In 1981 Karmapa Rangjung Rigpa’i Dorje inaugurated the reproduction of the entire Der-gé edition of the Kangyür, and many copies were produced and distributed worldwide.
Karmapa Rangjung Rigpa’i Dorje was renowned for his fondness of birds and had an aviary at Rumtek, occupied by birds who were held to be realised beings. He talked to them often, giving them transmission of mantra, and practising phowa for them when they died.
In 1981, Karmapa Rangjung Rigpa’i Dorje began to show signs of cancer. After several remissions and recurrences, he was taken to the Clinic Hospital in Zion, Illinois. There he permitted doctors to conduct experiments, and they found that sedatives had no affect on his mental clarity.
On the evening of the 5th of November 1981, Karmapa Rangjung Rigpa’i Dorje passed away. The medical staff reported that for three days the region around Karmapa Rangjung Rigpa’i Dorje’s heart remained warm, but had no medical explanation for the phenomenon. His body was left in the hospital room for these days and he remained in meditation position. On the 9th of November his body was flown to Sikkim.
For forty-nine days, bardo rites and long-life wish-paths were practised. On the day of Karmapa Rangjung Rigpa’i Dorje’s cremation, it was observed that his body had not decayed – but rather, it had reduced to the size of a child. At the moment Karmapa Rangjung Rigpa’i Dorje’s body was cremated rainbows began to arc across the sky, and the Sikkim Division of the Indian Army honoured Karmapa Rangjung Rigpa’i Dorje with a rifle salute.