"Buddhism is a way of life through which we develop the qualities of our mind. This way of life is very unusual, as it is a means to attain happiness without harming others.THE 17th GYALWA KARMAPA
Compiled and translated by members of the Karmapa International Buddhist Institute's Department of Translation ( 1994 by K.I.B.I. ).
Historical BackgroundThe historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, gave many different kinds of teachings in order to accommodate the various capacities of beings. All these teachings are subsumed under the Sutrayana and the Tantrayana. Although the Buddha gave only oral teachings, his early disciples recorded his instructions in writing and thus passed them on in their original form. Accomplished Buddhist masters also authored many treatises that explain the meaning of the Buddha's teachings. The emphasis was on the authentic and accurate transmission of the teachings as this is of prime importance. Over the centuries different lines of transmission, each with its own characteristics, came about.Buddhism in Tibet includes all the teachings that originated in India. Through the effort of Tibetan translators and Indian masters, the whole corpus of Buddhist teachings was translated into Tibetan. Thus, Buddhism flourished in Tibet until the middle of the 20th century.In the 8th century the Tibetan King, Trisong Detsen, invited two Buddhist masters, Guru Rinpoche and Shantarakshita, to Tibet. At the same time the king initiated translation of important Buddhists texts into Tibetan. This early activity of teaching and translation brought about the Nyingma tradition, the 'Old Tradition'. The teachings in the Nyingma tradition are based on the texts of this early period of translation.During the 11th century a second period of translation which involved the revision of earlier terminology as well as new translations took place. The traditions that base their transmission on that period are referred to as the Sarma traditions, the 'New Traditions'. Of these, the Kagyü, Sakya, and Gelug are the most well-known.The Kagyü tradition was introduced to Tibet by Marpa the translator (1012-1097), who emphasized four special transmissions that trace their origin to the Indian siddha Tilopa and other Indian masters of the Mahamudra lineage.The Sakya tradition was founded by Khön Könchog Gyalpo (1034-1102), who focused his transmission on the teachings expounded by the Indian Mahasiddha Virupa.The Gelug (or Ganden) tradition was established by Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), who stressed the teachings of the Kadampa school founded in Tibet by the Indian master Atisha (982-1054).The Kagyü LineageThe Kagyü lineage originated with the great yogi Tilopa who lived in Northern India sometime around the 10th century AD. Tilopa received the four special transmissions (Tib. bka-babs-bzi) and mastered them.Although there is some discrepancy in the historical sources regarding the identities of the masters associated with each of the four transmissions the most common consensus indicates that their sources are as follows: the first of the four came from Nagarjuna and consists of two tantras, the "Sangwa Düpa Tantra" (S. Guhyasamaja) and the "Denshi Tantra". This transmission also incorporates the practices called "Illusory Body" (Tib. sgyu-lus) and "Transference" (Tib. pho-ba). The second special transmission came from Nakpopa and includes the tantra called "Gyuma Chenmo" (S. Mahamaya), and the practice called "Conscious Dreaming" (Tib. rmi-lam). The third special transmission came from Lawapa and includes the "Demchok Tantra" and the practice of "Clear Light" (Tib. od gsal). The fourth was transmitted from Khandro Kalpa Zangmo and includes the tantra known as "Gyepa Dorje" (S. Hevajra), and the practice called "Tummo".These teachings were passed on from Tilopa to Naropa, and were systematized as the Six Yogas of Naropa that are considered a central theme in the Kagyü Lineage. Naropa transmitted his knowledge to Marpa, the great translator, who journeyed from Tibet to India in order to receive instructions and who subsequently returned to Tibet and spread the teachings of the Dharma.His student Milarepa became one of Tibet's great yogis. Through his perseverance in the practice of Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa, he achieved profound realization of the ultimate nature of reality.Milarepa's transmission was carried on by Gampopa, the physician from Dagpo. He first studied the Kadampa tradition, which is a gradual path that includes what is called the Lam Rim teachings. He also met Milarepa, and attained realization of ultimate reality under his guidance. He established monastic institutions, taught extensively and attracted many students. Four of his disciples founded the four major Kagyü Schools: Babrom Dharma Wangchuk founded the Babrom Kagyü, Pagdru Dorje Gyalpo founded the Pagdru Kagyü, Shang Tsalpa Tsondru Drag founded the Tsalpa Kagyü, and Karmapa Düsum Khyenpa founded the Kamtsang Kagyü, also known as the Karma Kagyü school.It was the first Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa, who received the complete Mahamudra transmission from Gampopa.The eight minor Kagyü lineages originated with Pagdru Dorje Gyalpo's eight main disciples. These eight lineages are: Taglung Kagyü, Trophu Kagyü, Drukpa Kagyü, Martsang Kagyü, Yerpa Kagyü, Yazang Kagyü, Shugseb Kagyü and Drikung Kagyü.The different Kagyü lineages are not referred to as major and minor in terms of the instructions they contain; they are equal in that respect. The four major lineages are known as major in that they originate with Gampopa himself, whereas the eight minor lineages originate with a later generation of masters. Nowadays, of the four major Kagyü lineages only the Karma Kagyü remains prevalent. Among the eight minor Kagyü lineages only the Taglung, Drukpa and Drikung Kagyü still exist as independent lineages.We can distinguish several transmissions within each lineage. However, all major buddhist traditions in Tibet have a lineage of the Pratimoksha vows and a lineage of the Bodhisattva vows."The Golden Kagyü Garland" refers to the masters who are the holders of the lineage in which Mahamudra is a main theme. They are the Indian masters of the lineage and the successive reincarnations of the Karmapas and their most important students who pass on the transmissions to him. The lineage holders are selected by the Karmapa himself which ensures that the teachings remain intact and pure.The Karmapa himself always chooses the teacher who will pass on the lineage to him in his future incarnation. He is a great bodhisattva who has the capacity to perceive the realization and qualities of others. It is through this ability that he selects his own guru. There is no fixed rule which defines the teacher in advance. In some cases the lineage holders are eminent reincarnates and in other cases exceptional practitioners without high status in the religious hierarchy.Another aspect of the Karma Kagyü lineage is the interim directors of the administration who are caretakers of the Karmapa's monasteries between his reincarnations. These caretakers are not lineage holders. For example, the 14th Karmapa, Thegchog Dorje, installed the head of the Drugpa Kagyü, the 9th Drugchen Mipham Chökyi Gyamtso (also known as Mingyur Wangi Gyalpo), as the interim director of the administration. The 16th Karmapa, in accordance with Indian law, installed a legal body, the Karmapa Charitable Trust, and appointed the trustees.Presently it is their responsibility to run the affairs of the seat of H.H. the 16th Karmapa and the affiliated monasteries and centers till the coming of age of the 17th Karmapa.
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