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The Karma Kagyu Lineage



Karma Kagyu is one of the major Buddhist schools of Tibet. As a lineage of direct oral transmission, it especially treasures meditation and can, through interaction with a qualified teacher, bring about the full direct experience of the nature of the mind. The Karma Kagyu methods were taught by the historical Buddha Shakyamuni to his closest students.

They were later passed on through the Indian Mahasiddhas: Padmasambhava, Tilopa, Naropa and Maitripa and the famous Tibetan Yogis Marpa and Milarepa. In the 12th century, the monk Gampopa gave the teachings to the first Gyalwa Karmapa whose successive incarnations have kept them powerful and vibrant over the centuries. Today, great Tibetan and Bhutanese teachers (lamas) such as Kunzig Shamarpa and Lopon Tsechu Rinpoche transmit this unbroken tradition when visiting the many Karma Kagyu centers around the world.

The Karma Kagyu school offers practical teachings applicable to everyday life. It gives a wealth of methods for lay people and yogis to develop mind's inherent richness and clarity both through meditation and in one's daily activities. The roof of the self liberating Mahamudra is supported by three pillars which are: verifiable non-dogmatic teachings, meditation, and the means to solidify the levels of awareness which have been attained.

The Gyalwa Karmapas are unique among the great Lamas of Tibet, having reached full enlightenment centuries ago. During a previous incarnation, Karmapa was at the side of the historical Buddha as the great Bodhisattva Chenrezig or "Loving Eyes." In Sanskrit his name is Avalokitesvara.

Karmapa spent many lifetimes as a yogi in India. From the year 1110 to the present day he has been taking successive conscious rebirths as the Karmapa or the "Black Hat Lama". Karmapa was the first incarnate lama (tulku) of the Tibetans and has been honored as a living Buddha and spiritual head of the Kagyu Lineage for the last 800 years in an unbroken succession. Before his death each Karmapa leaves detailed instructions about the exact conditions of his next birth.

In 1959, during the Chinese destruction of Tibet, the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje managed to leave the country with his students and the most precious relics of his lineage, thus securing the transmission of the Karma Kagyu lineage. With the help of increasing numbers of Western students, the full knowledge about the nature of mind has reached the modern world. In the winter of 1994 at the age of 10, the present 17th Karmapa, Thaye Dorje (recognized by Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche) escaped occupied Tibet to freedom in India, where he is now being introduced to the modern world.

1. Dusum Khyenpa, 1110 - 1193
2. Karma Pakshi, 1204 - 1283
3. Rangjung Dorje, 1284 - 1339
4. Rolpe Dorje, 1340 - 1383
5. Deshin Shegpa, 1384 - 1415
6. Tongwa Donden, 1416 - 1453
7. Chodrag Gyamtso, 1454 - 1506
8. Mikyo Dorje, 1507 - 1554
9. Wangchug Dorje, 1556 - 1603
10. Choying Dorje, 1604 - 1674
11. Yeshe Dorje, 1676 - 1702
12. Changchub Dorje, 1703 - 1732
13. Dudul Dorje, 1733 - 1797
14. Thegchog Dorje, 1798 - 1868
15. Khakyab Dorje, 1871 - 1922
16. Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, 1924 - 1981
17. Thaye Dorje, 1983 - present