Black Pills

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The Karmapa's enlightened activity manifests in his ability to make and bless small black pills called rinchen rilnak [or rilnag in Tibetan.] The pills are rare, being made of several precious substances including gems and metals as well as animal and plant products, and are prepared in a complex ritual involving the implements of Marpa Lotsawa (1012-1097) and Jetsun Milarepa (1052-1135).

Through the power of interdependence, they are believed to confer blessings and protection on people who consume them or even just carry them on their person in a relic box or locket known as a gau [called such as its shape recalls the head of a cow or deer.]

The rilnag are believed to aid in the liberation of the individual at the time of dying via the link with Karmapa.  In circumstances of serious illness, they have been known to effect amazing changes -- from dramatic physical improvement to complete remissions. 

Where physical improvement is not apparent, it is reported that the death was noticeably less traumatic for both patient and friends.  The rilnag seem to alleviate the bitterness and depression that usually accompanies chronic illness, and the anxiety and conflictive emotions of traumatic events.

Prior to the auspicious day selected for the manufacture of the rilnak, His Holiness picks assistants from among the lamas.  They rise early to purify themselves and to recite the guru yoga of the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje (1507-1554).

The Karmapa uses a tsampa [roast barley] base to which are added ingredients from the  treasury of relics and precious substances.  The iron plough-shoe used by Marpa the yogi-farmer and translator, and the trowel used by the singing saint Milarepa, who obediently built whatever his guru demanded of him, are what are reported to give the rilnak their characteristic black colour.  

The mixture is then rolled by His Holiness' own hand and divided into pills.  It is the begging bowl of the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1296-1376) that serves as a container and a measure for the (3-4 mm) "mother" pills.  This is filled to about two-thirds.   

During the rolling of the tinier "baby" pills, the monks recite Karmapa Chenno, the Karmapa mantra. 

At the end of the day, the bowl is covered with the robe of the 3rd Karmapa, and set on a cloth to remain there overnight.

The next morning it is found that the pills have multiplied spilling out of the bowl onto the  cloth.  This remarkable quality is one of the attributes of the "mother" pills, but it often happens that the smaller ones do the same. 

Ani Demmer at Ladybear tells us that a surgeon who did not believe in this sort of thing found that a pill he had been given had multiplied into seven.  And a lama who was in the habit of carrying around some mother pills in a small case found he had a constant supply of "baby" pills to distribute to those in need.

~ The origin of this information is Ken Holmes'  Karmapa:  His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorje, 1995.  


The Ayurvedic medical tradition's appearance in Tibet is partially due to the influence of the Karmapas, according to Jürgen C. Aschoff ("Tibetan Medecine and Mercury.")

The Tibetan scholar and yogi Ogyen Rinchenpal (Tib: O-rgyan-pa Rin-chen-dpal)  brought from his journeys to Northern India (Udyana/Swat) the art of preparing mercury for medicinal use to Tibet. 

Under the third Karmapa (1284-1339) this knowledge was utilized for the first time in Tibet to produce the "black pills" (Rin-chen ril-nag) which were subsequently called ”Karmapa black pills” . . .  . 

About ringsel: white, and black, Karmapa relics

The mantra that invokes the Karmapa is:  Karmapa Chenno (also pronounced, Karmapa Kyenno.)


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