Clockwise from upper left: Naropa, Maitripa, Marpa Lotsawa and Niguma.

Karma Kagyu Lamas – The whispering Mahamudra teachers

EN English English

Karma Kagyu lamas are recognized for being masters of the practice of Mahamudra, a mystical path of Tibetan that aims to achieve enlightenment by realizing the essence of mind.

They are often referred to as the “whisperers of Mahamudra,” in reference to the oral transmission of these teachings which is done confidentially and intimately between the teacher and student.

Origin of the Karma Kagyu lineage

The Kagyu school, also transliterated as Kagyü, or Kagyud, which translates to “Oral Lineage” or “Whispered Transmission” school, is one of the main schools of Himalayan or Tibetan Buddhism.

The Kagyu lineages trace themselves back to the 11th century Indian Mahasiddhas Naropa, Maitripa and the yogini Niguma, via their student Marpa Lotsawa (1012–1097), who brought their teachings to Tibet.

The Karma Kagyu was founded by Düsum Khyenpa, 1st Lama. It is headed by the Karmapa; followers believe that the Karmapa’s appearance as the first historical consciously reincarnate lama (tulku) was predicted by Gautama Buddha in the Samadhiraja Sutra.

The spread of the Karma Kagyu teaching

Karma Kagyu or Kamtsang Kagyu is a widely practiced and probably the second-largest lineage within the Kagyu school, one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The lineage has long-standing monasteries in Tibet, China, Russia, Mongolia, India, Nepal and Bhutan, with current centres in over 60 countries.

The spiritual head of the Karma Kagyu is the Gyalwa Karmapa; the 2nd through 10th Karmapas were principal spiritual advisors to successive emperors of China.

The Karma Kagyu are sometimes called the “Black Hat” lamas, in reference to the Black Crown worn by the Karmapa.

Philosophy of the Karma Kagyu

The Karma Kagyu school belongs to the Vajrayana branch of Mahayana Buddhism. It conceives itself as a member of the third turning of the dharmacakra and participates in the Rimé movement.

Important teachings of the Kagyu school include the Buddhist philosophical traditions of Yogacara and Madhyamaka, as well as the tantric tradition of Chakrasamvara, among others.

The Karma Kagyu lineage follows the view of Shentong (empty of other) which was influenced by the work of Dolpopa. This view was defended by the influential Rime philosopher Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé (1813–1899).

However, this wisdom is also free of conceptual elaborations and also “free of the two extremes of nihilism and eternalism.”

This Shentong view has been upheld by various modern Kagyu masters such as Kalu Rinpoche and .

Kagyu’s meditation practice

With regards to presentations of the path, the surviving Dagpo Kagyu schools rely on the Lamrim (stages of the path) format outlined by Gampopa in his Jewel Ornament of Liberation.

The practice of Lojong (Mind training) which derives from the Kadam school is also important.

The central meditative practice in Kagyu is Mahamudra, “the Great Seal”. This doctrine focuses on four principal stages (the Four Yogas of Mahamudra), namely:

  1. The development of single-pointedness of mind
  2. The transcendence of all conceptual elaboration
  3. The cultivation of the perspective that all phenomena are of a “single taste”
  4. The fruition of the path, which is beyond any contrived acts of meditation

It is through these four stages of development that the practitioner is said to attain the perfect realization of mahamudra.

Mahamudra is practiced both independently and as the completion stage of Vajrayana practice.

Within the Karma Kagyu, meditative practice is almost invariably presented in a progressive manner.

Early practice includes samatha, introduction to Buddhist history and philosophy and initiation into the lower tantras – classically across the iṣṭadevatās Avalokiteśvara, Tārā and Amitābha.

This is followed by ngöndro and vipassanā.

During the traditional three-year retreat, retreatants usually focus their practice on the Six Yogas of Naropa.

At the Anuttarayoga Tantra level of practice, the principal iṣṭadevatās of the lineage are Dorje Pakmo, Hevajra and Cakrasaṃvara.

Influential Karma Kagyu Lamas

The supreme lama of the Karma Kagyu is the Karmapa, who always presides as lineage holder once he has reached his majority and received all the necessary training and dharma transmissions.

From the death of one Karmapa until the next takes his seat as lineage holder, one (or more) of the previous Karmapa’s principal disciples holds the lineage.

, 16th Karmapa left the lineage in the hands of four eminent lamas: the 14th , the 12th , the 3rd Jamgon Kongtrul and the 12th Goshir Gyaltsab.

There is controversy over who is the 17th Karmapa, with two major candidates both having been recognized and enthroned by their supporters. Neither candidate has been enthroned at Rumtek Monastery.

The direct master-disciple transmission of the lineage holders of the Karma Kagyu is known as the Golden Rosary of Kagyu Fathers.

At the next level of precedence, all Kagyu Lamas who have been accorded the title Rinpoche (Lit: precious one) are highly regarded as trustworthy teachers.

Those who hold the Khenpo degree have completed the equivalent of a doctorate in Buddhist studies.

There are (both currently and historically) many female Kagyu Lamas such as Sukhasiddhi and Machig Labdrön.

Mindrolling Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche is a living female tulku of the Karma Kagyu.

Probably the most well-known active female Kagyu Lamas in the West are Ani Pema Chödrön and .

This is a glossary of some prominent Lamas related to the Kagyu lineage.

Karmapa

Karmapa is the head of the Karma Kagyu, the largest sub-school of the Kagyupa, itself one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Düsum Khyenpa, 1st Karmapa Lama (1110–1193), was a disciple of the Tibetan master Gampopa.

A talented child who studied Buddhism with his father from an early age and who sought out great teachers in his twenties and thirties, he is said to have attained enlightenment at the age of fifty while practicing dream yoga.

He was henceforth regarded by the contemporary highly respected masters Shakya Śri and Lama Shang as the Karmapa, a manifestation of Avalokiteśvara.

Shamarpa

Fifth Shamarpa

The Shamarpa, also known as Shamar Rinpoche, or more formally Künzig Shamar Rinpoche, is a lineage holder of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and is regarded to be the mind manifestation of Amitābha.

He is traditionally associated with Yangpachen Monastery near Lhasa.

Karma Chagme

The name Karma Chagme refers to a 17th-century Tibetan Buddhist (Vajrayāna) lama and to the tülku lineage which he initiated. Including the first, seven Karma Chagme tülkus have been recognized. The Neydo Kagyu sub-school of the Karma Kagyu was established by the first Karma Chagme, Rāga Asya.

The name refers to a 17th-century Tibetan Buddhist () lama and to the tülku lineage which he initiated.

Including the first, seven Karma Chagme tülkus have been recognized.

The Neydo Kagyu sub-school of the Karma Kagyu was established by the first Karma Chagme, Rāga Asya.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

is a Tibetan teacher and master of the Karma Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism.

He has authored two best-selling books and oversees the Tergar Meditation Community, a global network of Buddhist meditation centers.

Chime Tulku

Chime Tulku Rinpoche is a Buddhist Tulku. Rinpoche was born in 1991 into the family of Jamyang Khechog, an official at Surmang Namgyal Tse monastery.

Rinpoche is a Buddhist Tulku. Rinpoche was born in 1991 into the family of Jamyang Khechog, an official at Surmang Namgyal Tse monastery.

Tsultrim Allione

Lama Tsultrim Allione is an author and teacher who has studied in Tibetan Buddhism's Karma Kagyu lineage. She was born in 1947 in Maine under the name Joan Rousmanière Ewing. She first travelled to India and Nepal in 1967, returned in 1969 and January 1970 she became one of the first American women to be ordained as a Tibetan nun. She was given her vows by the Karmapa, from the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, who gave her the name Karma Tsultrim Chodron. Allione gave back her monastic vows four years later and married. She has given birth to four children, one of whom died from sudden infant death syndrome. Tsultrim Allione continued her studies and Buddhist practice, which led to the 1984 publication of her book Women of Wisdom, a collection of the namtar of six Tibetan Buddhist yogini such as Machig Labdrön, Ayu Khandro Dorje Paldron (1839–1953), Nangsa Obum, Jomo Menmo (1248–1283), Machig Ongjo and Drenchen Rema. This is the work she's most well known for and it has since been translated from English into several foreign languages and expanded in a revised 2nd edition. In 1993, with her husband, David Petit, Tsultrim Allione founded Tara Mandala, a retreat center in southern Colorado, in the United States. As well as offering retreats at Tara Mandala, Allione regularly teaches in the United States and in Europe.

Lama Tsultrim Allione is an author and teacher who has studied in Tibetan Buddhism’s Karma Kagyu lineage.

She was born in 1947 in Maine under the name Joan Rousmanière Ewing. She first travelled to India and Nepal in 1967, returned in 1969 and January 1970 she became one of the first American women to be ordained as a Tibetan nun.

She was given her vows by the Karmapa, from the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, who gave her the name Karma Tsultrim Chodron. Allione gave back her monastic vows four years later and married.

She has given birth to four children, one of whom died from sudden infant death syndrome.

Tsultrim Allione continued her studies and Buddhist practice, which led to the 1984 publication of her book Women of Wisdom, a collection of the namtar of six Tibetan Buddhist yogini such as Machig Labdrön, Ayu Khandro Dorje Paldron (1839–1953), Nangsa Obum, Jomo Menmo (1248–1283), Machig Ongjo and Drenchen Rema.

This is the work she’s most well known for and it has since been translated from English into several foreign languages and expanded in a revised 2nd edition.

In 1993, with her husband, David Petit, Tsultrim Allione founded Tara Mandala, a retreat center in southern Colorado, in the United States.

As well as offering retreats at Tara Mandala, Allione regularly teaches in the United States and in Europe.

Namgyal Rinpoche

Namgyal Rinpoche, Karma Tenzin Dorje (1931–2003), born Leslie George Dawson in Toronto, Canada, was a Tibetan Buddhist lama in the Karma Kagyu tradition.

, Karma Tenzin Dorje (1931–2003), born Leslie George Dawson in Toronto, Canada, was a Tibetan Buddhist lama in the Karma Kagyu tradition.

Bokar Tulku Rinpoche

was heart-son of the Second Kalu Rinpoche and a holder of the Karma Kagyü and Shangpa Kagyü lineages.

Yeshe Losal

Lama Rinpoche is a lama in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and abbot of the Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery and Tibetan Centre, Scotland, the first and largest of its kind in the West.

Tenga Rinpoche

(1932–2012) was a Tibetan teacher (lama) in the Karma Kagyu tradition.

Tai Situpa

Tai Situpa is one of the oldest lineages of tulkus in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism In Tibetan Buddhism tradition, Kenting Tai Situpa is considered as emanation of Bodhisattva Maitreya and Guru Padmasambhava and who has been incarnated numerous times as Indian and Tibetan yogis since the time of the historical Buddha.

Tai Situpa is one of the oldest lineages of tulkus in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism In Tibetan Buddhism tradition, Kenting Tai Situpa is considered as emanation of Bodhisattva Maitreya and Guru Padmasambhava and who has been incarnated numerous times as Indian and Tibetan yogis since the time of the historical Buddha.

Second Beru Khyentse

The Second Beru Khyentse (1947–), born Thupten Sherap is a lineage holder of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and the third reincarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820–1892).

The (1947–), born Thupten Sherap is a lineage holder of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and the third reincarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820–1892).

Mipham Chokyi Lodro

, also known as Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche, was the 14th Shamarpa of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. The Shamarpa is the second most important teacher of the Karma Kagyu school after the Karmapa. The Karmapas are sometimes referred to as the Black Hat Lamas, referring to their Black Crown.

Lopon Tsechu

Lopon Tsechu Rinpoche was a master of Tibetan Buddhism, widely regarded in the Himalayas, with many students in both the East and the West.

Rinpoche was a master of Tibetan Buddhism, widely regarded in the Himalayas, with many students in both the East and the West.

Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche is a Tibetan Buddhist teacher and meditation master.

He is the abbot of Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal.

He is the author of several books, founder of meditation centers around the world, and acclaimed teacher teaching internationally.

Chöje Lama Gelongma Palmo, ; * 1970 Sabine Januschke in Vienna is one of the very few female Lamas of Buddhism and the first ever non Asian, female Chöje Lama.

Lama Palmo is well known for explaining the dharma in an accessible and contemporary way.

Besides her spiritual and social responsibilities, she is actively involved in many fields and is known for possessing a wide range of practical and intellectual skills, as well as being deeply sincere in her compassionate Buddhist activities.

She has for instance established an animal sanctuary, and is very accomplished at both Western and Tibetan Buddhist arts.

Chöje Lama Palmo was sent to Austria by her lineage and its Supreme Head H. H. The Chamgon Kenting Tai Situpa in 2004 to teach the dharma.

She established Palpung Europe with its institutes in Purkersdorf near Vienna and Langschlag in the Waldviertel, The European Seat of the Chamgon Kenting Tai Situpa and the Palpung lineage with its seat in exile in Northern India.

She is Palpung Europe’s Head Lama.

Lama Jigme Rinpoche (Kagyu)

Lama Jigme Rinpoche is an author and teacher in the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. Born into the family of Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, 16th Karmapa, he is the brother of the late 14th Shamar Rinpoche, Mipham Chokyi Lodro. The 16th Karmapa appointed Lama Jigme Rinpoche as his European representative. He asked him to oversee the development of a shedra (university), library, retreat center, and monastery at Dhagpo Kagyu Ling in Dordogne, France, where Jigme Rinpoche is currently the main representative of Trinley Thaye Dorje and head of the monastery.

Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche

Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche is a prominent scholar yogi in the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. He teaches widely in the West, often through songs of realization, his own as well as those composed by Milarepa and other masters of the past. “Tsültrim Gyamtso” translates to English as “Ocean of Ethical Conduct”.

Rangjung Rigpe Dorje

The sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje was spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He was born in Denkhok in the Dergé district of Kham, near the Dri Chu or Yangtze River.

Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche

Khenpo Karma Tharchin Rinpoche, widely known by his abbreviated name , is a senior lama of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. As of 2016 he serves as abbot of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD) Monastery in Woodstock, NY.

Tai Situ Rinpoche

Tai Situpa is one of the oldest lineages of tulkus in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism In Tibetan Buddhism tradition, Kenting Tai Situpa is considered as emanation of Bodhisattva Maitreya and Guru Padmasambhava and who has been incarnated numerous times as Indian and Tibetan yogis since the time of the historical Buddha.

Chime Rinpoche

Lama Chime Tulku Rinpoche is a Tibetan Buddhist, Tulku and Dharma teacher. was born in 1941 in Kham, Tibet. In 1959, due to the occupation of Tibet, he was forced to flee to India via Bhutan into exile. Gaining British citizenship in 1965. He taught extensively throughout Europe and established Marpa House, the first Tibetan Buddhist Centre in England. His students include American author and Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön and musicians Mary Hopkin, David Bowie and Tony Visconti.

Azin Rinpoche

Azin or Andzin Rinpoche is an incarnate lama (tulku) in the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism associated with Palnge Monastery in Gegyal.

Their reincarnations have been known for strict retreat practices and diligence in mastering the sutras.

They have also been closely associated with Sherap Monastery and Tai Situpa as many of the reincarnations received their education there.

Lama Jampa Thaye

is a teacher of the Sakya and Karma Kagyu traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. He has been teaching for over 30 years and is the spiritual director of the Dechen organisation of Buddhist Centres. He is the author of several books on Tibetan Buddhism and has a PhD in Tibetan Religions from the University of Manchester. He is renowned for being one of the first Westerners who are authorised to transmit Vajrayana teachings.

Ole Nydahl

, also known as Lama Ole, is a Danish Lama in the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. Since the early 1970s, Nydahl has toured the world giving lectures and meditation courses. With his wife, Hannah Nydahl (1946-2007), he founded Diamond Way Buddhism, a worldwide Karma Kagyu Buddhist organization of lay practitioners.

Pawo Tsuglag Threngwa

, the second Nenang Pawo, was a Tibetan historian of the Karma Kagyu. He was a disciple of Mikyö Dorje, 8th Karmapa Lama. He was the author of the famous mkhas pa’i dga’ ston, A Scholar’s Feast, addressing history of Buddhism in India and its spread in Tibet, as well as history of TibetOf Tsuklak Trengwa’s many students, his chief disciples included the Ninth Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje, the Fifth Zhamar Konchok Yenlag, and the Third Tsurpu Gyeltsab, Drakpa Peljor.

Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje

Ogyen Trinley Dorje, also written Urgyen Trinley Dorje (Wylie: U-rgyan ‘Phrin-las Rdo-rje ; is a claimant to the title of 17th Karmapa Lama.

Karma Thinley Rinpoche

, is an important master of the Kagyu Mahamudra, Sakya Lamdré and Chod traditions of Tibetan Buddhism active in the west and Nepal. He is also well regarded by Tibetans as a scholar, poet and artist.

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