short history of the Karma Kagyu Lineage
Kagyu lineage originated with the great yogi Tilopa who lived in
Northern India sometime around the 10th century AD. Tilopa received
the four special transmissions (Tib. bka-babs-bzi) and mastered
Although there is some discrepancy
in the historical sources regarding the identities of the masters
associated with each of the four transmissions the most common consensus
indicates that their sources are as follows: the first of the four
came from Nagarjuna and consists of two tantras, the "Sangwa Dupa
Tantra" (S. Guhyasamaja) and the "Denshi Tantra". It also incorporates
the practices called "Illusory Body" (Tib. sgyu-lus) and "Transference"
(Tib. pho-ba). The second special transmission came from Nakpopa
and includes the tantra called "Gyuma Chenmo" (S. Mahamaya), and
the practice called "Conscious Dreaming" (Tib. rmi-lam). The third
special transmission came from Lawapa and includes the "Demchok
Tantra" and the practice of "Clear Light" (Tib. od gsal). The fourth
was transmitted from Khandro Kalpa Zangmo and includes the tantra
known as "Gyepa Dorje" (S. Hevajra), and the practice called "Tummo".
These teachings were passed
on from Tilopa to Naropa, and were systematized as the Six Yogas
of Naropa that are considered a central theme in the Kagyu Lineage.
Naropa transmitted his knowledge to Marpa, the great translator,
who journeyed from Tibet to India in order to receive instructions
and who subsequently returned to Tibet and where he spread the Dharma
His student Milarepa became
one of Tibet's great yogis. Through his perseverance in the practice
of Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa, he achieved profound realization
of the ultimate nature of reality.
Milarepa's transmission was
continued by Gampopa, the physician from Dagpo. He first studied
the Kadampa tradition, which is a gradual path including what is
known as the Lam Rim teachings. He also met Milarepa, and attained
realization of ultimate reality under his guidance. He established
monastic institutions, taught extensively and attracted many students.
Four of his disciples founded the four major Kagyu Schools: Babrom
Dharma Wangchuk founded the Babrom Kagyu, Pagdru Dorje Gyalpo founded
the Pagdru Kagyu, Shang Tsalpa Tsondru Drag founded the Tsalpa Kagyu,
and Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa founded the Kamtsang Kagyu, also known
as the Karma Kagyu school.
It was the first Karmapa,
Dusum Khyenpa, who received the complete Mahamudra transmission
The eight minor Kagyu lineages
originated with Pagdru Dorje Gyalpo's eight main disciples. These
eight lineages are: Taglung Kagyu, Trophu Kagyu, Drukpa Kagyu, Martsang
Kagyu, Yerpa Kagyu, Yazang Kagyu, Shugseb Kagyu and Drikung Kagyu.
The different Kagyu lineages
are not referred to as major and minor in terms of the instructions
they contain; they are equal in that respect. The four major lineages
are known as major in that they originate with Gampopa himself,
whereas the eight minor lineages originate with a later generation
of masters. Nowadays, of the four major Kagyu lineages only the
Karma Kagyu remains prevalent. Among the eight minor Kagyu lineages
only the Taglung, Drukpa and Drikung Kagyu still exist as independent
We can distinguish several
transmissions within each lineage. However, all major buddhist traditions
in Tibet have a lineage of the Pratimoksha vows and a lineage of
the Bodhisattva vows.
"The Golden Kagyu Garland"
refers to the masters who are the holders of the lineage in which
Mahamudra is a main theme. They are the Indian masters of the lineage
and the successive reincarnations of the Karmapas and their most
important students who pass on the transmissions to him. The lineage
holders are selected by the Karmapa himself which ensures that the
teachings remain intact and pure.
The Karmapa himself always
chooses the teacher who will pass on the lineage to him in his future
incarnation. He is a great bodhisattva who has the capacity to perceive
the realization and qualities of others. It is through this ability
that he selects his own guru. There is no fixed rule which defines
the teacher in advance. In some cases the lineage holders are eminent
reincarnates and in other cases exceptional practitioners without
high status in the religious hierarchy.
Another aspect of the Karma
Kagyu lineage is the interim directors of the administration who
are caretakers of the Karmapa's monasteries between his reincarnations.
These caretakers are not lineage holders. For example, the 14th
Karmapa, Thegchog Dorje, installed the head of the Drugpa Kagyu,
the 9th Drugchen Mipham Chokyi Gyamtso (also known as Mingyur Wangi
Gyalpo), as the interim director of the administration. The 16th
Karmapa, in accordance with Indian law, installed a legal body,
the Karmapa Charitable Trust, and appointed the trustees. Presently
it is their responsibility to run the affairs of the seat of H.H.
the 16th Karmapa and the affiliated monasteries and centers until
the coming of age of the 17th Karmapa.
The list below shows the masters
of "The Golden Kagyu Garland" followed by a short account
of their lives.
The 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa 1110-1193
Drogon Rechen 1148-1218
The 2nd Karmapa, Karma Pakshi 1204-1283
Drubtob Urgyenpa 1230-1312
The 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje 1284-1339
Gyalwa Jungtonpa 1296-1376
The 4th Karmapa, Rolpai Dorje 1340-1383
The 2nd Shamarpa, Kacho Wangpo 1350-1405
The 5th Karmapa, Deshin Shegpa 1384-1415
Rinchen Zangpo (Ratnabhadra) 15th c.
The 6th Karmapa, Thongwa Donden
Bengar Jampal Zangpo 15/16th cent.
The 1st Gyaltsab, Paljor Dondrup 1427-1489
The 7th Karmapa, Chodrag Gyamtso
Sangye Nyenpa, Tashi Paljor 1457-1525
The 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje 1507-1554
The 5th Shamarpa, Konchog Yenlag
The 9th Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje
The 6th Shamarpa, Chokyi Wangchuk
The 10th Karmapa, Choying Dorje
The 7th Shamarpa, Yeshe Nyingpo 1631-1694
The 11th Karmapa, Yeshe Dorje 1676-1702
The 8th Shamarpa, Chokyi Dondrub
The 12th Karmapa, Changchub Dorje
The 8th Situpa, Chokyi Jungne 1700-1774
The 13th Karmapa, Dudul Dorje 1733-1797
The 10th Shamarpa, Mipham Chodrub
The 9th Situpa, Pema Nyinche Wangpo
The 14th Karmapa, Thegchog Dorje
The 1st Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye 1813-1901
The 15th Karmapa, Khakyab Dorje
The 11th Situpa, Pema Wangchog 1886-1952
The 2nd Jamgon Kongtrul Khyentse Euser
The 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpai