The Kagyupa School of Tibetan Buddhism
The Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism stems from the teachings of Marpa Chokyi Lodoe (1012-1099) and Khyungpo Nyaljor (978-1079). Marpa was a translator who travelled to India on three occasions and also to Nepal in search of religious teachings. He studied under one hundred and eight spiritual adepts, the foremost of those being Maitripa, and received the lineage of Tantric teachings called the Four Commissioned Lineages directly from Naropa, who had been given them by the great Mahasiddha Tilopa.
Marpa brought these lineages to Tibet and passed them to his foremost disciple Jetsun Milarepa (1040-1123), the most celebrated and accomplished of Tibet's Tantric yogis. When Milarepa and his sister were still small, their father died and their uncle stole their wealth and possessions leaving the two children and their mother to face many hardships. Needless to say, Milarepa was not at all happy about this turn of events and decided to take revenge. He learned the art of black magic and the making of hailstorms from two magicians and used these powers to kill his uncle's son, daughter-in-law and thirty-three others by causing their to house collapse. Out of fear and retribution, the neighbours turned angrily against him so he caused such a hailstorm that the ice lay waist deep on the fields.
Later on, Milarepa realised that this was probably not the best way to go about things, and he repented, vowing to practise Dharma to atone for his wrongdoing. He went to see an adept by the name of Rongton Lhaga, and asked him for instruction. "The Dharma I teach," replied the Lama, "is the Great Perfection. If one meditates on it during the day, one can become Buddha that same day, if one meditates on it during the night, one can become Buddha that very night. Fortunate beings whose past actions have created suitable conditions do not even need to meditate as they will be liberated simply by hearing it. Since it is a Dharma for those of eminently superior faculties, I will teach it to you."
After receiving the empowerments and instructions, Mila thought to himself, "It took me two weeks to master black magic, one week for making hail. Now here is a teaching even easier. If you meditate by day you become a Buddha that day, if you meditate by night you become a Buddha that night, and if your karma is right, you do not even need to meditate", so he stayed in bed.
A few days later the Lama said to him, "You really are a great sinner, and I have praised my teaching a little too highly, so now I will not guide you. You should go to the hermitage of Trowolung in Lhodrak, where there is a direct disciple of the Indian siddha Naropa himself. He is the most excellent of teachers, the king of translators, Marpa. He is a siddha and is without rival throughout the three worlds. You and he have a link stemming from actions in former lives, go and see him."
The sound of Marpa the Translator's name alone was enough to suffuse Mila's mind with inexpressible joy. He experienced such bliss that every pore on his body tingled, and immense devotion swept over him, filling his eyes with tears. He set off, wondering when he would meet his teacher face to face.
Marpa and his wife had both dreamt many extraordinary dreams so Marpa knew that Jetsun Mila was on his way and went to await his arrival, pretending to be just ploughing a field. Mila first met Marpa's son who was feeding the cattle. Continuing a little further he saw Marpa ploughing. The moment Mila caught sight of him he experienced tremendous inexpressible joy and bliss; for an instant, all his ordinary thoughts stopped. Nonetheless, he did not realise that this was the Lama in person, and explained to him that he had come to meet Marpa.
"I shall introduce you to him myself", Marpa answered him. "Plough this field for me." Leaving him a jug of beer, he went off. Mila drained the jug to the last drop and set to work. When he had finished, the Lama's son came to call him and they set off together. When Mila was brought into Marpa's presence he placed the soles of Marpa's feet upon the crown of his head and cried out, "Oh, Master! I am a great sinner from the west! I offer you my body, speech and mind. Please feed and clothe me and teach me the Dharma. Give me the way to become buddha in this life!"
"It's not my fault that you think you're such a bad man," Marpa replied. "I didn't ask you to pile up evil deeds on my account! What is all this wrong you have done?" Mila told him the whole story in detail. "Very well," Marpa replied, "in any case to offer your body, speech and mind is a good thing. As to food, clothing and Dharma however, you cannot have all three. Either I give you food and clothing and you look for Dharma elsewhere, or you get your Dharma from me and look for the rest somewhere else. Make up your mind. And if it's the Dharma you choose, whether or not you attain buddhahood in this lifetime will depend on your own perseverance.'
"If that is the case," said Mila, "since I came for the Dharma, I will look for provisions and clothing elsewhere." He stayed a few days and went out begging through the whole area, which brought him twenty one measures of barley. He used fourteen of them to buy a four-handled copper pot. Placing six measures in a sack, he went back to offer that and the pot to Marpa.
For some time Marpa was harsh and brutal towards Mila, until Mila wept in despair. Marpa then came to him saying "I have been a bit rough with you, do not be sad. I will give you the instructions little by little, just be patient! Since you're a good worker, I'd like you to build me a house to give to my son. When you have finished, I shall give you the instructions, and food and clothing as well."
After further encouragement in the same vein, he had Mila build three houses one after the other; a circular one at the foot of the eastern bill, a semicircular one in the west and a triangular one in the north. But each time, as soon as the house was half finished, Marpa would berate Mila furiously, and make him demolish whatever he had built and take all the earth and stones he had used back to where he had found them.
An open sore appeared on Mila's back from carrying the stones, but he thought, "If I show it to the Master, he will only scold me again. I could show it to his wife but that would just be making a fuss." So, weeping, but not showing his wounds, he implored Marpa's wife to help him request the teachings. She asked Marpa to teach him, and Marpa replied, "Prepare a good meal and bring him here!" He gave Mila the transmission and vows of refuge.
A few days later, Marpa went for a walk and took Mila with him as his attendant. He went south-east and, coming to an enclosed hollow, he said, "Make me a grey, square tower here out of clay, nine storeys high. With a pinnacle on top, making ten. You will not have to take this building down, and when you have finished I shall give you the instructions. I shall also give you provisions when you go into retreat to practise."
Mila had already dug the foundations and started building when three of his teacher's more advanced pupils came by. For fun, they rolled up a huge stone for him and Mila incorporated it in the foundations. When he had finished the first two storeys, Marpa came to see him and asked him where the stone in question had come from. Mila told him what had happened.
"My disciples practising the yoga of the two phases shouldn't be your servants!" Marpa yelled. "Get that stone out of there and put it back where it came from!" Mila demolished the whole tower, starting from the top. He pulled out the big foundation stone and took it back to where it had come from. Then Marpa told him, "Now bring it here again and put it back in." So Mila hauled it back to the site and put it in just as before. He went on building until he had finished the seventh storey, by which time he had an open sore on his hip. "Now leave off building that tower," Marpa said, "and instead build me a temple, with a twelve-pillared hall and a raised sanctuary."
Mila built the temple, and by the time he had finished, a sore had broken out on his lower back. At that time some disciples asked Marpa for the empowerment of Samvara and Guhyasamaja. On both occasions, Mila, hoping that his building work had earned him the right to empowerment, took his place in the assembly, but all he received from Marpa were blows and rebukes and he was thrown out both times. His back was now one huge sore with blood and pus running from three places. Nevertheless, he continued working, carrying the baskets of earth in front of him instead.
One day, during a feast offering, Marpa severely reprimanded Lama Ngokpa and some other disciples and was about to start beating them. Mila thought to himself, "With my evil karma, not only do I myself suffer because of my heavy faults and dense obscurations, but now I am also bringing difficulties on Lama Ngokpa and my Guru's consort. Since I am just piling up more and more harmful actions without receiving any teaching, it would he best if I did away with myself."
He prepared to commit suicide. Lama Ngokpa was trying to stop him when Marpa calmed down and summoned them both. He accepted Mila as a disciple, gave him much good advice and named him Mila Dorje Gyaltsen, 'Mila Adamantine Victory Banner." As he gave him the empowerment of Samvara, he made the mandala of its sixty-two deities clearly appear. Mila then received the secret name of Shepa Dorje, 'Adamantine Laughter,' and Marpa conferred all the empowerments and instructions on him just like the contents of one pot being poured into another.
Milarepa practised in the hardest of conditions and attained buddhahood in that very life. He was given the responsibility for Marpa's meditation lineage. Others such as Ngog Choku Dorje, Tsurton Wangey and Meton Chenpo also became holders of Marpa's teaching lineage.
Among Milarepa's disciples, Gampopa (1084- 1161), and Rechungpa (1084-1161) were the most illustrious. The former received the teaching and practice of the Great Seal (Mahamudra) and the Six Yogas of Naropa from Milarepa and synthesised them into one lineage. The resultant combined lineage came to be known as Dakpo Kagyu, the mother lineage of the Kagyu tradition.