Recognition Of The Third Karmapa

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Recognition of the Third Karmapa by Urgyenpa

by Ben Deitle

In chapter eight of the Blue Annals, we are told of the recognition of Rangjung Dorjé as the third Karmapa by Urgyenpa (Roerich 487-490). This was a pivotal moment in Tibetan history, as it established the precedent of finding the reincarnation of a deceased master in a young boy that was to become a unique component of Tibetan Buddhism. After the death of the second Karmapa, he is said to have practiced the rite of transference into another birth. However, this first attempt did not go well, because the parents of the infant thought he had died and therefore pierced his eyes! After successful entry into another rebirth, he is recognized in his early youth as the reincarnation of the previous Karmapa by Urgyenpa. In this episode Urgyenpa has a premonition that the Karmapa will be coming. After the boy’s arrival, he takes the seat of the Karmapa and declares that he is Urgyenpa’s teacher. This functions to establish the legitimacy of the reincarnation.

This episode in the Blue Annals gives us a glimpse of the beginnings of an important practice of Tibetan Buddhism as it was known in the fifteenth century. The basic elements are there, including the conscious transference into a new birth by the spiritual master, and the subsequent recognition of the reincarnation while still a young boy by a prominent disciple of the previous incarnation. This recognition is accompanied by premonitions coming to the revealer and the display of knowledge of aspects of the previous life by the reincarnation.