Rolpe Dorje, 4th Karmapa Lama

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Rolpe Dorje, the 4th Karmapa

Rolpe Dorje (རོལ་པའི་རྡོ་རྗེ་ེ་) (1340–1383) was the fourth Gyalwa Karmapa. According to legend the fourth Karmapa's mother, while pregnant, could hear the sound of the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum while the child was in her womb and the baby said the mantra as soon as he was born. His early life was full of miracles and manifested a total continuity of the teachings and qualities of his former incarnation, including receiving teachings in his dreams. While in his teens, he received the formal transmissions of both the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages from the great Nyingma guru Yungtönpa, the third Karmapa's spiritual heir, now very advanced in years. At the age of nineteen, he accepted Toghon Temur's invitation to return to China where he gave teachings for three years and established many temples and monasteries.

On his return to Tibet, while in the Tsongkha region, Rolpi Dorje gave lay ordination to a very special child, whom he predicted to be of great importance to Buddhism in Tibet. This was Tsong Khapa, the future founder of the Gelugpa school, famous for its Dalai Lamas.

When Temur died, the Mongol dynasty ended and the Ming dynasty began. The new emperor invited Rolpi Dorje, who declined the invitation but sent another lama in his stead. Rolpi Dorje composed mystic songs throughout his life and was an accomplished poet, fond of Indian poetics. He is also remembered for creating a huge painting (thangka) following a vision of one of his students, who had imagined a Buddha image over a 100 metres tall. The Karmapa, on horseback, traced the Buddha's outline with hoofprints. The design was measured and traced on cloth. It took 500 workers more than a year to complete the thangka, which depicted the Buddha, Maitreya and Manjusri; the founders of Mahayana.

The monastery of Shadzong Ritro near Taktser village, where the 14th Dalai Lama was born, was founded at the 14th century by the 4th Karmapa.


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Preceded by
Rangjung Dorje
Reincarnation of the Karmapa Succeeded by
Deshin Shekpa