The Barom Kagyu Lineage
The history of the lineage is central to
understanding the importance of Venerable Sonam Tenzin Rinpoche’s endeavours
to bring the Barom Kagyu lineage to the west. The Kagyu lineages are
historically known as the practice lineages, in which oral instruction is of
pre-eminent importance. This emphasis is reflected in the literal meaning of
Kagyu. The first syllable, ‘Ka’, refers to the scriptures of the Buddha and the
oral instructions of the guru. The second, ‘gyu’, means lineage or tradition.
Together, these syllables mean the lineage of oral instructions. The lineage
is the vehicle by which the Buddha’s teachings are passed down from
generation to generation.
From the Buddha, the dharma
From the dharma, the realised sangha
From the sangha, the presence of jnana nature – the essence;
When this jnana is ultimately made manifest
There is supreme enlightenment
Endowed with every ability to accomplish
The good for each and everyone
- Uttara Tantra
The Kagyu lineage originated with the great yogi
Tilopa, born in Bengal, India in 988 AD. Tilopa received and emphasised in
his personal practice the special transmissions handed down through
Dharmakaya Buddha Vajradhara – the Guhyasamaja Tantra transmissions
descending from the mahasiddha Nagarjuna, the clear light and bardo doctrines
of the mahasiddha Lawapa, the heruka Chakrasamvara lineages descending from
the mahasiddha Luipada, the mahamudra lineages of the mahasiddha Shavari, and
the inner heat (tummo) doctrines of the Hevajra Tantra as transmitted through
Krishnacharya. He spent years in intensive practice of meditation and
eventually achieved enlightenment.
These teachings were passed on from Tilopa to
Naropa and were systemised as The Six Yogas of Naropa that are considered
central practices in the Kagyu lineage. Naropa, born to an aristocratic
family in 1016, renounced the worldly life at a young age and dedicated
himself to intense study and practice. The feats of devotion and the many
hardships he endured in his pursuit of spiritual perfection are legendary
amongst Tibetans. In his later life, he trained many disciples the most
famous of whom is Marpa the Translator.
Marpa Chokyi Lodoe (1012 –1099) travelled three
times to India and four times to Nepal in search of religious teachings. He
studies at the feet of one hundred and eight spiritual masters and adepts,
principally Naropa and Maitrepa. He subsequently returned to Tibet where he
spread the dharma teachings. The lineages of tantric teachings he received
from Naropa he passed on to his foremost disciple Milarepa (1040-1123), the
most celebrated and accomplished of tibet’s tantric yogis, who, like Naropa,
achieved the ultimate goal of enlightenment in one life time.
Lineage of the Kagyu order. Above the central
figure of Milarepa are Vajradhara and Marpa, and the Five Sisters protective
To his right, Naropa above Gampopa, to his left, Tilopa above Rechung.
Milarepa’s transmission was continued by Gampopa, a
skilled physician who first received teachings from Kadampa and later
Mahamudra and the six yogas of Naropa from Milarepa. The great master Gampopa
(1040-1123), also known as Dakpo Lhaje, established the framework of the
Kagyu lineage by unifying Milarepa’s Mahamudra lineage with the Kadampa
lineage. This lineage came to be known as Dakpo Kagyu, the mother lineage of
the Kagyu tradition.
The Dakpo Kagyu tradition gave rise to four major
schools founded by the illustrious disciples of Gampopa. The Barom Kagyu
lineage was founded by Barom Dharma Wangchuk, one of these four realised
practitioners. Thus, a tradition that has been passed in succession from
Tilopa to Naropa, Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa comes to us in the west through
Barom Dharma Wangchuk and the lamas of the Barom Kagyu lineage.
Barom Dharma Wangchuk and a thangka depicting the Barom Kagyu Lineage