The Karma Kagyu tradition refers to the Diamond Way level. It is one of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhist and is the tradition of the oral transmission of the teachings. It includes both the old (Tib. Nyingma) and new (Tib. Sarma) teachings, which had reached Tibet. This lineage is primarily focused on practice, where a special attention is paid to meditation and the direct experience of mind’s nature under the guidance of a teacher. Therefore it was called “oral school” or “whispering lineage”, meaning unbroken oral transmission of the teachings to the most gifted students.
The unbroken transmission lineage of Karma Kagyu traces back to Buddha Shakyamuni – the Buddha of our historical period. A famous Indian yogi and mahasiddha Tilopa (928-1009) was the first teacher of this tradition. Afterwards Naropa (956-1040) and Maitripa (1007–1085) have been practice holders, then later in Tibet – a layman Marpa (1012-1097), a yogi called Milarepa (1052-1135) and a monk Gampopa (1079-1153).
Gampopa’s three main students started four «greater» and eight «smaller» Kagyu schools. One of Gampopa’s most gifted students, Dusum Khyenpa, became the 1st Karmapa «king of yogis of Tibet» and the first consiously reincarnated lama. Tsurphu monastery, the main residence of this school, witnessed sixteen reincarnations of the Karmapa. The Karmapas have been lineage holders and thus have preserved the Karma Kagyu oral tradition up until now. All of the Karmapas are considered to be emanations of Loving Eyes (Tib. Chenrezig, Sanskrit Avalokiteshvara) – the Buddha of compassion and undiscriminating wisdom.
In 1994 the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Thaye Dorje was enthroned at Karmapa’s International Buddhist Institute (New Delhi, India). The second most important lama in the Karma Kagyu tradition is Shamarpa, the Red Hat Lama and emanation of Amitabha- the Buddha of Limitless Light.
The 1st Shamarpa was a student of the 3rd Karmapa in the 13th Century and since then these two teachers have been reborn side by side, taking turns in teaching each other.