Kagyu Sampradaya of Tibetan Buddhism originated from the great Indian Siddhas Naropa and Maitripa. It started from two different primary sources: Marpa Lotsawa (1012-1099) and Khyungpo Nyaljor (978-1079). Marpa Lotsawa was the founder of the earlier tradition. He studied under Dromi Yeshi (993-1050) and took the training of translation. Later he travelled to India three times, and four times to Nepal in search of the true teachings. He studied under many Indian masters, but mainly under the great adept Acharya Naropa and Maitripa. Marpa Lotsawa had directly received the lineage of tantric teachings of Illusory Body and Consciousness Transference, Dream, Clear Light, and Inner Heat from Naropa (1016-1100). Naropa himself also directly received these teaching from his master Tilopa (988-1069) and Tilopa received it directly from the Buddha Vajradhara. These great teachings were then brought to Tibet by Marpa, and later transmitted them to his foremost disciple Milarepa (1040-1123). Milarepa was the only Tibetan Yogi Master who achieved Enlightenment in his very life by practicing the secret Mantrayana system. Milarepa was the one master who carried on Marpa’s meditation lineage and others such as Ngog Choku Dorje, Tshurton Wangey and Meton Chenpo furthered Marpa’s teaching lineages. Thus, the dual system of philosophical meditation trainings was established in Kagyu Sampradaya. The great teacher Gampopa (1084-1161) and Rechungpa (1084-1161) were the well-known disciples of Milarepa.

Gampopa received the Mahamudra teachings and practice instructions on the Six Yogas of Naropa from Milarepa and synthesized them into one lineage. This lineage came to be known as Dakpo Kagyu, the mother lineage of the Kagyu tradition. Shangpa Kagyu, one of the two original forms of the Kagyu tradition, was founded by Khyungpo Nyaljor (978-1079), he went to Nepal where he met Acharya Sumati. He received training in translating texts from him and later travelled to India. After he met with over hundreds of Indian scholars, and imbibed various philosophical and secret mantra teachings from them, He mastered the entire exoteric and esoteric doctrines. His main teachers are known as Sukhasiddha, Rahulagupta and Niguma, the consort of Naropa. Later this lineage came to be known as the Shangpa Kagyu tradition. Dagpo Kagyu tradition itself has twelve branches. It has also four major schools and eight sub-schools. The fundamental principle of this doctrine is the practice of Mahamudra and the six main teachings of Naropa. Among the four schools, Kamtsang Kagyu was founded by the first Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa. Barom Darma Wangchuk established the second, Barom Kagyu. Zhang Tsalpa Tsondru Drakpa founded the third, Tsalpa Kagyu and Phagmo Drupa established the fourth, Phagdru Kagyu.

The eight sub-schools are Drikung Kagyu, founded by Drigung Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon; Taklung Kagyu, established by Taglung Thangpa Tashi Pal; Throphu Kagyu, founded by Gyal Tsha and Kunden Repa; Drukpa Kagyu, established by Lingre Pema Dorje and Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje, Martsang Kagyu, founded by Marpa Drubthob Sherab Senge, Yelpa Kagyu was established by Drubthob Yeshe Tsegpa; Yazang Kagyu, established by Sharawa Kalden Yeshe Senge; and Shugseb Kagyu, founded by Gyergom Chenpo. The different sub-schools have arisen on the basis of differences in individual approaches to the fundamental teachings. Mahamudra, the unique feature of Kagyu tradition can be explained according to interpretations of both Sutra and Tantra. Both aspects of the teachings are aimed at direct understanding of the real nature of the mind, the clear light.