The lineage of the Kagyu emphasizes the continuity of oral instructions passed on from master to student. This emphasis is reflected in the literal meaning of "Kagyu." The first syllable "Ka" refers to the scriptures of the Buddha and the oral instructions of the guru. "Ka" has the sense both of the enlightened meaning conveyed by the words of the teacher, as well as the force which such words of insight carries. The second syllable "gyu" means lineage or tradition. Together, these syllables mean "the lineage of the oral instructions."
The Kagyu Lineage traces its origin back to the historic Buddha, Shakyamuni through Marpa, the great translator and yogi, who brought back the unbroken lineage from India to Tibet.
Vajradhara is the primordial buddha, the dharmakaya buddha. Vajradhara, depicted as dark blue in color, expresses the quintessence of buddhahood itself. Vajradhara represents the essence of the historical Buddha's realization of enlightenment.
Historically, Prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment under the bodhi tree in Bodhgaya over 2500 years ago and then manifested as the Buddha. According to Buddhist cosmology, he was the Fourth Historic Buddha of this fortunate eon. Prince Siddhartha's achievement of enlightenment, the realization itself, is called the dharmakaya, the body of truth. When he expresses that realization through subtle symbols, his realization is then called the sambhogakaya, the body of enjoyment. When such realization manifested in more accessible or physical form for all sentient beings as the historical Shakyamuni Buddha, it was then called the nirmanakaya, the body of manifestation.
The dharmakaya, synonymous with Vajradhara Buddha, is the source of all the manifestations of enlightenment. Vajradhara is central to the Kagyu lineage because Tilopa received the vajrayana teachings directly from vajradhara, the dharmakaya buddha. Thus, the Kagyu lineage originated from the very nature of buddhahood.
Tilopa (Tibetan; Sanskrit: Talika, 988 - 1069) was an Indian tantric practitioner and mahasiddha. He discovered the mahamudra process, a set of spiritual practices that greatly accelerated the process of attaining bodhi (enlightenment). He is regarded as the human founder of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism and is, in effect, the Buddha Vajradhara .
Tilopa was born into a brahmin (priestly) caste — according to some sources a royal family — but he abandoned the monastic life upon receiving orders from a dakini (spirit) who told him to adopt a wandering existence. From the beginning, she made it clear to Tilopa that his real parents were not the ones who had raised him, but instead were primordial wisdom and universal voidness. Advised by the dakini, Tilopa gradually took up a monk's life, taking the monk vows, and becoming an erudite scholar. The frequent visits of his dakini teacher continued to guide his spiritual path and close the gap to enlightenment.
He began to travel throughout India getting teachings from many gurus:
- from Saryapa he learned of tummo (inner heat);
- from Nargajuna he received the radiant light and illusiory body teachings;
- from Lawapa, the dream yoga;
- from Sukhasiddhi, the teachings on life, death, and the bardo (between life states,
and consciousness transference);
- from Indrabhuti, he learned of insight (prajna);
- and from Matangi, the resurrection of the dead body.
During a meditation he received a vision of Buddha Vajradhara and, according to legend, the entire mahamudra was directly transmitted to Tilopa. After having received the transmission, Tilopa embarked on a wandering existence and started to teach. He appointed Naropa, his most important student, as his successor.
6 Words of Advice
To Naropa, Tilopa taught about the "six words of advice".
The original Sanskrit or Bengali (?) is not available. The text reached us in Tibetan translation. According Ken McLeod, the text contains exactly 6 words. English translation given in the following is attributed to Ken McLeod.
- Don't recall Let go of what has passed mi mno
- Don't imagine Let go of what may come mi bsam
- Don't think Let go of what is happening now mi shes
- Don't examine Don't try to figure anything out mi dpyod
- Don't control Don't try to make anything happen mi sgom
- Rest Relax, right now, and rest rang sar bzhag
Tilopa also gave to Naropa Mahamudra instructions:
The fool in his ignorance, disdaining Mahamudra, knows nothing but struggle in the flood of samsara.
Have compassion for those who suffer constant anxiety!
Sick of unrlenting pain and desiring release, adhere to a master,
For when his blessing touches your heart, the mind is liberating.
Attachment and enjoyment
One of the most famous and important statements attributed to Tilopa is: "The problem is not enjoyment, the problem is attachment."
(Tibetan; Sanskrit: Nadaprada, 1016-1100) was an Indian Buddhist mystic and monk, the pupil of Tilopa and brother, or some sources say partner, of Niguma. Naropa was the main teacher of Marpa.
Naropa is part of the Golden Garland, meaning a lineage holder of the Tibetan Buddhist Kagyu lineage, and was considered an accomplished scholar. A great meditator, he is best known for having enumerated and developed the six yogas of Naropa. These practices were designed to help achieve a more rapid attainment of enlightenment.
Naropa was born a Brahmin and from an early age showed an independent streak, hoping to follow a career of study and meditation. Succumbing to his parents wishes, he agreed to an arranged marriage with a young brahmin girl. After 8 years they both agreed to dissolve their marriage and become ordained.
At the age of 28 Naropa entered the famous Buddhist University Nalanda where he studied both Sutra and Tantra. He gained the reputation as a great scholar and faultless debater, essential at that time as the tradition of debate was such that the loser automatically became a student of the winner. He eventually become Gatekeeper of the North; engaged in many debates, taught and won many students.
One day whilst studying, a dakini appeared and asked if he understood the words. He replied that he did and when she seemed so happy with his response, he added that he also understood their meaning. At this point the dakini burst into tears, stating that he was a great scholar, but also a liar, as the only one who understood the teachings was her brother Tilopa. On hearing the name Tilopa, he experienced an intense feeling of devotion, and realized he needed to find the teacher in order to achieve full realization. He abandoned his studies and position at the university and set out to find Tilopa.
Naropa underwent what is known as the 12 minor hardships in his quest to find his teacher, all hidden teachings on his path to enlightenment. When he finally met Tilopa, he was given the 4 complete transmission lineages which he then began to practice. While studying and meditating with Tilopa, he had to undergo a further 12 major hardships, trainings to overcome all obstacles on his path, culminating in his full realization of Mahamudra.
He stayed in Pulahari where he taught his students and at the age of 85 he passed out of this life. Naropa spent a total of twelve years with Tilopa. He is remembered for his trust and devotion to his teacher, which enabled him to attain enlightenment in one lifetime.
He is considered one of the eighty-four mahasiddhas, the 'saints' of tantric Buddhism. Naropa University was named in his honor.
Marpa The Translator
Marpa Lotsawa (1012-1097), or Marpa the translator was a Tibetan Buddhist teacher credited with the transmission of many Buddhist teachings to Tibet from India, including the teachings and lineages of vajrayana and mahamudra.
Born as Marpa Chö kyi Lodrö , in Lhodrak Chukhyer in the southern part of Tibet, to an affluent family he began studying at a young age but was wild and untamed compared to other children. Marpa first received instruction for three years at Mangkhar with Drokmi Shakya Yeshe and mastered Sanskrit. He decided to travel to India to study with renowned Indian Buddhist masters. Marpa returned home to Lhodrak and converted his entire inheritance into gold to fund his travel expenses and to make offerings to teachers.
Marpa journeyed first to Nepal where he studied with Paindapa and Chitherpa, two famous students of Naropa. Paindapa later accompanied Marpa to Pullahari, near Nalanda University, where Naropa taught. Marpa spent twelve years studying with Naropa and other great Indian gurus. After twelve years he set forth on his journey back to Tibet to teach and continue his dharma activities.
Marpa was to travel to India twice more and Nepal three more times and studied with Naropa and other great teachers including Maitripa. On his third visit to India, Naropa, engaged in tantric practices proved difficult to find. However eventually Marpa found him and received the final teachings and instructions from Naropa. It was then that Naropa prophesied that a family lineage would not continue for Marpa, but that his lineage would be carried on by his disciples. Marpa now had received the full transmission, so Naropa formally declared Marpa to his successor although he had other major disciples including Paindapa, Chitherpa, Shri Shantibhadra or Kukuripa, and Maitripa.
Upon his return to Tibet, Marpa spent many years translating Buddhist scriptures and made a major contribution to the transmission of the complete buddhadharma to Tibet. Marpa continued to practice and give teachings and transmissions to many students in Tibet. After his third visit to India Milarepa became his disciple, who inherited his lineage in full. Marpa lived with his wife Dakmema and their sons in Lhodrak in the southern part of Tibet.
Jetsun Milarepa (Wylie: Rje-btsun Mi-la-ras-pa), 1052-1135 (approx) was one of Tibet's most famous yogis and poets, a student of Marpa Lotsawa, and a major figure in the history of the Kagyu (Bka'-brgyud) school of Tibetan Buddhism.
The facts of his life as they are popularly known come from the enormously popular romanticized account in the biography the Mi-la-rnams-thar by Gtsang-smyon he-ru-ka rus-pa'i-rgyan-can (1452-1507), although they may be of questionable historic validity, the biographical details given in this article are based upon this account or its derivatives.
Born in the village of Kya, Ngatsa in Tibet to a prosperous family he was named Mila Thö paga (Thos-pa-dga), which means "A joy to hear". But when his father died Milarepa's uncle and aunt took all the family's wealth. At his mother's request Milarepa left home and studied sorcery. While his Aunt and Uncle were having a party to celebrate the impending marriage of their son, he took his revenge by causing the house they were in to collapse, killing 35 people, although the Uncle and Aunt are supposed to have survived. The villagers were angry and set off to look for Milarepa, but his mother got word to him, and he sent a hailstorm to destroy their crops.
Milarepa knowing that his revenge was wrong set out to find a teacher and was led to Marpa the translator. Marpa proved a hard task master, and before he would teach him had Milarepa build and then demolish three houses in turn. When Marpa still refused to teach Milarepa he went to Marpa's wife, who took pity on him. She forged a letter of introduction to another teacher, Lama Ngogdun Chudor, under whose tutelage he began to practise meditation. However when he was making no progress, he confessed the forgery and Ngogdun Chudor said that it was vain to hope for spiritual growth without the guru's approval. Milarepa returned to Marpa, and after practicing very diligently for twelve years Milarepa attained the state of vajradhara (complete enlightenment). He is said to be the first to achieve this state within one lifetime. He then became known as Milarepa, which means the "Mila, the cotton clad one" (the suffix "repa" is given to many tantric yogis since they wear white robes) At the age of forty-five, he started to practice at Drakar Taso (White Rock Horse Tooth) cave, as well as becoming a wandering teacher. Here, he subsisted on nettle tea, leading his skin to turn green--hence the greenish color he is often depicted as having in paintings and sculpture.
Milarepa is famous for many of his songs and poems, in which he expresses the profundity of his realization of the dharma with extraordinary clarity and beauty. He also had many disciples, which include Rechung Dorje Drakpa (Ras-chung Rdo-rje Grags-pa)), Gampopa (Sgam-po-pa) or Dhakpo Lhaje. It was Gampopa who became his spiritual successor who continued his lineage and became one of the main lineage masters in Milarepa's tradition.
Gampopa (1079-1153), also known as Dagpo Lhaje ("physician from Dagpo") and Dakpo Rinpoche ("Precious Master from Dagpo"), founded the Kagyu school, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. In many ways the establishment of the Kagyu school m
arks the beginning of the distinct institution we now recognize as Tibetan Buddhism, even as the Indian Tantric Buddhism model that inspired it faded away.
Gampopa, a physician from Dagpo region in Kham, was the foremost student of the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Milarepa. Gampopa was renowned for the clarity of his perception and his knowledge of both kadampa and, later, mahamudra methods.
Gampopa's position in the transmission lineage of the esoteric mahamudra teaching is as follows:
1. Tilopa (988-1069), the Indian yogi who experienced the original transmission of the mahamudra
2. Naropa (1016-1100), who perfected the methods of accelerated enlightenment, described in his six yogas of Naropa.
3. Marpa (1012-1097), the first Tibetan in the lineage, who translated the vajrayana and mahamudra texts into Old Tibetan
4. Milarepa (1052-1135), poet and master who overcame Marpa's reluctance to teach but nonetheless attained enlightenment in a single lifetime
5. Gampopa, Milarepa's best student, who integrated Atisha's Kadampa teaching and Tilopa's Mahamudra teaching to establish the Kagyu school
This lineage sequence, taken together, is called the "Five Founding Masters" by the Kagyu followers.
Prior to studying under Milarepa, Gampopa had studied the kadampa traditions, which is a gradual path based on the lamrim teachings. He searched for, and eventually met Milarepa, and attained realization of ultimate reality under his guidance.
Gampopa wrote The Jewel Ornament of Liberation and founded the Dagpo Kagyud school in 1125. This school merged with the older but less influential Shangpa Kagyud school, founded circa 1050, also dependent on Naropa), to form the major Kagyu school. While the Shangpa school was the first Kagyupa school, it was the integrative teaching of Gampopa which unified Kadampa and Mahamudra teachings into the Kagyu approach.
Gampopa also established various monastic institutions, taught extensively, and attracted many students. Four of his disciples founded the four major Kagyu schools:
- Babrom Kagyu founded by Babrom Dharma Wangchuk
- Pagdru Kagyu founded by Phagmo Trupa Dorje Gyalpo
- Tsalpa Kagyu founded by Shang Tsalpa Tsondru Drag
- Karma Kagyu, also known as the Kamtsang Kagyu School, founded by Düsum Khyenpa the 1st Karmapa
Gampopa had three heart disciples: Dusum Khyenpa, Phakmo Drupa and Saltong Shogom. Dusum Khyenpa (1110-1193), or Khampa Usey (literally, the "white-haired Khampa"), became known as the First Karmapa, who established the Karma Kagyu lineage.
From Phagmo Drupa (1110-1170) developed eight additional Kagyupa Schools which are: 1) Drikung Kagyu, 2) Taklung Kagyu, 3) Drukpa Kagyu, 4) Yasang Kagyu, 5) Trophu Kagyu, 6) Shuksep Kagyu, 7) Yelpa Kagyu, 8) Martsang Kagyu.
Phagmo Drupa 1110-1170
Jigten Sumgon (tib) or RatnaShri (skrt)
The Drikung Kagyu Lineage is one of the Kagyu lineages which was founded 800 overs years ago, by the great spiritual master, Kyoba Jigten Sumgon (Sanskrit; Ratna Shri). All these teachings were transmitted to PhagmoDrupa by Dharma Lord Gampopa. Although Kagyu came from the same root, at that time the Kagyu lineage flourished into several different branches, each carrying the complete teachings and enlightened blessings. Like the wish-fulfilling tree, which comes from the same root, but is divided into different branches, each giving many wonderful blossoms and fruits. Although PhagmoDrupa had hundreds of thousands of disciples, Lord Jigten Sumgon was one of his closest and chief disciples. Phagmo Drupa prophesied that the teachings and blessings would be carried on by a Bodhisattva, (Jigten Sumgon), who already attained the ten Bhumis.
Phagmodrupa's successor, Lord Jigten Sumgon, (1143-1217) who is the embodiment of the Buddha of the Three Times and a reincarnation of Arya Nagarjuna. He appeared at an auspicious time and place acting as an inspiration to those determined to be free of samsara. Early in his life he met with great masters, received all aspects of the teachings, and eventually encountered Lord Phagmodrupa, from whom he received the complete lineage teachings. To integrate these within his mind he practiced day and night until he attained Buddhahood in the Echung Cave at the age of thirty-five. At the request of humans and non-humans he established a monastery at Drikung Thil (1179) thus becoming the founder of the Drikung Kagyu order. His teachings were geared to his hearers' through cultural differences and dogma, revealing the universal law of causes and conditions. Though he had hundreds of disciples, he never excluded any beings from his heart, wishing only to dispel their suffering and establish them in freedom from samsara. The embodiment of wisdom and compassion, he cut the link of their negative propensities. Lord Jigten Sumgon wrote many commentaries and explanations, especially the four volumes known as Inner Profound Teachings, in which he gives meditation instruction and advice. One of his foremost works, the Gong Chik, contains all the essential aspects of Vinaya discipline, Bodhicitta, and Tantra. This text has many commentaries, both in detail and concise, by such masters as Sherab Jungne, who was Lord Jigten Sumgon's own disciple, the 8th Karmapa, the Fourth Shamarpa, and Drikung Dharmakirti.
Current Drikung Kyabgons
Chungtsang Rinpoche & Chetsang Rinpoche
Since Lord Jigten Sumgon founded the Drikung Kagyu Order of Tibetan Buddhism, who was regarded as a second Nagrajuna, belonged to one of the highest Tibetan clans, the Kyura family, known as the Miu Dhondruk clan. With the end of the Kyura family, the elder of two brothers Konchok (1590-1654), who came to be known as the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang, and his younger brother, Kunkyen Rigzin Chokyi Drakpa (1595-164), known as the Drikung Kyabgon Chungtsang Konchok Tenzin Chokyi Nangwa Rinchen Tenpa Gyaltsen. They took up the leadership of the Drikung Kagyu Order. This arrangement was made under two leaders, Drikung Kagyu practice has been transmitted in an unbroken lineage until now. The present 36th Drikung Kyabgon Chungtsang Konchok Tenzin Chokyi Nangwa (1942), who resides in Tibet and the 37th Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche, Konchok Tenzin Kunzang Trinley Lhundrup (1946-), who resides at Jangchub Ling monastery in India.
Prayer to Lord Jigten Sumgon
Precious Englightenment, the Source of Benefit and Bliss
Emanation body, embodiment of the wisdom, compassion,
and ability of the buddhas and bodhisattvas
of the ten directions and the three times,
Drikungpa, protector of beings in the Land of Snows,
well-known as Ratna Shri,
please grant us the blessings of excellent virtue.
Though you have been enlightened, lord,
since beginningless time,
your manifestations of compassionate wisdom
will remain for as long as samsara exists.
You display various emanations again and again.
I bow down to you who bear the great burden
of protecting all beings.
You established, through the doors of study and practice,
the methods of the Mahayana in this Land of Snows.
The sun of your activities pervades the whole world.
I bow down to you, Lord Jigten Sumgon.
You promised to gaze, with unfailing compassion,
on whoever supplicates you with respect.
We are your followers in this degenerate age.
Who else can we rely on?
Therefore, now, when we supplicate you with devotion
from our hearts,
do not forget your former great promise.
Please spontaneously accomplish the essence of our wish
to increase the number of authentic masters
and to spread the teachings.
Please pacify the disheartening circumstances
of this degenerate age.
Further increase the glory and good qualities
of the world and its inhabitants.
Please grant your blessings so that all the gathered virtues
of the sacred and the secular without exception
may be expanded in this place.
The core of the thought of the victorious ones
of the three times
is the path of mahamudra, the pinnacle of the ultimate meaning.
Please establish and expand this path
in all directions and times.
Please grant your blessings to increase the good qualities
of the three trainings.
In this way, may these results that we have hoped for
ripen as we have wished.
By these excellent virtues, may the glory of auspiciousness,
the light of all that is marvelous,
pervade the three worlds.
His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang - Short Biography
by Dr. Elmar R. Gruber
His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang, the 37th throne holder of the Drikung Kagyu Lineage and 7th reincarnation of the Chetsang Rinpoche is a manifestation of Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara). Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang, Konchog Tenzin Kunsang Thrinle Lhundrup, was born in 1946
into the aristocratic family of Tsarong in Lhasa. Many prodigious signs and visions accompanied his birth.
His reincarnation was confirmed by a vision of the Drikung regent Tritsab Gyabra Rinpoche and through many additional divinations performed by Taktra Rinpoche (the Regent of Tibet), H.H. the 16th Karmapa, and H.H. Taklung Matrul.
In 1950 the formal enthronement as Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang took place at Drikung Thil, the main monastery of the Drikung Kagyu order. His spiritual instructors (yongzin), Tritsab Gyabra Rinpoche and Ayang Thubten Rinpoche, were responsible for his education. His curriculum
included reading, writing, memorizing, astrology, and grammar. From his yongzin and from Bhalok Thupten Chodrak Rinpoche, Lho Bongtrul Rinpoche, and Nyidzong Tripa he received the basic empowerments, transmissions, and teachings of the Kagyu tradition and the Drikung Kagyu tradition in particular.
At the age of eleven, Drikung Kyabgon gave his first public teaching and transmission, a long-life empowerment, during the 1956 Monkey Year ceremonies of the Great Drikung Phowa. Subsequently he began his philosophical studies at the Nyima Changra monastic college of Drikung. Although he was four years younger he studied together with the second Drikung lineage holder, Chungtsang Rinpoche.
Before and after the Tibetan uprising of 1959, several attempts were launched to bring Chetsang Rinpoche and Chungtsang Rinpoche out of Tibet into safety. These attempts failed because of the inexorable resistance of the monastery manager. Rinpoche's family had already fled to India in 1956.
Tritsab Gyabra, who had left the monastery some years before, took Rinpoche to live with him in Lhasa. In 1960, Drikung Kyabgon was admitted into an elementary school in Lhasa. In very short time he mastered the subject matters of several classes, being able to finish the six years of education in only three years. Thereafter he was admitted to the middle school. The subjects there included Chinese, natural sciences, history, and biology. Chetsang Rinpoche excelled in his studies, especially in Chinese. He also became a keen athlete and a passionate and brilliant soccer player.
During the Cultural Revolution, starting in 1966, classes and business came to a halt. While Lhasa sank into chaos, Rinpoche several times was saved by a fraction from certain death. In 1969, he was assigned to a commune in the countryside, where he had to carry out the hardest physical labor: Work on the fields in the spring and in summer, cutting firewood on steep mountain slopes in autumn, shovel out the sewage from the cesspits in Lhasa in the winter. Since there was no prospect for Chetsang, in 1975 he finally decided to escape. He set out alone and without help to cross the border of Tibet across high passes and glaciers. Unscathed he reached Nepal and eventually the residence of the Dalai Lama at Dharamsala. Afterwards he traveled to the USA, where his parents had in the meantime emigrated to. There he learned English, while earning his living as a part-time at a McDonald's and other restaurants.
After three years in the USA he returned to India in 1978, to take on the lead of the Drikung Kagyu Lineage as its throne holder. He entered a traditional three year retreat at Lamayuru Monastery. Chetsang Rinpoche studied with numerous highly accomplished lamas and Rinpoches of different traditions and received from them teachings and initiations. He regards Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche as one of his most important teachers. He studied Buddhist philosophy under Khenpo Noryang in the Drukpa Kagyu monastery Sangnag Choling in Bhutan.
In 1985, Drikung Kyabgon received full monk's ordination from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, during the Kalachakra initiation in Bodhgaya. He mastered all challenges with remarkable ease. Since 1987 Chetsang Rinpoche began to give teachings in many countries throughout the world. In Dehra Dun, India, he established the Drikung Kagyu Institute, a monastery (Jangchubling) and an educational center, as well as a retreat center and the nunnery Samtenling.
In 2003 Chetsang Rinpoche established near his monastery a magnificent edifice: the Songtsen Library, a center for Tibetan and Himalayan studies. With the work of the library, Rinpoche pursues his vision of the comprehensive preservation of Tibetan culture and religion. In 2005 close to the Songtsen Library, Drikung Kyabgon built a large College for Higher Buddhist Studies (Shedra), the Kagyu College.
In the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, Mahamudra or the "Great Seal" is
considered the essence of the Buddhas' teachings. It is also sometimes referred to as the highest and most profound teaching of the Buddhas. This Mahamudra is sometimes compared to Dzogchen ("Great Completeness") — the essence of the Buddhas' teachings according to the Nyingma lineage. Not surprisingly, there have been a number of figures in the history of Tibetan Buddhism who taught the synthesis or union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen. Others mastered both but taught them separately to different students as they saw fit. There are yet others — in the majority — who focused on mastering either Dzogchen or Mahamudra.
The Mahamudra lineage can be traced according to the "far-lineage" as well as the "near-lineage." The "far-lineage" is traced from the current holders of this profound lineage back all the way to the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. The "near-lineage" on the other hand is traced from the current holders back to the Indian mahasiddhas such as Saraha, Maitripa, Tilopa and Naropa who received Mahamudra teachings directly from Buddha Vajradhara. However, it should be pointed out that although these Indian mahasiddhas received Mahamudra teachings directly from Buddha Vajradhara (and hence is part of the "near-lineage") they are also holders of the "far-lineage" as they also received Mahamudra teachings from human teachers who were holders of this "far-lineage." Hence, the Mahamudra lineages that are currently held by the various Kagyu lineages are both of the "far" as well as "near" lineages. It should be pointed out that Mahamudra lineages are also found in the Gelug tradition as several past masters of this tradition also received Mahamudra instructions from holders of the Mahamudra in the Kagyu tradition. This lineage of the Mahamudra is known as the "Gelug-Kagyu Mahamudra" lineage — sometimes translated as the "Gelug Whispered Mahamudra" or he "Gelug Oral Mahamudra" lineage.
Most of Kagyu Mahamudra lineages stem from the Mahamudra teachings that were given by Gampopa (1079-1153) to his students. Gampopa himself received Mahamudra from his root-teacher Milarepa (1052-1135) who in turn received it from his root-teacher Marpa (1012-1096). Marpa was a Tibetan who traveled to India and Nepal and received many teachings from the Indian mahasiddhas — the most important being Naropa and Maitripa who transmitted to Marpa the complete Mahamudra ground, path and fruition. Gampopa himself combined the profound teachings of Mahamudra with the graduated approach of practice as taught by the Kadam tradition. The Indian pandit Atisha founded the Kadam tradition in Tibet. Gampopa was a monk in the Kadam tradition before he became Milarepa's disciple. Although there are many scholarly debates in Tibetan Buddhist history over the status and types of Mahamudra, Gampopa seemed to have mainly advocated two possible approaches to Mahamudra. According to Gampopa, Mahamudra can be approached via the way of sutra as well as via the way of tantra. Hence, there is sutra-Mahamudra and tantra-Mahamudra. Sometimes it is said that Gampopa also taught a third approach to Mahamudra which is neither sutra-based nor tantra-based.
The Kagyu Lineage Masters — Tilopa, Naropa and Marpa
From Gampopa onwards, many different Mahamudra lineages began to crystallize according to the different styles of Mahamudra taught by Gampopa and his spiritual descendents. Some of the Mahamudra traditions that can be traced back to Gampopa or his descendents are the tradition of "Simultaneous Production and Union," the "Six Equal Tastes," the "Four Letters" and the "Fivefold Profound Path." These traditions are still upheld by the four surviving Kagyu lineages (Karma, Taglung, Drukpa and Drigung Kagyu).
In the Drigung Kagyu, the main Mahamudra system is that known as the "Fivefold Profound Path of Mahamudra" or also known as the "Possessing Five." Although Gampopa himself also taught this particular approach of Mahamudra, its name was given by his successor Phagmo Drupa (1110-1170) who was the root-teacher of the founder of the Drigung Kagyu, Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon. Although this system of the Five-fold Profound Path is chiefly held by Drigung Kagyupas, Phagmo Drupa himself also authored a text on this system known as "Verses on the Fivefold Path." Masters of Trophu Kagyu (this particular Kagyu lineage no longer survive as an independent lineage) and Taglung Kagyu have also written on this particular system. Gyalwa Yang Gonpa, a teacher of the Drukpa Kagyu wrote the "Drop of Nectar: the Fivefold Path." The Omniscient Pema Garpo of the Drukpa Kagyu also wrote about this system in his "Kernel of Mind." Situ Chokyi Jungne also wrote extensive commentaries on the Fivefold Profound Path. In his "Preface" to Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche's book "The Garland of Mahamudra Practices," (a translation of Gyalwang Kunga Rinchen's [1475-1527] "Clarifying the Jewel Rosary of the Fivefold Profound Path.") His Holiness Drigung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche points out that these days those who rely on this system mostly follow the commentaries given by Drigung Dharmakirti. Many other Drigung Kagyu teachers of the past also wrote extensive commentaries on this system of the Mahamudra. It goes without saying that Kyobpa Rinpoche himself also wrote several texts and many songs on this subject.
Dharma Lord Gampopa
According to this system then, the five "folds" of this profound path of Mahamudra are
- bodhicitta — the altruistic intention of liberating all sentient beings from samsara,
- yidam — practice of visualizing oneself as a supremely enlightened being,
- guru-yoga — seeking union with the wisdom-mind of the Teacher,
- mahamudra — actual engagement of Mahamudra and finally,
- dedication — perfect dedication of one's virtues.
Before one can begin to engage in the practices laid out in this system, one first needs to focus on the foundational practices. Practice of the first "fold" assumes the prior completion of what is known as the "foundational practices" (Tib. ngondro). These foundational practices are divided into the outer and inner. The outer foundational practices refer to the "Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind" taught by Gampopa. These are establishing in one's mental-continuum the four realizations of
- the good fortune of obtaining a precious human birth,
- the universality of impermanence,
- the infallible workings of cause and effect and
- the nature of samsara as unsatisfactoriness.
After a firm foundation on these four thoughts has been established in one's mental-continuum, one can begin to engage in the inner foundational practices. These are:
- going for refuge which confirms and establishes one's commitment to the
- Vajrasattva purification practice for the eradication of one's negative
karma and karmic imprints,
- mandala-offering for the profound accumulation of merit necessary for
attainment of complete Buddhahood and
- guru-yoga for the inspiration-blessings of the root and lineage
Only after these practices have been "completed" (100,000 practices of each of the four) does one properly begin the first fold of the Five-fold Profound Path — bodhicitta.
Regarding bodhicitta, Kyobpa Rinpoche sang in one of his many vajra-songs:
"If the steed of love and compassion
Does not run for the benefit of others,
It will not be rewarded in the assembly of gods and humans.
Attend therefore to the preliminaries."
Drigung Kyobpa Rinpoche
Bodhicitta is briefly defined as the "altruistic intention to free all sentient beings from samsara." Very often bodhicitta is confused with compassion. Although compassion is one of the most important factors in the generation of bodhicitta, it is not in itself bodhicitta. The arousal of bodhicitta begins by first attending to the generation of loving-kindness for all sentient beings. It is said that loving-kindness is the feeling that one gets when one sees a newborn child. When we see a small child, we often automatically think kind and friendly thoughts towards the child. We spontaneously wish that the child be safe, happy and protected from all harm. There is nothing as soothing as the sight of a soundly sleeping child. It is that warmth and unconditional love that we are trying to generate for all sentient beings. We try to regard all sentient beings as our own children whom we love unconditionally. We pray for their well-being, safety and protection and are willing to give up our own lives for their sakes. When we are able to feel this way towards all sentient beings, we will naturally be able to generate compassion. Compassion is the feeling of wanting to free others from suffering and the causes of suffering. It is the feeling that we get when we encounter someone suffering from a terrible disease or undergoing intense physical and emotional pain. We want to be able to help and to ease that pain; that suffering. Having thus generated and cultivated both loving-kindness and compassion, we can then arrive at the point when we are ready to truly generate bodhicitta.
As defined earlier, bodhicitta is the "altruistic intention to free all sentient beings from samsara." Realizing that sentient beings are completely under the power of samsaric suffering, we come home to the powerful recognition that only by arriving at the state of complete Buddhahood can samsaric suffering be conquered once and for all. Although there are many ways to ease the suffering of sentient beings, they are all temporary and non-final. Only by completely uprooting the cause of suffering are we then thoroughly free from suffering. And this is the state of ultimate liberation; of complete Buddhahood. This knowledge — the knowledge of the faults, cause, end of and path to the end of samsara is wisdom. Hence, bodhicitta is the resolve that arises from loving-kindness and compassion on the one hand and wisdom on the other hand. When these two aspects come together, bodhicitta is generated.
The second section of the Five-fold Profound Path is the practice of Yidam. Yidam practice refers to the generation and completion practices of the highest yoga tantra and in this particular case in the highest yoga tantra system of the Chakrasamvara cycle of teachings. Although the principal yidam of Marpa was Hevajra, his teacher Naropa predicted that Marpa's lineage would eventually rely on Chakrasamvara as their main yidam. Hence, it was the practice of Chakrasamvara that Marpa transmitted to his main disciple, Milarepa.
There are many different forms of Chakrasamvara appearing with different number of faces, hands, and number of surrounding retinues. In the Drigung Kagyu lineage, the most popular and common Chakrasamvara deity practice is in the form of the Five-deity Chakrasamvara. The Five-deity Chakrasamvara includes the central deity of the two-armed, single-faced male Chakrasamvara deity in union with the female Vajravarahi deity (these two in union are taken as a single deity) and four surrounding dakinis in the four directions.
Yidam practice is a very special tantric practice in which one transforms one's normal, samsaric experience of reality into an extraordinary experience of the true state of all phenomena. While the teachings of the sutra-level consider ignorance as the root cause of samsaric existence, the tantric teachings identify the ordinary appearances as the root cause of samsara. The practice of Yidam is a special and profound method to quickly transform ordinary appearances into enlightened appearances. To be more accurate, this practice uncovers the actual state of appearances and reveal them to be pure and empty unceasingly. Yidam practice does not make ordinary appearances into something they are not — pure and empty of inherent existence. Rather, it uncovers the purity and emptiness that have always been there but obscured and unseen. Due to the tantric nature of these teachings, it is best that one receive the details of these teachings directly from an authentic teacher of the lineage. It is hoped that this brief description of Yidam practice as the second section of the Five-fold Profound Path of Mahamudra will encourage the reader to seek out these profound teachings from a valid and reliable teacher of the lineage when the time and conditions are right. Kyobpa Rinpoche sang,
"If one's body, the King of Deities
is not stabilized on this Unchanging Ground,
The retinue of dakinis will not assemble.
Be sure, therefore, of your body as the yidam."
The third section of the Five-fold Path is the practice of Guru-yoga or the practice of attaining union with the wisdom mind of the Teacher (guru). There are many types of teachers — our parents as our first teachers, our grade school teachers who taught us to read and write, teachers in the secular arts and sciences, spiritual teachers who gave us the Refuge vows, those who gave us the lay or monastic vows, the Bodhisattva-vow preceptors, Vajra-teachers who conferred tantric empowerments on us and finally those teachers who introduced to us the nature of our mind. In a sense, the Teacher referred to here in the practice of guru-yoga is all of them; all of these teachers. However, it is not so much a practice directed at a particular individual or person whom we call our "Teacher" but the basic wisdom-mind within all these teachers who have taught us. By having confidence in and relying on this basic wisdom-mind that we locate within our teachers (and in particular in the teacher(s) who introduced to us the nature of our mind), we strive to recognize this same wisdom-mind that is inherent in us. In particular, we need to rely on an authentic and experienced teacher who has him/herself recognized his/her own nature of mind and can help us recognize ours as well. The practice of Guru-yoga is extolled in the tradition as the most direct and profound method to the quick recognition of the nature of mind. Many Kagyu teachers have taught that the quickest and surest way to recognize the nature of mind is a mind filled with devotion. When devotion is present, recognition of the nature of mind is not far. Kyobpa Rinpoche sang,
If on the Guru, the Snow Mountain of the Four Kayas,
The Sun of Devotion fails to shine,
The Stream of Blessings will not flow.
Attend, therefore, to this mind of devotion.
The Guru-yoga practiced as the third section of the Fivefold Profound Path is slightly more involved and detailed than the Guru-yoga practice found in the set of practices found in the inner foundational practices (ngondro). Specifically, the Four-kayas Guru-yoga" is practiced here. These four kayas or "bodies" refer to the Emanational body (Skt. nirmanakaya, Tib. trul-ku), Enjoyment body (Skt. sambhogakaya, Tib. long-ku), Reality body (Skt. dharmakaya, Tib. cho-ku) and Nature body (Skt. svabhavikakaya, Tib. ngowo nyi-ku) which is the inseparability of the first three bodies. Within this context, the first three bodies are considered relative truth and the fourth body is ultimate truth. A practitioner will first practice the Emanational body Guru-yoga practice where the Teacher is visualized in the form of Shakyamuni Buddha (herself in her ordinary form). She then meditates on the Teacher on the Enjoyment body level as Vairochana (and herself as the yidam) Buddha and for the Reality body in the form of Vajradhara Buddha. Finally, when she arrives at the Nature body level of guru yoga practice, the Teacher meditated on without any form, color, name or shape.
The current Drigung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche writes:
"Externally are the three bodies of the Teacher, the relative truth
(On the level of) absolute truth the self-arising luminosity of the teacher
Is the nature of one's own mind.
The Teacher, one's own mind and the Buddha are inseparable
Appearing as the manifestation of the Nature body."
When the mind has become ripened through Guru-yoga practice, one finally arrives at the heart of the Five-fold Profound Path — the actual practice of Mahamudra itself.
Regarding the Mahamudra, again, the present Drigung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche writes:
"Sustain the fresh, non-arising mind without delusion.
In this uncontrived, natural state
Completely avoid the fabrication of meditation and meditator
The non-meditating, undisturbed, ordinary mind
Remains non-attached and non-separated
Free from hope and fear, grasping and letting-go
Rejection and acceptance, meditation and post-meditation."
We will not be discussing this topic any further as Mahamudra is best learnt directly from a living teacher. However, there is a link to a simple but yet profound teaching on Mahamudra given spontaneously by one of the most important Drigung Kagyu lineage masters alive today — His Eminence Garchen Rinpoche who is the main Drigung Kagyu Rinpoche in Eastern Tibet.
Finally, there is the section on Dedication as the fifth section of the Fivefold Profound Path. Dedication is one of the most distinctive features of Buddhist practice — a practice that is done at the end of all practices be it of the hinayana or mahayana (both sutra and tantra levels). By dedicating the merit of one's practice for the welfare of all sentient beings' complete liberation from all suffering and the causes of suffering one ensures that one's practice remains pure and beneficial. As with most practices, there are relative and ultimate aspects (and it is important to remember that one does not privilege one aspect over the other but rather perfectly practice on both levels as they are in reality inseparable). On the ultimate level of Dedication — Dedication in the context of Mahamudra — one dedicates the merit with the understanding of the emptiness of oneself, the merit dedicated and the dedication itself; the threefold emptiness.
The Five-fold Profound Path of Mahamudra is a complete path to the attainment of perfect enlightenment within one lifetime. Many practitioners in the past have taken this Path and arrived at the other shore of complete peace. At the present, there are also many sincere practitioners of this Path practicing under the expert and compassionate guidance of the lineage teachers of the Drigung Kagyu lineage. There are also many other sincere practitioners of Mahamudra tradition of Gampopa following the different Mahamudra traditions that have developed out of Gampopa's basic Mahamudra system. Furthermore, aside from the purely Kagyu Mahamudra lineages, there is also the Mahamudra practice lineage within the Gelug lineage. Mention should also be made of the "union" of Mahamudra and Dzogchen practices derived from some lineage masters of the Kagyu and Nyingma.
"In order that all beings who have been my mothers
May quickly be liberated from samsara and
May attain perfect enlightenment,
I dedicate all merit accumulated by
Myself, and all ordinary and enlightened beings in the three times
As well as the merit of the innately pure Buddha-nature."
Drikung Kagyu Dzogchen Terma Teachings
The Yang Zab (Very Profound Vision) is regarded as supreme among all the Yanas--it embodies the very essence of the tantric teachings. As a Dzogchen practice, it is unique within the Drikung lineage, as it was revealed by the Drikung Tertö n (hidden treasure revealer), Rinchen Phuntsog and he is also the 17 throne holder of the Glorious Drikung Kagyu Order.
During the eighth century, King Trisong Deutsen of Tibet, an emanation of Manjushri, invited Guru Rinpoche to the Land of Snows in order to subdue demonic forces hostile to the Dharma. Having accomplished his wishes and having founded Samye Monastery, the king showed signs of approaching death, and soon passed away. The king's son, Prince Mutik Tsenpo (also known as Sena Lek) became king, and received the Yang Zab empowerments and instructions from Guru Rinpoche.
The youthful king found that his fathers duties were were so numerous that he had little time to practice Dharma.Guru Rinpoche foresaw a time in the future when the teachings of dharma would degenerate due to the increasing power of ignorance and afflictive emotions in the minds of sentient beings. Guru Rinpoche gave the teachings of the "Very Profound " (Yang Zab) - practices that he received through Kuntungzangpo (dharmakaya), the 100 peaceful and wrathful deities and the 5 buddha families (sambhogakaya), and from Tulku Garab Dorje (nirmanakaya). Prophesizing that these teachings would be most effective in future times of spiritual darkness, he gave the teachings to Mandarava, who attained rainbow body, and to Yeshe Tsogyal. Guru Rinpoche instructed him to put the practice into text form and prepare six copies on durable sheets of gold, turquoise, copper and other materials.
These were then wrapped in precious materials and hidden by Yeshe Tsogyal in Zhoto Terdrom on the limestone massif to the north in the Great Assembly Hall of the Sky Dancers cave ( Khandro Tsok Khang Kiri Yang Zong Namkha Phug ) located in a towering peak.
The terma was revealed by the great omniscient Drikung Tertö n Rinchen Phuntsog, himself an emanation of King Mutik Tsenpo, during the first half of the sixteenth century. The Yang Zab has been transmitted uninterruptedly down through the Drikung lineage to the present.