A new book published by Wisdom Publications entitled “Lives Lived, Lives Imagined – Biographies of Awakening” is an impressive collection of cross-traditional accounts of the lives of Buddhist practitioners, with contributions from a range of contemporary authors and scholars. In particular, it contains a fascinating account of the early years of the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje (1507-1554).
The section of the book in question is “Narratives of Reincarnation, Politics of Power, and the Emergence of a Scholar – The Very Early Years of Mikyö Dorje”, by Jim Rheingans. In it, Rheingans presents a vast range of biographical and historical material on the early years of the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje, whose recognition and enthronement were overshadowed by attempts to install a rival candidate as the new Karmapa. Rheingans makes clear how the method of establishing spiritual lineages through identifying reincarnations was (and is) embedded into the politics of the day. Biographies and autobiographies reflect this religio-political dimension, and some of the stock elements of such narratives, like the self-recognition of an incarnate young lama or the establishment of the prototypical patron-priest relationship in later years, serve to legitimize the position of the Karmapa and establish the political alliances that were necessary for maintaining a religious legacy.
Jim Rheingans is currently conducting research about history, doctrine, and literary genres of medieval Kagyupa Mahamudra traditions. After his MA in Tibetan Studies from Hamburg University, he did his doctoral dissertation about “The Eighth Karmapa’s Life and his Interpretation of the Great Seal (UWE Bristol).
We thoroughly recommend this book to readers interested in the history of the Karmapas and the Kagyu lineage in Tibet. It can be ordered online here.