The Importance of Lineage

Karmapa: The Sacred Prophecy, Kagyu Thubten Choling Publications Committee, New York, 1999 [foreword, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama] says (iv):

Within the context of Tibetan Buddhism, the importance of lineage extends far beyond the ordinary sense of a particular line of inheritance or descent. Lineage is a sacred trust through which the integrity of Buddha's teachings is preserved intact as it is transmitted from one generation to the next. The vital link through which the spiritual tradition is nourished and maintained is the profound connection between an enlightened master and perfectly devoted disciple. The master-disciple relationship is considered extremely sacred by all the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Regarding the Kagyu lineage (15) :

In the Bhadrakalpa Sutra, Buddha Shakyamuni prophesied that a thousand buddhas would manifest during the current kalpa, or universal cycle.  He further predicted that the sixth of these enlightened beings, known as Drukpa Senge (Senge = lion or in Sanskrit, Simha) would incarnate as a bodhisattva during the periods in which all the other buddhas were active, in order to help spread their teachings and free sentient beings from suffering.

About Dusum Khyenpa (1110 - 1193) the First Karmapa:

Dusum Khyenpa is Tibetan for Knower of the three times (past, present and future.)  He was a disciple of Gampopa  (1079 -1135)  who received the oral transmission, of the teaching that was later to be known as that of the Kagyu lineage, from Tibet's greatest yogi, Milarepa (1052 - 1135) singer of thousands of spontaneous Dharma songs.

"After four years of continual practice, Dusum Khyenpa realized the natural emptiness and radiance of his own mind, and immeasurable compassion toward all beings arose in his stream of being. After his meditation remained stable for six months, Gampopa told him, he had completely severed the bonds of existence, and bestowed on him the essential transmissions of the Kagyu lineage ... . 

At the age of eighty-four, he entrusted to his foremost disciple, Drogon Rechen, a letter of prophecy describing the conditions under which he would next take birth.  He thus became the first Tibetan tulku (nirmanakaya in Sanskrit), known to take rebirth intentionally for the benefit of sentient beings ..." (Karmapa 15).

The activity which a Karmapa performs is of a special enlightened nature that is born of complete self-knowledge within the context of the highest wisdom.  It is a purely religious or spiritual (that is, Dharma) activity whose objective is the termination of suffering for all sentient beings.


The Kagyu lineage historically began with Tilopa (988 - 1069,) an Indian siddha [adept] and presser of sesame oil seed (Skt. til) who is said to have received the transmission directly from Vajradhara, the primordial ultimate Buddha. 

Tilopa passed on to Naropa (1016 - 1100) the complete transmission of the teachings of what was later to become the Kagyu lineage, also known as Kamtsang.

Naropa was a monk and faculty member of the famous -- and one of the first in the world --  University of Nalanda, where he eventually became one of the four principal abbots.  He  finally left the university to go in search of Tilopa because he was not satisfied with a mere knowledge of words without understanding their true meaning.  He endured many ordeals in order to master the meaning of what he had been teaching for years at Nalanda.

Having received the direct transmissions and realizing the "limitless freedom of awareness," Naropa bestowed the transmission of the Kagyu lineage on Marpa (1012 - 1097.)  Marpa was a great scholar of languages, and translated many texts from Sanskrit to Tibetan.  He became known therefore, as Marpa the Translator (lotsawa in Tibetan, lokachakshu in Sanskrit).

Marpa orally transmitted those teachings to his foremost disciple, the yogi Milarepa (1052 - 1135.)  Milarepa (link to his 5 comforts) in turn transmitted the teachings to many disciples including Gampopa (1079 - 1135) who was a medical doctor from Kham, East Tibet [parts of which, in the 20th century, were incorporated into two Chinese provinces.] 

In Asylum for the Karmapa, a Nov. 2000 newspaper article, Deepak Kumar Thakur, explains the contemporary Kagyu situation:

"Gampopa's disciple ... was Dusum Khyenpa, the first Karmapa (1110 - 1193).  This oral transmission of the Kagyu lineage has continued unbroken up to now via the last sixteen Karmapas, over eight hundred and ninety years.  It is  a unique world cultural heritage, and accordingly worthy of protection, conservation and transmission.

Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1923 - 1981) was the sixteenth Karmapa.  When the Chinese communists took control of Tibet, he fled to India in 1959 along with his entourage and other senior lamas, just like His Holiness the Dalai Lama and about 100,000 Tibetans. They came to India as refugees owing to a well founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion and political opinion. 

The then Chogyal, the King of Sikkim, offered Karmapa the choice of several sites, and Karmapa chose to build his new Dharma seat near the old Rumtek Monastery, which was built in 1740 during the life of the 12th Karmapa Jangchub Dorje (1703 - 1732). 

Gyurme Namgyal, the fourth Chogyal or Dharma-King of Sikkim in the 18th century was a devotee of Karmapa XII.  He built the first Kagyu monastery at Ralang, South Sikkim, in 1730.  Later on, in 1740, he built two more Kagyu monasteries, one at Phodong in North Sikkim and another at Rumtek, East Sikkim.

The seventeenth Karmapa Orgyen Trinley Dorje was born on June 26, 1985 at Bakor village, in the Lhatok district of Kham province of Tibet, to Dhondrup Tashi and Loga, in accordance with the letter of prediction written by the sixteenth Karmapa which was found by H.E. Tai Situpa Rinpoche.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama conferred the letter of recognition known as Bukhtham Rinpoche on June 30, 1992 in accordance with well recognized principles of the spiritual tradition."

India provides a haven for the Karmapa today because

"In a brief message from His Holiness the Dalai Lama on June 30, 1992, published in the book Karmapa (98), the following passage is relevant:

The Gyalwa Karmapa is a supreme master of Buddhist teachings in general, a magnificent lama of Tibet, and in particular of the Kagyu tradition's Karma Kamtsang lineage ... . "

The Golden Garland, see also Kagyu lineages in Tibetan Buddhism

Tilopa (988-1069) Mahasiddha [Great Adept]

Naropa (1016-1100)  His wife, Niguma, established important lineages.

Marpa Lotsawa (1012-1097) The Translator  His wife, also played an important role.

Jetsun Milarepa (1052-1135)  Noble Lord and great laughing yogi -- Shepa Dorje

Gampopa (1079-1153) Doctor from Kham, Dagpo Lharje

The First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (1110-1193) 'Knower of the Three Worlds' visionary founder of Tsurphu Monastery and of the Karma Kagyu or Kamtsang lineage.  

At 38, he built Karma Densal Temple (aka Karma Lating) near Shikang Rawochi.   In his old age, he built Tsurphu Monastery near Lhasa, the main seat of the lineage for over 800 years.  Before dying, he told his translator, Kang, to stay and protect the Three Jewels for his successor, and thus instituted the tulku or reincarnation system that has become a characteristic of the Tibetan tradition.

Drogön Rechen (1148-1218)
Pomdrakpa (1170-1249)

 Karma Pakshi  the 2nd Karmapa (1203-1283,) the first of acknowledged tulku.

Mongolion king, Shen-Tsung, presented Karmapa with a gold seal of office, and the Black Hat, a replica of the visionary crown seen above his head by those who attended his teachings.  He was invited by the Mongol ruler of China, Kubilai Khan, to teach the Dharma at court where he received the title, Pakshi (Master of Discipline.)  Renowned for his special powers, he was known in Tibetan as, Drubchen or "great achiever." He installed the Tsurphu Lachen, a precious statue of Buddha.

   Drubtob Urgyenpa (1230-1300)

The Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339) whose image was seen on the moon.  His name means "Spontaneously-manifesting Varja." 
Composer of Aspiration Prayer for Attainment of Mahamudra (Tibetan: Phyag Chen sMon Lam) the special prayer of Kagyu practitioners, and Zabmo Nangdan the fundamental tantric (yoga) text.  He united the highest teachings of the Kagyu (Mahamudra) with the Nyingma's Dzogchen.  

In 1332, he was invited to China to teach Buddha-dharma to the Mongol rulers of the Yuan Dynasty, King NingDi and his queen.

Gyalwa Jungtönpa (1296-1376)

The Fourth Karmapa, Rolpei Dorje (1340-1383) whose name means "Vajra Play" was lama to the Emperor.  Tsongkhapa, the Kadampa reformer, was his student. 

In 1360, he gave tantric teachings to King ShunDi and the princes
of the Yuan Dynasty.  Chenzu, the first in the Ming dynasty of rulers, requested teachings and he sent his disciples to China on his behalf.

He was the teacher and preceptor of the young monk, Tsongkhapa, the Kadamapa reformer. 

Second Shamarpa, Kachö Wangpo (1350-1405) tangka of both, together

The Fifth Karmapa, Dezhin Shegpa (1384-1415) the first to actually wear the  ceremonial black hat which was a gift of Ming emperor, Yung Lo.  His name meaning "Past Buddha" is also transcribed as "Teshin Shekpa."  In 1407, he was received by Ming Dynasty emperor, ChenZu, who later deemed him " Great Precious Dharma King,"  or rather, "Reams of Virtue, Most Precious in all Ten Directions, Enlightened Gem of Wisdom, Accomplished Intellectual, Universal Protector, Guardian of the Country, Diseminator of the Dharma, Former Buddha, Great Precious Dharma King, Western Pure Land Great Liberator-Buddha [ie. Amitabha]."

The First Tai Situ Chokyi Gyaltsen (1377-1448) companion of Karmapa at the Chinese court where he received the title.  (The Tai Situ is considered an incarnation of Maitreya, the Fifth Buddha while the Gyalwa Karmapa is the incarnation of Simha, the Sixth Buddha.)

Rinchen Zangpo (Ratnabhadra) (c. 1400)

The Sixth Karmapa, Thongwa Donden (1416-1453) A Khampa visionary who was a Shangpa, Shije and also Nyingma practitioner who taught the Situ and Gyaltsab Rinpoches [source: Jeff Watts' notes] His name means "Understanding Certainty"  He was a great tantric practitioner and wrote detailed commentaries and texts for prayer, ritual worship or sadhana, and for the Mahakala Dance.

Bengar Jampal Zangpo Paljor Döndrup (1427-1489)
The Second Situpa Tashi Namgyal (1450-1497)

The Seventh Karmapa, Chodrak Gyatso (1454-1506) whose name means 
"Renowned Dharma Ocean" wrote on the 3 aspects: discipline, philosophy  and tantric practice.  He emphasized the importance of academic training and built the monastic college at Tsurphu, as well as restoring the giant Buddha installed 200 years earlier by the second Karmapa.  

He was especially renowned as a peacemaker who was skilled in conflict resolution.

The Third Situpa Tashi Paljor (1457-1525)
Sangye Nyenpa, mahasiddha emanation of Maitreya, subsisted on bar lung

Mikyo Dorje, the 8th Karmapa (1507-1554) 
"Immoveable Vajra" was the author of Commentary on The Madhyamak'avatara (by Chandrakirti) and the commentary on Maitreya  called in Tibetan, Rje-Btsun Ngal-So.  His work also includes the topics of  linguistics, monastic discipline, and the sutras, as well as poetry and art, and texts for tantric practice and Mahamudra.  




The Fourth Tai Situpa, Chokyi Gocha (1542-1585)

The Fifth Shamarpa, Könchog Yenlag (1526-1583)

The Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje (1555-1603) 

Known as "Freedom Vajra," he compiled the Chikshe Kundrol: 100-plus sadhanas of deities in general use by Kagyupas. Also The Ocean of Certainty and Eliminating the Darkness of Ignorance.  "Pointing Out the Dharmakaya" is his instruction on the Kagyu supreme teaching, Mahamudra.  An intrepid traveler -- he visited Mongolia and Bhutan, and was responsible for the building of three monasteries in Sikkim -- he was also a famous teacher.  Jonang Taranatha, the authority on the Tara Tantras, was his student.