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

A short history of the Karma Kagyu Lineage

The 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 them.

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 teachings.

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 from Gampopa.

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 lineages.

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.
Tilopa 988-1069
Naropa 1016-1100
Marpa 1012-1097
Milarepa 1052-1135
Gampopa 1079-1153
The 1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa 1110-1193
Drogon Rechen 1148-1218
Pomdragpa 1170-1249
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 1416-1453
Bengar Jampal Zangpo 15/16th cent.
The 1st Gyaltsab, Paljor Dondrup 1427-1489
The 7th Karmapa, Chodrag Gyamtso 1454-1506
Sangye Nyenpa, Tashi Paljor 1457-1525
The 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje 1507-1554
The 5th Shamarpa, Konchog Yenlag 1526-1583
The 9th Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje 1556-1603
The 6th Shamarpa, Chokyi Wangchuk 1584-1629
The 10th Karmapa, Choying Dorje 1604-1674
The 7th Shamarpa, Yeshe Nyingpo 1631-1694
The 11th Karmapa, Yeshe Dorje 1676-1702
The 8th Shamarpa, Chokyi Dondrub 1695-1735
The 12th Karmapa, Changchub Dorje 1703-1735
The 8th Situpa, Chokyi Jungne 1700-1774
The 13th Karmapa, Dudul Dorje 1733-1797
The 10th Shamarpa, Mipham Chodrub Gyamtso 1742-1792
The 9th Situpa, Pema Nyinche Wangpo 1774-1853
The 14th Karmapa, Thegchog Dorje 1798-1868
The 1st Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye 1813-1901
The 15th Karmapa, Khakyab Dorje 1871-1922
The 11th Situpa, Pema Wangchog 1886-1952
The 2nd Jamgon Kongtrul Khyentse Euser 1904-1953
The 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpai Dorje 1923-1981

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