Shamar Rinpoche has written a new book
about the times and life of the 10th Karmapa Choeying Dorje
The Tenth Karmapa Choying Dorje (1604-1674) was a great bodhisattva and artist who lived through a time of dramatic change in Tibet – invasion by the Mongols, the ascendancy of the Gelugpa sect, and the emergence of the powerful Fifth Dalai Lama. His life, however, has largely escaped attention by modern scholars.
In A Golden Swan in Turbulent Waters, Shamar Rinpoche introduces readers to the Tenth Karmapa by translating his autobiographical writings as well as those of his 18th-century biographer. The author sets the stage for his biography with a historical overview of Tibet from the 13th through the 17th centuries.
As the 14th Shamarpa, the author is in a line of direct transmission from the Sixth Shamarpa who figures prominently in this book as the Tenth Karmapa's guru. This unique knowledge and experience enrich the author's extensive annotations.
The 288 pages of A Golden Swan in Turbulent Waters are filled with maps, a glossary, extensive footnotes, lists of Tibetan and Chinese words, and a bibliography. Twenty full-color illustrations depict the Tenth Karmapa's artworks and the places where he lived. Several artworks are published for the first time.
The Tenth Karmapa Choying Dorje (1604-1674)
A great bodhisattva, the Tenth Karmapa lived through a transformational era in Tibetan history, but he abstained from political involvement and concentrated on his Dharma activities. He is also highly regarded as a multi-talented artist whose distinctive art style differed from that of mainstream Tibetan artists of his day.
He was born in Eastern Tibet into a family of humble circumstances. During his early years he and his family fell under the control of an unscrupulous local chieftain who exploited Karmapa’s title and fame to raise money from devotees for his own pocket. In 1610 the Sixth Shamarpa enthroned the Tenth Karmapa. However, the local chieftain prevented the Sixth Shamarpa from taking the new incarnate under his wing. As a result, the Shamarpa dispatched the Third Pawo Rinpoche to teach the Tenth Karmapa. When he was in his mid-teens, a court of law ordered the chieftain to release him. He then began to study and practice under the Sixth Shamarpa and maintained a very close guru-disciple relationship until the latter’s death in 1630.
During extensive travels and pilgrimages throughout Tibet, the Sixth Shamarpa gave his protĂ©gĂ© all the essential lineage transmissions. He also inspired him to become a model bodhisattva. The Tenth Karmapa spread the Dharma throughout Tibet and the area that is today’s Yunnan Province in China. He demonstrated great compassion for people regardless of their social status and for all animals.
In his life as well as his art style, the Tenth Karmapa was unconventional, even eccentric. He often travelled as a poor person. The Fifth Dalai Lama noted that he wore his hair long and dressed in laymen’s clothing. Further, his entourage included female followers, women being considered inferior according to Tibetan social mores of the time.
The year 1639 saw the start of a war that marked a turning point in Tibetan history. The Fifth Dalai Lama’s administrator colluded with the Mongols and invited them to invade Tibet in order to overthrow the ruling Tsang government, which he and some others in the Gelugpa sect perceived was persecuting them. At the war’s end in 1642, the Mongols installed the Fifth Dalai Lama as the ruler of Tibet – thereby unifying religious and political power in the hands of one person. This turn of events led to the rise of the Gelugpa sect at the expense of the Karma Kagyu. After an attack by the Mongols in 1644, the Tenth Karmapa was forced to flee for his life, even though he had refused to take sides during the war. Many of the Karma Kagyu temples and monasteries were forcibly converted into Gelugpa-run institutions.
From 1644 to 1647 the Tenth Karmapa and a tiny band of disciples wandered in southern Tibet seeking refuge from the Mongols. Eventually they found safe haven in Lijiang (in today’s Yunnan Province, China) where the king of a small kingdom welcomed them. For the next quarter century the Tenth Karmapa built temples there, gave Dharma teachings, and created many works of art. True to his apolitical nature, he refused an offer by the Lijiang king to counterattack the Mongols and Gelugpa, and he also turned down a prestigious title – the same as a Ming Dynasty emperor bestowed on the Fifth Karmapa – extended by the first emperor of the Qing Dynasty.
During his exile, the Tenth Karmapa recognized and enthroned several reincarnates, including the Seventh Shamarpa whom he personally found in eastern Tibet during a solo return trip to eastern Tibet in 1650-1651. In the 1650’s and 1660’s, he transmitted all the Karma Kagyu lineage teachings to these reincarnates.
In 1672 the Tenth Karmapa started out for Lhasa at the invitation of the Fifth Dalai Lama. They met in 1673. The Dalai Lama allowed him to return to his seat monastery at Tsurphu. After one year there, he died in early 1674.
The Tenth Karmapa’s creative activities were extensive. Aside from many artworks including thangkas and sculptures (see the statue of Tara and Avalokiteshvara to the right), he wrote books of poetry inspired by his travels and a biography of the Sixth Shamarpa that contains numerous autobiographical passages about his own life.
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