The Kagyu Lineage Origins
The Kagyu Lineage is one of the four main traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. It is a very compete form of Buddhism, reflecting its origins in 8th - 12th century India at a time when all levels of Buddhism - hinayana, mahayana and vajrayana - were flourishing. Its speciality lies in the profound meditation techniques of mahamudra and the special yogic techniques of the six practices of Naropa used to speed up realisation of mahamudra. These quintessential teachings of Buddhism were gathered by an illustrious line of Indian patriarchs and then taken to Tibet by Marpa. Thereafter they were preserved through the various Kagyu lineages in Tibet and in particular by the extraordinary line of the Gyalwa Karmapas.
The Meaning of the term 'Kagyu'
'Kagyu' is a short form of the Tibetan
theg pa gsum gy snying don bka bab kyi chos bzhi'i gdams ngag bar ma ckad pa'i brgyud pa, which roughly means the unbroken lineage of profound and intimate guidance in the four sorts of transmitted mastery, the heart meaning of the three yanas. In the above, Ka is short for Ka.pap.zhi. - which could be loosely rendered as 'four transmissions of mastery'. Zhi simply mean four. Ka.pap is a term without any equivalent in English. It means transmission—of knowledge, skill, insight and teaching ability—in a specific domain, from master to student, to the point where the student enters into complete possession of all the master's prowess. It is the sort of thing that takes place when someone already gifted in, or deeply predisposed towards, a certain subject seeks out the best person in that field and learns from them everything they have to teach. Implicit to this process is the spontaneous appreciation and rapid assimilation that occurs when a student has a natural feel for a subject. The four Kagyu transmissions referred to here are those of:
- .. great seal - (Tib. phyag.rgya.cken.po Skt. mahamudra) in this instance 'uncharacterised mahamudra', i.e. without ritual, form or sophistry,
- .. heat yoga -(Tib. gtum.mo, which literally means 'angry mother'),
- .. lucidity - (Tib. od.gsal means ' as clear as if illuminated'--sometimes called 'clear light' in modern translations) this includes dream and between-life (bardo) yogas
- .. union - (Tib. Ias.kyi.phyag.rgya Skt. karma mudra) ...These four transmissions contain the very essence of all three levels (yana) of Buddhism. Each contains the others and therefore each contains everything. As a whole they are called mahamudra. [there are several different ways of describing the four transmissions - click here for details] If each of the above were not an aspect of a whole, tu-mo, subtle heat, would simply be a technique for producing warmth; one would be no more than a human oven. Radiant lucidity would be just something illuminating, like torchlight. They are not like that. Subtle heat and lucidity are very profound practices, richly supported by mahamudra's insight, mantras, visualisation-stage mahamudra etc. They are very complete, each being a highlighted aspect of the same thing. These four, one of which is intimate knowledge of mind and the other three skilful areas of technique, have been transmitted in their original integrity, via a lineage of perfect masters and perfected students, from the time of Tilopa until our present day. They form the hub of the present Kagyu Lineage.