Diamond Way Buddhism
Diamond Way Buddhism is a worldwide network for lay people from all walks of life, who incorporate Buddhist practice in their daily lives.
Diamond Way Buddhism belongs to the thousand-year-old Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Lama Ole Nydahl, a Western Buddhist master born in Denmark, established Diamond Way Buddhism in the 1970’s, together with his wife Hannah Nydahl. Their main teacher the 16th Karmapa asked them to teach what they had learned and to start Buddhist centers in the West.
More than 40 years later, there are now 653 Diamond Way Buddhist centers around the world. The meditation methods that you can learn in these centers are all traditional Buddhist teachings, but presented in a modern, Western setting and language, accessible to all.
The name “Diamond Way” is a translation of the Sanskrit word Vajrayana. Vajrayana is considered to be the most direct of the three levels of Buddha’s teachings. It is part of all the “old schools” of Tibetan Buddhism, and can also be found in other parts of the world.
About Diamond Way Buddhism
Lama Ole Nydahl is the main teacher of Diamond Way Buddhist centers, which he founded on behalf of Karmapa, the leader of the Karma Kagyu lineage. He travels around the world throughout the year to take care of his students; Lama Ole’s teaching schedule is packed with public lectures and meditation courses.
Lama Ole has also empowered a number of his experienced students as lay Diamond Way Buddhist teachers. They give practical explanations about Buddhism in Diamond Way centers.
Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa and other high Buddhist teachers such as Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche and Lama Jigme Rinpoche visit Diamond Way Buddhist centers and large meditation courses.
The Diamond Way Buddhist centers are the first point of contact for people who want to know about Buddhism and get explanations about meditation from experienced Buddhist practitioners. That’s also where the local Buddhist practitioners meet to meditate, socialize and take part in the center’s activities. In each center, you can find guided meditations once or more times a week, and in some even every day.
Non-profit foundations and associations
Each center runs itself independently, while usually belonging to an umbrella charity or non-profit organization for that country. In Amsterdam our main objective is to promote and maintain / preserve the Buddhist religion, philosophy and culture in the tradition of the Karma Kagyu School, under the spiritual authority of His Holiness Karmapa Thaye Dorje , said as a spiritual leader accepted: Lama Ole Nydahl.
All Diamond Way Buddhist centers and organizations are run on a voluntary basis and supported by personal donations, center memberships and profit from Buddhist courses, lectures and books.
40 years of Buddhism in the West
After several years in the Himalayas learning and traveling with the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje Teaching and working unceasingly in Europe, Russia and the Americas has resulted in the international movement of friendship, freedom and human development that is Diamond Way Buddhism today.
“We would all like to thank you and show our gratitude for the last 40 years of spreading the Buddha-dharma across the world, giving refuge, giving Phowa, and teaching Ngöndro, and bringing all of you together as a big family. I would like to wish a very very long life, a strong life, so that you may continue to make Buddhism accessible throughout the world.”
– Karmapa to Lama Ole Nydahl at the 40th anniversary of Diamond Way Buddhism in 2012
What is Buddhism?
The goal of Buddhism is a state of lasting, unconditional happiness known as enlightenment.
To bring us to this state, Buddhism points us to lasting values in this impermanent world, and gives us valuable information about how things really are. Through understanding the law of cause and effect, using practical tools like meditation to gain insight and develop compassion and wisdom, we — all of us — can tap into our potential to realize the ultimate goal of enlightenment.
“From a Buddhist perspective happiness and joy do not depend on outer conditions, which change constantly, but on the experiencer of all phenomena — mind itself.”
Lama Ole Nydahl, Buddha and Love
Lasting values in an impermanent world
If we really pay attention, we can see that everything in the outside world is changing. Quickly like a candle flame or slowly like a mountain, even the most “solid” things change. They have no truly permanent essence.
Our inner world of thoughts and feelings is in the same state of constant change. The more we realize how everything is impermanent and dependent on many conditions, the healthier a perspective we can keep on our lives, our relationships, possessions, and values — focusing on what truly matters.
If everything comes and goes, is there anything that stays? According to Buddhism, the only thing that is always present is the awareness in which all these experiences and phenomena appear. This awareness is not only timeless but also inherently joyful.
To recognize this timeless awareness here and now means to become enlightened, and it is the ultimate goal of Buddhism.
Karma: What goes around, comes around
Buddhism inspires us to take responsibility for our own lives, without moralizing, by understanding cause and effect (karma). Just like gravity, the law of karma functions, everywhere and all the time.
Buddha explained in great detail how we shape our future through our thoughts, words and actions. What we do now accumulates good or bad impressions in our mind. Knowing this gives us great freedom and puts us back in control of our lives. Karma is not fate. We can choose not to do harmful actions, and thus avoid creating the causes of future suffering. To sow the the seeds for good results, we engage in positive actions.
Through Buddhist meditation, we can also remove the negative impressions already accumulated in our mind from former actions. Once we see how much suffering comes from simply not understanding cause and effect, we naturally develop compassion for others.
Compassion and wisdom
In Buddhism, compassion and wisdom go together. Practicing meditation regularly, we get more space in our mind, and distance from difficult thoughts and feelings. This allows us to see that everyone has the same basic problems as us, and we strengthen our compassionate wish to try to do something to help others.
When we act from compassion, focusing on others rather than ourselves, we get better feedback from the world. The disturbing emotions that we all have, like anger, pride, attachment, and jealousy, loosen their grip. Where there is space that we don’t instantly fill with our own concerns any more, wisdom has a chance to appear spontaneously.
Thus, wisdom and compassion grow and support each other on the path.
The Buddha was special because he was the first person to attain full enlightenment in recorded history. But there is no essential difference between the Buddha and us. We all have a mind, and we can all attain liberation and enlightenment by working with our minds.
Our body, thoughts, and feelings are constantly changing. Buddhism views them as “empty” — empty of any lasting essence, meaning that they are no basis for a real, separate ego or self. The state of liberation comes when we not only understand this intellectually but experience it in a deep, lasting way. With no solid ego we stop taking things personally. We gain an enormous space for joyful development, without the need to react to every negative emotion that comes by.
Enlightenment is the ultimate goal in Buddhism. All positive qualities — especially joy, fearlessness, and compassion — are now fully perfected. Here, our awareness is all-encompassing, and not limited in any way. With no confusion or disturbance in our minds, we benefit others spontaneously and effortlessly.
The life of the Buddha
The life story of the Buddha begins in Lumbini, near the border of Nepal and India, about 2,600 years ago, where the man Siddharta Gautama was born.
Although born a prince, he realized that conditioned experiences could not provide lasting happiness or protection from suffering. After a long spiritual search he went into deep meditation, where he realized the nature of mind. He achieved the state of unconditional and lasting happiness: the state of enlightenment, of buddhahood. This state of mind is free from disturbing emotions and expresses itself through fearlessness, joy and active compassion. For the rest of his life, the Buddha taught anyone who asked how they could reach the same state.
“I teach because you and all beings want to have happiness and want to avoid suffering. I teach the way things are”
– The Buddha
Buddha’s early life
India at the time of the Buddha was very spiritually open. Every major philosophical view was present in society, and people expected spirituality to influence their daily lives in positive ways.
At this time of great potential, Siddhartha Gautama, the future Buddha, was born into a royal family in what is now Nepal, close to the border with India. Growing up, the Buddha was exceptionally intelligent and compassionate. Tall, strong, and handsome, the Buddha belonged to the Warrior caste. It was predicted that he would become either a great king or spiritual leader. Since his parents wanted a powerful ruler for their kingdom, they tried to prevent Siddharta from seeing the unsatisfactory nature of the world. They surrounded him with every kind of pleasure. He was given five hundred attractive ladies and every opportunity for sports and excitement. He completely mastered the important combat training, even winning his wife, Yasodhara, in an archery contest.
Suddenly, at age 29, he was confronted with impermanence and suffering. On a rare outing from his luxurious palace, he saw someone desperately sick. The next day, he saw a decrepit old man, and finally a dead person. He was very upset to realize that old age, sickness and death would come to everyone he loved. Siddharta had no refuge to offer them.
The next morning the prince walked past a meditator who sat in deep absorption. When their eyes met and their minds linked, Siddhartha stopped, mesmerized. In a flash, he realized that the perfection he had been seeking outside must be within mind itself. Meeting that man gave the future Buddha a first and enticing taste of mind, a true and lasting refuge, which he knew he had to experience himself for the good of all.
The Buddha decided he had to leave his royal responsibilities and his family in order to realize full enlightenment. He left the palace secretly, and set off alone into the forest. Over the next six years, he met many talented meditation teachers and mastered their techniques. Always he found that they showed him mind’s potential but not mind itself. Finally, at a place called Bodhgaya, the future Buddha decided to remain in meditation until he knew mind’s true nature and could benefit all beings. After spending six days and nights cutting through mind’s most subtle obstacles, he reached enlightenment on the full moon morning of May, a week before he turned thirty-five.
At the moment of full realization, all veils of mixed feelings and stiff ideas dissolved and Buddha experienced the all-encompassing here and now. All separation in time and space disappeared. Past, present, and future, near and far, melted into one radiant state of intuitive bliss. He became timeless, all-pervading awareness. Through every cell in his body he knew and was everything. He became Buddha, the Awakened One.
After his enlightenment, Buddha traveled on foot throughout northern India. He taught constantly for forty-five years. People of all castes and professions, from kings to courtesans, were drawn to him. He answered their questions, always pointing towards that which is ultimately real.
Throughout his life, Buddha encouraged his students to question his teachings and confirm them through their own experience. This non-dogmatic attitude still characterizes Buddhism today.
“I can die happily. I have not kept a single teaching hidden in a closed hand. Everything that is useful for you, I have already given. Be your own guiding light.”
– The Buddha, while leaving his body at the age of eighty
Being a Buddhist
Buddhists generally describe themselves as happy people. But becoming Buddhist doesn’t magically change the world around us to fit our needs. So what is it that changes?
To be a Buddhist, we don’t need to wear any special clothing, change our eating habits, or give up material possessions or a social life. It’s as simple as changing our perception — not taking the obstacles that come our way so seriously, and seeing everything around us as interesting and full of potential. Simple to say but not always easy to do.
By understanding the teachings and using tools like meditation, as Buddhists we gradually alter our view of whatever is happening in life. It’s not about putting on rose-tinted glasses but rather removing veils that prevent us from seeing how things really are.
The Buddha’s teachings are a great treasury of helpful advice and each tradition emphasizes different aspects of Buddhism. When it comes to living the teachings, monks, nuns, and lay people have quite different lifestyles. What can we say here about Diamond Way Buddhists?
Diamond Way Buddhists are lay people, often with families and regular jobs, who incorporate Buddhist methods into their daily lives.
What makes you a Buddhist?
In order to be able to become Buddhist, we need to take responsibility for creating our own lives, with the confidence that cause and effect, or karma, really functions. Through our thoughts and judgments, we create habits and attitudes that either limit or free us. Through experience, we see that we create today the causes of our situations tomorrow.
If we want to take this responsibility and decide to use this chance to reach the state of a Buddha, what do we need?
We need values that we can trust. Mind is the only thing that doesn’t change. It wasn’t born and cannot die. It is always and everywhere like space. Enlightenment, or Buddhahood, is a fully developed state of mind and is the goal of Buddhism. As Buddhists, we make a connection with this state – we open up to it – and this we call taking refuge. We also take refuge in the teachings (Dharma) that bring us to the goal, in our friends on the way (Sangha), and in our teacher (Lama).
From the state of complete joy and accomplishment of enlightenment, we can do the most to benefit others. So Buddhists also strengthen their determination to pursue this goal, so that we can share it with others. And to use whatever strength and insight we get on the way for the benefit of all. This noble aspiration is known as the Bodhisattva Promise.
How do we become enlightened?
Practicing meditation, we get used to being in a state with less disturbing emotions and more joy and clarity. Then we try to bring the perspective experienced in meditation into daily life. If a difficult situation comes up, can we see it from a bigger perspective with less drama? Can we see the potential even in that person who’s triggering our emotions today?
It is really important to start the day by remembering compassion. It doesn’t have to take long, but just for a moment be aware of how many beings there are and really wish that everybody becomes free from suffering. It makes a big difference if you wish that whatever you do will benefit them somehow.
– Hannah Nydahl, interview in Buddhism Today
Our meditation practice is like a laboratory; we work on ourselves in a closed environment. Then we check our view and reactions in daily life — stuck in traffic, negotiating at work, or trying our best with our partners, co-workers, or children. The proof of spiritual development is being better able to handle real-life situations with grace, skill, and humor.
If this sounds reasonable and like something one can use, then it’s natural to ask where to begin.
Where to start?
The easiest way in the West is to find a Buddhist center near you, where you can get an introduction to Buddhism and learn meditation. There are usually books, magazines and recorded lectures available to check out. If you like the people and meditations in the Buddhist center, then it makes sense to visit a lecture by a Buddhist master like Lama Ole Nydahl or Karmapa when they teach in your city or country.
In his 45-year teaching career, the Buddha gave teachings to a wide variety of people. Those who came to him fell into three main groups — as people also do today. Buddha gave them different teachings, which can be classified into different types of Buddhism.
Theravada (The School of the Elders)
The Theravada provides teachings about cause and effect (karma), as well as pacifying meditations to create distance from difficult thoughts and feelings. Following these teachings – also described as the Small Way (Sanskrit: Hinayana) – the understanding arises that thoughts and feelings are not personal. This gives us the opportunity to act in a beneficial way and accumulate positive karma.
The teachings spread mainly through countries in South-East Asia, including Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, and Burma. Today, the School of the Elders (Sanskrit: Theravada), is the closest example of this type of Buddhism. Their goal is liberation from all disturbances.
Mahayana (Great Way)
Mahayana teachings attract people whose primary motivation in life is to be useful to others, also known as the Bodhisattva Attitude. The teachings and meditations of the Great Way aim to gradually increase compassion and wisdom. Supporting development on this way is the wisdom that the world is like a dream. Therefore, it can be changed through our thoughts, words, and actions. These Buddhist teachings spread chiefly through northern Asia – into Japan, Vietnam, China, Tibet, and Korea. For this reason, the Great Way (Sanskrit: Mahayana) schools are also known as Northern Buddhist schools. Their goal is to become not just liberated, but fully enlightened for the benefit of all. The Mahayana includes the Theravada teachings.
Vajrayana (Diamond Way)
Buddha’s teachings described as the Diamond Way (Sanskrit: Vajrayana) are about the mind itself. These direct teachings that Buddha gave are for those who have a special kind of confidence. They understand that they can only perceive perfection outside because they have the same innate perfection inside. In Vajrayana, the Buddha is not considered a person; rather he is a mirror to our own mind. The teachings point out mind’s perfect qualities directly. They are often known as Buddhist Tantra. When Buddhism was destroyed in its native land, these teachings survived mainly in Tibet. The Vajrayana also includes the Theravada and Mahayana teachings.
Buddhism in the West
“There have never been so many gifted, independent, and idealistic people who have unbroken access to such a variety of Buddhist information as there are today.”
– Lama Ole Nydahl, The Way Things Are
Buddhism is now widespread in the West and known as a major world religion. It started in the East, in northern India. At that time, around 2,600 years ago, India was highly civilized. It resembled ancient Greece, the intellectual ancestor of the modern West, where philosophical schools made an important contribution to society. The Buddha debated with and defeated the best philosophers of his age, many of whom became his students.
Buddha’s teaching was not only theoretical. It also included methods to experience the truth of what he taught. His students were thus able to realize the experience behind the words. Because they were able to pass on the essence of the teachings from teacher to student, Buddhism has been kept fresh and relevant until today.
In the video below, Lama Ole Nydahl, a well-known Western Buddhist master, explains the parallels between ancient Greek thought and Buddhist philosophy.
Lama Ole Nydahl talking about Buddhism in the West
How Buddhism came to the West
The first Western interest in Buddhism was from archeologists and scholars. Indeed, it was thanks to British surveys that many important Buddhist sites in India were rediscovered. A few Western pioneers and adventurers seriously practised Buddhism with native teachers in Tibet and other countries, but in general Buddhism was seen as something exotic, and not considered a useful way of life.
Arguably the first great meeting of Buddhism and Western popular culture was when Zen Buddhism came to America in the 1950s. The witty, paradoxical style of Rinzai Zen, with koans (meditation subjects in the form of riddles) such as “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” made a great impression on the Beat generation. Teachers from Japan established several traditional meditation centers. Despite its strong cultural flavor, Zen, probably the best known Mahayana school, grew steadily in the US and other countries, producing its own Western teachers, fully qualified to carry on the transmission.
Although the Theravada had come West as early as the beginning of the 20th century, it is mainly popular among immigrants from Buddhist countries. The traditional reliance on monks and nuns, who must beg for food on a daily alms round and live under restrictive conditions, makes it difficult to fully integrate into Western society. The teachings typical of the Theravada, however, such as the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and an emphasis on material renunciation as a path to enlightenment, are well represented in most popular definitions of Buddhism.
Tibetan Buddhism, with its colorful depictions of buddha forms, use of mantras, and distinctive visual style, is easy to recognize wherever it has spread. And after the bloody Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1950s forced so many Tibetans to flee, it has spread very far. First offered refugee status in northern India, Tibetan Buddhist teachers later visited Europe, the US, and other countries. The last decades of the 20th century saw several Tibetan monasteries founded in the West, and lay Tibetan Buddhism also spread widely.
Lama Ole Nydahl and his wife Hannah worked since the 1970s to translate and spread the Karma Kagyu lineage of lay Tibetan Buddhism in the West. Having been given the all-important authorization to teach, they kept the traditional meditations and left behind the cultural elements, in order to make the wisdom tradition of the East understandable and relevant to modern Western people. They founded Diamond Way Buddhism for lay students of Karma Kagyu Buddhism, which is now one of the most widespread Buddhist schools in the West.
Today, Buddhism remains the main religion in many East Asian countries, and is flourishing in all spiritually free countries. It serves as a spiritual path for 10-15% of the world’s population.
Buddhism was founded in ancient India by the Buddha. In the next centuries, three main branches of Buddhism developed, having essentially the same aim but emphasizing different aspects of Buddha’s teachings. Theravada and Mahayana teachings spread through south and north Asia respectively. But the Vajrayana largely remained in India, passed down in secret from teacher to student. Often, only a single student was entrusted with a particular transmission. In this way, the highest level of the Buddha’s teachings was preserved.
In Tibet, Buddhist texts had been translated since the 7th century, but Buddhism was not widely practiced. In the 8th century, the King, Trisong Detsen, established Buddhism as the state religion. He invited famous Buddhist masters to Tibet. Among the teachers who came was the legendary Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), who taught widely for many years. The Nyingma school, one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism, mainly follows teachings from this time.
In the latter part of the 9th century, Buddhism was suppressed in Tibet by the shamanist King Langdarma, and remained in decline. In the late 11th century, there was a second period of translation of Buddhist teachings from Sanskrit into Tibetan. At this time, the Sakya tradition, another important school of Tibetan Buddhism, developed.
When the hero Marpa (1012-1097) traveled three times over the Himalayas from Tibet to India, he was able to meditate and study with very highly realized masters. Marpa brought important transmissions, including the highest teachings of the Great Seal (Sanskrit: Mahamudra) to Tibet. He also produced many important translations. The Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism begins with Marpa. After Marpa, the Kagyu lineage continued through Milarepa and Gampopa to Dusum Khyenpa, the 1st Karmapa. The line of transmission after the 1st Karmapa is known as the Karma Kagyu, which the Karmapas have led ever since. There are also other branches of the Kagyu that have survived until today.
A traditional Tibetan Buddhist book, and a mala – beads used to count mantras during meditation
Three hundred years after Marpa, the Gelug school was founded. The most well-known teacher in the Gelug school is the Dalai Lama. The 1st Dalai Lama was a student of Tsongkhapa, who was given his monk’s vows by the 4th Karmapa.
These four schools: Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu, and Gelug, are the main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. They preserved the Hinayana, Mahayana, and especially the Vajrayana level of Buddha’s teachings for centuries, after Buddhism had been almost completely eradicated in India.
In the 1950s when the Communist Chinese invaded Tibet, teachers of all schools fled to neighboring countries. As a result, Tibetan Buddhist meditation is now widely practiced in the West.
Karma Kagyu lineage
Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, the current holder of the Karma Kagyu lineage.
The Kagyu lineage is one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It has its origins with the historical Buddha.
In ancient India, the teachings passed from teacher to student for around 1,500 years. Then in the tenth century, tradition tells us that a wandering ascetic named Tilopa (988-1069) achieved full realization. Tilopa gave many teachings including the famous “Ganges Mahamudra”, which Lama Ole Nydahl often teaches on Diamond Way Buddhist courses. Tilopa chose Naropa as his main student.
Naropa (1016-1100) was a former professor of Buddhist philosophy. Tilopa used very strong methods to break Naropa’s reliance on concepts (Naropa’s 12 Major Trials), and eventually Naropa realized the inner meaning of the teachings. Naropa systematized the meditations he got from Tilopa into the famous Six Yogas of Naropa: Illusory Body, Phowa, Conscious Dreaming, Clear Light, Bardo, and Inner Heat. All of these meditations are practiced in the Karma Kagyu lineage today. Diamond Way Buddhist students practice the Phowa and Clear Light meditations.
Marpa the Translator (1012-1097) was a layman with a family and a business. He was also a fully realized Buddhist master. Marpa made the difficult and dangerous journey from Tibet to India on foot over the Himalayas not once, but three times. Marpa united the Mahamudra teachings from the master Maitripa and the meditations on inner energies (the Six Yogas) from Naropa. Marpa brought back many important teachings and translated them into Tibetan. Marpa is the first Tibetan master in this lineage and the founder of the Kagyu school.
Milarepa had a dark childhood, and used black magic to wreak revenge on many people who had oppressed his family. Having repented, he turned to Buddhism to purify his past misdeeds. Milarepa built several towers for his teacher Marpa with his bare hands, which Marpa would cruelly tell him to tear down again. In this way, Marpa skilfully removed many karmic obstacles for his student. Milarepa spent years in retreat, and reached enlightenment. He is best known for his spontaneous songs of realization.
Gampopa was Milarepa’s most renowned student. The “doctor from Dhagpo” lost his wife to illness. On her deathbed she made him promise not to take another wife, and so Gampopa became a monk. Gampopa trained with Milarepa, achieved realization, and accumulated perhaps 50,000 students. Four of Gampopa’s students founded four major branches of the Kagyu lineage: Barom Kagyu, Karma Kagyu, Phagdru Kagyu, and Tshalpa Kagyu.
Another of Milarepa’s students, the yogi Rechungpa, brought several important transmissions into the Karma Kagyu lineage, and, along with Gampopa, was a teacher of Dusum Khyenpa (1110-1193). Upon meeting Dusum Khyenpa, Gampopa told his students, “He is pretending to be a disciple of mine in order to hold my lineage for future sentient beings, but in actuality, he has already accomplished the goal of the path.”
Dusum Khyenpa became the next Kagyu lineage holder. Before he died, he told his students, “In order to preserve and spread these teachings I will reincarnate again.” And just as he had predicted, the 2nd Karmapa soon appeared, telling everyone at a very young age that he was the Karmapa. The Karmapas are thus the oldest reincarnate lineage in Tibetan Buddhism. The lineage that began with Dusum Khyenpa is known as the Karma Kagyu lineage. “Karma” in the name of the lineage comes from Karmapa.
The Karma Kagyu lineage continued from the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, through his lineage holders and the successive Karmapa reincarnations, to the 17th Karmapa today.
Benefits of meditation
Meditation is a profound method that reaches deep enough to fully enlighten us. But while we’re still on the way to the ultimate goal, we might notice various other benefits.
When we get distracted during meditation, we bring ourselves back to the object that we’re meditating on. In this way, we practise not being carried away by our emotions or thoughts. We’re simply aware of them. And when this habit leaks out into daily life, we’ll probably find that our relationships with people improve. We’re not so quick to react with anger or jealousy. And if we do, we recover faster.
Meditation can give us a bigger perspective, which in turn can lead to less stress. Experiencing less stress gives a cascade of physical and mental benefits. Physically, we can experience better sleep and more energy. And psychologically, we are simply happier.
It’s natural for us to then use this surplus from meditation to help others. We try to use our increasing clarity to see what will give people the most benefit for the longest time. Then we put our power into that. Acting in this way creates more positive impressions in our mind, which in turn makes our meditation easier and more effective.
Tibetan Buddhist meditation
The principles of calming the mind (Tibetan: shinay, Sanskrit: shamatha) and generating deep insight (Tib: lhaktong, Skt: vipashyana) apply to all kinds of Buddhist meditation. A specialty of Tibetan Buddhism is exciting meditations on forms of energy and light. Some of these meditations also work with the inner energies of the body, and have very strong effects. They must usually be learned in retreat. Many of them are not so practical for modern Western lifestyles. The Yoga of Inner Heat, one of the Six Yogas of Naropa, for example, is very practical for keeping warm in the snowy mountains of Tibet!
One special meditation method, which is especially treasured by the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, is identification with the teacher (Sanskrit: guru yoga). When we meditate on an enlightened teacher, we remember that the teacher has realized the nature of mind. The outer form of the teacher thus represents to us the enlightened mind itself. If we did not also possess these enlightened qualities, doing a meditation like this would not have much effect. But we do. Enlightenment is beyond all limits, meaning it must be always and everywhere. All beings, including ourselves, are Buddhas who simply haven’t realized it yet.
Our openness to the living example of the teacher shows us what enlightenment looks like in real life. We realize that enlightenment isn’t something abstract or only for other people. This confidence in our Buddha nature allows us to actually experience it more and more. When we look at the teacher, we see the qualities outside; when we look into our own mind during meditation, we experience them inside. In the end we realize that this separation between inside and outside can no longer be upheld.
All Diamond Way meditations are, in a way, meditations on the teacher. This is especially clear in the meditation on the 16th Karmapa, the Guru Yoga from the Foundational Practices, and the 8th Karmapa meditation.
To melt one’s own mind with the mind of the teacher is the most profound practice and the shortest way to realization. It is the life force of this path and the one practice that unites all the others.
– Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910-1991)
Meditating in daily life
“Sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”
— Zen proverb
For best results, Buddhist teachers advise us to meditate regularly. Most of us already have busy schedules, so what strategies can we use to integrate daily meditation into our lives?
Integrating meditation into daily life
After trying the meditation on the 16th Karmapa in a Diamond Way Buddhist center, what next? If you like the general feeling of this main meditation and the people in the center, it means that probably Diamond Way meditation methods suit you. All of our centers offer the meditation on the 16th Karmapa at least once a week. And we can also use these methods at other times.
It makes sense to take refuge first thing in the morning – to open up to the goal of enlightenment, to the teachings that bring us there, our friends on the way, and our chosen teacher. Turning our mind towards lasting values, and strengthening the wish to be useful to others, sets an excellent frame for the day.
Having taken refuge, we can use brief moments throughout the day, when the boss has gone out or the children are sleeping, for informal meditation sessions. Performing a shortened version of the meditations on the teacher that we have already learned and practiced formally is a great way to step off the treadmill of our ordinary attitude.
And of course, including a formal meditation session at the beginning or end of each day (or whenever possible) ensures that we are growing not only older, but also wiser.
First of all, try to see everybody and everything on the highest possible level. Meditate when possible, even if only for a few minutes. Don’t judge your meditations, and enjoy the aware space behind and between the experiences. It is your buddha essence and the source of highest, timeless bliss.
— Lama Ole Nydahl, interview published in Buddhism Today, Issue 20
Can I just meditate at home?
After learning a meditation by getting the explanations and meditating it through with someone in the center, you can practice it home or anywhere, not only in a Buddhist center.
Most Diamond Way practitioners combine both — the comfort of meditating at home and the support of meditating in the Buddhist center with people doing the same meditations. In the Buddhist center, someone is always available to answer questions we might have about our meditation practice. This is especially useful if we decide that we want to take Diamond Way Buddhism as our path and start the Foundational Practices.
Being around the sangha (Buddhist practitioners) is a great way to strengthen friendships as well as our practice. Rich human exchange with friends who are traveling on the same way as us is a real gift and gives a helpful mirror to our own development.
Meditation courses offer the chance to practice more intensively, or to learn new things. In Tibet, the Karmapas and other Kagyu masters would often travel from one place to another with hundreds of their students, meditating with them and giving teachings as they went. Traveling to meditation courses, near and far, whether small events with a handful of friends, or large international courses of several thousand people, is very common among Diamond Way Buddhists. It always brings an enriching exchange with the teacher and fellow practitioners.
Among many other possibilities, the annual Summer Course in the Europe Center always has a full program of meditation and teachings or empowerments by high lamas.
Apart from the many Diamond Way Buddhist centers in cities, there are also many beautiful retreat centers, usually in areas more remote from the unceasing buzz of the busy world. Short retreats are commonly used as an intensive period of meditation to push our daily practice forward. Longer retreats should only be undertaken after consulting one’s trusted lama.
Different retreat centers offer different conditions: some are in the remote countryside and others are close to towns; some can accommodate closed individual retreats and in others the retreatants all take part in the daily life of running the center. In the choice of retreat centers, as in many things, the best way is to ask the advice of one’s experienced friends in the Buddhist center.
Diamond Way meditations
Buddhist meditation is a tool for a well-balanced, calm and happy mind.
Over time, meditation leads to an ever-better understanding of ourselves and the world of phenomena. Observing everything coming and going in our mind gives us the space to finally recognize the observer of everything — the true nature of mind.
You can learn Diamond Way meditations in all of our 653 Buddhist centers around the world. Beginners must get the oral explanations in order to be able to practice properly. Meditating with a group is very helpful to learn the rhythm and sequences of the meditation. It’s also a great way to stay motivated to continue the meditation practice!
The following meditations, together with the view of the Great Seal (Mahamudra) can lead in one lifetime to liberation and enlightenment. They are traditional meditation practices of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. They were transmitted to Lama Ole Nydahl by various masters of the lineage, and translated to Western languages to give direct access and understanding to Buddhist students in the West.
16th Karmapa Meditation
The bread-and-butter practice of Diamond Way Buddhism. All our centers offer it as the main meditation practice, and most Diamond Way Buddhists do it daily. Here, one imagines the 16th Karmapa — the realized teacher — and receives his blessing for body, speech and mind. One melts with his qualities, and continues with a fresh, wider, and less personal view on the world. The 16th Karmapa composed this meditation himself and asked Hannah and Lama Ole to teach it as the main practice in the West. It’s a very condensed and very effective meditation.
The Refuge Meditation builds the beginning of a long meditation series. Here one checks if one really wishes to engage in a serious Buddhist path. One will get familiar with, and take refuge in, lasting values. The Buddha represents the ultimate goal of enlightenment, the teachings bring one to this state of mind, the realized Bodhisattvas are friends on the Buddhist path, and the lama represents blessing, methods, and protection at the same time, and is necessary to reach enlightenment. Repeating a refuge formula, one opens up to these four sources of refuge. After completing 11,111 repetitions, one can decide if one is ready to start the Four Foundational practices, which take longer.
The Foundational Practices, or Extraordinary Preliminary Practices (Ngöndro in Tibetan) consist of four meditations done one after another. Each of them are repeated 111,111 times. They prepare one’s mind for more advanced meditation.
Taking Refuge and Developing the Enlightened attitude
This is a well known physical practice from Tibet. One prostrates while visualizing all the aspects of the Refuge and repeating a refuge formula. This practice mainly cleans hindrances of the body so that it becomes a useful tool on the way to enlightenment. The openness and devotion which will appear are used for the next meditation, on Diamond Mind.
In this meditation one cleans difficult subconscious impressions (the causes of disturbing feelings) before they can manifest as difficult results in one’s daily life. One uses the mantra of the Buddha Diamond Mind, who has the ability to dissolve all impressions of whatever we have said or done in this or former lives.
After having cleaned body, speech and mind, one gets the space to receive new impressions. That’s why this practice can enrich our now open mind with everything good imaginable. One focuses on everything beautiful, precious, good and pure which one offers to the refuge. The surplus and joy that appear from this practice are used to benefit others.
The Guru Yoga meditation follows the same principle as the 16th Karmapa meditation. It is a more elaborate practice, where one repeats certain wishes to the whole transmission lineage, and increases one’s devotion and openness to the source for development. The identification with the lama will help us to experience the world as ever more blissful.
The daily 5-minute invocation of the protector of the Karma Kagyu lineage, which helps to diminish hindrances on the way to enlightenment. This sung meditation is one of the few practices that is guided in the Tibetan language.
8th Karmapa Meditation
The Guru Yoga on the 8th Karmapa is an advanced meditation for which one can ask for authorization to practice after having completed the Foundational practices.
Additional meditation practices
The Phowa meditation is one of the Six Yogas of Naropa. In retreat, one learns about and prepares for the dying process at the end of one’s life. One learns upfront what meditation to use while dying to finish the cycle of rebirths and liberate one’s mind.
Loving Eyes Meditation
The meditation on the Buddha of Compassion increases one’s love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity towards all sentient beings.
Medicine Buddha Meditation
This meditation focuses on the health of all beings.
A 3-day intensive meditation retreat involving commitments of not talking, eating, wearing jewelery etc. The practice increases one’s compassion for all beings.
Clear Light Meditation
This Clear Light meditation on the 15th Karmapa connects one to the blessing of the lineage.
Meditation on the Buddha of Limitless Light
One must complete 111,111 repetitions of this meditation before doing one’s first Phowa Course.
Meditation on the Buddha of Limitless Life
The meditation on the Buddha of Limitless Life improves one’s karma for a long life.
Meditation on Liberatrice (Tara)
This meditation is used to get in contact with female wisdom in its active form.
Role of a Buddhist Teacher
Our Buddhist teacher is at the same time our example, our best friend, and the fearless mirror to our development.
He or she shows us our Buddha nature, guides us through the upcoming games of ego, and encourages us to explore the vast potential every one of us possesses. In life, we learn things like playing the piano or driving a car through the example and guidance of a teacher. Recognizing the nature of mind is much more difficult than learning about ordinary things, so a Buddhist teacher is even more important.
“When you have learned everything from your lama, your mind and his mind are one.”
— Kalu Rinpoche
Especially on the Diamond Way, the connection to a realized teacher enables experiences and insights to be transmitted holistically. We can see examples of this in the lives of the masters of the Kagyu lineage. From Naropa to Gampopa and the seventeen Karmapas, they all gratefully claim to have reached the goal through the blessing of their lamas. In this way, the most important and direct teachings of the Buddha have survived to the present day through holders of experience of flesh and blood.
How to find a Buddhist teacher
Do I want to buy what he’s selling?
If we meditate on the teacher, we become like him. So as a quick guide, we can just ask ourselves if we want to take over the teacher’s qualities. Would we aspire to be like him in ten years?
The path to enlightenment is vast and many-sided, so we should try to find a teacher who knows the Buddhist teachings and has himself already accomplished insights into the nature of mind. It’s worth investing some time and thought into checking the teacher.
It’s good to remember that until we’re liberated, we don’t really see the world, but rather the content of our own mind. And as the Tibetans say, it’s difficult to see the peak of a higher mountain from a lower one. So how can we, as students, check the knowledge and realization of a teacher?
Firstly, he should stand in an authentic lineage, and be authorized to teach by his own teacher. And if as well as knowledge, he shows compassion by always working for others, putting his students’ needs above his own, this is a good basis. It’s also very useful to get to know the other students. We should check whether the feeling is good and whether we can accept them on a human level.
Ordinary teachers, such as our friends in the center, and the lay Diamond Way Teachers who explain Buddhism, can give us information without making an especially close connection. But choosing a lama, a liberated teacher, means letting him into your mind on the most important level of the view. On the Diamond Way, we see the teacher not as a person but as a mirror to our own potential. So once we have chosen a good teacher, it pays to see him on the highest level that his power can sustain. This confirms our own existing inner richness.
“The position of a Buddhist teacher is not complicated at all. He simply has to say and do the same. The decision to choose a teacher, with all his qualities, or not, is then the student’s to make.”
— Lama Ole Nydahl, The Way Things Are
The 16th Karmapa
His Holiness the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924 -1981) was a completely enlightened Buddhist master.
He was the leader of the Karma Kagyu lineage, and was also respected and consulted by high lamas of other lineages. He was given many names expressing this respect, including “King of the Yogis”.
“Although the 16th Karmapa appeared and acted as a human being, his mind was completely open, without any limitation. He knew everything in an instant and without having to think about it.”
– Lama Jigme Rinpoche in Buddhism Today issue 29
The 16th Karmapa was born in Derge province in Eastern Tibet. The previous Karmapa Khakhyab Dorje (1871-1922) left a letter setting forth the circumstances of his next incarnation. On the basis of this letter the authorities of the Tsurphu monastery were able to successfully locate the child. In 1931 the young incarnate was ordained as a novice monk and offered the Karmapa’s ceremonial robes and the Black Hat. Karmapa studied in Tsurphu monastery for four years, deepening his meditative realization of Sutra, Tantra, Mahamudra, and the “Six Yogas of Naropa”. As a boy he displayed an extraordinary natural insight and often told his teachers about his previous incarnations.
At the age of 23 Karmapa received his final ordination, along with the initiations and explanations of the highest Karma Kagyu teachings. In 1959, due to the occupation of Tibet, Karmapa decided to flee his country, realizing that the cause of the Dharma would be served best by escaping the ever-tightening grip of Communist China. Accordingly, accompanied by an entourage of 160 lamas, monks and laymen, Karmapa left Tsurphu monastery, the traditional seat of the Karmapas, and proceeded towards Bhutan. Under Karmapa’s guidance the party was able to take along the most precious statues, ritual items, relics, thangkas and books, which had been preserved at Tsurphu monastery over the centuries.
The ruler of the state of Sikkim in North-Western India offered the Gyalwa Karmapa Rumtek monastery, which was built during the time of Karmapa’s 9th incarnation, Wangchuk Dorje (1556 -1603). Karmapa undertook the construction of a new monastery in Rumtek, which due to the generous help of the Indian government and the ruler of Sikkim, was completed in four years. The new monastery in Rumtek became Karmapa’s official seat outside Tibet and a center of Buddhist study, ritual, and practice.
In 1974 the 16th Karmapa led a party of Karma Kagyu lamas to the West, visiting Europe, America and Canada, and for the first time people in the West had the chance to participate in the Black Hat ceremony, which Karmapa performed on a number of occasions. Invited by his first Western disciples Ole and Hannah Nydahl, Karmapa arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 1974. In November of 1976, Karmapa arrived in New York for a tour through the USA, and in the following year he spent six months on tour in Europe during which he visited Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Holland, France, and the United Kingdom.
In May of 1980, Karmapa again visited the West, stopping for lectures and ceremonies in London, New York, San Francisco, and Boulder, Colorado. H.H. the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa died on November 5th 1981 in a hospital near Chicago.
The 17th Karmapa
Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa is the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He is the spiritual leader of around 900 monasteries, institutions and centers in 68 countries around the world.
Karmapa regularly visits Diamond Way Buddhist centers around the world. He has often given teachings and empowerments at the Europe Center in Germany, the main international meeting point for Diamond Way Buddhists. Lama Ole Nydahl describes Karmapa as being the guarantor for the authenticity of our Karma Kagyu lineage.
Karmapa was born in Lhasa in May 1983 and was given the name Tenzin Kyentse by his parents. His father is the third Mipham Rinpoche, an important lama of the Nyingma tradition. His mother, Dechen Wangmo, comes from a noble Tibetan family, which traces its roots back to the fabled King Ling Gesar. The family lived in the Bharkhor, a famous area in the center of the Tibetan capital, where pilgrims and locals make devotional circumambulations of the Jokhang Temple. As a small child, Tenzin Khyentse repeatedly stated that he was the Karmapa. At this time, many people were searching for the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje.
The 17th Karmapa (left) with his father Mipham Rinpoche, his mother Dechen Wangmo, and his brother Sönam Tsemo Rinpoche
In 1986, based on the instructions of the 16th Karmapa, his own dreams, as well as information and a photo of the young Karmapa given to him by a visitor who had just been to Lhasa, Chobgye Trichen Rinpoche, a lineage holder and highly respected master of the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, told Shamar Rinpoche about the child. As the second highest lama of the Karma Kagyu lineage, Shamar Rinpoche is, according to tradition, responsible for finding the Karmapa. Upon receiving this information he asked Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche, a close confidante of the 16th Karmapa, to visit the boy in Lhasa on his behalf. Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche returned with detailed information about the young Tenzin Khyentse and his family and reported that the boy had recognized him at their first meeting. Later, high lamas of the Karma Kagyu lineage went to Tibet to meet the young Karmapa and his family, who had to keep his identity secret.
In early 1991, after doing a meditation retreat, evaluating further information, and conducting traditional tests, Shamar Rinpoche publicly announced during an inauguration of a monastery in Nepal that the new Karmapa lived in Tibet and was to be named Thaye Dorje, meaning “Unlimited Unchanging Buddha Activity”.
In 1994, assisted by Western students, the young Karmapa and his parents fled Tibet and went to India. In the same year, Shamar Rinpoche enthroned him at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute (KIBI) in New Delhi. Many visitors from around the world attended the ceremony.
The 17th Karmapa with Shamar Rinpoche in KIBI, 1994
Under the guidance of Shamar Rinpoche, Karmapa received a comprehensive education from Topga Rinpoche, Prof. Sempa Dorje, Khenpo Chodrak Rinpoche, the US-American professor of philosophy Harrison Pemberton, and many high lamas and scholars of Tibetan Buddhism.
The aged Chobgye Trichen Rinpoche, holder of the Norpa-Sakya tradition, who had first told Shamar Rinpoche about the boy in Tibet, traveled from his seat in Nepal to the Dhagpo Kagyu Ling monastery in France, which had been built by Gendun Rinpoche, in order to give Karmapa rare transmissions and empowerments over a period of several months.
The 17th Karmapa, Chobgye Trichen Rinpoche and Shamar Rinpoche
In the USA, Karmapa later met Luding Kenchen Rinpoche, the holder of the Sharpa Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, and received important transmissions that actually belonged to the Karma Kagyu tradition and had been held and protected by the Sakya school for several generations.
Luding Kenchen Rinpoche, the 17th Karmapa, and Sakya Trizin Rinpoche
The high Nyingma and Sakya master Pewar Rinpoche gave Karmapa the complete transmission of the Dam Ngag Dzo, the biggest collection of empowerments of the eight most important schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
The 17th Karmapa and Pewar Rinpoche
Teaching and traveling activities
Since 1999, Karmapa has regularly travelled to South Asia as well as Europe, Russia and North America. During his first visit to Europe he was accompanied by Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche. At the opening event in January 2000, Karmapa was welcomed in Düsseldorf by 6,000 students from the centers founded by Lama Ole Nydahl.
The 17th Karmapa in Dusseldorf in 2000
The 17th Karmapa has met many high religious and political officials around the world, including:
- H.H. Sakya Trizin, the highest lama of the Sakya lineage
- The King of Butan, Jigme Wangchuk
- The Hambo Lama Damba Ayusheeyev, head of the Buryat Buddhists of Russia
- Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche, high lama of the Nyingma lineage and incarnation of H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
- Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche, head of the Drikung Kagyu lineage
- Former Indian Minister of Information Shri S. Jaipal Reddy
The 17th Karmapa with, from top left: the King of Bhutan Jigme Wangchuk, Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche, Hambo Lama Damba Ayusheeyev, Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche
In India, Karmapa is a regular guest of honour and teacher at events of the so called Neo Buddhists, a community of today about 20 million people, which emerged from the emancipation movement of the former “Untouchables”, who hold the Karmapa in very high esteem.
The 17th Karmapa in India
In Bodh Gaya, North India’s most important place of pilgrimage, Karmapa regularly leads the annual prayers of the Kagyu Monlam with thousands of participants from throughout the Himalayas.
The 17th Karmapa leading ceremonies at the Kagyu Monlam in Bodh Gaya
On the basis of Buddhist principles, Karmapa follows his vision of peace based on Inner Wealth, a limitless source of compassion and wisdom. He also supports charitable projects like the “Karmapa Healthcare Project” which sends volunteer Western doctors to remote areas of the Himalayas to treat monks and nuns and to train aspiring medical professionals.
Today the Karmapa lives in New Delhi, India. He is the chief patron of the Karmapa International Buddhist Society (KIBS), where students from East and West can achieve a Bachelor of Arts in Buddhist Studies at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute.
The Karmapa International Buddhist Institute in New Delhi
In 2012, Karmapa named Lama Jigme Rinpoche his general secretary. Lama Jigme Rinpoche received his education from the 16th Karmapa, who in the 1970s made him his representative in Europe. Jigme Rinpoche has authored numerous publications and is a highly esteemed teacher and a spiritual advisor to Diamond Way Buddhism. He lives in Dhagpo Kagyu Ling in southern France.
The 17th Karmapa and Lama Jigme Rinpoche
In June 2014 Karmapa traveled to Germany to return the body of his main teacher, Shamar Rinpoche, who had unexpectedly passed away in Renchen Ulm, to Asia. Shamar Rinpoche’s body was cremated in Kathmandu. The ceremony was led by Karmapa and attended by many Tibetan and Bhutanese Buddhist masters. The 17th Karmapa is now responsible for finding the reincarnation, the 15th Shamarpa, and passing on the Karma Kagyu transmissions to him.
In the spiritual hierarchy of the Karma Kagyu school, the Shamarpa is second only to the Karmapa.
He is the emanation of Amitabha, the Buddha of Limitless Light: a living example of the appearance of Amitabha in our world in the form of a Mahabodhisattva.
The Tibetan title of Shamar means “the lama of the ruby-red crown”, named after the replica of the Karmapa’s own crown which he bestowed on the Shamarpa. The successive incarnations of the Shamarpas are also known as the “Red Hat Karmapas”. The 4th Karmapa affirmed to the 2nd Shamarpa:
“You are the one manifestation, while I am the other. Therefore, the responsibility to maintain the continuity of the teachings of the Kagyu lineage rests equally on you as it does on me.”
In the Bhadrakalpa Sutra, Buddha Shakyamuni prophesized; “in future, a Mahabodhisattva with a ruby-red crown shall come to the suffering multitude, leading them out of their cyclic bewilderment and misery.” In the Shamarpa, the Buddha’s prediction was fulfilled. The activity of the Shamarpas as a successive incarnation line has been to preserve the entirety of the Buddha’s legacy, especially the teachings coming from the great Indian mahasiddhas and Tibetan masters. Over centuries in the Kagyu lineage, the Karmapas and Shamarpas have reciprocally recognized each other, their relationship being that of a master and disciple.
Birth and early life
The 14th Shamarpa was born on the 27th October, 1952 in the Kingdom of Derge, Eastern Tibet. In 1956 he travelled with his brother, Jigme Rinpoche, to Tsurphu Monastery, the main seat of the Karmapas, where they stayed for two years.
In the summer of 1956, at four years old, he revealed his identity as the Shamarpa by recognizing old monks from Yangpochen monastery, the ancestral seat of the Shamarpas. Later that year, the 16th Karmapa and his entourage, including Shamar Rinpoche and Jigme Rinpoche, travelled to Bodh Gaya, India where they had been invited to participate in the 2,500th Buddha Jayanthi celebrations.
Having travelled for several months in India and Nepal, they returned to Tibet, visiting Yangpochen monastery on the way. It was the first time in this incarnation that Shamar Rinpoche had set foot there. The monastery had been converted to the Gelugpa sect during the time of the Tibetan Government’s ban on the institution of the Shamarpas. The statues of the former Shamarpa incarnations remained, however it is said that their red hats had been replaced with yellow ones. Pointing to the statues, the young Shamar Rinpoche exclaimed, “This is me,” and placed on his head a red hat that had rested in the lap of one of the statues.
The institution of the Shamarpas
On the 16th Karmapa’s request, the 14th Dalai Lama had informally agreed to reinstitute the Shamarpa, and in 1958 in Tsurphu, the 16th Karmapa privately enthroned him. Known at that time only as “Dorje Rinpoche”, his identity still had to be concealed.
After the Communist Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959, Shamar Rinpoche joined the Karmapa on his flight into exile, first crossing into Bhutan and then settling in the Kingdom of Sikkim at the invitation of the Chogyal. From the beginning of the 1960s, Shamar Rinpoche started his education and training at the old Rumtek Monastery established in the time of the 9th Karmapa. In the following years he received the complete teachings and transmissions of the Karma Kagyu school from the 16th Karmapa.
1964 marked the official lifting of the ban on the Shamarpa institution by the Tibetan Government in Exile. Shamar Rinpoche was officially enthroned and placed by the 16th Karmapa as a lineage holder on the highest position after himself. The 16th Karmapa considered the reinstatement of the Shamarpas after a ban of 170 years to be one of his main achievements.
In the same way, following the death of the 16th Karmapa in 1981, Shamar Rinpoche stood as a single figure – for truth and against the overwhelming political might of great nations, to find the genuine incarnation of the 16th Karmapa and preserve the authentic Karma Kagyu lineage. In the same way, in conformity with the spiritual traditions of the lineage, he formally recognized Trinley Thaye Dorje as the 17th Karmapa, enthroning him in the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute (KIBI) in New Delhi in 1994. In the following years, he returned to Karmapa the entirety of the lineage transmission, fully training and empowering him.
Upon the tragic news of His master’s passing, His Holiness Karmapa Thaye Dorje, writing from KIBI, evoked the Buddha’s core teaching on impermanence, but also proclaimed that while Shamar Rinpoche’s physical manifestation has left this world, his role as a teacher continues, and his aspirations and blessings will remain forever.
In the immediate aftermath of his death, sincere messages of condolence for Shamar Rinpoche’s students and family, particularly for his brother Jigme Rinpoche, streamed forth from many eminent Buddhist figures with whom Shamar Rinpoche held a close bond. From Nepal, the lamas of Ka Nying Shedrup Ling monastery, led by Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, echoed the feelings of countless Dharma practitioners everywhere: “It is as though the blackness of night has suddenly swallowed up our world.”
On the direction of Karmapa Thaye Dorje, hundreds of Karma Kagyu centres and monasteries worldwide commenced the practice of Amitabha, the Buddha of Limitless Light. Lama Ole Nydahl addressed his students and friends in Diamond Way Buddhist Centres worldwide:
“We just had the deep loss of HH Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche from this world. However, as a Bodhisattva of unique qualities—both during and between his incarnations—he offers indestructible opportunities for many to absorb aspects of his immense blessing and insight. Therefore: till we have the chance of meeting him in an incarnate situation again, let us remember him while invoking the Buddha of Limitless Light: OM AMI DEWA HRIH. He was truly a unique teacher and great example.”
Rinpoche had recently been visiting Europe to teach in numerous Buddhist centres in the Karma Kagyu Dharma family, including Dhagpo Kagyu Ling in Dordogne, France (the main European seat of the Karmapa), Kagyu Ling in Manchester, UK (the main centre of the Dechen Community), the Beaufoy Institutein London, which would become the final Diamond Way Buddhist Centre he would visit in this incarnation, and finally Renchen Ulm, the European Headquarters of his own network of Bodhi Path centres, which he had worked to establish since the mid-1990s.
The Kagyu Crisis
On the 13th of August, 2010, Shamar Rinpoche met His Holiness the Dalai Lama for a detailed exchange of views regarding the ongoing Karmapa controversy and its possible solution.
Shamar Rinpoche was perhaps most widely known for the role he played in the crisis that engulfed the Karma Kagyu lineage following the death of the 16th Karmapa, a role that earned him both immense gratitude and bitter condemnation. He protected the Karma Kagyu tradition and his students in ways many cannot even comprehend, freeing them from sectarian hegemony and the mire of Sino-Tibetan geopolitics. And in doing so, he triumphed over unimaginable adversity.
For a Tibetan Rinpoche he was very unusual: he was not a man of compromises. He refused to play games or tolerate manipulation. Unafraid to challenge anybody if he felt it correct, he stood without concern for his own reputation or any personal agenda. Honesty, courage, and absolute fearlessness defined his personality; stable like a rock, unwavering in commitment to his ideas, and unchangeable no matter how big the obstacle, always continuing and always looking ahead.
Being fully aware of his position as Shamarpa, he never fell into pride or arrogance, combining his gravitas with humility. Possessing a natural gentleness and compassion, he could also be bold and direct in his communication, especially when it came to the complex matters of the Kagyu crisis. This was encapsulated in his 2006 open letter to Professor Robert Thurman, who had ventured into the problems of the Karma Kagyu school. In the letter, Rinpoche coined the term “package believers” to refer to Buddhists who fail to examine the details of situations and fall prey to fanaticism. In reference to “proof” presented to the Tibetan Government in Exile regarding the recognition of the 17th Karmapa, Shamar Rinpoche explained:
“There exists no tradition of asking for proof of such types of recognition. This is because the process is beyond what people can perceive with their normal senses. So I myself, being a Shamarpa, I am the proof of the authority to recognize Karmapa according to the traditions of the Karma Kagyu lineage.”
It is true that, in conformity with his role as the lineage holder he had no choice other than to devote his life to defending the embattled Karma Kagyu tradition, but he was much more than that role or that institution. Regarding tulkus, Shamar Rinpoche had stated:
“Since every incarnation is a new life, credit from great deeds in the past is not transferred automatically to each new incarnation… Greatness must be earned anew in each life.”
Shamar Rinpoche’s activity
Beneath the Red Crown there was indeed a great man. Far beyond his responsibility in the Karmapa crisis and his formal status in the Karma Kagyu school, he was an exceptionally realized lama, but was also able to display his activity on so many worldly levels.
Shamar Rinpoche was a great humanist and philanthropist. His book “Creating a Transparent Democracy,” which lays out a framework for establishing a genuine democratic system of governance that promotes the welfare and prosperity of a population, was written from the motivation that someone might use its ideas to help a small country like Nepal. Rinpoche was not concerned with politics per se, but generally in the happiness and well-being of humankind at individual and societal levels.
Shamar Rinpoche really could be called a genius. His love of learning and constantly inquisitive mind endowed him with exceptional knowledge of the world. He was hugely respectful to academics and those who studied. His ability to explore, deeply analyze and reflect on everything, from culture, science, physics, history, and politics, combined with his deep intelligence, enabled him to connect all information he gathered in life to arrive at very particular, individual conclusions. His interest in all outer disciplines and inner emotional phenomena gave him great insight into the universe and people.
Rinpoche’s concern for the happiness of others was not limited to humans, but also towards animals and the planet itself. He founded the Infinite Compassion Foundation to promote the humane treatment of animals raised for consumption of meat and other products such that they will not be forced to live and die in brutal conditions. Seeing animals caged in unpleasant conditions would move him to personally intervene to improve their conditions, and feeling the power of his compassion, sick animals in the wild would intuitively come to him for help.
Shamar Rinpoche’s passing is such a tremendous loss, not only to his students but also to history. With Rinpoche’s departure, a great part of the Himalayas’ history has ended. Without a doubt, he was one of the main actors and most influential figures in the Himalayas in the 20th and early 21st centuries.
As a member of the noble Athub family, from an early age Shamar Rinpoche had intimate access to the 16th Karmapa as well as the highest religious and political dignitaries of the Himalayas, including the Royal Family of Bhutan. Nobody held the same insight into the 16th Karmapa, his connections and the roles that different lamas played in the times of exile. Rinpoche’s extraordinary memory, combined with an encyclopaedic understanding of the history of the Himalayas in this period was unparalleled, because he experienced it all first-hand; it happened with his participation. In common with the great Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche, who was his close friend and confidante, Shamar Rinpoche’s immersion in Himalayan culture, history, and its network of social relationships provided him with the skill to link together and decode all apparent messages to reveal the meaning behind them.
Shamar Rinpoche was like a treasure chest, always able to surprise with something totally new and outstanding. Although he would not talk about it, he was also a very talented artist. He could draw beautifully and was able to play the flute very well.
Projects and teachings
Shamar Rinpoche took over the spiritual responsibility for the project to build the largest stupa in Europe. Incepted by Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche and constructed in cooperation with the Spanish local government, it stands at 33 meters tall in Benalmadena on the southern Spanish coast. After Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche’s passing, Shamar Rinpoche saw the project to its completion, inaugurating the stupa in 2003 together with Lama Ole Nydahl, representatives of the Bhutanese Royal Family and government, and Spanish local authorities.
As a teacher of Dharma, Shamar Rinpoche was a fountain of knowledge and practice. His vision of Buddhism was vast and non-sectarian; he chose as his main emphases Mind Training (lojong), Mahamudra, Calm-Abiding meditation and classical Buddhist philosophy. He sought out and received the transmissions of Calm-Abiding and Insight meditation from the masters of all Tibetan lineages. His teachings were most often associated with Mahamudra, which he expounded with unsurpassed mastery. His approach to Dharma was precise and scientific, and he practiced exactly in the way he taught: setting an example of not simply believing, but analysing and testing the validity of the teachings for oneself.
On top of this, the immense power of his blessing could be experienced particularly through the initiations he gave, for example into Amitabha, the Buddha of Limitless Light, whom he would manifest unmistakably in person, introducing to his fortunate students the timeless radiance of his realization. Even in such settings Shamar Rinpoche’s non-sectarianism was evident, for example during the unique and profoundly concept-breaking Guru Yoga initiation of the Third Karmapa, given in the Europe Center in 2009. The transmission belonged to a Nyingma Terma, which he had received from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche at the age of 15, and it was the first time he had passed it on in this life.
Connection to Hannah and Lama Ole Nydahl
Shamar Rinpoche’s bond with Hannah and Lama Ole Nydahl was deep and abiding from the time he transmitted the Bodhisattva Promise to them in 1970. In a public teaching in Kassel in 2006, Shamar Rinpoche said of them:
“In 1973 the 16th Karmapa ordered Ole Nydahl and Hannah to teach, and predicted that they would be very successful in spreading the Buddha’s teachings in the West… They kept their samaya without any doubt, following and fulfilling Karmapa’s wish.”
Over the following years, Hannah in particular through her work as a translator and bridge between the East and West, became one of Rinpoche’s closest and most trusted disciples.
In the darkest times of the Kagyu Crisis in 1994, it was the unbreakable bond of trust between Shamar Rinpoche, Hannah and Lama Ole, and their effective cooperation that led to the 17th Karmapa Thaye Dorje and his family being brought out of Chinese-occupied Tibet, surmounting perilous obstacles to arrive safely in the free world.
In 2007 in the last days of Hannah’s life, when she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, Shamar Rinpoche flew to Copenhagen specifically to say his last farewell to Hannah and give her his final teachings before she passed away.
Of the many wonderful qualities Shamar Rinpoche manifested, one of the most touching was his love of the beauty of nature. In particular he loved to be in the surroundings of his Bodhi Path centre in Virginia, USA, and especially the picturesque and peaceful environment of Renchen Ulm, Germany. It was here he chose to be at the end of his life, and where His Holiness Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje, Lama Ole Nydahl, many high Rinpoches and lamas of the Karma Kagyu school, and Shamar Rinpoche’s students from all over the world came to pay their last respects and make wishes for his swift return.
Shamar Rinpoche was a truth-holder, beyond any manipulation, and as such he could know everything. In full consciousness, with clarity and foresight, in the final teaching before his passing, he said: “You don’t have to be afraid of death if you know how to practice in death.” Of his great deeds and projects too numerous to mention, the final ones were left by Rinpoche to his disciples to finish.
When it is said that Shamarpa is an emanation of Amitabha, it should not be misunderstood to mean that he is a meditator who, life after life, performs great achievements on the way to enlightenment. It is by the Shamarpa’s own choice that he appeared, and by his own nature that he is reabsorbed into his own pure land of Dewachen, which he himself created. Shamar Rinpoche’s unique manifested qualities will be missed. In such degenerate times, we are rare and blessed to have met them, and to have understood for ourselves just how vast they were.
Like all previous Shamarpas, his next manifestation will be authenticated in accordance with the principle of reciprocal recognition, by the Karmapa that he himself recognised, i.e. Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje. In the same way as the Shamarpa’s recognition of Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje, this process will proceed as an internal, spiritual matter within the authentic Karma Kagyu lineage. As such, it will be not influenced by third parties seeking to bring forth a candidate for political objectives.
Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche
A key figure for Buddhism in Nepal, Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche had a huge influence in the West. He oversaw the construction of the largest Buddhist stupa in the West, and gave many teachings.
Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche was born in the Kingdom of Bhutan in 1918. When he was 13 years old, he left Bhutan to study and practice under the spiritual guidance of his uncle Lama Sherab Dorje in Nepal.
There he received full dharma training and meditated under severe conditions in the caves of Milarepa and in the holy places of Guru Rinpoche.
In 1944, Rinpoche met H.H. the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, who became one of his most important masters.
In the years to follow, Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche became the key figure for dharma practitioners in Nepal, with his main monastery located in Kathmandu. In 1987, he visited Europe for the first time at the invitation of his first Western students Lama Ole Nydahl and his wife Hannah.
After that time he traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Americas, and Australia giving teachings and countless initiations. He completed the building of a Kalachakra Stupa in Spain and more than 16 other stupas in Europe and Asia. Lopön Tchechu Rinpoche’s last project, the Enlightenment Stupa in Benalmadena, Spain, is the crown jewel of his life’s work.
Rinpoche passed away on June 10th 2003 at the age of 85, four months before the inauguration of this magnificent project. The immense power of his compassion is felt by people of every background and brings benefit to all beings.
Lama Ole Nydahl
Lama Ole Nydahl is one of the few fully qualified Western Buddhist lamas in the Karma Kagyu lineage.
Since being asked by the leader of the Karma Kagyu school, the 16th Karmapa, in 1972 to offer Buddhism to those who were interested in the West, he has been doing so constantly in spiritually free countries all around the world.
Lama Ole specializes in teaching Mahamudra, the “Great Seal”, in which a realized teacher can give an experience of the limitless nature of mind to the student, as well as the transmission of Phowa, “Conscious Dying”, a rare, centuries-old meditation practice. In his teachings, Lama Ole stresses combining lay Buddhist practice with independent thinking and the maturity that comes from life experience, as well as the importance of taking care of society, especially freedom of speech and women’s rights.
To meet Lama Ole, you can check his teaching schedule and see when he is teaching in your country.
Biography of Lama Ole Nydahl
Ole Nydahl was born on March 19, 1941 north of Copenhagen, where he also grew up. He studied Philosophy, English and German in Copenhagen, Tubingen, Munich, and in the USA. He and his wife Hannah first encountered Buddhism on their honeymoon in 1968. While in Kathmandu, Nepal, they met Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche, one of the most important Buddhist teachers of the Himalayas.
In 1969, Hannah and Ole Nydahl met the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the head of the Karma Kagyu school, and became his first Western students. They received the most important empowerments and teachings of the Karma Kagyu lineage from the 16th Karmapa himself and other Karma Kagyu masters such as Kalu Rinpoche, as well as empowerments of other Tibetan Buddhist schools. In 1972, the 16th Karmapa asked Ole and Hannah Nydahl to bring the teachings of the Karma Kagyu lineage to the West and build Buddhist centres in his name.
Lama Ole and Hannah founded Buddhist centers first in Austria (Graz), Norway, Sweden, and Denmark (Copenhagen). Up to the present day, Lama Ole has founded 652 centers around the world on behalf of his teacher. He travels the globe twice a year to teach and visit his students. Everywhere he goes he gives teachings and Buddhist refuge — the ceremony by which one becomes a Buddhist — as well as the Bodhisattva Promise, the inner commitment to dedicate one’s life to benefit others, with the ultimate goal of the enlightenment of all beings.
From 1973 on, Lama Ole Nydahl and his wife Hannah organized tours and lectures of the highest Tibetan Buddhist teachers through Europe and later on also to North and South America, Russia and Australia. As well as the 16th Karmapa, they invited and translated for Shamar Rinpoche, Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche, Gyaltsab Rinpoche, Beru Khyentse Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche, Topga Rinpoche, Tenga Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche, Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche, Trungpa Rinpoche, and Ayang Rinpoche. The 16th Karmapa died in 1981, and his rebirth, Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, was recognized and enthroned by Shamar Rinpoche, the second highest lama of the Karma Kagyu.
In 1987 Lama Ole Nydahl also started teaching the practice of Phowa at the request of Shamar Rinpoche. Lama Ole Nydahl has given this “Meditation of conscious dying” to more than 75,000 students around the world and is a recognized Phowa master.
The only time he suspended his teaching activity for some months was in the summer of 2003 after a near-fatal parachuting accident.
Lama Ole is the author of several books including The Way Things Are; Entering the Diamond Way; Mahamudra; Riding the Tiger (all from Blue Dolphin Publishing, USA); and The Great Seal (Fire Wheel Publishing, USA). The entire intellectual property of Lama Ole and Hannah Nydahl is held by the Diamond Way Buddhism Foundation.
Hannah Nydahl passed away from cancer in 2007. Her amazing life, and the story of how she and Lama Ole brought lay Karma Kagyu Buddhism to the West, is now an award-winning film: “Hannah: Buddhism’s Untold Story“.
One of her last acts in this life was to sign a contract to purchase the Europe Center, a beautiful site in the Bavarian Alps which is now the main international meeting-place for Diamond Way Buddhism was bought. In 2009, at the second international Summer Course, the 17th Karmapa came to the Europe Center to give teachings and Lama Ole ceremonially presented the more than 600 Buddhist centers of the Diamond Way to him.
In 2012, Lama Ole took part in the Kagyu Monlam, the annual gathering of the highest Karma Kagyu lamas at Bodh Gaya, the place where the historical Buddha attained enlightenment. Having been given a place of honour, Lama Ole was surprised by a gift from Karmapa of a traditional silk brocade robe to thank him for his 40 years of activity for Buddhism.
In 2014, Lama Ole married Alexandra Munoz Barboza, a yoga teacher from Venezuela, at the Copenhagen Buddhist Center.
On June 13, 2015 Lama Ole Nydahl received the award for dialogue, coexistence and peace of the UNESCO Association for Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue in Malaga (Spain).
“Our mind is indestructible space. Look inside and you will become rich. What is looking through your eyes right now – find that.
It’s beyond birth and death. It’s beyond any kind of danger or possibility of being lost. It’s the source of all perfection and all joy in the world. Look inside. See what is aware now.”
– Lama Ole Nydahl, Malaga, 2015
If you would like to learn more about Lama Ole, please see his official website, lama-ole-nydahl.org.
Lama Jigme Rinpoche was born into the family of H.H. the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, as the brother of Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche. He received extensive teachings from the 16th Karmapa, who during his first visit in the West left him there as his representative. Since that time, Jigme Rinpoche has been guiding Karmapa’s seat in Europe, Dhagpo Kagyu Ling in France.
Besides his organizational skills, he is highly respected as a lama. Many have benefited from his profound knowledge, his understanding of Western lifestyle, and his practical wisdom, warmth, and humor.
Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche
Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche, a highly respected lama of the Kagyu lineage, is a “Maniwa’, a title given to masters of the Chenrezig practice who have accomplished at least a billion Om Mani Peme Hung mantras.
Rinpoche was ordained in Rumtek by the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. An exceptionally gifted student, he mastered all aspects of traditional Buddhist study, from the sutras and tantras to rituals and music to the sciences, art and composition.
Among his many activities, Rinpoche is a retreat master of the three-year retreat center in Pharping, he has built and oversees a monastery of a hundred nuns west of Kathmandu, and plans to build a monks’ monastery east of the capital are moving along.
Several times a year Rinpoche leads thousands of practitioners in the practices of Nyung-ne and Chenrezig at his Nyeshang monastery in Swayambhu. Over fifteen billion Chenrezig mantras have been accumulated over the years. Rinpoche’s teaching style is deep, direct and accesible.
His teachings, peppered with practical advice, stories and warm humor, leave a lasting impression on all who are fortunate enough to hear them.
Hannah Nydahl was a student of H.H. the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the great Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche, and many other teachers. Together with her husband Lama Ole, she helped to bring the authentic teachings of the Karma Kagyu to the West.
She was the travelling companion, translator, and friend to many high lamas including Shamar Rinpoche, Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche, Lama Jigme Rinpoche, and others Hannah passed away on 1st April, 2007, after a six-month fight with cancer.
Her life story has been made into an award-winning film, “Hannah: Buddhism’s Untold Journey”. See news about the Hannah film and watch the trailer.
Here are some photos of Hannah Nydahl: http://www.lamaolenydahl.de/hannah/Fotos.html
The Western Diamond Way Buddhist teachers
Lama Ole Nydahl travels around the world every year, but cannot be everywhere. He has empowered many of his close students to teach on his behalf. Between them they cover every country where there are Diamond Way centers, giving public lectures about Diamond Way Buddhist topics.