“The vajra mind of the chief, Bhagavan Akshobya,
changed into a midnight blue crown
Said to be a manifestation of the aspect ‘Lion’s Roar’
In all realms of samsara and nirvana,
Greatly renowned, with activity equal to space.
To the powerful yogi, Dusum Khyenpa.
Hundreds of millions wisdom ḍākinīs of supreme activity,
Created a splendid, deep blue crown, which
When offered and placed on his head
Was called the ‘Powerful Yogi’’s ‘black crown’.”
—8th Karmapa in Praise to the Source of the Karmapas’ Midnight-Blue Black Crown
“From when I died in the tiger year (stag lo, 1506) [as the Seventh Karmapa] until my rebirth in the hare year (yos lo, 1507) I stayed in [the pure realm of] Gaden (dGa’ ldan) with Maitreya and in [the pure realm] Sukhāvatī and was happy. Then, because people have broken faith, I thought it would be pointless to come here for the time being. When [thinking so] the protector Maitreya and the wisdom-ḍākinīs said, ‘you have to take rebirth in the world (jambudvīpa).’ Having taken rebirth until this year I have stayed in Lhorong.”
—8th Karmapa to 2nd Goshri Gyaltsab Rinpoche
“Looking at it from the outside, you would have thought the text inside had decomposed. Yet when the cloth was taken off, the paper illuminated bright light. Also, it was all completely written by hand. When we saw this, then all the people’s jaws dropped open and gasped saying: ‘Wow, what a great effort and work!’ They spontaneously spoke like that about it, their mouths opened in awe. Praise just flew out of our mouths without thinking.”
–17th Karmapa speaking about 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works
Today, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa is scheduled to continue his online teachings on the 8th Karmapa’s text Good Deeds for the annual nuns debate (Arya Kshema), see here.
Other than the work of Jim Rheingans, very few scholars have considered the life and works of the 8th Karmapa, see bibliography in website article. Rheingans work is an excellent introduction to the life of the 8th Karmapa, but it can and should be built upon, as he only considers his life-story in brief and works of Mahāmudrā.
I have tried to address this imbalance in some of my own work, and as an offering today, here is a brief overview and compilation of my own original research and translations (from 2020-2023) about the 8th Karmapa on the following topics:
- Collected Works
- Praises and Supplications
- Works on The Single Intention by Jigten Sumgon
- Text and Commentaries
- White Tara
- Teachings on his Autobiographical Works by 17th Karmapa
The 8th Karmapa’s life and works have often been the subject of the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje’s teachings, which are listed below. Recently, in particular, the autobiographical praises and text by 8th Karmapa called The Good Deeds. I have transcribed (with detailed footnotes) most of these teachings, see the 8th Karmapa website section. He has also given extensive teachings on the life of the 8th Karmapa and his main teachers, which have been invaluable and a great resource on my own work on their biographies.
For links to all the research, translations and transcripted teachings on 8th Karmapa, see the website page here. As I have done a significant amount of work now on all the Karmapas, I have created individual website pages for each Karmapa, see here.
May this overview on the life and works of the 8th Karmapa, whet the appetite for the forthcoming 17th Karmapa’s teachings and for more research and translations on his remarkable life!
Music? Wow by Kate Bush and Thousand Years by Christina Perri “I have died every day waiting for you, Darling don’t be afraid, I have loved you for a thousand years, I ‘ll love you for a thousand more…..”
Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 20th March 2023.
Overview of Research and Translations on 8th Karmapa
See: THE 8TH KARMAPA’S COLLECTED WORKS: EDITIONS AND CONTENTS. Handwritten edition by 8th Karmapa, Outline edition by 5th Zhamarpa, golden manuscript edition sponsored by wealthy nun and contemporary editions
The 17th Karmapa stated recently that the 8th Karmapa is considered to have the largest and most extensive Collected Works among the Karmapas. The 2nd Karmapa is said to have written something on every text of the Kangyur, which is 10 8 volumes, but they are no longer extant, and there are only 5 volumes of his works.
In 2021, the 17th Karmapa spoke about reading an astonishing handwritten edition of the 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works while he was in Tibet, see here. He said:
“At that time, I was next to Lagen Drupnam and he opened up a volume of Mikyo Dorje’s collected works. The works were held together with wooden boards and leather straps. When the leather straps were undone, they fell apart into many pieces because they were so old. When we touched the cloth covering the text, dust clouds billowed up. Looking at it from the outside, you would have thought the text inside had decomposed. Yet when the cloth was taken off, the paper illuminated bright light. Also, it was all completely written by hand. When we saw this, then all the people’s jaws dropped open and gasped saying: ‘Wow, what a great effort and work!’ They spontaneously spoke like that about it, their mouths opened in awe. Praise just flew out of our mouths without thinking. So I, myself got the opportunity to see/meet with the Collected Works of Mikyo Dorje and the collected works of other Karmapas, and I was very happy about that…Even though I got to see these Collected Works like that, there are not many of these collections available. So, for those of you in monasteries who have access to them, you should study them well and make good use of that opportunity and not waste it.”
Since this teaching, a stunningly, illustrated handwritten edition has been made available to read online on BDRC W1KG4870 here. Here are some screenshots I made of the first couple of pages.
In Pawo Tsuglag’s Feast for Scholars (mKhas pa’i dga’ ston), the 8th Karmapa’s collected writings are said to be ‘slightly more than thirty volumes’ (gsum bcu lhag), though as manuscripts or prints remains unclear.
It is also documented in Pawo’s Feast for Scholars (mKhas pa’i dga’ sto) that after the Eighth Karmapa’s passing, a golden manuscript, of thirty volumes, was made under the sponsorship of a rich noble nun of Kurab (sKu rab) named Chodzayma Karma Namdrol (Chos mdzad ma karma rnam grol) – (Rheingans (2017) omits the ‘Karma’ in her name for some unknown reason).
For an excellent overview and research into the publication and history of the 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works see Rheingans (2017), pp. 49-54. For my own detailed overview/article on the 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works, see the one I wrote in 2022, here.
Liberation-Stories and main teachers
In terms of the life of 8th Karmapa, the most extensive account of it in the English language can be found in The Eighth Karmapa’s Life and His Interpretation of the Great Seal, by Jim Rheingans (2017). The 17th Karmapa has also given many teachings on the life and teachers of Mikyo Dorje, based on his autobiographical writings, such as Good Deeds (see below). The 8th Karmapa had many challenges in his short life, particularly connected to a dispute of his recognition, but despite that he managed to compile one of the most prolific and profound Collected Works of a Tibetan Buddhist master.
I have also written two biographies of two of the 8th Karmapa’s main teachers, which have been published on the Treasury of Lives:
- 2nd Gyeltsab Rinpoche: Gurus of the 8th Karmapa (Part I): 2nd GOSHRI GYELTSAB, The man who chose the 8th Karmapa despite bribes and bitter division in the Great Kagyu encampment
- 1st Sangye Nyenpa, Tashi Paljor: Gurus of the 8th Karmapa (Part II): FIRST SANGYE NYENPA. ‘Gnarled blue’ vegetarian yogi Siddha from Denma – First Sangye Nyenpa, Tashi Peljor
I am in the process of writing biographies of his other four main teachers too, who also have been somewhat neglected and forgotten about.
Praises and Supplications
The 8th Karmapa wrote many praises and supplications to other great masters. In particular, he wrote a Praise to the Source of Gyalwang Karmapa’s Midnight-Blue Black Crown, which I translated in September 2020, during the height of the Covid-19 lockdown. Here is a small selection of others I have translated and written about:
‘Song to Lineage Masters, Je Tsongkhapa, Bodong Panchen, Je Ngorchen and Rongton Chenpo’ by 8th Karmapa
‘Supplication to the Life of 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa’ by 8th Karmapa
Praise to the Source of the Gyalwang Karmapas’ Midnight-Blue ‘Dakini Hair’ Black Crown by 8th Karmapa
Works on The Single Intention by Jigten Sumgon
See: The 8th Karmapa on the ‘Single Intention’ (Gong Chig) by Drikung Jigten Sumgon
The 8th Karmapa’s compositions on the founder of Drigung Kagyu, Jigten Sumgon’s Single Intention make up two volumes (4-6) of Mikyo Dorje’s 26-volume Collected Works[viii]. The Fifth Sharmapa (Zhwa dmar pa dKon mchog yan lag (1525–1583)) played a key role in collating them. Shortly after the Eighth Karmapa’s passing, a golden manuscript, comprising thirty volumes, was made under the patronage of a rich noble nun of Kurab (sKu rab) named Chodzema Namdrol (Chos mdzad ma rNam grol)[ix].
The fact the Single Intention texts take up two volumes of his works, shows that the 8th Karmapa’s study and teaching on this text is significant. In the article, I produce a catalogue of his texts, for academic research and reference purposes (see below). Of particular note, is the extensive, detailed commentary he wrote on it (more than 800 pages) as well as a teaching he gave on it to the Drikung Rinpoche.
Text and Commentaries
There are many texts and commentaries in the 8th Karmapa’s Collected Works. I have researched and translated a small selection here, including instructions on the Great Compassionate One from the Tsembu tradition.
The 8th Karmapa also had a connection to Kālacakra. According to Tibetan biographical sources, cited in a study by Jim Rheingans (2011 and 2017), the 8th Karmapa as a young student of Sangye Nyenpa (between the years 1516-1519), they not only travelled to the Jonang Monastery in Dzamthang together but shortly after that, Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche gave him the Kālacakra transmission at Tshurphu (or Tsherphu). The Tibetan source text for this [mKhas pa’i dga ston] reads:
“When in Tsher-phu receiving from the mahasiddha [Nyenpa] the great commentary of Kālacakra, [Mikyö Dorjé] saw [yidam] Kālacakra and the Master Milarepa merge into the mahasiddha [Nyenpa]. He then composed a praise [6b].”
‘The difference between Buddha-Nature and Dharmakāya’ by 8th Karmapa
‘Direct Instructions on the Great Compassionate One’ by 8th Karmapa with commentary by 17th Karmapa
One Day Meditation on Mind of Awakening by 8th Karmapa
Kālacakra as the ‘ultimate pinnacle’ of all the tantras: Jetsun Tāranātha and 8th Karmapa
As I wrote about in The Karmapas and Chod (2023), the Karmapas, in particular, the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, were the main lineage holders of Chod in Tibet. See here for more on the 8th Karmapa and Chod:
8TH KARMAPA ON CHOD: TEXTS AND LINEAGE. New translation of 8th Karmapa’s short daily Chod practice and full transcription of 17th Karmapa Chod teaching
See: White Tārā Daily Sadhana by 8th Karmapa
I translated a very short daily practice of White Tārā by the 8th Karmapa.
Teachings on his Autobiographical Works by 17th Karmapa
The 17th Karmapa has given extensive teachings on the 8th Karmapa’s texts, life and works. In particular, from 2020 – 2023, he has used the 8th Karmapa’s autobiographical works to give some of the most detailed teachings on the 8th Karmapa’s life. I have transcribed (and added footnotes and references) most of these teachings. They can be accessed on the 8th Karmapa website page:
Eighth Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje (1507-1554)
—2010. Narratives of reincarnation, politics of power and the emergence of a scholar: the very early years of Mi bskyod rdo rje and its sources. In L. Covill, U. Roesler, and S. Shaw (eds.) Lives Lived, Lives Imagined . Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies Series. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
—2011, The Eighth Karmapa’s Answer to Gling drung pa: A Case Study. In Kapstein, Matthew T. and Roger R. Jackson (eds.), Mahāmudrā and the bKa´-brgyud Tradition. Proceedings of the 11th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies Bonn. IITBS GmbH: Halle, 345–386.
—2017, The Eighth Karmapa’s Life and his Interpretation of the Great Seal : A Religious Life and Instructional Texts in Historical and Doctrinal Contexts, Hamburg Buddhist Studies, Prokekt Verlag.
“The First Sanggye Nyenpa, Tashi Peljor,” Treasury of Lives, http://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/Sanggye-Nyenpa-Tashi-Peljor/1659.
“The Second Tsurpu Gyeltsab, Tashi Namgyel,” Treasury of Lives http://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/Second-Tsurpu-Gyeltsab-Tashi-Namgyel/2162.
Eighth Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje (1507-1554)