The Kagyud Scriptures

The general Buddhist canon of the Kangyur - "The collection of the translated words of the Buddha," and Tengyur - "The collection of the translated treatises" provides the primary sources for the Kagyu lineage.

In addition to that, the lineage relies on many hundreds of volumes from the Kagyu masters, starting with the Indian mahasiddhas, Tilopa, Naropa, as well as from the Tibetan yogis, Marpa, Milarepa, Gampopa, the Karmapas, and other great masters of all the kagyu lineages.

Some of the most distinguished works of the Kagyu Tibetan masters are the works of Marpa, the Vajra Songs of Milarepa, the Collected Works of Gampopa, of the Karmapas, of Drikhung Kyöppa Jigten Sumgön, and of Drukpa Künkhyen Padma Karpo, and the works of many other masters too numerous to be counted.

The Karmapas played a very important role in the preservation of the lineage through contributing to the Kagyu lineage scriptures. For example, the first Karmapa - Düsum Khyenpa (1110-1193), the second - Karma Pakshi (1206-1282), and the ninth, Wangchuk Dorje (1556-1603) are known for their exceptional accomplishments in meditation and their contribution of writings mainly focused on the practice lineage. The third, Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339), the seventh, Chödrak Gyatso (1454-1506), and the eighth, Mikyö Dorje (1507-1554), are renowned for their scholastic works in sutra and tantra commentaries. The tenth, Chöying Dorje (1604-1674) was a great artist and poet.

Later in 19th century master, Jamgon Kongtrul the Great (1813-1899) compiled the "Treasury of The Kagyu Mantraya," which became one of the main sources of instructions, tantric empowerments, and sadhanas for the Kagyu lineage.

Tantra and Mahamudra Journeys

The Kagyu lineage practices the quintessential points of both sutra and tantra teachings, with a special focus on the tantric teachings of the Vajrayana and Mahamudra teachings. In this tradition, there are two major paths: the path of skilful means and the path of liberation.

(1) The Path Of Skilful Means is the path of tantra or vajrayana that is rich in methods or skilful means. This path includes the journey on the four levels of tantras:

  1. Kirya-tantra, activity or action tantra,
  2. Charya-tantra, engagement or performance tantra,
  3. Yoga-tantra, intensive spiritual practice,
  4. Anuttarayoga-tantra, unsurpassed or unexcelled yoga tantra. The last tantra has three main parts, the father tantra, the mother tantra and the non-dual tantra.

The Kagyu lineage emphasizes these three tantras in general and the mother and the non-dual tantra in specific. All tantric practices are basically comprised of two main elements - training in the Development Stage or Utpatti-krama, the visualization practices, and training in the Completion Stage or Sampanna-krama, the fulfillment, perfection, or dissolving stage practices.

The Development Stage of the Tantric Yidams - enlightened mind manifesting in different forms of the deity- practice in the Kagyu lineage is taught through a variety of Tantras and Yidam practices. The three main Tantric Yidam practices that are unique to the Kagyu School are Vajrayogini, Cakrasambhava and Gyalwa Gyamtso. There are also some tantric protector practices such as the different forms of Mahakalas, and others.

The Completion Stage of the innermost tantric practice is taught to be the most sacred and profound of all levels of tantric practice. This includes the practices of Prana, Nadi and Bindu. One of the heart essences of Kagyu lineage practices is the Completion Stage Sampanakrama practice of the Anuttarayoga Mother tantra, which is known as the "Six Dharmas Of Naropa" widely known in the west as the Six Yogas Of Naropa. This lineage of tantra continues in the present day in all schools of Kagyu and especially in the Karma Kagyu lineage.

(2) The Path Of Liberation གྲོལ་ལམ། is the practice of the most renowned Mahamudra, or The Great Seal, which is the highest meditation training and the unique feature of the Kagyu tradition. In Gampopa's lineage, there are three ways of giving the Mahamudra instructions or the three types of Mahamudra.

These three types of Mahamudra traditions are

  1. the Sutra Mahamudra;
  2. the Mantra Mahamudra;
  3. he Essence Mahamudra.

Gampopa, whose coming was prophesied by the Buddha, taught Mahamudra in these three different ways and this has become a tradition in the Kagyu lineage. This tradition and the lineage is continued to the present day. While taught in all Kagyu Schools, it is taught very clearly in the Karma Kagyu lineage.

Both aspects of Tantra and Mahamudra teachings are connected to the direct understanding and realization of the nature of the mind, known in this tradition as the "ordinary mind" and the "vajra mind".

These two main tracks of meditation practice and instruction are common to all schools of the Kagyu lineage in general, with respect to the terms of the Four Tantras or the pattern of ground, path, and fruition Mahamudra key instructions. However, there are slight differences in how these aspects are presented and their methods of approach to Tantra and Mahamudra.