The Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism

The Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism traces its origin back to Buddha Shakyamuni. The most important source for the specific practices that characterize the Kagyu order is the great Indian yogi Tilopa (988-1069), one of the 84 mahasiddhas of India, who first developed the spontaneous insight of enlightened realization. He gained this realization through the methods that were taught by the historical Buddha Shakyamuni to his closest students, methods that continued to be practiced during the time of Tilopa. In turn, the realization of these masters was passed down to their disciples through the great forefathers of the lineage: Indian mahasiddha Naropa, Marpa-the great translator, Milarepa-the greatest yogi of Tibet, and then to Gampopa-whose coming was prophesied by the Buddha. The lineage of the Kagyu emphasizes the continuity of oral instructions passed on from master to student, from whence the name “Kagyu” derives.

The Great Masters of the Kagyu Lineage

  • Vajradhara
  • Tilopa (988-1069)
  • Naropa (1016-1100)
  • Marpa Lotsawa (1012-1097)
  • Jetsun Milarepa (1052-1135)
  • Gampopa (1079-1153)
  • The First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (1110-1193)
  • Drogön Rechen (1148-1218)
  • Pomdrakpa (1170-1249)
  • The Second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1203-1283)
  • Drubtob Urgyenpa (1230-1300)
  • The Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339)
  • Gyalwa Jungtönpa (1296-1376)
  • The Fourth Karmapa, Rolpe Dorje (1340-1383)
  • The Second Shamarpa, Kachö Wangpo (1350-1405)
  • The Fifth Karmapa, Dezhin Shegpa (1384-1415)
  • Rinchen Zangpo (Ratnabhadra) (c. 1400)
  • The Sixth Karmapa, Thongwa Donden (1416-1453)
  • Bengar Jampal Zangpo Paljor Döndrup (1427-1489)
  • The Seventh Karmapa, Chodrag Gyatsho (1454-1506)
  • Sangye Nyenpa, Tashi Paljor (1457-1525)
  • The Eighth Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje (1507-1554)
  • The Fifth Shamarpa, Könchog Yenlag (1526-1583)
  • The Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje (1555-1603)
  • The Sixth Shamarpa, Chökyi Wangchuk (1584-1629)
  • The Tenth Karmapa, Choying Dorje (1604-1674)
  • The Seventh Shamarpa, Yeshe Nyingpo (1631-1694)
  • The Eleventh Karmapa, Yeshe Dorje (1676-1702)
  • The Eighth Shamarpa, Chökyi Döndrub (1694-1735)
  • The Twelfth Karmapa, Changchub Dorje (1703-1732)
  • The Eighth Situpa, Chökyi Jungne (1700-1774)
  • The Thirteenth Karmapa, Dudul Dorje (1733-1797)
  • The Tenth Shamarpa, Chödrub Gyamtso (1742-1792)
  • The Ninth Situpa, Pema Nyinche Wangpo (1774-1853)
  • The Fourteenth Karmapa, Thegchog Dorje (1798-1868)
  • The First Jamgön Kongtrül, Lodrö Thaye (1813-1899)
  • The Fifteenth Karmapa, Khakhyab Dorje (1871-1922)
  • The Eleventh Situpa, Pema Wangchuk (1886-1952)
  • The Second Jamgön Kongtrül, Palden Khyentse öser (1902-1952)
  • The Third Jamgön Kongtrül, Karma Lodrö Chokyi Senge (1954-1992)
  • The Fourth Jamgön Kongtrül, Lodrö Chokyi Nyima
  • The Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1924-1981)
  • The Twelfth Situpa, Pema Dhonyö Nyinche (1954-)
  • The Seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje (1985-)

For more information on the Kagyu Lineage we recommend the following resources:

The Kagyu Lineage on kagyuoffice.org, The Karmapa’s official website.
The Kagyu Lineage on the Triyana Dharmachakra website.