Brief History of the Rechung Kagyu Lineage
There are two main Kagyu lineages: the Marpa and Shangpa Kagyu. In the Marpa Kagyu, there exist two lineages: the Dagpo Kagyu from Gampopa and the Rechung Kagyu from Rechungpa.
The Rechung mahamudra lineage began with Tilopa in the 10th century. He received it directly from Buddha Shakyamuni in Sambhogakaya form as Vajrayogini. These teachings are called the Formless Dakini Teachings. They were passed from Tilopa to Naropa.
Naropa had many students. The only one from Tibet was Milarepa’s teacher Marpa. Marpa went back to India to get these particular teachings because of a dream that Milarepa had of a dakini who told him about these teachings.
Marpa could only translate two of the eight chapters of the eight dharmas of these teachings. He said that one of Milarepa’s students would later gather the other sections. This was Rechungpa.
Rechungpa purposely took rebirth to collect the life stories and songs of Milarepa and to restore the teachings of the formless dakinis. Milarepa said to Rechungpa that since he had a prophecy from his master that one of his students would go to India, Rechungpa should go to India and get the rest of the formless dakini teachings.
Rechungpa went to India and met Tipupa who was none other than Marpa’s first son Dharma Dode who was intended to be the blood lineage holder of Marpa’s oral instructions. Dharma Dode was given the exceptional and secret phowa empowerment and pith instructions to transfer consciousness into the recently expired body of an ordinary human being. Dharma Dode was wounded in, and later died from, an horrific riding accident. As Dharma Dode lay dying, Marpa gave him the pith instructions on the exceptional transference of consciousness.
No appropriate recently deceased human corpse could be found, so Dharma Dode transferred his consciousness into a newly deceased pigeon with the direct pith instructions from Marpa. Marpa’s other students present saw many miraculous signs and all saw Dharma Dode in the form Hevajra. Marpa sent the pigeon to India to a charnel ground where the recently deceased body of a 16-year-old boy was to be burned. Dharma Dode transferred his consciousness from the pigeon into the boy’s dead body and that boy appeared to come to life again. “Tipu” means pigeon. This phowa lineage was thus temporarily lost as the lineage could only be given once orally from guru to student and it had already been given once to Dharma Dode.
Tipupa became a student of Naropa and Maitripa and received all of the formless dakini teachings from them. When Rechungpa came to India, Naropa had already gone to Khechara, so Rechungpa received the rest of the formless dakini teachings from Tipupa, brought them back to Tibet and gave them to his teacher Milarepa. This formless dakini lineage is thus Naropa, Tipupa, Rechungpa and Milarepa.
Milarepa divided these teachings between his three main students but because Rechung had also received them from Tipupa he was the only one who received the complete teachings. This lineage is pure, uncorrupted and is the only complete Mahamudra lineage.
The Rechungpa practice extends from the preliminary practices to mahamudra. The ultimate teachings of mahamudra are the formless dakini teachings. Milarepa gave teachings to everyone equally, but because his closest heart son was Rechungpa, Milarepa wrote teachings from the development to the completion stage for him only. These teachings were given not by singing, but by Milarepa composing them himself.
Because of this, we have Milarepa’s extremely direct explanation from Milarepa himself – an explanation not passed from master to student, but rather the exact view of Milarepa himself. These teachings have not yet been translated into English.
The Rechung Kagyu Lineage is mainly based on the formless dakini teaching and the teachings Rechungpa received from Naropa. The Rechungpa lineage is considered the ultimate form of mahamudra.
At his death, Rechungpa achieved the rainbow body.
See The Changling Tulkus page for the relationship between the Changling Tulkus and the Rechung Lineage.