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Kagyu Lineage

So I’ve started my 3 year course in Tibetan Buddhism and am really enjoying month 1. I’ve come across many interesting things but also some queries that someone here may be able to help me with.

’m surprised that month 1 doesn’t include commentary on the Kagyu lineage or some history of Kagyu Samye Ling and the relevant people there. I decided to do my own research and this has led to a few interesting questions and discoveries. I’ve gone down a rabbit hole so to speak and think I may end up down here a while!

Firstly, how do you pronounce Kagyu Samye Ling?

Is it Kag-you Sam-yee Ling, or perhaps Kag-oo Sarm-yay for example?

So the supreme head of Karma Kagyu is the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa who has direct lineage to the primordial Buddha Vajradhara (dharmakaya), with a lineage that includes Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa. The current Buddha Gautama is a nirmanakaya (body form), and is the 4th such Buddha in this Bhadrakalpa (a kalpa being an age of 1000 buddhas). The previous Buddha was Kassapa and the next is foretold to be Maitreya who is currently a Boddhisatva and is located in the Tusita realm which can be reached through meditation. As the primordial Buddha, is Vajradhara the only dharmakaya and all other named Buddhas are nirmanakaya, I’m not quite following that relationship between the two? Or does each Buddha exist in three forms and Vajradhara is only the current dharmakaya? Is there a named Sambhogkaya that sits alongside Vajradhara and Gautama?

Kagyu Samye Ling was established by Dr Akong Tulku Rinpoche and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, was the first Tibetan Buddhist centre in the west and named Samye after the first monastery established in Tibet.

The main difference between Theravada and Mahayana I can see thus far is that Theravada believes Gautama to have been born a human and became enlightened during his lifetime, whereas Mahayana believes he was a Boddhisatva and came to Earth to deliver the dharma, being born with perfect body and mind and circumstances so to reinforce his teachings. If Theravada do not believe in the many rebirths of Gautama, how is it that the many historical Buddhas and realms are referenced in the Pali Canon which is a key part of the teachings?

A few interesting links if you’re interested:

An interesting start to the course and looking forward to month 2 coming soon.


  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited May 2020

    I'm in part of the same lineage because my teacher who I am an online learner with is of that lineage. She is a student of Khenpo Gyamptso Tsultrim Rinpoche. Being a distance/online learner I am not sure on the pronunciations. I don't know the answer to your questions about the named bodies of Buddhas. I know about nirmanakaya, samboghakaya, and dharmakaya but not as specific beings. And I have heard about the five families of Buddhas and these you can think of as different aspects of all beings minds and that we maybe "specialize" in some of these qualities.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Perhaps address questions no matter how trivial, to course tutors or to the web sites you mentioned. o:)

  • Lee82Lee82 Veteran

    Hi @lobster

    They do have a forum for comments and answers, however page 1 of threads includes posts as far back as 2008, showing how little it is used! I have posted there and will see if anyone engages although someone else posted a week ago and the teacher hasn't responded yet. Thanks :-)

  • Lee82Lee82 Veteran

    Ok so taking it further we get to the five tathagatas, or emanations, of the five qualities of Vajradhara, thanks @Jeffrey.

    Vairocana, all accommodating wisdom and teaching of the dharma
    Amoghasiddhi, all accomplishing wisdom and fearlessness
    Amitabha, inquisitive wisdom and meditation
    Ratnasambhava, equanimus wisdom and giving
    Akshobhya, non dualist wisdom and humility

    So at the time of The Buddha (Gautama) there is the trikaya of dharmakaya (Vajradhara and his five emanations), sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya (Gautama), also referred to as the mind, speech and body.

    The only physical Buddha is Gautama, here on earth, the rest are celestial and exist in non-physical realms.

    Am I on the right track here?

    If Gautama achieved parinirvana and ceases to exist other than his embodiment in the teachings, what becomes of the dharmakaya and sambhogakaya, do they too cease to exist, being part of the trikaya? Or does the mind, the Buddha nature that exists in the dharmakaya, continue indefinitely and through all aeons and all future nirmanakaya?

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran

    I think the Jewel Ornament of Liberation talks about in the section of Buddha Nature that sentient beings can be thought of as having undifferentiated (no high and low) Dharmakaya radiate on them..

    Have you heard of that text? It's a text for Kagyu and I think it would explain about the 5 families of Buddhas. Each being belongs to a family but here (and I've never heard the explanation) they are according to JOoL text talking about not the five qualities of mind but rather the families: incorrigible, mutable/according to teacher, Hinayana, secret, and Mahayana families. I've never heard explained the connection between these two contexts of 5 families of Buddha.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    OK whilst @Lee82 gets sidetracked by 'teachings' ...
    The five family bodies or Buddhas represent types of being:

    For example Kagyu is predominately Heart and Faith based.

    Just believe that you are going in the stream and washing away delusions ...


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