A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE KAGYU TRADITION
by H. E. Shamar Rinpoche
The Kagyu (bka'-brgyud) lineage was founded by the great siddha Tilopa (988-1069), also known as Prajnabhadra. Tilopa was a holder of the entire teachings of the various classes of Tantra which can be divided into two types of lineages: a direct sambhogakaya lineage and an extensive nirmanakaya lineage. The first of these involves either one or a few previous lineage holders, in that the related teachings were revealed by the 'Enjoyment Body' (sambhogakaya) directly to a master. Hence, it is known as a direct sambhogakaya lineage. The second of these involves many lineage holders in that the related teachings were passed on from master to disciple in a long unbroken line. Hence, it is known as an extensive nirmanakaya lineage. As to a direct sambhogakaya lineage, Tilopa received the entire teachings from Vajradhara and Vairayogini. As to an extensive nirmanakaya lineage, Tilopa received the four special transmissions (bka'-babs-bzhi) from his four main teachers. He received the oral instructions on the yoga of luminosity ('od-gsal) (prabhasvara) land the yoga of illusory form (sgyu-lus)(mayadeha) from Matangi, whose ineage originated with Nagariuna. Nagar-juna had passed on these teachings to Aryadeva who gave them to Candrakirti who transmitted them to Matangi. These masters are associated with the south of India.
Tilopa received the oral instructions on the yoga of dream (rmi-lam) (svapna) from Indrabhuti, whose lineage originated with Dombi Heruka, followed by Vinapa and Lavapa, to Indrabhuti. These masters are associated with the western part of India. Tilopa received the oral instruction on the yoga of tummo (gtum-mo)(candali) from Tsaryapa, whose lineage originated with Mahasukhasiddhi, followed by Tanglopa, Shinglopa and Karnaripa, to Krishnacarya. These masters are associated with the eastern part of India. Tilopa received the oral instruction on the yoga of transference of consciousness ('pho-ba)(samkranti) and the yoga of the intermediate state (bar-do) (antarabhava) from Sukhasiddhi, whose lineage originated with Luipa, followed by Dengipa and Darikapa, to Sukhasiddhi. These masters are associated with the north of India.
Thus, Tilopa received the four special transmissions. Having mastered these teachings, he passed them on to his main disciple Naropa (1016-1100), also known as Jnanasiddhi. Naropa mastered the same teachings and passed them on to Marpa (Mar-pa) (1012-1097) the translator. Marpa, having mastered the same instructions, spread them in Tibet. He transmitted them to his main disciple Milarepa (Mi-la-ras-pa) (1052-1135). Milarepa passed them on to Gampopa
(sGam-po-pa) (1079-1153), his principal disciple, who was a great scholar as well as an accomplished meditator. Gampopa himself had numerous accomplished disciples, and through him many lineages arose.
Baram Darma Wangchuk ('bab-ram dar-ma dbang-phyug) was one prominent disciple. He founded the Baram Kagyu ('bab-ram bka'-brgyud). Pagtru Dorje Gyalpo (phag-gru rdo-rje rgyal-po), another outstanding disciple, founded the Pagtru Kagyu (phag-gru bka'-brgyud). Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa (ka-rma-pa dus-gsum mkhyen-pa) (1110-1193), an extraordinary disciple, founded the
Karma Kamtsang Kagyu (ka-rma kam-tshang bka'-brgyud). Shang Tsalpa Tson-dru Trag (zhang tsal-pa brtson-grus grags), also a prominent disciple, founded the Tsalpa Kagyu (tshal-pa bka'-brgyud). These are the four major Kagyu lineages.
What is known as the eight minor Kagyu lineages originated with Pagtru's eight main disciples. These eight lineages are: Taglung Kagyu (rtag-lung bka'-brgyud), Trophu Kagyu (khro-phu bka'-brgyud), Drukpa Kagyu ('brug-pa bka'-brgyud), Martsang Kagyu (smar-tshang bka'-brgyud), Yerpa Kagyu (yer-pa bka'-brgyud), Yazang Kagyu (g-ya'-bzang bka'-brgyud), Shugseb Kagyu (shugs-gseb bka'-brgyud) and Drikung Kagyu ('bri-gung bka'-brgyud). These 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 disciples.
Gampopa was a follower of the Kadampa (bka'-gdams-pa) tradition at the outset of his spiritual training. He perfected these teachings through detailed study of them, by contemplating their profound meaning, and subsequently integrating the ensuing understanding into the practice of meditation. Gampopa, having met with Milarepa, received all the instructions of the Kagyu lineage, which he mastered by progressively proceeding through the four stages of mahamudra: one- pointedness (rtse-gcig), free from conceptual elaboration (spros-bral), one taste (ro-gcig) and non-meditation (sgom-med), this process culminating in perfect realisation of mahamudra.
Thus, the particular feature of the Kagyu lineage is that the teacher, having mastered the instructions, clears away defects - relating to intellectual understanding, meditation experience and the various levels of realisation. Upon completion of this process, the teacher is able to point out and introduce mahamudra to the disciple. The Kagyu teachings have been transmitted and preserved in this way, in an unbroken line, until the present time.
H. E. Shamar Rinpoche
New Delhi, India