Vajrayogini and the 1st Karmapa

Five Deity Vajravārāhı mandala (Naropa Karma Kagyu tradition)

For Ḍākinī Day today, I am delighted to publish a post (and three new translations) on the 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (Dus gsum mkhyen pa, 1110–1193) and his connection to Vajrayogini, the texts and their content. Vajravārāhı is one of the main yidams of the Karmapas and Karma Kagyu.  As I wrote about here before[i], in the 1st Karmapa’s Collected Works, there are eleven texts including the five deity form of Vajravārāhı and four-faced, two-faced and one-faced Vajrayogini practices.  The two-faced one refers to the yogini with a female pig’s head squealing loudly (as the second head), Vajravārāhı.  I have translated three texts, listed below, which can be downloaded on request here. They should only be practiced by those with a suitable Vajrayogini empowerment and transmission from a qualified master.

Nāropa’s lineage of Vajrayogini

Mahasiddha Nāropa

The Karmapas are lineage holders of the practice of Vajrayogini as passed down from Nāropa to Marpa to Milarepa to the 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa onwards. As I wrote about here, it is not correct to say that Nāropa did not pass the lineage to Marpa, although some online sources do assert that. What they actually mean is that the lineage the Karmapas received from Marpa is slightly different to the Khacheri Vajrayogini lineage passed down from Nāropa mainly to Sakya masters[ii].  However, the Karmapas did receive that form of Vajrayogini as well.

Pure Visions

1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa.
This statue, made of mixed red, yellow ·and white precious metal, preserves the funerary relics
of Dusum Khyenpa and is believed to be a good likeness of him.
(The statue .is one of the most precious treasures kept at Rumtek, Sikkim).

During his life, the 1st Karmapa had several pure visions of Vajrayogini. These are detailed in a new English language book, compiled from Tibetan source historical texts on Dusum Khyenpa’s life by HH 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje. The book is available for free download here. Dusum Khyenpa had several pure visions at one of his main seat in Tibet, Khampo Nenang, including Vārāhı Kechari and also Vajrayogini with one thousand heads and one thousand arms, surrounded by thirty-six yoginis. In Dowo, he has a vision of a four-faced Vārāhı[iii]. He also had a vision of a two-faced Vajrayogini at Mount Drushi.

The Texts

Gampopa Sonam Rinchen and 1st Karmapa

The three short texts on Vajrayogini I have translated can be found in The Collected Works of the Garland of Karmapas[iv] (published in Lhasa, Tibet in 2013) and also in an edition of the 1st Karmapa’s collected works published by Dzongsar Khyentse Labrang, India [v]. The first text is a very concise one folio page practice of the Five Deity Vajravārāhı Indian root text [vi], the second a slightly longer (although still short) Sadhana of Five Deity Vajravārāhı [vii]. It is of one-faced Vajrayogini, with both a creation and completion stage. The text details the lineage of the practice referring to Indian siddhas such as Dharikapa, Shinglopa and Karnaripa who are associated with the teachings of the four transmissions given to Tilopa (guru of  Nāropa )[ix]. These words appear to have been added after Dusum Khyenpa passed away though as they refer to teachers that came after him:

“In order to perfect the intention and mind of Guru Nāropa , Guru Dharikapa[x] is the lineage. Then, Dorje Chang, Thanglopa, Shinglopa, Karnaripa[xi], Indraripa, Indrabhodi, Nāropa, Marpa, Milarepa, Dagpo [Gampopa], Dusum Khyenpa, Drogon Rechen, Pomdragpa, Karmapa [2nd], Zhonu Rinchen, Shar Gonpo, Kunga Ozer[xii].”

The third is a Garland of Playful Display: Praises to Vajravārāhı[viii]. The Praise is a poetic description of the visualization of two-faced Vajravārāhı and what each aspect of her symbolizes:

“Bright red in colour: Magnetiser of the three realms[i]. Legs stand stretched and bent: non-abiding in the two extremes.

The right, sow’s face: non-conceptual, ultimate reality. Devoid of robes: unpolluted by faults.

Blazing like an aeon-ending fire: the light of primordial awareness. The left, wrathful face: demonstrating relative reality.”

—Excerpt from ‘ Garland of Playful Display: Praises to Vajravārāhı‘ by 1st Karmapa

Biographical background

1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa pictured above his head)

In terms of the life of 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, (as mentioned above) recently, the 17th Karmapa, compiled a book on his life (translated by Karma David Chophel and Michele Martin). Also, according to a recent teaching on Dusum Khyenpa by the 17th Karmapa[xiii]:

“Long before his eventual birth, Dusum Khyenpa’s coming was predicted in many sutras and tantras, such as the Samadhiraja Sutra. His life-story is filled with miraculous feats of spiritual accomplishment and signs of his high degree of realization, beginning right from when he was still in his mother’s womb.

A a child Dusum Khyenpa became famous for other miraculous feats such as creating springs, leaving handprints and footprints in many boulders, subduing a demon at the age of 8, and making rain fall during a very dry summer at the age of 9. At the age of 11 Dusum Khyenpa was able to pacify conflict throughout the region using extraordinary tantric means. It was at the age of 16, when Dusum Khyenpa ordained as a novice monk[xiv] that he first came to possess the famous black crown that is now synonymous with the Karmapas.

In the historical accounts, at that time Dusum Khyenpa had a pure vision in which 100,000 dakinis appeared and placed the black crown on his head.  Together they empowered him as the ‘doer of the activities of all the Buddhas’, and gave him the name Karmapa (he was also called ‘Khampa U-ser’ (yellow-haired Khampa) and ‘monkey-face’) [xv]. In some of the biographies, it is said that all those who were present even saw this vision[xvi].”

 According to the online Treasury of Lives biography, Dusum Khyenpa then studied with various Kadampa monks before meeting and studying with Gampopa:

“At the age of nineteen Dusum Khyenpa went to U-Tsang, visiting a monastery called Tolung Satang (stod lungs sa thang), where he received teachings on logic and Madhyamaka from a teacher named Tolung Gyamarwa Jangchubdrak (stod lung rgya dmar ba byang chub grags, d.u.). He took final ordination with Mel Duldzinpa (mal ‘dul ‘dzin pa, d.u.). He also studied with a number of other Kadam monks, including Ga Lotsāwa (rgwa lo tsA ba, d.u.), who gave him the the Mahākāla tradition later known as the Gonpo Karluk (mgon po kar lugs) which he had brought to Tibet, and Khampa Aseng (khams pa a seng, d.u.), a disciple of Ga, who gave him the Kālacakra teachings of the Six Unions (sbyor drug).

At the age of thirty Dusum Khyenpa set out to meet Gampopa Sonam Rinchen (sgam po pa bsod nams rin chen, 1079-1153), the ordained disciple of the great lay poet-saint Milarepa (mi la ras pa, 1052-1135). At Dakpo Drakha (dwags po drag kha) he first met and received teachings from Gomtsul Tsultrim Nyingpo (sgom tshul tshul khrims snying po, 1116-1169) and Sharawa Yonten Drak (sha ra ba yon tan grags, 1070-1141).  He then proceeded to Daklha Gampo (dwags lha sgam po) and received teachings and transmissions from Gampopa. He soon donned the cotton garb of Milarepa’s disciples, training in the heat yogas for nine months. Having shown great accomplishment, Gampopa sent him to Zangri (zangs ri) to continue his meditation, where he sat for four months at a cave named Til and another month and a half at Pakmodru (phag mo gru), before returning to to study with Gampopa for another three years.”

According to an ancient scripture Lord Buddha had once predicted that approximately sixteen hundred years after his own passing there would be born a man of great spiritual attainment and infinite compassion. This man would spread the Buddhist Dharma for many successive incarnations and would be known as the Karmapa, ‘Man-of-Karma’. Je Gampopa and the two great Masters of that time, Lama Sakya Shri from Kashmir and Lama Shang, recognised that Dusum Khyenpa was indeed the Karmapa foretold of in the prophecy.

There is also an interesting tale as to why Dusum Khyenpa was the student most devoted to Gampopa and thus came to be the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage, with the example of his making a hat with cloth given to him by Gampopa[xvii]. After that:

“Dusum Khyenpa then trained with a number of teachers belonging to the nascent Kagyu tradition. These incuded Milarepa’s own disciple Rechung Dorje Drak (ras chung rdo rje grags pa, 1085-1161); Ponpuk Tongyal (spon phug ston rgyal, d.u.).From these and other lamas he received the full transmission of Gampopa’s teachings, his blending of tantic yoga – such as Mahāmudrā, Cakrasaṃvara, Hevajra, the Naro Chodruk (na ro chos drug) – with Kadampa-derived monasticism. He also studied Lamdre (lam ‘bras) with the Sakya master Senpa Dorje Sengge (gsen pa rdo rje seng ge, d.u.) at Yarlung Pukmoche (yar klungs phug mo che).

He spent the next several years in various places in southern and central Tibet and Bhutan meditating in caves and returning to report his progress to Gampopa. Among the sites were Gyu Pelri (brgyud dpal ri) and Shau Tago (sha ‘ug stag sgo/ sa ‘ug stag mgo), near Sakya Monastery. At one point he met a disciple of  Nāropa  residing at a monastery called Zhunye Bardzong (gzhu snye bar rdzong) who gave him additional Mahāmudrā instructions. While in southern Tibet, in 1154, Dusum Khyenpa founded a monastery called Lhalung (lha lung) in Lhodrak (lho brag), which later became the seat of the Pawo (dpa’ bo) incarnation line.

Karma Gon monastery, Tibet

At the age of 55 (1164), Düsum Khyenpa founded a monastery at Kampo Nénang[xviii]; and at the age of 60 (1169), he started the Panphuk monastery in Lithang, in East Tibet. Later, at the age of 76 (1185), he established an important seat at Karma Gon (see image above), in eastern Tibet (1184). At the age of 80 (1189), he established his main seat at Tsurphu, in the Tolung valley, a river which feeds into the Brahmaputra, in central Tibet.”

When Gampopa passed away in 1153, fourteen years after Dusum Khyenpa met Gampopa:

“Dusum Khyenpa learned of the loss when he met Gampopa’s nephew Gomtsul and a second disciple named Phagpa in Ölkha. Clutching a garment that had belonged to Gampopa, Dusum Khyenpa made supplications and wept. As he did so, a vision of Gampopa appeared in the sky, clearly visible to all three of them (see photo). The astonishing apparition did much to assuage Dusum Khyenpa’s pain, and he commented, “The lama came to dispel my grief.”

Every year thereafter, Dusum Khyenpa marked the anniversary of Gampopa’s death, and later established the practice of doing so in the monasteries he himself founded. Dusum Khyenpa retained a deep gratitude and a sense of commitment not only to Gampopa himself but also to the seat he had created at Daklha Gampo. Throughout his life, when Dusum Khyenpa received large offerings, he often sent them to Daklha Gampo to support the community and facilities that Gampopa had founded.

Drogon Rechen (Image: Palpung Sherabling)

The 1st Karmapa passed away at Tsurphu Monastery, Tibet:

“With the far-ranging deeds of his life thus complete, in 1193, Dusum Khyenpa entrusted his books and relics to his main student, Drogon Rechen, to whom he had already handed the prediction letter regarding his next reincarnation. He gave away the remainder of his possessions to various Dharma communities in Gampopa’s lineage. On the third day of the Tibetan New Year, Dusum Khyenpa gave a final Dharma teaching to the assembly at Tsurphu, lifted his gaze to the sky and entered meditation. He sat thus meditating for the remainder of the morning. At noon, the First Karmapa relinquished the body he had used to benefit beings in that lifetime, and moved on to take the next, as Karma Pakshi, the Second Karmapa.”

May this new post on the 1st Karmapa’s texts on Vajrayogini be of benefit to the lineage of Karmapas, the teachings, and to infinite beings. May all realize the fully awakened state of Vajrayogini!

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 10th November 2020.

Bibliography/ Further Reading

  • The First Karmapa. Dusum Khyenpa. 2019. The Life and Teachings of Dusum Khyenpa. Khenpo David Karma Choepel and Michelle Martin, translators. Woodstock: KTD Publications.
  • Grags pa ‘byung gnas. 1992. Gangs can mkhas grub rim byon ming mdzod. Lanzhou: Kan su’u mi rigs dpe skrun khang, pp. 19-20.
  • Jackson, David. 2009. “The Black Hats of the Karmapas.” In Patron and Painter; Situ Paṇchen and the Revival of the Encampments Style, pp. 39-69. New York: Rubin Museum of Art.
  • Richardson, Hugh. 1998 (1958-1959). “The Karma-pa Sect: A Historical Note.” In High Peaks, Pure Earth. Michael Aris, ed. London: Serindia, pp. 337-378.
  • Roerich, George, trans. 1996. The Blue Annals. 2nd ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas, pp. 474-480.
  • Tomlin, Adele, 2020. Vajrayogini and the Karmapas,
  • Biography of Dusum Khyenpa by 2nd Zhamarpa (Zhwa dmar 02 mkha’ spyod dbang po. 1978. Dus gsum mkhyen pa’i rnam thar dgos ‘dod kun ‘byung) In The Collected Writings (Gsung ‘bum) of the Second Zhwa dmar Mkha’ spyod dbang po. Gonpo Tseten, Palace Mon., Gangtok 1978, vol. I, pp. 435-504.


Collected Works TBRC W23651

Volume One

  • Indian Root Text of the Exalted Lady section of the Five Deity Vajravārāhı from Master Düsum Khyenpa’s Five Sets of Five (rje dus gsum mkhyen pa’i lnga tshan lnga las phag mo lha lnga’i skor las rje btsun ma’i rgya gzhung).
  • Practice of the Five Deity Vajravārāhı  (phag mo lha lnga’i sgrub thabs).
  • Empowerment Ritual of the Five Deity Vajravārāhı  (phag mo lha lnga’i dbang mchog)
  • The Yidam of the Precious One, the Four-faced Vajrayogini (rin po che’i thugs dam phag mo zhal bzhi ma).
  • Section on the Four-faced Vajrayogini (rdo rje rnal ‘byor ma zhal bzhi ma’i skor).
  • Secret Vajrayogini practice (dpal rdo rje rnal ‘byor ma’i gsang sgrub kyi skor).

Volume Two

  • Praise of Vajravārāhı – The Joyful Garland (phag mo’i bstod pa rol pa’i phreng ba).
  • The Visualisation Instruction of the Two-faced Lady (zhal gnyis ma’i mngon rtogs).
  • Practice Guide of the Glorious Vajrayogini and the History of the Exalted Sahaja Lady and others (dpal rdo rje rnal ‘byor ma’i sgrub thabs dang rje btsun ma lhan skyes jo mo’i lo rgyus sogs kyi skor).
  • Vajrayogini practice and the story how Marpa met Niguma.
  • Practice and Empowerment of the Two-faced Vajravārāhı Together with Empowerment (phag mo zhal gnyis ma’i sgrub thabs dbang bskur dang bcas pa).
  • Practice of the One-faced Lady, Together with the Fire Puja of Four Activities and the Completion Phase (zhal gcig ma’i sgrub thabs las bzhi sbyin sreg rdzogs rim dang bcas pa’i skor).
  • Vajravārāhı practice together with Fire Puja of Four Activities and Completion Phase


[i] Vajrayogini and the Karmapas, Adele Tomlin, September 2020:

[ii] Translator-scholar, Sarah Harding, also wrote an interesting Tsadra Foundation blog post about a historical contention that Marpa does not have the Vajravārāhı transmission, something that Marpa himself clearly disagrees with, and one of Marpa’s texts on Vajrayogini practice is included in the 6th Karmapa’s Collected Works (see below).

[iii] Dusum Khyenpa’s Spiritual Biography in Verse (pp.219, The Life and Teachings of Dusum Khyenpa. Khenpo David Karma Choepel and Michelle Martin, translators. Woodstock: KTD Publications, 2019).

[iv] In Karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi gsung ‘bum phyogs bsgrigs/. TBRC W3PD1288. 1: 341 – 341. lha sa/: dpal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ‘jug khang /, 2013?.

[v] In The Collected Works of Dusum Khyenpa (gsung ‘bum/_dus gsum mkhyen pa/. TBRC W23651. 1: 389 – 402. gangtok: dzongsar chhentse labrang, 1980.)

[vi] Indian Root Text of the Five Deity Varahi (Phag mo lha lnga’i skor las rje btsun ma’i rgya gzhung /.)  In Karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi gsung ‘bum phyogs bsgrigs/. TBRC W3PD1288. 1: 341 – 341. lha sa/: dpal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ‘jug khang /, 2013?.

[vii] The Tibetan text is called: Phag mo lha lnga’i sgrub thabs/. In Karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi gsung ‘bum phyogs bsgrigs/. TBRC W3PD1288. 1: 342 – 345. lha sa/: dpal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ‘jug khang /, 2013?.

[viii] The Tibetan text is called: rDo rje phag mo’i bstod pa rol ba’i phreng ba zhes bya ba/.

[ix] The four special lineages/transmissions; 1) sgyu lus ‘pho ba’i bka’ babs: the yoga of illusory body and consciousness transference. 2) rmi lam gyi bka’ babs the yoga of dreams. 3) ‘od gsal gyi bka’ babs the yoga of clear light mind. 4. gtum mo’i bka’ babs: the yoga of psychic heat.   Mother Tantra came from Sumati, Shinglopa, Thanglopa, and Karnaripa. Tilopa taught that he heard these teachings from Karnaripa.

[x] This seems to be referring to King Dārikapa who was the King of Jhalandhara at the time of  Luipa (nya’i rgyu ma za ba), a mahasiddha of India, a guru of Naropa. Online sources say that: “The Guru Darikapa was once the King of Pataliputra, known as Indrapala then. He was bought as a slave and served a prostitute for twelve years at the command of Luipa. Dharikapa, a king who abdicated his throne to become a disciple of the mahasiddha Luipa. Having renounced all possessions, Dharikapa offered himself in slavery to Luipa in order to cover the fee paid to one’s guru. In time, Luipa sold Dharikapa to a temple dancer named Dharima. After he had served her for twelve years, one day Dharima witnessed Dharikapa sitting on a levitating throne and teaching the tantric path to enlightenment. Begging his forgiveness for his enslavement, she asked to become his disciple.

[xi] In terms of the mother tantra, these are said to have come from Sumati, Shinglopa, Thanglopa, and Karnaripa. Tilopa taught that he heard these teachings from Karnaripa.

[xii] The Tibetan reads: rje nA ro paN chen gyis rgyud sdom pa rgya mtsho la brtan nas ‘di’i sgrub thabs ‘di bla ma nA ro pa’i thugs dgongs rdzogs pa’i phyir/ bla ma dh+ha ri ka pas so// ‘di’i rgyud pa ni/ rdo rje ‘chang thang lo pa/ shing lo pa/ kar+Na ri pa/ Indra ri pa/ Indra bo d+dhi/ nA ro pa/ mar pa/ mid la dwag po/ dus  gsum mkhyen pa/ ‘gro mgon ras chen/ spom brag pa/ kar+ma pa/ gzhon nu rin chen/ shar dgon pa/ kun dga’ ‘od zer/ bsod nams dpal/ de bdag la’o//

[xiii] See:

[xiv]  From his Treasury of Lives biography:

“When Dusum Khyenpa was sixteen, in 1124, he took novice ordination with the Kadam monk Trewo Chokgi Lama (tre bo mchog gi bla ma), a disciple of Ngok Lotsāwa Loden Sherab (rngog lo tsA ba blo ldan shes rab, 1059-1109) and his uncle, Ngok Lekpai Sherab (rngog legs pa’i shes rab, 1018-1115). Chokgi Lama gave him the name Chokyi Drakpa (chos kyi grags pa). He entered into two years of retreat at Treka Drak (tre ka brag) with other Kadam lamas, learning the Cakrasaṃvara and other tantric lineages of Atiśa Dīpaṃkara from Yol Chowang (yol chos dbang, d.u.), who was a disciple of Atiśa himself, and Geshe Trarawa (dge bshes kra ra ba, d.u.), Yol Chowang’s disciple. It is said that when Dusum Khyenpa was sixteen he was given a black hat woven from the hair of ten thousand ḍākinī.”

[xv]  The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa also related how throughout his life Dusum Khyenpa was known by a series of different names, including Khampa U-ser, ‘the yellow-haired Khampa’. “Since he was a child he was blond,” the Gyalwang Karmapa said, “and his face was just like the face of a monkey.” Karmapa told the story of how in a previous life Dusum Khyenpa had insulted a monk, telling him his face looked like a monkey. With this one act, the Gyalwang Karmapa explained, he created the karma to be reborn with monkey features himself for many lifetimes, and Dusum Khyenpa was the last of these monkey-faced lives. See:

[xvi] The Kagyu Office website states that: “Upon receiving his monastic vows, Dusum Khyenpa had a vision that the Buddha presented him with a black hat. He later fashioned a physical hat modelled on the one in his vision, and this became the first material hat associated with the Karmapa line. At this time, he was given his epithet “Karmapa,” or “Being of Enlightened Activity,” as a secret name. “

[xvii] “Although Gampopa was guiding vast numbers of students at this point, Dusum Khyenpa’s tremendous devotion to Gampopa lent a distinct flavor to their lama-disciple relationship. During one of the periods Dusum Khyenpa was staying at Daklha Gampo, Gampopa distributed cloth to his three close disciples from Kham—Seltong Shogom, Phagmodrupa and Dusum Khyenpa, known among Gampopa’s disciples as the Three Men from Kham. Gampopa instructed each of them to make a hat from the material. Dusum Khyenpa valued so highly the cloth he received from his lama that he painstakingly fashioned it into the most beautiful shape he could. Some time later, Gampopa called the three disciples and asked them to bring the hats they had made. Seltong Shogom had neglected to attend to the task, and when the summons came, he hastily attempted to craft the material into a hat-like shape. Dusum Khyenpa, meanwhile, arrived with the resplendent hat he had taken such care to construct.

Dusum Khyenpa’s exertions with the fabric reveal a great deal about his character. His care in transforming what Gampopa had given him into a glorious crown was interpreted as an auspicious sign for the future of the lineage he had received from Gampopa—the lineage known today as the Karma Kagyu. Indeed, Dusum Khyenpa’s efforts to preserve and value what Gampopa had given him have yielded beautiful and long-lasting results.”

[xviii] According to an online tourist source: “With height of (6,204m/20,350ft), Mount Genyen is located in Lithang, western Sichuan. It is the third highest mountain in Sichuan and it is surrounded by over 30 peaks exceeding 5,000m/16,400ft ASL. It is regarded as the 13th most holy mountain amongst the 24 holy mountains of Tibetan Buddhism. It is located at the heart of Mount Genyen in the Gamula Valley east to the peak of Genyen. It is a small monastery with grey walls and red roof standing on the rock.”

2 thoughts on “Vajrayogini and the 1st Karmapa

  1. Wonderful post. Concerning Kagyu Red Dakini worthy to add that once a 12 years Drukpa Kagyu lineage is organizing Naropa Festival and Dakini six ornaments are displayed it mean ornaments which Red Dakini in person ! handed directly to Naropa . Later Naropa handed those ornaments to Marpa and Marpa to one of his disciple and gradually those ornaments were handed to Gyalwa Drukpa. The story can be found on websites described Naropa Festival and Dakini ornaments.

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