Accomplished Buddhist masters authored many treatises that explain the meaning of the Buddha's teachings. The emphasis was on the authentic and accurate transmission of the teachings. Over the centuries different lines of transmission, each with its own characteristics, came about.
The Old Translation School
Buddhism was known in Tibet as early as the 6th century A.D. In the 8th century the Tibetan King, Trisong Detsen, invited two Buddhist masters, Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche) and Shantarakshita to Tibet. At that time the king initiated translation of many important Buddhists texts into Tibetan. This early activity of teaching and translation brought about the Nyingma tradition, referred to as the "Old Translation School." The teachings in the Nyingma tradition are based on the texts of this early period of translation.
The New Translation Schools
In the 9th century, Buddhism in Tibet suffered a period of repression and decline under the reign of King Langdarma who converted the Buddhist monasteries to the pre-Buddhist religion of Bon. Not until the 11th century would Buddhism flourish again in Tibet. At that time, a second period of translation occurred that involved the revision of earlier terminology and included new translations as well. The traditions that base their transmission on that period are referred to as the "New Translation Schools." Of these the Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug schools are the most known.
The Kagyu Lineage
The Kagyu school, particularly known for its emphasis on meditation practice, was founded by Marpa (AD 1012-1097), and Milarepa (AD 1040-1123). The school originated from the Indian master Tilopa, who lived in Northern india sometime around the 10th century A.D, and spread throughout the Himalayas, including Tibet. Marpa had traveled to India to study with Indian Buddhist masters. Milarepa, generally considered as one of Tibet's most famous yogis, was born in Tibet, and became a student of Marpa. Today, the Kagyu lineage of Buddhism is practiced worldwide.
Gyalwang, 'King of the Victorious Ones', Karmapa, is the head of the Karma Kagyu, the largest sub-school of the Kagyu tradition. The Karmapa represents the oldest line of reincarnated Tibetan Buddhist masters, dating 900 years back to the 11th century. The primary sources of the Karma Kagyu lineage are the “words of the Buddha” translated into Tibetan. The current Karmapa, Trinley Thaye Dorje, is the 17th Karmapa.
The third Karmapa gave his principal disciple a ruby-red crown and the title Shamarpa, establishing the second line of reincarnate lamas in Tibetan Buddhism. This was the fulfillment of a prediction of the second Karmapa, who said "Future Karmapas will manifest in two forms", the Karmapas and the Shamarpas. Shamar Rinpoche (1952-2014), was the 14th Shamarpa. The Bodhi Path Buddhist Centers were founded by him. For more information, please visit http://www.bodhipath.org/lineage