A disambiguation of the difference between Karmapa Yangsi and Gyalwa Karmapa for the Western mind

Picture of Rangjung Rikpe Dorje’s nephew, Shamar Rinpoche, with his faction’s Karmapa Yangsi, cut from the very same cloth as Situ Rinpoche’s Karmapa Yangsi, Ogyen Trinley Dorje

When Rangjung Rikpe Dorje was Karmapa Yangsi.”

Allen pauses.

“Rangjung Rikpe Dorje’s people had his rival thrown fron the roof of the monastery he was staying at, not to put too fine a point on this, his people murdered a child.”

Sally replies.

“Great, horrific, but nonetheless, good to know that this is how these people practice Buddhism.”

Sally pauses.

“Tony Soprano meets Shakyamuni Buddha, the more I learn about these people, the more issues I have with associating myself with them as a Buddhist.”

Allen replies.

“Make no mistake, both Ogyen Trinley Dorje and Thaye Dorje are cut from the same cloth as Karmapa Yangsi, nothing has changed since Rangjung Rikpe Dorje was Karmapa Yangsi.”

Allen continues.

“Whether either Ogyen Trinley Dorje or Thaye Dorje take the place of the 17th Karmapa as lineage holders when future generations of Karma Kagyu visualize their field of merit while doing their ngondro won’t be known until both Ogyen Trinley Dorje and Thaye Dorje have passed into Parinirvana as such.”

End scene. Fini.

A teachable moment brought to you by the Naropa Prairie Dog Players for your entertainment pleasure.



Filed under Buddhism

18 responses to “A disambiguation of the difference between Karmapa Yangsi and Gyalwa Karmapa for the Western mind

  1. gulli

    SS eyes , as usual with the eagles who see faraway …
    I mean Straight&Sharp 🙂

  2. okiebuddhist

    Imagine training the dead candidate, along with the other Karmapa candidates. More enlightened activity might exist in the world.

    That’s why I’m glad we have multiple Karmapas presently. How the lineages behave, however, are problematic.

    Let the dharma flow.

    • Our task as Western dharma practitioners in the Karma Kagyu tradition is to bring to our practice the Karma Kagyu sect, as corrupt and otherwise flawed as it may appear to us, just as we do with all that arises in our minds in our daily lives, the protestations of those Tibetans whom may think otherwise be damned.

      Ogyen Trinley Dorje and Thaye Dorje both are cut from the same, deeply flawed, despicably sectarian cloth, neither one better suited to reform their respective factions as Karmapa Yangsi, and as such, to date, not worthy of our consideration as Western Buddhists in my opinion.

      • okiebuddhist

        I take everything with me to the cushion. Mahamudra is my practice; the guru is the thought dissolving before me.

        As far as worthiness of this or that teacher, there is nothing before us to view. However, many people have arrived to the lineage through the 17th Karmapas. I hope these Buddhists find the mind’s equality through the teachings.

  3. Michael

    I’m interested to read more about the 16th Karmapa’s people throwing a rival yangsi off a roof. Please direct me to where that is documented. Can this be verified? Horrible if true…

    • Tibetans don’t do history as we know it, so I can’t direct you to a specific written source for this belief shared with me by Tibetans.

      The murder of Rangjung Rikpe Dorje’s rival became a thing for me through the inference, Tibetan in origin, that as a Karma Kagyu I had to worry about Ogyen Trinley Dorje being murdered by his rival’s supporters.

      Whether it ever happened before or not, as far as Tibetans are concerned, it is believed to have and it something they feared happening again, some to this day afraid that Ogyen Trinley Dorje will be assassinated.

      It’s an awful thing to contemplate, but it is a given to most Tibetans that there can only be one Karmapa, a belief that in all likelihood indeed had some basis in reality, such as the fact that when in the past there was more than one Karmapa Yangsi the supporters of one Karmapa Yangsi murdered their rivals Karmapa Yangsi to assure that there would indeed be only one Karmapa.

      This is part of succession of by reincarnation as it pertains to the Karmapa dynasty as such, folklore, obviously, but accepted as fact and shared with me as such by Karma Kagyu concerned that Shamar Rinpoche, being Rangjung Rikpe Dorje’s nephew, was capable of having Situ Rinpoche’s Karmapa Yangsi murdered.

      • Blinde Schildpad

        I’m pretty sure the story of the rival Yangsi for the 16th Karmapa falling of a roof is somewhere in Tulku Urgyen’s memoirs, although I havent’t found it yet (after all of 5 minutes looking). No word on why he fell of a roof as far as I remember, but yeah… no Tibetan, however devotional, would’ve thought that was an accident, even if they would’ve publicly ascribed the incident to the activity of a Protector or something. They were pretty aware of the fact that, whatever else the Tulku system is, it is first and foremost a system of checks and balances between the prominent families and the labrangs that de facto if not de jure owned Tibet. A property scam, if you will.

        It’s pretty interesting though that over the centuries there have been some incedents of “other” Karmapas: the 3d Karmapa stating that the Shamarpas were identical with him, the 8th Karmapa stating that a prolific artist was in fact an activity emanation of “the” Karmapa. Buddha Karmapa apparently adamantly (see what I did there?) refuses to be limited to the box the Black Crown is kept in…

        Anyway, maybe it’s just time to scrap that Black Crown for spare Dakini hair. I remember another story for which I don’t have a reference that the 14th Karmapa wrote a letter, witnessed and sealed by luminaries like the incumbent Drukchen and Minling Trichen Rinpoches, that he would be the last Karmapa title holder… If Urgyen Trinley and Thaye Dorje are Karmapas, they will Karmapa. Ain’t no one gonna stop ’em. Regardless, I see no downsides to returning the lineage to the basic Lama-Chela unit that drubgyüs are made of. Without big monasteries (and they don’t seem to be appearing as of yet in the West, although big temples is quite another matter…) there’s no point in having a Karma Kagyu school. And, as you probably can agree, the lineage is doing fine down in the gutters, Burger King parking lots and WiFi-enabled back rooms were the practitioners roam.

  4. Rob

    Hey Bill,

    Whats your stance on Samaya? Do you accept the concept? Do you disregard it?


    • Guru yoga is everything to me.

      As such my samaya, that my mind and that of Vajradhara are inseparable, is the touchstone of my practice as a Buddhist.

      • Rob

        Do you have a Guru?

        • My root guru is Rangjung Rikpe Dorje.

          He pointed out the true nature of my mind.

          My Vajra master is Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche.

          He gave me the lung and tri for mahamudra.

          I’ve practiced under the direct supervision of Rinpoche since 1981.

          He holds Khenpo Gangshar’s lineage of Mahamudra.

          Traleg Rinpoche was a teacher of mine until he passed away.

          My biggest influence was Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche though.

          It was when I met him on his first tour of America, I was just a kid at the time, I wanted to be him when I grew up.

          I received blessings from Kalu Rinpoche.

          He smiled when he gave me the conch shell to blow during the Kalachakra empowerment in 1982 in NYC.

          That was something.

          And of course, as a founding member of Chicago KTC, there was Bardor Tulku Rinpoche.

          To be honest I didn’t really get Rinpoche until his last visit before he was banished from KTD, although most of the empowerments I have received over the years came from him.

          That’s my Karma Kagyu bona fides, such as they are.

          Oh, I can’t forget Shamar Rinpoche, whom I met at Zion.

          I also met Jamgon Kongtrul, Situ, and Gyaltsab Rinpoches at that time.

          I actually had a moment with Shamar Rinpoche though.

          I had wanted to ask his permission to return with him to India.

          Before I even got the nerve to ask him he asked me, “Have you ever been to India?”

          I replied, “No.”

          He responded, “Don’t bother, His Holiness needs you here.”

          • gulli

            it is clear that you are an example of what the practice of guru yoga can accomplish. Able to stay the course while all the winds of appearances are contrary to your originel intention … Hats off !

  5. Jackie

    Maybe people are thinking about the Karmapa incarnation after the 14th who died at the age of three before being enthroned.

    • All I know is that it was a concern.

      Whether they had cause to be concerned doesn’t matter.

      The reason given was their belief that there can only be one Karmapa.

      It was a given that Shamar Rinpoche would have Ogyen Trinley Dorje killed.

      He was Rangjung Rikpe Dorje’s nephew.

      If Rangjung Rikpe Dorje’s rival was murdered it would have been a member of his family that made it happen as such.

      His family was a powerful one in Tibet and it was I assumed that as such was capable of anything given who they were.

  6. okiebuddhist

    The story of Akong Rinpoche being gutted by a fellow Tibetan is not a fiction. Likewise, rival Karmapas may have been paid off, given a status, or, possibly, murdered.

    What matters is our lineage is filled with violence just as all religions are.

    • The point of this particular dialogue, exactly.

      If you are are a Karma Kagyu you need to own the lineage as it is, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and bring it to your practice when you visualize its field of merit while doing ngöndro to receive the guru’s blessings.

      That there can only be one Karmapa is a thing for Tibetans.

      This didn’t just happen.

      For every Gyalwa Karmapa we visualize you have to assume there was a Karmapa Yangsi that was made to go away, one way or the other, by whatever means necessary.

      When I take refuge in our lineage holders while doing Ngōndro I use the fact that Tibetans believe there can only be one Karmapa to contemplate the four ordinary foundations, Precious Human birth, impermanence, Karma and its result, and last but not least, the shortcomings of samsara.

      This is our lineage, what went into making it what it is today, the result which we take as our path if you are a Karma Kagyu.

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