The Buddhist teachings go back about 2,500 years to Shakyamuni Buddha. The Kagyu Lineage was established by Marpa the Translator (1012–1097), who traveled to Nepal and India to bring back authentic Buddhist teachings to Tibet. Marpa’s teacher, Naropa, received the lineage transmission from Tilopa and so on, in a direct transmission back to the Buddha himself. Marpa’s most famous student was Jetsun Milarepa, the greatest yogi in all of Tibet, who passed the teachings on to Gampopa, who in turn transmitted the teachings to the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa.
Since then, the Kagyu Lineage has been headed by a succession of reincarnations of the Gyalwa Karmapa.
The current Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, is the 17th. He was recognized in 1992 and was enthroned at the traditional seat of the Karmapas in Tibet at Tsurphu. At the turn of the millenium he left Tibet and currently resides in India.
Throughout the Karma Kagyu Lineage, the six heart disciples of the Karmapa have helped maintain the continuity of the lineage through the different incarnations of the Karmapa. Click here to view an article on the six heart disciples on the KTD website.
For more information, there is a good introduction to the history of the Karma Kagyu Lineage at our parent monastery’s web site. Click here.