by Naomi Levine
I am the Head of the Lineage
This discrete but unmistakeable declaration from HH Karmapa came after the second day of teaching on the Kagyu Lineage Prayer; and while it was hardly news to the many thousands of devotees gathered in the Monlam Pavilion, it was the first time I had ever heard His Holiness make such a definitive statement. There were other surprises as well in this informative overview of the lineage masters. One of them was what I can only describe as the restoration of the Shamarpa to his historical place in the lineage.
According to historians the first Karmapa was Karma Pakshi, although Dusum Khyenpa was the first holder of the Black Crown. Dusum Khyenpa was not known at the time as the first Karmapa but was given the name of Karmapa because of his vision. He became known as Karmapa, the performer of the activity of all the buddhas. Some historians say the lineage became known as Karma Kagyu because Karmapa was practising for a long time in Karma Gon, one of the seats of the Karmapas in East Tibet. The name of the lineage was therefore Karma Kagyu.
There are different ways of viewing the time span of the lineage. Chogyur Lingpa, the 19th century terton, predicted 7 reincarnations and 13 manifestations in nirmanakaya form. Another prediction mentions 21 Karmapas, and yet another prediction of the 5th Karmapa refers to 25 Karmapas. There could also be 1002 Karmapas who could be performing the activities of the Karmapa rather than holding the throne. This could mean that Karmapa’s activity will not end until the liberation of all beings, His Holiness said.
Which brought us to the subject of reincarnation. This is a person who takes rebirth from one main enlightened master. A reincarnation cannot be more than one person. However, a tulku can manifest many people each acting independently. One great master can have many manifestations, e.g. manifestations of body, speech and mind. This is a high level of realization.
However, HH added, not everyone who is called a tulku is actually a tulku in this sense of being a manifestation of an enlightened being. It could be someone with a positive capacity to help many beings. If they’re given the name of tulku the potential becomes stronger because they are given more positive conditions to do their activity.
Then the Karmapa focused on the significance of the Shamarpa in the Kagyu Lineage, with an historical fact which surprised many people. Because this is such an important statement and His Holiness listened intently to make sure the translation was correct, I am writing it as I understood it, but I advise anyone who finds it provocative to listen to the words of the webcast: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mz8Lz-RHHEg
The first of the Karmapa’s spiritual father and son relationships was with the Shamarpa.
Karma Pakshi predicted that in 100 years there would be two of his reincarnations: one would be wearing the Black Hat and one the Red Hat. From that prediction it is implied that the Karmapa and Shamarpa were from the same reincarnation, although the Shamarpa was the student most of the time, and the Karmapas were the teachers.
His Holiness went on to describe briefly the problems that occurred during the time of the 10th Shamar. The Tibetan Government would not allow the recognition of the Shamar for several generations. It was only after the 16th Karmapa came to India that he asked permission from the Dalai Lama to recognise the throne holder of the Shamar whose
reincarnations had been forbidden by the Tibetan Government. And that is how the present Shamar was reinstated into the lineage, as the 11th throne holder; although there were others in between the 10th and the current 11th who were not recognised.
After the passing of the 9th Shamar there was a dispute about who was the 10th Shamar. Because of the influence of the Chinese, they decided to resolve the issue by performing the golden vase divination. The name that came through became the throne holder. The contender was known as the Namling Shamar whose reincarnations continued until the 15th Karmapa.
His Holiness also referred to the 8th Situpa as a great scholar, preserving Tibetan culture and art but did not go into detail because the last day of the Monlam is dedicated to honouring the Situpa and Gyaltsap Rinpoches with a mandala offering.
From my notes: We had some troubles in the Karma Kamtsang. We naturally feel attachment to our side and aversion to the other. But it’s important to think in a bigger way. When we think of our attachment and aversion, it may give some benefit for now, but it’s not the most important thing. We have to think of the long term. In the long term the lineage may get rotten. We should work to lessen our attachment and aversion. It does not matter what others are doing. But from our side we have to have a good heart and not do anything harmful to others. This will be good for the true preservation of the teachings of the Karma Kagyu in the long term.
It is not easy for me to talk about this, but I need to say something about it, since I am the head of the lineage.