This Tibetan School, was also founded in the 11th century by Gampopa (1079-1153), a student of Milarepa (1052-1135). Milarepa was a student of Marpa (1012-1097) who brought the core doctrines of this school from his master in India, Naropa (1016-1100). Naropa was the principle disciple of Tilopa (988-1069). Master Tilopa was able to receive the tantric teachings directly from Dorje Chang Buddha, but was not able to transmit some of the teachings because he was not a buddha. Master Gampopa had four main disciples: Dusum Khyenpa (1110-1193), who became known as the First Karmapa, started the Karma Kagyu sub-sect and three others who founded the Tsalpa Kagyu, Babrom Kagyu and Pagdru Kagyu subsects. These four sub-sects became known as the four major lineages. The Pagdru Kagyu formed eight minor lineages of the Drikung Kagyu, Drukpa Kagyu, Taglung Kagyu, Yazang Kagyu, Trophu Kagyu, Shugseb Kagyu, Yerpa Kagyu, and Martsang Kagyu. Only the first three of these minor linages have survived. The Drikung Kagyu is headed by its 37th dharma king, Kyabgon Chetsang while H.H. the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa heads the Drukpa Kagyu.
The second Karmapa, Karma Pakshi (1203-1283), predicted that in the future the Karmapa would assume two nirmanakaya forms: One would continue the lineage of the “Black Crown” as the Karmapa and the other would establish the lineage of the “Ruby-red Jewel Crown” as the Shamarpa. The ninth Karmapa offered a second Ruby-red Crown to Tai Situ Rinpoche who subsequently also became one of the Karmapa’s regents. Goshir Rinpoche also received the Orange Crown, becoming the third regent for the Karmapa. Jamgon Kongtul was also recognized as the fourth regent. There are currently two incarnations recognized as the Black Crown Karmapa: Urgyen Trinley Dorje (1985–) and Thrinley Thaye Dorje (1983–). Urgyen Trinley has been recognized by two of the regents, Tai Situ Rinpoche and Goshir Rinpoche, while Thaye has been recognized by Shamarpa Rinpoche. The Shamarpa would seem to be the senior regent in this matter. The fourth regent, Jamgon Kongtrul (1954-1992) died in a mysterious car accident. His reincarnation is also contested with two candidates having been enthroned by different groups of supporters.
Neither Karmapa candidate has been able to return to Rumtak Monastery, which was the seat of the 16th Karmapa in exile. To further complicate the matter one of the incarnations, Urgyen Trinley, has been recognized by both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government, although neither organization has any valid or legimate role in determining who the correct incarnation is. Each of the major schools are autonomous in such matters. In 2011 Urgyen Trinley was arrested as a Chinese spy by the Indian government after over $1 million in cash was found in Urgyen Trinley’s premises. Much of that amount was in Chinese currency. Although these charges have been dropped, there are still considerable political issues involved in this debate.
This school has an oral tradition stressing the more mystical aspects of Tantra. Its highest teachings are included in the “Mahamudra Dharma” which the Indian Mahasiddha Tilopa received directly from Dorje Chang Buddha. However, since Tilopa was not yet a buddha, he could not transmit some of the higher aspects of the mahamudra dharma to his followers. H.H. Dorje Chang Buddha III has come to this world to complete this transmission with the Supreme and Unsurpassable Mahamudra of Liberation that will be accessible to all beings.
There are many Kagyu practitioners in this country. The current seat of the Karma Kagyu Sect is at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD) at Woodstock in upstate New York.