Karmapa Dudul Dorje (1733-1797) was born in Nyen Chawa, in central Tibet, to noble parents renowned for their practice of virtue. Special marks appeared on his body at birth: A red symbol of power marked the area of his heart, and a white letter Ah, indicating the enlightened qualities of speech, appeared on his tongue. As a small child, he described details of journeys to India, Nepal, and China that he had made during previous incarnations. Deities appeared directly to him, and their intensity and majesty were felt by those around him, as well. Once, a boy dressed all in white appeared and scattered handfuls of flowers at his feet from a crystal plate. "Who are you?" the Karmapa asked, whereupon the boy transformed into a wrathful being surrounded by a field of celestial fire. "I am the protector Dorje Bernachen," the visitor replied. "I manifest wrathfully from the sphere of primordial awareness. As Master and Protector, there is no difference between you and me." Then Dorje Bernachen vanished like a rainbow dissolving into space.
Escorted by a mounted procession to Tsurphu Monastery, Dudul Dorje was enthroned as the Thirteenth Karmapa in the presence of high lamas, officials, and hosts of gods and men. The proclamation of his name resounded to the highest level of the pure realms. He devoted his youth to intensive study, and received the entirety of the transmission from the principal masters of the time. Sometime after this period, he was urgently requested to come to Lhasa, where the Jokhang temple was in danger of being destroyed by streams of water pouring from under the statue of the Buddha. Though all attempts to stop the flood had failed, a prophecy by Guru Rinpoche indicated that the master called Karmapa should be asked to intercede in such and event. Upon his arrival, Karmapa performed a ritual invoking the Naga spirits, and dissuaded them from removing the holy statue to the Naga realm. The flood immediately abated, after which karmapa offered a white silk scarf to the statue of the Buddha. Miraculously, the statue raised its hands to accept the scarf.
Karmapa journeyed to eastern Tibet, teaching all who came to meet him – not only while formally encamped, but even while riding on horse-back. He habitually wore the simple clothes of an ordinary monk, and though a master of elegant and ornamented formal language, he taught in terms easily understood by all. Even those holding sectarian views recognized Dudul Dorje as the living Buddha, and many came to him to dispel their doubts. His replies, arising from his compassion and direct realization, caused the learned to forget their arrogance and resolve the contradictions inherent in their views.
Dudul Dorje spent many years in meditation at the retreat which the second Karmapa had built on the mountain behind Tsurphu. The very embodiment of the Buddha, he distributed the liberating nectar of instruction to countless beings. He is said to have been able to transmit the Dharma to small animals – including mice, rabbits, birds, cats and even insects – who approached him peacefully, drawn by his spontaneous compassion. Karmapa passed into the pure realm at the age of sixty-five, accompanied by a rain of flowers and the sound of celestial music evident to all.