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Karmapa Shamarpa Lineage

Golden Kagyu Garland

His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa

The 17th Gyalwa Karmapa
Trinley Thaye Dorje


The Gyalwa Karmapas have been the spiritual heads of the Karma Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism since the 12th century and have worked tirelessly for the benefit of all sentient beings. The purity of the Lineage has been preserved through an uninterrupted transmission of teachings from master to disciple over the past 900 years. The 17th Gyalwa Karmapa is the vessel holding these teachings and the spiritual force it carries. The Karmapa's name means: Trinley (Buddha activity) Thaye (limitless) Dorje (unchanging). 

The 17th Karmapa was born in Tibet in May 6, 1983. He is the son of Mipham Rinpoche, a renowned scholar and master of the Nyingma Lineage and Dechen Wangmo, a direct descendant of the legendary King Gesar of Ling. Karmapa’s younger brother, the Gelug and Sakya Rinpoche, His Eminence the 14th Sonam Tsemo Rinpoche, is one of the five forefathers of the Sakya Lineage, the first five hierarchs of the Sakya Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. 

In keeping with the tradition of the Karmapas recognizing themselves, as a very young child Thaye Dorje repeatedly proclaimed he was the Karmapa. This message along with other clear indications reached the 14th Kunzig Shamarpa who is second in rank to the Gyalwa Karmapas. The Shamarpa therefore examined the boy in accordance with the centuries-old spiritual tradition of the Karma Kagyu School and confirmed that Thaye Dorje was the authentic Karmapa reincarnation. Later, only after the young Karmapa had safely left Tibet did Shamarpa make his recognition public. On March 17, 1994 an official ceremony took place in New Delhi and Trinley Thaye Dorje was formally recognized and enthroned as the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, the genuine Holder of the Black Crown.

For the next 10 years, the Karmapa underwent a rigorous spiritual training program under the direction of Shamar Rinpoche. Karmapa received many essential teachings directly from Shamarpa and other high masters in the Kagyu, Nyingma and Sakya traditions. In 2003, the title 'Vidyadhara' was bestowed upon the Karmapa to mark the completion of his education and his mastery of the Buddhist sutras and tantras. The Karmapa holds tantra empowerments brought to Tibet by Marpa, the Mahamudra teachings from the Mahasiddha traditions of Saraha and Maitripa and the Six Yogas of Naropa, as well as other profound teachings.

The 17th Karmapa has embraced the modern world – he speaks fluent English, has studied many Western academic subjects and is proficient with computer and communication technologies. The Karmapa mainly resides at his headquarters in Kalimpong, India and at his European seat in Dordogne, France.

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Photo © Thule G. Jug: The Karmapa Documentary Project