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Master Marba Lotsawa founded the Kagyu Sect in the middle of 11th century. Kagyu means Lineage of the (Buddha’s) Word. This is an oral tradition which is very much concerned with the experiential dimension of meditation. Its monasteries are usually painted white, and monks wore white monk robes when practising Buddhism, therefore, it is also called “the White Sect”.

The three famous major masters of the Kagyu Sect are Marba, Milarepa and Dagpo Lhajay. Among whom, Marba had been to India for three times to learn from many eminent masters like Naroba, who ranked the 84th achievement masters of Tantric Hinduism. While the supreme master of the former was a strong-minded yoga gymnosophist with firm standpoint, who brought numerous supreme Tantric Hinduism to the snowy highland, offering boundless beneficence to Tibetan Buddhism and the Kagyu Sect. Milarepa, the disciple of Marba, however, was an achievement master. Being an apotheosis for all gymnosophists, he was regarded as the first generation Buddha through religious cultivation, holding a grand position in the hearts of the faithful believers. Moreover, Dagpo Lhajay, Milarepa’s disciple taught by his spirit, who was highly praised as the shining sun in the sky, carried forward the tenets of the Kagyu Sect and cultivated numerous outstanding disciples, making the reputation of the Kagyu Sect well-known in the snowfield.

Typical aspects of the Kargyu tradition are the practice of Mahamudra (not like Dzogchen of the Nyingma) and the Six Yogas of Naropa. Later the Kargyu lineage is divided into 12 lineages which basically categorized into 2 as four primary schools of the Dagpo Kargyu and eight secondary schools of the Dagpo Kargyu, where the four primary schools of the Dagpo Kargyu are Karma Kamtsang, Barom Kargyu, Tshalpa Kargyu and Phagdru Kargyu. Then Eight secondary schools are Drikung Kargyu, Drukpa Kargyu, Martsang Kargyu, Shugseb Kargyu, Taklung Kargyu, Trophu Kargyu, Yabzang Kargyu and Yelpa Kargyu. But in the present day existing Kargyu lineage schools are Karma Kargyu (with leader as the Karmapa), the Drikung Kargyu and the Drukpa Kargyu schools.

Others, on the contrary, got lost or confluences with other religious branches, only existing for a short period. Karma Gagyu took the lead in adopting the Living Buddha Reincarnation, taking the Black Hat Living Buddha as its chief. The title of the Black Hat Living Buddha has been passed down to the 17th generation, the first recognized Living Buddha inland after the reform and opening, who is learning sutra in the Tsurphu Monastery at present.

Kagyu monasteries are mostly in Kham, eastern Tibet. Tsurphu and Ralung are in central Tibet:

  • Drigung Monastery — the seat of the Könchog Tenzin Kunzang Thinley Lhundrub
  • Palpung Monastery — the seat of the Tai Situpa and Jamgon Kongtrul
  • Ralung Monastery — the seat of the Gyalwang Drukpa
  • Surmang Monastery — the seat of the Trungpa tülkus
  • Tsurphu Monastery — the seat of H.H. the Gyalwa Karmapa

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