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Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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The Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism traces its origin back to Buddha Shakyamuni.

The most important source for the specific practices that characterize the Kagyu order is the great Indian yogi Tilopa (988-1069), one of the 84 mahasiddhas of India, who first developed the spontaneous insight of enlightened realization.

He gained this realization through the methods that were taught by the historical Buddha Shakyamuni to his closest students, methods that continued to be practiced during the time of Tilopa.

In turn, the realization of these masters was passed down to their disciples through the great forefathers of the lineage:

Indian mahasiddha Naropa, Marpa-the great translator, Milarepa-the greatest yogi of Tibet, and then to Gampopa-whose coming was prophesied by the Buddha.

The lineage of the Kagyu emphasizes the continuity of oral instructions passed on from master to student, from whence the name "Kagyu" derives. 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 Kunkhyen Pema 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.

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.

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: (1) the path of skilful means and (2) the path of liberation.

The Four Main Schools

(1) The Phaktru ('phag gru) Kagyu (2) The Kamtsang (kam tshang) or Karma (kar ma) Kagyu (3) The Tsalpa (tshal pa) Kagyu and (4) The Barom ('ba' rom) Kagyu
Eight Additional Schools:

Drikhung, Drukpa, Taklung, Yasang, Trophu, Shuksep ,Yelpa and Martsang

Zhabdrung was born in Tibet in 1594 into a princely family of Gya who ruled the Drukpa Kaygupa school.

He was born at the monastery of Gardong in U province. His grandfather, Mipham Choegyal, was then the prince abbot at Ralung monastery.

From an early age, Shabdrung was groomed to succeed his grandfather to the throne.

He studied religion and art, becoming skilled in the art of painting and sculpting. He became the 18th prince abbot of Ralung at the age of 12 years after the death of his grandfather.

The event that changed his life was his identification as the incarnation of the great Drukpa scholar, Kuenkhen Pema Karpo, who himself was the reincarnation of the founder of the Drukpa Kagyud school, Tsangpa Gyarey Yeshey Dorjee.

The reincarnation was challenged by another contender, Pagsam Wangpo who was the son of powerful principality in Tibet.

He also claimed to be the reincarnation of Pema Karpo and was installed in Pema Karpo's monastery as the incarnate with the support of the ruler of Tsang province.

This became increasingly difficult for Shabdrung and he decided to come to Bhutan in 1616 where he had so many disciples.

Thirty years after his arrival from Tibet, Shabdrung had unified most parts of Bhutan under his rule, and had subdued and united the other religious schools. He repelled the repeated Tibetan invasions and built fortress in each valley of the country thus establishing firm political and religious control over the region.

These fortresses, which still exist today, are a unique feature of our country.

The Shabdrung also gave the country a unique national identity in form of social and cultural life which greatly contributed towards protection of Bhutan's sovereignty over the centuries.

An outstanding and valiant saint soldier, a statesman with foresight, a great scholar and a great builder, Shabdrung is rightly regarded as the architect of a unified nation state of Bhutan.

ZHABDRUNG NGAWANG NAMGYEL- Great figure of Bhutan and role played for the country!!

Zhabdrung Rinpoche meaning "the precious jewel at whose feet on submits", as he is reverently referred to, was not only a great spiritual personality but also a statesman and leader of exceptional ability.

He not only successfully crushed several foreign invasions, but in the process, being a great architect and builder, set up a chain of sturdy monastery fortresses called dzongs which became the canters of religious and civil authority.

He brought peace, security and stability to the country by establishing a strong and dynamic administrative system and by codifying a set of strict but fair and just laws of such enduring values based on the Buddhist tradition that they have formed the framework for the present judicial system of Bhutan.

He promulgated the Dharma and perpetuated the Buddhist order by establishing the sangha community which to this day plays a very important role in the country.

Indeed, the traditions. Customs and culture of present-day Bhutan all carry the mark and influence of Zhabdrung Rinpoche who is truly considered by all the people to be the founder and father of the Bhutanese nation.

The Dual system of administration which Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel established, whereby a spiritual leader looked after the clergy and a temporal ruler looked after the affairs of the state, endured till the establishment of hereditary monarchy in 1907.

Although numerous scholar-saints and sages of different traditions of Buddhism appeared in Bhutan from the 9th to the 16th centuries A.D. and established many monasteries throughout the country,

the first Sangha was instituted by Zhabdrung Rinpoche with only 30monks in 1620 A.D. when the completed the first monastic centre at Chari dorjidan about 14 kilometres north of Thimphu,

the present capital of Bhutan, under the chief abbotship of Khenchen Pekar Jungne (the first Je Khempo i. e. Sangharaja).

On completion of the Punakha Dzong in 1637, the Sangha Community with 6oo monks was shifted to Punakha which continues till now to be the winter residence of the Central Monastic Body to this day, while Thimphu is their summer residence.

Subsequently the number of monks increased as and when Dzongs were completed in other parts of the country.

In order to keep the Drukpa Kargyupa tradition of Buddhist intact for posterity Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel appointed the following disciples in different fields:

1) the great Arhat (Neten Chenpo) Pekar Jungne.
2) the great Bhikshu (Gelong Chenpo) Dechen Lhundrub.
3) the great Siddha (Drubthob Chenpo) Jinpa Gyaltshen, and
4) the great renouncer (Jatang Chenpo) Pekar Tashi.

While the above four are the chief upholders of the lineage, the following are the sons of the upholders of the Orders (Ringlug):

1) the Kasoel Dzinpa (upholder of oral tradition)- Damchoe Gyaltshen.
2) the Dongyu Dzinpa (upholder of the tantric meaning) sonam Odzer.
3) the Domgyu Dzinpa (Upholder of the continuity of pratimoksha) sakya Odzer, and
4) The Chagsoel Dzinpa (upholder of the Law)- Thinley Drukgyel.

The Bhutanese call their country Druk Yul (Land of the Thunder Dragon).

The name was derived from a legend- Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorji, a 12th century saint of the Kargyupa sect of Mahayana Buddhism in its a tantric form, was consecrating a new monastery when he heard thunder in the sky.

As popular belief associated thunder with the voice of the dragon (Druk), he took this to be an omen and changed the name of his sect to Drukpa Kargyupa.

As has been seen, it was this sect that ultimately became the State Religion of Bhutan and gave its name to the country.

Today, Bhutan is the only nation in the world where Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism is practiced as the State Religion.

From the time when Guru Padmasambhava came to Bhutan Buddhism has wielded a profound influence both on the people's way of life as well as on the growth of the country's religion cultural and traditional customs.

The presence of religion is evident in every facet of Bhutanese life and Buddhist values which form the basis of Bhutanese society are inculcated in the younger generations from their formative years.