This detailed explanation features a thangka painting of the Karma Kagyu (ཀརྨ་བཀའ་བརྒྱུད།) Lineage Tree (ཚོགས་ཞིང་།), also known as Refuge Assembly, Refuge Field, Merit Field, Field of Merit or Field of Accumulation, with depictions and names in English and Tibetan of the gurus and main figures of the Kagyu lineage. The main figure in this refuge tree is Vajradhara, aka Dorje Chang རྡོ་རྗེ་འཆང་.
The Kagyu (literally means “Oral Lineage” or “Whispered Transmission”) lineage of Tibetan Buddhism traces its origins to Shakyamuni Buddha (སངས་རྒྱས་ཤཱཀྱ་ཐུབ་པ།) through Marpa the Great Translator (མར་པ་ལོ་ཙཱ་བ།), who traveled to India three times to bring back authentic Buddhist teachings to Tibet. His teacher, Naropa (ནཱ་རོ་པ།), received the lineage transmission from Tilopa (ཏི་ལོ་པ།) and so on, back to the Buddha himself. Marpa’s most famous student was the greatest yogi of Tibet, Jetsun Milarepa (རྗེ་བཙུན་མི་ལ་རས་པ།), who passed the teachings on to Gampopa (སྒམ་པོ་པ།), who in turn transmitted the teachings to the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (དུས་གསུམ་མཁྱེན་པ།). Since then, the Kagyu Lineage has been headed by a succession of reincarnations of the Gyalwang Karmapa (ཀརྨ་པ།). The line of the Karmapas is said to be self-announced, because each incarnation leaves a letter predicting his next rebirth. All great Kagyü teachers regard His Holiness Karmapa as the embodiment and source of all of the blessings of the lineage.