The Kagyu lineage, one of the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, originated during the eleventh century with the Indian saint or mahasiddha Tilopa. Tilopa directly realized his own nature and this state of enlightenment is expressed through the symbolism of Vajradhara. The realization of enlightenment is also known as Mahamudra or the ‘great seal’ which points out that the fundamental or sacred nature is expressed through the unadorned reality of everyday life. The existential approach of Mahamudra is synonymous with the Kagyu tradition.
Tilopa taught those who presented themselves to him – Naropa was one such student. Naropa, who had given up an academic career at the famed Nalanda University, acknowledged his own limitation and lack of understanding and in order to overcome this became the student of Tilopa.As suggested by his teacher, Naropa also took students and among them the Tibetan Marpa. Marpa risked his life by crossing the Himalayas to India in order to study the Dharma with his teacher.Marpa transmitted the teachings to the poet Milarepa who in turn transmitted them to the monastically trained Gampopa. Gampopa’s students included the first Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, Phagmo Gyare and Saltong Shogam – the predecessor of Traleg Rinpoche.
These three were know in Tibetan Buddhist history as the Three Men of Kham. From there, these basic teachings of the Kagyu lineage were transmitted from generation to generation, down to the present day.