H.H. the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje


H.H. the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924 -1981) was born in Derge province in Eastern Tibet. The previous Karmapa, Khakhyab Dorje (1871-1922), left a letter relating the circumstances of his next incarnation. It was based on this letter that the authorities of Tsurphu monastery were able to locate the child. In 1931, the young incarnate was ordained as a novice monk and took the Karmapa’s ceremonial robes and the Black Hat.

Following his ordination, Karmapa studied for four years at Tsurphu monastery, deepening his realization of Sutra, Tantra, Mahamudra, and the “Six Yogas of Naropa.” As a boy, he displayed an extraordinary insight and often told his teachers about his previous incarnations. At the age of 23, Karmapa received his final ordination, along with the initiations and explanations of the highest Karma Kagyu teachings.

Due to the occupation of Tibet, Karmapa fled his country in 1959, realizing that the Dharma could not survive under such oppressive conditions. Accordingly, accompanied by an entourage of 160 lamas, monks and laymen, Karmapa left Tsurphu monastery, the traditional seat of the Karmapas, and proceeded to Bhutan. Under Karmapa’s direction, the party took along the most precious statues, ritual items, relics, thangkas and books collected at Tsurphu over the centuries.

The ruler of the state of Sikkim in Northwestern India offered the Gyalwa Karmapa Rumtek Monastery, originally built during the time of Wangchuk Dorje, the 9th Karmapa (1556 -1603). Karmapa built the new monastery in four years with the generous help of the Indian government and the ruler of Sikkim. This became Karmapa’s official seat outside of Tibet, and functioned to preserve Karma Kagyu Buddhist study, ritual, and practice.

In 1974, the 16th Karmapa led a party of Karma Kagyu lamas to the West, visiting Europe, America, and Canada. Invited by his first Western students, Ole and Hannah Nydahl, Karmapa arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 1974. There he performed the renowned Black Hat ceremony for the first time in the West. In November of 1976, Karmapa arrived in New York for a tour through the United States. In the year that followed, he spent six months on tour in Europe, during which time he visited Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Holland, France, and the United Kingdom.

In May of 1980 Karmapa again visited the West, stopping for lectures and ceremonies in London, New York, San Francisco, and Boulder, Colorado. H.H. the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa died on November 5, 1981 in a hospital near Chicago.