The Kadampa (or, Gelugpa) tradition that many people know about because of its most public figure who is the Dalai Lama, conforms to the Indian monastic model. However, the Kagyu denomination of Tibetan Buddhism is primarily a tantric tradition that involves direct transmission from master to disciple. Therefore, for Kagyupas, institution is not nearly as important as lineage transmission.
Also, Kagyu places great emphasis on meditation. It considers transcendent Buddha Akshobya emanating as Vajradhara (Thunderbolt-holder) as the source of meditation method. From Tilopa the yogi, who experienced the original transmission, to Naropa and then, to Marpa the Translator, the teachings went to Milarepa.
Many of Mila's students were sources of distinctive Kagyu lineages. The Karma Kagyu line descends from Gampopa Dagpo Lharje, the doctor from Kham (or, Gam) in East Tibet, who was a great clarifying influence, and not only for Kagyupas.
Buddha Shakyamuni predicted the coming of a King of Samadhi, master of Mahamudra meditation, and this is understood to refer to Gampopa.
Dagpo Lharje (1079-1135) was a medical practitioner and a monk. Known as Gampopa, he was one of the main disciples of practitioner-poet, Milarepa. This was around the time England was invaded by William the Conqueror. That is, the end of the age of the Vikings, over 900 years ago.
He had studied the gradual path called Lam Rim as taught by the Kadampa (reformed by Tsongkhapa to become the Gelugpa denomination.) He unified this method with the Kagyu specialty of Mahamudra, and taught and wrote extensively. He also founded monasteries.
His disciples went on to found the "four major Kagyu lineages." One of those people was the founder of the Karma Kagyu and came later to be known as Karmapa. Other of Gampopa's students such as the Three Men from Kham, were founders of some of the "eight minor lineages."
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche recounts the manner in which Gampopa tested his students in an anecdote that also reveals how, in the Vajrayana, a request by the teacher can have profound significance:
One of the standard reference works on the Kagyu tradition is Gampopa's Jewel Ornament of Liberation.
Terma is a Tibetan word referring to texts or sacred objects believed to have been hidden for safekeeping until the time is right for their recovery and utilization for the benefit of sentient beings. Someone who actually finds a material object of this nature, or who by virtue of inspiration, memory or other means reveals an inspirational text is known as a terton.
The enlightened dakini plays an important role in the protection, concealment, recovery and proper interpretation of these objects or texts.
Tulku Thondup [Talbott ed.] Hidden Teachings of Tibet: An Explanation of the Terma Tradition. Somerville, Mass.: Wisdom Publications, 1987.
King of Samadhi: Ven. Thrangu Rinpoche tells us this in his commentary by that title. Samadhi is Sanskrit for the purest of meditative states.
Jewel Ornament: Several translations are available. The first widely available version (by H. Guenther) was a pioneering work and is not easy to grasp. The more recent versions have benefited from expert translation and experience with application.