A few days ago, Karma Kagyu monastic centres commemorated the paranirvana of the 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (dus gsum mkhyen pa, 1110-1193), who is the founder of the Karma Kagyu lineage (passed down from Gampopa) and said to be the first Tibetan teacher to start the official ‘tulku’ system, by predicting where and when he would be reborn in a letter before passing away.
Much has already been published in the English language about the 1st Karmapa’s life story. There is an excellent book available for free download on the 1st Karmapa’s life, The First Karmapa: The Life and Teachings of Dusum Khyenpa (with foreword by HH 17th Karmapa). This book includes several key biographies written by Tibetan Buddhist masters, I refer to some of these in my own footnotes of this new translation of the 8th Karmapa text. Sadly, the book does not give sufficient citations for the Tibetan titles and editions of the source texts used, so I cannot check them.
Dusum Khyenpa’s Paranirvana and the Drepung Stupa
The last words of Dusum Khyenpa (rJe dus gsum mkhyen pa’i zhal chems)is a written record of his last conversation with close students before passing away, including the miraculous events that happened during his passing away and the extraordinary Drepung Stupa that was built at Tshurphu. I have reproduced part of the translated text in a footnote below for ease of reference. I was unable to find any photos of the Drepung relic stupa at Tshurphu monastery, or any information online about it (if anyone has any, please send me). All the accounts speak of how the 1st Karmapa consciously passed away, going into thugdam (meditation) and that he left behind intact tongue and heart relics in the funeral pyre (a sign of great accomplishment).
Praises to the 1st Karmapa written by other Tibetan Buddhist masters
Some (not all) of the Karmapas (and the 4th Zhamarpa) wrote life-stories and supplications to the 1st Karmapa). Of particular note, is the ‘Lion’s Roar Biography of 1st Karmapa by the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje and an Acrostic Verse Praise by the 15th Karmapa, Khakyab Dorje . The latter is accompanied with drawings of the acrostic verse, which is a brain-teasing beauty in itself! (see photos below). I would like to translate this at some point in the future.
Praise to the Life of Dusum Khyenpa by the 8th Karmapa
As part of the commemoration of the 1st Karmapa’s paranirvana, I offer the first translation of a short supplication based on the life stages of 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa written by the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje It is unique in the Tibetan literature on Dusum Khyenpa’s life by other Karmapas by being in seven syllable verse pentameter format. There are two editions of the text available online. One in a Collection of Works on the Garland of Karmapas and another in the Collected Works of 8th Karmapa. There is also a reproduction of it in 
Dzongsar Khyentse Jamyang Chokyi Lodro (‘jam dbyangs chos kyi blo gros 1893-1959), one of the luminary Nyingma and Rime masters of his generation, also wrote a short praise to the 1st Karmapa. For more on Khyentse and his connection to the Karmapas, see here.
May this new translation of a Praise to 1st Karmapa be of benefit in preserving the teachings and the legacy of the Karmapas!
Adele Tomlin, December 2020.
Supplication to the Life Story of 1st Karmapa
by 8th Karmapa
ཨེ་མའོ༎ བསམ་པ་ཐམས་ཅད་སྒྲུབ་མཛད་པ༎ མཐའ་དབུས་མེད་པ་ནམ་མཁའི་བདག།
Emaho! To he who achieved all intentions, master of space without centre or limits,
Emanating the light of great compassion luminous clarity, I supplicate the one of Tsurphu!
The one who emanates the state of perfect Buddhahood,
I prostrate to the Supreme Venerable One!
Who manifested at the sacred place of Tresho,
having taken hold of a wisdom dakini womb.
Having perfected the tenth level at the time of birth, a supreme nirmanakaya whom all beings have faith in.
To the one who seemingly manifested to request siddhis for all sentient beings, I bow down!
At eight years, he summoned the yaksha demons (having arrived at Jangyar Chongle, he became very rich).
At eleven years, he repelled great deceit (conquering attachment to wealth and the two types of flesh with an army).
བཅོ་ལྔའི་ལོ་ལ་བསྟན་ཇོ་མོ་གཞན་གྱི་ཕྲོགས་པ་ལ་སྒྲུབ་མཐུ་མཛད་ནས་དཀོན་མཆོག་གི་སྐུ་རྒྱལ་བླང་སོ། དགྲ་བསྒྲལ༎ བདུད་ཚོགས་འདུལ་བ་ཁྱོད་ལ་འདུད༎
At fifteen years, he liberated himself from enemies. (Having powerfully accomplished Palden Lhamo, he adopted the form of the three, victorious, supreme ones). To the subduer of the masses of demons, I bow down!
Preserving a temple of Buddha’s teachings.
To the founder of Chokhor Chenpo [refers to the cave he established where he accomplished the instructions of the supreme gurus], I bow down!
At twenty years old, he arrived at the centre [U-Tsang]], and
Without stupidity in the field of knowledge,
Awakened complete understanding of all knowable phenomena.
To you, the omniscient one, I bow down!
To Palchen Galo, Bero and Jomo Tashi Tseringma,
Lingawa, Tshurpu teachers and so on,
To all who entered the practice lineage, I bow down!
When meeting the master teacher, Dagpo [Gampopa], the naked state, free of elaborations, dharmakāya was revealed.
Perfecting the stage of great bliss union, non-abiding in conceptuality.
Whatever arises as the playful display of mahāmudra,
That gives birth to compassion for all unrealized wanderers.
To you, the omniscient monarch, I bow down!
When Jetsun Rechung appeared, devotion was born right in front of his eyes.
The vast display of maturation and liberation were perfected.
To you, who ‘totally got’ the oral instructions, I bow down!
At Jomo Gangkar [Mount Everest] and so on,
He accomplished non-reliance on life and limbs, and
Found the supreme and common siddhis.
To you, who ‘totally got’ solitary detachment, I bow down!
The base of the teachings, Tshurphu , Karma Kampo Gangra [Snowy Region], and
The temples of Kam [tsang] family and so on, were erected.
To the founder of Kagyu abodes, I bow down!
At the abode of the Dagpo Lha Gampo , reconciling disputes and quarrels without exception,
He magnetised and summoned the six types of beings,
To you, miraculous emanation monarch, I bow down!
The representative form nirmanakāya of the lineage,
Arose as the one with the black hat,
performer of enlightened activities of all the Buddhas.
To you, Karma Kagyu, I bow down!
Drogon Sangye Repa and Lhopa Tagom and so on,
The unique treasury of all accomplished masters [siddhas]
To the Togden [endowed with realization] monarchs, I bow down!
Everything is the nature of you. There is no nature you even slightly lack.
Alas! Those remaining to be tamed, have not met you at the abode of compassion.
However big or small their shining and flourishing,
May they meet you and accomplish the great purpose.
རྣམ་ཐར་འཕྲིན་ལས་འགྲུབ་ པར་ཤོག༎ ༎
By the power of your blessings, may we see whatever is done as excellent.
Whatever level of teaching grasped, may it merge and unify with heart and mind,
May the enlightened activities of your life-story be accomplished!
Downloadable as .pdf here :
Compiled, translated and edited by Adele Tomlin, December 2020.
 “The authors of the biographies were mostly close disciples of Dusum Khyenpa and often quote him directly. The Golden Isle and The Spiritual Biography in Verse were written by Galo, who was both a student and a teacher of Dusum Khyenpa. The Golden Isle is the most literary and elegant of the five texts. The Spiritual Biography in Verse is for devoted students to memorize so they can recall the main events of his life. A String of Jewels was written by Dechungwa, who interviewed two of Dusum Khyenpa’s main monks and selected mostly the visionary or miraculous stories for his account. Dusum Khyenpa’s Life Story in One Hundred and Eight Vignettes — the longest version and based on the images in a painting — was composed by Bhikshu Kumara Bodhi, known in the texts as Shönnu. He was asked by Dusum Khyenpa to stay on and look after the representations of the master’s body, speech, and mind after he passed away. In the text itself, Shönnu relates that he worked extensively on the glorious Drepung Stupa built to enshrine the body of Dusum Khyenpa. Many of the accounts in The Final Words are exactly the same as those in the Vignettes, and we can assume that Kumara Bodhi (or someone using his text) contributed here as well. These records of Dusum Khyenpa’s life thus come from those who knew him very well based on their own direct experience of his life and teachings. We are fortunate that they have survived for these nine hundred years.” from The First Karmapa: The Life and Teachings of Dusum Khyenpa (2019).
 “dus gsum mkhyen pa’i zhal chems/.” In karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi gsung ‘bum phyogs bsgrigs/. TBRC W3PD1288. 1: 219 – 229. lha sa/: dpal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ‘jug khang /, 2013?.
 From the Last Words of Dusum Khyenpa in The First Karmapa: The Life and Teachings of Dusum Khyenpa (2019):
“As his physical form was fading, he gathered to him a few of the senior monks including Geshe Tsangpowa, Pöndul, Pön Drakseng, Drakrin, Könchok Gyaltsen, and Na Ünpa. To them he gave his final words:
“What I have kept for myself are the clothes that cover my body and a stone mill for grinding roasted barley. Everything else belongs to the Sangha. Five of you should take possession of the two hundred twenty-two gold sang, the silver and turquoise, silk brocade, dzo, horses, and everything in the kitchen. Use them to benefit the monks who do retreat. After I depart, stay here for one or two years.” Pön Drakseng asked, “How long should we stay?” Rinpoche straightened his body and opened his eyes wide, “At the least, wouldn’t it be for one or two summers and winters? Also, Shönnu, you stay here one or two years. Do not lose so much as a single letter from the representations of body, speech, and mind related to my practice. I will also give a command and entrust them to the Dharma protectors.”
For three months beginning that night, many impressive signs appeared continuously — rainbows in the sky, earthquakes, and roaring sounds. In particular, as the night of the second moved into the third day of the month, earthquakes shuddered unceasingly and rainbow parasols floated above the monastery. Some people saw crowds of dakinis, heard the sounds of damarus, and so forth. After breakfast on the third, the monks were allowed to come and see Dusum Khyenpa. Then he said, “Now go,” straightened his body, sat in vajra posture, and looked for a long time into space. Covering his head with part of his robes, he entered into his final meditation. On the evening of the third day, when the sun and moon came close together, at the age of eighty-four he left for another world realm to benefit beings.
During the cremation on the tenth day of the month, people saw many different phenomena. In the same way for everyone present, the sun appeared to stay twice as long as usual. Some people saw thirteen, eight, or seven suns, which coalesced and separated. The sun’s rays took the shape of a parasol fashioned of peacock feathers. Dakas and dakinis clad in bone ornaments came into view. It rained flowers. Rainbow parasols floated in tiers above the cremation stupa. The smoke transformed into rainbows in which Dusum Khyenpa appeared. Flights of birds circled around the rising smoke. The sounds from the fire resonated in beautiful tones. Wild animals gathered to pay their respects. Those not engaged in spiritual activity became engaged; those already engaged developed their practice further.
In the cremation stupa, he left behind relics for the benefit of others: his heart, which was emptiness and compassion inseparable, his tongue, which had taught the Dharma of different vehicles, and the relics that came from perfect training in bodhichitta. Due to his attainment of stability in the creation stage, numerous images of deities appeared as well.”
 chos grags ye shes . “chos rje dus gsum mkhyen pa la bstod pa.” In gsung ‘bum/_chos grags ye shes. TBRC W1KG4876. 4: 206 – 208. pe cin: krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2009.
 rang byung rdo rje. “dus gsum mkhyen pa seng ge sgra yi rnam par thar pa.” In gsung ‘bum/_rang byung rdo rje. TBRC W30541. 4: 165 – 228. [zi ling]: [mtshur phu mkhan po lo yag bkra shis], .
. “dus mkhyen kun ‘khor.” In Collected Works of Khkyab Dorje ( gsung ‘bum/_mkha’ khyab rdo rje/ ?dpal spungs par ma/?. TBRC W22081. 1: 297 – 314. delhi: konchhog lhadrepa, 1993-94.
 . “rje dus gsum mkhyen pa la gsol ba btab pa/.” In karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi gsung ‘bum phyogs bsgrigs/. TBRC W3PD1288. 43: 518 – 523. lha sa/: dpal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ‘jug khang /, 2013?. mi bskyod rdo rje. “rje dus gsum mkhyen pa la gsol ba btab pa/.”
 In the Collected Works of Mikyo Dorje (gsung ‘bum/_mi bskyod rdo rje. TBRC W8039. 3: 191 – 196. [lha sa]: [s.n.], ).
 “dus gsum mkhyen pa’i rnam thar la bstod pa/.” In bka’ brgyud zhal ‘don phyogs bsgrigs/. TBRC W25185. : 63 – 65. zhang kang: zhang kang then mA dpe skrun khang, 2001.
 “kar+ma pa dus gsum mkhyen pa’i gsol ‘debs/.” In Collected Works of Jamyang Chokyi Lodro (gsung ‘bum/_’jam dbyangs chos kyi blo gros/ (dbu med/)). TBRC W21813. 2: 147 – 148. gangtok: dzongsar khyentse labrang, 1981-1985.
 Here is a reference to Tsurphu monastery, seat of 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa.
 The 1st Karmapa was born in Tresho (tre shod), Kham, in 1110. His father was a Yamāntaka practitioner named Gompa Dorje Gon (sgom pa rdo rje mgon) and his mother was Latokza Gangcham Mingdren (lha thog gza’ sgang lcam ming ‘dren), and was given the name Gepel (dge ‘phel). In his biography ‘The Golden Isle’, it says:
“In this present life, Dusum Khyenpa was born in the region of Treshö known as Pochu Lhadong Karpo on the north side of the Rose Apple Continent, which is to the south of the center of this World of Enduring Suffering.”
 Rab tu byung means ‘left home’ which refers to someone becoming a monastic. 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). It is said that when Dusum Khyenpa was sixteen he was given a black hat woven from the hair of ten thousand ḍākinī. Variant historical accounts of this hat and subsequent versions are legion.
 He was given the name Shramanera Dharmakirti (Chökyi Drakpa).
 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.). From A Strand of Pearls:
“At the age of nineteen, begging for alms along the way, he went to Central Tibet to study and contemplate. At Yorpö Nyamo Gyur lived Geshe Tölung Gyamar. From him and his disciple Geshe Chappa, Dusum Khyenpa listened to teachings on the three Madhyamikas from the east (Shantarakshita’s Ornament of the Middle Way, Yeshe Nyingpo’s Two Truths in the Middle Way, and Kamalashila’s Illumination of the Middle Way), and he also studied the Five Dharmas of Maitreya.“
From The Golden Isle:
“At the age of nineteen, he traveled to the region of Central Tibet, and at twenty, he arrived at Yulthang in Tölung. With Geshe Gyamar and Chapa he studied the main texts of the three Madhyamikas from the east[ 3 ] as well as the Dharmas of Maitreya. Then in Penyul he studied Nagarjuna’s collection of reasonings with Patsap Lotsawa.”
 From Treasury of Lives biography: “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). Both lamas were then residing at Gyel Lhakang (rgyal lha khang), a monastery in Penpo (‘phan po) that had been founded in 1012 by Nanam Dorje Wangchuk (sna nam rdo rje dbang phyug, 976-1060).”
 “When he travelled to Dakpo, he met Geshe Shawa Lingpa and Pandita Gompa, who were in residence at the monastery of Drakha. He heard them teach The Four Seats.”
 “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.”
 This is referring to one of the main students of Jetsun Milarepa, Rechung Dorje Drag (1085-1161): “When Dusum Khyenpa went to Loro, he met Lama Rechungpa and received teachings on establishing sessions and the six dharmas. He shone brilliantly in a dialogue about Naropa’s key instructions. He also received key instructions from another of Lord Milarepa’s disciples, Tsemo Namkha Salja.”
 From The Golden Isle: “Dusum Khyenpa remained a year at Dakpo, and then Gampopa said, “You should go to Gangkar.” Once he arrived there, he stayed below Pabong Karlep, a retreat place of Master Padmasambhava. The dakinis offered Dusum Khyenpa nourishment while he passed the summer there engaged in the practice of extracting the essence. Many precious qualities arose in his mindstream.”
 From Treasury of Lives:
“In 1189 Dusum Khyenpa founded Tsurpu Monastery (mtshur phu) in Tolung (stod lung), to the west of Lhasa, which became the principle seat of the Karmapa incarnations.”
 From Treasury of Lives:
“In 1147, [Dusum Khyenpa] founded the first seat of the Karma Kagyu tradition, Karma Densa (kar+ma ldan sa), also known as Karma Gon (kar+ma dgon), which remained an occasional residence of Karmapas through to the twentieth century.”
 Gampo (dwags lha sgam po) is another name for Daklha Gampo. According to Treasury of Lives:
“Daklha Gampo is a Kagyu monastery that was founded in 1121 by Milarepa’s disciple Gampopa Sonam Rinchen, also known as Dakpo Lhaje. An early seat of the Kagyu tradition, administration was first passed through successive generations of Gampopa’s family and then through an incarnation line, beginning in the sixteenth century with Gampopa Tashi Namgyel. The site was previously sanctified by Songsten Gampo, as it is considered to be at the head of the mother-ogress, the mythological progenitrix of the Tibetan people. Consequently the location has been an important site of terma revelation. Though sacked by Dzungars in 1718, and again damaged during the cultural revolution, several chapels with original art remain.”
 According to the biography of Drogon Rechen on the Kagyu Office website:
“Drogon Rechen mastered the prana and nadhi practices at this point, and a little bit of pride in his accomplishment developed. Upon hearing the fame of the First Karmapa Düsum Khyenpa, who was living at Kampo Nenang, Drogön Rechen decided to meet him. He simply wished to pay Düsum Khyenpa his respects, but had no intention of studying with the Karmapa. The First Karmapa told Drogon Rechen, when they first met, “O young tantric practitioner, you can go and study with my students.” Drogön Rechen asked “what kind of students do you have?” Karmapa replied “Deuchung Sangye, Baltsa Takdelwa, and so on.” Drogon Rechen first went to see Deuchung Sangye who directed him to Baltsa Takdelwa. When he went to the cave of Takdelwa, he saw a huge tiger sleeping there and he ran back with great fear. Deuchung told him to go back again and when he did, he saw a little pond in the cave. He circumambulated the water and threw some pebbles in it and left. When he was told to go back and went, he saw an old yogi who had those pebbles he threw on his lap.
At that time, he thought “if the students are like this, it is unnecessary to point out how great must be their teacher’s realization and achievement!” Making a strong commitment, he practiced under their direction for seven years and completely settled his practice and realization. Drogon Rechen became one of the most important heart disciples of the First Karmapa. He was fully ordained as a monastic at the age of thirty-seven and received the name Sönam Drakpa. He received the full Kagyu transmission from the First Karmapa for three more years, and became the lineage-holder. When Karmapa traveled back to Central Tibet, Drogön Rechen stayed behind in the Kham region and continued the activities of the Karmapa and the lineage at the seats of Karma Gön and Kampo Nenang. At the age of 70, he passed into parinirvana on the 25th day and many relics arose from the cremation.”