“The one known as Dusum Khyenpa and
the stainless, Dharmakaya Rangjung Dorje
are different in name and time, yet
Actually, they are the same in essence.”

–2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi in his autobiography, Discourse on the Realization of the Oneness of the Timeless Three Times and Perfection of Great Abilities 

“Then the 3rd Karmapa recited the root mantra of Chakrasamvara and played his damaru drum. Next, he told everyone, “This yogi must go to another realm. So, you all must be diligent in your dharma practice.” Then, without showing any ageing or sign of sickness, he passed away into nirvana.”

—17th Karmapa’s account of the 3rd Karmapa’s Liberation-Story (2022)


On the full moon, 10th September 2022, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje transmitted his new and concise liberation-story of the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (རང་འབྱུང་རྡོ་རྗེ་, (1284–1339)   in Tibetan (English translation video here). 

Although the 17th Karmapa has taught about the life-story of the 3rd Karmapa before, this new account contained textual information not previously spoken about or published (even in the most recent English language biography of the 3rd Karmapa by Ruth Gamble). For this reason too, I have typed it up here for study and preservation. I have conducted my own research into the various texts the 17th Karmapa mentioned, and provide their Tibetan names and editions, as well as images of some of the texts, where possible.

The 17th Karmapa first began describing how influential and learned the 3rd Karmapa was not only in sutras and tantras but also in astrology, medicine and the Zhentong view, citing several influential texts he composed.  He then explained that even though there was no official recognition or tulku system until the 3rd Karmapa (who was the first recognised tulku in Tibet), Karma Pakshi used the name Karmapa and was considered a re-incarnation of Dusum Khyenpa (the 1st Karmapa). This was followed by a brief consideration of how the tradition of wearing of the black crown (associated with the Karmapas) had been present from the time of Dusum Khyenpa to Karma Pakshi onwards. [For more on the history of the black crown, and the 8th Karmapa’s text about it, see here].

The 17th Karmapa then divided his presentation of the liberation story of 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje into three main sections:

1) the miraculous events of his birth and early childhood, 

2) how he became the first Tibetan tulku, and

3) the circumstances of how and when his face appeared in the moon. 

He explained that for scriptural sources, he would base the first two sections mostly according to an old manuscript of Rangjung Dorje’s life up until he went to China, that was written by his direct disciple, Sherab Rinchen. [I looked for this text in BDRC, and in Ruth Gamble’s recently published biography of the 3rd Karmapa (2020) but could not see any reference to it, so it seems to be a new and original source]. The third section he explained would be based on reliable histories. 

Another text referred to by the 17th Karmapa was the Bardo Liberation-Story (Bardo Namthar) by the 3rd Karmapa, a text containing verses the 3rd Karmapa recited when asked about the time between his passing away and being re-born. I tried to find this text online but was unable to do so. It is not mentioned in any of Gamble’s bibliographies either. A new and fascinating mystery!

In any case, the amazing abilities of the boy and adult Rangjung Dorje, despite a difficult start to his life, who was followed by Yuan Dynasty Emperors (prolonging the life of one) are inspiring to hear about indeed.

The full teaching/biography (based on the Tibetan and English oral translation) is published below. It is also available here as a downloadable pdf.


The 3rd Karmapa’s paranirvana anniversary was also accompanied with the release of a stunning artwork and sensual poetic verse, by the 17th Karmapa himself of the 3rd Karmapa’s face in the moon (which appeared when he deliberately passed away), based on this original thangka art below:

Artwork and poetic verse about the 3rd Karmapa composed by the 17th Karmapa.
I have attempted a translation of the poem below for the benefit of readers. Apologies for errors!
“Magnificent, mid-Autumn moon with close companion,
Blazing emblem of the Guru’s ‘name’, Rangjung [1],
Ornament of the expansive, divine path’s [lunar] phase [2],
Releases the mind like a water-lily’s petals [3].”

Music?  Fly Me to the Moon by Frank Sinatra and Moondance by Van Morrison.
Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 12th September 2022.


By 17th Karmapa

“The full moon of last month was the anniversary of Karmapa Rangjung Dorje. So I had the thought that I ought to talk a bit about his life and liberation, but there was not enough time. Also, the same day was the paranirvana of Gampopa, the crown jewel of all the Kagyu lineages. So, I thought it was important to give a short introduction to the story of Gampopa’s life and liberation and postponed Rangjung Dorje’s life and liberation story until today. 

Today is the mid-autumn festival in the Chinese tradition and also the anniversary of Rangjung Dorje’s face appearing the moon, it is connected to the full moon. I thought it would be appropriate to give an introduction to the life of Rangjung Dorje today. 

3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje – the Karmapa with the widest knowledge and greatest influence in Tibet
3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje

Now among all the incarnations of the Karmapa, the Lord of Dharma, Rangjung Dorje is among those with the greatest activity. He studied the sutras and Tantras and Secret Mantra, and all the major and minor fields of knowledge with 113 different gurus, including Khedrup Ogyenpa Rinchen Pel,  Nyenre Gendun Bum, Namtsowa Kunga Dondrup, Shakya Zhonu, Gyelkam Yeshe Od, Terton Zho Gyalse Legpa and others. It is said that among all the sutras and Tantras, ancient and new Tantras and major and minor fields of knowledge in Tibet at that time, there was none that he had not studied and did not know. It would be fair to say that among all the Karmapas he was the one with the broadest learning.

 Likewise, I think it is important to say that he was the one who had the greatest influence on the on the Karma Kagyu philosophical tradition, aside from Mikyo Dorje. Rangjung Dorje was an individual who had a great influence not only on the Karma Kamtsang, but on all of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan learning in general. In particular, he had great influence on the Nyingma, Zhije, and the approach and accomplishment (Nyendrub) of the three Vajras.

Zhentong (Empty-of Other) view, Astrology and the Hundred Jataka Tales (Previous Lives of Buddha)

Also, in Tibet, if we think about the Zhentong view, or the view of the Buddha Nature school, Rangjung Dorje preceded Kunkhyen Dolpopa on that. In terms of astrology, he also wrote the Compendium of Astrology (Tsi Dupa) [1], which is one of the earliest astrological tests based on the Kalacakra Tantra. Therefore, he also had a strong influence on Tibetan astrology. 

He also wrote a treatise called the Ocean of Names of Medicine (Men Ming Gyatso: སྨན་གྱི་བསྟན་བཅོས་སྨན་མིང་རྒྱ་མཚོ། [2]), which lists 830 different medicines and their efficacies. This is one of the longest medical texts in Tibet at that time. Many later Tibetan medical scholars considered it a reliable source, and it is recited in many herbals. So, the 3rd Karmapa also had a great influence on Tibetan Medicine (Sorigpa). 

The 3rd Karmapa also added to Acharya Aśvaghoṣa’s  Thirty-Four Jataka Tales to write the One Hundred Jataka Tales, (Kyerab Gyapa: skyas rabs brgya pa [3]) which was one of the great early long poems in Tibet, and had a great influence on literature.


First three folios of an edition of Kyerab Gyapa by 3rd Karmapa.

In terms of practice, there are many places throughout all of Tibet where Rangjung Dorje did retreat. The monasteries he founded are unlike ordinary monasteries, they are mostly places for retreat. He had many students who achieved high levels of experience in realization, including eighty realized disciples, and this is one of his greatest legacies. Now, there are many stories concerning all of this but because of time, I’m not able to speak about them all. I will be able to speak about them on next year’s anniversary and on other occasions. 

In brief, the lord of Dharma, Rangjung Dorje is known as the first Tulku in the land of Tibet. I think that in terms of his deeds and activity, he is also the best example, for everyone who has been given the title of tulku. Today, I thought I might see if I could say a few words about three topics among all of the stories about Rangjung Dorje. These are:

 1) the miraculous events of his birth and early childhood, 

2) how he was the first Tibetan tulku, and

 3) how his face appeared in the moon. 

For the first two of these the stories of the miraculous events around his birth and how he was the first Tibetan tulku, I will explain them mostly according to an old manuscript of the lord of Dharma Rangjung Dorje’s life up until he went to China, that was written by his direct disciple, Sherab Rinchen. I have received a copy of it and will use that as a basis. I will describe the third section according to some other reliable historians and histories.

The 2nd Karmapa – Karma Pakshi as the tulku of Dusum Khyenpa and how he got the name Karmapa

Traditionally, we say that the first Karmapa was Dusum Khyenpa, the second was Karma Pakshi and the third was Rangjung Dorje. However, unlike the later Karmapas, Karma Pakshi (kar+ma pak+shi; 1204/6–1283) was not said to be Dusum Khyenpa’s nirmanakaya or reincarnation, and recognized and enthroned, as that tradition had not developed at that time. However, Karma Pakshi himself said that he was Dusum Khyenpa’s reincarnation. 

The way we know that is that he wrote an autobiography called the Discourse on the Realization of the  Oneness of the Timeless Three Times and Perfection of Great Abilities (དུས་གསུམ་དུས་མེད་གཅིག་ཏུ་རྟོགས་ཤིང་རྩལ་ཆེན་པོ་རྫོགས་པའི་གླེང་གཞི། [4].

First two folios from an edition of Karma Pakshi’s Autobiography, the Timeless Three Times.

What Karma Pakshi writes in there is that in Dusum Khyenpa’s story, it says that in the future, in the seven holy places of Tibet, someone would appear for the benefit of one disciple. Then someone would appear near the Drichung River and fulfill some of his intentions. Then after two or three lifetimes, there would be someone who would bring the householder, Gampopa onto the true path. 

“So in order to fill these three intentions of Dusum Khyenpa I am now known by the name of Karmapa, I was born with mindfulness awareness in the line of emperors in the Drilung Valley, a land rich with the true dharma.”

In any case, Karma Pakshi explained how he took birth in accord with the predictions of Lord Dusum Khyenpa’s last testament. The same autobiography also describes how they are the same mindstream. So, he is saying the one known as: 

“The one known as Dusum Khyenpa and
the stainless, Dharmakaya Rangjung Dorje
are different in name and time, yet
Actually, they are the same in essence.”

In other words, he is saying that they have the same mindstream. There is quite a bit to say about this topic and I should say them all, but I will not be able to. 

Karma Pakshi’s secret name was Rangjung Dorje, as I shall explain later. It is also written in the liberation-story of Karma Pakshi by Dusum Khyenpa’s direct disciple, Pom Dragpa [Lama Pomdrakpa Sonam Dorje (bla ma spom brag pa bsod nams rdo rje, 1170-1249).] that after Karma Pakshi met his guru, Pomdragpa had many pure visions of him as Dusum Khyenpa. 

Likewise, Karma Pakshi also restored all three monastic seats founded by Dusum Khyenpa and spread the teachings there. Thus, for Dusum Khyenpa’s students, it was no different than it would have been had Dusum Khyenpa come himself. His followers just unanimously accepted that he was the nirmanakaya of Dusum Khyenpa.  I believe that just because there was no custom at that time of recognizing and enthroning him as a tulku, as we do today, the lack of a custom does not mean that he was not a reincarnation and not a tulku. 

For example, it is just as in the many Jataka Tales of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. There was no one to recognize them or enthrone them. Yet, that doesn’t mean that they were not incarnations of the Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. So, when we look at the histories and biographies it seems that there was no widespread custom of calling Lord Dusum Khyenpa, the Karmapa. The Feast for Scholars (Kyepai Gaton) and other texts relate how when Dusum Khyenpa went forth, he had a pure vision of the dakinis empowering him as the embodiment of the activity of the Buddhists and giving him the title of Karmapa. So, he had this pure vision and we can infer from this, that the title of Karmapa was a secret name and not a widely used name. It was only during the time of the 2nd Karmapa that the title Karmapa became widely used.  For this reason, Karma Pakshi called himself by the well-known name of Karmapa. 

Moreover, the secret name of one Karmapa, often became the actual name of the next incarnation. There are many examples of this. For example, Karma Pakshi’s secret name was Rangjung Dorje that became the generally known name for the Third Karmapa. The third Karmapa’s secret name is Rolpo Dorje. That also became the generally known name for the Fourth Karmapa. So, there are several such examples.  For these reasons, these days we sometimes confuse the works of Karma Pakshi for each others, and the reason is that they both used the name Rangjung Dorje when they signed works, which sometimes leads to this confusion.

Karma Gon Monastery in Tibet.

However, the Great Master Karma Chagme wrote in his guidebook to the Karma Gon monastery, that it was said that Karma Pakshi was called Karmapa, because he stayed at Karma Gon monastery. Perhaps this was said in order to show the greatness of Karma Gon or perhaps it was because the founder of Karma Gon was Dusum Khyenpa. So really, if someone should have had been called the Karmapa, it should have been Dusum Khyenpa. Perhaps it was because Karma Pakshi had spent a long time at Karma Gon. Or perhaps there was some other reason for this, but this all needs to be investigated.  However, I have not seen any similar account in the other well-known histories of the Karma Kamtsang. In brief, when we look at history in detail, the first one widely known as the Karmapa was Karma Pakshi. If we count the holders of the black crown, the first is Dusum Khyenpa. If we count the one first recognized as a tulku, then Rangjung Dorje is the first. 

There is a prediction by Dusum Khyenpa that the three with black crowns will come to Tsurphu. I think that this comes down to the same point as that.  Likewise, Mikyo Dorje [the 8th Karmapa] wrote in his Commentary on Yoga Tantra (Neljor Gyu gi Namshe):

 “These days in the Dagpo Kagyu, there are two who are undisputed to have the eye of Dharma in Sutra and Tantra: Rangjung Dorje and Buton. The first, Omniscient Rangjung Dorje, is the second to bear the title Karmapa, and the third bearer of the black crown.”

I think that in this passage, Mikyo Dorje was being very precise and relating the history.  I think this is important for us to keep in mind.”

Tradition of Karmapas wearing the black crown from Dusum Khyenpa onwards – scriptural sources
Painting of the 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa wearing the Black Crown.

“Another particular feature of the Karmapas is wearing the black crown. I believe that the tradition of wearing the black crown began during the time of Dusum Khyenpa. The reason for saying this is that in Dusum Khyenpa’s Collected Works there is a text called the Three Mixings (Sewa Khor Sum: བསྲེ་བ་སྐོར་གསུམ།).  This text is notes that a direct disciple of Dusum Khyenpa took on teachings that Dusum Khyenpa gave.  It says: 

“Think that above your crown there is a round moon disk. Meditate that on top of it there is your root guru, indivisible from the Lord of Dharma Dusum Khyenpa, with white hair and a black crown, that is the nature of light.” 

So, at that time, students had the custom visualizing Dusum Khyenpa wearing a black crown.  

Likewise, in Karma Pakshi’s Autobiography called the Oneness of the Timeless Three Times. He writes:

“The Lord Dusum Khyenpa was blessed as the self-arisen wisdom emanated by Indra Bodhi. In all his disciples’ perception he appeared as inconceivable emanations and magical displays, like reflections in a mirror. As he had the same essence as the Brahmin Saraha, he wore as a symbol of the unchanging Dharma nature, a black crown with gold blaze such as had never appeared in the world before. Co-emergent primordial awareness mahamudra can be illustrated by various symbols.”  

As Karma Pakshi says, he wore a black crown of either damask or silk with a gold blaze that was previously unknown. When 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje spoke about the black crown he cited a passage from an old liberation story of Dusum Khyenpa that reads:

“He wore a black hat of black damask with the designs of a heap of round flowers.”

The 8th Karmapa also said that among the various depictions of Dusum Khyenpa, from the great encampment, and his monastic seats, there are many that show him wearing a black crown.  There are many other stories that are related with this matter, but this is not the main topic for today. So today, I will not say any more than this.”

1)     Miraculous events of 3rd Karmapa’s birth and early childhood

Now, to speak about the actual life and liberation of Rangjung Dorje, the first topic is the miraculous events of his birth and early childhood. Now, if you ask when was he born, the Dharma Lord, Rangjung Dorje was born on the eighth day of the first Tibetan month of the wood-monkey year in the fifth cycle, or 1284. He passed away on the 14th day of the sixth month of the earth-hare year of the sixth cycle, 1339. Thus, he was a great Tibetan Lama of the 13th century. His birthplace was near Dingri Langkhor in Upper Dingri. His father’s name was Tonpa Chophel, and his mother’s name was Jomo Yangdren. When Rangjung Dorje was little he was called by the name Chogya Pel. 

When he was born, the miraculous events that occurred at first, as soon as he was born, he knelt down, wiped his face with his hands and then gazed fixedly on the moon. He said “Ah, this is the moon of the eighth day.” At that time, there was his aunt, his mother’s sister, nearby and she heard him say this, and she immediately said, “Oh, for a baby to speak immediately after birth is a bad sign.” She said, “That is not good and it is better to get rid of him”. His parents said: “How could we do that? That wouldn’t be right. This child came from our flesh. How can we get rid of him?” His aunt replied: “If that is so, then you should go. You can’t stay here. You should go stay somewhere else. So, they weren’t allowed to stay in the house. They had to go stay in a cow barn,  where there was a lot of cattle.

When he was a little baby, whoever looked at him saw him as being really pretty and cute. Everyone adored him and everyone said, “Oh, this child can’t be yours,  because he is so cute.” Maybe the parents were not very attractive. They said: ” He has such a beautiful face, he cannot your child.” They would all take him in their own laps and cuddle him and give him a lot to eat and drink. 

When he was about two or three years old, he said: “I need a hat black hat that looks like this”  and he took some black felt and made a hat out of it. Then, wherever they went, whatever place they went to, he would wear that hat. He would make a small throne out of rock, then he would gather all the children of the area and teach them the pointing out of the three kayas. Karma Pakshi had often given the pith instructions of pointing out the three kayas and so because of his previous imprints, the boy had not forgotten the Dharma. It was clear in his mind. At that time, he would say a verse, and the verse says:

“I have realized that these appearances, this manifold display although they appear, are empty of truth. I feel compassion for you children who have not realized that they are just like illusions, mirages or rainbows.”

This is said to be the first verse that he ever said. One time he went with his mother to a place where they were holding a feast. At that feast, people would give out gifts, and at that time, he got three pieces of silk. Then a bold, aggressive person took away the gifts that he had been given. So, his mother got very sad and started to cry. At that point, her son Chogye Pel said: “You don’t need to cry over three pieces of silk. I’ve got a big box at Tsurphu that is filled with silks. I can give you whatever you would like.” So, they said that this is the first time in his life that he spoke from clairvoyance. 

One time, his father was carrying him on his shoulders and as they were going down the road, in front of them was a flock of sheep. When his father saw the flock of sheep, he immediately thought: ” If I had so many sheep as that I would be really happy,” he thought. Then immediately his son said: “Have you fallen in love with the sheep?” The father said, “Oh yes, I have fallen in love with them.” Then the child said: “If you’re so smitten by wealth, there’s a place in eastern Tibet and Kham where I have that many horses. So, I can give them to you in the future.” 

His father was just astounded to hear him say this and he said in exclamation, “So it seems you can read what is in my mind? So, who are you?!”  Then his son said: “I am the rebirth of Rinpoche Karmapa”. When he said this, his father, Tonpa, remembered something that had happened in the past. He remembered how in the past the Karmapa gave me a gift and said to me “Tonpa, I am going to come and borrow your house for a while.” The father thought now that when he said that he probably was talking about this. And then immediately he felt great conviction that the child was the reincarnation of Karma Pakshi. 

After some time, their household was actually rather poor, they didn’t have a lot to eat and drink. One day his father, Tonpa was really hungry and thought: ” If I just get enough to eat and drink wouldn’t it be wonderful?” When he thought this, then his son knew and said: ” So are you thinking a lot about food today? When he replied “Yes, I am. He said: “If you want to tell people I am the Karmapa’s rebirth, that is alright.” Then his father said: “Okay, I can do as you say.” Then the child said:  “If we go across this river, over there is this village. If we go there, we will get a lot to eat and drink.” So, his father took him and went over to that village on the other side of the river. When they got there it was at the same time as they were having a feast. So, they got a lot to eat and a lot of drink. Since they got so much to eat and drink, the father Tonpa was really happy and he drank a bit of beer and got drunk and got a little bit of courage and he said to everyone: “My little son says that he is the rebirth of Karmapa.” He then told them everything that his son had said before. Then everyone was just astounded and they all prostrated to the boy and asked for his blessings. 

Now at that time, there was a well-known Dharma teacher from Tod, named Khetsun Ser Khampa. When he heard about the situation, he immediately came to meet the child and when he met him, he took notes of his discussions with him, and this became what is called the Bardo-Liberation story (Namthar Bardo). This is the description of the events that happened to Rangjung Dorje between the time when he passed away as Karma Pakshi, and then taken rebirth as Rangjung Dorje.

His father, Tonpa practiced Zhije, or Chod and was very good at this. So, from a very early age, the child received the Chod tradition and other transmissions of Zhije from his father. He also received the empowerment of the Nyingma Yangdak Heruka and Vajrakilaya from two mantra practitioners.  So, this is a brief account of the miraculous events of his birth and early childhood.

2) How the 3rd Karmapa became the first recognised tulku in Tibet

Next, I would like to speak in brief about how he became the first tulku in Tibet. The custom of recognizing tulkus is a particular feature of Tibetan Buddhism. Generally, when we say tulku, or nirmanakaya it is actually a term for one of the kayas of a Buddha in the appearance of a body, or a form kaya, in which the Buddha works for the benefit of others. There are many different types of nirmanakayas, or tulkus. 

The noble bodhisattvas can also similarly display various emanations for the benefit of others. Even ordinary individuals can make emanations due to the power of Samadhi it is said. Only Buddhas have actual nirmanakayas, not generally noble bodhisattvas or ordinary individuals. However, as they can be similar to the nirmanakayas, they can all be called by the name tulku. 

When we talk about a reincarnation (yangsi) it’s kind of the opposite of being a nirmanakaya/tulku. Ordinary beings take rebirth in samsara repeatedly because of karma and the afflictions. Noble bodhisattvas take rebirth because of compassion and aspirations. Buddhas effortlessly appear to take birth for the sake of others. Even ordinary individuals, if during their own lifetimes, or at the time of the day, if they have really strong wishes and impetus and intentions, and they make aspirations, then they can be reborn in the place where they wish. This is described clearly in the Sutra The Features of Sukhavati and other sutras. In brief, the existence of past and future lives is accepted by all Buddhists. It is described in many authoritative scriptures, common to all vehicles that the Buddha Shakyamuni told the stories of his own previous lives and also described the past and future lives of other individuals. Thus, the mere recognition of past and future lives was not a Tibetan innovation. 

However, it is generally said that the tradition of a great being continuously sustaining the teachings and beings in a string of lifetimes seems to have begun with the Lord of Dharma, Rangjung Dorje. It gradually spread very widely in all the Tibetan traditions, both major and minor. Thus, it is said in Tibet that we suffer more when a Tulku does not appear than when the lama passes away.  There are many different ways that tulkus are recognized, but that’s not the main topic for today, so I will not speak about them.

In any case, it is unnecessary to say but there are levels of greater and lesser among the tulkus who are recognized. I think that most of the tulkus who have appeared historically, have had a strong benefit to Buddhism and sentient beings. I believe that this is why the tradition of recognizing tulkus has continued to this day. 

Drubthob Ogyenpa and Karma Pakshi’s amazing powers

Tsurphu Monastery, Tibet

Now if you wonder who recognized Lord of Dharma Rangjung Dorje, as Karma Paskhi’s tulku, it was Ogyenpa Rinchen Pel (1229-1309).  He was a direct disciple of the Mahasiddha, Gotsangpa of the Drugpa Kagyu lineage. He also had great experience and realization, he was a great siddha. At that time, he had traveled to both India and China. So one could say that, among everyone in Tibet, he was the one with the broadest knowledge and experience. He was a real yogi and siddha who had achieved realization, so he did as he liked and didn’t worry about what others thought, he didn’t even try to accommodate people such as the Emperor Kublai Khan. 

At the beginning, Ogyenpa did not have a particular connection to Karma Pakshi, but around the time that Karma Pakshi was soon to pass away. Drupchen Ogyenpa and seventy disciples heard of Karmapa’s place and went directly to see him. At that time, they came to the place called the U mountain in the north, probably in the Yangpachen area.  Ogyenpa said: “They say that Karmapa has clarivoyant powers, so let’s go and see him tonight to Tsurphu. ” So they all put extra effort into going during the whole night. 

However, at that time, Karma Pakshi knew this, and during the middle of the night, he called all the monks and told them: “Orgyenpa is coming, so everyone should go and welcome him.” Basically, at dawn, the monks went out carrying banners and parasols and they went to welcome him. There is a place called Maitreya’s Dharma Throne near Tsurphu. This is a sacred site near Tsurphu, where there was the vision of Maitreya, who came there when Karma Paskhi consecrated the Great Buddha statue. So this is a sacred place there. They went to do that. When the monks got to that point, Ogyenpa and his party also arrived at the same time. At that time, Ogyenpa thought: “Oh, the Karmapa really must have clairvoyant powers.” He had a little bit of pride, which first began to decrease at that point. 

Then they went inside to meet Karma Paskhi,  who said: “Should I stir you masters up like in a pot? They replied “Yes, please do.” So then Karma Pakshi took a deep breath held it, did a gaze and then immediately Ogyenpa and his disciples uncontrollably started to dance. A little bit later Karmapa said: “Oh, that’s enough now, you can all sit down.” U ntil he said that they were unable to stop. This also decreased more of Ogyenpa’s pride. 

Then that same evening, Ogyenpa and his party had a ganachakra and they had a little bit of the Ganachakra liquor and got drunk and must have fallen asleep. While they were sleeping, there was a dog who came and stole the meat of the ganachakra, but they didn’t know that. The next day, very early in the morning, they went to have breakfast with Karma Pakshi who said:  “Did you know that a dog stole the meat of your ganaachakra?” At that time, they thought: “There’s no limit to Karma Pakshi’s clairvoyant powers” and again their pride decreased even further. 

Karma Pakshi said to Ogyenpa: “These days, there cannot be any mahasiddha in Tibet with greater experience or realization than you.” Orgyenpa said: ” I don’t have any such qualities or pride of being like that. ” Karma Pakshi then said: “You sang the song at the Asura Cave about how great you are. So please sing that again!” When he said that Ogyenpa felt intimidated and again, his pride was decreased. 

After that, Ogyenpa thought Karma Pakshi really is an incredible Mahasiddha. Only then could he receive many Dharma teachings from Karma Pakshi himself, who told him: “If you go to the south, then you’ll bring great benefit to beings there.” He made that prediction to him. Karma Pakshi also said in the future, there will be someone you will need to raise. At that time, you need to raise him well and then you need to give this to him. Soo he gave him a copy of the Pointing out the Three Kayas text and also a black hat. 

Now at that time, Ogyenpa knew that there was a prediction of Dusum Khyenpa that at Tsurphu monastery there would be three people wearing the black crown. So, two had already come. He then wondered if the third person must be him, as Karma Pakshi had given him the black hat and he thought: ” I must be the third one” and put the black crown on himself. Then Karma Paskhi said: “It is not you. There is someone who will come whom you have to raise.” So, Karma Pakshi told everything that was necessary to Ogyenpa.

Then after Ogyenpa had met Karma Paskhi, he went to Gang Zhumo, which is in the area of present day Qyirong.   There were many people from Lhasa who had come on a pilgrimage there and they had all come up to Tsurphu and came to ask for dharma and pith instructions from Karma Pakshi.  At that time, Karma Pakshi gave them all Dharma and pith instructions.  He said: “There must be someone among you who knows about the pointing at the Dharmakaya and the Dharma of Zhije.”  One man said he knew a little about this.  So then Karma Pakshi give the man a bundle of fabric and a full kilo of butter, and said to him: “In the future, I am going to borrow your house.” 

Rangjung Dorje meeting Ogyenpa and being examined by him

In brief, as I have already explained, Rangjung Dorje’s father remembered the past and how Karma Pakshi had said that to him. In any case, when Rangjung Dorje was the age of five in Tibetan counting, he met Ogyenpa, due to his connections from previous Dharma, Samaya and karma. The night before Ogyenpa was going to meet him, Ogyenpa had dream in which Karmapa came to him and taught him many liberation-stories and much dharma. After he had taught him, he said: “I am coming, make sure you understand.” He heard this very clearly in his dream. When he heard that, the next morning, he said to his attendants who were around him, “the emanation of Karmapa will probably come today, so you need to get ready to greet him with a parasol and music and so forth.” Ogyenpa also thought to himself actually: “I need to examine whether this really is the emanation of Karma Paskhi or not.”  

Ogyenpa had a high throne arranged above his own, thinking: “If he is my guru, then he will be able to sit above me but if he is not, he won’t be able to.” When Chogye Pel and his parents came, his attendants thought this may just be the one that Ogyenpa was speaking about. This must be the emanation of Karma Pakshi .  At that time, there probably weren’t that many people coming. So, they began to play the music and invite them inside. Once they had brought them inside then, this four year old boy didn’t prostrate to Lama Ogyenpa and instead he just straight ahead without any hesitation and just climbed onto the high throne and sat on it. When he did that, Ogyenpa said:  “What are you doing you badly behaved boy?”” When he said that, the boy replied: “In my previous life, I was your guru”. After he said that, then he got off the throne and only then did he prostrate to Ogyenpa and said: ” So actually, I was your guru in the previous life, but in this life-time you must please be my guru.”   Then after this, the Drubthob Ogyenpa asked this tulku many questions to investigate whether he actually was the tulku of Karma Pakshi. 

To give an example, when Ogyenpa said “tell me your life story”, the boy spoke the Bardo Liberation Story (Namthar Bardo), which describes the events that occurred while he was in the Bardo. Ogyenpa then asked: ” if you are Karma Pakshi’s emanation, then tell me the events when I met the guru Karmapa.”. Then the boy spoke the verses.  The basic meaning of them was : “when you came to see me, we spoke about Northwest India. At that time, we talked about the description of Bodh Gaya and we had a lot of discussions about dharma.” So, he recited many verses describing this. 

The next day, Ogyenpa continued to examine him, and asked: “If you are my guru, then you need to be able to read, so please read these.” Then he took a page from a text and sometimes the boy could just read it without any hesitation. Sometimes he had to go slowly and really spell things out.  So, Ogyenpa just started to laugh. He said, “I’ve never seen anyone read in a funnier way than you.” Then, Ogyenpa said: “How old are you?” The boy replied: “I’m four” (or five in Tibetan counting).

First taking re-birth in a dead boy’s body

Ogyenpa then said: “If you were born on the eighth day, the first month of the monkey year, my guru passed away on the third day, the ninth month of the sheep here. So in between those two, there are only four months and five days. So you can’t be my lama. Because the child has to be in the womb for nine months, right? So you can’t be my guru.” he said.

The boy then replied:  “My consciousness entered the body in the womb five months after the child had been conceived. The reason for that is when I was Karma Pakshi, I called an assembly of the Sangha and I said: ‘ My previous consciousness has already gone to Gang Shonmu. So I shall not stay for long, you should ask me everything that you need to ask. I will wait for three days.” However, there wasn’t anyone who came in those three days to teach the Dharma. He said: “So in the past I said this. And you probably heard about this event, didn’t you?” So that’s the reason why he said that. So even before Karma Pakshi physically passed away, he said he had already sent his consciousness off. 

Then, Ogyenpa said: “Well, what other events do you remember?”  The boy explained:  “Well, after I passed into nirvana, I first went to the realms of the gods. Then I came back to the world and at Tolong Paltsang monastery there was an old couple who were crying over the corpse of a boy who had died at the age of five or six. The boy had died and they had laid it out and were crying. So I thought if I entered the corpse of that boy, then I could benefit sentient beings, so I entered it. When I opened up my eyes, when I looked at them, the two old parents saw the eyes of the dead looking at the living as a bad omen. So they poked the boy’s eyes with a needle and threw ashes in them. At that time the eyes had been ruined, and if I didn’t have all my faculties, then I wouldn’t be able to benefit beings with that body. So, I didn’t take birth.” he said. 

Ogyenpa then said he would send someone to check whether or not that story was true. He immediately sent a messenger to check about the events in Tolung. When the messenger came back then he relayed to him that it had occurred just as the boy had described.   Later, when Rangjung Dorje went to Tsurphu, that was in the area of Tolung in central Tibet, those two old parents who had stabbed his eyes in the past offered him a cow and ten bushels of barley, and confessed to him. Rangjung Dorje himself related these events. 

Unaffected by stains in the womb 

Ogyenpa talked about many other situations and said: “There must be other events. What else can you say?” The boy said: “While I was in the womb, my father said this, ‘I’ve had a dream that we’re going to have a boy.’ Then my mother said, ‘Women say if it is a boy, it won’t move but if it’s a girl it will move. Now this one in my womb, it is not still for even a minute, it is always moving, so it must be a girl.’ and I heard them say this. I also saw and heard outside forms and sounds and so forth, without any impediment or any obscuration. Even when I was in the womb.” 

Ogyenpa said: “You are such a big liar, you’re always lying. There is no way that can be true.” So he immediately called his parents to check it. When the parents arrived, Ogyenpa asked them, when this boy was in the womb, did you ever talk about whether he would be a boy or a girl? They said that they had. So Ogyenpa said: ” Well, what did you say about that?” They then explained their conversation, and it was exactly as the boy had described. 

So, Ogyenpa said: “In the past, in India there was a King Lhatsun Chirimpa, who was unaffected by the stains of the womb. In Tibet, it is you who are unaffected by the stains of the womb. Aside from you, there probably never been anyone else who has not been affected by the stains of the womb.” So Ogyenpa was really happy about this, and gave him the bodhichitta vows and the lay precepts. When he did that, he said: ” My guru’s secret name was Rangjung Dorje. So, I shall also name you Rangjung Dorje.” From that time, he had that name. 

Ogyenpa also said that the Karmapa said to me that in the future, “someone will come whom you have to bring up.” So, you must be the one they said I must raise. He also said I should give you these things such as the black crown and the text for pointing out the three kayas.” So he gave the text that Karma Pakshi had given him to Rangjung Dorje. 

At the age of seven, Rangjung Dorje went forth with Khenpo Kunden Sherab as his Khenpo. At that time, the head of Tsurphu monastery was Nyere Gendun Bum, who saw the face of Avalokiteshvara who said, “This tulku will perform vast benefit for beings.” So he made this prediction.  So, Nyenre immediately wrote a praise and verse and took many offerings. Then he sent someone to upper Dingri to bring him to Tsurphu.  I don’t need to say anymore about that today. 

3) How the 3rd Karmapa’s Face Appeared in the Moon

Predictions and connections with the Yuan Dynasty Emperors

Yuan Dynasty Emperor, Kublai Khan, whose guru was the 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi. Portrait by artist Araniko, sling drawn shortly after Kublai’s death in 1294.

Next, I would like to speak about Rangjung Dorje’s face appearing in the moon. Karma Pakshi had previously been the Guru for the Yuan Dynasty Emperor, Kublai Khan. Ogyenpa had also been invited by that Emperor who also followed him as his main guru.

Gegeen Khan/Wuzong, a.k.a. Qaishan, a.k.a. Külüg Khan. Portrait cropped out of a page from an album depicting several Yuan emperors (Yuandai di banshenxiang), now located in the National Palace Museum in Taipei (inv. nr. zhonghua 000324).

Also, during Rangjung Dorje’s time, there was the Yuan Emperor Wu-Zong (元武宗Yuán Wǔzōng) who also had faith in the Dharma. As the previous tradition, he sent the state lama, Kunga Gyeltsen and others to invite Rangjung Dorje. However, as Rangjung Dorje was on his way to China, there were some bad omens on the way. So, at that time, Rangjung Dorje probably understood that the Emperor would not live for long. So, he returned to Tsurphu monastery. Shortly thereafter, the Emperor actually did pass away. 

Emperor Yingzong of Yuan.

Then Rangjung Dorje once again travelled from Central Tibet to China. He arrived in the capital of China, in the 10th Tibetan month of 1332. At that time the Yuan Emperor was the Emperor Geegan Khan, Yingzong ( 元英宗). The 3rd Karmapa saw that there was an obstacle to the Emperor’s life and he made a prediction, and just as he predicted, Yingzong passed away no more than 43 days after he had acceded to the throne. At that time, Yingzong ‘s younger brother was far away in the region of Wangxi. Rangjung Dorje made the prediction that six months later, he would become the Emperor. Just as he had predicted, in 1332, then he acceded to the throne. 

Toghon Temur, Emperor of the Yuan Dynasty.

However, in actuality, it was Toghon Temur (妥懽貼睦爾) [also known as Huizong of Yuan (元惠宗) who took the throne.  Generally, between the time of Kublai Khan passing away, and Yuan Zhan de, there had been 45 years, but there had been ten emperors during that period and so the Emperors were not living very long. Thus, the Emperor asked the 3rd Karmapa for a method to extend his life. 

Rangjung Dorje said that at Samye Chimpu there was the life-water of Guru Padmasabhava, and that if he could get that, then the Emperor would be able to live a long time.  So, in 1335, Rangjung Dorje returned to central Tibet, and went to Samye Chimpu and extracted the long life-water as a treasure. Then in 1336, he returned to the Yuan capital and gave the Emperor the long life-water and bestowed a long-life empowerment on him. This Yuan Emperor, Tugh Temur became had the longest reign, lasting for 36 years. 

3rd Karmapa’s deliberate passing away and face appearing in the moon

Then in 1339, on the 14th day of the six Tibetan month, Rangjung Dorje announced there was something he wanted to say. They made sculpture of the Chakrasamvara mandala and he circumambulated it, then sat down on a cushion, gazed into the sky and joined his palms together. 

He saw that many Kagyu gurus and gatherings of yidam deities, and heroes and dakinis had assembled and he instructed everyone to arrange and give vast offerings. Then, Rangjung Dorje performed the Chakrasamvara self-empowerment and did the hand offering of amrita. He then gave some of the amrita to everyone who was there, and they were all delighted. Then he recited the root secret mantra of Chakrasamvara and played his damaru drum. Then next, he said to everyone, “This yogi is going to another realm. So, you all must be diligent in your dharma practice.” Then, without showing any ageing or any sign of sickness, he passed away into nirvana. 

The day after he passed away, that evening, Rangjung Dorje’s face was seen in the full moon. This is how Rangjung Dorje’s face in the moon occurred. It talks about this in the Red Annals of Tibet history. On the evening of the 15th, a bodyguard came to meet the Emperor. As the leader of the of the bodyguards, when he looked at the moon rising, he saw Rangjung Dorje’s complete body and then behind him there was a golden stupa. When he saw this, not only did he see it, but at that time, there were eighteen other bodyguards, who took it in turns to be on guard that night. They also saw it and all prostrated. When they all passed the news on up to the Emperor, the Emperor and all of his ministers and courtiers went outside and they all saw Rangjung Dorje in the moon. They reported that they had even more faith in Rangjung Dorje than when he was alive and this became very well known. 

3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje. 19th Century Karma Kagyu thangka.

After that, on the Emperor’s commission, there were artists in the palace who painted two thangkas. At that time, there were no cameras, so they created two paintings. One of the paintings was kept by the Emperor, and he had as much faith in the painting as he had for Rangjung Dorje himself. The second was sent to Tsurphu monastery. Later, when they were developing the Karma Gadri style, the main example they used for developing the style was that painting of Rangjung Dorje’s face in the moon from that time. 

At that time, there were also many other people who saw Rangjung Dorje’s face in the moon. For example, in the Blue Annals, the Tibetan history text, it also says that when they were shown Rangjung Dorje’s face in the orb of the moon, the Emperor and his retinue were inspired and felt intense faith. Also, according to the Dharma history, The Thousand Light Rays that Opened the Eyes by Phagpa Chenga Gyaltsen, it says everyone in the city had seen the 3rd Karmapa in the moon and they all prostrated to it and made offerings. 

I think that this is enough for introduction to Rangjung Dorje’s life for now. I hope that you are all well and happy.”



[1] A double reference here to the name of 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje and the miraculous appearance of his face in the moon.

[2] I translated the Tibetan ‘tshes’ here, which normally means date/day, as phase for the moon. This may be wrong though.

[3] The Tibetan term, ‘ku mud’ here, I have translated as water-lily, [white lotus] a flower that normally opens only at night-time, at the appearance of the moon. A sensual poetic metaphor indeed!


[1] Karma pa 03 rang byung rdo rje. “rTsis skor.” gSung ʼbum rang byung rdo rje, vol. 11, [mTshur phu mkhan po lo yag bkra shis], 2006, pp. 583–620. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC),

[2] Karma pa 03 rang byung rdo rje. “sMan gyi bstan bcos sman ming rgya mtsho.” gSung ʼbum rang byung rdo rje, vol. 11, [mTshur phu mkhan po lo yag bkra shis], 2006, pp. 445–514. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), [BDRC bdr:MW30541_91141E].

[3] There are several editions of this text online. See: Karma pa 03 rang byung rdo rje. sKyes pa rabs brgya paBuddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), 

[4] “Grub chen karma pakshiʼi rang rnam dus gsum dus med gcig tu rtogs shing rtsal chen po rdzogs paʼi gleng gzhi.” Karma pakshiʼi rang rnam dang spyi lan ring mo, Gonpo Tseten, 1978, pp. 63–124. Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC), 


On this website by Adele Tomlin:


Indestructible Mind Maṇḍala of the Karmapas, Tsurphu Monastery: Origin, history, rebuilding and ‘Praises to Tsurphu’ by 3rd and 16th Karmapas

There is no time to waste’: an appeal by 3rd Karmapa, with commentary by 13th Karmapa

PENETRATING THE BLISS WHEEL OF CHAKRASAMVARA ON THE SUPER FLOWER BLOOD MOON: New translation of short, daily five-deity Chakrasamvara sadhana by 3rd Karmapa and brief instructions on the nature of bliss and union by 8th Garchen Rinpoche

NEW TRANSLATION: ‘Guru Yoga on Third Karmapa: Heart Essence of the Profound Meaning’ by Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro

‘WAKING UP FROM THE SLUMBER OF IGNORANCE’: THE KA-NYING; CONNECTION. Reasons why the 8th Karmapa did not write Nyingma refutations and why people assumed he did, and the profound connection of the Karmapas and Nyingma Dharma, 3rd Karmapa as main disseminator of Dzogchen in Tibet, (17th Karmapa Spring teachings, Day 6)

Other Publications:

Alexander Gardner “The Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje,” Treasury of Lives. 

In Praise of Dharmadhatu: Nagarjuna and Rangjung Dorje on Buddha Nature Translated by Karl Brunnhölzl (Shambhala Publications, 2021)

The Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje: Master of Mahamudra. Translated by Ruth Gamble.  (Shambhala Publications, 2020).

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