Kagyu masters

Guru-Disciple Lineage of Kagyu Tradition

Tilopa received the teachings of Mahamudra directly from Vajradhara and Vajrayogini. He received the special Dakini hearing lineage. He transmitted both of these teachings to Naropa (1016-1100). And then Naropa passed them on to his Tibetan disciple Marpa Chokyi Lodro (1012-1096).

Similarly, Jetsun Milarepa was the principal Dharma heir of Marpha. These Mahasiddhas are the founding fathers of the Kagyu Tradition of Tibetan Buddhist schools.

This tradition was further carried out by the great practitioners such as Gampopa, Pagmo Drupa, and the Gyalwa Karmapas. To this day, this tradition has remained alive as an unbroken lineage.guru Marpha, milarepa and Gampopa

Guru Marpha and Milarepa

These are one of the best examples of guru-disciple relationships. Even though they were different from each other, they both had equally intense dedication towards Dharma.

Marpa was a gruff householder with a large family. Unlike him, Milarepa is an emaciated ascetic, living alone in caves, high up in the Himalayas. His skin turned green because of the green nettles leaves, which was his meager diet.

Yet, each of them forged their own path based on who they were. Their inspiring life story explains to us how one can devote selflessly to Dharma. Below here are a few of such insightful events of their lives:

Marpha was frustrated as he could not receive the Dharma teachings as he desired. So, he made his first journey to India from Tibet. He wanted to study Vajrayana in the northern side of India. But coming from the highest altitudes, he had to first acclimatize himself. So, he stayed in Nepal for three years. In Nepal, he met few disciples of Naropa and immediately realized the Naropa was the right Guru.

Marpha spent 21 years in India, studying Vajrayana and in the service of Naropa. He studied with Mahasidda Maitripa and learned Mahamudra teachings.

The Mahamudra Teachings:

Mahamudra includes a wide range of interrelated practices that lead to a direct realization of the mind's ultimate nature. Following this practice, we can come close to "suchness". It is the actual way things exist, devoid of preconceptions and elaboration. It is beyond the reach of words and intellect.

Via Mahamudra meditation, we can experience a glimpse of freedom. Guru Marpa sang to express this realization as:

the essence of realization is nowness,
occurring all at once,
with nothing to add or subtract.
Self-liberation, innate great bliss,
Free from hope or fear is the fruition.

Naropa decided to test Marpha during his last stay in India. This was to check his ability to bring the lineage forward to Tibet.

Naropa then manifested the entire mandala of Hevajra, Marpa's main meditational deity. And said to him, "Your personal yidam Hevajra with the nine emanation goddesses has arisen in the sky before you. Will you prostrate to me or to the yidam?

Marpa immediately prostrated to the bright and vivid mandala before him. He thought that it was completely normal for him to see his Yidam guru. Naropa was delighted to see that. He then dissolved the entire mandala back into his own heart. He admonished Marpa that if it were not for the guru, even the names of the enlightened beings would not exist.

Naropa also predicted that even if Marpa had eight sons, his dharma lineage would not be passed on by them. But he also predicted: Although in this life your family lineage will be interrupted, your dharma lineage will flow on like a wide river as long as the teachings of the Buddha remain. Disciples of the lineage will be like the children of lions and garudas, and each generation will be better than the last. He said that it would be Marpa's disciple Milarepa.

When Marpa had first mentioned Milarepa to his guru, Naropa placed his joined hands on his head as he said, "In the pitch-black land of the North is one like the sun rising over the snow. To this being known as Thopaga/Milarepa. I prostrate.

When Milarepa first met Marpha, he certainly did not appear anything like a fearless lion, or garuda, or radiant sun of the dharma. In fact, he was in a state of extreme terror. Milarepa's father was a prosperous landowner. After he died, their wicked uncle and aunt stole the whole property. Milarepa's mother, sister, and himself were then left with bitter poverty. To gain revenge on these people, Milarepa's mother urged him to learn black magic, which he did. Using evil powers he brought huge destruction to his mother's enemies. He killed many people and animals.

Afterward, he was terrified by the horror of his own evil deeds. He feared and looked for the refuge of a dharma master who could save him from the results of his misdeeds. in this exact state of mind, Milarepa met with Marpa.

Marpa treated Milarepa very roughly. He mocked him and called him "Sorcerer". It stuck with him for a long time. He refused to give him any dharma instruction. Once, Milarepa dared to enter the room where Marpha was teachings, he was thrashed and thrown out in rage.

Instead, Marpa gave Milarepa back-breaking tasks to perform. The most famous of them was the construction of a rock tower. Milarepa was asked to rebuild it three times. He was forced intense hardships. Yet, he persevered himself in serving Marpa devotedly.

After years of harsh treating Milarepa, Marpa discerned that his methods finally resulted. These tasks actually were the purification practices. And they helped Milarepa to cleanse and prepare him for Marpa's most profound legacy. Marpa bestowed him with the pith teachings which he had received from Naropa. He taught him the practices of Chakrasamvara and sent him off to the mountains for a strict retreat.

Through untiring effort and intense guru-devotion, Milarepa gained complete self-transformation. He achieved full enlightenment of Buddhahood in a very limited time. He then spent the rest of his life wandering places and revealing Dharma through his songs. His spontaneous songs touched the hearts of many. They are still admired by the Tibetans with abiding affection as one of their own.

 Milarepa and Gampopa

To his prime disciples Gampopa (1079-1153), Jetsun Milarepa passed on the profound instructions. It was handed down to him from Vajradhara, Tilopa, Naropa, and Marpa. Gampopa is also the master of Kadam tradition. Milarepa transmitted extremely special teachings as thirteen successive generations to him.

One of the most powerful teachings Milarepa gave Gampopa was completely non-verbal. Milarepa sent him away to do a retreat. He then suddenly called his disciples back and explained that he had one further set of instructions left. He lifted up his cloth garment and showed Gampopa his scarred back. This was a testimony of the years of unstinting meditation to meet full awakening.

Gampopa was inspired by this and he departed to practice intensively.

The Realized Masters of Kagyu Tradition

Kagyu lineages have a succession of realized masters who have practiced the same way perfected by Marpa and Milarepa. Among them are the late head of the Kagyu tradition, His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje (1923-1981), and His Eminence the late KaluRinpoche (1904-1989). Both of them are recognized by all Tibetan schools as yogis of exceptional attainment.

Kalu Rinpoche described the kind of attitude that must be cultivated by the disciples toward their spiritual master.

 "what we call the Buddha, or the Lama, is not material in the same way as iron, crystal, gold or silver are. You should never think of them with this sort of materialistic attitude. The essence of the Lama or Buddha is emptiness, their nature, clarity, their appearance, the play of unimpeded awareness.

Apart from that, they have no real, material form, shape, or color whatsoever-like the empty luminosity of space."

 We can develop faith, merge our minds with theirs, and let our minds rest in this state. This attitude and practice are most important in a Guru-disciple relationship.

 Source: Images of Enlightenment, Andy Weber and Jonathan Landaw

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