In almost all Vajrayana centers a lineage supplication prayer is said. Each lineage obviously has its own prayer and today I will discuss the Karma Kagyu Lineage prayer which is said by most centers which are headed by His Holiness Karmapa and Lamas of the Karma Kagyu lineage including Thrangu Rinpoche’s centers.
Thrangu Rinpoche prefers to say the lineage prayer (or lineage chant) in Tibetan because the Tibetan carries almost 500 years of blessings. This lineage prayer can be used as either a description of the stages of one has to go through to achieve enlightenment or it can be an aspirational prayer asking all persons of the lineage, both past and present, to help in our practice. To make the prayer more effective for helping our practice, we should try to single-mindedly concentrate on the prayer and to do it with the visualization while chanting it.
I am very happy to begin discussing this particular text at the opening of the Thrangu Meditation Center in Denver, Colorado because Thrangu Rinpoche’s first teaching to Westerners in the 1970s was on this practice. In, I believe, 1977 or 1978 His Holiness the 16th Karmapa asked Thrangu Rinpoche to compose a text on the Buddhist path for Westerners. He chose the Kagyu Lineage Prayer for his “root text” and wrote a commentary which has been translated as Showing the Path to Liberation.
Why Lineage is Important
If we were born in a Buddhist country, lineage would not be that important because we would be Buddhist at birth and we would most likely follow the lineage of our parents and relatives.
In the West, however, many of us weren’t born Buddhist and there are a vast array of Buddhist types, sects, and schools. Not only that but there are many interesting and fascinating individuals with a following such as Gurdjieff, Krishnamurti, Ken Wilbur who have no lineage, but had some insights into how to achieve realization.
However, if we are truly interested in achieving complete realization or enlightenment, we cannot achieve this by reading or listening to a set of teachings or by working closely with someone who has not reached a high level of realization. Of course, it is important to develop an understanding of the path and its techniques and we can get this from many different teachers and from study. But the tried and true technique for achieving high realization is to belong to a lineage that has had many persons past and present who have great realization.
(if page below is small click on it)
This is the Lineage Tree from a picture in the Vajra Vidya Practice Manual. The individuals surrounding Vajradhara (Dorje Chang) are the lineage holders. Floating in the sky are individuals such as Dolpopa who weren’t direct part of the lineage but contributed to it. Below on our left are nine Buddhas and on our right the Noble sangha. The protectors are at the base of the tree coming out of a lake and the animals and people on the shore are sentient beings like us relying on the lineage to help us towards enlightenment.
Now I would like to show the first page of the lineage prayer which comes again from the Vajra Vidya Practice Manual. I have added the right hand column with notes on the visualization and explanation of the terms.
This aspirational prayer is in the form of a spiritual song which Pegar Zangpo spontaneously sang at the end of his retreat to explain what he had realized. A spiritual song has a tune and each line has 9 syllables in Tibetan (some appear to have less because we have combined some syllables so DAGPO KAGYU is actually Dag po Kag yu making 9 syllables).
We have two visualizations— above our head is Dusum Khyenpa, the first Karmapa and in front of us is the Lineage Tree.
Dusum Khyenpa is pictured above (taken from Showing the Path of Liberation)
Khenpo Kathar has recommended that if you can’t visualize very well, you should spend time just staring at the picture until you visualization becomes better. Thrangu Rinpoche says that if we can’t visualize the whole lineage tree, you should just concentrate on the main lineage holders which are:
To see where these persons are on the lineage tree, I will enclose a map with brief biographical details on each person in the lineage.
This is also from Showing the Path to Liberation and the other half of the Legend is:
I will end the post now. In a few days I will post Part 2 of the Kagyu Lineage Tree.