Reinventing the Wheel: Karma Pakshi and the reincarnated Karmapas

I have had the pleasure of working on a review of Charles Manson’s new book, The Second Karmapa Karma Pakshi: Tibetan Mahāsiddha (2022), which is part of Shambhala Publications’ “Lives of the Masters” series. Charles is a cataloguer for the Tibetan Collections at the British Library and the Bodleian Library (Oxford University). On 25 January, he will be giving a talk hosted by the Friends of the Bodleian at the Sir Victor Blank Lecture Theatre in Weston Library in Oxford on “The ‘Invention of Reincarnation’? The life and writings of Karma Pakshi.”


In this talk, Charles will explore the subject of his book, the second Karmapa Karma Pakshi (1204-83), who served at both the courts of khans Monghe and Kublai. He broke new ground in the historiography of Tibetan Buddhist lineages by declaring himself a reincarnate lama (and therefore being the de facto “first” Karmapa), and whose influence led to other schools developing their own reincarnate lama systems, such as those of the Gelug school and its Dalai Lamas. This, in turn, led to the succession-by-reincarnation governance of Tibet for 300 years (1642–1959). He led a fascinating life, working at the heart of Mongol power in the presence of fierce khans, but also suffered torture, imprisonment, and exile by Kublai. He was also one of the few well-documented Tibetan Buddhist leaders who was in “internal exile” in the mysterious realm of Xanadu, which became associated with Kubilai’s reign.

If you are in the UK this week, Charles Manson’s talk on the 25th is an excellent chance to learn more about a seminal figure in Vajrayana history. The talk will also be shown live online. His book is comprehensive and riveting, and I look forward to sharing with you my thoughts about his insights and research.

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The ‘Invention of Reincarnation’? The life and writings of Karma Pakshi

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