THE 5TH KARMAPA WHO SAID ‘NO’ TO WORLDLY POWER: 5th Karmapa’s refusal to take control of Tibet; Je Tsongkhapa; famous Chinese translators, Zhiguang and Palden Tashi; the Chinese ‘Marco Polo’ explorer, Zhenghe; and a $45 million thangka. Good Deeds teaching by 17th Karmapa (Day 10: Part I).

“For the teachings of the Buddha to flourish, there is no one greater than Dezhin Shekpa, Karmapa”.

Je Tsongkhapa

In Day 10 of the Good Deeds teaching, (see video here), the 17th Karmapa continued to explain the remarkable connection between the 5th Karmapa, Dezhin Shegpa and the Yongle Emperor(永樂, r.1402-1424), including his refusal to take control of Tibet under Kagyu rule, with the Emperor’s support. Rather than do this, the Karmapa asked the Emperor to give the other lineages titles and crowns similar to his own.  On his return to Tibet, the 5th Karmapa was given a great welcome and  Je Tsongkhapa offered him a precious statue of Buddha Shakayamuni that had been the personal guardian of Atisha.

This was followed by explanations about the 5th Karmapa’s famous Chinese translator-students, Zhiguang and Palden Tashi, the Chinese ‘Marco Polo’explorer, Zhenghe, and the precious objects he brought back with him from China, including a red Yamantaka thangka that was recently sold for $45 million.

The second half of the teaching, was an explanation of the refusal of the invitation to China by a teenage 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje, despite many offerings and even forceful insistence and bribes. He refused to go after having a visionary omen that it would be pointless and that the Emperor would pass away before he arrived there. The 17th Karmapa concluded that this was proof of his lack of attachment, to status, praise and wealth showing “the true character of Mikyo Dorje. Although he faced a lot of criticism for not going to China, not accepting the many offerings and so forth, in fact this is an example of his having no attachment to the eight worldly dharmas.”

One might also add that the sales of precious objects that rightfully belong to the Karmapas and Karma Kamtsang, and not rich Chinese billionaires, is also a sign of the lack of attachment to wealth and power of the current Karmapa!

Below is a transcript of the first half of the teaching on Day 10, I have included my own research such as images, annotations and references to the original sources, where possible.

May it be of benefit and may we all achieve the non-sectarian attitude, integrity and determination of the 5th and 8th Karmapa!

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 5th March 2021. Copyright.

‘Good Deeds’ teaching by 17th Karmapa (Day 10: Part 1)

Chinese Emperor requests 5th Karmapa take complete control over Tibet with his support

“After the time of the Tibetan emperor, Tibet was splintered, from the Song dynasty onwards. In historical texts, it says that during the Tang dynasty, they called Tibet by the Tibetan name, Tubo ( 吐蕃; or Tǔbō, 土蕃 or Tǔfān, 土番). This was a Chinese transliteration of the Tibetan word ‘Bod’. This is very clear from the Tibetan dictionaries in the Dunhuang texts. Later from Sung dynasty onwards, they stopped calling it Tibet or Tubo and called it U-tsang (乌思藏 དབུས་གཙང་ ) which means ‘central area’. So, when the Ming Emperor Yongle invited the 5th Karmapa, it says he invited him from U-tsang to perform rituals for the emperor’s deceased parents. Benefiting one’s parents is extremely important in Chinese culture and considered one of the greatest acts of service.

During the Karmapa’s visit, the Emperor also had lengthy discussions with him on political strategies he should adopt in Tibet. The Emperor hoped that, as was done during the Mongol Yuan dynasty, with his military backing, Dezhin Shegpa would assume complete  political power and responsibility in Tibet. The Yuan emperor, Kublai Khan had given Drogon Chogyal Pakpa the title “Precious King of Dharma” and the Yongle Emperor now gave that same rank and title, with just some minor differences, to Dezhin Shegpa. We can understand from this that Yongle wanted him to take spiritual and political responsibility of Tibet.

Refuses Emperor’s request to takeover Tibet and instead asks him to give similar titles and crowns to other lineage masters

“Dezhin Shegpa had no wish to accept any political power or responsibility. He explained that if they did the same as they had during the Mongolian times, and sent a Chinese army into Tibet, it would only create turmoil and strife for the Tibetan people. He also explained that having many Dharma lineages in Tibet was beneficial to the Tibetans because it helped fulfil their wishes[i]. Instead, the 5th Karmapa  requested that the Ming emperor give the secular and spiritual leaders of Tibet positions and titles in all traditions in Tibet. This the emperor did as he was requested.

So, after Dezhin Shegpa returned to Tibet, the Ming emperor invited Je Tsongkhapa to China. Tsongkhapa, however, was unable to go[ii], so [after refusing the invitation twice], he sent his close attendant Jamchen Choje  ((byams chen chos rje shAkya ye shes, 1354-1435)) of the Gelug tradition[iii]:  

Jamchen Choje  ((byams chen chos rje shAkya ye shes, 1354-1435)) with black crown given by Yongle emperor. Source HAR.

He also invited Thegchen Chökyi Gyalpo (1349-1496) of the Sakya and so forth, giving them titles and crowns, just as he had given Dezhin Shegpa[iv]

Thegchen Chökyi Gyalpo (1349-1496). Source HAR.

The Ming Emperors continued this tradition of giving titles to Tibetan lamas of all traditions. It is possible that this occurred because of these suggestions that the 5th Karmapa had shared with Yongle.

Good Deeds in China – Amnesties for prisoners and preventing war between China and India

“While Dezhin Shegpa was in Nanjing, he made many suggestions to the Emperor, and consequently, the emperor granted amnesties and released people in prison. This is evidence of Dezhin Shegpa’s great loving-kindness towards sentient beings, which he showed in his acts many times. This example, is like him fulfilling the prediction made by the Fourth Karmapa, Rolpe Dorje. This said that if a pure bhikshu were to pass away on a certain mountain and his body were to be cremated, there, there would not be war between China and India. Eventually, Dezhin Shegpa passed away on that very same mountain and his body was cremated on it; because of which his successor was able to go to India and prevent the war between China and India.

In the praise offered by Khenpo of Gendun Khang, it said that the later incarnation of Rolpe Dorje would be able to protect many sentient beings from danger and bring them happiness. Knowing this, he would take rebirth intentionally – that was Dezhin Shegpa. Khenpo Gendun Khang was not a Karma Kagyu lama.

Praises from Je Tsongkhapa letter and gift of Buddha statue
Je Tsongkhapa

“As the 5th Karmapa had done so many great deeds in China, on his return to Tibet, many people came to welcome him. Even Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) sent a letter to the 5th Karmapa, which is preserved in the Collected Short Works of Je Tsongkhapa. In this letter it says: “For the teachings of the Buddha to flourish, there is no one greater to do that than Dezhin Shegpa, the Karmapa[v]”.

Along with the letter, he sent a statue of Buddha Shakyamuni sitting in the seated position of Maitreya from Reting monastery. The Sixteenth Karmapa brought the statue with him when he fled Tibet and it is kept at Rumtek Monastery, Sikkim[vi].

Rongton Sheja Kunrig, (1367-1449) 

Also, Rongton Sheja Kunrig (ShAkya rgyal mtshan) (1367-1449)  the Sakya master, and other masters from other traditions also wrote letters saying it was like a Buddha returning to the world. Je Pawo Tsulag Trengwa reported that he had actually seen these letters.

Jamyang Chenpo, a direct disciple of Dezhin Shegpa from Tsurphu, wrote a liberation-story, Lord of Dharma, which was unavailable before, but which we do have now. In it, he states that during the time that Dezhin Shegpa was in China, it was not only the high officials, such as the Ming Emperor, who came for an audience, but many people came, who spoke various different languages. Thus, Dezhin Shegpa would teach the Dharma surrounded by four or five translators. Many of the people who came for audience with the 5th Karmapa had travelled for many days, prostrating with each step they took, as was the old Chinese tradition. Doing a prostration for every three steps. Mainly, Dezhin Shegpa taught reciting the name mantras of the buddhas and bodhisattvas and making commitments, such as giving up killing and so forth. Thus, he encouraged the people to practice virtue as Jamyang Chenpo’s biography says.”

Chinese text – ‘The Names, Images and Name Mantras of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas

In the Chinese National Library’s collection, there is a text about the exchange between China and Tibet of Buddhist texts and printing techniques during the Ming period. It is called The Names, Images and Name Mantras of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. [ His Holiness showed a slide of the book which has been published using these texts].

The Names, Images and Name Mantras of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, 5th Karmapa with the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra in Lentsa, Tibetan, Chinese and Mongolian script.

Later, they published it in book form. The text is primarily written in Chinese; there are some sections that include four alphabets including Lentsa, which is the same as the script used by the Newaris in Nepal and in Tibetan, and Mongolian with Chinese. In the introductions and conclusions it is mainly Chinese. Among these three sections is an image of Dezhin Shegpa among them. It was printed in Beijing in 1431, the sixth year of the reign of Emperor Zhengde, by Dezhin Shegpa’s Chinese student Xiūjī shànzhu ?

The foreword to this text, is in Chinese and Tibetan, the Chinese has been mostly lost but the Tibetan is complete. It reads, “The Dharma King Karmapa or Precious King of Dharma has shared many of the Dharmas and scriptures that he had given. So, these are now printed in this book.” Many researchers say this is an important text and is a good source describing how Tibetan Buddhism spread to the East into the Chinese areas. 

There is a similar text from the Ming dynasty called Sì Yǒu Zhāi Cóngshū which has the same meaning and the same influence as this text. The main point of this second text at the Lingu Temple when  Dezhin Shegpa’s ceremonies for the emperor’s parents; there were different auspicious signs, divine music from the sky, and everyone saw and heard them. So they went to see the Emperor, and one educated one, like a Doctor, and they wrote the lyrics for a song, which they called Auspicious Omens in the Sky.

From that time on, the emperor’s faith in Dezhin Shegpa grew even more and he studied and read the Buddhist scriptures even more assiduously than he had before. He also wrote Dharma melodies which were performed in song and dance in the palace. The emperor finished composing in the seventeenth year of his reign and printed everything in a book with some pictures of the Buddha. The book was distributed widely.

Then, on the 12th day of the 9th month, the emperor went to Dabaung monastery [which translates as “The Great Monastery of Repaying Kindness”]. He had the book reprinted and distributed. Also, in the area of Hainan, he made sure the lyrics and melodies were spread. In the next year, on the 16th day of the 5th month, he asked for the two ministers to print and spread these texts with the names of the buddhas and bodhisattvas and melodies in the Shanxi and Henan regions. Thus, the emperor’s mind was so moved into the direction of the Dharma and he had such a great interest in the Dharma, that his empresses also developed great respect for the buddhas and bodhisattvas. For the sake of all the people who had great faith in the Dharma, he built many monasteries inside and outside Nanjing, and they say it was filled with temples.

When we look at these histories, this picture and text that I have shown you is just one copy of the text that he printed and distributed, so this text compilation of the names and dharma melodies was probably published in other version.”

Dharma melodies and the Mani mantra

“In relation to what is meant by ‘Dharma melodies’, as I explained before about Karma Pakshi, wherever he went, would wear the black crown, and recite the mani mantra to a melody, and spread that practice. This is recorded in the old histories. The later Karmapas continued this form of activity, wearing the black crown and reciting the melodies. Later, during the time of the 16thKarmapa, however, when he wore the black crown, they would play the gyalings but not recite the melodies.

Thus, at the time of the earlier Karmapas, people were primarily benefitted by the mani mantra and the mani melody, as that was the melody  sung at that time.  When Dezhin Shegpa performed the ceremonies and rituals, and every day so many auspicious signs occurred, that people of all ranks, ordinary people also naturally developed faith and belief, and would recite the mani mantras, day and night. 

However, at some point there was some confusion in connection with the Ru-Shen clan who practiced Confucianism, and did not really like Buddhism. They said you don’t need to recite Om Mani Padme Hum because he is a Dharma King so as soon as you think about him he will know. They claimed that the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM could not be translated into Chinese, and one should therefore recite AM BANI HUM instead, which translates as “I am flattering you”. They said sarcastically as it means that, you should recite that instead. There were some palace guards who recited the mantra day and night. Even Yongle criticized them for it, as they were not doing their job as guards.

What is the relationship between having faith in the Karmapa and reciting the six-syllable mani mantra?  Isn’t that the mantra of Avalokiteshvara? In this text there are 126 Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and the 26th is the 5th Karmapa. In the  Chinese it clearly reads: “The mantra of Guru Karmapa, the Precious King of Dharma, OM MANI PADME HUM”. The Tibetan text is not so clear and reads: “I prostrate to the Lord of Dharma, Karmapa, OM MANI PADME HUM.” At that time, he explained, there was no tradition of chanting “Karmapa Khyenno.” As we do these days. Because the Karmapa was considered an emanation of Avalokiteshvara, there was the tradition of reciting OM MANI PADME HUM, the mantra of Avalokiteshvara. What is more, Karma Pakshi had emphasized the mani practice so much, and when Dezhin Shegpa went to China, he also recited it as well. Thus the six-syllable mantra also spread widely in China under the influence of the Yongle emperor There seems to be a profound connection here.”

Influence of Tibetan Buddhism continues after the Emperor’s death – digging up graves for skulls
Tibetan skullcup/kapala

After Yongle, the Ming emperors continued to support and spread Tibetan Buddhism after the death of Yongle. For example, at the time of the Ming emperor Xiaozong, there were over a thousand Tibetan monks in Beijing. Likewise, during the time of the Ming emperor Yingzong, they prepared a special place to serve meals to the Tibetan monks and nuns and built a monastery where they could stay. During the time of the Ming emperor Xiaozong, Tibetan monks and nuns were brought into the palace to perform rituals. The Míng Emperor, Zhengde, (Wǔzōng), the one who invited Mikyo Dorje, showed even more interest in Tibetan Buddhism than his predecessors. He learned Tibetan and even wore the robes of a Tibetan monk.

When Dezhin Shegpa had finished performing the ceremonies at the Linggu temple, he didn’t like staying in the hustle and bustle of a city and went to Wutai Mountain and spent a long time there. As mentioned the previous day, at Wutai Mountain there is a Xian Tong temple and a stupa of the Buddha Akshobhya, offered by the emperor. This is probably the first Tibetan Buddhist temple built at Wutai Mountain, which is one of four sacred sites in China. Later, Jamchen Choje and Thegchen Choje also went there.  Chinese Buddhism it is the sacred site of Manjushri. However it is also the most important for both Chinese and Tibetan Buddhists. Likewise, in the capital of Beijing they would buy Tibetan images and Kapala skullcups. How to get that? You had to get it from corpses who had passed away, so some people dug up graves to get the skulls. In china this was considered very bad and people were prosecuted for it in China. So there were a lot of people in Chinese cities who had a great interest in Tibetan Buddhism and practice.”

Zhiguang  and Palden Tashi – famous Chinese translators and students of 5th Karmapa
Zhiguang (1349-1435)

Though Dezhin Shegpa spent only two full years in China, he exerted a powerful influence. His students continued to stay in China and took on the responsibility to spread the Dharma. An example of this is one of the people who invited Dezhin Shegpa from Tibet to China, a monk called Zhiguang (智光(1349–1435), who became an exceptionally good practitioner and an important translator from Chinese to Tibetan and vice versa [for more detailed information about the background and life of Zhiguang see footnote[vii] below].

Palden Tashi (1377-1452)

Another great student of Dezhin Shegpa was Chinese monk and interpreter, Palden Tashi (dPal ldan bkra shis dpal bzang po 班丹紮釋班藏卜 (1377–1452) ) [who also followed Je Tsongkhapa and Ngorchen Kunga Zangpo][viii]. He was sent by the Yongle Emperor to invite the 5th Karmapa to China and accompanied Dezhin Shegpa both to China and then later back to Tibet. While in Nanjing, China, he got many instructions from Dezhin Shegpa [ix].  Palden Tashi is one of the most famous Chinese-Tibetan translators from in the Ming dynasty. He spent a long time in China, teaching many Chinese people and ministers the Dharma. He lived into the time of the following Emperor, so he had a long life and the Emperor gave him the title, Xian Buddha.”

The Chinese ‘Marco Polo’ Explorer, Zhenghe and the tooth of the Buddha

Zhenghe (郑和;郑和;鄭和; zhèng hé; 1371 – 1433 or 1435). Image presented by 17th Karmapa in his teaching

Both monastic students and lay people followed the 5th Karmapa. .A famous lay student was someone the Emperor relied on greatly, a eunuch called Zhenghe (郑和;郑和;鄭和; zhèng hé; 1371 – 1433 or 1435)[x] . He went to the West seven times. He was among the first ones to cross the ocean to the West. As such, he is an extremely famous Chinese historic figure, who discovered and explored many new places. They say he was Muslim but how do we know that he was also a Buddhist?

Extract from the “Mao Kun 茅坤 Map”, usually referred to in modern Chinese sources as “Zheng He’s Navigation Map”, in Chinese “Zheng He hanghai tu” 鄭和航海圖. It is a set of navigation charts, published in the Ming 明 dynasty (1368–1644) military treatise Wubei zhi 武備志 (1621), by Mao Yuanyi 茅元儀 (1594–1640).

Although many histories say that he was a Muslim, there is a text which was printed in the beginning of the Ming dynasty called “The Sutra of the Lay Vows” that is said to be written by “the eunuch Zhenghe who had great faith in the Buddhist teachings”, Sonam Tashi. He went with armies and great ships to the West, crossing oceans, to work for the emperor. As he sailed across the great oceans, he was said to be protected by the buddhas and arrived safely; thus, he had no obstacles on the path. Since he always had such gratitude and a great heart, he was able to bring back great wealth.  It was extremely dangerous to travel by sea at that time. So he was always able to arrive safely. He always thought that this was the kindness of the buddhas and because of this he would go to great expense to print many Buddhist texts.

On the 5th year of Yongle Emperor, they printed the Kangyur (words of the Buddha) and from that time until the 4th year of the Ming Emperor Zhengde, Zhenghe printed ten copies of the Kangyur and offered them to well-known monasteries at the various places in China. On the 11th day of the 12th month was the day after Dezhin Shegpa had been given the title by the Emperor, so Zhenghe went to the Lingu Temple and offered the Kangyur there at the same time as Dezhin Shegpa was at the temple. That is how he met him and became a student. So, some of the historical documents say there is a connection between them like that.

Precious, sacred and valuable objects – including a $45 million thangka
Red Yamantaka applique thangka said to have been given to the 5th Karmapa by the Ming Emperor. Recently sold to a Chinese billionaire for 46 million USD. (Source : A HIGHLY IMPORTANT IMPERIAL EMBROIDERED SILK THANGKA (

Then, later, when Zhenghe went to Sri Lanka, he brought back a tooth of the Buddha and offered it to Yongle Emperor. Later, the emperor wrapped up in gold and gave it to Dezhin Shekpa.  So there was a strong connection between them. So we can see from these events, there was a history at the Wutai mountain, when writing about it they said he did not like fame or distractions and his deeds are difficult for ordinary people to conceive of and his fame spread throughout China. So he had a big influence on spreading Tibetan Buddhism among Chinese people. We could even say he was the first to do so. Before that, they were primarily Mongolian but the subjects were Chinese. So when the Mongols had power, only those of high rank practiced Tibetan Buddhism but it is doubtful it spread among the population. Researchers say the same these days.

So not only did the 5th Karmapa spread Tibetan Buddhism in China but when he returned to Tibet, he brought many Chinese artifacts with him, one of which is the great jade seal which is now one of the most important artifacts held in the Tibet Museum in Lhasa [see article about that here.] He also brought many different treasures back with him too. Not only that, these days in museums we can see the Karma Gandri cups are seen as very precious, and also antique dealers if they have Ming dynasty treasures, they can sell them at very high price. For example, a few years there was a Ming dynasty appliqué thangka of red Yamantaka. It was actually given by 15th Karmapa, Khakyab Dorje to the King of Sikkim, the King gave it to a friend and a few years ago it was sold at an auction, for 46 million USD. They said it was from the time of 5th Karmapa and very old, so someone said that King was kind of stupid and he would have been better off keeping it!”

[In an article about this thangka on it says that “The silk tapestry, known as a thangka, is more than three meters tall and two meters wide. The work, created more than five centuries ago during the Ming dynasty on command of Emperor Yongle, is excellently preserved. The still brightly colored gold and silk threads depict the story of Raktayamari, ‘The Red Conqueror of Death’, embracing his consort, Vajravetali, according to Christie’s.  The thangka is the only one of its kind still in private hands – two other known examples are in the  Jokhang Monastery in Tibet. Liu, who bought the piece for his private Long museum in Shanghai, said he is “proud to bring back to China this significant and historic 15th century thangka, which will be preserved in the Long museum for years to come.” In his WeChat message now widely circulated on Chinese media, Liu said the auction was a tough battle.” This thangka was bought by Liu Yiqin, who is listed as worth 1.33 billion USD, see here Liu Yiqian ( Information and images about the thangka can be seen at the Christies website here: A HIGHLY IMPORTANT IMPERIAL EMBROIDERED SILK THANGKA (]

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin. 5th March 2021. Copyright.

Further Reading

Weirong Shen (2016). “Chinese Translations of Tibetan Tantric Buddhist Texts in Tangut Xia, Mongol Yuan and Chinese Ming Dynasties” in  Cross-Cultural Transmission of Buddhist Texts Theories and Practices of Translation (2016) ed. Dorji Wangchug. (University of Hamburg Publications)/

Weirong Shen (2017) ‘Ming Chinese Translations of Tibetan Tantric Buddhist Texts and the Buddhist Saṃgha of the Western Regions in Beijing’ In Chinese and Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism (Brill Publications).

Hisashi Sato, “The Lineage of Drigung Kaguipa and The Ming Court and the Eight Tibetan Hierarchs,” China’s Tibetology, no. 3 (1986): 90.

Elliot Sperling, “Did the Early Ming Emperors Attempt to Implement a ‘Divide and Rule’ Policy in Tibet? ” (Ph.D. dissertation. University of Indiana, 1982): 78.

Elliot Sperling, (1979). “The 5th Karma-pa and some aspects of the relationship between Tibet and the early Ming.” In: Tibetan Studies in Honour of Hugh Richardson. Edited by Michael Aris and Aung San Suu Kyi, p. 284. Vikas Publishing house, New Delhi.

Elliot Sperling, (2003) “The Fifth Karmapa and Some of Some Aspects of the Relationship Between Tibet and the Early Ming,” in The History of Tibet: Volume 2, The Medieval Period: c. AD 850–1895, the Development of Buddhist Paramountcy (New York: Routledge Curzon, 2003), 475.

Qujie, Suolang (2002). Reconciliation and legitimization : the Fifth Karmapa Deshin Shegpa’s trip to Ming China. MA thesis, University of British Columbia. See here:


[i] This refusal by 8th Karmapa contradicts some modern scholarship (such as Sato (1986))  that the Ming dynasty were trying to adopt a ‘divide and rule’ approach to Tibet. As Elliot Sperling’s work asserts, the proposition of a ‘divide and rule’ policy is virtually a later creation of Chinese historians and that the Tibetan religious establishment was already fragmented before the founding of the Ming Dynasty. Sterling asserts that one could not say that Ming influence in Tibet was so great that it helped to maintain that disunity. He further states that while Ming emperors requested that Tibetan lamas visit China, there was no obligation involved. Tibetan lamas exercised their freedom to reject or accept these invitations.

In fact, one could say here that the Yongle emperor wanted Tibet unified not divided. Sperling also points to this refusal to take control of Tibet with the emperor, as evidence that the 5th Karmapa had no political power in Tibet and even refused it when offered it. Thus, the Ming emperor’s connection with the 5th Karmapa was a genuine one of devotion to him as a teacher and not merely a political one.

[ii] “In 1413, Tsongkhapa received a second invitation to visit the Ming court of the Yongle Emperor; he had refused an earlier invitation received in 1408. Apparently not wanting to refuse a second time, but unwilling to go himself, in 1414 Tsongkhapa sent Shākya Yeshe in his stead. Traveling from Lhasa along the southern route via Lhokha (lho kha) and Litang (li thang) and received by a series of advance welcoming parties, Shākya Yeshe finally reached the new imperial capital of Beijing in 1415.”

[iii] According to his Treasury of Lives biography: “Jamchen Choje Shākya Yeshe likely first encountered Tsongkhapa Lobzang Drakpa (tsong kha pa blo bzang grags pa, 1357-1419) in the first years of the fifteenth century. He served as a personal attendant to Tsongkhapa, who was three years younger, during a strict two-year meditation retreat from 1407 to 1409, charged with preparing tea and food for his master. Shākya Yeshe had the rare opportunity to observe his master round the clock for a great number of years and to attend his teachings. Over time, Shākya Yeshe became one of Tsongkhapa’s closest disciples due to his humility and loyalty to his master, and the number of sacred teachings he received.” “Tsongkhapa composed a text for him, Instruction on the Se Tradition (bse’i gdams ngag), on higher Tantric concepts, which indicates the level of scholarship Shākya Yeshe had reached and the esteem in which Tsongkhapa held him.” See:

[iv] It is interesting to note here the comments of Quijie (2002: 4) on the different emphasis of Tibetan and Chinese histories: “All the trips to the court of imperial China made by Tibetan Lamas, including the trip of the Fifth Karmapa, were interpreted by historians either as a demonstration of political authority of the Ming emperor over Tibet or paying tributes to the court of the dynasty. By contrast, Tibetan historians considered the trips to be primarily religious in nature and described the contact between the Tibetan hierarchy and the Chinese emperors as a relationship of priest-patron. While the Chinese sources elevate the emperor, Tibetan sources tend to place primacy on the lama’s spiritual authority over the emperor.”

[v] This appears to be from the text “chos rje karma pa de bzhin gshegs pa’i drung du zhu yig.” In gsung ‘bum/_tsong kha pa/?bla brang par ma/?. TBRC W22273. 2: 482 – 485. [bla brang]: bla brang bkra shis ‘khyil, [199?].

[vi] In the Karmapa Black Hat Lamas of Tibet (Douglas and White (197) it states this is: “A statue of Lord Buddha, made of Li-metal from Eastern India. This was the personal Guardian of Palden Atisha, from whom it passed on through to Je Tsongkhapa, founder of the Gelugpa sect. When Dezhin Shegpa, the fifth Karmapa, was returning to Tibet after visiting China this statue was sent to him by Je Tsongkhapa, his former disciple.”

[vii] According to Shen (2017: 18-19): “Zhiguang, courtesy name Wuyin 無隱, surname Wang, came from the Wuding prefecture 武定 of Shandong province. Born in the eighth year of the Zhizheng reign of the Yuan dynasty (1349), he became a monk at the age of fifteen and entered the Jixiang fayun si monastery in Beijing 北京吉祥法雲寺, where he became a disciple of Sahajaśrī. In the early years of the Hongwu reign, Zhiguang accompanied Sahajaśrī on a pilgrimage to the Wutai Mountains, and in the 7th year of the Hongwu reign he was summoned to Nanjing by the emperor. After Sahajaśrī died, Zhiguang was sent by the imperial court on missions to Tibet, India and Nepal three times, and contributed to establishing Ming political and religious relations with these regions. During his career Zhiguang served a total of six emperors and received extraordinarily favorable treatment from them. During the Yongle reign, Zhiguang took up residence at the Xitian si 西天寺 monastery in Nanjing and was promoted to the position of the Buddhist Patriarch (You Shanshi 右善世) of the Central Buddhist Registry (seng lusi 僧錄司). In the 15th year of the Yongle reign (1417), he was summoned to Beijing, took up residence in the Chongguo si 崇國寺 monastery, and was conferred the status of state preceptor. After Renzong ascended the throne, Zhiguang was granted the title of “the great state preceptor who promotes the good deeds, grants empowerment, disseminates the teaching, illuminates the model of conduct, gives charity generously, is purely enlightened, possesses wonderful wisdom and acts perfectly and harmoniously,” and moved to the Grand Nengren monastery. In the third year of the Xuande reign (1428), Emperor Renzong built a new monastery named Dajue si 大覺寺 (The Monastery of Great Enlightenment) in the Yangtai Mountain of Beijing. Zhiguang was invited to take residence up in the monastery and he did so, living there into his old age. When Yingzong took the throne, Zhiguang was granted the additional title of “Buddha Son of Western Heaven.” In the 10th year of the Xuande reign (1435), Zhiguang died and was buried next to the Dajue monastery. The emperor sent officials to offer sacrifices to him, ordered the construction of a stūpa as a part of his funeral rituals, and established a new monastery and named it Xiyu 西域 (Western Region). In the fourth year of the Tianshun reign (1460), Zhiguang was posthumously given the title of the “Dharma King of Great Enlightenment”.

Both Sahajaśrī and Zhiguang, master and disciple, were pivotal figures in the Buddhist history of the early Ming. Although Zhiguang was a Han Chinese monk, he took Sahajaśrī as his main master and used a Sanskrit Dharma name, Jñānaraśmi, which corresponds to the meaning of his Chinese name Zhiguang. The Ming imperial court often treated Zhiguang and his disciples as “Monk of Western Heaven” 西天僧, “Monk of Western India” 西竺僧 or “Monk of Western Regions” 西域僧. The titles conferred upon Zhiguang, “the Great State Preceptor”, “Buddha Son of Western Heaven” and “Dharma King”, were usually reserved for Tibetan and Indian monks. That Zhiguang was granted these honorifics by the Ming court speaks a great deal about his worth in its eyes. After Zhiguang passed away, the monastery built in the place of his funerary monument was conferred the name of Xizhu 西竺 meaning “Western India”, while the monastery built in the place where his body was cremated was granted the name Xiyu 西 域 meaning “Western Region.” Zhiguang, then, had strong ties to Tibetan and Indian Buddhist traditions. Moreover, Zhiguang was said to have received while still very young “the essential meaning of Indian philosophical treatise and phonetics” 傳天竺聲明記論 之旨 transmitted by Sahajaśrī, indicating that Zhiguang was proficient in Sanskrit. The emperor Hongwu once ordered him “to translate The Bodhisattva Vinaya of Four Groups of Disciples 四眾弟子菩薩戒 transmitted by his master the Paṇḍita [Sahajaśrī]. [His translation] is concise and comprehensive. [His skill] was widely admired by all.” According to 2020, Zhigyuang may have been the last master in the transmission lineage of ths Sakya texts: Zhiguang 智光 (1349–1435), the well-known Buddhist master of the early Ming, called also the “Great State Preceptor” 大國師 and the “Buddha Son of the Western Heaven” 西天佛子. His Sanskrit Dharma name—Yana luoshimi or Jñānaraśmi—has the same meaning as his Chinese Dharma name—Zhiguang, Light of Wisdom. If we can demonstrate that the last master in the transmission lineage of the Sa skya pa ritual texts is actually the well-known Chinese master Zhiguang of the Ming period, we will have achieved a watershed in the study of the history of Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism during the Ming, and bring to our disposal sources beyond our wildest imagination.

[viii] In Shen (2017): “Palden Tashi Pel Zangpo (dPal ldan bkra shis dpal bzang po 班丹紮釋班藏卜 (1377–1452)) came from Minzhou 岷州 in southern Gansu Province 甘南. His grandfather was the chief military commander (Duyuanshuai 都元帥, i.e. dpon chen in Tibetan) of the mDo smad province [chol kha] (吐蕃等路(朵思麻)宣慰使司 Commission of Pacification in mDo smad) conferred by the Yuan court. His father was appointed as Yuanpan 院判, while many other members of the family were appointed as Yuan officials of various ranks and functions. Becoming a monk at a young age, dPal ldan bkra shis dpal bzang po followed his master to the Ming court in the early years of the Yongle reign. Later, dPal ldan bkra shis dpal bzang po was sent out on five missions to the Western Regions. As an interpreter he accompanied the fifth Karma pa lama De bzhin gshegs pa to the court and escorted him back to Tibet. In the fourteenth year of the Yongle reign (1416) dPal ldan bkra shis established Da chongjiao si 大崇教 寺 (the Great Monastery of Promoting the Doctrine) in his hometown. This monastery was successively enlarged and renovated, and became one of the most important monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism in the mDo smad regions. dPal ldan bkra shis lived many years in dBus gtsang and followed many wellknown masters of the time, including bTsong kha pa and his main disciples, the fifth Karma pa lama, the Dharma King of Great Vehicle and Ngor chen Kun dga’ bzang po (1382–1456) of Sa skya pa, among others. dPal ldan bkra shis was well trained in all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. In the first year of the Xuande reign (1426) dPal ldan bkra shis was summoned back to Beijing and was conferred the title “the Great State Preceptor, the Buddha Son of the Western Heaven, Who is Purely Enlightened, Gives Empowerment, Expounds the Teaching, Assists the Country, Grants Donation for Charity, is Good at Responding, Owns Universal Wisdom, Holds Fast to Precepts, Upholds and Comprehends the doctrine.”42 He took up residence in the Chongguo monastery 崇國寺 of the capital, and changed the name of the monastery from Chongguo si to Da longshan si (大隆善寺, the Great Monastery of Promoting the Good). There dPal ldan bkra shis dpal bzang po spread Tibetan Buddhism by meditating, transmitting teachings, and ordaining monks. In the third year of the Jingtai reign (1452) dPal ldan bkra shis was granted the title of the Dharma King of Great Wisdom (大智法王) (Chen Nan 1996, 68–83). dPal ldan bkra shis was pivotal to the spread of Tibetan Buddhism in China proper during the Ming dynasty. As a key figure in the Buddhist community of the Western Regions in Beijing, his significance as a master of Tibetan Buddhism was second only to Zhiguang in the earlier period of the Ming. As such, dPal ldan bkra shis’ biography is of great value to the study of Tibetan Buddhism and its spread into Ming China. It is especially relevant to the present study, as this biography reveals rare information on dPal ldan bkra shis’ involvement in translating Tibetan Tantric Buddhist texts into Chinese. This information further buttresses our claim that The Auspicious Hevajra [The Spring Well of Nectar: The Feast Gathering [Gaṇacakra] of the Auspicious Hevajra], translated by bSod nams grags, was of Ming origin.”

[ix] Shen (2017): “During the early years of the Yongle reign, dPal ldan rgya mtsho, the root guru of dPal ldan bkra shis, was summoned to the court by the emperor on the recommendation of Zhiguang. dPal ldan bkra shis followed his master to Nanjing, then the capital of the Ming. Soon after he was sent to central Tibet to invite the fifth Karma pa lama to the court, and accompanied him back to Nanjing. When the Karma pa lama took up residence in the Linggu monastery 靈穀寺, dPal ldan bkra shis served as his assistant and interpreter. dPal ldan bkra shis dpal bzang po was praised widely for his ability to convey the sublimity of the Karma pa lama through his translations. dPal ldan bkra shis, then, was at home in both Tibetan and Chinese. When he returned to Beijing from dBus gtsang in the first year of the Xuande reign (1426), dPal ldan bkra shis dpal bzang po was ordered by the court to translate Tibetan Tantric 42 弘通妙戒普慧善應慈濟輔國闡教灌頂淨覺西天佛子大國師. Ming Chinese Translations of Tibetan Tantric Buddhist Texts 291 Buddhist ritual texts. This is described in the Origin of the Buddha Son of the Western Heaven: In the fifteenth day of the month, [dPal ldan bkra shis] was summoned to the Wenhua Palace and ordered to translate the Ritual of the Meditative Practice of the Maṇḍala of the Ocean of Nectar of Hevajra. Since then, every time he entered the golden palace, he was very careful and prudent. He became increasingly close to the Son of Heaven, explained the essence of the Dharma to him extensively and always satisfied his heart. Again, he was ordered to translate the Dharma Ritual of the Maṇḍala of Vajrapāṇi of the Great Wheel, the Dharma Ritual of the Maṇḍalas of the Thirteen Buddhas Vajrabhairava, the Dharma Ritual of the Maṇḍala of All-Knowing (Kun rig), the Commentary on the Two Sections Hevajra Tantra, the Dharma Ritual of the Maṇḍalas of the Nine Buddhas of Buddha Amitāyus, the Dharma Ritual of the Meditative Practice of Vaiśravaṇa, and the Quintessential Instructions on the Intermediate State.”

[x] Zhenghe was a Chinese mariner, explorer, diplomat, fleet admiral, and court eunuch during China’s early Ming dynasty. He was originally born as Ma He in a Muslim family and later adopted the surname Zheng conferred by the Yongle Emperor.  Zheng commanded expeditionary treasure voyages to Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Western Asia, and East Africa from 1405 to 1433. According to legend, his larger ships carried hundreds of sailors on four decks and were almost twice as long as any wooden ship ever recorded. As a favorite of the Yongle Emperor, whom Zheng assisted in the overthrow of the Jianwen Emperor, he rose to the top of the imperial hierarchy and served as commander of the southern capital Nanjing.

2 thoughts on “THE 5TH KARMAPA WHO SAID ‘NO’ TO WORLDLY POWER: 5th Karmapa’s refusal to take control of Tibet; Je Tsongkhapa; famous Chinese translators, Zhiguang and Palden Tashi; the Chinese ‘Marco Polo’ explorer, Zhenghe; and a $45 million thangka. Good Deeds teaching by 17th Karmapa (Day 10: Part I).

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