Logo of His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Thaye DorjeThaye Dorje
His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa

The 6th Karmapa

The 6th Karmapa Tongwa Donden

The 6th Karmapa

The 6th Karmapa

The birth of the 6th Karmapa, Tongwa Donden (1416-1453), at Ngomto Shakyam near Karma Gon in east Tibet, was marked by many auspicious signs. One month later, carried by his mother as she went begging, he became highly excited when their path crossed that of Lama Ngompa Chadral, a student of the fifth Karmapa.

When Lama Ngompa Chadral asked who he was, the child smiled and replied “I’m the unborn, free from all names, places, and I am the glory of all that lives. I shall lead many to liberation”. Ngompa Chadral cared for the baby for seven months, before taking him to Karma Gon, one of Karmapa’s three main monasteries in Tibet. As young as he was, Tongwa Donden soon began to teach. At age three, he met Ratnabhadra, and received the full Kagyu transmission. At age six, he composed several tantric rituals.

The third Shamarpa, Chopal Yeshe, came to Karma Gon during this period too. He recognized him as the sixth Karmapa, enthroned him, and gave him further teachings. The 6th Karmapa was nine when he was ordained by Khenchen Sonam Zangpo at the monastery of Wolkar Tashi Tang. He also began to receive instructions in the texts and practices of dharma from the great saint Ratnabhadra, who was an incarnation of Rechungpa. The 6th Karmapa concentrated strongly on developing a consistent Kamtshang liturgical system to supplement the meditative tradition of the Kagyu school, and wrote many Kamtshang sadhana rituals. He also developed a new style of recitation and chanting.

In Lhasa, the 6th Karmapa received a great number of teachings from the Sakya abbot Rongtonpa, who declared that he had a Buddha as his student. Karmapa Tongwa Donden’s life was spent teaching, and building monasteries and shrines throughout Tibet. He also commissioned editions of the Kanjur and the Tenjur, which he paid for with the many offerings he received on his tours. Throughout this time he continued to receive teachings through visions of Nagarjuna, the great philosopher, Milarepa, and Padmasambhava. Bengar Jampal Zangpo and the first Gyaltsab, Goshir Paljor Dondrub, were his two principal students and became his lineage holders. They would become the main teachers of the seventh Karmapa, Chodrag Gyamtso.

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