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Teacher: Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa Biography

Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa Page

Biography: 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa Chokyi Dragpa

The 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa Chokyi Dragpa, 1110-1193, (kar+ma pa 01 dus gsum mkhyen pa chos kyi grags pa) was born in Tresho (tre shod), Kham. His father was a Bhairava practitioner named Gompa Dorje Gon (sgom pa rdo rje mgon) and his mother was Latogza Gangcam Mingdren (lha thog gza' sgang lcam ming 'dren), and was given the name Gephel (dge 'phel). His father gave him instructions in the Nyingma tantric traditions, including Ekajati, and he is said to have met Vairochanavajra (bhai ro tsa na badzra, snang mdzad rdo rje), an Indian alchemist who had previously been to the Chinese court where he drank a cup of mercury before the Emperor.

When Dusum Khyenpa was sixteen, in 1124, he took novice ordination with the Kadam monk Trewo Chokgi Lama (tre bo mchog gi bla ma), a disciple of Ngok Lotsawa Loden Sherab (rngog lo tsA ba blo ldan shes rab, 1059-1109) and his uncle, Ngog Legpai Sherab (rngog legs pa'i shes rab, d.u.). Chokyi Lama gave him the name Chokyi Dragpa (chos kyi grags pa). He entered into two years of retreat at Treka Drag (tre ka brag) with other Kadam lamas, learning the Chakrasamvara and other tantric lineages of Atisha from Yol Chowang (yol chos dbang, d.u.), who was a disciple of Atisha himself, and Geshe Trarawa (dge bshes kra ra ba, d.u.), Yol Chowang's disciple.

It is said that when Dusum Khyenpa was sixteen he was given a black hat woven from the hair of ten thousand dakini (the physical hat the Karmapas don for their famous "black hat ceremony" was given to the 5th Karmapa by the Ming Yongle Emperor, r. 1402-1424).

At the age of nineteen Dusum Khyenpa went to Tibet, visiting a monastery called Tolung Satang (stod lungs sa thang), where he received teachings on logic and Madhyamaka from Tolung Gyamarwa Jangchubdrag (stod lung rgya dmar ba byang chub grags, d.u.). He took final ordination with Mal Dulzinpa (mal 'dul 'dzin pa, d.u.). He also studied with a number of other Kadam monks, including Ga Lotsawa (rgwa lo tsA ba, d.u.), who gave him the the Mahakala tradition later known as the Gonpo Karlug (mgon po kar lugs) which he had brought to Tibet, and Khampa Aseng (khams pa a seng, d.u.), a disciple of Ga, who gave him the Kalachakra teachings of the Jor Drug (sbyor drug). Both lamas were then residing at Gyal Lhakang (rgyal lha khang), a monastery in Penpo ('phan po) that had been founded in 1012 by Nanam Dorje Wangchug (sna nam rdo rje dbang phyug, 976-1060). At Sangphu Neutog (gsang phu ne'u thog) he studied with the abbot Chawa Chokyi Sengge (phywa pa chos kyi seng ge, 1109-1169) and Patsab Lotsawa Nyima Dragpa (pa tshab lo tsA ba nyi ma grags pa), who taught him Madhyamaka.

At the age of thirty Dusum Khyenpa set out to meet Gampopa Sonam Rinchen (sgam po pa bsod nams rin chen, 1079-1153), the ordained disciple of the great lay poet-saint Milarepa (mi la ras pa, 1052-1135). At Dagpo Draka (dwags po drag kha) he first met and received teachings from Gomtsul (sgom tshul, 1116-1169) and Sharawa Yontan Drag (sha ra ba yon tan grags, 1070-1141).

He then proceeded to Dagpo Gompa (dwags po dgon pa) and received teachings and transmissions from Gampopa. He soon donned the cotton garb of Milarepa's disciples, training in the heat yogas for nine months. Having shown great accomplishment, Gampopa sent him to Zangri (zangs ri) to continue his meditation, where he sat for four months at a cave named Til and another month and a half at Pagmodru (phag mo gru), before returning to to study with Gampopa for another three years.

Dusum Khyenpa then trained with a number of teachers belonging to the nascent Kagyu tradition. These included Milarepa's own disciple Rechung Dorje Drag (ras chung rdo rje grags pa, 1085-1161); Ponpug Tongyal (spon phug ston rgyal, d.u.), a disciple of Rongpa Gardewa (rong pa 'gar dge ba, d.u.); Kyangmo Pangkhawa (rkyang mo spang kha ba), a disciple of Metonp Kunga Nyingpo (mes ston kun dga' snying po, d.u.); and Relchag Tontsul (ral lcags ston tshul, d.u.) of Daryul. From these and other lamas he received the full transmission of Gampopa's teachings, his blending of tantic yoga ? such as Mahamudra, Chakrasamvara, Hevajra, the Naro Chodrug (na ro chos drug) ? with Kadampa-derived monasticism. He also studied Lamdre (lam 'bras) with the Sakya master Senpa Dorje Sengge (gsen pa rdo rje seng ge, d.u.) at Yarlung Pugmoche (yar klungs phug mo che).

Dusum Khyenpa spent the next several years in various places in southern and central Tibet and Bhutan meditating in caves and returning to report his progress to Gampopa. Among the sites were Gyu Palri (brgyud dpal ri) and Shau Tago (sha 'ug stag sgo/ sa 'ug stag mgo), near Sakya. At one point he met a disciple of Naropa residing at a monastery called Shunye Bardzong (gzhu snye bar rdzong) who gave him additional Mahamudra instructions. While in southern Tibet, in 1154, Dusum Khyenpa founded a monastery called Lhalung (lha lung) in Lhodrag (lho brag), which later became the seat of Pawo Tsugla Trengwa (dpa' bo gtsug lag 'phreng ba, 1504-1564/1566).

When Dusum Khyenpa was about fifty years old Gampopa passed away, and, following some last advice that he should return to meditate at Kampo Nenang (kam po gnas nang), he returned to Kham. There he founded the monastery of Kampo Nenang, in 1164. Later, in 1184, he founded the first seat of the Karma Kagyu tradition, Karma Densa (kar+ma ldan sa), also known as Karma Gon (kar+ma dgon), which remained an occasional residence of Karmapas through to the 20th century.

After twenty years in Kham Dusum Khyenpa returned to Tibet, bringing with him a considerable amount of wealth to distribute to the monasteries there. He stated that Gomtsul had charged him with founding monasteries in Tibet, to offer a Prajnamaramita written in gold to Dagla Gampo monastery, and to keep an eye on the violent and disruptive behavior of Lama Shang, Shang Yudragpa Tsondru Dragpa (bla ma zhang, zhang g.yu brag pa brtson 'grus grags pa, 1123-1193). In 1189 Dusum Khyenpa founded Tsurpu Monastery (mtshur phu) in Tolung (stod lung), to the west of Lhasa, which became the principle seat of the Karmapa incarnations.

Dusum Khyenpa famously made predictions about his future incarnations. He is said to have given a letter to his main disciple, Sanggye Rechen Peldrag (sangs rgyas ras chen dpal grags, 1148-1218), foretelling where his next incarnation would be born and instructing him to locate the boy and train him.


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Karmapa incarnations:

1. Dusum Khyenpa Chokyi Dragpa (dus gsum mkhyen pa chos kyi grags pa, 1110-1193).
2. Karma Pakshi (kar+ma pakshi, 1206-1283).
3. Rangjung Dorje (rang byung rdo rje, 1284-1339).
4. Rolpai Dorje (rol pa'i rdo rje, 1340-1383).
5. Deshin Shegpa (de bzhin gshegs pa, 1384-1415).
6. Tongwa Donden (mthong ba don ldan, 1416-1452/3).
7. Chodrag Gyatso (chos grags rgya mtsho, 1454-1506).
8. Mikyo Dorje (mi bskyod rdo rje, 1507-1554).
9. Wangchug Dorje (dbang phyug rdo rje, 1556-1603).
10. Choying Dorje (chos dbyings rdo rje, 1604-1674).
11. Yeshe Dorje (ye shes rdo rje, 1676-1702).
12. Janchub Dorje (byang chub rdo rje, 1703-1732).
13. Dutsog Dulwai Dorje (bdud tshogs 'dul ba'i rdo rje, 1733-1797).
14. Tegchog Dorje (theg mchog rdo rje, 1797-1867).
15. Kakyab Dorje (mkha' khyab rdo rje, 1871-1922).
16. Rangjung Rigpai Dorje (rang byung rig pa'i rdo rje, 1924-1980).

Alexander Gardner, November 2009

[Extracted from the Treasury of Lives, Tibetan lineages website. Edited and formatted for inclusion on the Himalayan Art Resources website. November 2009].