The Gyalwang Karmapa Speaks About the Greatness of Dusum Khyenpa

The Gyalwang Karmapa Speaks About the Greatness of Dusum Khyenpa

Tergar Monastery Shrine Hall (by video link),

15 December 2023

Today, I would like to offer my greetings to all of the people who are participating in the 24th Kagyu Gunchoe, all of the khenpos, lamas, spiritual friends and students, as well as everyone listening on the internet.

Today is the anniversary of the glorious Dusum Khyenpa arising as the sambhogakaya, or you could say, passing into parinirvana. As you all know, Dusum Khyenpa was the founder of the Karma Kagyu tradition of teachings, the first Gyalwang Karmapa and the first Bearer of the Black Crown. I don’t think there is much that I need to say about that.

To speak about his life in general, or his greatness in brief, when he was twenty, he went to Central Tibet. The reason why he went was as Karmapa Mikyö Dorje described in a song:

Unable to withstand Lord Chapa’s fame,
He left Kham and Amdo and came to Ü.

At that time, there was a famous teacher of philosophy named Chapa Chökyi Senge, and Dusum Khyenpa was captivated by his fame and consequently he went to Central Tibet. Once ther, not only did he study with Chapa Chökyi Senge, but he also studied with the famous Kadampa master Shang Sharawa and with Palchen Galo, who was well-known in both India and Tibet, along with many other well-known and authoritative lamas. He also studied the Kadampa, dzogchen, path and its result, the six yogas of Kalachakra, mahamudra, and many other instructions from all dharma lineages.

Dusum Khyenpa traveled to Central Tibet twice. The first time he went to Central Tibet alone; he spent more than a decade listening and contemplating and over twelve years practicing meditation. In this way, he gave an authentic example of the proper level of how to practice listening, contemplating, and meditating as described in the lines from The Treasury of Abhidharma:

With conduct, listening, and contemplation,
Completely train in meditation.

This is one particular quality which is an example for us in particular.

He also met seven of Milarepa’s disciples, including Lord Gampopa, Rechungpa, Lingkawa Drigom Repa, Cham Lhenchik Kyepay Dorje, Tsemo Namkha Saldrön, and Getsul and his brother, and received the instructions from them completely and without mistake. It would be fair to say that aside from him, no other lama of the Dakpo Kagyu met so many of Milarepa’s disciples. In particular, he spent six years studying with Gampopa and became one of Gampopa’s four great sons who upheld his lineage.

Gampopa prophesied, “Do your practice in Kampo Gangra in Kham. Your benefit to beings will spread throughout Ü, Tsang, and Kham.” As Gampopa forecast, he went from Central Tibet to Kampo Nenang to practice, and later, while still in Kham, founded Kampo Nenang, Karma Riling, Doppang Cave, and Kamkhyim in Tre, becoming the first to spread the Dakpo Kagyu lineage in Kham. Later, he returned to Central Tibet for the second time, and Drikung Jikten Sumgön invited him to be the head of Daklha Gampo Monastery. Drikung Jikten Sumgön's letter making the request is found in his collected works. It is in verse and has many stanzas, but to give you an example of it:

Those who uphold the precious Dakpo lineage
Supplicate you, the venerable one.
Master of the Daklha Gampo Monastery,
Return to your home.

Here, he is saying that all the masters of the Dakpo Kagyu lineage supplicate you, and for you to come would be the same as for the master of Daklha Gampo to return to his home, thus praising Dusum Khyenpa highly or showing his great respect.

In brief, there is a lot to say about the greatness, activity, and liberation of Lord Dusum Khyenpa, but because of the time, I cannot speak about all of them today. So, I would like to speak about a few of the deeds from his childhood. The reason is that we usually do not hear much about his childhood.

His birthplace

In order to speak about his deeds as a child, I thought we should first speak about the time and place of his birth. The old histories of the Kamtsang lineage name Dusum Khyenpa’s birthplace as Tre Raktak. The name Tre was also called Trewo and can be spelt in different ways. Later, it was called Treho. It is the present-day district of Kardze. There are also several different spellings and pronunciations of the name Raktak—Ratak, Ratsak, and so forth. The majority of the Kagyu histories say “Ratak.” In the present day, the people of Kardze say that Dusum Khyenpa’s birthplace was in the town of Bochok or Bangchok and there are people in that town who claim they are descendants of his family. There are tales about him, and they also have artefacts to show. For these reasons, many historians these days take it as a given that Dusum Khyenpa was born in Bochok in Tre.

Thus, the old histories say that Dusum Khyenpa was born in Ratak but most people these days say he was born in Bochok. In order to distinguish which of the two it was, I think that The Vajra Splinter Travelogue by Bhikshu Shangkarwa Jigme Ngaggi Gyatso—physician and attendant to the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje— is a good source. The main topic of this text is how, when Mikyö Dorje’s reincarnation Wangchuk Dorje was reborn in Lower Tre near Khawa Langri at Taksang, or Taksang Nang as it is known these days, the Fifth Shamar sent a party of ten bhikshus, all with important positions, including Bhikshu Shangkarwa and Gomchen Chungyü Kunga from the Garchen to offer him robes and supplies. This text describes the events, places, and monasteries, along with their related histories, that they saw on their travels from Central Tibet until they met the reincarnation in Trewo.

The text clearly describes the places in Upper and Lower Tre, the monasteries of that time, and, in particular, the facts related to Dusum Khyenpa’s birthplace. He clearly writes how they visited Bumchok, the birthplace of the Fourth Shamar, and below that Rangtak, the birthplace of Dusum Khyenpa. It is possible that later, the birthplaces of Dusum Khyenpa and the Fourth Shamarpa may have been mistaken for or confused with each other.

For example, these days, near Ratak, there is the Ratsak Stupa, an important stupa associated with Dusum Khyenpa. Bhikshu Shangkarwa’s travelogue describes how this stupa includes Dusum Khyenpa’s goatskin, sling, flint, clay pot, and so forth. There is not just a stupa there; there is also a shrine, or a kind of monastery. He writes that in the walkway around the shrine, there is a footstep of Dusum Khyenpa as well as a print from his secret vajra. Moreover, when Dusum Khyenpa was learning how to write when he was little, he was playing around on the south side of the river and he used light to write clear letters on a rock face on the north side, and Shangkarwa says that below them, a rock could also be seen by the roadside that had a print from a boot that Dusum Khyenpa was wearing.

In any case, the First and Ninth Karmapas were both born in Treho, as was the Fourth Shamar Chennga Chödrak—several of the Karmapas and Shamarpas were born there. Not only that, until the time of the Tenth Karmapa Chöying Dorje, there were many Kagyu lamas and monasteries in Treho. Moreover, a student of the Seventh Karmapa named Chakmo Goshri and others spread the Karma Kagyu widely there, both in terms of dharma and politics. But the monasteries were destroyed by the armies of the Mongolian Goshri Khan, and from then on, other than Bengen Monastery, Ridrak Monastery, and Gonsar Monastery, only ruins were left of the other Kamtsang Monasteries. Because of this, fewer people took any interest in the histories related to the Karma Kamtsang. After many centuries, people began to confuse the earlier and later Karmapas and were unable to distinguish the Karmapas from the Shamarpas, so I think it is possible that they might have combined all the stories into one as they related them. It may also be that the descendants of Dusum Khyenpa’s family might have moved from Ratsak to Bochok. That is possible. Even if they moved, since it is still the same family line, they could still say that a Karmapa had been born in their family. So these are points that still merit more research.

The Date of His Birth

That was regarding the birthplace of Dusum Khyenpa, and now to say a bit about his birthdate. For the most part, there is no dispute that Dusum Khyenpa was born in the Iron Tiger year of the second cycle, 1110 CE. He was born in the same year as Deshek Pakmodrupa—they were the same age. But what day of which month was he born?

The other biographies are not so clear about what month and what day he was born, but there is a treatise on astrology related to Kalachakra by the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje, entitled The Smile in the Lake: The Progress of the Four Times in the Worlds Where the Bhagavan Original Buddha Trod or Did Not Tread. What it says is: “Palden Dusum Khyenpa was born on the eighth day of the Ashvin month of the Iron Tiger year. He passed away at the age of eighty-four on the third day of the Pushya month of the Water Ox year.” Taking this as the basis, it seems Dusum Khyenpa’s birthday was the eighth day of the ninth Tibetan month of the Iron Tiger year.

So it is only Mikyö Dorje’s treatise on Kalachakra astrology that mentions Dusum Khyenpa’s birth date; it is not found in any other biography.

Regarding Dusum Khyenpa’s father and mother, his father was named Gompa Dorje Gön and his mother was named Lhatok Sa Gangcham Mingdren. He was named Gepel at birth, that is until he was ordained.

Now one difference here is found in the questions and answers of Tenpa Rabgye, the vajra master of the Thirteenth Karmapa Dudul Dorje. He gives the name differently, saying, “If you do not recognize Tongpön Sherap Gönpo, he is Dusum Khyenpa’s father.” But this is an exception. The life stories by Dusum Khyenpa’s direct disciples and other authoritative early biographies all say that Gompa Dorje Gön was Dusum Khyenpa’s father, not Tongpön Sherap Gönpo. Tongpön Sherap Gönpo was his paternal grandfather.

His grandfather and father were both practitioners of the Nyingma secret mantra. In particular, they practiced Palden Lhamo Rangjung Gyalmo. Dusum Khyenpa said he studied the dharma teachings of Palden Lhamo from both his father and grandfather when he was young, but only his grandfather is listed in the lineage of the Karma Kamtsang Palden Lhamo practice; his father is not. The recitation of the lineage goes Acharya Padmasambhava; Pu Harpa Shangtsun Darma Rinchen; Khyungpo Takshamchen of Latö, Tsang; Gyalway Yeshe of Kyura; Chak Lachen Gönpo; and Tongpön Sherap Gönpo. Prior to Dusum Khyenpa, the Palden Lhamo Rangjung Gyalmo practice was passed down through six generations, the last of whom was Tongpön Sherap Gönpo, Dusum Khyenpa’s paternal grandfather. Thus it is fine to say that the dharma teachings on Lhamo Rangjung Gyalmo are both the ancestral dharma and paternal dharma of the Karma Kamtsang.

Significant Events in his Childhood

Most namthar of Dusum Khyenpa do not say much about his childhood. The best summary, of the little there is, I think, is the Supplication to Lord Dusum Khyenpa by the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje, which we usually call the “Samdrupma.”

At eight, you summoned a yaksha.
At eleven, you prevented a great battle.
At fifteen, you liberated an enemy of the teachings.
I bow to you, who tame the hordes of maras.

At sixteen, you went forth
And showed the example of a great monastic.
You sustained a temple of the Buddha’s teachings.
I bow to you, who guarded the great wheel of dharma.

There is a commentary on Mikyö Dorje’s Supplication to Dusum Khyenpa written by Karmay Khenchen Rinchen Dargye. What it says is that when Mikyö Dorje was born, there were so many miraculous signs that the news quickly spread amongst the local people that the son of the tantric master Dorje Gönpo was a nirmanakaya, and many people came to see him and ask for blessings. At that time, Palden Lhamo made a prophecy to his father, “If you are unable to keep other people from seeing your son and cannot hide him, there will be obstacles.” Because of this, his father told everyone, “My son died; he got sick and died,” and kept him very well concealed, so everyone said, “It’s certain that Dorje Gön’s son has passed away,” and they were convinced he had died.

In any case, Dusum Khyenpa grew quickly as a child; he was said to be very strong, and he was also said to be very tall. The liberation story written by Dusum Khyenpa’s direct disciple, Badey Lodrö Gyatso, relates how, at the age of six, Dusum Khyenpa was taken on a trading trip through the northern regions of Kham. While doing business, he stayed in Lintao, in present-day Gansu province, which is quite far away. Then, at the age of eight, he was taken on a trading trip to the south, and they reached the market at Bayen. So, it explains that from the ages of six to eight, Dusum Khyenpa traveled on trading expeditions to the north and south. The Annotative Commentary on Mikyö Dorje’s Supplication to Dusum Khyenpa says, “At the age of eight, they traveled to trade in the northern regions and became rich.” “Northern regions” means, as I just mentioned, that they traveled to present-day Gansu and did business, which made their family rich. I wonder whether his being taken such long distances at such a young age might be related to how, as Karmay Khenpo Rinchen Dargye explained, his father was hiding him because of the prophecy of Palden Lhamo. There were no telephones or ways to communicate over long distances as we have today, so people would not have known where his son was or whether his son had died or not.

At eight, you summoned a yaksha.

What did the Eighth Karmapa mean by saying, “At eight, you summoned a yaksha”? In his commentary on this prayer, Karmay Khenchen Rinchen Dargye writes that when Dusum Khyenpa was eight years old, there was a local monster, an evil yaksha. Dusum Khyenpa actually liberated this yaksha and transformed its corpse into a boulder. He said that this boulder could still be seen near Dusum Khyenpa’s birthplace. Sometimes, when there was no rain, they had the custom of overturning the boulder on the ground and pressing it into the earth, in order to summon rain. Karma Khenchen Rinchen Dargye says that he was told this by the old Lama Pema Mani from Treho. This is an old oral history.

At eleven, you prevented a great battle.

The next line of the supplication says, “At eleven, you prevented a great battle.” The annotative commentary in Mikyö Dorje’s Collected Works only says, “He defeated an army that hungered for wealth and meat.” It seems that at the time, an army from another region came to Treho in order to seize their wealth and meat, and that Dusum Khyenpa stopped it. It is not explained clearly. However, according to Karmay Khenpo’s commentary, when Dusum Khyenpa was eleven, there was a large war in his homeland, and local people asked his father, the tantric master Gompa Dorje Gön, to stop the war. His father replied, “I am too old and cannot do wrathful activity. I now have several hundred million recitations of the wisdom deity to do, and while I am doing that, I cannot perform any wrathful activity. So, son, you are skilled in the activity rituals of the mamos and yamas, so you should do the ritual of victory over Yama in battle.” As instructed, Dusum Khyenpa chanted the ritual of victory over Yama in battle, pushed back the army, and the conflict in the valley naturally subsided. When that happened, the local people said, “The tantric master Gönpo’s son, who was a nirmanakaya, must not have died after all. It’s just because the tantric master would not do the rituals himself. He must have some pretty powerful sorcery.” 

How he met Lama Bero

Both the biography by Dusum Khyenpa’s direct disciple Gang Lotsawa entitled The Hundred Lives of Dusum Khyenpa and in his attendant Bhikshu Kumara Bodhi’s (Gelong Shonno Jangchup in Tibetan) Dusum Khyenpas Life Story in One Hundred and Eight Vignettes—both of them are Dusum Khyenpa’s direct disciples—both relate how Dusum Khyenpa met Lama Berotsana and the Indian siddha Paldzin at a young age and received spiritual instructions.

Who is this “Lama Berotsana” in this context? In the Red Annals by the great Tibetan historian Dungkar Rinpoche, he writes in note 595:

This is not the [translator] Vairocana who was a contemporary of the Tibetan king Trisong Detsen but a lama with a similar name from the Kagyu tradition. I have not yet seen his biography.

As Dungkar Rinpoche says, Lama Bero was not the great translator Berotsana from the time of the ancient spread of the teachings, nor was he a Tibetan Kagyu lama. He was probably an Indian pandita who traveled to Tibet around the eleventh century. His name was Vairocana Vajra or Vairocana Rakshita. The biographies by Dusum Khyenpa’s direct disciples refer to him as Lama Bero or Lama Vairocana. But he is better known in Tibet by another name, Ngulchu Bero or “Mercury Bero.”

The reason why he is called Ngulchu or “Mercury” Bero is that when he was in China, the emperor gave him a cup of mercury. Mercury is poisonous. It is complicated to explain but in brief, it is poisonous. In any case, the emperor gave him a full cup of mercury, and, since he was offered it, he drank it all. He drank the entire cup, but it did not harm him or kill him. This is why he is called Ngulchu or “Mercury” Bero.

Now Ngulchu Bero is very important. The reason why is that the Five-Deity Tara that is one of Dusum Khyenpa’s Five Sets of Five Deities was transmitted through this Lama Vairocana, so it is important for us to know something about him. Aside from Dusum Khyenpa, Ngulchu Bero had many well-known disciples, including Rinpoche Gyatsa, the founder of the Tropu Kagyu; Lama Shang, the founder of the Tsalpa Kagyu; and the Tibetan yogini Machik Shama. There is a biography of Lama Bero written by Lama Shang, which is the most important source for his life story. When Gö Lotsawa discusses the life of Lama Bero in The Blue Annals, his primary source is the liberation story by Lama Shang. There is much to say about Lama Bero’s life story and when Dusum Khyenpa met him, but that is not our topic for today, so I will discuss it later.

Even today, there is a retreat cave where Lama Bero stayed near Kadrak in Treshö. The Fifth Dongtok Rinpoche (1933–2015) describes the cave in his autobiography:

Kadrak, which is in the middle of Treshö, is a sacred place. When the Acharya [translator] Vairochana traveled to Treshö and was staying at Tsada Rinchen Cave in the southern mountain range, he saw an extraordinary light in Kadrak Plain. He went there to investigate and found an old statue of the Bhagavan Buddha that had been made in the time of the dharma king Songtsen Gampo. Lochen Bero took the statue and built a temple and conducted an elaborate consecration.

Later, after a fair period of time had passed, a large and early Kagyu monastery called Kadrak Dorje Den was established there, but eventually, it declined and fell into ruins. After a considerable length of time had passed, the statue that had been found by Lochen Berotsana was offered with dharani mantras to fill statues. There were statues of Jowo Shakyamuni, Thousand-Armed Avalokiteshvara, as well as images of the protectors and so forth. They built a shrine for these statues and next to the shrine were 108 large tsatsas, each of which contained a bead from Vairocana’s mala.

This is the oral history as presented by Dongtok Rinpoche.

These days it is commonly said that the 108 tsatsas at this Vairocana cave are from the Tibetan translator Berotsana, but it is hard to find reliable accounts of Lochen Berotsana traveling to Treho. Moreover, the great translator Vairocana and Ngulchu Vairocana have exactly the same name. Basically, in Tibet, when you say “Vairocana,” everyone assumes you mean the translator Vairocana, so I think the two became mixed up.

At fifteen, you liberated an enemy of the teachings

The next line of the Supplication to Dusum Khyenpa reads “At fifteen, you liberated an enemy of the teachings.” The biography by Dusum Khyenpa’s direct disciple Lodrö Gyatso describes how at the age of thirteen, he accomplished sorcery and defeated some enemies. And after he had done this, he was so pleased that he hoisted a flag, blew a conch, and made a grand offering in thanksgiving to his protectors. Because of this, he became well known in Treshö for his great powers of sorcery. His enemies’ surviving family were terrified, and came to make great offerings to the monastics, and, in particular, they gave a large share to Dusum Khyenpa’s family, made a confession, and promised to be their subjects and to follow them. Dusum Khyenpa accepted their confession.

Karmay Khenpo writes:

When he turned fifteen, he accomplished Rangjung Gyalmo practice in the Lhamo Cave at Treshö, and she actually showed him her form. The goddess liberated an enemy who was rivaling Dusum Khyenpa and his tantric master father. Dusum Khyenpa cast a spell, and Rangjung Gyalmo came and actually gave him the enemy’s lungs and heart. His fame for perfecting his powers and strength spread widely.

Other than that, it doesn’t say much.

But where is the Lhamo Cave in Tre that is mentioned here? The Lhamo Cave in Tre is further up in the valley from his birthplace of Ratak. Bhikshu Shangkara writes of this in The Vajra Splinter Travelogue:

On a mountain further up the valley from Ratak
Dusum Khyenpa accomplished Palden Lhamo and saw her face.
She disappeared into the rock face, leaving a self-arisen image.
In some, she dissolved into the rock with her mule,
Whose tail he grabbed and pulled back. The mule's hindquarters
Remained outside, and a stone relief of the goddess’ mule
Protrudes, along with a stone elephant, the six syllables, and her implements.

When the Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso visited Treho, he went to Lhamo Cave, where he saw Palden Lhamo’s face and wrote a praise of her that is included in his Collected Works.

One account that is different from any other is in Mikyö Dorje’s Annotative Commentary on the Supplication to Dusum Khyenpa. He writes of this line, “His wife had been taken by someone else, so he did practice and sorcery and took the victory for the jewels.” If we say it plainly, it says that someone else took Dusum Khyenpa’s bride or wife. When she was taken, he cast a spell and was victorious.

Not only that, in the Eighth Karmapa’s collected songs, it says:

Dusum Khyenpa, emanation of the Lion’s Roar,
Was left by his wife and resented his father’s family.
“Now I must go forth,” he said.
“May I remember the faults of the home from my heart.”

So this is saying that Dusum Khyenpa’s wife left and that he had a disagreement with his father’s siblings, his father’s brothers and sisters, and because of this, Dusum Khyenpa felt revulsion for samsara, and he thought he absolutely must go forth and be ordained. Götsangpa writes, “He took a wife at the age of nine”, so Dusum Khyenpa must have been betrothed as a child, as was the custom in Tibet.  People were betrothed as children—they weren’t married, but they were betrothed.

The oral history says, “Dusum Khyenpa had a monkey face.” We know this because at Tsurphu monastery there was a statue of Dusum Khyenpa, made after his parinirvana. The sculptor was one of his direct disciples, and the image does have a monkey-like face, so Dusum Khyenpa was probably not very good-looking; his face looked like a monkey’s. Since he had such an ugly face, perhaps his bride left him, or was persuaded to elope by someone else. In any case, his bride left him and went off with someone else. When she left, Dusum Khyenpa was despondent—he was so depressed he practiced wrathful mantras, inciting the dharma protectors. When his enemy went out to do something, he fell from his horse on the road, was dragged along, and killed. When Dusum Khyenpa heard the news, he was overjoyed, raised a flag, blew a conch, and raced on a horse, and made it well known that he had been victorious.

The supplication continues:

At sixteen, you went forth
And showed the example of a great monastic.
You sustained a temple of the Buddha’s teachings.
I bow to you who guarded the great wheel of dharma.

As I was just describing, Dusum Khyenpa had perfected the power of wrathful mantra at a young age.  He had great power—he had killed someone. He also realized the karmic ripening would be heavy, and because of other factors, he developed the wish for liberation from samsara. He felt disgust for the home and asked his father’s permission, who agreed. So, at the age of sixteen, he went to Kadrak Könchok Jungne Monastery in Tre, which was a seat of the Kadam lineage at the time. It was an excellent monastery. There he took vows from Khenpo Chokgi Lama, who had taken ordination from Ngok Lekpay Sherap, a student of Atisha and the founder of the Sangpu Monastery. He was also the main student of the Tibetan translator Ngok Loren Sherap. The ritual master was Chak Senge Drak. He was given the monastic name of Chökyi Drakpa. So from Dusum Khyenpa on, there has been a custom of giving the incarnations of the Karmapa the monastic name Chökyi Drakpa. I think there must be particular reason for this, because otherwise there would be no need to name them all Chökyi Drakpa.

In The Vajra Splinter Travelogue, Mikyö Dorje’s attendant Bhikshu Shangkara writes a short history of Kadrak in verse. Today I shall relate it in prose to make it easier to understand.

He says that Kadrak monastery was built when the Tibetan Emperor Tri Ralpachen gathered together all the monastics in the realm of Tibet, which at that time extended from the stupa of the Karchung Pillar in China to Mount Tsa Shingga in Kashmir. He summoned them all and built the Darma Wheel monastery. Then the emperor himself cut off the locks of his hair, spread them on the ground, and had the sangha walk over them, showing the sangha great respect and service.

Later, because the jewel of the saga had walked on the locks of his hair, these locks were considered sacred and placed inside a stupa, which the emperor was said to have circumambulated. So the Kadrak stupa contained emperor Tri Ralpachen’s hair. Next to it, there was a large monastery with a three-storey temple and turquoise roof which had been built by a student of one of Lumey's disciples. There was a large sangha there, at the time, and it was there that Dusum Khyenpa took the lay precepts from Chokgi Lama.

When Bhikshu Shangkara visited Treho, Kadrak monastery was in decline. The statues and scriptures were old and scattered about, and the monks were basically all the same as lay householders—they did not really inspire faith. The lineage was Sakya, he writes. Though Bhikshu Shangkara only writes a few stanzas on this topic, it is an important historical source, I think.

Though the travelogue I was just discussing says he took lay precepts, Dusum Khyenpa’s biography written by his direct disciple Ganglo—The Golden Isle: The Precious Lives of the Lord of Dharma in Eighteen Chapters— says:

So at the age of sixteen he took novice vows in Kadrak with Geshe Chokgi Lama, whom he served for two years. From Geshe Trarawa he received the empowerment of Chakrasamvara and then heard teachings on Achala and also on the Kadampa tradition.

Bhikshu Kumara Bodhi’s Dusum Khyenpas Life Story in One Hundred and Eight Vignettes also describes how he went forth at Kadrak in Tre. Not only that, he participated in the sangha’s activities and set up a small monastery there.

When he was sixteen, he took monastic vows from the great abbot Chokgi Lama and the master Chak Senge Drak at Chökhor Chenpo Kadrak. He was given the name Shramanera Dharmakirti (Chökyi Drakpa). For a short while, he participated in the sangha’s activities and set up a small monastery.

These two biographies by his direct disciples are in agreement, so we are able to confirm that Dusum Khyenpa went forth at Chökhor Kadrak. Not only that, he served the monastery well and established a monastic sangha, as they say.

Where it says in The Golden Isle that he served his khenpo for twelve years, it contradicts the fact that he went to Central Tibet at the age of twenty and so must be a scribal error.

Similarly, the Annotative Commentary on the Supplication to Dusum Khyenpa notes that he did as Chokgi Lama told and established a large monastic sangha at Kadrak. As this says, not only did Dusum Khyenpa go forth at Kadrak, he also established a monastic sangha there, which accords with the biography by Shönnu Jangchup. He was from a rich and important family, and he had engaged in commerce while young and become rich. In this way, he offered service to the Kadrak monastery, having a great influence on increasing the size of the sangha there.

During his ordination at Kadrak, according to some biographies, including the Feast for Scholars, at the point when his head was shaved, the deities of Chakrasamvara and the wisdom dakinis appeared in the sky, placed a black crown on his head, and prophesied that he would be the embodiment of the activity of all the buddhas, giving him the name Karmapa. That was when he was given the name. It was a pure vision, and both his masters saw it. This is why he would later wear a black hat. This is what is said in The Feast for Scholars and some other biographies. But I do not think this is said so clearly in the biographies by Dusum Khyenpa’s direct disciples.

During the two years Dusum Khyenpa spent at Kadrak, he served Khenpo Chokgi Lama and also studied the Kadampa teachings of Atisha’s tradition. Not only that, as I mentioned earlier, in Central Tibet, there were three direct disciples of Atisha’s named Rongpa Gargey, Gö Lotsawa, and Yöl Chöwang. Yöl Chöwang’s direct disciple was Geshe Trarawa, whose elder brother Dorje instructed Dusum Khyenpa in the Kadampa teachings. Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa and Kunkhyen Pema Karpo say that Dusum Khyenpa studied dharma directly from Yöl Chöwang, but the biographies by Dusum Khyenpa’s direct disciples only mention Yöl Chöwang’s student Trarawa; they do not mention him studying with Yöl Chöwang himself. Dusum Khyenpa also had a habit of speaking with his students about past and future lives. When he spoke about the past and future lives of his lamas, he speaks of Trarawa’s past and future lives but not of Yöl Chöwang’s.

Moreover, it is generally accepted that Yöl Chöwang was over fifty years old when Atisha came to Central Tibet. If Dusum Khyenpa had met him at the time, Yöl Chöwang would have had to be around ninety-five years old, so I think it would have been difficult for them to meet. In any case, he did receive from Geshe Trarawa many dharma teachings that were transmitted by Yöl Chöwang. This topic is described most clearly in the History of the Kadampa by Gyalwa Gendun Drup’s student Tsetang Lechen Kunga Gyaltsen.

In particular, Lotsawa and the monk king, among others, asked for the sadhana of Hayagriva and the four Shvanas, but Atisha would not give it to them. He said to Yöl, “This is a deity of compassion. You have great compassion, so I shall give it to you,” and bestowed it on him. It is because of Yöl that the instructions of Atisha’s tradition of the three deities of great compassion spread widely. The glorious Tsurphupa (Dusum Khyenpa) received the Chakrasamvara empowerment of Atisha’s tradition, many secret mantra sadhanas, and the instructions on Achala from Yöl Chöwang’s student Trarawa and his brother. He also received the Four-Mandala Tara from Yöl’s transmission. His Five Sets of Five Deities include Hayagriva with the four Shvanas, so many of Atisha’s instructions spread from Yöl’s transmission into the Karmapa’s lineage.

 Lechen Kunga Gyaltsen

As this says, the Hayagriva and Four Shvana teachings included in Dusum Khyenpa’s Five Sets of Five Deities came from Yöl Chöwang. In particular, there was the Four-Mandala Tara passed down from Yöl. This practice probably does not exist in any tradition other than the Kamtsang. Katok Rikdzin Tsewang Norbu writes of this in his The Wish-Fulfilling Tree: A Ritual of Supplicating and Offering Four Mandalas to Noble Tara:

Though some say that there are rituals for requesting one’s desires from Tara in the lineages of Padmasambhava, Dampa Gyagarwa, and Shakya Shri, but I have not yet clearly seen an independent four-mandala ritual in their lineages. The one known now was transmitted by Lord Dipamkara Shri Jnana. I have seen its descendants in the Sakya, Narthang, and Kamtsang traditions. Among them, the one written by Khachö Wangpo in the Kamtsang tradition is from Atisha’s lineage, but it is radically different from the other rituals, so the tradition has deteriorated.

It seems that when Katok Rikdzin says that “some say that there are rituals… in the lineages of Padmasambhava, Dampa Gyagarwa, and Shakya Shri,” some seems to refer to the second Shamar, Khachö Wangpo, I believe, because his Giver of All Desires: The Stages of the Mandala of the Bhagavati clearly says, “Though there are ones in the lineage of Shakya Shri, Acharya Padmasambhava, and Dampa Gyagarwa, I think this one is best.” However, though Katok Rigdzin says he has not seen an independent four-mandala ritual in their lineages, there are Instructions on Praising and Accomplishing Tara by Shakya Shri in Tropu’s Hundred Instructions, which I think must be the one.

You might wonder what makes the Four-Mandala Tara of the Kamtsang tradition special. There are two reasons. It is that the structure of the ritual and the lineage are different. Regarding the structure of the ritual, the self-visualization includes Red Lokeshvara, and in the front visualization, one visualizes White, Red, and Green Tara in succession and offers each a mandala. In the end, you visualize Red, White, and Green Taras together and make offerings and so forth to them. There are also short, medium, and long prostrations, mandalas, and recitations of the essence mantra, and there are different numbers of repetitions of the 21 Tara homage, not necessarily two, three, and seven times as in the Narthang tradition.

།Regarding the different lineage, the colophon to this ritual says, “This ritual of offering to and supplicating the Bhagavati was passed from Tara herself to Atisha, and then to Yöl Chöwang, Dusum Khyenpa, Gya Powa Lungpa, Jnana Siddhi, Sidhakirti, and Lord Ritröpa.” This states how the lineage was passed from Atisha to Yöl Chöwang, who gave it to Dusum Khyenpa. If we take this at its word, it would seem Dusum Khyenpa actually met Yöl Chöwang. In any case, the Kamtsang tradition of the Four-Mandala Tara was passed from Atisha to Yöl Chöwang and then to Dusum Khyenpa.

The best-known Tara ritual is mainly from the Narthang tradition, which is primarily found in The Hundred Narthang Rituals. The Hundred Narthang Rituals was passed from Atisha to Gönpawa, Kamawa, and so forth. Some might think that Kamawa means the Karmapa, but “Kamawa” refers to Geshe Kamawa, not the Karmapa. So there is a bit of a difference between the Narthang transmission and the Kamtsang transmission.

However, in the Karma Kagyu these days, it is rare to find people who know that we have our own special four-mandala practice of Tara, that we have our own tradition of pith instructions with wonderful, distinctive features. People only know the Profound Essence Tara. If those who know that there is a Karma Kamtsang four-mandala practice of Tara are rarer than stars in the daytime, the people who recite it are like turtle fur, rabbit horns, and the like!

In any case, we have our own special instructions; a treasure that we need to cherish and preserve. If we can do so, only then can we dare to show our faces to the lineage masters of the past and say we are upholding their lineage. We cannot, if, instead, we ignore our own particular transmissions, do not take care of our own treasure, and only practice others. It’s fine to practice other lineages, but first, we must take care of our own inheritance. To preserve your own inheritance first, before you go looking elsewhere for jewels, is the way of the wise.

So it is important for all of us to understand how significant Dusum Khyenpa was for Tibetan Buddhism, the Dakpo Kagyu in particular, and especially the Karma Kamtsang. Once we understand this, the most critical thing is to know how to take the examples of the great masters of the past as spiritual instructions. Merely knowing their life story is not enough. We need to take their life stories as spiritual instructions or as an example to follow ourselves. We need to do as much as we can to become like them ourselves. If we can apply some diligence to this, only then will knowing the lama’s life story be meaningful. Otherwise, there won’t be much difference between the lamas’ life stories and the stories of ordinary worldly people.

That is all I have to say for today.



2023.12.15 The Gyalwang Karmapa Speaks About the Greatness of Dusum Khyenpa