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Refuge Trees

The Proof of the Pudding is in the Eating ~ English proverb.

Buddha Shakyamuni was clear on the topic of dogma -- there should not be any.  It is left to the realized individual -- realization is determined by his experience which in the tantric tradition is monitored by his guru or mentor -- to use the methods that have worked for her or him.  The method should also suit the students.

Each lineage of every denomination in Tibetan [and other kinds of] Buddhism is distinctive. The members of a sect take refuge in a particular human representative as the conduit of buddha dharma - the Buddhist doctrine. 

 A lineage chart called a Refuge Tree is made that is slightly different for each  denomination.  Each distinctive lineage will have its own .  The associated eminent lamas, the company of disciples, protectors, meditational deities and other figures are depicted there.  It resembles a geneological diagram, but there are added symbolic elements. This special image of what are called the Three Jewels and the Three Roots is used as an aid to visualization in order to sustain faith and confidence in particular teachings, methods and practices.

The Karma Kagyu refuge tree has Dorje Chang [Sanskrit: Vajradhara] at the center.  From Dorje Chang is derived the essence of one's root guru, and for those of the Karma Kagyu or Kamtsang, this is His Holiness the XVI Karmapa - it is not customary to have the representation of a living person there.

The Three Roots:
Lama, Yidam and Dharmapala for the Kamtsang (Karma Kagyu) consist of  His Holiness Karmapa and his regents as Lama. Vajravarahi and Chakrasamvara are the main yidams, and Dorje Bernakchen and Palden Lhamo Rangjungma are the main dharmapalas.

From the 11th century, the Shangpa Refuge Tree becomes slightly different from that of the Kagyu.

How do Ven. Kalu Rinpoche's teachings fit into the Kagyu tradition?

The Shangpa Kagyu was first made famous in the West through the popularity of the late Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche (1903-1989.)  His incarnate successor, the young Yangsi Kalu was installed in 1993 at the age of 3.

The Kalu rinpoche is not the only living holder of the Shangpa teachings.  Ven. Tsar Tsar Rinpoche, 8th Drubgen of Tsar Tsar Monastery, whose leader was accorded the Kagyu White Crown in the 16th century, is the master who transmitted the complete Shangpa system to Kyabje Kalu.  He was not free to travel during the 1970s due to his confinement by Chinese authorities, but he was able to continue the transmission of the pure lineage tradition within his Homeland. 

The main meditational deities or yidams of the Shangpas are Hayagriva, Chakrasamvara and the Five Tantric Deity practice that combines Samvara with Guhyasamaja, Mahamaya, Hevajra, and Vajrabhairava. The Shangpa dharmapala or protector is Chagdrupa, six-armed Mahakala.

Origin of the Shangpas

Khyungpo Naljor (990-1139) is the founder of the Shangpa Kagyu.

Naljor means yogi and Khung means magic bird. [Shang here refers to the area of Tibet, and a mythological bird called the shang-shang.  See Garuda. ]

The family was named for the local legend telling how eggs laid on the roof of a their house hatched into five different little boys. This Khung family is the same one that Milarepa and many other yogis come from.

Khyungpo Naljor, after having studied in the white Bon [beun] tradition was not satisfied with his spiritual accomplishments. He took Refuge and studied in the Nyingma tradition of Buddhism and some say, the Kagyu, as well.

He was an accomplished teacher in his own right, but still felt he had no genuine realization. By then, he was 50 years old yet he decided to go to Nepal and to India.

He traveled all over India asking if anyone had actually seen the Buddha. Panditas or scholars, and siddhas or yogis, alike, agreed that Naropa’s sister, Niguma, was such a being.  She was regarded as the Wisdom Dakini, herself. It was said that she had received teachings directly from transcendent buddha, Vajradhara [Dorje Chang].

"Another female guru of Khungpo Naljor's was Sukhasiddhi -- who also fully transformed the ripening Karmic body to Wisdom body and was a great accomplished Mahasiddha.

He [also] received teachings from the great Mahasiddhas, Rahula Gupta, and Maitrepa.  Those four were his root gurus. Among them, however, Niguma, was the most important ... for his realization.

He lived in India for 50 years studying, learning, practicing. After 50 years he returned to Tibet to spread the Dharma. At that point he was 100 years old, and had almost 100,000 students who had accomplished true enlightenment.

For seven generations from Niguma to Sangye Tenpa these Shangpa/Kagyu teachings were "a whispered transmission" passed from one teacher to one perfect disciple.

At the end of seven generations, Sangye Tenpa's disciple, Tsultrim Gompo, compiled the teachings into a text which is now available throughout the world. Whoever is connected karmically can receive them.

And of course Tsultrim Gompo was an incarnation of Khungpo Naljor himself. "

~ Lama Lodu, San Francisco, California

Lama Lodu's center, Kagyu Droden Kunchab, was where Ven. Kalu Rinpoche was recorded on video not long before he passed away.  Lama Yeshe Gyamtso who is currently at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra appears as the translator on that precious videotape recording made over 20 years ago.

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