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The 3rd Karmapa, Ranjung Dorje

012 3rd Karmpa sems dpa rang byung rdo rje Rangjung DorjiThe 3rd Karmapa, Ranjung Dorje


The Third Karmapa, Ranjung Dorje (1284-1339) was born to a family of a tantric practitioners of the Nyingma lineage in Dingri Langkor, in the Tsang region of Central Tibet. He sat up straight at the age of three and proclaimed that he was the Karmapa. At the age of five, he went to see Orgyenpa, who had prepared for his visit on the basis of a prescient dream. Orgyenpa recognized the child as the reincarnation of Karma Pakshi, and gave him the Vajra Black Crown and all the possessions of the second Karmapa.

Master of all Buddhist Traditions of Knowledge

Rangjung Dorje grew up in Tsurphu, receiving the full transmissions of both the Kagyu and Nyingma tradition. At the age of 18 (1301), he received the preliminary monastic ordination. After a retreat on the slopes of Mt. Everest, he took full ordination, and further broadened his studies at a great seat of the Khadampa lineage. Not content with this, Rangjung Dorje sought out and studied with the greatest scholars and experts of different traditions of knowledge, learning from all Buddhist traditions of the time. By the end of his studies, he had learnt and mastered nearly all of the Buddhist teachings brought to Tibet from India.

Founder of the Karma Nyingthik

In particular, during a retreat in his early twenties he had the vision at sunrise of Vimalamitra and then Padmasambhava, who dissolved into him at a point between his eyebrows. At that moment, he realized and received all the teachings and transmissions of the dzogchen tantras of the Nyingma lineage. He wrote many volumes of teachings on dzogchen and founded the Karma Nyingtik lineage. Through his mastery of the profound Nyingmapa teachings of Vimalamitra, he unified the Kagyu mahamudra and the Nyingma dzogchen.

At the age of 35 (1318), through visions he received of the “Wheel of Time” (Kalacakra) teachings, he introduced a revised system of astrology, which continues to this day called the “Tsur-tsi” or the Tsurphu Tradition of Astrology, and which forms the basis for the calculation of the Tibetan calendar in the Tsurphu system. He also studied and mastered medicine, which is in part related to astrological studies in the Tibetan system.

Over the course of his life, Rangjung Dorje also wrote many treatises, including the universally renowned Profound Inner Meaning (Zab mo nang don), one of the most famous Tibetan treatises on Vajrayana.

The Karmapa established many monasteries in Tibet and China. He visited China in 1332, where he enthroned his disciple, the new emperor, Toghon Temur. Rangjung Dorje later passed away into parinirvana in China. It is said his image appeared in the moon on the night of his passing.

Among his many disciples, some of the main ones were Khedrup Drakpa Senge, Dolpopa, Yakde Panchen, and many others, and in particular the one who was to become the next lineage holder, Gyalwa Yungtonpa.