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The Golden Rosary

The forefathers in the Kagyu lineage are known as the “Golden Rosary.” The lineage of the Kagyu emphasizes the continuity of oral instructions passed on from master to student. This emphasis is reflected in the literal meaning of “Kagyu.” The first syllable “Ka” refers to the scriptures of the Buddha and the oral instructions of the guru. “Ka” has the sense both of the enlightened meaning conveyed by the words of the teacher, as well as the force that such words of insight carries. The second syllable “gyu” means lineage or tradition. Together, these syllables mean “the lineage of the oral instructions.”

Kagyu Lineage

The Kagyu Lineage traces its origin back to the historic Buddha, Shakyamuni through Marpa, the great translator and yogi, who brought the unbroken lineage from India to Tibet.

Marpa The Translator

Marpa first trained as a translator under Drogmi Yeshe (993-1050), and then traveled three times to India and four times to Nepal in search of buddhist teachings. He is said to have studied with a hundred and eight masters and yogis, but his principal teachers were Naropa and Maitripa.


Tilopa & Naropa

From Naropa, Marpa received the lineage of tantric teachings called the Four Special Transmissions (bK’a-babs-bzhi): the yogas of 1) illusory body and transference of consciousness, 2) dream, 3) luminosity, and 4) inner heat. Naropa obtained these teachings directly from Tilopa (988-1069), who in turn had received them from two original sources, called the direct and indirect lineage. The direct lineage and original source of the teachings was Buddha Vajradhara. The indirect lineage comes from four main teachers of Tilopa called the “four special transmission lineages.” Both Tilopa and Naropa are some of the greatest panditas, scholars, and siddhas, accomplished saints of Nalanda, the famous Buddhist university of ancient India.



Marpa brought these lineages to Tibet, passing them on to his primary disciple and lineage holder, Milarepa (1040-1123). The most renowned and accomplished of Tibet’s tantric yogis, he achieved enlightenment in one lifetime. Milarepa held the lineage and tradition of the Practice Lineage. Some of the other great students of Marpa were Ngog Choku Dorjey, Tsurton Wangey and Meton Chenpo, who held Marpa’s tradition of the Teaching Lineage. This is how the two great systems of the practice and teaching were founded in the Kagyu lineage.



The great master Gampopa (1084-1161), also known as Dakpo Lhaje, and Rechungpa (1084-1161) were the principal students of Milarepa. Gampopa was prophesized in the sutras by Buddha. He established the framework of the lineage by unifying Milarepa’s Mahamudra lineage with the stages of the path tradition of the Kadampa lineage. This lineage and tradition is known as the Dhakpo Kagyu.

Gampopa had three heart disciples: Düsum Khyenpa, Phakmo Drupa and Saltong Shogom. Düsum Khyenpa (1110-1193), also known as Khampa Usey (literally, the “white-haired Khampa”). He became known as the First Karmapa, who established the Karma Kagyu lineage.





Vajradhara is the primordial buddha, the dharmakaya buddha. Vajradhara, depicted as dark blue in color, expresses the quintessence of buddhahood itself. Vajradhara represents the essence of the historical Buddha’s realization of enlightenment.

Historically, Prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment under the bodhi tree in Bodhgaya over 2500 years ago and then manifested as the Buddha. According to Buddhist cosmology, he was the Fourth Historic Buddha of this fortunate eon. Prince Siddhartha’s achievement of enlightenment, the realization, or wisdom of enlightenment itself, is called the dharmakaya, the body of truth. When he expresses that realization through subtle symbols, his realization is called the sambhogakaya, the body of enjoyment. When such realization manifested in more accessible or physical form for all sentient beings as the historical Shakyamuni Buddha, it is called the nirmanakaya, the body of manifestation.

The dharmakaya, synonymous with Vajradhara Buddha, is the source of all the manifestations of enlightenment. Vajradhara is central to the Kagyu lineage because Tilopa received the vajrayana teachings directly from Vajradhara, the dharmakaya buddha. Thus, the Kagyu lineage originated from the very nature of buddhahood.

The realization of the nature was in turn transmitted within the Golden Rosary by Tilopa.



Naropa (1016-1100) is one of the most prominent and authoritative Indian mahasiddhas and masters of mahahudra and tantra. He received the mahamudra and tantra lineage teachings from his guru Tilopa and transmitted them to his disciple, Marpa, the Great Translator of Tibet.

Bramin Upbringing

Naropa, known as Abhayakirti (‘jig med grags pa) Jnanasiddhi, was born in Kashmir into the Brahmin caste. According to Taranatha and other sources, who say that he was born in a place called Jambu in the eastern part of India. His father was Shantivarman and mother, Shrimati.

According to Taranatha, from an early age, he began to receive a complete education and became a tirthika pandit (scholar of non-buddhist teachings), also practicing the tantras of Hindusim. During this time, Naropa went to the house of a woman who sold beer and encountered a junior Buddhist pandita. After the Buddhist pandita departed, Naropa found a volume of Sutras left behind by him and began to read them. He became very inspired by the teachings and his heart filled with devotion for the dharma.

Naropa then went to Madhyadesha where he became an ordained monk in the Buddhist order, becoming educated in the Buddhist teachings. Naropa, who had been a tirthika pandita became instead the most learned pandita in the Buddha-dharma. He was honored for this accomplishment by being made the “Northern Gatekeeper” of Nalanda and Vikramashila universities. He taught at the universities and became one of the most well-known abbots of the time. During this time, he practiced the vajrayana tantric meditation of Cakrasamvara every evening and had many sacred visions of the dakinis. At some point, some dakinis encouraged him to leave by saying, “In the east is Tilopa. Go before him and you will attain great siddhi!”

Searching for Tilopa

He traveled to the eastern regions and searched for Tilopa everywhere, but Tilopa was nowhere to be found. One day, Naropa was at a monastery in the eastern region. While in the monastery kitchen, a vile and filthy old man came in and roasted many live fish in the glowing fire. Naropa was unable to persuade him not to roast the fish alive, and the other monks jumped up and began to run towards the old man to stop him from killing. The old man responded: “If you don’t like it, just throw these roasted fish leftovers into the water!” Upon putting the roasted fish remains into water, they came to life and swam away in all directions.

Naropa then knew that the old man was a realized siddha. Following after him, he prostrated at his feet and begged him to teach. The old man became angry and struck Naropa without saying anything. When Naropa thought to himself, “Is this yogi Tilopa?” the old man answered: “Yes! Yes!” When Naropa thought “Is this yogi someone other than Tilopa?” the old man replied: “No! No!” At that point, he realized that this old man was Tilopa.

Tilopa sometimes manifested as a yogi by performing yogic deeds and sometimes just seemed to be a simple madman. During all these times Naropa had no conceptual thoughts or doubts about Tilopa’s realisation.

Developing Naropa's Devotion

Once Naropa received a lot of vegetables from a wedding celebration and he offered them to Tilopa. Tilopa asked for more and so Naropa went again to the wedding reception, thinking that it would please his Guru. In India, it is not the accepted custom to go to a banquet twice in one day, so Naropa stole the whole pot of vegetables and carried it off. The people at the wedding caught him stealing and beat him with sticks and rocks, but Naropa managed to hang onto the pot and bring the vegetables to his guru.

At another time, Tilopa and Naropa encountered a princess sitting in a palyanka (palanquin) on the road. Tilopa said, “Grab the princess and bring her here!” Naropa transformed himself into a Brahmin and, uttering auspicious words, he put flowers on the girl’s head. He then grabbed her and fled with her; the servants of the princess however caught up with him, and beat Naropa to the ground until he was like a corpse. Naropa subsequently recovered through the blessings and skillful means of his guru.

Once again, Tilopa and Naropa met someone’s wife, this time married to a minister. Tilopa wanted her as his wife and told Naropa to do as he had done previously. Naropa paid her parents the price for a high caste girl and took her off with him. He thought he would offer her to his guru in the morning, but Naropa became very ill and was sick for many days. During this time, his guru recited mantras and Naropa soon recovered fully. At that time, Naropa offered the girl to Tilopa. However, the girl was so attacted to Naropa that she made love-glances at Naropa. Seeing this, Tilopa got very mad and said to the girl: “You don’t like me but instead, you like him.” He then beat both Naropa and the girl.

Those and many similar deeds were done in order to develop Naropa’s faith. During all of these events that Naropa went through, his devotion and faith remained firm and was not shaken even slightly. Not only did it not diminish; in fact his faith and devotion expanded. In this way, Naropa served his guru Tilopa for twelve years and although he went through numerous hardships, Tilopa never even spoke a single good word to him.

Sandal Transmission

Finally, when they were at an empty plain Tilopa said, “Now make a mandala offering so I can give you the upadesha (key instructions).” Naropa looked around and said: “There are no flowers nor any water here to make mandala offering.” Tilopa answered: “Does your body not have blood and fingers?” so Naropa cut himself and sprinkled the ground with his own blood; he then cut off his fingers and arrayed them as if they were flowers. Tilopa then struck him with a muddy sandal and knocked him unconscious. When he woke up he was able to see the reality of things as they are. Naropa was completely healed and was given all the upadeshas and further instructions. Naropa became one of the greatest yogins and Tilopa instructed him: “Now, don’t debate, don’t teach any students – if you act thus you will swiftly attain the highest state.”

When Naropa was abiding at Phullahari monastery, he engaged in non-conceptual meditation. However, events forced him into a debate with a Tirthika, at which time Tilopa appeared and helped Naropa. Thus he did not fully comply with the instructions, which caused him some obstacles in the path.

Naropa stayed mostly in Phullahari, near Nalanda and also he wandered around various places conducting abhishekas, teaching tantras, giving upadeshas, and also engaging in great activities for the benefit of many sentient beings. Naropa attained the realization of the Reality and became one of the most renowned mahasiddas of India.

Naropa had many students including, Shantipa, Atisha, and many other masters who where door-keeper panditas. Among his students, there were eight extraordinary disciples, four who were learned in the Father Tantras and four who where learned in Mother Tantras and held the Oral Instructions lineage. Foremost among his disciples was the Tibetan Marpa, the great translator, who brought the lineage of Naropa to Tibet and continued it through his great disciple, Milarepa. The principal student and lineage heir of Naropa was Marpa.



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Tilopa (988-1069) is one of the most authoritative and renowned Indian mahasiddhas and masters of mahamudra and tantra. He received various tantric teachings and unified them and transmitted to his disciple, Naropa.

Tilopa, known as Prajnabhadra, was born in the town of Chativavo (Chittagong, which is now in Bangladesh), into the Brahmin caste. His birthplace is also recorded to be Jagora (in eastern Bengal). His father was Pranyasha and mother, Kashi.

When he grew up he learned all the doctrinal treatises of Brahminism. While he was wandering in various places asking for alms, he finally came to a temple and, seeing that the monks live a life of renunciation, he entered the monastic life and became a learner in the Tripitaka, the three collections of the teachings of the Buddha.

He was empowered into the tantric mandalas by his master, and learned acharyas, and engaged very diligently in meditation practices on those instructions at different places, such as Somapuri. After a short time, he had a unique experience and great wisdom was born within him from this realisation. He received further teachings from different persons and had many sacred visions and made great accomplishments over the years.

Tilopa received teachings and transmissions especially the “Four Special Transmission Lineages” from great tantric masters of India. Among his many masters, the Great Brahmin Saraha, Acharya Nagarjuna, and Matangi played very important roles in his development. For 12 years, Tilopa devoted himself totally to his practices and attained realisation.

It is also said that from ultimate point of view, Tilopa had no human teachers and he received the full mahamudra and vajrayana transmissions directly from Buddha Vajradhara.

According to Taranatha, Tilopa practised with a ksetra yogini, the daughter of a sesame seed pounder, and the monks expelled him from the monastery. Because he was a former Brahmin Pandita and Buddhist monk, he had lost all his opportunities for wealth and fame. He pursued the work of a sesame seed pounder in the town. He then came to be known as “Tillipa,” the sesame pounder. He received various teachings from dakinis in the land of Oddiyana. He then continued to pound sesame seeds in Oddiyana until the sesame became like a butter broth. Through the methods that he received from his Guru’s instructions, his body and mind was also pounded and synchronised through this process, until he realised the co-emergent wisdom.

He also worked at a brothel for Dharima (as instructed by his guru Matangi). He attained great mahamudra realisation through practicing in this situation. Through such diligence and skilful practice of mahamudra and tantra, he finally attained the complete siddhi or accomplishment.

Tilopa then started to teach and benefit sentient beings for many years. He started to pass on what he had realised to gatherings in towns. At first, everyone was usually full of doubt. When each person in the audience asked questions, Tilopa putting his experiences into song, answered each question in this way. It is said that many of those who understood the meaning of the songs attained siddhis. Thus he became renowned as the Siddha Tillipa, and is one of the eighty-four mahasiddhas of India. After many years of benefiting beings and guiding his disciples, he departed for the enlightened realms without leaving his physical body.

His two most well known students were Naropa and Lalitavajra. His Golden Rosary lineage heir was Naropa.





Marpa (1012-1097) travelled to India from Tibet at great personal peril across the Himalayas to study with his principal teachers, Naropa and Maitripa

Marpa Chökyi Lodrö, was born in Lhodrak Chukhyer to a well-to-do family. He began studying at a young age and was wild and untamed compared to other children. Marpa first received training for three years at Mangkhar with Drokmi Shakya Yeshe and mastered the Sanskrit language. He decided to travel to India to study dharma with renowned Indian buddhist masters. Marpa returned home to Lhodrak and converted his entire inheritance into gold for his travel expenses and to make offerings to his Indian gurus for requested teachings.

Journeys to India
Marpa set out on his journey to India. Arriving first in Nepal, he studied with Paindapa and Chitherpa, two famous students of Naropa.

Later, Paindapa accompanied Marpa to Pullahari, near Nalanda University, where Naropa taught. Marpa spent twelve years receiving abhishekas, instructions, and studying with Naropa and other great Indian gurus to whom Naropa sent him to study or receive instructions. At the end of twelve years, Marpa offered a ganachakra and sang his first song of realization to his guru, Naropa. Shortly after, he set forth on his journey back to Tibet, where he taught and continued his dharma activities.

Subsequently, Marpa traveled to India two more times and studied with Naropa and other great mahasiddhas of India. Of these, his main gurus were Naropa and Maitripa. In total, he traveled three times to India and four times to Nepal. On his third visit, Marpa went through an adventure in finding Naropa, because Naropa, having already entered into the tantric conduct, was nowhere to be found. However, with determination, trust, and devotion, Marpa managed to find Naropa and receive the final teachings and instructions from him. At that time, Naropa prophesied that a family lineage would not continue for Marpa, but that his lineage would be carried on by disciples—especially one with the appearance of a monk and the inner realization of Mahayana. This prophecy foretold of the arrival of Lord Gampopa.

Bringing the Complete Dharma to Tibet
Marpa now had received the full transmissions, so Naropa formally declared Marpa to be his dharma successor. Marpa brought the teachings and lineages of vajrayana and mahamudra back to Tibet.

Upon his return to Tibet, Marpa spent many years translating Buddhist scriptures and contributed to the effort to bring the complete buddhadharma to Tibet. Many of his translations are part of the Kagyur and Tangyur.

Marpa continued to practice and give teachings, abhishekas, and transmissions to many students in Tibet. After his third visit to India, Mila Thöpaga or Milarepa became his disciple, who inherited his lineage in full. Marpa along with his wife, Dakmema and their sons lived in Lhodrak in the southern part of Tibet.

Marpa had numerous disciples. The four most outstanding students were known as the “Four Pillars":

1) Ngok Chöku Dorje, who became the principal student to receive the transmissions and master the explanations of the Tantras;

2) Tsurtön Wanggi Dorje, who became the main student to receive the transmissions and master the practice of Phowa [transference of conciousness];

3) Meytön Chenpo, who became the primary student to receive the transmissions and master the practice of Ösal [luminosity]; and

4) Milarepa, who became the principal student to receive the full transmissions and master the view, meditation, and conduct.

Marpa gave the full transmission of his lineage to Milarepa, who became his spiritual heir and continued the lineage of Naropa. The principal student and lineage heir of Marpa was Milarepa.


The 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa

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Early Years
The First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, (1110-1193) was born to a family of devoted Buddhist practitioners in Teshö in eastern Tibet. The boy who was to become known as the first Karmapa was called Gephel as a child. He first studied with his father, and became a knowledgeable and seasoned practitioner, even as a young child. He continued his education with other Buddhist teachers of the region.

First Teachers
Already quite learned by the age of 19 years, he moved to Central Tibet, became a monk and spent the next twelve years or so engaging in study and meditation practices. He studied with very well known masters of the time, such as Chapa Chokyi Senge (1109-1169), a great logician and the founder of the debate system in Tibet, and Patsab Lotsawa Nyima Drakpa (1055-1145), who translated many madhyamaka texts (one of the highest schools of Buddhist philosophy) into Tibetan and was a great master of the Prasangika Madhyamaka tradition.

Training Under Gampopa
At 30 years old, he received teachings from Gampopa, the heart son of the greatest yogi in Tibetan history, Milarepa. Düsum Khyenpa first trained in the foundation practices of the Kadampa tradition and, following that, in the general philosophy of the sutras. This training in the basis of all Buddhist traditions established a pattern for all future Kagyu followers. It demonstrated the importance of establishing a correct basis of knowledge. This is true even when engaging in the most powerful of advanced vajrayana practices. Düsum Khyenpa also received and unified the lineage teachings he received from Rechungpa and other students of Milarepa.

The Karmapa’s accomplishment in meditation and the practices transmitted to him by his teachers were greatly enhanced by his own natural compassion. His practice produced rapid results and great accomplishments, or siddhis. Such accomplishment is often perceived by followers as the ability to perform miraculous activity and in fact, the legends of the Karmapas through the ages speak of their ability, through the manifestation of this seemingly miraculous activity, to create a great sense of wonder and faith in their students. All the Karmapas have since been known for their ability to inspire, through their simple presence, this profound sense of wonder and faith in the reality of the accomplishment which is the fruition of the Buddhist path.

Establishing Monastic Seats
In 1164, at the age of 55, Düsum Khyenpa founded a monastery at Kampo Nénang; and at the age of 60 years, he started the Panphuk monastery in Lithang, in East Tibet. Later, at the age of 76 years, he established an important seat at Karma Gön, in eastern Tibet. And finally at the age of 80 years, he established his main seat at Tsurphu, in the Tolung valley, a river which feeds into the Brahmaputra, in central Tibet. The first Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa, made predictions about future Karmapas. In particular, he prophesied detailing his future incarnation. Düsum Khyenpa passed away at the age of 84 years. Among his other main disciples were Tak-lungpa, founder of the Ta-lung Kagyu, Tsangpa Gyare, founder of the Drukpa Kagyu, and Lama Khadampa Deshek, founder of the Katok Nyingma lineage. The principal student who held the lineage of the Golden Rosary from the First Karmapa was Drogon Rechen.




Milarepa (1052-1135) was born in Gungthang. His father was Mila Sherap Gyaltsen and mother, Nyangtsa Kargyen. He had one younger sister, Peta Paldron. He was named Mila Thöpaga, which means “Mila who is a joy to hear.” At a young age, he lost his father and his family’s estate passed into the hands of his father’s brother, Mila Thöpaga’s uncle, who, with his wife, virtually enslaved Mila’s mother and family, making them work in the field. He, along with his mother and sister, went through tremendous suffering because of the ill treatment of his uncle and aunt.

A Foray into Magic

At his mother’s request, when Mila grew up, he studied magic from two different teachers in order to take revenge through the use of magical powers. Through a spell, he killed thirty-seven people, including his uncle’s family, and destroyed most of the crops of the village. After this was done, great remorse arose in him for the heavy karmic consequences he had caused himself, and his mind turned towards the sacred dharma.

Mila first went to the Tsang region and studied with the great master, Rongtön Lhaga. The latter eventually advised Mila to go and study with Marpa. At the age of thirty-eight, he went to Lhodrak to find Marpa. Before he arrived, Marpa had a dream in which a yidam prophesied the arrival of Milarepa.

Studies Under Marpa

Mila spent over six years studying with Marpa, who made Mila build the famous nine-story tower as part of his journey on the path. At the end, he received the abhisheka of Chakrasamvara from Marpa during which he received the secret name, Shepa Dorje, which means “Laughing Vajra.” Marpa also conferred on Milarepa the full transmissions, instructions, and abhishekas of Tantra, as well as the lineage of Mahamudra – all that Marpa had received from Indian mahasiddhas Naropa and Maitripa.

Enlightenment and Teaching through Poetic Songs

After practicing very diligently for twelve years under Lord Marpa, Milarepa attained the inseparable state of vajradhara (the complete state of enlightenment) in this very lifetime. He then became known as Milarepa, which means 'Mila, the cotton clad one'. ('Repa' is the designation given to many tantric yoginis since they wear a white robe). At the age of 45, he started to practice at Drakar Taso (White Rock Horse Tooth), and other well known caves and also began to wander and teach at various places.

Milarepa is most famous for his songs and poems, in which he expresses the profundity of his realisation of the dharma with extraordinary clarity and beauty. Many of Milarepa’s poetic compositions have been translated into numerous other languages.

Milarepa had countless disciples such as Rechung Dorje Drakpa, Gampopa, Dhakpo Lhaje, the eight-heart-sons, and many others. Among them, his spiritual successor who continued his lineage and became one of the main lineage masters in Milarepa’s tradition was Gampopa.





Gampopa Sönam Rinchen (1079-1153) was born in Nyal in central Tibet. His father was Nyiwa Sangye Gyalpo and mother was Shomo Zatse. He was named Dharma Drak.


Medical Training

His father started his son’s education at the age of five. From the age of seven he studied medical sciences and received training as a physician from Kyeme, an Indian doctor, Usil, a doctor from the Tsang region of central Tibet, and Viji, a Nepalese doctor over a period of more than eight years. For many subsequent years, he continued his medical training, studying under thirteen other doctors from China and Tibet. He became one of the best doctors of the time, and was known as Dakpo Lhaje, the physician from Dakpo. He also became interested in dharma and started to study in the Nyingma lineage from the master Bar-rey, and in the Kadam tradition with Sharpa Yonten Drak.

Stricken by an Epidemic

At the age of sixteen, Dharma Drak married the daughter of Chim Jose Dharma Ö. They had two children. He lived as a householder and as a highly-trained physician, he received great respect from the community. At the age of twenty-five, his wife and children died from an epidemic disease, and this caused him to fully turn his mind towards dharma. At the age of twenty-six, Gampopa received the fully monastic ordination from Geshe Loden Sherap of the Kadam order. At the age of twenty-eight, he met Nyukrumpa Tsöndru Gyaltsen and received many Kadampa teachings. He practiced their teachings for many years.

Historic Meeting with Milarepa

Hearing of the fame of the Lord of Yogins, Milarepa, he decided to search for him. After a long and difficult journey, Gampopa arrived at Trode Tashigang, where it appeared that Milarepa already had been expecting him. He and his disciples received the monk, Gampopa, with great respect and hospitality. Because of Gampopa’s pride, however, his audience with Milarepa was delayed for two weeks. When Gampopa met Milarepa for the first time, the latter offered this new disciple a bowl of chang (Tibetan beer). Although Gamapopa initially hesitated to drink it because it would be a violation of his monastic vow, he did so anyway, which demonstrated that he would receive the full lineage teachings of mahamudra and tantra from Milarepa. This was an historic moment. After this significant meeting, Gampopa practiced with great diligence and endured many hardships under his guru; he had many experiences and finally attained great realisation. He became a most important disciple and the lineage holder of Milarepa.

Founding the Kagyu Order

Gampopa was the founder of the monastic order of the Kagyu School and the lineages that branch out from him are known as the Dhakpo Kagyu. He founded the Dhaklha Gampo Monastery where he continued his activities of teaching, meditation, and benefiting beings. Gampopa is the author of a most famous book, The Jewel Ornament Of Liberation, and many others. His collected works comprise three or four volumes. Gampopa held both lineages of the Kadampa as well as the mahamudra and tantric traditions of Milarepa. Since his time; the Kagyu tradition has contained both lineages together and has become rich in methods for leading disciples to realisation. Gampopa led his own students first through the common mahayana path of the Kadampa lineage teachings, and then through the uncommon mahamudra and tantra path of the Kagyu lineage instructions of Milarepa. Among many disciples of Gampopa, the most well-known and closest disciples were: Gampo Tsultrim Nyingpo, Karmapa Düsum Khyenpa, Phakmo Trupa, Saltong Shogam, Barom Dharma Wangchuk, and Zhang Drowae Gönpo. The Golden Rosary lineage heir of Gampopa was the First Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa.

The 1st Karmapa

Drogon Rechen

Drogon Rechen

Drogon Rechen (1148-1218) was born to an educated family in the Yarlung area of Tsang, part of Central Tibet. As a young child, he demonstrated his awakened potential in the gradual path of hinayana-mahayana. At the age of nine, he connected to the Kagyu master, Zangri Repa, and received many teachings, including ear-whispered teachings and dohas of the Mahamudra masters. He practiced meditation wearing only a cotton cloth and was therefore called “Rechen,” which means “great cotton-clad yogi.” He experienced many signs of meditative accomplishment.

Studying in Milarepa's Tradition

When he reached the age of fifteen, his teacher, Zangri Repa, passed into parinirvana. Before his passing away, Drogon Rechen was advised to find the disciples of Milarepa’s lineage, receive the full lineage transmission, and practice hard so that he could become a great master in this tradition. In accordance with this, he studied and practiced under many Kagyu masters as well as with Dzogchen masters. Although he attained great qualities of samadhi he still was not fully satisfied. Deciding to leave his home to develop his practice further, he started a journey to Kham, in eastern Tibet, through Kongpo. On his way, he met and received many teachings – from Thöpa Samdrup, he received the complete transmission of the Chöd lineage; from Ngari-pa, he received Vajrapani and Vajrasaddhu; from Nyalpa Josey, he received Peaceful and Wrathful Manjushri and Mahakala. He established eighteen Tantric seats and many great practitioners have been produced as a result.


Meeting the First Karmapa

Drogön Rechen mastered the prana and nadhi practices at this point, and a little bit of pride in his accomplishment developed. Upon hearing the fame of the First Karmapa Düsum Khyenpa, who was living at Kampo Nenang, Drogön Rechen decided to meet him. He simply wished to pay Düsum Khyenpa his respects, but had no intention of studying with the Karmapa. The First Karmapa told Drogon Rechen, when they first met, “O young tantric practitioner, you can go and study with my students.” Drogön Rechen asked “what kind of students do you have?” Karmapa replied “Deuchung Sangye, Baltsa Takdelwa, and so on.” Drogon Rechen first went to see Deuchung Sangye who directed him to Baltsa Takdelwa. When he went to the cave of Takdelwa, he saw a huge tiger sleeping there and he ran back with great fear. Deuchung told him to go back again and when he did, he saw a little pond in the cave. He circumambulated the water and threw some pebbles in it and left. When he was told to go back and went, he saw an old yogi who had those pebbles he threw on his lap.

At that time, he thought “if the students are like this, it is unnecessary to point out how great must be their teacher’s realization and achievement!” Making a strong commitment, he practiced under their direction for seven years and completely settled his practice and realization. Drogon Rechen became one of the most important heart disciples of the First Karmapa. He was fully ordained as a monastic at the age of thirty-seven and received the name Sönam Drakpa. He received the full Kagyu transmission from the First Karmapa for three more years, and became the lineage-holder. When Karmapa traveled back to Central Tibet, Drogön Rechen stayed behind in the Kham region and continued the activities of the Karmapa and the lineage at the seats of Karma Gön and Kampo Nenang. At the age of 70, he passed into parinirvana on the 25th day and many relics arose from the cremation.

His principal disciple and the Kagyu lineage holder was Pomdrakpa Sönam Dorje.

These details about Drogon Rechen are compiled from Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa’s Feast For Scholars (chos ‘byung mkhas pa’i dg’a ston), Beijing edition, vol. 2, pp. 873-877. May this be virtuous!

Drogon Rechen



Pomdrakpa Sonam Dorje (1170-1249) was born Dri Dampa Chöchuk in Central Tibet. At the age of five, he started his education, and at the age of nine, he received the mother Tantra transmissions from Nyen Lhakhang Gangpo. When he was fourteen, he heard the fame of the great master, Drogön Rechen. Upon hearing his name, a special meditative experience arose within him and he had a vision of red dakinis who prophesized Drogon Rechen as his teacher. Within ten days, he went to visit Drogön Rechen and received the full monastic ordination and was named Sönam Dorje. From that moment, he followed Drogon Rechen as his principal teacher, from whom he received many abhishekas. He practiced with great diligence for many years. Pomdrakpa had many visions of the wisdom deities during abhishekas and practice sessions, as well as a vision of the First Karmapa who gave him important instructions. From Drogön Rechen, he received the full Kagyu transmission and became the lineage-holder.

Holding the Kagyu Lineage

Pomdrakpa received the full Kagyu teachings, and became a gifted master. Before the passing away, Drogon Rechen told Pomdrakpa and Lodrö Rinchen that they were the masters of the teachings, who could each hold this lineage. He also predicted that Pomdrakpa’s activities would flourish, and the lineage would prosper even more during the time of his disciples and afterwards in the future. During that time, Pomdrakpa saw his teacher as the Buddha Shakyamuni surrounded by countless buddhas. This is said to be the auspicious sign of becoming the main lineage holder.

Pomdrakpa Sönam Dorje’s activities of benefiting beings flourished as predicted, and he passed on the lineage transmission to the Second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi.

These details about Pomdrakpa are compiled from Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa’s Feast For Scholars (chos ‘byung mkhas pa’i dg’a ston), Beijing edition, vol. 2, pp. 877-880. May this be virtuous!

The 2nd Karmapa

The 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi

The 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi .png

A Child Prodigy

The Second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1203-1283) was born in Kyil-le Tsakto in eastern Tibet to a noble family of yogins. The young boy was named Chözin by Khache Panchen. He was a child prodigy who already had a broad understanding of Buddhist philosophy and practice before the age of ten.

On his way to Central Tibet for further education, he encountered Pomdrakpa, who had received the full Kagyu transmission from Drogön Rechen, the first Karmapa’s spiritual heir. Pomdrakpa realized, through certain very clear visions, that the child he met was the reincarnation of Düsum Khyenpa. Pomdrakpa conferred on the young Karma Pakshi all the teachings through traditional empowerments and formally passed on the lineage in full. Ever since this time, each young Karmapa, despite his pre-existing knowledge and accomplishment of the teachings, formally receives all the transmissions of the teachings from a lineage holder.

The second Karmapa spent much of the first half of his life in meditation retreat. He also visited and restored the monasteries established by the first Karmapa. He is famous for having introduced the melodious chanting of the Om Mani Padme Hung, the mantra of compassion, to the Tibetan people.

The Court of Kublai Khan

At the age of 47 (1252), he set out on a three-year journey, at the invitation of Kublai, grandson of Ghengis Khan. Chinese and Tibetan histories, record that the Karmapa was said to have performed many spectacular miracles at the court. He also played an important role as a peacemaker. However, the Karmapa declined to stay permanently in the court, which caused Kublai Khan’s displeasure.

Over the next ten years the Karmapa traveled widely in China, Mongolia and Tibet and became a teacher of the greatest renown. He was particularly honored by Möngke Khan, Kublai’s brother, the Mongol ruler at that time. The Karmapa was presented the Great Golden Seal of “Di shri.”

After Möngke’s death, Kublai became the Khan and ruled a vast empire. However, harboring resentment against the Karmapa for his refusal to stay in the court of Kublai and due to his perception that the Karmapa had paid more attention to the Munga Kahn many years before, Kublai Kahn ordered the apprehension of the Second Karmapa. The Karmapa thwarted each attempt to capture, or even kill him, despite the overwhelming forces sent against him. As the Karmapa continually responded to force with compassion, Kublai Khan eventually had a change of heart. As time passed, gradually Kublai Khan came to regret his actions against the Karmapa, and eventually approached him, confessing his misdeeds, and requesting Karma Pakshi to teach him.

Miracles of Meditation and Scholarship

In fulfillment of a long-standing vision, His Holiness returned to Tibet and directed the building of a Buddha statue at Tsurphu, well over fifty feet in height. The finished statue was slightly tilted. In one of the most well-known miraculous stories of the Karmapas, Karma Pakshi was said to have straightened the statue by assuming the same tilted posture as the statue, and straightening himself. The statue simultaneously righted itself.

The histories record that the Second Karmapa composed over one hundred volumes of texts, which once were enshrined at the monastic library of Tshurphu monastery in Central Tibet.

Before passing away into parinirvana, Karma Pakshi told details concerning the next Karmapa’s birth to his main disciple, Orgyenpa.


The 3rd Karmapa, Ranjung Dorje

The 3rd Karmapa, Ranjung Dorje

The Third Karmapa, Ranjung Dorje (1284-1339) was born to a family of a tantric practitioners of the Nyingma lineage in Dingri Langkor, in the Tsang region of Central Tibet. He sat up straight at the age of three and proclaimed that he was the Karmapa. At the age of five, he went to see Orgyenpa, who had prepared for his visit on the basis of a prescient dream. Orgyenpa recognized the child as the reincarnation of Karma Pakshi, and gave him the Vajra Black Crown and all the possessions of the second Karmapa.

Master of all Buddhist Traditions of Knowledge

Rangjung Dorje grew up in Tsurphu, receiving the full transmissions of both the Kagyu and Nyingma tradition. At the age of 18 (1301), he received the preliminary monastic ordination. After a retreat on the slopes of Mt. Everest, he took full ordination, and further broadened his studies at a great seat of the Khadampa lineage. Not content with this, Rangjung Dorje sought out and studied with the greatest scholars and experts of different traditions of knowledge, learning from all Buddhist traditions of the time. By the end of his studies, he had learnt and mastered nearly all of the Buddhist teachings brought to Tibet from India.

Founder of the Karma Nyingthik

In particular, during a retreat in his early twenties he had the vision at sunrise of Vimalamitra and then Padmasambhava, who dissolved into him at a point between his eyebrows. At that moment, he realized and received all the teachings and transmissions of the dzogchen tantras of the Nyingma lineage. He wrote many volumes of teachings on dzogchen and founded the Karma Nyingtik lineage. Through his mastery of the profound Nyingmapa teachings of Vimalamitra, he unified the Kagyu mahamudra and the Nyingma dzogchen.

At the age of 35 (1318), through visions he received of the “Wheel of Time” (Kalacakra) teachings, he introduced a revised system of astrology, which continues to this day called the “Tsur-tsi” or the Tsurphu Tradition of Astrology, and which forms the basis for the calculation of the Tibetan calendar in the Tsurphu system. He also studied and mastered medicine, which is in part related to astrological studies in the Tibetan system.

Over the course of his life, Rangjung Dorje also wrote many treatises, including the universally renowned Profound Inner Meaning (Zab mo nang don), one of the most famous Tibetan treatises on Vajrayana.

The Karmapa established many monasteries in Tibet and China. He visited China in 1332, where he enthroned his disciple, the new emperor, Toghon Temur. Rangjung Dorje later passed away into parinirvana in China. It is said his image appeared in the moon on the night of his passing.

Among his many disciples, some of the main ones were Khedrup Drakpa Senge, Dolpopa, Yakde Panchen, and many others, and in particular the one who was to become the next lineage holder, Gyalwa Yungtonpa.

Gyalwa Yungtonpa

Gyalwa Yungtonpa

Gyalwa Yungton Dorje Pal (1296-1376), was born into a family of Nyingma tantric practitioners at Tsongdu Gurmo, in Southern Tibet, in the Wood Snake year. He was named Dorje Bûm. From an early age, he started to study the five sciences and developed incomparable knowledge in sutra and tantra. Most of his studies were at Shalu. He received the Do-gyu-sem-sum, teachings on Mahayoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga of Dzogchen from Zur Champa Senge. He then received the Yamantaka cycle of teachings and abhisheka from Shangpa Shakbum. He studied and practiced hard under many masters and became one of the most respected and renowned teachers of the time.

Gyalwa Yungtönpa made great contributions of material offerings to Sakya, Trophu, Shalu, and Sangphu. At the request of his mother, he accepted a consort and when the first child was born he asked permission from the family and received monastic ordination. He was named Dorje Pal. He then met the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje and received all the key instructions and transmissions of the lineage in full and attained highest realization. He practiced in Tibet and also in Paro, Bhutan for years.


He composed a text differentiating the views of buddhahood in Sutra and Tantra and impressed and outshined many great scholars of the time, such as Yakde Panchen, who became his students. He manifested as a hidden yogi and benefited many sentient beings. At the age of eighty-two, in the Wood Snake Year, he passed into parinirvana with many great signs of realization.

Among countless students, his main disciple and lineage holder was the Fourth Karmapa, Rolpe Dorje.

The 3rd Karmapa
Gyalwa Yungtonpa



Orgyenpa (1230-1312) was born in Latö, in Northern Tibet, in the year of Earth Tiger, to a family of tantric practioners. At an early age, he mastered Vajrakilaya and other teachings and practices of his father’s lineage. He was naturally inclined to meditation practices but decided that he should first study philosophy before beginning serious meditation practice. He was ordained as upasaka by Lord Götsangpa. From the age of seven, he applied himself to basic studies. When he was sixteen, he started studying various philosophical texts such as Abhidharma, Madhyamaka, Vinaya, and other topics of sciences at a monastery in Tsang province, which was famous for the quality of its teaching.

He excelled among his contemporaries and mastered all subjects. He also received and practiced the Kalachakra tantra in full from Golungpa Namkha Gyaltsen and later clarified those teachings further with Lord Götsangpa. He traveled to Nepal, India, China, Pakistan, Tsari, Mount Kailash, Jalandara, and Odiyana to learn and practice further at these sacred places. He achieved great accomplishments in his practice and became a realized tantric master.

At fifty-three, he met the Second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi, and received the full Kagyu lineage teachings and transmissions. After he received the key instructions, he attained high realization and they became inseparable. Orgyenpa’s activities of benefiting beings flourished throughout Tibet and he focused mainly instructing disciples through Gampopa’s tradition of Mahamudra teachings.

Among countless students, he had four renowned sons — two brothers of Nyedowa, Chöje Kharchuwa of Yazang, and Jamyang Sönam Öser of Langkhor; as well as eight close sons, four supreme ones, and many other scholars and yogis of Tibet and India. However, his main disciple and lineage holder was the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje .

These details about are compiled from Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa’s Feast For Scholars (chos ‘byung mkhas pa’i dg’a ston), Beijing edition, vol. 2, pp. 913-918. May this be virtuous!

The 4th Karmapa, Rolpe Dorje

The 4th Karmapa, Rolpe Dorje

The fourth Karmapa (1340 - 1383) was born in Chamdo province, in eastern Tibet. It is said that while pregnant, his mother could hear the sound of the mantra Om Mani Padme Hung coming from her womb, and that the baby said the mantra as soon as he was born. At the age of three, he announced that he was the Karmapa.

At a young age, he manifested the ability of the Karmapas to perform extraordinary activities, as spontaneously reading books and receiving many profound teachings in his dreams. As a teenager, he received the formal transmissions of both the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages from the great Nyingma guru Yungtonpa, the third Karmapa’s spiritual heir. At age nineteen, Emporer Toghon Temur invited the Karmapa to return to China. He accepted and began an extended journey, stopping many places along the way to give teachings. He taught for three years in China, establishing many temples and monasteries there. Temur was the last Mongol emperor of China. The subsequent emperor of the Ming dynasty later invited the Karmapa to China, but Rolpe Dorje sent a lama in his place.

An Auspicious Meeting
During his return to Tibet from China, Rolpe Dorje gave upasaka, lay ordination, to a very special child whom he named Kunga Nyingpo. Rolpe Dorje predicted that this child, from the Tsongka region, would play an important role in the Buddhism of Tibet. The child was to become known as the great master Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa school.

An accomplished poet, Rolpe Dorje was fond of Indian poetics, and composed many wonderful dohas, or songs of realization, a form of composition for which the Kagyü lineage is famous. After one of his students had a vision of a Buddha image over 300 feet tall, the fourth Karmapa engineered a huge painting (thangka) of the Buddha. It is said the Karmapa traced the design of the Buddha’s outline with the hoofprints of a horse he was riding. The design was measured and traced on cloth, and five hundred workers completed the cloth painting of the Buddha and founders of the mahayana after laboring for over a year.

He passed into parinirvana in eastern Tibet. Among many disciples, his main disciple who became the next lineage holder was the second Shamar Rinpoche, Khachö Wangpo.

Th 4th Karmapa

Khacho Wangpo

Khacho Wangpo.png

Khachö Wangpo (1350 - 1405) was recognized as the reincarnation of Khaydrup Dragpa Senge, the first Shamar Rinpoche (1283-1349) by the fourth Karmapa.

He was born in Chema-lung of Namshung, northern Tibet, in the Iron Tiger year. From an early age, he had numerous visions. At the age of seven, he met the Fourth Karmapa Rolpe Dorje and received upasaka and bodhisattva vows. The Karmapa gave him the Authentic Vajrayana Empowerments, Mahamudra transmissions, The Six Dharmas of Naropa, and the ear-whispered lineage transmissions of the Kagyu Lineage. Khachö Wangpo also studied the sutras and the tantras with numerous great masters of Kagyu and Nyingma. The Fourth Karmapa, Rolpe Dorje, granted the ceremonial ruby Red Crown to the Second Shamar Khachö Wangpo. When the Fourth Karmapa passed into parinirvana, Khachö Wangpo continued the lineage activities and enthroned the 5th Karmapa.

Khachö Wangpo was one of the first lineage teachers to record some of the key instructions put into writing. His collected works were recorded as having eight volumes.

At the age of Fifty six, Wood Rooster Year, he passed away into parinirvana with many wondrous signs of realizations.

Among many students, Sokwön Rikpe Raldri became an important disciple who later became the principal teacher of the Sixth Karmapa Thongwa Dhönden. He transmitted the full Kagyu lineage to the Fifth Karmapa, Deshin Shekpa.

Khacho Wangpo
The 5th Karmapa

The 5th Karmapa, Deshin Shekpa

The 5th Karmapa, Deshin Shekpa

The Fifth Karmapa (1384 - 1415) was born in the Nyang Dam region of southern Tibet to yogin parents. During the pregnancy, they heard the recitation of the Sanskrit alphabet and the Om Ah Ham mantra. Soon after birth, the infant sat upright, wiped his face, and said: “I am the Karmapa – Om Mani Padme Hung Hri.”

When the child was brought to Tsawa Phu in Kongpo, Khacho Wangpo immediately recognized him as the incarnation of Rolpe Dorje, and presented him with the Black Hat and other possessions of the fourth Karmapa. He went on to give the Karmapa the full cycle of Kagyu teachings, and the Karmapa soon completed his traditional training.

During the lifetime of the fourth Karmapa, Emperor Zhu Yuan Zhang of China invited the fourth Karmapa to visit him in China. The visit had never took place; instead, Rolpe Dorje sent a lama as his emissary. Later, Emperor Yongle had a vision of the Karmapa as Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion; thus he invited the fifth Karmapa, at the age of 23 (1406), Karmapa made a three-year journey to reach the imperial palace. Young le became an extraordinarily devoted student of the Karmapa, whom he took as his guru. Chinese records speak of the Karmapa’s manifestation in response to such devotion as a hundred kinds of miracles. The emperor recorded these events for posterity in silk paintings with a multi-lingual commentary. Following in the footsteps of the two previous Karmapas, Deshin Shekpa subsequently made a pilgrimage to the famous Wu-tai Shan sacred mountains, to visit his monasteries there.

The emperor achieved some realization, and had a vision in which he saw the wisdom Vajra Crown above Karmapa’s head. So that all beings might benefit from seeing something of this transcendent aspect of the Karmapa, the emperor commissioned the creation of a physical replica of the wisdom Vajra Crown, which he saw as a black hat. He presented it to his guru, requesting him to liberate those who saw it by wearing the crown on special occasions. This was the beginning of the Vajra Crown (or Black Crown) ceremony. The emperor also offered Karmapa the highest-ranking title: “Ta Bao Fa Wang,” (Great Precious Dharma King) with a golden seal.

In 1410, Deshin Shekpa returned to Tsurphu to oversee the reconstruction of Tsurphu, which had been damaged by an earthquake. He recognized the Shamar reincarnation of Chopal Yeshe and spent three years in contemplative retreat. The next lineage holder, however, was the Karmapa’s student Ratnabhadra.

Realizing that he would die at a young age, he left indications of his future rebirth and passed away into parinirvana at the age of 31. In the ashes of his cremation fire were found relics, naturally-formed images of many Buddhas.


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Ratnabadra was born into the well-known family of Soksam-khar Drongbu Goshir, in Soksam. From a young age, he was ordained as a monastic. He received the higher training in Buddhist philosophy, logic, and other fields of knowledge at Palden Sangphu. He then went on a tour to great monastic institutions in Tibet, engaging in debate and discussion on four main topics – Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, Vinaya, and Abhidharma-Kosha. He became one of the greatest scholars of sutra and tantra and thus was called “Rikpe Raltri” (sword of philosophy and logic). He received the full transmission of the Kagyu lineage from the Fifth Karmapa Deshin Shekpa, through which he attained complete realization of the absolute reality and became one of the supreme meditation masters of the time.

Ratnabhadra passed on the full transmission of the Kagyu lineage to the Sixth Karmapa, Thongwa Dhönden.

Pawo Rinpoche said that the Sixth Karmapa Thongwa Dhonden wrote Ratnabhadra’s biography but it was not available at the time of Pawo Rinpoche. So, here is the brief version as recorded by Pawo Rinpoche. These details about Ratnabhadra are compiled from Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa’s Feast For Scholars (chos ‘byung mkhas pa’i dg’a ston), Beijing edition, vol. 2, pp. 1022-03. May this be virtuous!


The 6th Karmapa, Thongwa Donden


The 6th Karmapa, Thongwa Donden

The Sixth Karmapa (1416-1453) was born in Ngomtö Shakyam, near Karma Gön in eastern Tibet, to a family of devoted yogins. Shortly after his birth, while his mother was carrying the young child, he suddenly became very excited when their path crossed that of Ngompa Chadral, a student of the Fifth Karmapa. Ngompa Chadral asked the name of the child, who smiled and replied “I’m the Karmapa.” Ngompa Chadral cared for the infant for seven months and then took him to Karma Gön.

The young Thongwa Dönden immediately began to teach. Shamar Chopal Yeshe came to Karma Gön during this period to crown the Karmapa. Thongwa Dönden received teachings and Kagyu transmission from Shamar Chopal Yeshe, Jamyang Drakpa, and Khenchen Nyephuwa. In particular, he received the full lineage transmission from Ratnabhadra, who was his principal lineage teacher.

At a young age, he began to compose many tantric rituals, eventually establishing a body of liturgies for the Kamtsang lineage. He also joined the lineages of the Shangpa Kagyu and the Shijay (Chöd – “cutting through egotism”) into the main Kagyu lineage transmissions.

He dedicated his activity to composition, teaching, restoring many monasteries within Tibet, printing books and strengthening the sangha. He began to develop the shedra system, the monastic university, in the Karma Kagyu lineage.

Realizing that he would die at an early age, he entered retreat, and conferred a regency on the First Gyaltsab, Goshir Paljor Döndrup, indicating where he would next take birth. The sixth Karmapa’s main spiritual heir was Bengar Jampal Zangpo, author of the “Mahamudra Lineage Supplication.” This renowned prayer of the Kagyü lineage represents his spontaneous utterance upon realizing mahamudra. Thongwa Dönden passed into parinirvana at the age of thirty eight (1453).

The 6th Karmapa

Bengar Jampal Sangpo

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Bengar Jampal Zangpo (1427-1489 ) was born to the family of Nyemo Dzongpa, siddhas in Damshang (most likely located in eastern Tibet). He began study and practice at a very young age. At the age of twenty, he began studying Sutrayana and Vajrayana scriptures with the maha-pandita Rongton. Later, he received the Kagyu lineage transmissions and teachings such as the Six Dharmas of Naropa from the Sixth Karmapa, Thongwa Dhönden and followed his instructions one-pointedly. He became a highly realized master of the lineage.

Bengar Jampal Sangpo became the principal teacher of the Seventh Karmapa. He gave the full transmission and training of the Kagyu lineage to the young Karmapa, who became learned, disciplined, and with noble heart, just like Bengarwa himself.

These details about Bengar Jampal Sangpo are compiled from Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa’s Feast For Scholars (chos ‘byung mkhas pa’i dg’a ston), Beijing edition, vol. 2, pp. 1032. May this be virtuous!

Bengar Jampal Sangpo

Goshir Paljor Dhondrup

Goshir Paljor Dhondrup

The First Gyaltsab, Goshir Paljor Dhöndrup (1427-1489) was born at Nyemo in Central Tibet. Under the guidance of the Sixth Karmapa Thongwa Dhönden, he received transmissions of the Kagyur, Tengyur, and many others. He was fully trained in buddhist philosophy and meditation by Karmapa, as well as by Bengar Jampal Sangpo and other lineage masters. Later, he was appointed as the General Secretary of the Karmapa. He offered his service to the activities of Karmapa and the lineage. Paljor Dhöndrup is the first incarnation of Gyaltsab Rinpoche.

He passed into parinirvana when the Seventh Karmapa reached twenty-five-years, with many wondrous signs of accomplishments. He received the full lineage transmission from the Sixth Karmapa, which he fully passed on to the Seventh Karmapa, Chödrak Gyatso.

These details about Goshir Paljor Dhöndrup are compiled from Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa’s Feast For Scholars (chos ‘byung mkhas pa’i dg’a ston), Beijing edition, vol. 2, pp. 1031. May this be virtuous!

Goshir Paljor Dhondrup

The 7th Karmapa, Chodrak Gyatso 

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Born (1454-1506) to a family of tantric practitioners in Chida in southern Tibet, the Seventh Karmapa, Chödrak Gyatso was heard to say Ama-la (mother), while he was being carried in the womb. At birth he spoke the Sanskrit mantra “AH HUNG,” a sanskrit mantra, which symbolizes the ultimate nature, emptiness-luminosity. At five months of age, he said “There is nothing in the world but emptiness.”

At nine months of age, Goshir Paljor Dhondup the first Gyaltsab Rinpoche recognized him as the seventh Karmapa, in accordance with the instruction letter of the Sixth Karmapa, Thongwa Dönden. At four, he was given a series of empowerments by Goshir Paljor Döndrub, and at eight, he was given the Kagyu teachings from Bengar Jampal Sangpo and Goshir Paljor Döndrub at Karma Gön.

Chödrak Gyatso dedicated much of his life to retreat. He was also an extremely accomplished scholar, who authored many texts, such as a commentary on Abhisamayalamkara called The Lamp Of The Three Worlds. His most famous text is The Ocean Of Reasoning, his commentary on pramana (logic and reasoning) literature.

The Karmapa formally established monastic universities at Tsurphu and other places. He also restored the large Buddha statue commissioned by Karma Pakshi at Tsurphu. Something of an activist, he settled disputes, worked to protect animals, initiated bridge construction, and sent gold to Bodhgaya for the gilding of the statue of the Buddha at the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment. He also convinced numerous people to recite millions of Om Mani Padme Hum mantras as a universal cure for all ills. Before passing into parinirvna at the age of 53, he provided details of his next incarnation to Tashi Namgyal the second Gyaltsab Rinpoche and Situ Tashi Paljor the third Tai Situ Rinpoche.

The 7th Karmapa

Tashi Paljor

Tashi Paljor.png

Denma Drubchen (1457-1525) was born in the Denma area of Derge, in eastern Tibet. When he was five, upon hearing only the name “Karmapa,” he showed great devotion. A year later, he met the Seventh Karmapa, who bestowed upon him the name Tashi Paljor. He studied in Denma with the scholar Sangye Pal. At sixteen, Tashi Paljor decided to follow the Karmapa, and for the next seven years he studied with the Karmapa and received the full transmission of the Kagyu lineage. Afterwards, under the guidance of the Karmapa, he went to the mountains of Kham and Central Tibet to practice, following the example of Milarepa’s life. After practicing twenty years in solitary retreat, he attained full realisation, and became known as the first Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche. 


He became the principal teacher of, and passed on the full lineage transmissions to, the Eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje.

These details about Tashi Paljor are compiled from Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa’s Feast For Scholars (chos ‘byung mkhas pa’i dg’a ston), Beijing edition, vol. 2, pp. 1200-1205. May this be virtuous!

Tashi Paljor