The journey to this ultimate state involves freeing the mind from its grosser limitations, such as anger, selfish desire, pride etc., and also its subtle limitations, mainly consisting of conditioned thought- patterns of dualistic perception (subject-object, me-you, mind-body etc.). Someone who completes this journey of liberation, perfectly, is a Buddha. Such was Sakyamuni, who achieved his total enlightenment over 2,500 years ago, in India.
Through the great clarity of his mind, he taught the universal truths of existence, in their entirety. There are thought to be 1,002 such teaching Buddhas during the lifetime of our solar system. Sakyamuni was the fourth.
The Buddha's teachings spread from India throughout Asia, even reaching as far as Greece at one point (Buddhist Greek monarch - Melinder). They reached what are today Japan, Indonesia, Mongolia and Russia, and countries (such as China, Burma etc.) on the way from India to these continental extremities. Today they are to be found throughout the world.
The teachings themselves are addressed to 3 different audiences:
Each of us is unique. We have different needs and different aspirations.
Among those who benefit from practising the Buddhist meditation techniques
and way of life, one can distinguish three major capacities (yãna):
... the hinayana - the first two audiences mentioned above. The keypoints of their spiritual path are non- violence, pure ethics and meditation (mainly concentration meditation).
... the mahayana - the third audience. Their path, which has a broader ethical dimension and a wider and deeper scope of meditation, is underpinned at all times by a compassionate longing to achieve the ultimate potential of one's own existence in order to be truly capable of helping others.
... the vajrayana - a special development of the mahayana buddhism mentioned above. It is special on account of the very powerful, customised, meditation techniques which it employs. This third yana can only be applied when an excellent and properly-qualified teacher (Skt. = guru) teaches someone who has the required stability and qualities of mind.
Of the three sorts of Indian Buddhism, the vajrayana (also often referred to as tantra) survived in a living and integral form only in Tibet, although some traces of it are found, in a more rarefied and hermetic way, in Burma and Japan. It is the nec plus ultra of Buddhism and the Tibetans preserved it in an extraordinary way. Almost one in four Tibetan men was a monk or hermit, it is said. A slightly less, but still significant, percentage of the female population were nuns. It is through their widespread and diligent practice of meditation that the "inner transmission" of the real meaning of the Buddha's teachings was kept alive and flourishing in Tibet.
Over the centuries, various major streams of Buddhism emerged in Tibet. Although Tibetan scholars analyse 8 key currents, many people today consider there to be 4 major schools of Tibetan Buddhism: the Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug. Of these, the oldest is the Nyingma, founded when Buddhism was first implanted in Tibet in the 8th century, and the youngest is the Gelug, dating from around the 14th century, the most well-known present-day figure of which is HH the Dalai Lama.
What distinguishes the Kagyu from the other traditions is the way in which the Buddha's teaching is formulated and the extremely powerful meditation techniques it employs to enable one to experience and make real the meaning of the Buddha's teaching. The clarity of formulation and vividness of technique arise through a direct and unbroken line of teaching coming directly from the Buddha. This is explained more fully in the page on Kagyu and the spiritual inheritance from Tilopa and its section on the meaning of the name Kagyu.
[by clinking on the hyperlinked names, in the section that follows, you will find fuller biographical data, taken from Ken Holmes' book "Karmapa"]The Kagyu lineage itself stems directly from the Buddha through two streams of teaching. The content of both, and the real heart of the Kagyu doctrine is called mahamudra: ... the first stream of teachings comes from the Buddha, in the form of Vajradhara, through a succession of Indian masters including Saraha and Nagarjuna and ending with Maitripa in 11th century India. The main thrust of this aspect of mahamudra is direct meditation work with mind itself. These teachings were Taken to Tibet by Maitripa's disciple - the Tibetan, Marpa. ... the second stream of teachings came from Vajradhara to Tilopa, an extraordinary Buddhist mahasiddha who has assimilated and mastered the teachings of over 100 important gurus of his day. He passed on the quintessence of his heritage to Mahapandita Naropa, one of Buddhism's greatest scholars and one of the 84 great siddha of India. This line of mahamudra uses many visualisation and yoga techniques to assist the overall understanding of the nature of reality. The Tibetan, Marpa, was the main spiritual heir to this transmission too.
Thus both streams of mahamudra went to Tibet due to the incredible strong- minded diligenece of Marpa who, in his search for understanding, made the perilous journey from Tibet to India three times and who spent over 20 years there under the guidance of Naropa absorbing the finest of Indian vajrayana Buddhist teachings.Marpa's own main disciple was Milarepa , a person driven to Buddhism by the dramatic events of his own life. Milarepa was to become Tibet's most famous yogi, on account of his completing the journey to enlightenment within just one lifetime and also through his unequalled diligence meditating in a thin cotton robe in caves high in the snow-clad mountains. The next two generations of Kagyu patriarch were to really shape its future for the millenium to follow. Milarepa's disciple Gampopa integrated the profound teachings he received into the great scholarship and pure monastic discipline that he had already mastered, to become a Buddhist master competent in every aspect of the teachings and embodying the perfection of all three yanas. Gampopa's coming had even been predicted by Buddha Sakyamuni, in the Samdhiraja Sutra. Whereas Milarepa achieved enlightenment in one life, Gampopa is seen as someone who remains for countless cosmic ages as a 10th level bodhisattva, in order to assist Buddha after Buddha in bringing their teachings to the world. The chapter on Gampopa in the 2-volume edition of the "100,000 Songs of Milarepa" will give you more details and an interesting ionsight into the relationship between Milarepa and Gampopa. There are 4 major and 8 minor Kagyu lineages stemming from the disciples of Gampopa. They are collectively known as the Dagpo Kagyu, Dagpo Rinpoche being another name for Gampopa. Both names (as do many Tibetan names) originate in places. Dagpo was, in fact, the name of Gampopa's birth place and Gampo is the name of the holy mountain on which he established the first Tibetan Kagyu monastery. Then follows an extraordinary phenomenon in the Kagyu lineage. Gampopa's main disciple was the 1st Gyalwa Karmapa, Dusum Chenpa. He was to reincarnate, again and again from then onwards, to guide and protect the Kagyu lineage. Thus he was to become Tibet's first tulku, or reincarnate guru. In between each successive Karmapa reincarnation, the continuity of the lineage of spiritual insight was ensured by his chief disciple at the time, who re-transmitted the details of the teachings to the reincarnation of his previous guru. This unbroken succession, from Tilopa down through Naropa, Marpa, Milarepa, Gampopa, the Karmapas, Situpas, Sharmapas, Gyaltsabpas and the other gurus, is known as the Golden Rosary of Kagyu teachers:
|1st Karmapa Dusum Chenpa|
|Drogon Rechen (Situ)|
|Karma Pakshi (Karmapa 2)|
|Rangjung Dorje (K3)|
|Rolpe Dorje (K4)|
|Kacho Wangpo (Shamar)|
|Deshin Shekpa (K5)|
|Tongwa Donden (K6)|
|Paljor Dondrup (Gyaltsab)|
|Chodrak Gyamtso (K7)|
|Tashi Paljor (Sanje Nyenpa)|
|Michö Dorje (K8)|
|Wangchuk Dorje (K9)|
|Choying Dorje (K10)|
|Yeshe Dorje (K11)|
|Changchup Dorje (K12)|
|8th Tai Situ Choji Jungne|
|Dundul Dorje (K13)|
|10th Shamar Mipam Chodrup|
|9th Situ Pema Nyinche|
|Tekcho Dorje (K14)|
|Yonten Gyamtso (Kongtrul)|
|Khachap Dorje (K15)|
|11th Tai Situ Pema Wangcho|
|Chentse Ozer (Kongtrul 2)|
|Rangjung Rikpe Dorje (K16)|