Karma Kagyu (Tibetan: ཀརྨ་བཀའ་བརྒྱུད, Wylie: karma bka'-brgyud), or Kamtsang Kagyu (Tibetan: ཀརྨ་ཀཾ་ཚང་, Wylie: kar+ma kaM tshang), is a lineage within the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. The lineage has long-standing monasteries in Tibet, China, Russia, Mongolia, India, Nepal, and Bhutan, and current centers in at least 62 countries. The spiritual head of the Karma Kagyu is the Gyalwa Karmapa, and the 2nd through the 10th Karmapas were the principal spiritual advisors to successive Emperors of China. The Karma Kagyu are sometimes called the "Black Hat" Lamas, in reference to the Black Crown worn by the Karmapa.
The central teaching of the Karma Kagyu is the doctrine of Mahamudra, also known as the "Great Seal". This doctrine focuses on four principal stages of meditative practice (the Four Yogas of Mahamudra):
- The development of single-pointedness of mind,
- The transcendence of all conceptual elaboration,
- The cultivation of the perspective that all phenomena are of a "single taste",
- The fruition of the path, which is beyond any contrived acts of meditation.
It is through these four stages of development that the practitioner is said to attain the perfect realization of mahamudra. Mahamudra is practiced both independently and as the completion stage of Vajrayana practice.
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