interest in the liberation stories of the Bhagavan Buddha, the bodhisattvas, and their students. I felt the joy of amazement at the deeds of the dharma king, ministers, translators, and panditas, and unbearable devotion for the root and lineage gurus. The armor of diligence for upholding, preserving, and spreading the teachings; the conclusion of practice for caring for those who seek liberation; the methods that will tame beings of a degenerate age; the unconfused mental eye on what should be done and what should be given up; and in brief, my great hunger for the essence of the nectar of the teachings are the blessings of this guru caring for me. 

So basically, his understanding of Dharma came from the kindness of his guru. 

In particular, Mikyö Dorje admired how Tashi Öser felt unbearable great compassion for those who suffered. He thought that Noble Avalokiteshvara must be just like his guru, and this enhanced his faith in him. Tashi Öser in turn was delighted with his student—his pure intentions, prajna, and diligence. He predicted that Mikyö Dorje would become an omniscient master and scholar in the Land of Snow, even though the Eighth Karmapa was quite young at the time. 

Actually, Mikyö Dorje studied with Tashi Öser for only a short time—less than three years. But his influence lasted for the Karmapa's entire life. Because of Tashi Öser's influence, Mikyö Dorje one-pointedly studied for twelve years. He realized that if he ate too much, he would have a lot of phlegm, and this would make him sleepy. So he ate very little. He continued with uninterrupted diligence and enthusiasm, and this was due to Tashi Öser's influence and blessings. Great faith welled up when Mikyö Dorje thought of Tashi Öser, and those nearby could feel the heat of his devotion.

Mikyö Dorje wrote a liberation story about Sangye Nyenpa, The Undeceiving Essence of the Dharmakaya. In it, he said of Tashi Öser:

I met the guru Dulmo Öser, who was named after his caste, and he nurtured the slight bit of virtue there already was in my being, granting me the kindness of an understanding of the complete stages of the path of the Buddha's teachings. I could not repay the kindness of this being even if my body were pulverized into innumerable particles.

Tashi Öser enhanced Mikyö Dorje's faith in Dharma, and because of him, the Karmapa completely understood the four philosophical schools. With this, His Holiness's concluded his brief introduction to Tashi Öser.

Khenchen Chödrup Senge

The Karmapa then began an overview of the life of Khenchen Chödrup Senge, who gave Mikyö Dorje full ordination and bestowed many teachings. Chödrup Senge studied Kagyu texts but he himself was not in the Kagyu lineage. In the past, many great lamas studied with teachers of all the different lineages, and such people were praised for their wide-ranging knowledge. Only later did practitioners confine themselves to studying exclusively the texts of one lineage. Born in 1451 in Yeru Silma in the region of Tsang, he started Dharma study at the age of five. At age eight, he mastered the tantras of Hayagriva and Vairochana Sarvavid and provided protection cords for the community. At the age of 14, he took novice vows from Rabjor Senge and received the empowerment of Hevajra. After full ordination, he embraced the precepts so strongly that if he had a downfall, he always confessed that very day. It is said that he cherished the precepts just like his eyes. Chödrup Senge studied with the famous Tangtong Gyalpo, and at the age of 20, he went to Palden Sangpur Monastery, which had the first shedra in Tibet—it was like Nalanda. He embraced the three vows, adopted mind training, and participated in debating tours, which he disliked because he didn't want to become famous. 

At the time, there were four main monasteries where students could practice the vinaya, and Chödrup Senge visited all of them on pilgrimage, but by then, the practices had declined. However, the leader of Pakdru, Kunga Lekpa, invited a hundred thousand monks to one of the four vinaya monasteries, where they conducted a rainy days retreat. Chödrup Senge gave a discourse there that was very well received. After that, a war erupted, and in despair, he felt that he should engage in meditation practice. He received instructions on the six applications from Sönam Senge and the scripture and logical basis of the Shengtong view. This khenpo probably asked Mikyö Dorje to teach on the Ornament of Clear Realization from the perspective of the Shengtong school. Before his encounter with Shengtong, Chödrup Senge said that he read the scriptures as if "with closed eyes at night." But after that, it was like with "open eyes in daylight." 

Chödrup Senge wanted to undertake retreat in a solitary place, but he had received the Red Spear Vaishravana empowerment from Khenchen Chökyi Wangchuk, who asked him to oversee Tsokde Gendun Gang Monastery. He started as discipline master and eventually became the abbot of that monastery, spending the rest of his life as a spiritual and political leader there. 

How did Chödrup Senge conduct his activity? When he was 25 and the abbot of Gendun Gang, he wrote a supplementary text on the Prajnaparamita Sutra. In 1506 he received the complete Nyingma tantras and made many Dharma connections. He went to Kongpo and gave Mikyö Dorje complete ordination. Mikyö Dorje wanted him to stay, but he returned to central Tibet, stopping at Drikung Monastery on the way. Many students came to see him, but he predicted that he was not going to live much longer. In 1530, when he was 80, he announced that he would die. When his students protested, he told them, "Don’t be attached. You are never separate from me.” Without displaying any illness, he sat in the seven-point posture of Vairochana and passed away. His Holiness said that this was miraculous and joked that we can’t even sit in the seven-point when we are alive!

His Holiness concluded his presentation on Khenchen Chödrup Senge by explaining how he came to give Mikyö Dorje full ordination. As mentioned earlier, Sangye Nyenpa had a bad foot. One day he said to Mikyö Dorje, “Because of my bad foot I thought I should give offerings to Shamar Chökyi Drakpa [also known as Shamar Chennga Chödrak].” But he feared that the Seventh Karmapa might be offended, so he didn’t give the 4th Shamar Rinpoche these offerings, and his foot continued to hurt. In response to this, Sangye Nyenpa thought that Shamar Rinpoche should give ordination to Mikyö Dorje, but because of opposition at the Encampment, and the fact that Shamar Rinpoche passed away soon after, it didn’t work out. 

So who should give Mikyö Dorje the vows? Mikyö Dorje was advised to take ordination from Khenchen Chödrup Senge because of an auspicious interdependent connection. When the Seventh Karmapa came to Gendun Gang, there was a golden procession to welcome him. Each person held a different offering; Chödrup Senge carried a beautiful golden mandala with piles of different colored jewels. He was able to make his offering and received the gift of a very nice outer robe from the Seventh Karmapa. Chödrup Senge made an aspiration to arouse bodhicitta, and Chödrak Gyatso looked at him and smiled. So Chödrup Senge felt the foundation had been established to give full ordination to Mikyö Dorje. 

We need to know that from the time of the 3rd Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, all of the Karmapas had taken vows at the Gendun Gang Monastery. They had a great connection because each of the sixteen arhats appeared to them there. In fact, Chödrup Senge himself was said to be an emanation of an arhat. Gendun Gang was considered to be one of the most important monasteries, and so the Karmapas would receive the lineage of vows at that place. 

However for this ordination, Mikyö Dorje wrote to Chödrup Senge, commanding him to come to the Great Encampment to bestow the vows. The khenpo replied that he was 79 years old, and it would take seven months to travel from Central Tibet to Kongpo. Because of his age and the great difficulties involved, he said, “I can’t come.” But Mikyö Dorje sent people to convince him. Since the Karmapa was so insistent, and because of his profound connection to Chödrak Gyatso, Chödrup Senge finally agreed and eventually arrived at the Great Encampment. After a few days of rest, he offered Mikyö Dorje the full ordination vows. Rainbows filled the sky and a rain of flowers fell. He went to see Mikyö Dorje every day, and they discussed difficult points of sutra and tantra. At that time, he probably also introduced the Karmapa to the Shengtong view. He gave him the Amitayus and Red Spear Vaishravana empowerments as well.

In Sangye Nyenpa’s namthar, Mikyö Dorje wrote of Chödrup Senge:

At that time, I received the blessings of serving the great Khenpo of Tsok Gendun Gang, an individual who was emanated by the great siddhas from the tradition of the omniscient Jonang, who was certain to go from this life to the presence of the Dharma King in Shambhala, the guru precious buddha Chödrup Senge and the great being born as Je Karma Tre, who transcends humans, a master of yoga, a god victorious over all directions whose mind has been ripened well by discipline and samadhi.

Receiving ordination from an emanation of an arhat was of indescribable benefit to Mikyö Dorje. He kept cuttings of Chödrup Senge’s hair, which produced relics. The khenpo himself felt blessed to give ordination to the Eighth Karmapa, and in bestowing the Amitayusempowerment, he helped ensure Mikyö Dorje’s long life and vast activity. He enthusiastically praised the Karmapa’s intelligence and understanding and felt that after death, he would meet his predecessor, Chödrak Gyatso, in Shambhala.

Karma Trinleypa

His Holiness next moved on to examining the life of Mikyö Dorje’s final teacher, Chokle Nampar Gyalway Lha, also known as Karma Trinleypa. He was born into the family of one of the great lords of Dakpo in 1456 and was the nephew of a Sakya scholar. As a young boy, he entered Surkhar Medical College, and he also studied Nyingma teachings on chö. He took full ordination at the age of 37. Sangye Pel gave him the Bodhisattva Vows, as well as the Guhyasamaja mandala and mantra vows. From a teacher called the second Milarepa, he received the Six Dharmas of Sukhasiddhi, and Drupchen Chupur introduced him to the Five-fold Mahamudraand other subjects. He made Dharma connections with Loppön Sangye Gonpo, Geshe Gendun Lhundrup, and many other lamas, from whom he received Vajrakilaya, the Vajra Song, and other texts. He studied Sanskrit and Tibetan grammar and many other areas of knowledge, and he received numerous teachings, instructions and empowerments from many great scholars and meditators. 

Once he met his root guru, Chödrak Gyatso, he realized that the Karmapa was none other than a natural buddha and recognized him as his master. They had a connection from many previous lifetimes. The Seventh Karmapa said to Karma Trinleypa that if he would uphold the Kagyu lineage, he would give it to him in its entirety. Karma Trinleypa said that he would. Only then would the Karmapa give him experiential instructions on the Six Yogas of Naropa, which took five months. At that time, he was staying in a small tent near the Encampment and would go to the Karmapa for instruction, then return to continue his retreat. Soon Karma Trinleypa showed the amazing signs of accomplishment that are explained in the text. Later he received teachings on the Coemergent Yogas of Mahamudra, the Four Dharmas, the Jewel Ornament of Liberation, how the Rangtong and Shengtong are not contradictory, and so forth. He obtained Rangjung Dorje’s complete works and received detailed explanations of the Profound Inner Principles five times. Many great masters too numerous to mention bestowed many other teachings on him.

In central Tibet, he went to Chökhor Lhunpo, and there he built a statue that was 25 palms tall. Later Chögyal Chapa offered the Chökhor Lhunpo Monastery with all of its statues and its five hundred monks to the Seventh Karmapa, who appointed Karma Trinleypa to be its abbot. Among his other activities, Karma Trinleypa established a factory in the region of Mön that produced the best paper for printing texts. At Teu Ra, he founded a shedra in the Sakya tradition.

The title “Karma Trinleypa” indicates a rank, so he was probably given that name when he became the abbot of Chökhor Lhunpo Monastery. There he made a reliquary statue for Goshri Paljor Döndrup that was one story tall. Then he divided the five hundred monks into four groups and oversaw their beginning instruction. The teachings flourished at this time. Karma Trinleypa also spent some time in mountain retreat, but then the Garchen monks went to Lhasa, and he accompanied them. In Lhasa, Karma Trinleypa was appointed lama at Karma Dratsang Monastery, which is still there. At Ramoche Monastery, he began teaching on the Seventh Karmapa’s Prajnaparamita commentary, The Lamp of the Three Worlds. In the area around the Jokhang Temple, he laid a foundation for a new monastery, and some complications developed. The Drepung and Sera monasteries are nearby, and a conflict arose because some thought that the Kagyupas were trying to seize power. Actually the project evolved from the Seventh Karmapa’s pure vision concerning the lay people living in proximity to the Jokhong; Karma Trinleypa built Tupten Chökhor Monastery in order to purify the area. A great gathering of sangha practicing vinaya there would be auspicious, but the Seventh Karmapa passed away shortly after the monastery was established, and it fell into disrepair. Karma Trinleypa also founded a shedra called Karma Lekshe Ling primarily for the study of sutras. In 1527 he met Mikyö Dorje and taught him many aspects of Dharma. Mikyö Dorje wrote over ten long life prayers for him and felt that Karma Trinleypa had achieved the level of joining on the path. The Khenpo’s collected works comprise more than ten volumes and are still available. In 1539, he passed away at the age of 84. Originally a Shakyapa, he later upheld the Kagyu lineage. So he had many students from both lineages. 

His Holiness announced that in the next session, he would speak about how Mikyö Dorje followed Karma Trinleypa as a guru. He noted that he has now completed seven days of teachings but has only discussed three or four stanzas. The Karmapa asked himself, how he is going to get through the entire text? His intention is to try to teach the Good Deeds and Praises thoroughly. He might have to continue next year, but his plan is to teach them in full this year. 

The Gyalwang Karmapa finished his presentation with some brief comments about the steward at Tsurphu who had treated him badly when he was a child. Many have asked: Who is this steward and where is he? If people want to try and find him and make difficulties for him, it’s better not to go. He’s passed away. The Karmapa had only included this story previously as a way to make clear the difficulties and problems that Mikyö Dorje faced. “I just decided to add a little bit from my own life. . .  I don't have any thought that he did something to me, so I need to get back at him.” 

With that clarification, His Holiness concluded another in-depth teaching on the life of Mikyö Dorje, his extraordinary gurus, and the exemplary kindness that all Karmapas—past and present—unceasingly bestow on their students. 


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2021.02.24 Day 7: The Blessings of Many Authentic Gurus