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Rumtek is a gompa ("remote place"), a Buddhist ecclesiastical fortification of learning, lineage, and druptap ("sadhana" in Sanskrit: "a means of accomplishing something," i.e., an ego-transcending spiritual practice) associated with Tibetan Buddhism. Located near Gangtok, the capital of the Indian state of Sikkim, it is the largest monastery in the state. Originally built in the mid-1700s under the direction of Changchub Dorje, the 12th Karmapa Lama, it was the main seat of the Karma Kagyu lineage, the 2nd largest and most widely practiced lineage within the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. Along with its fellow Red Hat sects, the Nyingma and Sakya schools, the Kagyu tradition is one of the Sarma or "New Transmission" schools of esoteric Vajrayana (Diamond Vehicle or Thunderbolt Vehicle, referring to the vajra, a mythical weapon favored by Indra the king of the gods which is also used as a ritual implement), founded in the 8th century during the second diffusion of Buddhism from India into Tibet (diffusing the "New Tantras"); Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana are the three yana (vehicles, or methods of achieving enlightenment; a practitioner of Mahayana (the "path of the cause") starts with a potential Buddha-nature and nurtures it via mantrayana (mantras) and paramitayana (six or ten perfections), but it takes three incalculable aeons to lead one to Buddhahood. An outgrowth of Mahayana philosophy, Vajrayana (the "path of the fruit") viewed itself as a faster vehicle to liberation due to its many skillful methods (upaya) of tantric ritual, a system of lineages enabling the mantrayana to lead one to Buddhahood in a single lifetime; the practitioner takes his innate Buddha-nature as the means of practice: Since we innately have an enlightened mind, practicing seeing the world in terms of ultimate truth helps us attain our full Buddha-nature quickly. Vajrayana includes a number of unique practices, including meditation on a yidam, or personal deity, which involves the recitation of mantras, prayers, and visualization of the deity along with the associated mandala with consorts and attendants. The goal within both traditions is to become a sammāsambuddha (fully awakened Buddha), and those on this path are bodhisattvas.
Vajrayana originated among itinerant yogis called mahasiddhas (great adepts) beween the 3rd and 13th centuries; living in forests and caves, they meditated in charnel grounds and gathered in tantric feasts (ganachakra), where they danced, sang, engaged in sex rites, and ingested taboo substances like alcohol, urine, and meat, but later monastic Vajrayana Buddhists reinterpreted and internalized these radically transgressive practices as metaphors and visualization exercises. Vajrayana adopted tantric bodhisattvas and deities such as Bhairava, a fierce form of Shiva (known as Yamantaka in Tibetan Buddhism), along with new forms of ritual practice such as mantras, and developed a large corpus of texts that date to the 7th century or earlier. Vajrayana Buddhism is esoteric in the sense that the transmission of certain teachings only occurs directly from guru to student during a ritual initiation or empowerment (wang in Tibetan, abhiseka in Sanskrit). The Karma Kagyu was founded by Düsum Khyenpa, the 1st Karmapa Lama, regarded as the first historical consciously reincarnate teacher as predicted by Gautama Buddha in the "Samadhiraja Sutra." The lineage is the most ancient tulku (reincarnated) lineage in Tibetan Buddhism, predating the Dalai Lama lineage by more than two centuries. Due to the Kagyu tradition's particularly strong emphasis on guru devotion and guru yoga, it quickly splintered into a number of independent sub-schools centered on charismatic Kagyu teachers and their lineages. The supreme lama of the Karma Kagyu is the Karmapa, who always presides as lineage holder once he has reached his majority and received all the necessary training and dharma transmissions. From the death of one Karmapa until the next takes his seat as lineage holder, one or more of the principal disciples of the previous Karmapa holds the lineage. As with any other lineage of tulkus, the question of recognizing the new incarnation is crucial; sometimes, all concerned parties are sure that a particular child is indeed the new incarnation of that particular master; sometimes they been self-recognizing, meaning that at least 7 of 16 incarnations claimed very early in life to be Karmapa and recognized associates and colleagues of the previous incarnation. Each Karmapa leaves indications leading to his next rebirth, often in the form of a letter that indicated the location and parentage of the next incarnation, though usually in a poetic form that was difficult to decipher.
Karma Pakshi, the 2nd Karmapa, predicted "future Karmapas shall manifest in two Nirmanakaya forms," and the 3rd Karmapa recognized the 1st Shamarpa as the fulfillment of this prophecy, giving the Shamar incarnates a special relationship with the Karmapas. Old Kagyu literature frequently refers to "the 2 Karmapas, black and red hat," and former Shamarpa reincarnations were often called Karmapa and can only differentiated from former Karmapa reincarnations by their personal names. In the 1790s, shortly before the recognition of the 14th Karmapa, the Tibetan government in Lhasa banned the Shamarpa from reincarnating as a result of alleged political intrigues. The Karmapa, however, continued to recognize Shamarpa reincarnations, though as fugitives they were not available to recognize the Karmapas. The Tai Situ has been the next most actively involved in recognising Karmapas, including two of the three recognized between 1790 and 1963. The Shamarpa ban became irrelevant when the 14th Dalai Lama and the 16th Karmapa both fled the Chinese occupation of Tibet in the late 1950s and was formally lifted in 1963. In 1964 the Karmapa clearly denominated Shamarpa as "sovereign" of the lineage: "The most exalted, the lord of the lands of snow is Avalokiteśvara. / The coalescence of his essence is the glorious Karmapa. / Inseparable from his three mysteries, in the manner of the three lords, / Is his manifestation, the great emanation; the majestic sun, / Whom I invest now sovereign of the practice lineage's order. / By the power of scattering auspicious flowers of excellent virtue / Combined with the true words of the ṛiṣhi's truthfulness / May he successfully and everlastingly be the sovereign of the order."
When Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the Karmapa, fled to Sikkim, Rumtek was in ruins, but he rebuilt it as his main seat in exile. After four years, construction was completed, the sacred items retrieved from his Tibetan seat, Tsurphu monastery, were installed, and the new seat was officially inaugurated in 1966. When he died in 1981, he left the lineage in the hands of the 14th Shamarpa, the 12th Tai Situpa, and two others, who formed a council of regents to take joint responsibility for the spiritual affairs of the Karma Kagyu lineage, alternating leadership every three years; the regency dissolved by mutual consent in 1984. In 1986 Chobgye Tri Rinpoche, senior Sakya master and head of one of the three Sakya lineages, informed the Shamarpa about a dream he had and about a relative of his from Lhasa who showed him a picture of a three-year-old child, Trinley Thaye Dorje (the son of Mipham Rinpoche, the reincarnation of a very important lama of the Nyingma school) who repeatedly announced that he was the Karmapa. In 1988 Lopon Tsechu Rinpoche was sent to obtain more information about the child, and another lama was sent to Llasa to meet with the family; the boy told him, "You were sent here for me." This along with other evidence convinced the Shamarpa that the boy was indeed the reincarnation of the late 16th Karmapa.
But in 1989 Tai Situpa opened an amulet that the Karmapa had given him nine months before his death; it allegedly contained a prediction letter that read in part, "From here to the north [in] the east of [the Land of] Snow / Is a country where divine thunder spontaneously blazes. / [In] a beautiful nomad's place with the sign of a cow, / The method is Döndrub and the wisdom is Lolaga. / [Born in] the year of the one used for the earth / [With] the miraculous, far-reaching sound of the white one: / [This] is the one known as Karmapa." In 1992, one month before his 7th birthday Ogyen Trinley Dorje was discovered in the area of Lhathok ["divine (lha) thunder (thog)]." The remote nomadic community in eastern Tibet where he was born was Bagor ("ba" means cow). His mother was Loga, his father was Karma Döndrub Tashi, a name given to him by the 16th Karmapa. "The one used for the earth" seemed to refer to an animal that plows, and Ogyen Trinley was born in the year of the Wood Ox (1985), while the "far-reaching sound of the white one" indicated the sound of the conch shell that resounded in the sky for hours after his birth. After considering the evidence and having a dream in which he saw a valley at a high latitude with multiple streams and other features and heard a voice with no form or body say that was where the Karmapa was born, the Dalai Lama granted the Buktham Rinpoche, the official notification of his approval of the identity of the 17th Karmapa, and Ogyen Trinley Dorje was formally enthroned at Tsurphu monastery, where he lived until 1999. Deciding that the restrictions placed on him by the Chinese limited his ability to teach his disciples and receive teachings from lineage masters, he fled over the Himalayas into Nepal and reached Dharamsala, India, Dalai Lama's government in exile in January 2000. Meanwhile, however, since 1992, the Rumtek monastery has been the site of pitched battles between monks supporting the two rivals; in 1994, 11-year-old Thaye Dorje and his family fled to New Delhi and was formally enthroned at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute. Two rival organizations, the Tsurphu Labrang (supporting Ogyen Trinley Dorje) and the Karmapa Charitable Trust (supporting Trinley Thaye Dorje) claim stewardship of the Rumtek monastery and its contents. Monks supporting Thaye Dorje were expelled from Rumtek by Indian security forces to quell violence between the two factions. In 2011 the state of Himachal Pradesh accused Ogyen Trinley Dorje of being a spy for the People's Republic of China (which had recognized him as "the first reincarnated Living Buddha confirmed and approved by the Central Government"), but the government of India released some of the travel restrictions on him, allowing him to travel out of Dharamsala.
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