The Lord of Dharma, Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339), passed through the bardo without any impairment of consciousness. Before entering his mother's womb, which he perceived in the form of a crystal palace, he received empowerment directly from Khorlo Dechog. Born just as the moon was rising, he immediately sat up and announced to his mother, "It is a waxing moon."
Rangjung Dorje was born in Tingri, western Tibet. His parents were practitioners of Shijay, the lineage of pacification transmitted by the great Indian master, Pa Dampa Sangye. At the age of five, his parents took him to meet Druptob Orgyenpa, to whom he had entrusted the Kagyu lineage during his previous incarnation. Rangjung Dorje climbed up and seated himself on the teacher's throne. "Child," Orgyenpa asked, "why do you sit on my lama's seat?" Karmapa replied, "I am the lama himself." He then came down and added. "Now it is your turn to be the teacher!" Afterwards, Orgyenpa bestowed upon him the transmissions of the lineage.
At the age of seven, Karmapa received ordination and was enthroned at Tsurphu Monastery. He was able to read and write without any instruction, and demonstrated full knowledge of the texts and subjects of the Buddha's teaching. Although the depth of his learning was unparalleled, he nevertheless attended the outstanding masters of each lineage according to custom, and received transmission and instruction from one hundred and thirteen different teachers. During his lifetime, he taught great masters such as Longchenpa of the Nyingma lineage and Yagde Panchen of the Sakya lineage.
Rangjung Dorje traveled throughout Tibet, teaching, writing, and building retreats and hermitages. He had countless visions in which deities and lamas of the past bestowed transmissions upon him. He also bound protectors and worldly deities to his service, so that wars ceased and the Dharma was able to spread throughout the country. While consecrating temples and organizing the printing of the scriptural canon, he directly perceived the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions assisting in the blessing. Through his realization of the relationship between inner experience and outer phenomena, he composed several treatises on tantra and astrology, which are the fundamental texts still used by the Kagyu lineage today.
Rangjung Dorje traveled twice to China at the invitation of the Emperor. During his first visit, Toghon Temur ascended the Imperial Throne and Karmapa presided over his coronation. During his second visit, he bestowed the empowerment of long life upon the Emperor and blessed him with long-life water consecrated by Lord Padmasambhava. As a result, Toghon Temur lived longer than any other Mongol emperor.
At the age of fifty-six, Karmapa perceived that he himself would soon pass away. He assured the Emperor that they would meet again during Karmapa's next incarnation. To his personal attendant, Rangjung Dorje gave the sacred letter predicting the circumstances of his future incarnation, and told him that the future Karmapa would also announce himself. After performing the ritual of Khorlo Dechog and granting his blessing to all present, Karmapa left his material body. That night, the palace guards clearly saw his face gazing down on them from the disc of the moon. They woke the Emperor and his court so they could witness the miracle, which was afterwards memorialized in carvings at the Imperial Court.