In accordance with the sacred prediction letter of the Lord Dusum Khyenpa, Karma Pakshi (1203-1283) was born in Drilung to a family descended from the Dharma king Trisong Detsen. As a child, he effortlessly learned to read and write. By the age of ten, he had fixed the meaning of many Dharma texts clearly in his mind after only a single reading, so that he did not need to rely on many teachers. He was naturally able to rest his awareness on the essence of the mind, as if watching a vast, still ocean.
He received ordination at the age of eleven. The master Pomdrakpa bestowed the transmission of the kagyu lineage upon him, declaring, "More wonderful than the offering of wealth filling the entire country is a great meditator who recognizes the nature of his own mind." For the next ten years, Karma Pakshi devoted himself to uninterrupted practice. He mastered the four activities and brought the powerful gods and spirits of Tibet into his service.
While residing at the main seat of the lineage at Tsurphu Monastery, Karma Pakshi was invited to China by the Mongol prince, Kublai Khan. Knowing such a visit would benefit many beings, he accepted. Over the course of three years, Karmapa proceeded toward China, helping religious communities and restoring monasteries along the way. When at last he arrived at Prince Kublai's court, he was received with lavish honors. Later, at the Imperial court, Karma Pakshi bestowed the Bodhisattva Vow upon the emperor Mongka Khan and his retinue and granted them the transmission and teaching of Khorlo Dechog. Accompanied by the Emperor, he traveled extensively throughout China granting empowerments and teachings. Through the tremendous power of Karmapa's blessing, Mongka Khan perceived the true nature of his own mind and many non-Buddhists became followers of the Dharma.
Mongka Khan died soon after Karma Pakshi departed for Tibet. Kublai khan, the new emperor, conceived a grudge against the Karmapa and sent soldiers to intercept him along the way. Karma Pakshi felt only sympathy for his captors, who were unable to harm him in any way. When the soldiers attempted to tie him up , their ropes simply passed through his body as if through a rainbow. When they threw him and two of his disciples into a blazing fire, water issued from their bodies to extinguish the flames. When thrown from a cliff, he floated down to the ground, and when cast into a lake, he glided effortlessly across the waters. When he was taken to a desolate place beside the ocean and left to die, he lived there contentedly without difficulty. At length, Kublai Khan requested Karmapa's forgiveness and became his disciple.
While in China, Karmapa was inspired to build a colossal statue of the Buddha at Tsurphu. He sent vast quantities of precious materials from China and appointed a craftsman to oversee the work. Upon returning to Tsurphu, Karma Pakshi discovered that the fifty-five foot statue, cast in a single piece, was leaning to one side. He meditated in front of the statue, inclining his body at the same angle. When he straightened his own posture, the stature also righted itself.
Karma Pakshi passed away at the age of eighty. His eyes, tongue, and heart were found unburned among his cremation ashes, along with rainbow-colored spirals, images of deities, and symbolic letters.