The Karma Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism
Over the centuries, Tibetan Buddhism has been developed and passed on directly from the teacher to the student through the so-called transmission lineages. One of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism is the Kagyu tradition, which in turn is subdivided into several main and secondary lineages. Kamalashila Institute belongs to the Karma Kagyu school, which is headed by the Karmapa. Tradition holds that the transmission of the Kagyu lineage began with the Original Buddha, Dorje Chang. Dorje Chang is a so-called transcendent buddha who is seen as an embodiment of absolute truth. From him the typology of the five Buddha families was developed. These are pictured on many Tibetan thangkas.
Beginning of the Transmission Lineage in the 10th Century
In historical times, the Kagyu tradition was transmitted from the famous yogi Tilopa (988–1069) to Naropa (1016–1100) and then from Naropa to Marpa (1012–1097). Marpa translated substantial parts of the dharma practice into the Tibetan language. The transmission lineage continues from Marpa to Milarepa (1042–1123) and from Milarepa to the lineage holder Gampopa (1079–1153). Gampopa is regarded as the true founder of the Kagyu schools. He merged monastic traditions with those of Indian masters, thereby shaping the nature of the teaching and the practices characteristic of the Kagyu schools. Gampopa was also the teacher of the 1st Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa (1110–1193), who is regarded as the founder of the Karma Kagyu lineage.
The Karmapas are also the oldest lineage of consciously reborn Buddhist teachers, the so-called tulkus. This is why the current 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje (born in 1985) is regarded not only as the present-day head of the Karma Kagyu lineage but also as the reincarnation of all preceding Karmapas, especially of the 16th Karmapa. The 16th Karmapa was responsible for instigating the founding of Kamalashila Institute and was elected as the head of all of the Kagyu schools.