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The Kagyu is one of six main schools of Tibetan or Himalayan Buddhism, separating into several sub-sects, today existing in the Karma Kagyu, Drikung Kagyu, and Drukpa Lineage.

In early Buddhism, the term was applied to any communication of an esoteric teaching from teacher to student, but today Kagyu nearly always refers to Dagpo Kagyu or Shangpa Kagyu.

As a Buddhist tradition, Kagyu began with Marpa Lotsawa in Tibet, who trained as a translator and searched for religious teachings in India and Nepal. With Jetsun Milarepa and Gampopa, Marpa Lotswana is considered one of three founders of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Marpa's area of activity was centered in southern Tibet, just north of Bhutan. Following Tibetan lineage practice, Marpa intended to pass his teachings to his eldest son, Darma Dode, but his son died at an early age, so his lineage was passed on through Milarepa, a co-founder of the Kagyu tradition.

However, when young Darma Dode died in an accident, his father used his abilities as a lama to prolong his son's life long enough to teach him how to transfer his consciousness into the body of a dead pigeon. The pigeon flew to India, dying next to a sixteen-year-old boy who had recently died. Transferring his consciousness once again, into the body of the young boy, the boy was brought back to life as an Indian teacher Tiphupa. The boy returned home to care for his elderly parents, but they recognized that he was very different from what he had been, and considered him to be a guru. Tiphupa practiced the traditions of Marpa, as well others that he learned in India, becoming a Mahasiddha, and a respected teacher himself, one of his students being Rechungpa, founder of the Shamngpa Kagyu lineage.

Marpa's students who played the most significant part in the development of the Kagyu tradition were Milarepa, Ngok Choku Dorje, Tshurton Wangi Dorje, and Meton Tsonpo.

The predominant Dagpo Kagyu lineage is found today in the Karma Kagyu, Drikung Kagyu, and Drukpa lineages. The others have largely been absorbed into one or the other of these three schools.

There are four primary branches of Dagpo Kagyu: Karma Kagyu, Barom Kagyu, Tshaipa Kagyu, and Phagdru Kagyu.

Eight secondary branches include Drikung Kagpu, Lingre Kagyu, Drukpa Lineage, Shuksep Kagyu, Taklung Kagyu, Trophu Kagyu, Yazang Kagyu, and Yelpa Kagyu.

The Shangpa Kagyu school has a different source from the Marpa or Dagpo schools, descending from two female Siddhas in 11th century Tibet. However, the Shangpa Kagyu lineage was transmitted one-to-one. Rather than being established as an independent sect, its teachings were passed down by lamas belonging to a variety of schools.

The chief doctrine of Kagyu is that of Mahamudra (The Great Seal), which refers to teachings that represent the culmination of the practices of the Sarma schools of Tibetan Buddhism. In the Kagyu school, the practice is also known as Sahajayoga (Co-emergence Yoga), which focuses on the development of single-pointedness of mind, the transcendence of all conceptual elaboration, the cultivation of a perspective that all phenomena are of a single taste, and the fruition of the path, which is beyond any contrived acts of meditation. Through these four stages, the practitioner can attain the perfect realization of Mahamudra.

The practices of the Six Yogas of Naropa are important in all of the Kagyu schools. These are a set of advanced Tibetan tantric practices conveyed to Marpa Lotsawa.

The Kagyu lineage is found in both the Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions, but are seen more specifically in Vajrayana Buddhism. For the purposes of categorization, it will be listed as a branch of Vajrayana Buddhism.

Any of the schools, sects, sub-sects, or groups related to the Kagyu lineage are appropriate topics for this category.



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