The Karma Kagyu Tradition

Marpa with his student Milarepa below left and Gampopa below right

Marpa with his student Milarepa below left and Gampopa below right

The Karma Kagyu school forms part of the Dakpo Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, which was established in the eleventh and twelfth centuries C.E. by the three masters, Marpa the translator (1012 – 1097), student of the Indian siddhas Naropa and Maitripa, his disciple Milarepa (1040 – 1123) and the latter’s disciple Gampopa (1079 – 1153) who was heir to both the tantric teachings of Marpa and Milarepa’s lineage and the sutra teachings of the Kadam school. After Gampopa’s death, the tradition split into four principal branches; Karma, Baram, Tshalpa and Phakmo Dru, from the last of which eight sub-sects subsequently emerged. Under the leadership of seventeen incarnations of the Karmapa Lama, the Karma Kagyu has been the most powerful of the four chief lines of the Kagyu.

The most prized teachings of the Karma Kagyu tradition have been the cycles of mahamudra (‘great seal’), derived principally from Maitripa, and the ‘six doctrines’ derived from Naropa. Although the Kagyu tradition is especially famed for its emphasis on meditation, it has also produced talented scholars such as the third Karmapa, Ranjung Dorje (1284 – 1339), the eighth Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje (1507 – 1554) and Jamgon Kongtrul (1811 – 1899). This last master is particularly renowned for his propagation of the Zhentong Madhyamaka philosophical view, which has found many exponents in the Karma Kagyu school, and which Karma Thinley Rinpoche and Lama Jampa Thaye have both received detailed teachings on.

His Holiness the sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Rigpé Dorje (1923 – 1981) visited our Manchester centre, Kagyu Ling, in Manchester in 1977 at the invitation of Karma Thinley Rinpoche and Lama Jampa Thaye. To date His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa Thrinley Thaye Dorje has visited Dechen centres on two occasions.

In addition, the 14th Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche (1952 – 2014), the second most senior lama of the Kagyu tradition, made a historic visit to Kagyu Ling at the begining of June 2014.

For more information on the Kagyu tradition, please visit