The Treasury of Lives

The Marpa Kagyu (mar pa bka’ brgyud) tradition originated in the eleventh century with the Tibetan translator Marpa Chokyi Lodro, who studied in India with Nāropa. Marpa’s disciple Milarepa famously attained enlightenment in the caves of southern Tibet after renouncing a life of violent revenge; his disciple Gampopa merged the lay siddha practice of his master with the Kadampa monasticism and scholarship that he had previously studied. Gampopa founded the first Kagyu monastery, Daklha Gampo in southern Tibet. Following Gampopa the tradition split into multiple autonomous subsects known as the four primary (Barom, Pakdru, Karma, and Tselpa), and eight secondary traditions (Drigung, Drukpa, Martsang, Shukseb, Taklung, Tropu, Yabzang, and Yelpa Kagyu). In addition to the above system, the Ngok (rngog) lineage begun by Ngok Choku Dorje, a disciple of Marpa, was a distinct Marpa Kagyu tradition that existed independently for several centuries. Also often considered an independent tradition was the Rechung Nyengyu (ras chung snyan brgyud), initiated by the disciples of  Milarepa’s disciple Rechung Dorje Drakpa. All Marpa Kagyu traditions claim allegiance to the tantric teachings of the Indian Mahāsiddha tradition, primarily that of Nāropa, in the form of the Six Doctrines of Nāropa (nA  ro chos drug) and the doctrine of Mahāmudrā. The Kagyu were also heavily involved in the transmission of the Cakrasaṃvara, Hevajra, among other tantras of the Second Propagation era.

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