His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa,is the head of the 900 year old Karma Kagyu Lineage and a guide to millions of Buddhists around the world. Currently, the Karmapa resides in his temporary home at Gyuto Monastery in India after making a dramatic escape from Tibet in the year 2000. Karma Triyana Dharmachakra is his North American seat.
The Kagyu Lineage traces its origin back to the historic Buddha, Shakyamuni through Marpa, the great translator and yogi, who brought the unbroken lineage from India to Tibet.
Marpa The Translator
Marpa first trained as a translator under Drogmi Yeshe (993-1050), and then traveled three times to India and four times to Nepal in search of buddhist teachings. He is said to have studied with a hundred and eight masters and yogis, but his principal teachers were Naropa and Maitripa.
Tilopa and Naropa
From Naropa, Marpa received the lineage of tantric teachings called the Four Special Transmissions (bK’a-babs-bzhi): the yogas of 1) illusory body and transference of consciousness, 2) dream, 3) luminosity, and 4) inner heat. Naropa obtained these teachings directly from Tilopa (988-1069), who in turn had received them from two original sources, called the direct and indirect lineage. The direct lineage and original source of the teachings was Buddha Vajradhara. The indirect lineage comes from four main teachers of Tilopa called the four special transmission lineages.” Both Tilopa and Naropa are some of the greatest panditas, scholars, and siddhas, accomplished saints, of Nalanda, the famous Buddhist university of ancient India.
Marpa brought these lineages to Tibet, passing them on to his primary disciple and lineage holder, Milarepa (1040-1123), the most renowned and accomplished of Tibet’s tantric yogis, who achieved enlightenment in one lifetime. Milarepa held the lineage and tradition of the Practice Lineage. Some of the other great students of Marpa were Ngog Choku Dorjey, Tsurton Wangey and Meton Chenpo, who held the Marpa’s tradition of the Teaching Lineage. This is how the two great systems of the practice lineage and the teaching lineage were founded in Kagyu lineage.
The great master Gampopa (1084-1161), also known as Dakpo Lhaje, and Rechungpa (1084-1161) were the principal students of Milarepa. Gampopa was prophesized in the sutras by Buddha. He pioneered in establishing the framework of the lineage by unifying Milarepa’s Mahamudra lineage with the stages of the path tradition of the Kadampa lineage. This lineage and tradition is known as the Dhakpo Kagyu.
Gampopa had three heart disciples: Düsum Khyenpa, Phakmo Drupa and Saltong Shogom. Düsum Khyenpa (1110-1193), also known as Khampa Usey (literally, the “white-haired Khampa”), became known as the First Karmapa, who established the Karma Kagyu lineage.
This information borrowed from www.kagyuoffice.org