THE FOUR MAIN SCHOOLS
1 The Phaktru (‘Phag Gru) Kagyu
2 The Kamtsang (Kam Tshang) Or
Karma (Kar Ma) Kagyu
3 The Tsalpa (Tshal Pa) Kagyu
4 The Barom (‘Ba’ Rom) Kagyu
EIGHT ADDITIONAL SCHOOLS
The eight additional or sub-schools of the Kagyu lineage have developed within the Phaktru Kagyu.
1 The Drikhung (‘bri gung) Kagyu
2 The Drukpa (‘brug pa) Kagyu
3 The Taklung (stag lung) Kagyu
4 The Yasang (g.y’a bzang) Kagyu
5 The Trophu (khro phu) Kagyu
6 The Shuksep (shug gseb) Kagyu
7 Yelpa (yel pa) Kagyu
8 Martsang (smar tshang) Kagyu
The Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism traces its origin back to Buddha Shakyamuni. The most important source for the specific practices that characterize the Kagyu order is the great Indian yogi Tilopa (988-1069), one of the 84 mahasiddhas of India, who first developed the spontaneous insight of enlightened realization. He gained this realization through the methods that were taught by the historical Buddha Shakyamuni to his closest students, methods that continued to be practiced during the time of Tilopa. In turn, the realization of these masters was passed down to their disciples through the great forefathers of the lineage: Indian mahasiddha Naropa, Marpa-the great translator, Milarepa-the greatest yogi of Tibet, and then to Gampopa-whose coming was prophesied by the Buddha. The lineage of the Kagyu emphasizes the continuity of oral instructions passed on from master to student, from whence the name “Kagyu” derives.
THE 1st-17th KARMAPA
The First Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa (1110-1193), who was one of the main students of Gampopa, founded this lineage of the Kagyu School. In 1139 C.E., at the age of thirty, Düsum Khyenpa met Gampopa and became his disciple. This tradition has remained strong and successful due mainly to the presence of an unbroken reincarnate line of the founder, the successive Karmapas. All the successive incarnations of the Karmapas are very well know in every part of Tibet and among all Tibetan Buddhist practitioners, for their accomplishments in meditation, scholarship, and the activities of benefiting beings.
His Holiness the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924-1981) was the head of the entire Kagyu tradition. His incarnation, His Holiness the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, is now living in India as an exiled Tibetan refugee.
The Karma Kagyu lineage has played a very important role in preserving and continuing, not only the Karma Kagyu, but also the entirety of the Kagyu transmissions that have been passed down from Marpa, Milarepa, and Gampopa. The Karma Kagyu lineage is the most influential of the Tibetan buddhist lineages outside Tibet, and this tradition is studied and practiced all around the world today.