K a r m a . K a g y u . T r a d i t i o n

Historical Background

The historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, gave many different kinds of teachings in order to accommodate the various capacities of beings. All these teachings are subsumed under the Sutrayana and the Tantrayana. Although the Buddha gave only oral teachings, his early disciples recorded his instructions in writing and thus passed them on in their original form.

Accomplished Buddhist masters also authored many treatises that explain the meaning of the Buddha's teachings. The emphasis was on the authentic and accurate transmission of the teachings as this is of prime importance. Over the centuries different lines of transmission, each with its own characteristics, came about.

Buddhism in Tibet includes all the teachings that originated in India. Through the effort of Tibetan translators and Indian masters, the whole corpus of Buddhist teachings was translated into Tibetan. Thus, Buddhism flourished in Tibet until the middle of the 20th century.

In the 8th century the Tibetan King, Trisong Detsen, invited two Buddhist masters, Guru Rinpoche and Shantarakshita, to Tibet. At the same time the king initiated translation of important Buddhists texts into Tibetan. This early activity of teaching and translation brought about the Nyingma tradition, the 'Old Tradition'. The teachings in the Nyingma tradition are based on the texts of this early period of translation.
During the 11th century a second period of translation which involved the revision of earlier terminology as well as new translations took place. The traditions that base their transmission on that period are referred to as the Sarma traditions, the 'New Traditions'. Of these, the Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug are the most well-known.

The Kagyu tradition was introduced to Tibet by Marpa the translator (1012-1097), who emphasized four special transmissions that trace their origin to the Indian siddha Tilopa and other Indian masters of the Mahamudra lineage.

The Sakya tradition was founded by Khon Konchog Gyalpo (1034-1102), who focused his transmission on the teachings expounded by the Indian Mahasiddha Virupa. The Gelug (or Ganden) tradition was established by Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), who stressed the teachings of the Kadampa school founded in Tibet by the Indian master Atisha (982-1054).

Compiled and translated by members of the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute's Department of Translation.

( © K.I.B.I. 1994)

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