The Life of the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339 CE)

Rangjung Dorje, the 3rd Karmapa, was the head of Karma Kagyu, a sub-school of the Kagyu tradition. Well known for his teachings on Buddha-nature, his treatises on Dzogchen and Mahamudra introduce the profound meaning of the Vajrayana inner yogas. His life is full of profound experiences, pilgrimage, visions, and extensive study and practice. He composed on a range of topics from doha (songs of realization), astrology, chöd, biography, and scriptural commentaries.

I honor the sacred,

Noble guru's dharmakāya--

In essence as sahaja, great bliss, 

The mind of all buddhas, simplicity. 

Please inspire me to realize clearly

The variety of illusory play.

—From Rangjung Dorje's song, A Message to the Entire Kingdom
(The Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, translated by Ruth Gamble)

"Rangjung Dorje’s story also provided fascinating insights into a very different world from mine, the world of a recognized reincarnate, whose sometime- discomfort, sometime- thriving relationship with his reincarnate status reminded me of not just the Seventeenth Karmapa but of many other people in similar situations. And then there were his visions. Rangjung Dorje’s story and songs may have resonated with me, but they also transported me to a version of the world that was very foreign to me. His stories and songs mixed the common with the otherworldly."

—Ruth Gamble, from the Preface to The Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje: Master of Mahamudra

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche inspired Matthieu Ricard to create this anthology by telling him that “when we come to appreciate the depth of the view of the eight great traditions [of Tibetan Buddhism] and also see that they all lead to the same goal without contradicting each other, we think, ‘Only ignorance can lead us to adopt a sectarian view.’” Ricard has selected and translated some of the most profound and inspiring teachings from across these traditions.

The selected teachings are taken from the sources of the traditions, including the Buddha himself, Nagarjuna, Guru Rinpoche, Atisha, Shantideva, and Asanga; from great masters of the past, including Thogme Zangpo, the Fifth Dalai Lama, Milarepa, Longchenpa, and Sakya Pandita; and from contemporary masters, including the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and Mingyur Rinpoche. They address such topics as the nature of the mind; the foundations of taking refuge, generating altruistic compassion, acquiring merit, and following a teacher; view, meditation, and action; and how to remove obstacles and make progress on the path.

Lives of the Masters

Rangjung Dorje's Aspiration for Mahāmudrā

"The Aspiration for Mahāmudrā is one of Rangjung Dorje’s most famous compositions. It is the subject of several commentaries, including the well- known composition by the Eighth Tai Situ, also known as Situ Paṇchen, Chökyi Jungne (1700–1774), Teachings of the Supreme Siddhas. It is also regularly chanted in Karma Kagyü monasteries, homes, and at other gatherings."

-Ruth Gamble, from The Third Karmapa Ranjung Dorje

When the waves of subtle and gross conceptions subside,

The placid stream of mind naturally comes to rest.

May our ocean of calm abiding be stable and calm and

Free from the silt of turbid drowsiness and lethargy.

—From Rangjung Dorje's Aspiration for Mahāmudrā
(The Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, translated by Ruth Gamble)

Here in one compact volume are all of the stages of instruction on the path of Mahāmudrā. Included are concise and complete formal instructions on the ground, path, and fruition of this penetrating practice. This vast and profound commentary originates with the Eighth Situpa, a remarkable scholar and practitioner who is considered the most accomplished of all the Situ emanations.

The Third Karmapa's Mahamudra Prayer
By XII Khentin Tai Situpa Rinpoche
Edited and translated by Rosemarie Fuchs

The Mahamudra Prayer by the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje is a short yet thorough and profound text which presents all the essential points of Mahamudra teaching in terms of view, practice, and fruition. It is a classic that, especially in the tradition of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, has been and is widely used whenever a disciple is given a first introduction into Mahamudra. The Third Karmapa shows how to recognize our ultimate potential as a buddha. The short root text is further explained by Khentin Tai Situpa Pema Donyo Nyingje Wangpo, the twelfth incarnation of the Tai Situpa lineage, which is one of the most important lineages of the Kagyu tradition. His deep understanding of Western culture, especially of the Western psychological perspective, allows him to expound the Dharma with a clarity and directness that is truly inspiring.

This book was previously published under the title Lighting the Way.

See more from The Core Teachings of the Dalai Lama series

"Mahamudra is the ultimate nature of mind—the Third Karmapa's Mahamudra Prayer is both an aspiration that all sentient beings realize the mind's true nature, as well as a clear concise and complete explanation of how we can do so. In this book, the brilliant master Tai Situ Rinpoche explains the Mahamudra Prayer to the modern audience directly in English in a way that is both profound and easy for everyone to understand. Such teachings are priceless and all who aspire to realize the luminous clarity that is the basic nature of mind would benefit greatly from reading this book."—Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche

Other Works by Rangjung Dorje

In Praise of Dharmadhatu
Nagarjuna and Rangjung Dorje on Buddha Nature
Translated by Karl Brunnhölzl

Nāgārjuna's works sit at the heart of Mahāyāna Buddhist thought and practice, but he was renowned in Asia not only for his Madhyamaka work, but also his poetic collection of praises, most famously In Praise of Dharmadhatu. This book explores the scope, contents, and significance of Nāgārjuna’s scriptural legacy in India and Tibet, focusing primarily on this seminal work. The translation of Nāgārjuna’s hymn to buddha nature—here called dharmadhatu—shows how buddha nature is temporarily obscured in the experience of ordinary sentient beings, gradually uncovered through the path of bodhisattvas, and finally revealed in full bloom as buddhahood. Included is a translation of the text’s earliest and most extensive commentary by the Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284–1339), supplemented by relevant excerpts from all other available commentaries.

Luminous Heart
Essential Writings of Rangjung Dorje, the Third with Commentary by Jamgön Kongtrul
Translated by Karl Brunnhölzl

This extraordinary collection of writings on buddha nature by the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje (1284–1339) focuses on the transition from ordinary deluded consciousness to enlightened wisdom, the characteristics of buddhahood, and a buddha’s enlightened activity. The Third Karmapa’s unique and balanced view synthesizes Yogacara Madhyamaka and the classical teachings on buddha nature. Included are commentaries by Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé that supplement the view of the Third Karmapa on two fundamental treatises on buddha nature, emphasizing the luminous empty mind of buddha nature as presented by the great Indian masters Maitreya and Asaṅga. For those practicing the sutrayāna and the vajrayāna in the Kagyü tradition, what these texts describe can be transformed into living experience.

On Buddha Essence
A Commentary on Rangjung Dorje's Treatise
By Khenchen Thrangu and translated by Peter Alan Roberts

According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, human beings' true nature, or buddha essence, is the foundation from which all wisdom develops. In order to discover our buddha essence, the meditator needs to know how to meditate correctly and must properly understand the reasons for practicing meditation. We also need training in how the philosophy and practice come together in the development of insight.

In this book—with clarity, warmth, and humor—renowned Tibetan Buddhist meditation master Khenchen Thrangu explains buddha essence and how to discover it in ourselves by drawing on a classical text of the Kagyu lineage by Rangjung Dorje (the third Karmapa). On Buddha Essence will be of interest to practitioners of all schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Historical Accounts of the Karmapa Line

Rangjung Dorje was the 3rd tulku (reincarnated lama) in a long line of Karmapas stemming from Düsum Khyenpa, the 1st Karmapa (1110-1193). The following books offer a wider view of the Karmapa lineage line by providing a glimpse into each of the Karmapa's lives up to the 16th Karmapa.
history of the karmapas

History of the Karmapas
The Odyssey of the Tibetan Masters with the Black Crown
By Lama Kunsang, Lama Pemo, Marie Aubele, and edited by Maureen Lander

Masters of esoteric knowledge and miraculous practices, the lineage of the Karmapas is the earliest of all the recognized incarnate lineages and is said to descend from the great Indian tantric master Tilopa through a chain that includes Naropa, Marpa, and Milarepa. The Karmapas are distinguished by their black crowns, said to have been woven by dakinis and symbolizing the activity of the buddhas. Unlike other Tibetan Buddhist lineage heads, each Karmapa has specific knowledge of his next reincarnation and leaves behind a "Last Testament," a letter to his disciples describing the place and circumstances of their future rebirth, the name of their parents, and so on. At a very young age, each successive incarnation is often able to recognize himself as the Karmapa. In their recounting of the histories of the seventeen Karmapas, the authors reveal the universal and marvelous concealed in the everyday world. Their lively account peppered with anecdotes is the most comprehensive in the West on this subject, with information from Tibetan, Chinese, Mongolian, French, and English sources.

The Karmapa is the spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Rangjung Rigpe Dorje was the sixteenth of the line which began with Dusum Khyenpa, the first Karmapa, in the twelfth century. Karma Thinley presents the biographies of the first sixteen Karmapas, based on his translations from numerous Tibetan sources. These biographies are not only histories of the training and teaching of these great teachers; they are also inspirational texts used to cultivate devotion in the practitioner. Accompanying the text are sixteen line drawings, based on the thangka paintings of the Karmapas at Rumtek monastery, the seat of the present Karmapa.