Recently, I have been doing some research on the 15th Karmapa’s lineage of Immortal Life-essence Bindu, and whom he passed it onto (if anyone) more on that in the future. In 2016, the Tsurphu Labrang together with Tashi Tsering of Amnye Institute in Dharamsala, India published three volumes of writings on the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924-1981) (see images below).
The second volume in particular, gives a breakdown of the lineages and transmissions he received (gsan yig and thob yig). Much more could be said about these. For now here is brief outline of the contents (translated for the first time here in English), as well as some notes about what they say about the Kālacakra lineages and transmissions the 16th Karmapa received. The Tibetan pages are published at the end of this article.
- Individual Liberation Vows
- Bodhisattva Vows
- King of all tantras, Kālacakra
- Precious Treasury of Kagyu Mantras (Kagyu Ngag Dzod) Record of the oral transmission, instruction and empowerment
- Treasury of Precious Instructions (Damngag Dzod), Record of oral transmission, instruction and empowerment (and missing items)
- Collected Sadhanas (Drubthab Kuntu)
- Ngagyur Nyingma Treasure Texts
- Vimalimitra Essential Drop (Vima Nyingtig)
- Profound, Vast drop (Zabmo Yangtig)
- Life Practices of the Vidhyadhara Three Roots
- Teachings of the Dharma King, Dagpo Lhaje, Gampopa
- Indian Mahāmudrā texts
- Mandalas of Karma Kagyu (kar lugs)
- 9th Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje’s Knowing One Liberates All (gcig shes kun grol)
- Collected Works of Second Sharmapa, Khacho Wangpo
- Karma Kagyu Oral Lineage (snyan brgyud)
- Karma Kamtsang Practice Lineage of Golden Dharmas, (nag rgyal phag gsum)
- Great Precious Treasury (Rinchen Terdzo Chenmo)
- The profound treasures of Chogyur Lingpa
- The treasure dharma of Chogyur Lingpa, teachings of Kenchen Ratna
- Urgent instructions on Thugdam
16th Karmarpa and Kālacakra
It is interesting to note that the first major transmission in the list is King of Tantras, Kālacakra. I have written before (based mainly on Khenpo Donyo of Bokar Monastey’s published account) about the Dagpo Kagyu Kālacakra lineage and how that was passed down to 16th Karmapa.
Seventeen lineages of Kālacakra
In his famous Kālacakra text A Hundred Blazing Lights, Tāranātha details the seventeen distinct lineages of Kālacakra Six Yogas and how the Jonang master Kunpang Tsondru (kun spangs thugs rje brtson ‘grus) (1243-1313) not only received all the lineage transmissions but also collated them together. My translation of these seventeen lineages detailed in the text is here. In summary, they are: Gyijo, Ma, Trom, Atisha, Dro, Rwa, Tsami, Dorje Drag, the three of Galo, two of Khache Panchen Śākyaśrī, two of Vibhūticandra, Chag and Menlung.
16th Karmapa’s record states that of the two main lineages are Dro and Rwa, he received transmissions of the Dro Kālacakra, citing the Jonang lineage masters down to Jamgon Kongtrul the 1st who passed it onto 11th Tai Situ Rinpoche, Pema Wangchok, who passed it onto the 16th Karmapa at Palpung Thubten Chokhorling in the Earth-Tiger year (1938). He then goes on to speak about the other lineages of Tsami and Atisha.
The Tsami lineage is the tradition of the Yogamālā (the Garland of the Six Yogas) composed by the translator Tsami Sangye Drak, transmitted through Selo (Zhönnu Tsultrim) and Nyötön Öma. These were passed down to the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (rang byung rdo rje), the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje (mi bskyod rdo rje) and other Kagyu masters (including Drikhung and Drugpa lineages).
According to Edward Henning:
“The use of the practice texts of the Tsami tradition, the most notable being written by the eighth Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje (mi bskyod rdo rje), has largely ceased, and the practices of the Jonang tradition written by Tāranātha are now mainly used. But still the maṇḍala is drawn according to the original Karma Kagyu methods even though there are some clear, although minor, contradictions between the descriptions given in the maṇḍala drawing texts and the practice texts. These differences have sometimes caused puzzlement to modern Karma Kagyu maṇḍala artists, unaware of the full history of their tradition.”
The 16th Karmapa’s transmission record lists a more detailed Tsami lineage, showing that the 1st Sangye Nyenpa passed this lineage on to the 8th Karmapa, which continued onto the 8th Sharmapa. The lineage is:
Rigden Pema Karpo, Rigden Trulpa Tsalupa, Dushab Pawo Dhibhadra, Tsami Sangye Drag, Selo TsA KumAra shIla, Nyo Dharma Od, Lama Trashi Ratna, Jukhor Sangye Dorje, Ogyenpa, Nyedowa Kunga Dondrub, Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, Lama Gyaltsen, Gyalwa Dorje, Jamyang Chenpo, Lobpon Lama Gyaltsen, Chennga Chodrag, 1st Sangye Nyenpa, 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje, Konchog Yenlag, 9th Karmapa,Wangchug Dorje, Chokyi Wangchug, Khen Karma Nyima, Goshri Dondrub Nyingpo, 8th Shamarpa, Khunkhyen Dharmakara.
Jetsun Tāranātha’s texts
The 16th Karmapa’s transmission record also states that he received the lineage of Jetsun Tāranātha’s Nine-deity Kālacakra sādhana that goes from Kagyu Trinley Namgyel (about whom I could not find any information in English), 9th Tai Situpa, Pema Nyinje to Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, to 11th Tai Situ, Pema Wangchok to himself. In addition, the transmission of Tāranātha’s, One Hundred Blazing Lights, was transmitted to 16th Karmapa via the following lineage:
Tāranātha, Gyaltsab Rinchen Gyamtso, Lodro Namgyel, Ngawang Trinley, Kunzang Wangpo, Tsewang Norbu, Choki Jungne, Tsewang Kunkhyab, Karma Ratna (Ngedon Tenzin Rabgye), Karma Osel Gyurme, 1st Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, 11th Tai Situ, Pema Wangchok. 16th Karmapa.
HH 16th Karmapa also received the Kalacakra empowerment from HH 14th Dalai Lama in Lhasa, Tibet, on the 18th Day of the Fourth month of the Water-Snake Year (1953).
In terms of Karma Kagyu lamas who have transmitted Kālacakra, they are HE Bokar Rinpoche, HE Tenga Rinpoche, HE 3rd Jamgon Kongtrul, HE 12th Gyaltsab Rinpoche and HE 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche. Last year, I requested 12th Tai Situ Rinpoche to bestow a Kālacakra empowerment, in particular, for Kagyu lamas who may not have it from the Karma Kagyu lineage. The 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje has attended several Kālacakra empowerments given by the 14th Dalai Lama.
As I published before, the 3rd Karmapa and 8th Karmapa wrote several texts on Kālacakra. I reproduce the list here below for convenience.
In conclusion, the importance of the transmission record for the lineage and the students cannot be ignored. Even if a master has a great name and thousands of followers, if there is no lineage or transmission then they cannot teach or pass it on.
For a lovely short film commemorating the activities of the 16th Karmapa, see here:
May the life and activities of the Karmapas and Kālacakra lineages flourish and prosper!
Translated and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 22nd August 2020.
Tsering, Tashi, et al. “A Biography of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa: Entitled: ‘A Droplet from the Infinite Ocean-Like Outer Biography of Lokeshvara: the Great Sixteenth Holder of the Black Crown.’” The Tibet Journal, vol. 9, no. 3, 1984, pp. 3–20. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43302181
 Karma Osel Gyurme was a Karma Kagyu master whose teacher, Chabtsa Tulku Karma Ratna, studied with Belo Tsewang Kunkhyab. Karma Ratna was apparently the Vajra master at Palpung monastery at the time of the Tsadra monastery consecration (see ZANGPO 2001, p.251). Osel Gyurme became a teacher of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. Sheehy states in his blog post ‘Kongtrul’s Jonangpa Connections‘ (2009) that:
‘Gyurme was a student of Karma Ratna and is also referred to as Lama Gonpo Tsewang. According to the history of the Jonangpa, he met Kongtrul on his way to Gyalrong as he was traveling from Dzamthang, and it appears as if he conferred numerous transmissions upon Kongtrul during their time together.’ (although he does not cite a specific source for this).
Khenpo Donyo Lodro’s account explains that Jamgon Kongtrul received the Jonang Kālacakra transmissions from Karma Osel Gyurme who got it from 14th Karmapa, Thegchog Dorje. In his autobiography (see Barron, 2003), Kongtrul states that it was in the eighth month of the Water-Hare Year (1843-1844):
…the venerable and holy lama Karma Osel Gyurme was to bestow the empowerments and oral transmissions from the works by Jonang Jetsun Rinpoche, and so I went to upper Ling province. There were about ten of us gathered, including Dabzang Tulku Rinpoche, and Karma Osel Gyurme spent some three months bestowing the empowerments of most of the classes of tantra found in the collected works of Tāranātha (the Kālacakra foremost among these), as well as the oral transmissions for five or six volumes of Tāranātha’s writings. During this time, I experienced in my dreams some significant indications and a great sense that I was receiving blessings.
 The Eleventh Tai Situpa (pad ma dbang mchog rgyal po, 1886-1952) was recognized at the age of four as the reincarnation of the previous Tai Situ by the Fifteenth Karmapa, Khakhyap Dorje, and was then enthroned at Palpung Monastery. He received ordination and teachings from Khakhyap Dorje, as well as teachings and empowerments from Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. According to Khenpo Donyo: he received the great empowerment and transmission of Kālacakra from Jamgon Kongtrul, in 1891 (the iron-hare year), and was responsible for recognizing the Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. He remained the Sixteenth Karmapa’s root Lama and transmitted to him the main teachings and empowerments of the Kagyu lineage, including Kālacakra.
Transmission Record of 16th Karmapa (in Tibetan)
CATALOGUE OF WORKS BY KARMAPAS 3rd AND 8th ON KĀLACAKRA
dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i sgrub thabs mdor bsdus pa rin chen phreng ba/ W3PD27
rdo rje shugs kyi sgrub thabs/ W3PD27
dus kyi ‘khor lo’i gtor ma/ W3PD27
dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo las btus pa’i spos sbyor/ W3PD27
dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i bsdus don dri med ‘od kyi tshul gsal bar byed pa’i rgyan W3PD27
dus kyi ‘khor lo’i mngon par rtogs pa rnam dag snang ba/ W3PD27
dus kyi ‘khor lo’i sgrub thabs bsdus pa/ W3PD27
bcom ldan ‘das dus kyi ‘khor lo’i ye shes btsan thabs su dbab pa’i cho ga rje btsun mar rngog nas brgyud pa/ TBRC W8039
bcom ldan ‘das dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i sgub dkyil phan bde kun stsol/W8039
bcom ldan ‘das dang po’i sangs rgyas ‘gro ba dang mi ‘gro ba’i ‘jig rten la dus bzhi bgrod tshul gyi ‘khor lo yid mtshor bzhad gad kyi ‘grel chen/
dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i rim gnyis ‘bro lugs kyi brgyud pa’i gsol ‘debs rdo rje ‘babs pa chen po/ W21808