About the Karmapa
Karmapa means “the one who carries out buddha-activity” or “the embodiment of all the activities of the buddhas.” In the Tibetan tradition, great enlightened teachers are said to be able to consciously arrange to be reborn as a teacher who can carry on the teachings of a predecessor in a prior life.
Pursuant to this tradition, the Karmapas have incarnated in this form of manifestation body (Skt. nirmanakaya), for seventeen lifetimes, as of the present, and all have played the most important role in preserving and propagating the Buddhist teachings of Tibet.
Prior to the birth of the first Karmapa, the arrival of a Buddhist master who would be known as the Karmapa had been prophesied by the historic Buddha Shakyamuni and the great tantric master of India, Guru Padmasambhava. Throughout the centuries, Karmapas have been the central figure in the continuation of the vajrayana lineage in general and Kagyu lineage in particular, and have played a very important role in the preservation of the study and practice lineages of Buddhism.
In 1985 a male infant was born into a nomad family in the Lhatok region of Eastern Tibet. In the months prior to his birth, his mother had wonderful dreams during her pregnancy. 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 which the family of the infant lived.
In Tibet, such events are considered auspicious portents of the birth of an enlightened teacher.
The young nomad was called Apo Gaga. While his early years seemed, to his family, full of blessing, Apo Gaga did not talk of any connection to the Karmapas. However, in 1992, he asked his family to move the location of their nomadic home to another valley, and told them to expect a visit from traveling 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 Karmapa, 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 to Tsurphu again, that his root teacher would be HE Situ Rinpoche, and that he would study in India. After the death of the 16th Karmapa, it became clear that these predictions applied to his successor.
Furthermore, the 19th Century master Chogyur Lingpa made a number of predictions about the lives of the Karmapas, and for the 17th, Chogyur Lingpa’s predictions matched the details of His Holiness’s birth. Since these predictions were to be fulfilled in themselves without recognition by any other master, it is traditionally said that the Karmapa is “self-recognized.”