Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa is the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He is the spiritual leader of around 900 monasteries, institutions and centers in 68 countries around the world.

Karmapa regularly visits Diamond Way Buddhist centers around the world. He has often given teachings and empowerments at the Europe Center in Germany, the main international meeting point for Diamond Way Buddhists. Lama Ole Nydahl describes Karmapa as being the guarantor for the authenticity of our Karma Kagyu lineage.

Biography

Karmapa was born in Lhasa in May 1983 and was given the name Tenzin Kyentse by his parents. His father is the third Mipham Rinpoche, an important lama of the Nyingma tradition. His mother, Dechen Wangmo, comes from a noble Tibetan family, which traces its roots back to the fabled King Ling Gesar. The family lived in the Bharkhor, a famous area in the center of the Tibetan capital, where pilgrims and locals make devotional circumambulations of the Jokhang Temple. As a small child, Tenzin Khyentse repeatedly stated that he was the Karmapa. At this time, many people were searching for the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje.

The 17th Karmapa with his family
The 17th Karmapa (left) with his father Mipham Rinpoche, his mother Dechen Wangmo, and his brother Sönam Tsemo Rinpoche

Recognition

In 1986, based on the instructions of the 16th Karmapa, his own dreams, as well as information and a photo of the young Karmapa given to him by a visitor who had just been to Lhasa, Chobgye Trichen Rinpoche, a lineage holder and highly respected master of the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, told Shamar Rinpoche about the child. As the second highest lama of the Karma Kagyu lineage, Shamar Rinpoche is, according to tradition, responsible for finding the Karmapa. Upon receiving this information he asked Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche, a close confidante of the 16th Karmapa, to visit the boy in Lhasa on his behalf. Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche returned with detailed information about the young Tenzin Khyentse and his family and reported that the boy had recognized him at their first meeting. Later, high lamas of the Karma Kagyu lineage went to Tibet to meet the young Karmapa and his family, who had to keep his identity secret.

In early 1991, after doing a meditation retreat, evaluating further information, and conducting traditional tests, Shamar Rinpoche publicly announced during an inauguration of a monastery in Nepal that the new Karmapa lived in Tibet and was to be named Thaye Dorje, meaning “Unlimited Unchanging Buddha Activity”.

In 1994, assisted by Western students, the young Karmapa and his parents fled Tibet and went to India. In the same year, Shamar Rinpoche enthroned him at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute (KIBI) in New Delhi. Many visitors from around the world attended the ceremony.

The 17th Karmapa with Shamar Rinpoche in KIBI, 1994
The 17th Karmapa with Shamar Rinpoche in KIBI, 1994

Education

Under the guidance of Shamar Rinpoche, Karmapa received a comprehensive education from Topga Rinpoche, Prof. Sempa Dorje, Khenpo Chodrak Rinpoche, the US-American professor of philosophy Harrison Pemberton, and many high lamas and scholars of Tibetan Buddhism.

The aged Chobgye Trichen Rinpoche, holder of the Norpa-Sakya tradition, who had first told Shamar Rinpoche about the boy in Tibet, traveled from his seat in Nepal to the Dhagpo Kagyu Ling monastery in France, which had been built by Gendun Rinpoche, in order to give Karmapa rare transmissions and empowerments over a period of several months.

The 17th Karmapa, Chobgye Trichen Rinpoche and Shamar Rinpoche
The 17th Karmapa, Chobgye Trichen Rinpoche and Shamar Rinpoche

In the USA, Karmapa later met Luding Kenchen Rinpoche, the holder of the Sharpa Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, and received important transmissions that actually belonged to the Karma Kagyu tradition and had been held and protected by the Sakya school for several generations.

Luding Kenchen Rinpoche, the 17th Karmapa, and Sakya Trizin Rinpoche
Luding Kenchen Rinpoche, the 17th Karmapa, and Sakya Trizin Rinpoche

The high Nyingma and Sakya master Pewar Rinpoche gave Karmapa the complete transmission of the Dam Ngag Dzo, the biggest collection of empowerments of the eight most important schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The 17th Karmapa and Pewar Rinpoche
The 17th Karmapa and Pewar Rinpoche

Teaching and traveling activities

Since 1999, Karmapa has regularly travelled to South Asia as well as Europe, Russia and North America. During his first visit to Europe he was accompanied by Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche. At the opening event in January 2000, Karmapa was welcomed in Düsseldorf by 6,000 students from the centers founded by Lama Ole Nydahl.

The 17th Karmapa in Dusseldorf in 2000
The 17th Karmapa in Dusseldorf in 2000

The 17th Karmapa has met many high religious and political officials around the world, including:

  • H.H. Sakya Trizin, the highest lama of the Sakya lineage
  • The King of Butan, Jigme Wangchuk
  • The Hambo Lama Damba Ayusheeyev, head of the Buryat Buddhists of Russia
  • Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche, high lama of the Nyingma lineage and incarnation of H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
  • Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche, head of the Drikung Kagyu lineage
  • Former Indian Minister of Information Shri S. Jaipal Reddy
The 17th Karmapa with, from top left: the King of Bhutan Jigme Wangchuk, Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche, Hambo Lama Damba Ayusheeyev, Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche
The 17th Karmapa with, from top left: the King of Bhutan Jigme Wangchuk, Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche, Hambo Lama Damba Ayusheeyev, Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche

In India, Karmapa is a regular guest of honour and teacher at events of the so called Neo Buddhists, a community of today about 20 million people, which emerged from the emancipation movement of the former “Untouchables”, who hold the Karmapa in very high esteem.

The 17th Karmapa in India
The 17th Karmapa in India

In Bodh Gaya, North India’s most important place of pilgrimage, Karmapa regularly leads the annual prayers of the Kagyu Monlam with thousands of participants from throughout the Himalayas.

The 17th Karmapa leading ceremonies at the Kagyu Monlam in Bodh Gaya
The 17th Karmapa leading ceremonies at the Kagyu Monlam in Bodh Gaya

On the basis of Buddhist principles, Karmapa follows his vision of peace based on Inner Wealth, a limitless source of compassion and wisdom. He also supports charitable projects like the “Karmapa Healthcare Project” which sends volunteer Western doctors to remote areas of the Himalayas to treat monks and nuns and to train aspiring medical professionals.

Today the Karmapa lives in New Delhi, India. He is the chief patron of the Karmapa International Buddhist Society (KIBS), where students from East and West can achieve a Bachelor of Arts in Buddhist Studies at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute.

The Karmapa International Buddhist Institute in New Delhi
The Karmapa International Buddhist Institute in New Delhi

In 2012, Karmapa named Lama Jigme Rinpoche his general secretary. Lama Jigme Rinpoche received his education from the 16th Karmapa, who in the 1970s made him his representative in Europe. Jigme Rinpoche has authored numerous publications and is a highly esteemed teacher and a spiritual advisor to Diamond Way Buddhism. He lives in Dhagpo Kagyu Ling in southern France.

The 17th Karmapa and Lama Jigme Rinpoche
The 17th Karmapa and Lama Jigme Rinpoche

In June 2014 Karmapa traveled to Germany to return the body of his main teacher, Shamar Rinpoche, who had unexpectedly passed away in Renchen Ulm, to Asia. Shamar Rinpoche’s body was cremated in Kathmandu. The ceremony was led by Karmapa and attended by many Tibetan and Bhutanese Buddhist masters. The 17th Karmapa is now responsible for finding the reincarnation, the 15th Shamarpa, and passing on the Karma Kagyu transmissions to him.

The 14th Shamar Rinpoche with the 17th Karmapa
The 14th Shamar Rinpoche with the 17th Karmapa