The Seventeenth Karmapa
Trinley Dorje (1985 - )
his mother had wonderful dreams during her pregnancy, he was born into his
nomad family in the Lhatok region of Eastern Tibet in 1985. On the day of
his birth, a cuckoo landed on the tent in which he was born, and a
mysterious conch-like sound was heard by many throughout the valley.
In Tibet, such events are considered auspicious portents of the birth of an
The young nomad, named Apo Gaga, lived a life that seemed, to his family,
full of blessing, but Apo Gaga did not reveal to them who he was.
However, in 1992, he asked
them to move the location of their nomadic home to another valley, and told
them to expect a visit from travelling monks. Soon after setting up their
home in the new location, followers of the Sixteenth Karmapa came to that
valley pursuant to the secret instructions of the Sixteenth contained in his
letter of prediction. The birth and the other details of Apo Gaga's life
matched the predictions of the letter. Apo Gaga was discovered to be the
Seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Drodul Trinley Dorje.
In addition to his letter of
prediction, the Sixteenth Karmapa wrote many poems, or songs, predicting
that though he would leave his traditional main seat in Tsurphu, Tibet, he
would soon return there, that his root teacher would be HE Situ Rinpoche,
and that he would study in India. Furthermore, the predictions of the 19th
Century master Chogyur Lingpa matched the details of His Holiness's birth.
These predictions were to be fulfilled, and in this way, it is traditionally
said that the Karmapa is"self-recognized."
The Seventeenth Karmapa did in fact return to Tolung Tsurphu Monastery in
Central Tibet in 1992, where he was enthroned on September 27, 1992, with
the permission of the Chinese government, a first in Tibet. Over 20,000
supplicants assembled. The following morning, some 25,000 people filed
before His Holiness to receive a personal blessing.
At Tsurphu, the Karmapa studied the Buddhist sciences of mind, learned
ritual, and practiced sacred arts, such as dance. Each day he received
hundreds of visitors from throughout Tibet and around the world. He
eventually began to offer empowerments and participated in various rituals
at the monastery. At the age of about 10, His Holiness recognized the
rebirth of reincarnate teachers, including such eminent teachers as Pawo
Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and the young Dabzang Rinpoche.
While His Holiness was at Tsurphu, the monastery underwent extensive
rebuilding to restore the temples, shrines, stupas, a shedra, and residences
that had been destroyed over the years, fulfilling one of the main duties of
a Karmapa. As the years went by, however, His Holiness came under increasing
pressure from Tibetan and Chinese authorities to act in ways which were
contrary to his obligations as a Karmapa. He publically refused to denounce
the Dalai Lama and to recognize the Panchen Lama, and engaged in numerous
other acts which were contrary to the wishes of the authorities.
Finally, in 1999, recognizing perhaps that his usefulness in Tibet was being
undermined, he decided to leave. Though he was under constant surveillance
from the Chinese government, who refused to let him leave the country, he
and a handful of attendants concocted a bold scheme to escape.
After months of careful planning, on December 28, the fourteen-year-old
Karmapa pretended to enter into a solitary retreat, and instead, donned
civilian garb and slipped out a window. Leaving Tsurphu Monastery with a
handful of attendants, he began a daring escape by car, foot, horseback,
helicopter, train and taxi, a heroic journey which was to become the stuff
of headlines throughout the world.
On January 5, 2000 he arrived, to the the great surprise and overwhelming
joy of the world, in Dharamsala, India, where he was met by His Holiness the
Fourteenth Dalai Lama. He received refugee status from the government of
India in 2001. His Holiness the Karmapa temporarily lives in Sidbhari, in
the himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh, in the Gyuto Ramoche
monastery, that is two-hours by car from Sherab Ling monastery, where His
main Lama, Tai Situ Rinpoche, lives, awaiting
permission from the Indian authorities to leave Dharamsala and return to
Rumtek Monastery, the traditional seat of the Karmapas in India.