"Kagyu" literally means nothing other but "oral transmission". That being the case one could call any lineage that transmits its teachings orally a "Kagyu lineage", e.g. the "Jonang Kagyu" or "Ganden Kagyu", etc.
Nowadays the name "Kagyu" refers most often to the Shangpa Kagyu and Dakpo Kagyu schools. The Shangpa Kagyu was introduced into Tibet by the master Khyungpo Naljor (990-1139), while the school that was to develop into the Dakpo Kagyu traditions, was introduced to Tibet by the great Lotsawa Marpa (mar pa lo tsa ba chos kyi blo gros) (1012-1097/9) and his student Milarepa (mi la ras pa) (1040-1123). Milarepa's student Gampopa (sgam po pa) (1079-1153) later fused the teachings of Marpa with teachings he had received in the Kadampa (bka' gdams pa) lineage of Atisha (jo bo rje dpal ldan a ti sha) (982-1054). The lineages stemming from Gampopa came to be known as the Dakpo Kagyu (dwags po bka' brgyud; a common epithet for Gampopa being Dakpo Lharje (dwags po lha rje, "the physician from Dakpo"). The Dakpo Kagyu developed into the so-called four greater and eight smaller Kagyu schools. The "four greater" lineages were established by direct disciples of Je Gampopa and his nephew and dharma heir Dakpo Gomtsul Tsultrim Nyingpo (dwags po sgom tshul tshul khrims snying po) (1116-1169), while the "eight smaller" ones were founded by students of Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo (phag mo gru pa rdo rje rgyal po) (1110-1170), one of the four main students of Gampopa.
The Kamtshang or Karma Kagyu (karma bka' brgyud) founded by the 1st Karmapa Dusum Khyenpa (dus gsum mkhyen pa) (1110-1193), the Barom Kagyu ('ba' rom bka' brgyud) founded by Darma Wangchuk (sdar ma dbang phyug) (1127-1199), the Tsalpa Kagyu (tshal pa bka' brgyud) founded by Zhang Yudragpa Tsöndrü Drakpa (zhang g.yu brag brtson 'grus grags pa) (1123-1193), and the Phagdru Kagyu (phag gru bka' brgyud) founded by Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo (phag mo grub pa rdo rje rgyal po) (1110-1170).
The Drikung Kagyu ('bri gung bka' brgyud) founded by Drikung Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon ('bri gung skyob pa 'jig rten gsum mgon) (1143-1217), Taklung Kagyu (stag lung bka' brgyud) founded by Taklung Thangpa Tashi Pal (stag lung thang pa bkra shis dpal) (1142-1210), Thropu Kagyu (khro phu bka' brgyud) founded by Gyal Tsha Rinchen Gon (rgyal tsha rin chen mgon) (1118-1195) and Kunden Repa (kun ldan ras pa) (1148-1217), Drukpa Kagyu (brug pa bka' brgyud) founded by Lingje Repa Pema Dorje (gling rje ras pa pad ma rdo rje) (1128-1188) and Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje (gtsang pa rgya ras ye shes rdo rje) (1161-1211), Marpa Kagyu (smar pa bka' brgyud) founded by Marpa Drubthob Sherab Senge (smar pa sgrub thob shes rab seng ge) (no dates available), Yelpa Kagyu (yel pa bka' brgyud) founded by Drubthob Yeshe Tsegpa (sgrub thob ye shes brtsegs pa) (born 1143), Yabzang Kagyu (g.ya' bzang bka' brgyud) founded by Sharawa Kalden Yeshe Senge (zha ra rwa lkal ldan ye sjes seng ge) (died 1207) and Shugseb Kagyu (shug gseb bka' brgyud) founded by Gyergom Chenpo Zhonnu Drakpa (gyer sgom chen po gzhon nu grags pa) (1090-1171)
- From Gampopa, numerous lineage arose. These are commonly referred to as the Dakpo Kagyu, which includes the Four Great Kagyu Lineages:
- and the Eight Lesser Kagyu Lineages, which were created by the students of Phagmo Drupa:
Alternate Names & Spellings