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Brief History of the Kagyu Lineage

a talk by
His Eminence the Fourth Trungram Gyalwa Rinpoche
at the Taipei Center
on the 25th of August, 1997

There are many types of doctrines. Some relate to us, like what has happened or what a particular thing is, and others deal with our hearts or our inner-self, and relate to us what should be done and how to go about it. What I shall speak about today is the history of our lineage. In doing so, relating what had happened over the course of the history of the lineage and how to practice the teachings and cultivate the Dharma.

Of course, we can only give a brief introduction on the history of our lineage in the course of this talk. If one seeks to have a better understanding of the Kagyu lineage, the biography of the various gurus should be consulted. It is from their experiences that we can uncover insights, which will enable us to understand the Buddhist Dharma and how to cultivate it. This is something that we should all note.

Brief History of Buddhism in India

Our lineage can trace its origins to the time of Shakyamuni Buddha centuries ago. Shakyamuni Buddha was born in Lumbini or what is now Nepal. It is generally accepted that Shakyamuni Buddha was born in 2545, based on the Buddhist calendar. Despite this, the genesis of Buddhism started when Shakyamuni Buddha was 36 years old, when he gained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree at Bodhigaya (present day India). The triple jewels or gems (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) appeared when Buddha Shakyamuni turned the wheel of the Dharma for the first rime, when he taught the Dharma to the first 5 Bhiksus. At that time, Prince Siddharta had achieved enlightenment and in doing so, became Shakyamuni Buddha. The 5 Bhiksus became the "Sangha", part of the 3 precepts that we take refuge in. The discourse by Shakyamuni Buddha to these 5 Bhiksus became what we now know as the Dharma.

Therefore, Buddhism has existed for around 2600 years and will continue to exist for a cycle of Kalpa totaling 5000 years. In the fourth Kalpa or Samvartta-Kalpa, Buddhism will start to decline whereby followers of Buddhism will decline in numbers. By the year 5000 in the Buddhist calendar, Buddhist Dharma, the doctrines or teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha will vanish totally from our realm. It is said that a total of 1,002 Buddhas or enlightened ones will be born in our realm. Shakyamuni Buddha is the Fourth.

When Shakyamuni Buddha entered Mahaparinirvana, he entrusted his doctrines and teachings to his best disciples. From theraeon, it was handed down over a succession of eight generations. This is the prevailing notion, accepted even by the Shravakayana tradition. Between the 5th and the 8th generation, Buddhist disciples started including annotations to the doctrines and teachings. This marked the beginning of the Shastras.

According to the Mahayana tradition, the succession does not end over a period of 8 generations but rather over a period of 25 generations. Longer than what is held by the Hinayana tradition.

During the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, sutras did not exist. All the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha were committed to memory by his arhat disciples. When Shakyamuni Buddha entered Mahaparinirvana, the arhats convened and committed all they had remembered, in writing over a succession of three meetings and assembled the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha into what we now know as the sutras for the benefit of all beings.

Esoteric Vajrayana teachings only became widely practiced after the time of the Indian guru, Saraha. Despite this, Shakyamuni Buddha taught the esoteric or tantric teachings not only to humans but to deities and nagas as well.

Brief History of the Kagyu School: Its origin in India

The Kagyu School traces its origins to the Indian guru, Tilopa or even further to Shakyamuni Buddha when he taught the tantric teachings to Vajrahara who then handed it down to other Bodhisattvas, who subsequently handed them down to Nagarjuna who then taught Tilopa. Guru Tilopa can also trace his lineage to the adepts or Mahasiddhas Nagarjuna, Dompiba, Luipa and Sukhasiddhi. Each of these adepts represents the 4 cardinal points of the Indian continent.

For example, Nagarjuna represents the Southern Indian tradition or lineage, Dompiba represents the Western Indian tradition or lineage, Luipa represents the Northern tradition and Sukhasiddhi represents the Eastern Indian tradition. From these gurus, Tilopa was initiated into the major strands of vajra teachings of the day. In particular, he receives teachings on purification of chakra and subtle body, known by its Tibetan name of tumo, the illusory body, and radiant light teachings, and the dream yoga. Therefore, what we now know as the "Six Yogas" is the essence from these four traditions.

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