Diamond Way

This article is about a specific Buddhist organization. For the form of Buddhism sometimes called "Diamond Way Buddhism", see Vajrayana.

Diamond Way Buddhism (Diamond Way Buddhism - Karma Kagyu Lineage) is a lay organization within the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. The first Diamond Way Buddhist centre was founded in 1972 by Hannah and Ole Nydahl. It is led by Ole Nydahl under the spiritual guidance of Trinley Thaye Dorje, one of two claimants to the title of the 17th Karmapa (See Karmapa Controversy). There are approximately 650 Diamond Way Buddhist centres world wide.

History and development

Following the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950, and the subsequent self-exile of the Dalai Lama to India in 1959, thousands of Tibetans fled Chinese-occupied Tibet as refugees, creating the Tibetan diaspora. The head of Karma Kagyu school, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa, also left Tibet in 1959 and established Rumtek monastery in Sikkim, India as his main seat in exile. The exodus of Tibetans ultimately made Tibetan Buddhism more accessible to the rest of the world. Many young Westerners on the hippie trail from Europe to India and Nepal came in contact with the Tibetans and some became interested in their religion. Among these first Westerners to come into contact with the Tibetans in exile were Hannah and Ole Nydahl, who went on their honeymoon to the Himalayas. They first became students of Lopon Tsechu Rinpoche. In 1969 they met the 16th Karmapa and became his closest Western students. After meditating and studying Buddhism for three years, the 16th Karmapa asked Ole and Hannah to start meditation centres in his name in the West.[1][2] The first Karma Kagyu center in the West was founded in 1972 in Copenhagen, Denmark.[1]

In 1973 the 16th Karmapa visited Europe at the invitation of Ole and Hannah Nydahl.[3][4] Following this visit and at the 16th Karmapa's request, Ole Nydahl began travelling further across Europe in order to teach the basic doctrines of Karma Kagyu Buddhism. As more became interested more centers were founded and their number increased over time, particularly in Germany and Poland. The individual groups grew steadily.[3] He later travelled to the United States and across South America and Russia, founding more centres.

Following the Karmapa Controversy, Karma Kagyu Buddhist centres were obliged to decide whether to accept Orgyen Trinley Dorje, who was recognised by Tai Situ, the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government, or to support Shamar Rinpoche. In the course of the 1990s, while a majority of Kagyu monasteries elected to accept Orgyen Trinley Dorje, most Diamond Way centres under Ole Nydahl accepted Thaye Dorje.[5][6]

Diamond Way Buddhism was founded as a legally distinct organization within the Karma Kagyu umbrella in 1993. Until then, the Nydahls had transferred all ownership of the centers they founded to the Karma Kagyu administration.[2] However, it is common for Karma Kagyu lamas to each have their own organization for their students, as each teacher has a different style and approach. For example, Shamarpa has the Bodhipath organization, Chogyam Trungpa had the Vajradhatu, etc. The goals of the Diamond Way organization remain "the creation and maintenance of a permanent basis from which to enable both laypeople and achievers to maintain, cultivate and practice Buddhist religion, philosophy and culture in countries that are not originally Buddhist, within the traditional manner of the Diamond Way transmission of the Karma Kagyu lineage", Buddhist art, supporting translations of authentic Buddhist text, and funding retreats etc. The "spiritual counsel" of the organisation is provided by the 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje (India), Kunzing Shamar Rinpoche (India) and Jigme Rinpoche (France).[7]


Diamond Way describes itself as an adaptation of the Karma Kagyu tradition to Western culture without Tibetan customs and organisational structures.[8]

Ole Nydahl describes Diamond Way as a lay tradition offering methods for people who have jobs, partners, families and responsibilities. He states "...our work is grown on the basis of friendship and trust... since the Diamond Way teachings aim to bring freedom and independence, it is people who already have those qualities who are generally attracted to our centers."[6] He also says he is keen to avoid what were perceived to be the more exotic or ritualistic aspects of Tibetan Buddhism such as pujas sung in Tibetan with Tibetan musical accompaniment. In 1998 Ole Nydahl stated "I simply don’t want gifted and critical people who discover us to step right into the middle of a puja as has happened so often in the past. They then think they have landed with Catholics or some other sect and we won’t get a second chance to benefit them or their like-minded friends." [6] Instead, most meditation texts (except mantras) are translated and used in European languages.[9]


The most important practice in Diamond Way Buddhism is considered to be identification with the teacher and following that to try to sustain the Mahamudra view and bring what is learned in meditation into daily life.[10][11][12]

Diamond Way Buddhism uses a variety of standard Vajrayana meditation methods found within the Karma Kagyu tradition. When the practitioners meet at lectures or for meditation they will typically do the "Guru Yoga meditation", (Skt. Guru yoga, Tib. Lame Naljor) where the practitioner identifies with the enlightened qualities of the teacher in order to develop these qualities. This is then followed by the "Invocation of Black Coat", sung in Tibetan.[9]

Like other Karma Kagyu practitioners, individuals then usually do a preliminary practice called the ngöndro, consisting of 111,111 repetitions each of 4 different meditations, as given by the 9th Karmapa.[13] The ngöndro must be completed before practitioners can move on to other practices. In most cases, following completion of ngöndro, students practice a meditation on the Eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje, called "The Guru Yoga in Four Sessions" (Tibetan Tun Shi Lame Naljor).[9]

Other practices include a variant of the meditation on Chenrezig (Sanskrit Avalokiteśvara) composed by the 12th Century siddha Tang Tong Gyalpo and the phowa (transference of consciousness at the time of death).[9]

They receive an explanation of the meditations from more experienced members who are authorized to teach in the Diamond Way Buddhist Centers.[9]


The 16th Karmapa

The 16th Karmapa Ranjung Rigpe Dorje
The 17th Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje
Main article: Rangjung Rigpe Dorje

The 16th Karmapa Ranjung Rigpe Dorje (1924–1981) was born in Derge in eastern Tibet. Karmapa left the People's Republic of China in 1959, deciding that the Dharma would be served better outside Communist China. The Karmapas were the first incarnations to start the tulku-system and they are the heads of the Karma Kagyu lineage.

He was the Lama who told the Nydahls to start Karma Kagyu centres in the West and later visited many Karma Kagyu centres, mainly staying in centres founded by the Nydahls or Kalu Rinpoche.[14] His first visit in the West was in 1974[4] and he gave numerous teachings and empowerments in the centres.[2][3]

The 17th Karmapa

Main article: Trinley Thaye Dorje

Trinley Thaye Dorje (born 1983) is the current head of the Karma Kagyu School and one of the candidates to the reincarnation of the 16th Karmapa. He is considered the true incarnation of the Karmapa by the Diamond Way Buddhist Centers, as well as by Shamarpa, Shangpa Rinpoche, Beru Khyentse Rinpoche, Gyatrul Rinpoche and Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche.[15]

Trinley Thaye Dorje was born in Tibet but managed to escape in 1994 and was enthroned by Shamarpa at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute (KIBI).[2] He has since visited the West several times in order to teach. The first time he visited Europe was in 2000 and the first time he visited the United States was in 2003.[15]

Ole Nydahl

Main article: Ole Nydahl

Ole Nydahl (born 1941 near Copenhagen, Denmark), is a Buddhist Lama and one of the main figures in the spreading of Karma Kagyu Buddhism in the West.[14][16] Since the early 1970s he has toured the world, giving lectures and meditation courses, and together with his wife Hannah Nydahl (1946–2007) founded Diamond Way Buddhism. He is often referred to as Lama Ole Nydahl or Lama Ole.

Hannah Nydahl

Hannah Nydahl (1946–2007), wife of Ole Nydahl, was an important Danish teacher and translator in the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.[3] She was born and died in Copenhagen, Denmark. Hannah and her husband Ole Nydahl, who assisted her work, were childhood friends, meeting for the first time when Hannah was 5 and Ole 10.[1]

Hannah and Ole Nydahl were introduced to Buddhism on their honeymoon in Nepal in 1968. They became the first Western students of the 16th Karmapa in 1969. [17] After a three-year period of study they were sent back to Europe by the 16th Karmapa to found centers in his name.[1][2][16]

She was a Buddhist teacher like her husband (sometimes referred to as Lamini or female Lama[18]), but the main role of Hannah Nydahl was as a translator for Lamas like the 16th Karmapa,[14] Lopon Tsechu Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche etc.[3] In an interview she explained, "I do not mind teaching but when I am together with Ole it is more natural that he teaches. When I am not with him I mainly translate and organize for the Tibetan lamas."[19]

In the magazine Kagyu Life International she was described in this way: "Hannah Nydahl is a much sought after translator and interpreter of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. She divides her time between translating for the lamas at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute in New Delhi, India, participating in various Buddhist text translation projects, organizing schedules and visits of high Rinpoches in the lineage, and traveling around the world with Lama Ole."[19]

She spoke German, English, and Tibetan fluently. As few Tibetan teachers spoke English, she learned Tibetan, from Tarab Tulku at Copenhagen University. Since all texts were in Tibetan, her work included translating texts,[19] and spoken translation for the teaching Lamas at the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute in New Delhi, India, participation in various Buddhist text translation projects, as well as organizing and translating lectures for Tibetan Lamas.[15][20]

She was widely respected for her work, devotion and accomplishments as a Buddhist practitioner.[21][22][23] A Danish newspaper even referred to her as the "Mother of Buddhism".[24] Jørn Borup, Department of Study of Religion at University of Aarhus said: "The most lasting influence on the Buddhist practice scene in Denmark was triggered by Ole and Hannah Nydahl backpacking in the spiritual East during their honeymoon in Nepal in 1968."[16]

A documentary about Hannah Nydahl, titled Hannah: Love, Freedom & Buddhism, is scheduled to be released in 2013.[25]


Main article: Shamarpa

Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche, born 1952 in Derge, Tibet, is second to the Gyalwa Karmapa in the spiritual hierarchy of the Karma Kagyu School. He fled Tibet at the age of 9 with the 16th Karmapa. Shamarpa is also known as Red Hat Karmapa, and is, together with the 17th Karmapa, the current holder of the Karma Kagyu lineage. Shamarpa completed the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute (KIBI) in New Delhi, India, after the death of the 16th Karmapa. He has officially recognized Trinlay Thaye Dorje as the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa. Shamarpa spends most of his time teaching, travelling around the world.[15]

He is the founder of Bodhi Path, another Karma Kagyu Buddhist group.[26]

Lopon Tsechu Rinpoche

Main article: Lopon Tsechu Rinpoche

Lopon Tsechu Rinpoche (1918–2003) was the first teacher of Hannah and Ole Nydahl. He was born in Bhutan, but left the country when he was 13 in order to study and practice Buddhism in Nepal. He met the 16th Karmapa in 1944 and the Karmapa became his most important teacher. He visited Europe for the first time in 1987 at the invitation of the Nydahls, who were his first Western students. He traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Americas, and Australia giving teachings and initiations. He completed 17 stupas (Buddhist monuments) in Europe and Asia, including two important stupas in Spain: A Kalachakra stupa and the Benalmádena Stupa,[15] the biggest stupa outside Asia.[27]

Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche

Maniwa Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche (born 1950), in Nepal. He was ordained in Rumtek by the 16th Karmapa. The title "Maniwa" is a title given to a master of the Chenrezig practice, who have accomplished a billion Om mani peme hung mantras.

Other lamas

Other teachers mentioned as teachers by DiamondWay-Buddhism.org:[15]

See also


External links

  • Diamond Way Buddhism International
  • Diamond Way Buddhism UK
  • Diamond Way Buddhism USA
  • YouTube
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