Abstract:

The Tenth Karmapa Choying Dorje (also known as Jigten Wangchuk), head of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, was born Golok, Amdo in 1604. Choying Dorje was recognized and formally enthroned as the Tenth Karmapa at the age of eleven. From his childhood to his teens, his family was controlled by the greedy village chieftain Chagmo Lama, who used people’s admiration for the Karmapa to collect profit. After he was freed in his mid-teens, Choying Dorje was based in and traveled around Central Tibet, while receiving teachings from Bodhisattva Gawey Yang Tsuklak Gyatso (Pawo Rinpoche) and the Sixth Shamarpa (Bodhisattva Chokyi Wangchuk). At the age of 21, Choying Dorje received the Full Monk’s Vows. As he continued to learn the ways of the Bodhisattva, he also traveled with his teachers and made pilgrimages to holy sites in Shigatse (capital of Tsang) and Mount Kailash. Throughout the years, he developed a strong bond with his guru, the Sixth Shamarpa. When Six Shamarpa’s health declined, Choying Dorje spent an intense period of time with him, gaining his last teachings and caring for him. Choying Dorje erected a temple and stupa for his guru after his death. Karmapa was gifted in art, and contributed many thangkas and statues to monasteries. After the Mongol invasion, Tibet was in turmoil and entered civil war. In 1647, Choying Dorje was in exile in Lijiang, China; he wanted to be free of politics and devoted his life to spreading kindness and passing down teachings. In those turbulent years, he fulfilled his responsibility as the head of the Karma Kagyu sect, and transmitted the lineage to the Seventh Shamarpa. In 1674, Choying Dorje passed away in Tibet. This summary will look at his life from the biography complied by Shamar Rinpoche, in his book A Golden Swan in Turbulent Waters: The Life and Times of the Tenth Karmapa Choying Dorje.

Summary:

Childhood & Teenage Years
Choying Dorje was the third child of Khyikuthar and Atso. When Atso was pregnant, she dreamed Guru Rinpoche, one of Tibet’s greatest saints had descended on her. In his early childhood, Choying Dorje enjoyed playing with colors and painting, perhaps it is because the Ninth Kamarpa was not talented as a painter, that his incarnate showed an interest in art. Baby Choying Dorje was compassionate and showed signs of religious intelligence – he circumambulated a holy place near his home three times to pay respect. This exceptional baby attracted the attention of the chieftain of a nearby village, Chagmo Lama, who was very greedy and wanted to control Choying Dorje’s family to make profit. He sent a spy to confirm Choying Dorje’s identity as the reincarnation of the Ninth Karmapa, and controlled the family. The family was robbed of their belongings and had a hard time making a living in the new home.
At the age of eleven, Choying Dorje was enthroned as the Tenth Karmapa by his guru the Sixth Shamarpa. The Sixth Shamarpa’s request to have the child remain with him was declined by Chagmo Lama. Thus, the Sixth Shamarpa could only give the child limited teachings at that time. While remaining in custody of the Chagmos, young Choying Dorje traveled to eastern and central Tibet, where he was greatly admired and followed – many people welcomed him and wanted to receive his blessings. At the age of twelve, Choying Dorje began to receive teachings from the Third Pawo Rinpoche until the age of fourteen. He was based at Pa Nam near Shitgatse. During this time, he had the opportunity to travel to Tsang, where he observed the political leaders and form his opinions. He continued to learn Dharma teachings during this period and at the age of twenty, he received the Full Monk’s vows.

Growth in Religious Pursuit
Choying Dorje continued to receive teachings from his masters. He formed a strong bond with his guru, the Sixth Shamarpa. In the summer of 1624 or 1625, he learned from his guru what it meant to be a Bodhisattva. They traveled together and visited the monasteries of the Kagyu sects, performed ceremonial rites and made many offerings. Choying Dorje, at this point more advanced in his religious pursuit, sat on the throne and taught the Four Dharmas of Gampopa to the monks and the public. Choying Dorje taught at many places, build temples at holy places and painted thangkas depicting the lineage holders of the Maahamudra. Around 1629, he also made a pilgrimage to Mount Kailash. During this period the Sixth Shamarpa transmitted the entire Karma Kagyu lineage to him.
Sixth Shamarpa’s health begin to decline and eventually passed away in 1630. Before his death, Choying Dorje spent an intense period of time with him, learning last teachings from him and caring for him. Choying Dorje was very sad when his guru passed away, and performed elaborate rites, pujas and prostrations to the body of his guru. To commemorate his guru, he erected a temple and stupa, and wrote a biography of the Sixth Shamarpa which he finished in 1648. Choying Dorje made many pilgrimages after his guru’s death and continued to give teachings while showing compassion and kindness to the needy that he encountered. He also contributed to the art of the monasteries where he visited.

Life After the Mongol Invasion & Legacies
Gushri Khan’s armies entered Tibet and waged war against the Tsang government and its allies (1639-1642). Seeing Tibet enter turmoil, as the head of the Kagyu sect, Choying Dorje requested the Panchen Rinpoche to arrange a meeting with the Fifth Dalai Lama. However, there was nothing that the Panchen Lama could do, as the power belong to the Fifth Dalai Lama’s administrator. Choying Dorje’s Karma Kagyu’s sect was attacked in the civil war, and in 1647, Choying Dorje and his disciples went into exile in Lijiang, China. Choying Dorje did not want to be entangled in political affairs and only wanted to pass down his teachings to others. While in Lijiang, he was welcomed by the public and gave many teachings. Choying Dorje also traveled to neighboring places during his years outside of Tibet, studying the Dharma, helping others, and contributing his artistic skills to the monasteries that he had visited. In the author’s words, Choying Dorje “is the ideal Bodhisattava, like a golden swan graceful and serene even in turbulent waters.” The political turmoil did not deter him from transmitting his lineage, as he recognized and passed down his lineage to the Seventh Sharmapa. Choying Dorje passed away peacefully in 1674 at the age of 70.
Choying Dorje is the example of a peaceful Bodhisattva, his kindness, compassion and love could be felt by those around him, whether they were Tibetan or Chinese, rich or poor. Nowadays in many places in Yunnan, China, we could find monasteries and temples dedicated to Choying Dorje. He dedicated his life to fulfilling his role as the leader of the Karma Kagyu sect, was not interested in political titles or monetary pursuits. He only wanted to pass down his teachings and save others from their sufferings. Choying Dorje’s legacies could be examined in the world today.