History of Karma Kagyu


The Kagyu tradition is one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. In the 11th century a layman called Marpa made three journeys to India in search of Buddhist teachings and studied under famous Indian Buddhist masters, such as Naropa and Maitripa. Having brought the teachings back to Tibet, Marpa translated and transmitted them.


Marpa’s chief student was Milarepa, under Marpa’s guidance he devoted his life to meditation and after years of meditation in caves in the Himalayas he attained enlightenment. The name of Milarepa has become synonymous with supreme spiritual endeavour and achievement.


Among Milarepa’s followers, the foremost was a doctor called Gampopa, After his wife and children died in an epidemic, Gampopa committed himself to dharma practice and became a monk. From Milarepa he received the teachings Marpa had brought back from India. In time, he established a Buddhist centre in his home region, where many people came to study and practise.

The Karmapa

From the time of Gampopa onwards, the Kagyu teachings spread throughout Tibet. One of the chief disciples of Gampopa achieved enlightenment and became the first in a line of incarnate masters known as the Karmapas – ‘the ones of Buddha activity’. Under their guidance the Karma Kagyu tradition, as it became known, flourished in Tibet until modern times.