The Karma Kagyu lineage
Thaye Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, leads the Karma Kagyu lineage, a school of Tibetan Buddhism that is 900 years old.
The history of the Kagyu lineage goes back to India, through Tilopa, a 10th century master. The Karma Kagyu itself is a sub-school within the Kagyu (these days it is the largest Kagyu school). The Karma Kagyu lineage is named after its founder, the Karmapa. It began in the 12th century when Dusum Khyenpa became the disciple of Gampopa, received his first instructions relating to the Sutra and Tantra vehicles and became the 1st Karmapa. After the 1st Karmapa passed away, his main student recognised a young man, Karma Pakshi, as the 2nd Karmapa. The 2nd Karmapa is thus the first recognised reincarnated lama of Tibet.
The primary sources of the Karma Kagyu lineage come from the Buddhist Kanjur canon. Kanjur means “the words of the Buddha translated (into Tibetan)”.
Members of the lineage such as the 8th Karmapa Mikyo Dorje have made significant contributions to the many volumes of Kanjur teachings that are also studied and practised. Mikyo Dorje is known for his scholastic works on Sutra and Tantra.
Although written teachings are very important, the Karma Kagyu lineage is known as the “oral” school because its teachings are transmitted from mouth to ear.
The Karma Kagyu lineage especially treasures meditation. In Tibet, its hermitages and monasteries were often built in isolated locations – less convenient and comfortable, but better for practising. The Karma Kagyu inherited two very important streams of meditation – the Six Yogas of Naropa, powerful practices that work with inner energies, and Mahamudra, direct insight into the nature of mind. Mahamudra, or The Great Seal, is the highest meditation training and the unique feature of the Karma Kagyu tradition.
In addition, the Karma Kagyu emphasizes the teacher-student relationship. One expression of this is another very important kind of meditation, guru yoga, or meditation on the teacher. Visualising the enlightened teacher, or one of the lineage masters, in meditation is a special method to help to reveal their qualities within one’s own mind. Today, guru yoga on the lineage, and especially on the 8th Karmapa and 16th Karmapa, forms the main spiritual practice for many Karma Kagyu students.