Kagyu Lineage (Kamtsang Kagyu)
Although the historical appearance of Buddha Sakyamuni only endured some 80 years, over 2,500 years ago, his spiritual radiance (known as Sambhogakaya) continuously teaches sublime masters in bodies of light, throughout the many thousands of years that his teaching endures on Earth. The Sambhogakaya is represented in the Kagyu Lineage by the central figure, Buddha Vajradhara (Tib. Dorje Chang, Engl. Vajra Holder).
Vajradhara passed the most profound meditation teachings, known as Mahamudra, to the celestial Bodhisattva Ratnamati. He in turn passed them to the spiritual father of all Indian Buddhist Siddhas, the great Saraha who taught them to Savari. Savari also received the same Mahamudra teachings from the Mahasiddha Nagarjuna, who was another of Saraha's disciples. His spiritual heir was Maitripa, who passed on the Mahamudra lineage to Tilopa. Tilopa who lived in Northern India around the X century A.D is the gigantic historic figure, for it was he who integrated Mahamudra with the Tantric teachings of Buddhism and who himself became inseparable from Buddha Vajradhara, giving the origin to the Kagyu Lineage.
The Tantric teachings, known as the four transmissions, are those remarked as follow. The first of the four transmissions consist of “Sangwa Düpa Tantra” (Skr.: Guhyasamaya) and the “Denshi Tantra.” These two Tantras also respectively incorporate the practices called lllusory Body Yoga and Transference of Consciousness Yoga. The second special transmission includes the Tantra called “Gyuma Chenmo” (Skr.: Mahamaya) and the practice called Dream Yoga. The third special transmission includes the “Demchok Tantra” and the practice of Clear Light Yoga. The fourth of this transmissions includes the Tantra known as “Gyepa Dorje” (Skr.: Hevajra), and the practice called Inner Heat Yoga(Tummo).
The main disciple of Tilopa was Naropa, a great Pandit and abbot of the famous University of Nalanda. Naropa gave structure to the Tantric teachings as the Six Yogas of Naropa from the transmissions received, which today are one of the main themes of the Kagyu Lineage together with the Mahamudra teachings.
Marpa, the Translator, traveled to Tibet from India in three occasions, where he meet and studied under the instructions of Naropa. Consequently, on its return to Tibet began to propagate the teachings as he received. Milarepa, the student of Marpa, became one of Tibet's great yogis. Through perseverance in the practice of Mahamudra and theSix Yogas of Naropa, he achieved profound realization of the ultimate nature of reality.
In addition to the lineage that was brought to Tibet by Marpa the translator, a second Kagyu Lineage was initiated by the Tibetan master Khyungpo Naljor, who journeyed to India to study with two female Siddhas, Niguma and Sukkhasiddhi. This lineage came to be known as the Shangpa Kagyu, today transmitted and preserved by Kalu Rinpoche.
Milarepa's transmissions was carried on by Rechungpa as well by Gampopa, the physician from Dagpo. Gampopa studied the Kadampa tradition, which is a gradual path that includes what are called 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 or Kagyu Lineage.
It was the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, who established the Tsurphu Monastery in the Central Tibet and became an authority of the Karma Kagyu school. The successive reincarnations of Dusum Khyenpa have maintained this lineage over the centuries, spawning an endless stream of enlightened saints and learned scholars. The present incarnation of the Karmapa is the XVII Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, who currently resides in India.
The eight minor Kagyu lineages originated from different disciples. These eight lineages are the 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 so called because they were originated by Gampopa himself, whereas the eight minor lineages were originated by a later generation of masters. Nowadays, among the four major Kagyu lineages, only the Karma Kagyu remains prevalent. Among the eight minor Kagyu Lineage’s only the Taglung, Drukpa and Drikung Kagyu still exist lineages independently.
One 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 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. The lineage holders are selected by the Karmapa himself which ensures that the teachings remain intact and pure.
Similarly, it is the Karmapa himself who always chooses the teacher whose task it will be to 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 masters and in other cases exceptional practitioners without high status in the religious hierarchy.
Another aspect of the Kagyu Lineage is the interim directors of the administration who are caretakers of the Karmapa's monasteries in between his reincarnations. These caretakers are not lineage holders. For example, the XIV Karmapa, Thegchog Dorje, installed the head of the Drugpa Kagyu, the IX Drugchen Mipham Chökyi Gyamtso, as the interim director of the administration. The XVI Karmapa, in accordance with Indian law, installed a legal body, the Karmapa Charitable Trust, and appointed the trustees.
Practice in the Kagyu School
Kagyu practitioners typically begin by practicing the outer and inner preliminary practices, the so called Ngondro (see Ngondro Teachings). These practices include a variety of contemplative exercises which turns the mind from the mundane affairs of life, to attain the liberation from the suffering, i.e., the “nirvana”. The most common contemplations for this aim are the four thoughts which transform the mind: 1) The Valuable Human Life, 2) Death and Impermanence, 3) Karma, Cause and Effect and 4) Suffering of Samsara. These contemplations are included as external preliminaries practices.
The inner preliminaries practices built up by the first group of techniques, deep the commitment of the student with the spiritual path, by expanding his motivation, by removing obstacles, by creating positive conditions and by receiving the blessings of the lineage. Respectively, the practices which obtain such aims are 1) Refuge and Prostrations, 2) Bodhiçitta, 3) the Vajrasatva practice, 4) the Offering of Mandala, and 5) the Guru Yoga. Due to the extense number of recitations, the student must respites certain elements of the practice.
Once the preliminaries have been completed, the student will often move on to most common practices, such as those of the Deities, of the Yidams, such as Vajrayogini and Chakrasamvara, and of the Protectors. These practices employ visualization, mantra recitation, and other elements to transform ordinary, impure perception into a more refined, enlightened view of reality.
The final practices of the Kagyu tradition are twofold: the path of skillful means and the path of liberation. The first of these includes theSix Yogas of Naropa. The path of liberation refers to the teachings of Mahamudra , where the student is first introduced to, and then familiarizes him or herself with the nature of mind.