When the ultimate fruition of enlightenment is completely attained, the three Kayas of Buddhahood, namely Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya and Dharmakaya, are spontaneously manifested for the benefit of self and all beings. Dharmakaya is the emptiness aspect of Buddhahood, an all-pervading absolute sphere, transformed from the enlightened mind. In other words, the ultimate aspect of Buddhahood is Dharmakaya. Sambhogakaya is the Body of Perfect Enjoyment, transformed from the enlightened speech. It is the spontaneously clear and luminous aspect of Buddhahood, such as Buddha Vajradhara, only perceptible to the highly realised great Bodhisattvas. Nirmanakaya is the Body of Manifestation, transformed from the enlightened body, which is the compassionate aspect of Buddhahood, such as Buddha Shakyamuni who benefits sentient beings.


Together, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya are known as Rupakaya, i.e. form bodies stirred by great compassion and manifested from the Dharmakaya aspect, solely for the benefit of all sentient beings.


Thus, the ultimate aspect of Buddha Vajradhara is the Dharmakaya and it is the embodiment of enlightenment. ‘Vajra’ means indestructible and it signifies the state of realization and enlightenment is indestructible. ‘Dhara’ means to hold, it symbolises the holder of Omniscience and Victory. Thus, Buddha Vajradhara himself is the omniscient and glorious victorious one adorned with the supreme ornament of indestructible enlightenment. Buddha Vajradhara abides in the Akanishta Buddha field, where the Sambhogakaya forms of Buddhas are residing, along with great bodhisattvas who are at the level of the Tenth Bhumi. Akanishta means the Densely Adorned Heaven Beneath None.


As such, the lineage of Kagyupa is extremely precious and profound in that it directly tracks down from Buddha Vajradhara. The Kagyupa very first glorious forefather, the great yogi Tilopa, who resided in Northern India around the 10th century A.D., received the profound teachings of Mahamudra directly from Buddha Vajradhara and attained the supreme realisation of Mahamudra.  In fact, above the crown of Tilopa, wonderfully flows two source-streams of lineages; one is the near lineage and another one the far lineage. For the near lineage, Tilopa did not depend on any human masters but directly received the transmission from Buddha Vajradhara. Tilopa himself also said, “I, Tilopa, do not have any human guru as my guru is the Omniscient One.” From the stream of the far lineage, flows the transmissions of the gurus. There are four commands of transmissions which Tilopa received, and the Karma Kagyu Lineage is still devotedly persevering and reverently upholding the entire teachings till today. The four transmissions are classified according to the four directions of India. These directions mainly referred to the directions of areas where the masters resided around, or dwelled at the time while giving teachings. There are different historical accounts, with slight differences, on the masters of the four directions’ transmissions.


According to the view of the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, the southern transmission came from Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Chandrakirti and Matangi; the western transmission came from Dombipa, Vinapa, Lavapa and Indrabhuti; the northern transmission came from Luyipa, Dengipa, Darikapa, Dakini Sukhadhari and the eastern transmission came from Dakini Sukhasiddhi, Thanglopa, Shinglopa, Karnaripa.


According to the view of Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa, the eastern transmission came from Saraha, Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Chandrakirti and Matangi; the southern transmission came from Luyipa, Dengipa, Darikapa, Dakini Sukhadhari; the western transmission came from Dombipa, Vinasa, Lavapa, Indrabhuti and the northern transmission came from Sumati, Thanglopa, Shinglopa, Karsharipa, Dzalendharapa and Charyapa.


Tilopa also mentioned, “My four transmissions’ gurus are Nagarjuna, Charyapa, Lavapa and Dakini Kalwa Zangmo.” He received Inner Heat or Chandali from Charyapa; Physics and Illusory Body from Nagarjuna, Dream Yoga from Lavapa, and Bardo and Phowa from Dakini Sukhasiddhi or Kalwa Zangmo.


The transmissions were originally conferred by Buddha Vajradhara to Vajrapani and the assembly of the great bodhisattvas and from there, subsequently, the lineage of transmissions streamed down to four transmissions.


Tilopa received the four special transmissions (Tib.: Ka-Bab-Zhi) from four great masters, mastered them skilfully, at one time or another. He then transmitted them entirely to his devoted disciple, Naropa (1016-1100), who had gone through twelve major and twelve minor hardships while serving Tilopa wholeheartedly. In order to benefit those fortunate and worthy ones, Naropa had further systematised these teachings into six aspects of Yoga. It is later known as the Six Yogas of Naropa, the heart theme of the teachings of the Kagyu Lineage.


Naropa transmitted the entire teachings of his lineage to Marpa (1012-1097), the great translator, a passionate Dharma seeker who disregarded all difficulties and risked his life to journey from Tibet to India several times, for the sake of receiving instructions, and to spread the teachings of the Dharma in the great snow land. Marpa also received teachings from other gurus, such as Maitripa, who was also another main guru of his, Kukkuripa, Jnanagarbha and so forth. Marpa cherished the teachings dearly and after years of tests, he handed down the transmissions to his prophesied and exemplary disciple, Milarepa.


Milarepa (1052-1135), the extremely renowned great yogi, through his perseverance in the practice of Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa, achieved profound realisation of the ultimate nature of reality. His early years were no more than a series of sorrowful experiences, emblazoned by the samsaric nature of impermanence and sufferings, until he met Marpa, his guru of affinity. Under the compassionate and skilful guidance of Marpa, he suffered years of testing and went through extreme hardship, which pained and wearied not only his physical body, but also saddened his heart deeply. When the time had finally ripened, Marpa bestowed him the full transmission. Milarepa displayed great perseverance and dedication in his Dharma practices. In return, his diligence and endurance earned him the supreme fruition.


Gampopa (1079-1153), the physician from Dagpo, was the foremost sun-like disciple of Milarepa and received the full transmissions from Milarepa. He renounced from the suffering worldly life after the death of his two young children and early death of his wife, and dedicated the rest of his life to Dharma practice and teachings. He skilfully merged the two streams of teachings of Kadampa and Mahamudra from Milarepa into one. He was the one who established the monastic system in the Kagyu Lineage.  Four of his eminent disciples founded the four major Kagyu schools. Barom Dharma Wangchuk, founded the Barom Kagyu;  Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo established the Phagdru Kagyu;  Shang Tsalpa Tsondru Drag set up the Tsalpa Kagyu and Dusum Khyenpa, the 1st Karmapa, started the Kamtsang Kagyu, known now as Karma Kagyu. Today, of the four major Kagyu schools, only Karma Kagyu remains more active and continues its flow of lineage.


Subsequently, the four major Kagyu schools also stemmed into eight minor Kagyu schools, started by their disciples. The eight lineages are the Taglung Kagyu, Trophu Kagyu, Drukpa Kagyu, Martsang Kagyu, Yerpa Kagyu, Yazang Kagyu, Shugseb Kagyu and Drikung Kagyu. Today, only the lineages of Taglung, Drukpa and Drikung Kagyu are still being preserved and practised.


The prime difference of the major and minor lineages lies in their originations, the four major lineages were directly originated from Gampopa himself and the eight minor lineages were founded later by accomplished masters belonging to a later generation.


The terms of reference to the various lineages of the Kagyu tradition as being Major and Minor do not refer to the aspect of instructions, nor to the methods of practice or ranking. All the lineages are treated and perceived equally and accorded with the same amount of respect.


Karma Kagyud Buddhist Centre                                                                             

No. 38, Lorong 22 Geylang,                                                                                             

Singapore 398695

Email: adminweb@karma-kagyud.org.sg

Phone: +65 6749 1103

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