Drikung Kagyu

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Drikung Kagyu Lineage Tree

Drikung Kagyü or Drigung Kagyü (Wylie: 'bri-gung bka'-brgyud) is one of the eight "minor" lineages of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. "Major" here refers to those Kagyü lineages founded by the immediate disciples of Gampopa (1079-1153), while "minor" refers to all the lineages founded by disciples of Gampopa's main disciple, Phagmo Drupa (1110-1170). One of these disciples, Jigten Sumgön (1143-1217), is the founder of Drikung.


Phagmodrupa with His Previous Incarnations and Episodes from His Life, 14th-century painting from the Rubin Museum of Art
Jigten Sumgon, founder of Drikung Kagyü

Like with all other Kagyu lineages, origins of Drikung Kagyü can be traced back to the Great Indian Master Tilopa who passed on his teachings to Mahasiddha Naropa who lived around 10th and 11th century. The founder of the Drikung Kagyü lineage was Jigten Sumgön (1143-1217) of the Kyura clan,[1] who was the disciple of Phagmo Drupa. According to historical account from the time, Jigten Sumgön's teachings attracted more than 100,000 people at a time, with the highest number of attendance recorded at 130,000.[2]

Several sub-schools branched off from the Drikung Kagyü including the Lhapa or Lhanangpa Kagyü, founded by Nö Lhanangpa (Wylie: gnyos lha nang pa, 1164–1224) who came to Bhutan in 1194. This school was at one time important in Western Bhutan, particularly in the Thimphu and Paro regions, where they were rivals of the Drukpa Kagyü. The Lhapa first came into conflict with the early Drukpa teacher, Phajo Drugom Zhigpo (b. 12th century)[3] and finally with Ngawang Namgyal (1594–1651). In 1640 the remaining followers of the Lhapa Kagyü were expelled from Bhutan together with the Nenyingpa followers as both had sided with the attacking Tsangpa forces against the Drukpa during their three invasions of Bhutan and continued to refuse to acknowledge the authority of the Shabdrung.[4]

Teaching and practice[edit]

The unique doctrines of Drikung Kagyü as taught by its founder, Jigten Sumgön is preserved in "The Single Intention" or "One thought of Drikung" (Drikung Gongchig, Wylie: dgongs gcig)[5] and "The Essence of Mahāyāna Teachings" (Wylie: theg chen bstan pa'i snying po). According to Jampa MacKenzie Stewart, the Gonchik "recasts Buddhism in a fascinating and innovative form, emphasizing each aspect as being capable of revealing the full process of enlightenment."[6]

The main practices of Drikung Kagyü are “The Five-fold Profound Path of Mahamudrā,” and “The Six Dharmas of Nāropa.” The five-fold Mahamudrā, also known as the "possessing five", consists of five elements:[7]

This practice is traditionally cultivated in retreat alongside the Six Dharmas of Naropa, and it is preceded by the preliminary practices called ngondro.[8]

This presentation is outlined in Clarifying the Jewel Rosary of the Profound Five-Fold Path by Kunga Rinchen, the Dharma heir to Jigten Sumgön.

The Drikung Kagyü also have a tradition of Dzogchen teachings, the Yangzab Dzogchen.[9] It is based on termas revealed by the Drikung Tertön (hidden treasure revealer), Rinchen Phuntsog in the sixteenth century.


The Drikung lineage is popularly known for its development of the practice of Phowa, in which a practitioner learns how to expel his/her consciousness or mindstream through the posterior fontanelle at the top of the skull at the moment of death. One of the Six Yogas of Naropa, this practice is said to aid the practitioner in remaining aware through the death experience, thus aiding one in attaining enlightenment in the Bardo (the state in between death and the next rebirth) or in achieving a birth conducive to the practice of Dharma.

Monasteries and centers[edit]

A building in Drikung monastery overlooking the valley, Maizhokunggar County, Lhasa, Tibet

The first and main Drikung Kagyü monastery is Drikung Thil Monastery,[10] founded in 1179[10] by Jigten Sumgön[10] approximately 150 kilometers northeast of Lhasa.

Aside from the Drikung Valley in Ü, the Drikung Kagyu has a strong presence in Nangqên County in what was Kham, in western Tibet (including Kailash), and in Ladakh. Tsari and Lapchi - two important sacred sites for all Tibetan Buddhists - also have a strong Drikung Kagyu presence. Among the so-called "four major and eight minor" Kagyu lineages, Drikung Kagyu is one of four Kagyu lineages that continue to exist as independent institutions (the other three being the Karma Kagyu, Drukpa Lineage and Taklung Kagyu).

Outside of Tibet, the headquarters for the tradition in exile is Jangchubling, located in Dhera Dun, in the Indian state of Uttarakhand.[11]

Drikung Kagyu is one of the most prominent lineages in Ladakh where its main monasteries are Phyang and Lamayuru, with roughly 50 other monasteries spread across Ladakh region.

A series of Drikung Dharma centers were also founded in the West, a project begun by Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche in 1978.[12]

Lineage notes[edit]

Spiritual heads[edit]

Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche, the thirty-seventh and current Drikung Kyabgon, the head of the Drikung order

From the founding of Drikung Thil Monastery in 1179 to the present day, the Drikung Kagyü lineage has been led by a succession of spiritual heads ("throne-holders"). One of the two current heads of the lineage, Drikung Kyabgön Chetsang Rinpoche,[13][14] Könchok Tenzin Kunzang Thinley Lhundrup (b. 1946),[15] the 37th Drikungpa resides at Drikung Kagyü Institute at Dehra Dun, India.[14] The other head of the Drikung Kagyü Lineage, the 36th Drikungpa, Drikung Kyabgön Chungtsang Rinpoche, Könchok Tenzin Chökyi Nangwa (b. 1942) lives in Lhasa, Tibet.[16]

Female protector[edit]

Another unique feature of the Drikung lineage is its female dharmapāla, Achi Chokyi Drolma. The great-grandmother of Jigten Sumgön,[17] she prophesied his birth and vowed to protect those in his lineage. She is unusual in that she is both a female protector and an enlightened bodhisattva that can be taken as an iṣṭadevatā in meditation practice. She is depicted either sitting on a horse or standing with a kapala in her left hand and a mirror in her right hand.[18] Achi's practice became so popular that she has been included in other lineages, such as the Karma Kagyu.

First nun[edit]

In 2002 Khenmo Drolma, an American woman, became the first bhikkhuni (a fully ordained Buddhist nun) in the Drikung Kagyü lineage. She is also the first westerner, male or female, to be installed as an abbot in the Drikung Kagyü lineage, having been installed as the abbot of the Vajra Dakini Nunnery (America's first Tibetan Buddhist nunnery, located in Vermont) in 2004.[19]

Lineage timeline[edit]

Name Date of Birth Date of Death Year Lineage Holding Begun Year Lineage Holding Relinquished
Phagmodrupa 1110 1170
Lord Jigten Sumgon 1143 1217 1179 1217
Kenchen Gurawa Tsultrim Dorje 1154 1221 1217 1221
On Rinpoche Sonam Drakpa 1187 1234 1221 1234
Chen-nga Rinpoche Drakpa Jungne 1175 1255 1234 1255
Telo Dorje Drakpa 1210 1278 1255 1278
Thog-khawa Rinchen Senge 1226 1284 1278 1284
Chen-nga tsamchedpa Drakpa Sonam 1238 1286 1284 1286
Dorje Yeshe 1223 1293 1286 1293
Chu-nyipa Dorje Rinchen 1278 1314 1293 1314
Nyer-gyepa Dorje Gyalpo 1283 1350 1314 1350
Nyermyipa Chökyi Gyalpo 1335 1407 1350 1395
Shenyen Dondrup Gyalpo 1369 1427 1395 1427
Dakpo Wang 1395 [20] 1427 1428
Chogyal Rinchen Pal Zangpo 1421 1469 1428 1469
Rinchen Chökyi Gyaltsen 1449 1484 1469 1484
Gyalwang Kunga Rinchen 1475 1527 1484 1527
Gyalwang Rinchen Phuntsok 1509 1557 1527 1534
Rinchen Namgyal Chodak Gyaltsen 1527 1570 1565 1570
Chokyi Namgyal 1557 1579 1570 1579
Tsungme Chogyal Phuntsok 1547 1602 1579 1602
Naro Nyipa Tashi Phuntsok 1574 1628 1602 1615
Jetsǖn Könchog Rinchen (1st Chetsang) [21] 1580 1654 1615 1626
Kunkhyen Chökyi Dragpa (1st Chungtsang) [22] 1595 1659 1626 1659
Könchog trinley Sangpo (Chetsang) 1656 1718 1659 1718
Trinley Dondrub Chogyal (Chungtsang) 1704 1754 1704 1754
Kônchog Tenzin Drodul (Chetsang) 1724 1766 1724 1766
Könchog Tenzin Chökyi Nyima (Chuntsang) 1755 1792 1755 1792
Tenzin Padme Gyaltsen (Chetsang) 1770 1826 1770 1826
Tenzin Chöwang Lodrô (Regent) 1826 1827
Jetsǖn Chonyi Norbu (Chungtsang) 1827 1865 1827 1865
Könchog Thukie Nyima (Chetsang) 1828 1881 1828 1881
Könchog Tenzin Chôkyi Lodrö (Chungtsang) 1868 1906 1868 1906
Könchog Tenzin Zhiwe Lodrö (Chetsang) 1886 1943 1886 1943
Tenzin Chökyi Jungme (Chungtsang) 1909 1940 1909 1940
Tenzin Thuben Wangpo (Regent) 1940 1942
Tenzin Chökyi Nangwa (Chungtsang) 1942 1942
Könchog Tenzin Kunzang Thinley Lhundrup (Chetsang) 1946 1946



  1. ^ "Drikung Kagyü Lineage". www.drikung.org. Retrieved 2017-01-01.
  2. ^ Gyaltsen, Konchok (2013). Opening the Treasure of the Profound: Teachings on the Songs of Jigten Sumgon and Milarepa. Snow Lion. pp. ch. 10. ISBN 978-1611800708.
  3. ^ see: Dargye and Sørensen (2001) pp.ix–x, 34–36, 41–46
  4. ^ Dorje, Sangay and Kinga (2008) pp.146–7.
  5. ^ For the Gongchig see the blog by Jan-Ulrich Sobisch (Copenhagen University) dgongs1.com.
  6. ^ Steward, Jampa MacKenzie (2004), The Life of Gampopa, Shambhala, p. 130.
  7. ^ Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche (2009), The Practice of Mahamudra, Shambhala, pp. 11-12.
  8. ^ Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche (2009), The Practice of Mahamudra, Shambhala, pp. 13-14.
  9. ^ Helmut Krasser, Tibetan studies, International Association for Tibetan Studies. Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1997 - Tibet (China), page 586
  10. ^ a b c A Brief History of the Drikung Kagyü Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism
  11. ^ Gruber, Elmar R., From the Heart of Tibet: The Biography of Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche, the Holder of the Drikung Kagyu Lineage, Shambhala Publications, 2010, Foreword by the Dalai Lama.
  12. ^ Lewis, James R. The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects, and New Religions, p. 290.
  13. ^ His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche, Head of the Drikung Kagyü Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, will visit St. Petersburg September 14-15, 2010 Archived October 13, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ a b His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang
  15. ^ Gruber, Elmar R. (2010). From the Heart of Tibet: The Biography of Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche, the Holder of the Drikung Kagyu Lineage. Boston: Shambhala. ISBN 978-1-59030-765-6. Synopsis
  16. ^ His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chungtsang
  17. ^ Achi Chokyi Drolma Archived November 1, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ Worldly Protector (Buddhist) - Achi Chokyi Drolma
  19. ^ Women Making History Archived 2010-06-01 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ According to The Great Kagyu Masters (Gyaltsen, 270) "he went to Five Peaked Mountain in China and achieved the state of immortality."
  21. ^ A Brief History of the Drikung Kagyu"A system of two lineage holders was established, that of the elder (Chetsang) and the younger (Chungtsang) brother." They aren't considered brothers by blood, but by lineage. Chetsang Rinpoche is considered an emanation of Chenrezig.
  22. ^ Chungtsang Rinpoche is considered the emanation of both Padmasambhava and Manjushri. Also, one of the Drikung Kyabgŏns.
  23. ^ Gyaltsen, Khenpo Könchog, Edited by Victoria Huckenpahler. The Great Kagyu Master: The Golden Lineage Treasury. Snow Lion Publications, 2006 2nd Edition. ISBN 1-55939-244-4

Further reading[edit]

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