His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa

H.H. the 17th Karmapa Orgyen Trinley Dorje at his Monastery in Bodhgaya, where he met with project directors and children to offer blessings for the Bodhi Tree Educational Foundation in Bodhgaya.  It was a big day for the kids, staff members, and volunteers to interact with His Holiness. He met each child individually and reviewed the various programs of the foundation.


WHAT IS A KARMAPA?

Most people have heard of the Dalai Lama but few have ever heard of the Karmapa.  So, what IS a Karmapa? In Tibetan Buddhism, there are four major traditions, lineages, or paths. [See our Tibetan Buddhism page for the beginning of the chart below and detailed descriptions of the four schools.]

 Padmasambhava ("Lotus-Born" -- 8th century C.E.) took ancient Sanskrit scriptures
to Tibet, where they were translated and widely disseminated.
...From these translations, four major Tibetan lineages emerged:

8th-11th century: Nyingma: Red Hats (Tibetan Book of the Dead: among their contributions) 
11th century: Kagyu: Black Hats (their Karmapas are incarnations of Padmasambhava)
11th century: Sakya: also Red Hats (played important role during Mongol rule) 
14th century: Gelug: Yellow Hats (their Dalai Lamas are incarnations of Avalokiteshwara)
The Kagyu lineage, founded in the 11th century C.E., is headed by the Karmapa, just as the 14th century Gelug lineage is headed by the Dalai Lama. In both lineages, each Karmapa or Dalai Lama is the incarnation of the previous one, who in turn was the incarnation of his predecessor, and so forth, all the way back to the first in each lineage. Additionally, it is said that the Karmapa was the 8th century Padmasambhava ("Lotus-Born") in one of his incarnations. There are also stories describing how the Karmapa was liberating beings two million Kalpas ago in another world system (the timeframe is staggering: one Kalpa is 4320 million human years).

THE KAGYU LINEAGE
OF TIBETAN BUDDHISM


"K.T.D.," the Karmapa's American monastery -- Karma Triyana Dharmachakra --
near Woodstock, New York, built through the blessings and inspiration of the 16th Karmapa and completed in 1992

http://www.kagyu.org/kagyulineage/buddhism/

Brief introduction to the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism with links to various teachings and practices. Here is how it opens:
THE TIBETAN BUDDHIST TRADITION is especially rich because the teachings of the Buddha were preserved in their entirety and elaborated upon over the centuries by meditators who took the teachings to heart and brought them to full fruition in their own mind streams. The Kagyu, or "practice" lineage, contributed greatly to this tradition through the attainment and teachings of its extraordinary practitioners, including Marpa Lotsawa, the great translator; Jetsun Milarepa, Tibet's greatest yogi; and continuing with the succession of seventeen Gyalwa Karmapas.
http://www.karmapa.net/: This is a very long list of links to worldwide Kagyu  monasteries, centers, etc. No matter where you are located, you are probably not too far from one.

BEGINNINGS OF THE
LINE OF 17 KARMAPAS


The First Karmapa:
Düsum Khyenpa was the first of the 17 Karmapas
who have appeared from 1110 A.D. to the present

http://www.kagyuoffice.org/karmapa.background.17karmapas.html
Excerpts from the official webpage of the 17th Karmapa --

           BACKGROUND on The Seventeen Karmapas (1110 -present):

Karmapa means "the one who carries out buddha-activity" or "the embodiment of all the activities of the buddhas." The Karmapas have incarnated in this form of nirmanakaya, or manifestation body, for seventeen lifetimes, as of the present, and all have played the most important role in preserving and propagating the Buddhist teachings of Tibet.

Yet, beyond these seventeen manifestations, the arrival of a master who would be known as the Karmapa was prophesied by the historic Buddha Shakyamuni and the great tantric master of India, Guru Padmasambhava. Throughout the centuries, Karmapas have been the central figure in the continuation of the Vajrayana lineage in general and Kagyu lineage in particular, and have played a very important role in the preservation of the study and practice lineages of Buddhism.

           http://www.kagyuoffice.org/karmapa.background.tulkutradition.html
More excerpts from the official webpage of the 17th Karmapa on Tibet's Tulku Tradition of Reincarnated masters --
In 1189 C.E., at the age of 80, Düsum Khyenpa founded his main seat at Tsurphu, in the Tolung valley in central Tibet, the location of a river which feeds into the Brahmaputra. At that time, Düsum Khyenpa made predictions about his future rebirths, who were to become known by the title "Karmapa."

Düsum Khyenpa chose Drogon Rechen, his main disciple, to hold and pass on to the next generation the wisdom lineage of the Kagyu (called the "Golden Rosary") that had been transmitted to Düsum Khyenpa by his own teacher, Gampopa. But he also....presented Drogon Rechen with a prediction letter, detailing Düsum Khyenpa's future incarnation.....

The Second Karmapa: Karma Pakshi (born 1204 C.E.), the reincarnation of Düsum Khyenpa, was recognized as the first reincarnate lama, or tulku, in Tibet. It was he who introduced Tibet to the famous mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum, and who also wrote commentaries on the use of the Prayer Wheel and its benefits. Interestingly, he even spent time China with Mongol rulers: http://www.kagyu.org/kagyulineage/lineage/kag10.php]
In the early 1300's C.E., Karma Pakshi (born 1204 C.E.), [was found and recognized by] Pomdrakpa, who had received the full Kagyu transmission from Drogön Rechen, Düsum Khyenpa's spiritual heir. Pomdrakpa realized, through certain very clear visions, that the child he met was the reincarnation of Düsum Khyenpa, as indicated in the letter given to Drogon Rechen. In this way, Karma Pakshi came to be known as the Second Karmapa, a reincarnation of the First Karmapa Düsum Khyenpa....
               The Continuing Tradition of Lineage Transmission:
Pomdrakpa conferred on the young Karma Pakshi all the teachings through traditional mpowerments and formally passed on the lineage in full. Ever since this time, each young Karmapa, despite his pre-existing knowledge and accomplishment of the teachings, formally receives all the transmissions of the teachings from a lineage holder.
                The Birth of the Tulku Tradition in Tibet:
Düsum Khyenpa was the first to give such clear indications of the details of his next birth, so that a successor could be easily recognized. Karma Pakshi thus was able to suceed to the seat of his predecessor, Düsum Khyenpa, at Tsurphu Monastery. In this way, the most renowned Tibetan buddhist system of reincarnate lamas began from this very seat of the Karmapas. The institution of "tulkus" (the manifestation or reincarnate lamas) started by the Karmapa became one of the central institutions of Tibet.... This institution of reincarnate lamas succeeding to their monastic and religious seats has continued in Tibet for over 800 years. Over the centuries, Tibetans have developed disciplines and safeguards to continue, protect and enhance this venerable institution....
http://www.kagyu.org/kagyulineage/lineage/: This site provides the names and dates of the entire Karmapa lineage. There are also excellent, informative biographical links to most of the seventeen reincarnated beings.


THE CURRENT 17th KARMAPA


The 14th Dalai Lama and the 17th Karmapa
Photo: Brett Rosen / Bodhi Tree Educational Foundation

http://www.kagyuoffice.org/

This is the Homepage of the Official Website of H.H. the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa.  It would take weeks to adequately cover this site because it offers so much of interest. [Note: navigation from the Site Map is repetitive and somewhat awkward because you have to keep scrolling down, but the expanded content and new, unexpected images found by clicking on internal links are well worth the effort.]
http://www.kagyuoffice.org/karmapa.biographicalinfo.html
From the same official website, this page offers biographical data on the Karmapa. Excerpts from Overview section:
Karmapa means "the one who carries out buddha-activity" or "the embodiment of all the activities of the buddhas." In the Tibetan tradition, great enlightened teachers are said to be able to consciously arrange to be reborn as a teacher who can carry on the teachings of a predecessor in a prior life....
Birth and Early Years of the 17th Karmapa
In [June] 1985 a male infant was born into a nomad family in the Lhatok region of Eastern Tibet. In the months prior to his birth, his mother had wonderful dreams during her pregnancy. On the day of his birth, a cuckoo landed on the tent in which he was born, and a mysterious conch-like sound was heard by many throughout the valley in which the family of the infant lived. In Tibet, such events are considered auspicious portents of the birth of an enlightened teacher.
The young nomad was called Apo Gaga. While his early years seemed, to his family, full of blessing, Apo Gaga did not talk of any connection to the Karmapas. However, in 1992, he asked his family to move the location of their nomadic home to another valley, and told them to expect a visit from traveling monks. Soon after setting up their home in the new location, followers of the Sixteenth Karmapa came to that valley pursuant to the secret instructions of the Sixteenth Karmapa, contained in his letter of prediction.  The birth and the other details of Apo Gaga's life matched the predictions of the letter. Apo Gaga was discovered to be the Seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Drodul Trinley Dorje.

In addition to his letter of prediction, the Sixteenth Karmapa wrote many poems, or songs, predicting that though he would leave his traditional main seat in Tsurphu, Tibet, he would soon return to Tsurphu again, that his root teacher would be HE Situ Rinpoche, and that he would study in India. After the death of the 16th Karmapa, it became clear that these predictions applied to his successor....


The 7-year old Karmapa dressed for his return to Tibet in 1992
The Karmapa's Return To Tsurphu In Tibet, The Historic Seat Of The Karmapas
The Seventeenth Karmapa did in fact return to Tolung Tsurphu Monastery in Central Tibet in 1992, where he was enthroned on September 27, 1992, with the permission of the Chinese government.  At Tsurphu, over 20,000 supplicants assembled to witness the return of His Holiness Karmapa. The following morning, some 25,000 people filed before His Holiness to receive a personal blessing.

At Tsurphu, the Karmapa studied the Buddhist sciences of mind, learned ritual, and practiced sacred arts, such as dance. Each day he received hundreds of visitors from throughout Tibet and around the world. He eventually began to offer empowerments and participated in various rituals at the monastery. At the age of about 10, His Holiness recognized the rebirth of reincarnate teachers, including such eminent teachers as Pawo Rinpoche, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and the Dabzang Rinpoche....

As the years went by, however, His Holiness sought to receive the empowerments and transmissions of the lineage, but was unable to do so fully because many of the Kagyu lineage teachers remained in India. To fulfill his spiritual duty, he and a handful of attendants left Tibet for India....After months of careful planning, on December 28, the fourteen-year-old Karmapa pretended to enter into a solitary retreat, instead donned civilian garb, and slipped out a window. Leaving Tsurphu Monastery with a handful of attendants, he began a daring journey by car, foot, horseback, helicopter, train and taxi, a heroic journey which was to become the stuff of headlines throughout the world.


His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa meets His Holiness the Dalai Lama
for the first time upon his arrival in Dharamsala on January 5, 2000
On January 5, 2000 he arrived, to the great surprise and overwhelming joy of the world, in Dharamsala, India, where he was met by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. He received refugee status from the government of India in 2001. Details of his remarkable journey from Tibet to India are here. [FYI: it's quite a story -- don't miss it.]
http://www.khandro.net/animal_birds.htm: More on his birth [Note: this webpage also has touching stories about the child's predecessor, the 16th Karmapa, who had a deep love for birds, surrounded himself with them, and even taught some of them meditation]:
"...The baby was born the next day without pain or difficulty, just before the first golden rays of sunlight burst into the tent. At the same time, a cuckoo landed on the yak-hair tent and sang."

On his mother's pregnancy:
The mother of the 17th Karmapa had had 5 daughters and, desirous of a son, she and her husband went to see an eminent lama, who performed a ritual for their benefit.  During her next pregnancy, Loga dreamt of three white cranes offering her a bowl of yoghurt surmounted by a golden letter.  The special birds told her that they had been sent by Guru Rinpoche and that the letter was one of recognition indicating the child was an incarnation. They told her to keep this a secret until the right time.

http://www.khandro.net/17th_Karmapa.htm: More on birth and early childhood:
[He was born] on the 8th day of the 5th Tibetan month in the Wood Ox year.  That was June 26, 1985. The boy's parents told those who came to make inquiries about the circumstances of his birth that their son often rode off alone on jackals and goats into the mountains.  As a toddler, "He built toy monasteries and a throne of stone and earth, where he would sit and recite prayers."  Also, "When others were killing animals, he would look at them with great compassion and shed tears." ~ K. Holmes. Karmapa.
http://www.kagyu.org/kagyulineage/karmapa/kar00.php: More on his youth:
...Then, in the spring of 1992, contrary to his usual behavior, the Karmapa insisted that his parents move their camp early and knowing their son was special, they complied. This allowed the Karmapa to be in the exact place predicted by the Last Testament when the search party came to find him. In June of 1992, he returned to Central Tibet and Tolung Tsurphu monastery, the main seat of the previous Karmapas.

In that same month, the Dalai Lama confirmed the recognition of the Karmapa stating that he had experienced "a kind of dream of the area where the present incarnation was born." He described precisely the area of the Karmapa's birth as if he were actually there, saying that there were stones and meadows but no trees, animals or people and that two rivers flowed down on the right and left. "Then someone, some source without form, was telling me: "This is the place where the Karmapa is born." This close connection between the two spiritual leaders would continue up to the present day....  [Note: Both the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa are considered emanations of Chenrezig, {aka Avalokiteshvara}, the embodiment of compassion.]

While staying at Tsurphu, the Karmapa completed basic studies of Buddhist texts in addition to becoming very adept at Tibetan language and literature. Even at a young age, his poetry was profound and lyrical. During the other parts of his day, the Karmapa was overseeing the rebuilding of Tsurphu, making official visits, and recognizing other reincarnate lamas, a well-known ability of the Karmapas....

With the passing years, the Karmapa's artistic abilities have flourished. In addition to writing poetry, he has become a skilled artist in drawing, painting, and calligraphy. Recently, he composed new meditative rituals for the Kagyu Prayer Festival, a yearly gathering of monks and lay people in Bodh Gaya, India, the place of the Buddha's enlightenment. The Karmapa has presided over these major ceremonies since 2001. There are thousands who come to the festival and also to visit the Karmapa at Gyuto Monastery where he gives public teachings....

The Youthful 17th Karmapa (born 26 June 1985)
FYI: one source refers to him as a 900-year old teenager, which is actually quite accurate.
http://www.karmapafoundation.org/karmapa-news-articles/a-young-lama-prepares-for-a-greater-role-.aspx
"A Young Lama Prepares for a Greater Role," THE NEW YORK TIMES July 28, 2011, by Laurie Goodstein, Woodstock, N.Y.  Excerpts from this report:
At the age of 7, he was deemed to be the 17th reincarnation of the Karmapa - one of the most revered figures in Tibetan Buddhism - and whisked from the yak-hair tent of his nomad family in the Himalayas to be groomed in a monastery for leadership.
Now 26, his mere appearance on the stage alongside the Dalai Lama at a major ceremony in Washington this month sent a flutter of excitement through the Tibetans in the crowd. Here was more evidence to them that the Dalai Lama had taken the young Karmapa under his wing, serving as teacher and father figure in India, where both live in exile, because China claims sovereignty over Tibet.

The Karmapa and the Dalai Lama lead different Tibetan Buddhist lineages and are not equals; the Dalai Lama, who is 76, is the pre-eminent spiritual leader of Tibet. And yet, many Tibetans are looking to the Karmapa to assume the mantle of the Dalai Lama when the elder lama dies, to take on the role as shepherd of the Tibetan people and lead them home from exile.

The succession talk appears to be burdensome for the young Karmapa, a solid 6-footer with a serene gaze whose name is Ogyen Trinley Dorje. Asked about his future during an interview at the mountainside monastery here that is his North American seat, the Karmapa said that the Dalai Lama had made it clear that his hopes for the future of Tibet rested with its young leaders. "In that regard, His Holiness has been very kind to me, and has served as a mentor and guides me greatly," the Karmapa said in Tibetan, translated by an American lama. "But I'm only one of many." Then, breaking into English, he added, "I don't need more pressure." The Karmapa smiled, and then grew serious and added in Tibetan: "I don't think I can do any more. It's hard enough just to be the Karmapa...."

...Although there is a rival who also claims the title, the Karmapa is regarded by the Dalai Lama and most Tibetans as the leader of the 900-year-old Karma Kagyu lineage, one of the four main schools in Tibetan Buddhism, with hundreds of  monasteries and dharma centers in more than 60 countries....

... [T]he Chinese government has recognized him as the legitimate leader of the Kagyu tradition, and avoided denouncing him even after his flight to India. That is in marked contrast to the Chinese denunciations of the Dalai Lama as a "splittist." This puts the Karmapa in a singular position, said Robert J. Barnett, director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University.  "The Karmapa is perfectly placed to be someone who could broker a solution in the future," Mr. Barnett said. "This is one of the rather rare issues where exiles and those in Tibet are in agreement. They have very wide respect for the Karmapa"....

Tenzin Chonyi, president of the Woodstock monastery (Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, usually called KTD), was an aide to the 16th Karmapa, and as a child fled Tibet with him in 1959. He said the 17th Karmapa was identified by a group of lamas who were entrusted with the task of finding the child who they believe is the reincarnation of the previous Karmapa.  "This Karmapa was found based on the previous Karmapa's instruction," Mr. Chonyi said. "So we have no doubt"....


VIDEOS OF THE 17th KARMAPA


His Holiness, the Karmapa
From: Karma Triyana Dharmachakra

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgsjA-z65Z0&feature=related

This 2:34 minute video is "Karmapa Chants White Tara (2009)." In addition to the Karmapa's chanting, there are bells and other Tibetan instruments -- the overall effect is very soothing and relaxing. With an unseen Karmapa chanting off-camera, the video begins with a simple, traditional, line-drawing of White Tara in a large full-screen circle. Then, as if a stone has been dropped into a pool of water, the image first quivers, then returns to tranquility, as if to reveal that underlying all disruption is her serenity. This interesting visual effect is repeated several times during the first minute of the video.

For the next minute, the visual shifts to a large oval in which we now see the Karmapa chanting. Behind him are two attendants flanking an unidentified saint with a large halo around his head. Like White Tara's larger circle, the Karmapa's oval also acts as a pool, first quivering as an invisible force disturbs the surface, then returning to calm. At the end, the lovely image of White Tara re-appears.  This video is simple, but beautifully done.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPFBYa1ipHE&feature=related
Here, Milarepa's "Song of Realization" is chanted by the Karmapa. His voice is wonderfully deep and powerful but the video itself is just a series of photos of him in many different settings. One cannot help wishing that the producers had chosen a more creative merger of chant and visual content (a subtitled  translation of Milarepa's song would also have been useful).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=p-N0DRTq0WI
This 2:20 minute video from c. 1992 looks at the Karmapa's birth and childhood and is quite fascinating. Auspicious omens at the time of his 1985 birth include a rare cuckoo who landed on the family's tent and began singing and then a rainbow that appeared over the tent as well. Later, filmclips of the little boy's expressive face are a delight to watch. [Note: the video ends abruptly but still offers much great material.]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anzw8EdLH8I&feature=related
This 7:26 minute video (Note: avoid the 8:05 minute version -- it's in Tibetan and has very poor audio) looks at the 16th Karmapa's "Sacred Prediction Letter," which predicted where and when his rebirth as the 17th Karmapa would take place. Rare interviews, photos of a copy of the letter along with its translation, and many more details of the process involved in finding the reincarnate Karmapa make this video quite intriguing. One crucial place connected with the child, for example, would be "where divine thunder spontaneously blazes" -- a great description but the Prediction Letter is a meld of literal and metaphoric details. Breaking down the phrase, "where divine thunder spontaneously blazes," for example, reveals the name of an eastern Tibetan village in the region where the Karmapa's family lived, not a meteorological phenomenon.
http://www.kagyu.org/videos/:  Many links to more videos with the Karmapa.

http://www.karmapafoundation.org/:  Addtional links to videos of his Black Hat rituual-dance, talks, teachings, etc.


PADMASAMBHAVA, KARMAPAS
AND THE RAINBOW BODY


Padmasambhava manifesting the Jhalu or Rainbow Body

http://www.khandro.net/nature_rainbows.htm

As already noted, the line of 17 Karmapas are incarnations of the 8th century C.E. Padmasambhava ("lotus-born"), who prophesied their lineage. This page on rainbow lore looks at the connection between Padmasambhava, Karmapas, and rainbows, for they are often entertwined. The relevant section is just past halfway down the page and continues to the end. [Note: do not click on "Karmapas" directly below the small opening logo unless you want to ignore the rainbow theme and go directly to a page on the 17th Karmapa].  Here are some excerpts:
In India, the rainbow is poetically called Indra's Bow.  But for Buddhists, the rainbow recalls the Prajnaparamita teaching on the Emptiness of Form.  These striking atmospheric manifestations that occur at transitional times of the year, or of changing weather, are also understood in Tibetan Buddhism as indications of blessings from the buddhas, bodhisattvas, dakinis or deities.

Tibetan Kafen and Tsekhor are brocade hangings made in resemblance to rainbows....

And, from Karmapa (Scotland: Altea Publishing, 1996) by Ken Holmes:

"At another time she [the 17th Karmapa's mother, Loga] dreamt of eight auspicious symbols wreathed in rainbow light emanating from her heart. The night before the birth, in late June, 1985, the father saw rainbows over the tent and was surprised, for the sun had already disappeared behind the mountains. The baby was born the next day without pain or difficulty, just before the first golden rays of sunlight burst into the tent. At the same time, a cuckoo landed on the yak-hair tent and sang."
At one point during the Karmapa's first international press conference on April 27, 2001 during which he was referred to as a "900-year old teenager," there was a clap of thunder followed by a brief shower which, when the sky cleared, was followed by a rainbow....
Jhalu or The Rainbow Body:
A teacher or yogi who has acquired the highest forms of accomplishment can manifest what is called "the rainbow body" or "body of light."  Usually this happens after death, but it has been known to happen at other times.  For example, one of the 8 forms of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) is The Rainbow.   HH the 16th Karmapa was observed by many people as he temporarily dissolved in this way during a Black Crown ritual.
Those who have mastered the trek-chod phase of Dzogchen in which pure and total presence is stabilized, are able to do to-gal.  This is the final Dzogchen practice which enables the yogi at the time of death to dissolve his or her physical body into the essence of the elements.  The yogin then disappears into a "body of light" leaving behind only the hair, toe and finger nails, and the nasal septum.
Sogyal Rinpoche wrote  (in Studying the phenomenon of Rainbow Body
by Gail Holland, published by Snow Lion Press):
In 1952 there was a famous instance of the rainbow body in the East of Tibet, witnessed by many people. The man who attained it, Sonam Namgyal, was the father of my tutor at the beginning of this book.

He was a very simple, humble person, who made his way as an itinerant stone carver, carving mantras and sacred texts. Some say he had been a hunter in his youth, and had received a teaching from a great master. No one really knew he was a practitioner; he was truly called a "hidden yogin."

... he then fell ill, or seemed to, but became strangely, increasingly happy. When he illness got worse, his family called in masters and doctors. His son told him he should remember, 'Everything is illusion, but I am confident that all is well.'

Just before his death at seventy-nine, he said "All I ask is that when I die, don't move my body for a week." When he died his family wrapped his body and invited Lamas and monks to come and practice for him. They placed the body in a small room in the house, and they could not help noticing that although he had been a tall person, they had no trouble getting it in, as if he were becoming smaller. At the same time, an extraodinary display of rainbow-coloured light was seen all around the house. When they looked into the room on the sixth day, they saw that the body was getting smaller and smaller. On the eight day after his death, the morning in which the funeral had been arranged, the undertakers arrived to collect the body. When they undid its coverings, they found nothing inside but his nails and hair.

Rainbow Iconography:

Green Tara is often depicted wearing a rainbow of leg-wrappings that resemble striped stockings. They are a sign of her ability to manifest in this world....
http://www.kamakotimandali.com/blog/index.php?p=915&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1
Here are excerpts from Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche:
Body of Light or the Tibetan jalus is also known as the Rainbow Body. Certain realized beings (practitioners of Longde and Managede levels of Dzogchen) achieve the transformation of their ordinary bodies into a Body of Light at the time of death. In this process the physical body dissolves into its natural state, which is that of Clear Light. As the elements of the body are purified, they transform from their gross manifestation (body, flesh, bone, etc.) into their pure essence as the five colors: blue, green, white, red, and golden yellow. As the body dissolves into these five colors a rainbow is formed and all that remains of the physical body are fingernails and hair....
After explaining that all paths lead to "Total Realization" -- i.e. "...the surpassing of conditioned existence in the manifestation of the primordial state...." -- these paths also take a great deal of time, often measured in aeons:
...The higher tantras and Dzogchen, on the other hand, both enable one to reach total realization in a single lifetime. The Visions of Longde and of the practice of Thodgal (the final and most secret teaching of Dzogchen) allow the practitioner to rapidly undo the knots of conditioned existence and attain the most absolute and total type of realization, which culminates in the complete dissolution of the physical body in the essence of its elements, which is light....
...The existence of duality is nothing but an illusion, and when this illusion is undone the primordial inseparability of the individual and the universe is fully discovered and the functions of that inseparability manifest; that is to say, through the integration of the internal and the external ying, the Body of Light manifests....
The Rainbow Body means that our physical body disappears because it enters into its real nature of the five elements. Those five elements are the five colors. So even if the physical body is disappearing, the shape and everything are maintained as the five colors.

People have represented the idea of the Rainbow Body by painting thangkas of Guru Padmasambhava as a cluster of rainbow colors. That is not accurate. With the Rainbow Body the whole form remains (the nose, eyes, and so forth) but normal people cannot see it, because everything disappears into the elements. We cannot see it because we don't have the capacity to see the nature of the elements....

The piece continues with very interesting stories of adepts who manifested a rainbow body at the end of their lives, as verified by many who were present.  Included is much more on the rainbow body in 1952 of the stonecutter mentioned above. Here is a brief excerpt:
...My uncle, the yogi, came to see me at my father's house just after he had witnessed this event, and his eyes were full of tears as he told me about it. He said it was a terrible tragedy that none of us had known enough to recognize that this seemingly ordinary person, living so close to us, had actually been a very great practitioner, from whom we could have received teaching. But this is how it is with practitioners of Dzogchen. There is nothing to be seen on the outside....
This uncle also died in a similar manner, leaving only fingernails and hair behind him. The author comments:
...I was deeply moved to hear of my uncle's realization. Knowing how serious a problem he had had with various mental disturbances in his early life, I did not expect him to achieve so much in one lifetime. His example shows what is possible for every individual....
A practitioner who manifests this realization cannot really be said to have 'died', at all, in the ordinary sense of the word because he or she still remains spontaneously active as a principle of being in a Body of Light. The spontaneous activity of such an individual will be directed for the benefit of others, and he or she is actually visible to someone in a physical body who has sufficient clarity....
http://www.artisticgenius.com/mantra.htm
This site is "The Mantra of Compassion," which, in the artist's words, is:
...a Prayer Wheel that spins at 7000 r.p.m., please feel free to download it onto your hard drive.  In this painting the Tibetan god of compassion Chenrezig is singing the mantra of compassion, or is the manta singing him, in legend Chenrezig is made of  rainbows so I have tried to paint him filled with an infinite polar array of the mantra that is also in the colors of a rainbow so that he vibrates within an infinite field of compassion. Om Mani Padme Hum [in Tibetan: Om Mani Peme Hung], the mantra of compassion, is the primary mantra that was used in Prayer Wheels in Tibet since the 7th Century....The six syllables purify completely the six poisonous negative emotions....   Pride, jeolousy, desire, ignorance, greed, and anger are transformed, through the mantra, into their true nature, the wisdom of the six buddha families that become manifest in the enlightened mind.... It is also said that OM MANI PEME HUNG grants strong protection from all kinds of negative influences, and various forms of illness....
http://www.zhaxizhuoma.net/SEVEN_JEWELS/HOLY%20EVENTS/RAINBOW%20BODY/Christian.html
Finally, this intriguing article, based on the work of Fr. Francis Tiso, who is both a Catholic priest and a Tibetan Buddhist scholar, and whose research in Nepal and Tibet was aided by the well-known Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast, considers "possible similarities between this [rainbow body] experience and the resurrection of Jesus."


Further Recommended Sources:

http://www.khandro.net/Karmapas.htm: This huge site on Tibetan Buddhism offers an intriguing, thorough, wide-ranging, and very rich page on Karmapa lore and history. There is much to explore here.

http://www.khandro.net/kagyu_garland.htm: This page focuses on short biographies of each of the 17 Karmapas, several with colorful portraits.

http://www.jamgonkongtrul.org/epilogue.htm: Here is further data on rainbows in connection with other Tibetan reincarnated beings, in this case, His Eminence the Fourth Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche. The 17th Karmapa is mentioned briefly at the beginning of the page.

9 July 2012: as a longtime member of the Bodhi Tree Educational Foundation's Board of Directors, it has been a pleasure to be asked to create a number of webpages on Regional and Buddhist topics related to the Foundation. Here is our Site Map with links to the pages I have so far created.  I hope you will enjoy them.
Warm wishes,
Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
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