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The Kagyu, Kagyupa, or Kagyud (Tibetan: བཀའ་བརྒྱུད་པ, Wylie: bka' brgyud pa) school, also known as the "Oral Lineage" or Whispered Transmission school, is today regarded as one of six main schools (chos lugs) of Himalayan or Tibetan Buddhism, the other five being the Nyingma, Sakya, Jonang, Bon and Gelug. Along with the Sakya and Gelug schools, the Kagyu tradition is classified as one of the Sarma or "New Transmission" schools of Vajrayāna founded during the second diffusion of Buddhism into Tibet (diffusing the so-called "New Tantras"). It is a Red Hat sect along with the Nyingma and Sakya.
Like all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the Kagyu consider their practices and teachings inclusive of the full range of Buddha's teachings or "three yānas" since they follow the fundamental teachings and vows of individual liberation and prātimokṣa (monastic discipline). Those teachings in turn accord with the Mulasarvastivada tradition of the Śrāvakayāna (sometimes called Nikāya Buddhism or "Hīnayāna" ); the bodhisattva teachings, vows of universal liberation and philosophy of the Mahāyāna; and the profound means and samaya pledges of the "Secret Mantra" Vajrayāna.
What differentiates the Kagyu from the other schools of Himalayan Buddhism are primarily the particular esoteric instructions and tantras they emphasize and the lineages of transmission they follow.
Due to the Kagyu tradition's particularly strong emphasis on guru devotion and guru yoga, and the personal transmission of esoteric instructions (Wylie: dam ngag or man ngag) from master to disciple, the early Kagyu tradition soon gave rise to a bewildering number of independent sub-schools or sub-sects centered on individual charismatic Kagyu teachers and their lineages. These lineages are hereditary as well as mindstream emanation in nature.
- 1 Nomenclature, orthography and etymology
- 2 Shangpa Kagyu
- 3 Marpa Kagyu and Dagpo Kagyu
- 3.1 Indian Origins
- 3.2 Marpa and his successors
- 3.3 Milarepa and his disciples
- 3.4 Twelve Dagpo Kagyu Lineages
- 3.4.1 Four primary schools of the Dagpo Kagyu
- 3.4.2 Eight Secondary schools of the Dagpo Kagyu
- 3.4.3 Dagpo Kagyu Lineages Today
- 4 Kagyu Doctrines
- 5 Kagyu Literature
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Sources
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Nomenclature, orthography and etymology
Strictly speaking, the term Kagyu (Tibetan: བཀའ་བརྒྱུད, Wylie: bka' brgyud) ("Oral Lineage" or "Precept Transmission") applies to any line of transmission of an esoteric teaching from teacher to disciple. We sometimes see references to the "Atisha Kagyu" ("the precept transmission from Atiśa") for the early Kadampa, or to "Jonang Kagyu" for the Jonang and "Ganden Kagyu" for the Gelug sects.
Today, the term Kagyu almost always refers to the Marpa Kagyu or Dagpo Kagyu and its off-shoots, which developed from the teachings transmitted by the translator Marpa Lotsawa and his successors. It also applies to the separate lesser-known Shangpa Kagyu tradition, which developed from the teachings independently transmitted by Khyungpo Naljor.
"Kagyu" and "Kargyu"
In his 1970 article "Golden Rosaries of the Bka' brgyud schools" E. Gene Smith, discusses the two forms of the name — Kagyu Tibetan: བཀའ་བརྒྱུད, Wylie: bka' brgyud and Kargyu Tibetan: དཀར་བརྒྱུད, Wylie: dkar brgyud:
- A note is in order regarding the two forms Dkar brgyud pa and Bka' brgyud pa. The term Bka' brgyud pa simply applies to any line of transmission of an esoteric teaching from teacher to disciple. We can properly speak of a Jo nang Bka' brgyud pa or Dge ldan Bka' brgyud pa for the Jo nang pa and Dge lugs pa sects. The adherents of the sects that practice the teachings centring around the Phyag rgya chen po and the Nā ro chos drug are properly referred to as the Dwags po Bka' brgyud pa because these teachings were all transmitted through Sgam po pa. Similar teachings and practices centering around the Ni gu chos drug are distinctive of the Shangs pa Bka' brgyud pa. These two traditions with their offshoots are often incorrectly referred to simply as Bka' brgyud pa.
- Some of the more careful Tibetan scholars suggested that the term Dkar brgyud pa be used to refer to the Dwags po Bka' brgyud pa, Shangs pa Bka' brgyud pa and a few minor traditions transmitted by Nā ro pa, Mar pa, Mi la ras pa, or Ras chung pa but did not pass through Sgam po pa. The term Dkar brgyud pa refers to the use of the white cotton meditation garment by all these lineages. This complex is what is normally known, inaccuratly, as the Bka' brgyud pa. Thu'u kwan Blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma sums up the matter: "In some later 'Brug pa texts the written form 'Dkar brgyud' indeed appears, because Mar pa, Mi la, Gling ras, and others wore only white cotton cloth. Nevertheless, it is fine if [they] are all called Bka' brgyud." At Thu'u kwan's suggestion, then, we will side with convention and use the term "Bka' brgyud."
One source indicates "the term 'Kagyu' derives from the Tibetan phrase meaning 'Lineage of the Four Commissioners' (Ka-bab-shi-gyu-pa). This four-fold lineage is
- the illusory body and transference yogas of the Guhyasamaja and Chatushpitha Tantra, transmitted through Tilopa, Nagarjuna, Indrabhuti, and Saraha;
- the dream yoga practice of the Mahamaya from Tilopa, Charyapa, and Kukuripa;
- the clear-light yoga of the Chakrasamvara, Hevajra, and other Mother Tantras, as transmitted from Hevajra, Dombipa, and Lavapa; and
- the inner-heat yoga, Kamadevavajra, Padmavajra, Dakini, Kalpabhadra, and Tilopa."
The Shangpa Kagyu ཤངས་པ་བཀའ་བརྒྱུད (shangs pa bka' brgyud) differs in origin from the better known Marpa Kagyu or Dagpo Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism that is the source of all present day Kagyu schools. The Dagpo Kagyu and its branches primarily came from the lineage of the Indian siddhas Tilopa and Naropa transmitted in Tibet through Marpa, Milarepa, Gampopa and their successors; whereas the Shangpa lineage descended from two female siddhas Naropa's consort Niguma  and Virupa's disciple Sukhasiddhi transmitted in Tibet in the 11th century through Kedrub Khyungpo Naljor. The tradition takes its name from the valley of Shang (ཤངས) where Khyungpo Naljor established the monastery of Zhong Zhong ཞོང་ཞོང or Zhang Zhong.
For seven generations the Shangpa Kagyu lineage remained a one-to-one transmission. Although there were a few temples and retreat centres in Tibet and Bhutan associated with the Shangpa transmission, the Shangpa Kagyu never really became established there as an independent religious institution or sect, but rather its teachings were transmitted down through the centuries by lamas belonging to many different schools.
In the 20th century the Shangpa Kagyu teachings were transmitted by the first Kalu Rinpoche who studied in the Palpung monastery one of the great centers of kagyu lineage and the seat of the Tai Situpa, who had many disciples in Tibet, India and the West.
Marpa Kagyu and Dagpo Kagyu
Kagyu begins in Tibet with Marpa Lotsawa (1012–1097) who trained as a translator with Drogmi Lotsawa Shākya Yeshe (Wylie: 'brog mi lo tsā ba shākya ye shes, 993–1050), and then traveled three times to India and four times to Nepal in search of religious teachings. His principal gurus were the siddhas Nāropa - from whom he received the "close lineage" of Mahāmudrā and Tantric teachings, and Maitrīpāda - from whom he received the "distant lineage" of mahāmudrā.
Marpa's guru Nāropa (1016–1100) was the principal disciple of Tilopa (988-1089) from East Bengal. From his own teachers Tilopa received the Four Lineages of Instructions (bka' babs bzhi), which he passed on to Nāropa who codified them into what became known as the Six Doctrines or Six Yogas of Nāropa. These instructions consist a combination of the completion stage (Skt. sampannakrama; Tib. rdzogs rim) practices of different Buddhist highest yoga tantras (Skt. Anuttarayoga Tantra; Wylie: bla med rgyud), which use the energy-winds (Skt. vāyu, Wylie: rlung), energy-channels (Skt. nāḍi, Wylie: rtsa) and energy-drops of the subtle vajra-body in order to achieve the four types of bliss, the clear-light mind and realize the state of Mahāmudrā.
The Mahāmudrā lineage of Tilopa and Nāropa is called the "direct lineage" or "close lineage" as it is said that Tilopa received this Mahāmudrā realisation directly from the Dharmakāya Buddha Vajradhara and this was transmitted only through Nāropa to Marpa.
The "distant lineage" of Mahāmudrā is said to have come from the Buddha in the form of Vajradara through incarnations of the bodhisattvas Avalokiteśvara and Mañjuśrī to Saraha, then from him through Nagarjuna, Shavaripa, and Maitripada to Marpa. The Mahāmudrā teachings from Saraha that Maitripa transmitted to Marpa include the "Essence Mahāmudrā" (Wylie: snying po'i phyag chen) where Mahāmudrā is introduced directly without relying on philosophical reasoning or yogic practices.
Marpa and his successors
Marpa established his "seat" at Drowolung (Wylie: gro bo lung) in Lhodrak in southern Tibet just north of Bhutan. Marpa married the Lady Dagmema, and took eight other concubines as mudras. Collectively they embodied the main consort and eight wisdom dakini in the mandala of his iṣṭadevatā, Hevajra. Marpa wanted to entrust the transmission lineage to his oldest son Darma Dode who died in accident. Darma Dode's incarnation as Indian master Tiphupa became important for the future development of Kagyu in Tibet.
- Milarepa (1040–1123), born in Gungthang province of western Tibet, the most celebrated and accomplished of Tibet's yogis, who achieved the ultimate goal of enlightenment in one lifetime became the holder of Marpa's meditation or practice lineage.
- Ngok Choku Dorje (Wylie: rngog chos sku rdo rje) (1036–1102)- Was the principal recipient of Marpa's explanatory lineages and particularly important in Marpa's transmission of the Hevajra Tantra. Ngok Choku Dorje founded the Langmalung temple in the Tang valley of Bumthang district, Bhutan—which stands today. The Ngok branch of the Marpa Kagyu was an independent lineage carried on by his descendants at least up to the time of the Second Drukchen Gyalwang Kunga Paljor (Wylie: 'brug chen kun dga' dpal 'byor, 1428-1476) who received this transmission, and 1476 when Go Lotsawa composed the Blue Annals.
- Tshurton Wangi Dorje (Wylie: mtshur ston dbang gi rdo rje) - (or Tshurton Wangdor) was the principal recipient of Marpa's transmission of the teachings of the Guhyasamāja tantra. Tshurton's lineage eventually merged with the Shalu Monastery tradition and subsequently passed down to Je Tsongkhapa who wrote extensive commentaries on Guhyasamāja.
- Meton Tsonpo (Wylie: mes ston tshon po)
Marpa had wanted to pass his lineage through his son Darma Dode following the usual Tibetan practice of the time to transmit of lineages of esoteric teachings via hereditary lineage (father-son or uncle-nephew), but his son died at an early age and consequently he passed his main lineage on through Milarepa.
Other important students of Marpa include:
- Marpa Dowa Chokyi Wangchuck (Wylie: mar pa do ba chos kyi dbang phyug).
- Marpa Goleg (Wylie: mar pa mgo legs) who along with Tshurton Wangdor received the Guhyasamāja tantra.
- Barang Bawacen (Wylie: ba rang lba ba can) - who received lineage of the explanatory teachings of the Mahāmāyā Tantra.
Jamgon Kongtrul (1813–1899) collected the initiations and sadhanas of surviving transmissions of Marpa's teachings together in the collection known as the Kagyu Ngak Dzö (Tibetan: བཀའ་བརྒྱུད་སྔགས་མཛོད་, Wylie: bka' brgyud sngags mdzod, "Treasury of Kagyu Tantras").
Milarepa and his disciples
Gampopa combined the stages of the path tradition of the Kadam order with teaching and practice of the Great Seal (Mahamudra) and the Six Yogas of Naropa he received from Milarepa synthesizing them into one lineage, which came to be known as Dagpo Kagyu—the main lineage of the Kagyu tradition passed down via Naropa as we know it today. The other main lineage of the Kagyu is the Shangpa Kagyu passed down via Niguma.
Following Gampopa's teachings, there evolved the so-called "Four Major and Eight Minor" lineages of the Dagpo (sometimes rendered "Tagpo" or "Dakpo") Kagyu School. This phrase is descriptive of the generation or order in which the schools were founded, not of their importance.
- Together Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa are known as "Mar-Mi-Dag Sum" (Wylie: mar mi dwags gsum) and together these three are considered the founders of the Kagyu school of Buddhism in Tibet.
Twelve Dagpo Kagyu Lineages
Although few survive as independent linages today, there were originally twelve main Kagyu lineages derived from Gampopa and his disciples. Four primary ones stemmed from direct disciples of Gampopa and his nephew; and eight secondary ones branched from Gampopa's disciple Phagmo Drupa. Several of these Kagyu lineages in turn developed their own branches or sub-schools. It must be said, though, that the terminology "primary and secondary" (che chung) for the Kagyu schools can only be traced back as far as Kongtrul's writings (19th century). The Tibetan terminology "che chung", literally "large (and) small," does not reflect the size or influence of the schools, as for instance the Drikung school was in the 13th century probably the largest and most influential of them, although it is, according to Kongtrul, "secondary".
The abbatal throne of Gampopa's own monastery of Daglha Gampo, passed to his own nephew Dagpo Gomtsul.
Four primary schools of the Dagpo Kagyu
The Karma Kagyu itself has three subschools in addition to the main branch:
- Surmang, founded by Trungmase, 1st Zurmang Gharwang Rinpoche, a student of Deshin Shekpa, 5th Karmapa Lama, this sub-sect was centered on Surmang Monastery, in what is now Qinghai
- Nédo Kagyu (Wylie: gnas mdo), founded by Karma Chagme (Wylie: kar ma chags med, 1613–1678), a disciple of the 6th Shamarpa (Wylie: zhwa dmar chos kyi dbang phyug, 1584–1630)
- Gyaltön Kagyu
Following the death of Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, 16th Karmapa in 1981, followers came to disagree over the identity of his successor. In the early 1990s two main candidates, Ogyen Trinley Dorje and Trinley Thaye Dorje, were publicly identified. The 14th Shamarpa, recognized Trinley Thaye Dorje as the 17th Karmapa; while other senior Karma Kagyu incarnates, including the 12th Tai Situpa and 12th Goshir Gyaltsab, recognized Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the 17th Karmapa, as did the Dalai Lama and majority senior monks of the karma kagyu school. Both of these candidates underwent enthronement ceremonies and each is now considered by his respective followers as the 17th Karmapa. A minority of Karma Kagyu adherents recognize both candidates as legitimate incarnations of the previous Karmapa.
The Barom Kagyu was founded by Gampopa's disciple Barompa Darma Wangchuk (Wylie: 'ba' rom pa dar ma dbang phyug, 1127–1199/1200), who established the Nak River Barom Riwoche Monastery (Wylie: nag chu 'ba' rom ri bo che) in 1160.
An important early master of this school was Tishri Repa Sherab Senge (Wylie: 'gro mgon ti shri ras pa rab seng ge, 1164–1236).
This school was popular in the Principality of Nangchen in Kham (modern Nangqên County, Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, southern Qinghai) where it has survived in one or two pockets to the present day.
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche (1920–1996) was a holder of the Barom Kagyu Lineage.
The Tshalpa Kagyu was established by Zhang Yudrakpa Tsöndru Drakpa (Wylie: zhang g.yu brag pa brtson 'gru brags pa, 1123–1193), who founded Tsel Gungtang Monastery (Wylie: tshal gung thang). Lama Zhang was a disciple of Gampopa's nephew Dagpo Gomtsul Tsultim Nyingpo (Wylie: dwags sgom tshul khrims snying po, 1116–1169).
The Tshalpa Kagyu tradition continued to function independently until the 15th century when it was absorbed by the Gelug, who still maintain many of its transmissions. All of the former Tshelpa properties became Gelug possessions under the administration of Sera monastery.
|This section requires expansion. (June 2008)|
The Phagmo Drupa Kagyu (Tibetan: ཕག་མོ་གྲུ་པ་བཀའ་བརྒྱུད, Wylie: phag mo gru pa bka' brgyud) or Phagdru Kagyu (ཕག་གྲུ་བཀའ་བརྒྱུད) was founded by Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo (Tibetan: ཕག་མོ་གྲུ་པ་རྡོ་རྗེ་རྒྱལ་པོ, Wylie: phag mo gru pa rdo rje rgyal po, 1110–1170) who was the elder brother of the famous Nyingma lama Ka Dampa Deshek (1122–1192) founder of Katok Monastery. Before meeting Gampopa, Dorje Gyalpo studied with Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (sa chen kun dga' snying po) (1092–1158) from whom he received lamdre transmission.
In 1158 Dorje Gyalpo built a reed-hut hermitage at Phakmo Drupa ("Sow's Ferry Crossing") in a juniper forest in Nedong (Tibetan: སྣེ་གདོང, Wylie: sne gdong) high above the Brahmaputra River. Later, as his fame spread and disciples gathered, this site developed into the major monastic seat of Dentsa Thel (Tibetan: གདན་ས་ཐེལ, Wylie: gdan sa thel). Following his death the monastery declined and his disciple Jigten Sumgön sent Chenga Drakpa Jungne (Tibetan: སྤྱན་སྔ་གྲགས་པ་འབྱུང་གནས, Wylie: spyan snga grags pa 'byung-gnas) (1175–1255), a member of the Lang (Wylie: rlang) family, to become abbot and look after the monastery.
Chenga Drakpa Jungne was abbot for 21 years and restored the monastery to its former grandeur. In 1253 when the Sakyapas came to power they appointed Dorje Pel [(Tibetan: རྡོ་རྗེ་དཔལ, Wylie: rdo rje dpal)] the brother of Chenga Drakpa Jungne as Tripon [hereditary myriarch] of Nedon. From that time on the Tripon who as a monk, assumed the seat of government of Nedon and also ruled as abbot at Dentsa Thel and his brothers married in order to perpetuate the family line. This tie with the monastery founded by Phagmo Drupa led to the Tripons of Nedong to become known as Phagdru (short of Phagmo Drupa) Tripon and their period of rule in Tibet as the Phagmo Drupa period (or Phagmodrupa dynasty).
Tai Situ Changchub Gyaltsen (1302–1364) was born into this Lang family. In 1322, he was appointed by the Sakyapas as the Pagmodru Myriarch of Nedong and given the title "Tai Situ" in the name of the Yuan emperor. Soon he fought with a neighboring myriarchy trying to recover land lost in earlier times. This quarrel displeased the Sakya ruler (Wylie: dpon chen) Gyelwa Zangpo (Tibetan: རྒྱལ་བ་བཟང་པོ, Wylie: rgyal ba bzang po) who dismissed him as myriach. Following a split between Gyelwa Zangpo and his minister Nangchen Wangtsön (Tibetan: ནང་ཆེན་དབང་བརྩོན, Wylie: nang chen dbang brtson), the former restored Changchup Gyeltsen to his position in 1352. Taking advantage of the situation, Changchup Gyeltsen immediately went on the offensive and soon controlled the whole of the central Tibetan province of Ü. Gyelwa Zangpo and Changchup Gyeltsen were reconciled at a meeting with the Sakya lama Künpangpa (Tibetan: བླ་མ་ཀུན་སྤངས་པ, Wylie: bla ma kun spangs pa). This angered Nangchen Wangtsön, who usurped Gyelwa Zangpo as Sakya ruler and imprisoned him.
In 1351 Changchup Gyeltsen established an important Kagyu monastery at the ancient Tibetan capital of Tsetang. This was later dismantled during the time of the 7th Dalai Lama (18th century) and replaced by a Gelugpa monastery, Gaden Chokhorling.
In 1358, Wangtson assassinated Lama Kunpangpa. Learning of this, Changchup Gyeltsen then took his forces to Sakya, imprisoned Wangtsön, and replaced four hundred court officials and the newly appointed ruling lama. The Pagmodrupa rule of Central Tibet (U, Tsang and Ngari) dates from this coup in 1358.
As ruler, Changchup Gyeltsen was keen to revive the glories of the Tibetan Empire of Songtsän Gampo and assert Tibetan independence from the Yuan dynasty of the Mongols and from Ming China. He took the Tibetan title "Desi" (sde-srid), re-organized the thirteen myriarchies of the Yuan Shakya rulers into numerous districts (Wylie: rdzong), abolished Mongol law in favour of the old Tibetan legal code, and Mongol court dress in favour of traditional Tibetan dress.
Tai Situ Changchub Gyaltsen died in 1364 and was succeeded as by his nephew Jamyang Shakya Gyaltsen (Tibetan: ཇམ་དབྱངས་ཤ་ཀྱ་རྒྱལ་མཚན, Wylie: jam dbyangs sha kya rgyal mtshan) (1340–1373), who was also a monk. The subsequent rule of the Phagmodrupa Dynasty lasted until 1435 followed by the Rinpungpa kings who ruled for four generations from 1435–1565 and the three Tsangpa kings 1566-1641.
In 1406 the ruling Phagmodrupa prince, Drakpa Gyaltsen, turned down the imperial invitation to him to visit China.
From 1435 to 1481 the power of the Phagmodrupa declined and they were eclipsed by the Rinpungpa (Wylie: rin spungs pa) of Tsang, who patronized the Karma Kagyu.
The Phagmo Drupa monastery of Dentsa Thel "was completely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution in 1966-1978"
Eight Secondary schools of the Dagpo Kagyu
The eight secondary lineages (zung bzhi ya brgyad or chung brgyad) of the Dagpo Kagyu all trace themselves to disciples of Phagmo Drupa.
One of the most important of the Kagyu sects still remaining today, the Drikung Kagyu (འབྲི་གུང་བཀའ་པརྒྱུད་པ) takes its name from Drigung Monastery founded by Jigten Sumgön, also known as Drikung Kyopa.
The special Kagyu teachings of the Drikung tradition include the "Single Intention" (Wylie: dgongs gcig), "The Essence of Mahāyāna Teachings" (Wylie: theg chen bstan pa'i snying po), and the "Fivefold Profound Path of Mahāmudrā" (Wylie: lam zab mo phyag chen lnga ldan).
Several sub-schools branched off from the Drikung Kagyu including the Lhapa or Lhanangpa Kagyu, founded by Nö Lhanangpa (Wylie: gnyos lha nang pa, 1164–1224) who came to Bhutan in 1194. This school was at one time important in Western Bhutan, particularly in the Thimphu and Paro regions, where they were rivals of the Drukpa Kagyu. The Lhapa first came into conflict with the early Drukpa teacher, Phajo Drugom Zhigpo (b. 12th century)  and finally with Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594–1651). In 1640 the remaining followers of the Lhapa Kagyu were expelled from Bhutan together with the Nenyingpa followers as both had sided with the attacking Tsangpa forces against the Drukpa during their three invasions of Bhutan and continued to refuse to acknowledge the authority of the Shabdrung.
Lingre Kagyu and Drukpa Kagyu
Lingre Kagyu refers to the lineages founded by Lingrepa Pema Dorje (Wylie: gling ras pa padma rdo rje) [1128-1188] also known as Nephupa after Nephu monastery (sna phu dgon) he founded near Dorje Drak (rdo rje brag) in Central Tibet (dbus). Lingrepa's teachers were Gampopa's disciple Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo; Rechungpa's disciple Sumpa Repa; and Ra Yeshe Senge, a lineage holder of Ra Lotsawa.
The Drukpa Lineage was established by Ling Repa's main disciple Tsangpa Gyare (1161–1211), who established monasteries at Longbol (Wylie: klong rbol) and Ralung Monastery (Wylie: rwa lung). Later, Tsangpa Gyare went to a place called Nam Phu where, legend has it, nine roaring dragons rose from the ground and soared into the sky. The Tibetan word for dragon is Druk (), so Tsangpa Gyare's lineage and the monastery he established at the place became known as the Drukpa and he became known as the Gyalwang Drukpa. This school became widespread in Tibet and in surrounding regions. Today the Southern Drukpa Lineage is the state religion of Bhutan, and in the western Himalayas, Drukpa Lineage monasteries are found in Ladakh, Zanskar, Lahaul and Kinnaur.
Along with the Mahamudra teachings inherited from Gampopa and Pagmodrupa, particular teachings of the Drukpa Lineage include the "Six Cycles of Equal Taste" (Wylie: ro snyom skor drug), a cycle of instructions said to have been hidden by Rechung Dorje Drakpa and discovered by Tsangpa Gyare, and the "Seven Auspicious Teachings" (Wylie: rten 'brel rab bdun) revealed to Tsangpa Gyare by seven Buddhas who appeared to him in a vision at Tsari.
Several of Tsangpa Gyare's students started sub-schools, the most important of which were the Lower Drukpa founded by Gyalwa Lorepa Wangchug Tsondru and the Upper Drukpa founded by Gyalwa Gotsangpa Gonpo Dorje. This branch further gave rise to several important sub-schools. However the chief monasteries and succession of the First Gyalwang Drukpa Tsangpa Gyare passed to his nephew Önre Darma Senge at Ralung and this lineage was known as The Middle or Central Drukpa. This lineage of the hereditary "prince-abbots" of Ralung continued to 1616 when Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal fled to Bhutan due to a dispute over the incarnation of the 4th Gyalwang Drukpa and the enmity of the Tsangpa ruler. Due to those events the Central Drukpa split into the Southern Drukpa branch led by the Shabdrung and his successors in Bhutan, and the Northern Drukpa branch led by Pagsam Wangpo and the successive Drukchen incarnations in Tibet.
(a) The Lower Drukpa
The Medruk (smad 'brug) or Lower Drukpa sub-school was founded by the First Gyalwang Drukpa Tsangpa Gyare's disciple Gyalwa Lorepa Wangchuk Tsondru (lo ras dbang phyug brtson 'grus) [1187-1250] who lived a simple life. Lorepa built the Üri (dbu ri) and Sengeri (seng ge ri) monasteries and visited Bhutan where he founded Tharpaling (thar pa gling) monastery in Bumthang. A special transmission of the Lower Drukpa Lineage is known as The Five Capabilities (thub pa lnga), which are:
- Being capable of [facing] death: capability of Mahāmudrā (phyag rgya chen-po 'chi thub).
- Being capable of [wearing only] the cotton cloth: capability of psychic heat (gtum mo ras thub).
- Being capable of the tantric activities done in seclusion (gsang spyod kyi ri thub)
- Being capable of [facing] the disturbances of 'don spirits: sickness (nad 'don gyi 'khrug thub).
- Being capable of [facing] circumstances: capability of [applying] antidotes (gnyen-po rkyen thub-pa).
(b) The Upper Drukpa
The Toddruk (stod 'brug) or Upper Drukpa sub-school was founded Tsangpa Gyare's disciple Gotsangpa Gonpo Dorje (rgod tshang pa mgon po rdo rje) [1189—1258] a highly realized yogin who had many disciples. His main disciples were Ogyenpa Rinchenpal (0 rgyan pa), Yangonpa (yang dgon pa), Chilkarpa (spyil dkar pa) and Neringpa.
Gotsangpa's disciple Ogyenpa Rinchenpal (1230—1309), who was also a disciple of Karma Pakshi, became a great siddha who traveled to Bodhgaya, Jalandhar, Oddiyana and China. In Oddiyana he received teachings related to the Six Branch Yoga of the Kālacakra system known as Approach and Attainment of the Three Adamantine States (rdo rje gsum gyi bsnyen sgrub) and, after returning to Tibet, founded the Ogyen Nyendrub tradition and wrote many works including a famous guide to the land of Oddiyana. Ogyenpa had many disciples including the third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (rang byung rdo rje), Kharchupa (mkhar chu pa) [1284—1339] and Togden Daseng (rtogs dan zla seng).
Barawa Gyaltshen Palzang ('ba' ra ba rgyal mtshan dpal bzang) [1255—1343] was a great scholar of the upper Drukpa Kagyu succession of Yangonpa. He established the Barawa Kagyu sub-school, which for a time was widespread in Tibet, and survived as an independent lineage until 1959. For a time this lineage was also important in Bhutan
(c) The Middle or Central Drukpa
The Middle Drukpa (bar 'brug) was the hereditary lineage (dung rgyud) of Tsangpa Gyare centered at Ralung. Following Tsangpa Gyare the next holder of this lineage was his nephew Önre Darma Senge (dar ma sengge) [1177—1237] - son of Tsangpa Gyare's brother Lhanyen (lha gnyan). Darma Senge was succeeded by his own nephew Zhonnu Senge (gzhon nu seng ge) [1200—1266], and he by his nephew Nyima Senge (nyi ma seng ge) [1251—1287]. The lineage then went to his cousin Dorje Lingpa Senge Sherab (rdo rje gling pa seng ge shes rab) [1238—1287], son of Lopon Öntag (dbon stag) a member of the branch of the Drukpa lineage descended from Tsangpa Gyare's brother Lhabum (lha 'bum). The lineage passed to Senge Sherab's brother Senge Rinchen (seng ge rin chen) [1258—1313] who was succeeded in turn by his son Senge Gyalpo (seng ge rgyal po) [1289—1326], grandson Jamyang Kunga Senge ('jam dbyangs kun dga' seng ge) [1289—1326], great-grandson Lodro Senge (blo gros seng ge) [1345—1390], and great-great-grandson Sherab Senge (shes rab seng ge) [1371—1392]. These first nine holders of Tsangpa Gyare's lineage were known as the "Incomparible Nine Lions" (mnyam med seng ge dgu).
Sherab Senge, who died at the age of 21, was succeeded on the throne of Ralung by his elder brother Yeshe Rinchen (ye shes rin chen) [1364—1413] and he by his sons Namkha Palzang (nam mkha' dpal bzang) [1398—1425] and Sherab Zangpo (shes rab bzang po) [1400—1438]. These three were considered the emanations of the three great Bodhisattvas Manjusri, Vajrapani and Avalokiteshvara respectively. Sherab Zangpo's son was the first incarnation of Tsangpa Gyare (i.e., the second Gyalwang Drukpa), Gyalwang Je Kunga Paljor (rgyal dbang rje kun dga' dpal 'byor) [1428-1476] who received teachings from the most renowned lamas of his age and became a great author and teacher.
From Kunga Paljor the lineage passed to his nephew Ngawang Chögyal (ngag dbang chos rgyal) (1465—1540), then successively in turns from father to son to Ngakyi Wangchug (ngag gi dbang phyug grags pa rgyal mtshan) (1517—1554), Mipham Chögyal (mi pham chos rgyal) (1543—1604), Mipham Tenpai Nyima (mi pham bstan pa'i nyi ma) (1567—1619) and Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (zhabs drung ngag dbang rnam rgyal) (1594—1651) who was the great-great-grandson of Ngawang Chögyal.
In the Middle Drukpa tradition many great scholars appeared including the fourth Gyalwang Drukpa, Kunkhyen Padma Karpo (kun mkhyen padma dkar po) [1527—1592], Khewang Sangay Dorji (mkhas dbang sangs rgyas rdo rje) [1569—1645] and Bod Khepa Mipham Geleg Namgyal (bod mkhas pa mi pham dge legs rnam rgyal) (1618—1685) who was famed for his knowledge of poetics, grammar and medicine.
Three great siddhas of Middle Drukpa school were Tsangnyön Heruka (gtsang snyon) (1452-1507)- author of the Life of Milarepa, the Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, the Life of Rechungpa, and compiler of the Demchog Khandro Nyengyud; Druknyon Kunga Legpa ('brug smyon kun legs) [1455-1529] also known as Drukpa Kunleg; and Unyon Kunga Zangpo (dbus smyon kun dga' bzang po) [1458-1532]. All three were disciples of Drukchen Gyalwang Je Kunga Paljor.
The fourth Gyalwang Drukpa incarnation of Tsangpa Gyare, "The Omisient" Padma Karpa, whose collected works fill over twenty volumes in modern editions, was the most famous scholar of the tradition and among the Drukpa practitioners as he is known as Kunkhyen Pekar (kun mkhyen pad dkar) or Druk Tamche Khyenpa. He founded the Sangngag Chöling (gsang sngags chos gling) monastery in Jaryul (byar yul) southern Tibet in 1571, which became the seat of the successive Gyalwang Drukpa incarnations in Tibet and so the center of the Northern Drukpa lineage.
Following the death of Kunkhyen Padma Karpo two incarnations were recognized: 1) Pagsam Wangpo (dpag bsam dbang po) who was the offspring of the Chongje Depa and 2) Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594 1651) who was also the heir to Drukpa lineage of Ralung. Pagsam Wangpo gained the backing of the powerful Tsangpa Desi who was a patron of the Karma Kagyu school and hostile to Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The latter subsequently fled to Bhutan, where his lineage already had many followers, and established the Southern Drukpa Kagyu (lho 'brug pa dka' brgyud) and became both the spiritual and temporal head of the country after which the country became known as 'Druk Yul' or 'Country of the Drukpas' in the Tibetan and Dzongkha (Bhutanese) languages.
Martsang Kagyu was founded by Chöjé Marpa Sherab Yeshe (1134–1203) based solely on the teachings of the Buddha's sutras and tantras.
Born in East Tibet—Markham, Chöjé Marpa was chosen at age twenty to study at Sangphu the great monastic college of the Kadampa tradition in central Tibet. After five years he became a great scholar.
Afterwards, Chöjé Marpa spent five years with Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo (1110–1170), receiving and mastering the profound secret Kagyu teachings and the Lamdre teaching of the Sakyapa tradition, and became an exceptional practitioner in the highest level in Tibetan Buddhism. In 1167, at the age of thirty-three, Chöjé Marpa returned to Markham where he founded Tashi Sho monastery. During his lifetime, the monastic community came to number more than two thousand, establishing the Martsang kagyu tradition as a union of the Kadampa and Kagyu lineages.
The sutra tradition of Martsang Kagyu consists of the teachings and practices of the Indian texts in general, but in particular the Tibetan commentaries from Atisha's Kadampa lineage, and the texts composed by such Martsang Kagyu masters as Chöjé Marpa and his pupil, Drogön Rinchen.
The mantrayana tradition of Martsang Kagyu includes the six Dharmas of Naropa, Chakrasamvara, Guhyasamaja and Hevajra, which are from the Kagyu lineage that was transmitted through Marpa, Milarepa, Rechungpa, and Phagmo Drupa; the Lamdré from the Sakya tradition; and Tara practices from the Kadampa tradition. In particular, numerous individuals became siddhas through practicing the meditation instructions of the transmission originating from Phagmo Drupa's and experiences and realizations.
Chöjé Marpa's principal pupil was Drogön Rinchen (1170–1249), who in 1200 founded Tsomdo Monastery in Markham. He promulgated the teachings and practices of Martsang Kagyu and had numerous pupils who were both foremost scholars and siddhas.(1235–1280), who was then the ruler of Tibet, visited Tsomdo Monastery and became its benefactor.
During the time of such lineage holders as Drogön Rinchen, Yeshe Gyaltsen, Changchub Drakpa, Sönam Yeshe, Rinchen Gyaltsen, and Könchok Gyaltsen, thousands of pupils from Tashi Sho and Tsomdo monasteries greatly benefited the teachings and beings in general.
In 1639, a Mongolian army destroyed the Martsang Kagyu monasteries along with many other Tibetan monasteries. Although both monasteries were rebuilt,Dzungarian Mongols destroyed them again in 1718, from which Martsang Kagyu entered a period of decline. However, many siddhas have prophesied that there will come a time when the embers of Martsang Kagyu will be revived. For example, the mahasiddha Nyakre Sewo wrote:
- A time will come when Martsang teachings are protected.
- A time will come for the benefit for beings yet to be done,
- For this there needs to be good karma and prayer.
- The great seat is Sho Monastery.
Drogön Rinchen wrote: For sixteen lifetimes from now I will benefit beings in countless worlds. In seven hundred years, in the time of ruin, I will have the name Karma and in Gartok Natang in the center of Markham I will establish a Dharma community that will be destroyed by Maras. After eighteen cycles of obstacles I will revive the embers of the Martsang. I will guide countless beings Through great special conduct, to the ends of the ocean
Thus there are prophecies about how there would come a time when the embers of the Martsang Kagyu will be revived and the benefit for beings that has not yet been done will be carried out.
Martsang Kagyu teachings are still transmitted, and in the 20th century, The eleventh Gangri Karma rinpoche received the Martsang Kagyu teachings from Karma Lingpa and Trinlay Gyamtso, who was the Khenpo of the Tropu Kagyu, and passed them on to his main disciple, Chodrak Gyamtso. Chodrak Gyamtso was subsequently able to transmit these teachings to the rebirth of Gangri Karma rinpoche.(b. 1964)
The Eleventh Gangri Karma Rinpoche (1910-1959)
The eleventh Gangri Karma Rinpoche was born in 1910, as Gangri Butruk, in Markham, Tibet. The Gangris had once been a prominent local family, but by his parent’s generation, feuding and losses had reduced them to simple farmers. When for several years bad weather destroyed their harvest, the family was made homeless and forced to beg for food. Despite the early hardship, his parents worked tirelessly and eventually were able to acquire a small house and land, which they wanted their son to inherit, to carry on the family name. However, from a very young age, there were signs that Butruk was different. He would regularly sit cross-legged, as if in a meditation posture, and pretend to teach the Dharma to other children. Butruk was determined to become a monk, but when he was fifteen, his parents arranged a profitable marriage to a local girl called Pema Lhatso.
However, Butruk was not intended for an ordinary life. At the age of eighteen, he had a vision in a dream of a female spirit who said to him, "Oh, Gangri, samsara is a nest of snakes, attachment is a spell and a beautiful woman is but an illusory dream." She pointed to the East and told him to "Have no doubt and go there!" He immediately ran away from home.
Rechungpa, my son who is like my heart, listen to this song of instruction, which is my final testament. In the ocean of the three realms of samsara, this illusory body is very sinful. It tries to fulfill its attachment to food and clothes and can never abandon worldly activities.
At first he headed to Pongri Monastery, where he felt great happiness at meeting the renowned master, Karma Lingpa. Butruk had nothing to offer Karma Lingpa except flowers to represent his faith and a prayer of aspiration. Karma Lingpa agreed to teach him and gave him the name Karma Rinchen. He sent him to Changkah Monastery, where he took the vows of monastic ordination from Trinlay Gyamtso (Trophu Kagyu Khenpo) and stayed for thirteen years, studying and meditating on the complete meaning of sutras. He then returned to Karma Lingpa and went into retreat, practicing and mastering many profound and secret tantric meditations and teachings. Karma Lingpa and Trinlay Gyamtso transmitted the Martsang Kagyu teaching to Butruk and after two years on retreat, Karma Lingpa recognized him to be the rebirth of Drogön Rinchen, and instructed him to return to his homeland to continue his practice and teach for the benefit of others.
From this point, Rinpoche spent the rest of his life in mountain caves and retreat huts, enduring much hardship, while meditating day and night. To survive in near isolation, he mastered longevity practices allowing him to sustain for long periods by eating only grains, flowers, stones and herbs. To withstand the icy conditions of the Himalayan mountaintops, he practiced inner heat meditation, allowing him to stay warm and melt the snow around him. He would never stay in once place for too long and, although he performed blessings and rituals for the sick and poor, he eschewed attention and fame, preferring to teach small groups of dedicated disciples. His primary student was Chödrak Gyamtso, a local boy who visited him at Mount Ukori and practiced with him until the end of his life.
Rinpoche dedicated his life to mastering the highest-level of tantric meditation and there were many exceptional signs and accomplishments reported by his students, such as seeing rainbows appearing inside his meditation cave and numerous birds and animals visiting him without fear. Rinpoche gained great mastery over his physical body and inner channels, such that he was reported to fly across the mountain ranges. This sight became so common at Mount Ukori, that the local herdsman barely paid notice when they saw the lama soar through the sky.
At Nego Mountain, Rinpoche achieved the rainbow body transference, a sign of attaining complete realization and, at Mount Dekpön, his student witnessed him transform himself into Chakrasamvara, a blue deity with four faces and twelve arms. Another famous story, which is still told by local people to this day, speaks of a sudden and fierce storm that gathered while Rinpoche was meditating with his students in the mountains. Suddenly, Rinpoche was struck directly by a bolt of lightning and, while his students ran and hid for cover, Rinpoche remained in meditation, completely undisturbed and unharmed.
Even though he was encircled by red thunderbolts, the yogin who had attained the rainbow body, bound the poisonous sky sorcery of the gyalpo and sinpo demons: that is the heroic act of Rechung Karma.
In 1958, as the Chinese tightened control over Tibet, Rinpoche realized that his way of life was nearing an end. In December of that year, he gather his students and arranged many silver offering bowls outside his mountain cave and for one week offered a thousand butter lamps while performing elaborate practices and rituals. When he finished, he said to his pupils, "You must all return home. The time when Dharma practitioners can roam the mountains is coming to an end." Rinpoche was subsequently shot at and arrested by Chinese soldiers.
Upon his release, Rinpoche told his students that he wanted to go to Khata Mountain and that this would be the last place he would visit. On the way, they stopped at Yukpo village, where one of Rinpoche’s students, Pema Gyamsto, lived. As they passed this house, a dog leapt in front of him and barked. Rinpoche pointed his finger at the dog and said, "Don’t bark at me. Recognize me next time I come to your home." The dog seemed to understand and although his students did not know at the time, this was to be the birthplace of his reincarnation.
On 25 January 1959, after reaching Khata Mountain, he said to his pupils, "Don’t worry, its time for me to leave." He turned to Chödrak Gyamtso and said, "Can you look after my rebirth when he comes?" But the wind was blowing loudly and Chödrak couldn’t hear him and asked him to repeat his question. Rinpoche responded, "This isn’t time for you to understand," turned to the south in a meditation posture and passed away. Only years later would Chödrak recall these words and realize their significance.
As Rinpoche left his physical body, it shrunk to the size of a five-year-old child. His students were fearful that the communist army would take his body and so decided to cremate him. Upon lighting the firewood, his body burned like a torch and generated smoke that was the colours of the rainbow and lingered in the sky, before stretching out like a chord in the direction of Yukpo village. Many ringsel, pearl-like gemstones, were found in the ashes of the fire and at the cremation site.
The Twelfth Gangri Karma Rinpoche
Five years later, the twelfth Gangri Karma Rinpoche was born in 1964 in Yukpo village in Markham. His father was Pema Gyamtso, a student of the eleventh Gangri Karma Rinpoche, who he had first met as a young boy at Yangri Dolma Mountain, before becoming a dedicated student. A year before the birth of his son, he saw the great sage, Padmasambhava in a dream, who told him that he would have a child, who he must raise with exceptional care.
When his son was three years old, Pema took him on an overnight trip to a nearby mountain. The next morning as they walked home, they reached a fork in the path, with one side leading back to their village. However, his son insisted they should take the other path and led his father towards some prayer flags in the distance. Pema immediately realized that this was in the direction of the retreat hut of his old teacher, the eleventh Gangri Karma Rinpoche. With a sense of curiosity, he asked his son, "Where is your home? Can you take me there?" and with that, the boy led his father by the hand towards the hut. Pema asked, "Who lives in such a place without a window or curtains?" his young son responded "A bird without wings, like me." The boy then offered his father tea and when Pema said that there was no water, his son led him outside the hut to a natural spring and said "Father, the water is here." At that moment Pema firmly identified his son as the reincarnation of his teacher, the twelfth Gangri Karma Rinpoche.
At this time, the ruling communist party forbade religious and cultural beliefs in Tibet, but Pema was determined that his son should have a formal education and so one night, at midnight, he quietly took him to meet Chödrak Gyamtso. It was as though Chödrak had been expecting them, as he had spent the day cleaning the house and had burned incense and offered his guests a red carpet welcome with fine yak butter and tea.
When Rinpoche was twelve, the Chinese started lifting restrictions on the movement of Tibetan nationals and Rinpoche’s family was able to travel more freely. His father took him to the mountainous area of Kawagarbo, a sacred area where the famous sages, Padmasambhava and Milarepa, were said to have practiced. In this area there is a renowned mountain shrine, next to a dried-up spring, where the water is only said to run when bodhisattvas visit. When Rinpoche arrived, water began to flow from the spring and the local village elder came out to pay homage, saying that he had dreamt of Rinpoche’s arrival.
In 1982, Rinpoche repeated the pattern of his previous life and went in search of a formal teaching of the Dharma. He took the arduous journey across the Himalayas into India, initially to study at the Drepung Monastery, a famous Gelupa university. This was where he studied Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism under Geshe Losan Gyamtso. At Drepung, Rinpoche was ordained as a monk by the Dalai Lama and then completed the Sakya lineage from Sakya Trizin. This was under the guidance of Khenpo Kunga Wangchuk and followed by going on retreat to practice extraordinary longevity practices. After completing the retreat, Rinpoche took the position as a Dharma teacher at the Sakya Monastery of H.H. Sakya Trizin.
In 1993, after spending 13 years studying the Dharma, to the delight of his parents and with the blessing of the Dalai Lama, Rinpoche returned home to Tibet. Despite the freezing temperatures, when Rinpoche returned to Markham, almost one hundred monks and villagers came out to greet him with incense, butter, milk and fruit. Rinpoche went on to establish a Scientific Buddhist School and a Tibetan Medical School and orphanage in his home county. At the school, Rinpoche took the position as a Professor, as well as giving numerous lectures to students at the interface with modern science. They were the first new Buddhist institutions to be built in Markham for over one hundred years and provided education, medicine and support to the local communities.
Unfortunately, the Chinese authorities shut the school down and arrested Rinpoche. Upon his release, he realized that the only way to preserve the Martsang Kagyu teachings and to further his own practice was to leave Tibet. His escape from Markham almost cost him his life, when unfortunately the truck he was travelling in crashed into a river, killing 27 people, including his two younger sisters.
Since then, Rinpoche has travelled and taught in India, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, Bhutan and Taiwan, raising money for disadvantaged families and teaching the Dharma. In 2007, Rinpoche settled in England, where he continues to live a humble life, translating old texts from his lineage, teaching and writing for the benefit of his students. As the current lineage holder of the Martsang Kagyu tradition, Rinpoche is dedicated to ensuring the protection and continuation of these extraordinary teachings.
The twelfth Gangri Karma Rinpoche (born 1964) is an exceptional Buddhist scholar and Dharma practitioner and the current lineage holder of the Martsang Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, having received the teachings in a direct unbroken line from the founder, Chöjé Marpa (1134-1203). Rinpoche is recognized as the reincarnation of the eleventh Gangri Karma Rinpoche (1910-1960), by Fourteenth Dalai Lama and HSakya Trizin.
The twelfth Gangri Karma Rinpoche has the unique position of being the holder of the Martsang Kagyu lineage. Rinpoche held a commemoration of the founding of Martsang Kagyu, which took place 842 years earlier.
For this ceremony Samdhong Rinpoche, the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile sent the following letter:
- It is with great joy that I write to the Martsang Kagyu Foundation on its commemoration of the founding of the Martsang Kagyu 842 years and its collapse 370 years ago.
- His Holiness the Dalai Lama considers the Martsang Kagyu Foundation as praiseworthy in its altruistic intention to preserve the unique culture of Tibet and in particular revive the embers of the Martsang Kagyu by such activities as publishing and distributing the rare texts of the Martsang Kagyu, and having paintings made of the lamas of the Martsang lineage.
- This is a very critical time for the Tibetan people's unique culture and politics the Martsang Kagyu Foundation is tirelessly dedicated to both religious and secular progress with such activities as bringing the Dharma to both Tibetan communities and British people in the UK, which is indicative of loyalty to the Tibetan cause and a courageous dedication. His Holiness prays and hopes that in the future your activities to bring happiness to beings and benefit the Buddha's teachings and the Tibetan people will be even greater than before. At this special time we send out best wishes and prayers for an excellent event to Gangri Karma Chokyi Gyaltsen Rinpoche and to all taking part.
Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche, Dharamsala, 30 November 2009
- Introduction to the Kagyu Lineage
The founder of the Kagyu lineage was the Mahasiddha Tilopa (988-1069), who lived in Northern India. He is considered as having received a direct transmission from the primordial Buddha Vajradhara. In this context the Kagyu lineage has originated from the very essence of reality itself and thus transcends all space and time. Viewed from another level of understanding he also had human teachers, from whom he received four special transmissions, The Four Oral Instructions, for which he became the lineage holder. Some etymologies of the name "Kagyu" consider it as an abbreviation of Lineage of Four Oral Instructions. When Tilopa's transmission is linked directly to Vajradhara, it is called the "direct transmission" but when it is traced to his human teachers, it is referred to as the "indirect transmission."
These teachings were passed from Tilopa to his disciple, the Mahasiddha Naropa (1016–1100) and they were systematised as the Six Yogas of Naropa, meditations that are considered an essential teaching of the Kagyu lineage. Naropa transmitted his knowledge to Marpa Chökyi Lodrö (1012–1097), the great translator, who journeyed from Tibet to India in order to receive instructions and who subsequently returned to Tibet and spread the teachings of the Dharma widely.
Marpa's most important disciple was Jetsun Milarepa (1040–1123). He became one of Tibet's great yogis. His life began in difficult circumstances due to his father's early death, his vengeance upon his dishonest aunt and uncle, and his subsequent regret—which led him to an earnest desire to enter the way of the Dharma. His story is widely known among Tibetans. Through his perseverance and ability to accept all circumstances, he achieved profound realization of the ultimate nature of reality. His teachings are recorded in the 100,000 songs of Milarepa and other collections.
Milarepa's teachings were carried on by Gampopa (1079–1153), the physician from Dakpo. He first studied under the Kadampa tradition, which is a gradual and systematic path. At a later age, he met Milarepa and practicing under him received and realized the true meaning of the complete teachings. Since that time, the lineage has been known as the Dakpo Kagyu. It is from Gampopa that the first Kagyu schools originated: the Karma Kagyu, Tselpa Kagyu, Barom Kagyu, and Phagdru Kagyu.
The founder of the Phagdru Kagyu was Phagmodrupa Dorje Gyalpo (1110–1170), one of Gampopa's most important disciples. His own lineage died out as a religious institution, while his clan played an important role in the country's secular governance in the ensuing epoch. Phagmodrupa's main disciples founded their own lineages, of which eight lineages.
The heart son of Gampopa is Phagmodrupa (1110~1170) who inherited Gampopa's teaching, while Phagmodrupa promoted the teaching with great popularity to form Phagmodrupa Kagyu sect. The eight major heart sons:
- 1. Chöjé Marpa Sherab Yishi founded Martsang Kagyu in 1167,
- 2. Yeshe Tseg founded Yelpa Kagyu in 1171,
- 3. Gyaltsab Rinchen founded Trophu Kagyu in 1171,
- 4. Kyopa Jigten Sumgyi founded Drikhung Kagyu in 1179,
- 5. Thangpa Tashi Pal founded Taklung Kagyu in 1180,
- 6. Gyergom Tsultrim Senge founded Shuksep Kagyu in 1181,
- 7. Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje founded Drukpa Kagyu in 1193,
- 8. The 2nd generation discipleYasang founded Yasang Kagyu in 1205.
The Shugseb Kagyu (shug gseb bka' brgyud) was established by Gyergom Chenpo Zhonnu Drakpa (gyer sgom chen po gzhon nu grags pa) (1090–1171) who founded the Shugseb monastery in Nyiphu. The Shugseb Kagyu emphasised the Mahamudra teachings of the Dohas, spiritual songs of realisation by Indian masters such as Saraha, Shavaripa, Tilopa, Naropa and Maitripa etc.
- Taklung Kagyu (stag lungs bka' brgyud) named after Taklung monastery established in 1180 by Taklung Tangpa Tashi Pal (stag lung thang pa bkra shis dpal) (1142–1210).
The Trophu Kagyu (khro phu bka' brgyud) was established by Gyal Tsha Rinchen Gon (rgyal tsha rin chen mgon) (1118–1195) and Kunden Repa (kun ldan ras pa) (1148–1217). The tradition was developed by their nephew, Thropu Lotsawa who invited Pandit Shakysri of Kashmir, Buddhasri and Mitrayogin to Tibet.
The most renowned adherent of this lineage was Buton Rinchen Drub (bu ston rin chen grub) (1290–1364) of Zhalu who was a student of Trophupa Sonam Senge (khro phu ba bsod nams sengge) and Trophu Khenchen Rinchen Senge (khro phu mkhan chen rin chen sengge). Other notable teachers of this tradition include Chegompa Sherab Dorje (1130?-1200) 
- Yabzang Kagyu (g.ya' bzang bka' brgyud) founded by Sharawa Kalden Yeshe Senge (d. 1207). His foremost disciple was Yabzang Chöje Chö Monlam (1169–1233) who in 1206 established the monastery of Yabzang, also known as Nedong Dzong, in Yarlung. The Yabzang Kagyu survived as an independent school at least until the 16th century.
The Yelpa Kagyu (yel pa bka' rgyud) was established by Drubthob Yeshe Tsegpa (drub thob ye shes brtsegs pa, b. 1134). He established two monasteries, Shar Yelphuk (shar yel phug) and Jang Tana (byang rta rna dgon).
Dagpo Kagyu Lineages Today
The principle Dagpo Kagyu lineages existing today as organized schools are the Karma Kagyu, Drikung Kagyu and the Drukpa Kagyu. For the most part, the teachings and main esoteric transmissions of the other Dagpo Kagyu lineages have been absorbed into one or another of these three independent schools. Periodic attempts are made to reestablish the institutional independence of some of the other lineages, such as the Taklung Kagyu and Barom Kagyu, but these have met with very modest success to date.
The central teaching of Kagyu is the doctrine of Mahamudra, "the Great Seal", as elucidated by Gampopa in his various works. This doctrine focuses on four principal stages of meditative practice (the Four Yogas of Mahamudra), namely:
- The development of single-pointedness of mind
- The transcendence of all conceptual elaboration
- The cultivation of the perspective that all phenomena are of a "single taste"
- The fruition of the path, which is beyond any contrived acts of meditation
It is through these four stages of development that the practitioner is said to attain the perfect realization of Mahamudra.
The Six Yogas of Naropa
In terms of view, the Kagyu (particularly the Karma Kagyu) emphasize the Hevajra tantra with commentaries by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye and Dakpo Tashi Namgyal, the Uttaratantra with commentaries by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye and another by Gölo Shönu Pal as a basis for studying buddha nature, and the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje's Profound Inner Reality (Tib. Zabmo Nangdon) with commentaries by Rangjung Dorje and Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye as a basis for tantra.
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- Encyclopedia of Religions & Sects
- Smith, E. Gene. "Golden Rosaries of the Bka' brgyud Schools." in Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau, ed. Kurtis R. Schaeffer, p.40. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001
- TBRC P39
- Smith, E. Gene "Golden Rosaries of the Bka' brgyud schools" in 'Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau, (pp. 40)
- The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art by John C. Huntington and Dina Bangdel. Serindia Publications. pg 42
- Niguma Story
- Ngawang Zangpo (trans) Timeless Rapture: Inspired Verse of the Shangpa Masters. 2003 Ithaca, NY. Snow Lion Publications p. 16
- These four lineages of instruction are enumerated by Situ Panchen as: 1. The instructions on Mahāmudrā (phyag rgya chen po'i gdam ngags);2. The instructions on caṇḍāli or "heat yoga" (gtum mo'i bka' babs); 3. The instructions on clear light ('od gsal kyi bka' babs); 4. The instructions on Karma Mudrā (las kyi phyags rgya'i bka babs)
- "Atisha and the Restoration of Buddhism in Tibet by Gurugana Dharmakaranama". Lamayeshe.com. 2010-04-11. Retrieved 2012-09-10.
- Roerich, George N. (Translator) The Blue Annals. Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1988. [reprint of Calcutta, 1949] p. 403
- TBRC P0RK1289
- Dargey, Yonten. History of the Drukpa Kagyud in Bhutan. Thimphu 2001. pg. 58
- The hereditary lineages starting from Ngok Choku Dorje's son Ngok Dode (Wylie: rngog mdo sde, b. 1090) up to 1476 AD are detailed on pp. 406-414 in Roerich's translation of the Blue Annals.
- TBRC P3074
- Tenzin Gyatsho, Dalai Lama XIV. The Gelug / Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra p. 262
- "Transcriptions of teachings given by His Eminence the 12th Kenting Tai Situpa (2005),". Nic.fi.
- "The Karmapa's Return To Tsurphu In Tibet, The Historic Seat Of The Karmapas" Retrieved on December 22, 2008.
- "The 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje" Retrieved on December 22, 2008.
- Dorje, Gyurme. Jokhang: Tibets most sacred Buddhist Temple . 2010 London, Thames and Hudson . pg. 12
- Stearns, Cyrus. Luminous Lives: The Story of the Early Masters of the Lam dre in Tibet. Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-307-9
- "The rise of Changchub Gyaltsen and the Phagmo Drupa Period″ in Bulletin of Tibetology, 1981 Gangtok: Namgyal Institute of Tibetology 
- Dorje, Gyurme. Tibet Handbook: The Travel Guide. Footprint 1999. p.185 ISBN 1-900949-33-4
- Berzin, Alexandra A Survey of Tibetan History: 4 The Pagmodru, Rinpung, and Tsangpa Hegemonies
- Norbu, Dawa "China's Tibet Policy". RoutledgeCurzon 2001. p. 57
- Stoddard, E Heather (2002) Golden Buddhas from Tibet: Reconstruction of the Façade of a Stupa from Densathil.
- see: Dargye and Sørensen (2001) pp.ix–x, 34–36, 41–46
- Dorje, Sangay and Kinga (2008) pp.146–7.
- TBRC P910
- Smith, "Golden Rosaries of the Bka' brgyud Schools" p.44-5.
- Martin, Dan (May 2006). "A Bronze Portrait Image of Lo-ras-pa's Disciple: Tibetological Remarks on an Item in a Recent Asian Art Catalog". Tibetan Mongolian Museum Society. Retrieved 2009-05-20.
- Smith, "Golden Rosaries of the Bka' brgyud Schools" p.45.
- Berzin, Alexander. "A Brief History of Drug Sang-ngag Choling Monastery". Retrieved 2013-08-19.
- "Official Martsang Kagyu".
- Dorje, Gyurme. Tibet Handbook: The Travel Guide p.200
- TBRC P3098
- TBRC P3099
- "Chegompa Sherab Dorje - The Treasury of Lives: Biographies of Himalayan Religious Masters". Tibetanlineages.org. Retrieved 2012-09-10.
- Dargye, Yonten (2001). History of the Drukpa Kagyud School in Bhutan (12th to 17th Century A.D.). Thimphu, Bhutan. ISBN 99936-616-0-0.
- Dargye, Yonten and Sørensen, P.K. (2001); The Biography of Pha 'Brug-sgom Zhig-po called The Current of Compassion. Thumphu: National Library of Bhutan. ISBN 99936-17-00-8
- Dorje, Gyurme. Tibet Handbook: The Travel Guide. Footprint 1999. ISBN 1-900949-33-4
- Powers, John (1994). Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. Snow Lion. ISBN 1-55939-026-3.
- Roerich, George N. (Translator) The Blue Annals. Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1988. [reprint of Calcutta, 1949]
- Smith, E. Gene (1970a, 2001). "Golden Rosaries of the Bka' brgyud Schools". In Schaeffer, Kurtis R. (ed). Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-179-3. Check date values in:
- Kapstein, Matthew. "The Shangs-pa bKa'-brgyud: an unknown school of Tibetan Buddhism" in M. Aris and Aung San Suu Kyi (eds.), Studies in Honor of Hugh Richardson Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1980, pp. 138–44.
- Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen. The Great Kagyu Masters: The Golden Lineage Treasury. Ithica: Snow Lion Publications, 1990. [A translation of part of the Bka' brgyud kyi rnam thar chen mo- a collection of 'Bri gung Bka' brgyud hagiographies by Rdo rje mdzes 'od]
- Quintman, Andrew, transl. The Life of Milarepa. Penguin Classics, 2010. ISBN 978-0-14-310622-7
- Roberts, Peter Alan. The Biographies of Rechungpa: The Evolution of a Tibetan hagiography. London: Routledge, 2007. ISBN 0-415-76995-7
- Smith, E. Gene. "Golden Rosaries of the Bka' brgyud Schools." in Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau, ed. Kurtis R. Schaeffer, 39-52. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001. ISBN 0-86171-179-3
- Smith, E. Gene. "The Shangs pa Bka' brgyud Tradition." in Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau, ed. Kurtis R. Schaeffer, 53-57. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001. ISBN 0-86171-179-3
- Smith, E. Gene. "Padma dkar po and His History of Buddhism" in Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau, ed. Kurtis R. Schaeffer, 81-86. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001. ISBN 0-86171-179-3
- Thaye, Jampa A Garland of Gold. Bristol: Ganesha Press, 1990. ISBN 0-9509119-3-3
- Thinley, Karma. The History of the Sixteen Karmapas of Tibet (1980) ISBN 1-57062-644-8
- Brunnholzl, Karl. Luminous Heart: The Third Karmapa on Consciousness, Wisdom, and Buddha Nature Snow Lion Publications, 2009.
- Rinpoche, Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang. The Practice of Mahamudra Snow Lion Publications 2009.
- Rinpoche, Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen. The Great Kagyu Masters: The Golden Lineage Treasury Snow Lion Publications 2006.
Drikung Kagyu sites
- Site of His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa
- Drukpa Kagyu Lineage - Dorzong Rinpoche
- Drukpa Mila Center ~ a Bhutanese Drukpa Kagyu Center
Karma (Kamtsang) Kagyu
Sites associated with Trinlay Thaye Dorje
Sites associated with Urgyen Trinley Dorje
- Kagyu Office
- Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery, Woodstock, NY, USA
- Kagyu Thubten Choling Monastery, Wappingers Falls, NY, USA
- Kagyu Dzamling Kunchab, New York City, NY, USA
Karma Kagyu sites
(Note: Karma Kagyu related sites that apparently do not take sides on the so-called "Karmapa controversy").
- Samdrup Dhargay Chuling Monastery
- Shangpa Kagyu Network
- Kagyu Dzamling Kunchab (Founded by Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche), New York, NY, USA