The Martsang Kagyu is a tradition Tibetan Buddhism that was founded by His Holiness Chöjé Marpa Sherab Yeshe (1135-1203), based solely on the teachings of the Buddha’s sutras and tantras.
Born in East Tibet--Markham, Chöjé Marpa was chosen at age twenty to study at Sangphu the great monastic college of the Kadampa tradition in central Tibet. After five years he became a great scholar.
Afterwards, Chöjé Marpa spent five years with Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo (1110-1170), receiving and mastering the profound secret Kagyu teachings and the Lamdre teaching of the Sakyapa tradition, and became an exceptional practitioner in the highest level in Tibetan Buddhism.
In 1167, at the age of thirty-three, Chöjé Marpa returned to Markham where he founded Tashi Sho monastery. During his lifetime, the monastic community came to number more than two thousand, establishing the Martsang tradition as a union of the Kadampa and Kagyu lineages.
The sutra tradition of the Martsang Kagyu is comprised of the teachings and practices of the Indian texts in general, but in particular the Tibetan commentaries from Atisha's Kadampa lineage, and the texts composed by such Martsang Kagyu masters as Chöjé Marpa and his pupil, Drogön Rinchen.
The mantrayana tradition of the Martsang Kagyu includes the six Dharmas of Naropa, Chakrasamvara, Guhyasamaja and Hevajra, which are from the Kagyu lineage that was transmitted through Marpa, Milarepa, Rechungpa, and Phagmo Drupa; the Lamdré which is from the Sakya tradition; and Tara practices from the Kadampa tradition. In particular, numerous individuals became siddhas through practicing the meditation instructions of the transmission originating from Phagmo Drupa’s and experiences and realizations.
Chöjé Marpa’s principal pupil was Drogön Rinchen (1170-1249), who in 1200 founded Tsomdo Monastery in Markham. He promulgated the teachings and practices of the Martsang Kagyu and had numerous pupils who were both foremost scholars and siddhas.(1235-1280), who was then the ruler of Tibet, visited Tsomdo Monastery and became its benefactor.
During the time of such lineage holders as Drogön Rinchen, Yeshe Gyaltsen, Changchub Drakpa, Sönam Yeshe, Rinchen Gyaltsen, and Könchok Gyaltsen, thousands of pupils from Tashi Sho and Tsomdo monasteries greatly benefited the teachings and beings in general.
In 1639, a Mongolian army destroyed the Martsang Kagyu monasteries along with many other Tibetan monasteries. Although both monasteries were rebuilt, Dzungarian Mongols destroyed them again in 1718, from which the Martsang Kagyu entered a period of decline. However, many siddhas have prophecied that there will come a time when the embers of the Martsang Kagyu will be revived.
Many siddhas have prophecied that there will come a time when the embers of the Martsang Kagyu will be revived. For example, the mahasiddha Nyakre Sewo wrote:
A time will come when the Martsang teachings are protected.
A time will come for the benefit for beings yet to be done,
For this there needs to be good karma and prayer.
The great seat is Sho Monastery.
Drogön Rinchen wrote:
For sixteen lifetimes from now
I will benefit beings in countless worlds.
In seven hundred years, in the time of ruin,
I will have the name Karma and in Gartok Natang in the center of Markham
I will establish a Dharma community that will be destroyed by Maras.
After eighteen cycles of obstacles
I will revive the embers of the Martsang.
I will guide countless beings
Through great special conduct, to the ends of the ocean
Thus there are prophecies about how there would come a time when the embers of the Martsang Kagyu will be revived and the benefit for beings that has not yet been done will be carried out.
Martsang Kagyu teachings continued to be transmitted and in the twentieth century, The eleventh Gangri Karma rinpoche received the Martsang Kagyu teachings from Karma Lingpa and Trinlay Gyamtso, who was the Khenpo of the Tropu Kagyu, and passed them on to his main disciple, Chodrak Gyamtso. Chodrak Gyamtso was subsequently able to transmit these teachings to the rebirth of Gangri Karma rinpoche(b. 1964).
The twelfth Gangri Karma Rinpoche has the unique position of being the holder of the Martsang Kagyu lineage. Rinpoche held a commemoration of the founding of Martsang Kagyu 842 years previously.
For this ceremony Samdhong Rinpoche, the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile sent the following letter:
It is with great joy that I write to the Martsang Kagyu Foundation on its commemoration of the founding of the Martsang Kagyu 842 years and its collapse 370 years ago.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama considers the Martsang Kagyu Foundation as praiseworthy in its altruistic intention to preserve the unique culture of Tibet and in particular revive the embers of the Martsang Kagyu by such activities as publishing and distributing the rare texts of the Martsang Kagyu, and having paintings made of the lamas of the Martsang lineage.
This is a very critical time for the Tibetan people’s unique culture and politics the Martsang Kagyu Foundation is tirelessly dedicated to both religious and secular progress with such activities as bringing the Dharma to both Tibetan communities and British people in the UK, which is indicative of loyalty to the Tibetan cause and a courageous dedication. His Holiness prays and hopes that in the future your activities to bring happiness to beings and benefit the Buddha’s teachings and the Tibetan people will be even greater than before. At this special time we send out best wishes and prayers for an excellent event to Gangri Karma Chokyi Gyaltsen Rinpoche and to all taking part.
Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche,
Dharamsala, 30th November 2009
Introduction to the Kagyu Lineage
The founder of the Kagyu lineage was the Mahasiddha Tilopa (988-1069), who lived in Northern India. He is considered as having received a direct transmission from the primordial Buddha Vajradhara. In this context the Kagyu lineage has originated from the very essence of reality itself and thus transcends all space and time. Viewed from another level of understanding he also had human teachers, from whom he received four special transmissions, The Four Oral Instructions, for which he became the lineage holder. Some etymologies of the name “Kagyu” consider it as an abbreviation of Lineage of Four Oral Instructions. When Tilopa's transmission is linked directly to Vajradhara, it is called the "direct transmission" but when it is traced to his human teachers, it is referred to as the "indirect transmission."
These teachings were passed from Tilopa to his disciple, the Mahasiddha Naropa (1016–1100) and they were systematised as the Six Yogas of Naropa, meditations that are considered an essential teaching of the Kagyu lineage. Naropa transmitted his knowledge to Marpa Chökyi Lodrö (1012–1097), the great translator, who journeyed from Tibet to India in order to receive instructions and who subsequently returned to Tibet and spread the teachings of the Dharma widely.
Marpa's most important disciple was Jetsun Milarepa (1040-1123). He became one of Tibet's great yogis. His life story, beginning with difficult circumstances due to his father's early death, his vengeance upon his dishonest aunt and uncle, and his subsequent regret which led to an earnest desire to enter the way of the Dharma, is widely known among Tibetans. Through his perseverance and ability to accept all circumstances which he met, he achieved profound realization of the ultimate nature of reality. His teachings are recorded in the 100,000 songs of Milarepa and other collections.
Milarepa's teachings were carried on by Gampopa (1079-1153), the physician from Dakpo. He first studied under the Kadampa tradition, which is a gradual and systematic path. At a later age, he met Milarepa and practicing under him received and realized the true meaning of the complete teachings. Since that time, the lineage has been known as the Dakpo Kagyu. It is from Gampopa that the first Kagyu schools originated: the Karma Kagyu, Tselpa Kagyu, Barom Kagyu, and Phagdru Kagyu.
The founder of the Phagdru Kagyu was Phagmodrupa Dorje Gyalpo (1110–1170), one of Gampopa’s most important disciples. His own lineage died out as a religious institution, while his clan played an important role in the country’s secular governance in the ensuing epoch. Phagmodrupa’s main disciples founded their own lineages, of which eight lineages.
The heart son of Gampopa is Phagmodrupa (1110~1170) who inherited Gampopa’s teaching, while Phagmodrupa promoted the teaching with great popularity to form Phagmodrupa Kagyu sect. The eight major heart sons:
1. Chosje Marpa Sherab Yishi founded Martsang Kagyu in 1167,
2. Yeshe Tseg founded Yelpa Kagyu in 1171,
3. Gyaltsab Rinchen founded Trophu Kagyu in 1171,
4. Kyopa Jigten Sumgyi founded Drikhung Kagyu in 1179,
5. Thangpa Tashi Pal founded Taklung Kagyu in 1180,
6. Gyergom Tsultrim Senge founded Shuksep Kagyu in 1181,
7. Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje founded Drukpa Kagyu in 1193,
8. The 2nd generation discipleYasang founded Yasang Kagyu in 1205.