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From what I have seen observing Kagyu ceremonies, the 17th Karmapa (either of them, actually) is treated with great awe, respect and reverence. However in their daily rituals, Kagyu buddhists usually visualize the late 16th Karmapa. I assume this is the result of a certain prescription within Karma Kagyu but I was unable to find explanations of this on the Internet.

So, why do Kagyu followers visualize the late instead of the current holders of the Karmapa office? Does this have to do with the status of the late living Buddha as opposed to the living living Buddha?

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No, it is not true that it is done by the prescription of the Kagyu. I asked one of the senior students at the Dagpo Kagyu Ling center near me, who is very close to the head of that center, so he is in a position to know the answer. He told me that people can choose who they visualize during their practice, either the 17th Karmapa, Thaye Dorje, or the 16th Karmapa, Rangdrung Rigpe Dorje. What is true, is that there exists a special Guru Yoga practice text for the 16th Karmapa and not yet a formal Guru Yoga practice text for the 17th Karmapa.

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So, why do Kagyu followers visualize the late instead of the current holders of the Karmapa office? Does this have to do with the status of the late living Buddha as opposed to the living living Buddha?

Maybe because there's yet any conclusive resolution to the Karmapa controversy? But anyway, just to clarify, you probably meant living Tulkus, not living Buddhas, for there can't be multiple Buddhas existing in the same world system. After Gotama Buddha's passing, and after a long period, the next Buddha will be Metteyya, who's currently carrying out His bodhisattvic duties up there in the Tusita heaven. All others will be just teachers with various degrees of attainments from now until that time.

“He understands: ‘It is impossible, it cannot happen that two Accomplished Ones, Fully Enlightened Ones, could arise contemporaneously in one world-system—there is no such possibility.’1089 And he understands: ‘It is possible that one Accomplished One, a Fully Enlightened One, might arise in one world-system—there is such a possibility.’ He understands: ‘It is impossible, it cannot happen that two Wheel-turning Monarchs could arise contemporaneously in one world-system…It is possible that one Wheel-turning Monarch might arise in one worldsystem—there is such a possibility.’ ~~ MN 115 ~~

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    I think that the definition of a 'Buddha' varies according to each tradition. For traditions that considerate EBTs as their primary source, you definition is valid. – Brian Díaz Flores Mar 17 '20 at 21:52
  • @BrianDíazFlores, MN 115 is not an EBT, but a universal text common to all Buddhist traditions. See this link for a long list of its equivalents from various sources: suttacentral.net/mn115 – santa100 Mar 18 '20 at 2:33
  • EBT means Early Buddhist Text, which MN definitely is. See en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_Buddhist_texts – Andrei Volkov Mar 18 '20 at 2:35
  • @AndreiVolkov, have u looked at its Chinese, Taisho, and Tibetan equivalents on the link I gave? No, MN 115 is not solely EBT. By the way, the Karmapa's never claimed himself to be a living Buddha. Feel free to provide proof and/or backup evidence saying the opposite. – santa100 Mar 18 '20 at 2:37
  • I'm just saying "early buddhist text" means "a Buddhist text written relatively early". Can't argue with that, can you? Or do you think Majjhima Nikaya is not a buddhist text or that it was not written early? – Andrei Volkov Mar 18 '20 at 3:06

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