The Karmapa

is the supreme head of the Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, which currently has some 5 million followers worldwide. The Kagyu originated in India in the 11th century from the famous Buddhist masters Tilopa and his disciple Naropa, each of whom achieved enlightenment.

Tilopa, who at one point had been Vice-Chancellor of the prestigious Nalanda Buddhist university, received and mastered all the vajrayana (some say tantric) Buddhism of his day, by travelling widely and studying under many great teachers. He distilled the essence from all these marvellous instructions to create the Kagyu teachings.

The first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (1110 - 1193), was a Tibetan who became spiritual heir to the teachings of Tilopa. His reincarnation, Karma Pakshi , became the first Tibetan tulku - a great teacher who reincarnates systematically, life after life, to guide his followers.

Since that time there has been a continuous series of reincarnations. The 16th Gyalwa Karmapa was instrumental in bringing the Kagyu teachings from their isolation, in Tibet, to the world at large, during the 1970s. He passed away in 1981. My wife and I were fortunate enough to spend quite a bit of time with the 16th Karmapa, and have spent the past years translating texts, from Tibetan, according to his instruction. He was a truly extraordinary spiritual being; absolutely unique. The present Karmapa, his reincarnation and hence the 17th incarnation, is a young man named Urgyen Trinley Dorje, living currently in Tibet at the Karmapa's monastic seat of Tsurphu.

In 1995, I wrote a book about the story of the discovery of the new Karmapa, by the XIIth Tai Situpa. It contains chapters on, for example,

  • the 16th Karmapa ... (click to read extract from chapter)
  • Finding the 17th Karmapa ... (click to read extract from chapter)
  • reincarnation, ... (click to read extract from chapter)
  • the land of Tibet ... (click to read extract from chapter)
  • Vajrayana Buddhism ... (click to read extract from chapter)

    as well as quite a few other related topics.
    There are some lovely photos too !
    [16 full-page colour ones and half-tones throughout the book].

    It is a 150-page softback 170 x 237 mm, published by

    Altea Publishing
    Parkmount House,
    St Leonards Road,
    Forres IV36 0DW
    and retailing at 12.95 in the UK.

    You can order it through your bookstore by giving the ISBN:

    ISBN 0 9524555 4 4

    You can also get it through:

    Mail Order Dept.
    Kagyu Samye Ling Tibetan Centre
    DG13 0QL

    Tel: [+44] 013873 73232
    Fax: [+44] 013873 73223
    e-mail (enquiries only)

    [add 1.50 for packing and postage within UK, 2.50 elsewhere]

    [Ken Holmes at Samye Ling Homepage]
    biography of Tilopa
    biographies of the early Kagyu patriarchs, from Naropa to Gampopa
    biographies of the first 8 Gyalwa Karmapas
    biographies of Gyalwa Karmapas 9-15
    biography of the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa
    biography of the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa
    [Samye Ling Website]
    Rokpa Website
    Buddhism and the Kagyu tradition
    [my bio and booklist]

    the image on the left is the Wheel of Dharma, symbol of the Buddha's turning, through his teachings, of the wheel of universal truth for the benefit of beings on this planet.

    Last Updated: 16 February 1997