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The Kagyu Lineage

23The Kagyu lineage is one of the four main traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. It is a complete form of Buddhism including all three levels of the Buddha’s teaching: Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana. 

Its speciality lies in the profound meditation techniques of Mahamudra and special tantric practices called the six yogas of Naropa, which are used to speed up realisation of the true nature of mind. These profound teachings were gathered by a line of Indian masters including the great 11th century master Tilopa, who was responsible for integrating the Mahamudra teachings with the tantric practices. 

After attaining enlightenment, Tilopa became a great teacher. Among his disciples was a learned university professor called Naropa. After many years with Tilopa and undergoing very arduous training, Naropa became fully enlightened.

At this time, Buddhism had already spread beyond India to many lands, including Tibet. A gifted and determined Tibetan named Marpa Lotsawa wanted to obtain further instruction from Indian masters known to have received pure and direct transmission of the Buddha’s teachings. So, during the 11th century, he made the journey from Tibet to India three times over the course of his life. Receiving teachings from several enlightened masters, among
them Naropa, Marpa then returned to Tibet, bringing the precious teachings with him. Once home, he translated them into Tibetan, practiced and taught them to others, and through this process laid the foundations of the Kagyu Lineage. 

Marpa, now called Marpa the Translator because of his great work in translating the Buddha’s teachings into Tibetan, gave the entire body of teachings to his chief disciple, the famous Tibetan yogi and poet, Milarepa. Milarepa in turn passed them on to the yogi, Rechungpa, and the monk, Gampopa.

gampopaIt was Gampopa who, during the 12th century, founded the first monastery that laid down the monastic tradition of the Kagyu Lineage. He then passed the teachings on to the first Karmapa, Dusum Chenpa. Since that time, the teachings have passed in an unbroken line through successive incarnations of the Karmapa, and now continue with the present incarnation, His Holiness, the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, Ugyen Drodul Trinley Dorje. 

It is through this continuous transmission, from realised master to gifted disciple, that the teachings of the Kagyu Lineage have remained pure and undiluted, and because of this tradition of orally transmitted teachings and meditation practice, the Kagyu Lineage is also known as the Practice Lineage.