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The Kagyu, Kagyü, or Kagyud (Tibetan: བཀའ་བརྒྱུདWylie: bka' brgyud) school, also known as the "Oral Lineage" or Whispered Transmission school, is today regarded as one of six main schools (chos lugs) of Himalayan or Tibetan Buddhism, the other five being the Nyingma, Sakya, Jonang, Gelug and Bon. Along with the Sakya and Gelug schools, the Kagyu tradition is classified as one of the Sarma or "New Transmission" schools of Vajrayāna founded during the second diffusion of Buddhism into Tibet (diffusing the so-called "New Tantras"). It is a Red Hat sect along with the Nyingma and Sakya.

Due to the Kagyu tradition's particularly strong emphasis on guru devotion and guru yoga, and the personal transmission of esoteric instructions (Wylie: dam ngag or man ngag) from master to disciple, the early Kagyu tradition soon gave rise to a bewildering number of independent sub-schools or sub-sects centered on individual charismatic Kagyu teachers and their lineages. These lineages are hereditary as well as mindstream emanation in nature.

Nomenclature, orthography and etymology[edit]

Strictly speaking, the term bka' brgyud "oral lineage", "precept transmission" applies to any line of transmission of an esoteric teaching from teacher to disciple. There are references to the "Atiśa kagyu" for the Kadam or to "Jonang kagyu" for the Jonang and "Ganden kagyu" for the Gelug sects.[1] Today, however, the term Kagyu almost always refers to the Dagpo Kagyu and, less often, to the Shangpa Kagyu.

"Kagyu" and "Kargyu"[edit]

In his 1970 article Golden Rosaries of the Bka' brgyud schools, E. Gene Smith discusses the two forms of the name, Wylie: bka' brgyud and Wylie: dkar brgyud:

A note is in order regarding the two forms Dkar brgyud pa and Bka' brgyud pa. The term Bka' brgyud pa simply applies to any line of transmission of an esoteric teaching from teacher to disciple. We can properly speak of a Jo nang Bka' brgyud pa or Dge ldan Bka' brgyud pa for the Jo nang pa and Dge lugs pa sects. The adherents of the sects that practice the teachings centering around the Phyag rgya chen po and the Nā ro chos drug are properly referred to as the Dwags po Bka' brgyud pa because these teachings were all transmitted through Sgam po pa. Similar teachings and practices centering around the Ni gu chos drug are distinctive of the Shangs pa Bka' brgyud pa. These two traditions with their offshoots are often incorrectly referred to simply as Bka' brgyud pa.

Some of the more careful Tibetan scholars suggested that the term Dkar brgyud pa be used to refer to the Dwags po Bka' brgyud pa, Shangs pa Bka' brgyud pa and a few minor traditions transmitted by Nā ro pa, Mar pa, Mi la ras pa, or Ras chung pa but did not pass through Sgam po pa. The term Dkar brgyud pa refers to the use of the white cotton meditation garment by all these lineages. This complex is what is normally known, inaccuratly, as the Bka' brgyud pa. Thu'u kwan Blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma sums up the matter: "In some later 'Brug pa texts the written form 'Dkar brgyud' indeed appears, because Mar pa, Mi la, Gling ras, and others wore only white cotton cloth. Nevertheless, it is fine if [they] are all called Bka' brgyud." At Thu'u kwan's suggestion, then, we will side with convention and use the term "Bka' brgyud."[2]

One source indicates:

[T]he term "Kagyu" derives from the Tibetan phrase meaning "Lineage of the Four Commissioners" (Ka-bab-shi-gyu-pa). This four-fold lineage is

  1. the illusory body and transference yogas of the Guhyasamaja and Chatushpitha Tantra, transmitted through Tilopa, Nagarjuna, Indrabhuti, and Saraha;
  2. the dream yoga practice of the Mahamaya from Tilopa, Charyapa, and Kukuripa;
  3. the clear-light yoga of the Chakrasamvara, Hevajra, and other Mother Tantras, as transmitted from Hevajra, Dombipa, and Lavapa; and
  4. the inner-heat yoga, Kamadevavajra, Padmavajra, Dakini, Kalpabhadra, and Tilopa.(Thurman 2003, p. 42)

Shangpa Kagyu[edit]

Main article: Shangpa Kagyu

The Shangpa Kagyu (Wylie: shangs pa bka' brgyud) differs in origin from the better known Marpa or Dagpo school that is the source of all present-day Kagyu schools. The Dagpo school and its branches primarily came from the lineage of the Indian siddhas Tilopa and Naropa transmitted in Tibet through Marpa, Milarepa, Gampopa and their successors. In contrast, the Shangpa lineage descended from two female siddhas, Naropa's consort Niguma[3] and Virupa's disciple Sukhasiddhi, transmitted in Tibet in the 11th century through Khyungpo Nenjor. The tradition takes its name from the Shang Valley where Khyungpo Nenjor established the gompa of Zhongzhong or Zhangzhong.

For seven generations, the Shangpa Kagyu lineage remained a one-to-one transmission.[4] Although there were a few temples and retreat centres in Tibet and Bhutan associated with the Shangpa transmission, it never really was established as an independent religious institution or sect. Rather, its teachings were transmitted down through the centuries by lamas belonging to many different schools.

In the 20th century, the Shangpa teachings were transmitted by the first Kalu Rinpoche, who studied at Palpung Monastery, the seat of the Tai Situpa.

Marpa Kagyu and Dagpo Kagyu[edit]

Kagyu begins in Tibet with Marpa Lotsawa (1012–1097) who trained as a translator with Drogmi Lotsawa Shākya Yeshe (Wylie: 'brog mi lo tsā ba shākya ye shes, 993–1050), and then traveled three times to India and four times to Nepal in search of religious teachings. His principal gurus were the siddhas Nāropa - from whom he received the "close lineage" of Mahāmudrā and Tantric teachings, and Maitrīpāda - from whom he received the "distant lineage" of mahāmudrā.

Indian Origins[edit]


Marpa's guru Nāropa (1016–1100) was the principal disciple of Tilopa (988-1089) from East Bengal. From his own teachers Tilopa received the Four Lineages of Instructions (bka' babs bzhi),[5] which he passed on to Nāropa who codified them into what became known as the Six Doctrines or Six Yogas of Nāropa. These instructions consist a combination of the completion stage (Skt. sampannakrama; Tib. rdzogs rim) practices of different Buddhist highest yoga tantras (Skt. Anuttarayoga Tantra; Wylie: bla med rgyud), which use the energy-winds (Skt. vāyu, Wylie: rlung), energy-channels (Skt. nāḍi, Wylie: rtsa) and energy-drops of the subtle vajra-body in order to achieve the four types of bliss, the clear-light mind and realize the state of Mahāmudrā.

The Mahāmudrā lineage of Tilopa and Nāropa is called the "direct lineage" or "close lineage" as it is said that Tilopa received this Mahāmudrā realisation directly from the Dharmakāya Buddha Vajradhara and this was transmitted only through Nāropa to Marpa.

The "distant lineage" of Mahāmudrā is said to have come from the Buddha in the form of Vajradara through incarnations of the bodhisattvas Avalokiteśvara and Mañjuśrī to Saraha, then from him through Nagarjuna, Shavaripa, and Maitripada to Marpa. The Mahāmudrā teachings from Saraha that Maitripa transmitted to Marpa include the "Essence Mahāmudrā" (Wylie: snying po'i phyag chen) where Mahāmudrā is introduced directly without relying on philosophical reasoning or yogic practices.

According to some accounts, on his third journey to India Marpa also met Atiśa (982–1054) who later came to Tibet and helped found the Kadam lineage[6]

Marpa and his successors[edit]


Marpa established his "seat" at Drowolung (Wylie: gro bo lung) in Lhodrak in southern Tibet just north of Bhutan. Marpa married the Lady Dagmema, and took eight other concubines as mudras. Collectively they embodied the main consort and eight wisdom dakini in the mandala of his iṣṭadevatā, Hevajra. Marpa wanted to entrust the transmission lineage to his oldest son Darma Dode who died in accident. Darma Dode's incarnation as Indian master Tiphupa became important for the future development of Kagyu in Tibet.

Marpa's four most outstanding students were known as the "Four Great Pillars" (Wylie: ka chen bzhi):[7]

  1. Milarepa (1040–1123), born in Gungthang province of western Tibet, the most celebrated and accomplished of Tibet's yogis, who achieved the ultimate goal of enlightenment in one lifetime became the holder of Marpa's meditation or practice lineage.
  2. Ngok Choku Dorje (Wylie: rngog chos sku rdo rje)[8] (1036–1102) - was the principal recipient of Marpa's explanatory lineages and particularly important in Marpa's transmission of the Hevajra Tantra. Ngok Choku Dorje founded the Langmalung temple in the Tang valley of Bumthang district, Bhutan—which stands today.[9] The Ngok branch of the Marpa Kagyu was an independent lineage carried on by his descendants at least up to the time of the Second Drukchen Gyalwang Kunga Paljor (Wylie: 'brug chen kun dga' dpal 'byor, 1428-1476) who received this transmission, and 1476 when Go Lotsawa composed the Blue Annals.[10]
  3. Tshurton Wangi Dorje (Wylie: mtshur ston dbang gi rdo rje)[11] - (or Tshurton Wangdor) was the principal recipient of Marpa's transmission of the teachings of the Guhyasamāja tantra. Tshurton's lineage eventually merged with the Shalu Monastery tradition and subsequently passed down to Je Tsongkhapa who wrote extensive commentaries on Guhyasamāja.
  4. Meton Tsonpo (Wylie: mes ston tshon po)

Marpa had wanted to pass his lineage through his son Darma Dode following the usual Tibetan practice of the time to transmit of lineages of esoteric teachings via hereditary lineage (father-son or uncle-nephew), but his son died at an early age and consequently he passed his main lineage on through Milarepa.

Other important students of Marpa include:

  • Marpa Dowa Chokyi Wangchuck (Wylie: mar pa do ba chos kyi dbang phyug).
  • Marpa Goleg (Wylie: mar pa mgo legs) who along with Tshurton Wangdor received the Guhyasamāja tantra.
  • Barang Bawacen (Wylie: ba rang lba ba can) - who received lineage of the explanatory teachings of the Mahāmāyā Tantra.

Jamgon Kongtrul (1813–1899) collected the initiations and sadhanas of surviving transmissions of Marpa's teachings together in the collection known as the Kagyu Ngak Dzö (Tibetan: བཀའ་བརྒྱུད་སྔགས་མཛོད་Wylie: bka' brgyud sngags mdzod, "Treasury of Kagyu Tantras").

Milarepa and his disciples[edit]

Main article: Milarepa

Among Milarepa's many students were Gampopa (1079–1153), a great scholar, and the great yogi Rechung Dorje Drakpa, also known as Rechungpa.


Main article: Gampopa

Gampopa combined the stages of the path tradition of the Kadam order with teaching and practice of the Great Seal (Mahamudra) and the Six Yogas of Naropa he received from Milarepa synthesizing them into one lineage, which came to be known as Dagpo Kagyu—the main lineage of the Kagyu tradition passed down via Naropa as we know it today. The other main lineage of the Kagyu is the Shangpa Kagyu passed down via Niguma.

Following Gampopa's teachings, there evolved the so-called "Four Major and Eight Minor" lineages of the Dagpo (sometimes rendered "Tagpo" or "Dakpo") Kagyu School. This phrase is descriptive of the generation or order in which the schools were founded, not of their importance.

  • Together Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa are known as "Mar-Mi-Dag Sum" (Wylie: mar mi dwags gsum) and together these three are considered the founders of the Kagyu school of Buddhism in Tibet.

Twelve Dagpo Kagyu Lineages[edit]

See also: Dagpo Kagyu

Although few survive as independent linages today, there were twelve main sub schools of the Dagpo Kagyu derived from Gampopa and his disciples. Four primary branches stemmed from direct disciples of Gampopa and his nephew; and eight secondary branches derived from Gampopa's disciple Phagmo Drupa.[12] Several of these Kagyu traditions in turn developed their own branches or sub-schools. It must be said, though, that the terminology "primary and secondary" (che chung) for the Kagyu schools can only be traced back as far as Kongtrul's writings (19th century).[citation needed] The Tibetan terminology "che chung", literally "large (and) small," does not reflect the size or influence of the schools, as for instance the Drikung school was in the 13th century probably the largest and most influential of them, although it is, according to Kongtrul, "secondary".[citation needed]

The abbatal throne of Gampopa's own monastery of Daglha Gampo, passed to his own nephew Dagpo Gomtsul.

Four primary branches of the Dagpo Kagyu[edit]

Karma Kamtsang[edit]
Main article: Karma Kagyu

The Drubgyu Karma Kamtsang, often known simply as Karma Kagyu, was founded by one of Gampopa's main disciples Düsum Khyenpa, 1st Karmapa Lama (1110–1193).


The Karma Kagyu itself has three subschools in addition to the main branch:[13]

Karmapa controversy[edit]
Main article: Karmapa controversy

Following the death of Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, 16th Karmapa in 1981, followers came to disagree over the identity of his successor. In the early 1990s two main candidates, Ogyen Trinley Dorje and Trinley Thaye Dorje, were publicly identified. The 14th Shamarpa, recognized Trinley Thaye Dorje as the 17th Karmapa; while other senior Karma Kagyu incarnates, including the 12th Tai Situpa and 12th Goshir Gyaltsab, recognized Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the 17th Karmapa, as did the Dalai Lama and majority senior monks of the karma kagyu school. Both of these candidates underwent enthronement ceremonies and each is now considered by his respective followers as the 17th Karmapa.[14][15] A minority of Karma Kagyu adherents recognize both candidates as legitimate incarnations of the previous Karmapa.

Barom Kagyu[edit]

The Barom Kagyu was founded by Gampopa's disciple Barompa Darma Wangchuk (Wylie: 'ba' rom pa dar ma dbang phyug, 1127–1199/1200), who established the Nak River Barom Riwoche Monastery (Wylie: nag chu 'ba' rom ri bo che) in 1160.

An important early master of this school was Tishri Repa Sherab Senge (Wylie: 'gro mgon ti shri ras pa rab seng ge, 1164–1236).

This school was popular in the Principality of Nangchen in Kham (modern Nangqên County, Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, southern Qinghai) where it has survived in one or two pockets to the present day.

Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche (1920–1996) was a holder of the Barom Kagyu Lineage.

Tshalpa Kagyu[edit]

The Tshalpa Kagyu was established by Zhang Yudrakpa Tsöndru Drakpa (Wylie: zhang g.yu brag pa brtson 'gru brags pa, 1123–1193), who founded Tsel Gungtang Monastery (Wylie: tshal gung thang). Lama Zhang was a disciple of Gampopa's nephew Dagpo Gomtsul Tsultim Nyingpo (Wylie: dwags sgom tshul khrims snying po, 1116–1169).

The Tshalpa Kagyu tradition continued to function independently until the 15th century when it was absorbed by the Gelug, who still maintain many of its transmissions.[16] All of the former Tshelpa properties became Gelug possessions under the administration of Sera monastery.

Phagdru Kagyu[edit]

The Phagmo Drupa Kagyu (Tibetan: ཕག་མོ་གྲུ་པ་བཀའ་བརྒྱུདWylie: phag mo gru pa bka' brgyud) or Phagdru Kagyu (ཕག་གྲུ་བཀའ་བརྒྱུད) was founded by Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo (Tibetan: ཕག་མོ་གྲུ་པ་རྡོ་རྗེ་རྒྱལ་པོWylie: phag mo gru pa rdo rje rgyal po, 1110–1170) who was the elder brother of the famous Nyingma lama Ka Dampa Deshek (1122–1192) founder of Katok Monastery. Before meeting Gampopa, Dorje Gyalpo studied with Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (sa chen kun dga' snying po) (1092–1158) from whom he received lamdre transmission.[17]

In 1158 Dorje Gyalpo built a reed-hut hermitage at Phakmo Drupa ("Sow's Ferry Crossing") in a juniper forest in Nedong (Tibetan: སྣེ་གདོངWylie: sne gdong) high above the Brahmaputra River. Later, as his fame spread and disciples gathered, this site developed into the major monastic seat of Dentsa Thel (Tibetan: གདན་ས་ཐེལWylie: gdan sa thel). Following his death the monastery declined and his disciple Jigten Sumgön sent Chenga Drakpa Jungne (Tibetan: སྤྱན་སྔ་གྲགས་པ་འབྱུང་གནསWylie: spyan snga grags pa 'byung-gnas) (1175–1255), a member of the Lang (Wylie: rlang) family, to become abbot and look after the monastery.

Chenga Drakpa Jungne was abbot for 21 years and restored the monastery to its former grandeur. In 1253 when the Sakyapas came to power they appointed Dorje Pel [(Tibetan: རྡོ་རྗེ་དཔལWylie: rdo rje dpal)] the brother of Chenga Drakpa Jungne as Tripon [hereditary myriarch] of Nedon. From that time on the Tripon who as a monk, assumed the seat of government of Nedon and also ruled as abbot at Dentsa Thel and his brothers married in order to perpetuate the family line. This tie with the monastery founded by Phagmo Drupa led to the Tripons of Nedong to become known as Phagdru (short of Phagmo Drupa) Tripon and their period of rule in Tibet as the Phagmo Drupa period (or Phagmodrupa dynasty).[18]

Tai Situ Changchub Gyaltsen (1302–1364) was born into this Lang family. In 1322, he was appointed by the Sakyapas as the Pagmodru Myriarch of Nedong and given the title "Tai Situ" in the name of the Yuan emperor. Soon he fought with a neighboring myriarchy trying to recover land lost in earlier times. This quarrel displeased the Sakya ruler (dpon-chen) Gyelwa Zangpo (Tibetan: རྒྱལ་བ་བཟང་པོWylie: rgyal ba bzang po) who dismissed him as myriach. Following a split between Gyelwa Zangpo and his minister Nangchen Wangtsön (Tibetan: ནང་ཆེན་དབང་བརྩོནWylie: nang chen dbang brtson), the former restored Changchup Gyeltsen to his position in 1352. Taking advantage of the situation, Changchup Gyeltsen immediately went on the offensive and soon controlled the whole of the central Tibetan province of Ü. Gyelwa Zangpo and Changchup Gyeltsen were reconciled at a meeting with the Sakya lama Künpangpa (Tibetan: བླ་མ་ཀུན་སྤངས་པWylie: bla ma kun spangs pa). This angered Nangchen Wangtsön, who usurped Gyelwa Zangpo as Sakya ruler and imprisoned him.

In 1351 Changchup Gyeltsen established an important Kagyu monastery at the ancient Tibetan capital of Tsetang. This was later dismantled during the time of the 7th Dalai Lama (18th century) and replaced by a Gelugpa monastery, Gaden Chokhorling.[19]

In 1358, Wangtson assassinated Lama Kunpangpa. Learning of this, Changchup Gyeltsen then took his forces to Sakya, imprisoned Wangtsön, and replaced four hundred court officials and the newly appointed ruling lama. The Pagmodrupa rule of Central Tibet (U, Tsang and Ngari) dates from this coup in 1358.[20]

As ruler, Changchup Gyeltsen was keen to revive the glories of the Tibetan Empire of Songtsän Gampo and assert Tibetan independence from the Yuan dynasty of the Mongols and from Ming China. He took the Tibetan title "Desi" (sde-srid), re-organized the thirteen myriarchies of the Yuan Shakya rulers into numerous districts (Wylie: rdzong), abolished Mongol law in favour of the old Tibetan legal code, and Mongol court dress in favour of traditional Tibetan dress.[21]

Tai Situ Changchub Gyaltsen died in 1364 and was succeeded as by his nephew Jamyang Shakya Gyaltsen (Tibetan: ཇམ་དབྱངས་ཤ་ཀྱ་རྒྱལ་མཚནWylie: jam dbyangs sha kya rgyal mtshan) (1340–1373), who was also a monk. The subsequent rule of the Phagmodrupa Dynasty lasted until 1435 followed by the Rinpungpa kings who ruled for four generations from 1435–1565 and the three Tsangpa kings 1566-1641.

In 1406 the ruling Phagmodrupa prince, Drakpa Gyaltsen, turned down the imperial invitation to him to visit China.

From 1435 to 1481 the power of the Phagmodrupa declined and they were eclipsed by the Rinpungpa (Wylie: rin spungs pa) of Tsang, who patronized the Karma Kagyu.

The Phagmo Drupa monastery of Dentsa Thel "was completely destroyed during the Cultural Revolution in 1966-1978"[22]

Eight Secondary branches of the Dagpo Kagyu[edit]

The eight secondary lineages (zung bzhi ya brgyad or chung brgyad) of the Dagpo Kagyu all trace themselves to disciples of Phagmo Drupa. Some of these secondary schools, notably the Drikung Kagyu and Drukpa Kagyu, became more important and influential than

Drikung Kagyu[edit]
Drikung Monаstery
Main article: Drikung Kagyu

One of the most important of the Kagyu sects still remaining today, the Drikung Kagyu (འབྲི་གུང་བཀའ་པརྒྱུད་པ) takes its name from Drigung Monastery founded by Jigten Sumgön, also known as Drikung Kyopa.

The special Kagyu teachings of the Drikung tradition include the "Single Intention" (Wylie: dgongs gcig), "The Essence of Mahāyāna Teachings" (Wylie: theg chen bstan pa'i snying po), and the "Fivefold Profound Path of Mahāmudrā" (Wylie: lam zab mo phyag chen lnga ldan).

Since the 15th century the Drikung Kagyupa received influence from the "northern terma" (Wylie: byang gter) teachings of the Nyingma tradition.


Several sub-schools branched off from the Drikung Kagyu including the Lhapa or Lhanangpa Kagyu, 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 Kagyu. The Lhapa first came into conflict with the early Drukpa teacher, Phajo Drugom Zhigpo (b. 12th century)[23] and finally with Ngawang Namgyal (1594–1651). In 1640 the remaining followers of the Lhapa Kagyu 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.[24]

Lingre Kagyu and Drukpa Kagyu[edit]
Lingre Kagyu[edit]

Lingre Kagyu refers to the lineages founded by Lingrepa Pema Dorje (Wylie: gling ras pa padma rdo rje) [1128-1188][25] also known as Nephupa after Nephu monastery (sna phu dgon) he founded near Dorje Drak (rdo rje brag) in Central Tibet (dbus). Lingrepa's teachers were Gampopa's disciple Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo; Rechungpa's disciple Sumpa Repa; and Ra Yeshe Senge, a lineage holder of Ra Lotsawa.

Drukpa Lineage[edit]
Main article: Drukpa Lineage

The Drukpa Lineage was established by Ling Repa's main disciple, Tsangpa Gyare (1161–1211), who established monasteries at Longbol (Wylie: klong rbol) and Ralung Monastery (Wylie: rwa lung). Later, Tsangpa Gyare went to a place called Nam Phu where, legend has it, nine roaring dragons rose from the ground and soared into the sky. The Tibetan word for dragon is Druk (Wylie: 'brug), so Tsangpa Gyare's lineage and the monastery he established at the place became known as the Drukpa and he became known as the Gyalwang Drukpa. This school became widespread in Tibet and in surrounding regions. Today the Southern Drukpa Lineage is the state religion of Bhutan, and in the western Himalayas, Drukpa Lineage monasteries are found in Ladakh, Zanskar, Lahaul and Kinnaur.

Along with the Mahamudra teachings inherited from Gampopa and Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo, particular teachings of the Drukpa Lineage include the "Six Cycles of Equal Taste" (Wylie: ro snyom skor drug), a cycle of instructions said to have been hidden by Rechung Dorje Drakpa and discovered by Tsangpa Gyare, and the "Seven Auspicious Teachings" (Wylie: rten 'brel rab bdun) revealed to Tsangpa Gyare by seven Buddhas who appeared to him in a vision at Tsari.


Several of Tsangpa Gyare's students started sub-schools, the most important of which were the Lower Drukpa founded by Gyalwa Lorepa Wangchug Tsondru and the Upper Drukpa founded by Gyalwa Gotsangpa Gonpo Dorje. This branch further gave rise to several important sub-schools. However the chief monasteries and succession of Gyalwang Drukpa Tsangpa Gyare passed to his nephew, Önre Darma Senge, at Ralung Monastery; this lineage was known as the Central Drukpa. This lineage of hereditary "prince-abbots" of Ralung continued until 1616, when Ngawang Namgyal, the Zhabdrung Rinpoche, fled to Bhutan due to a dispute over the incarnation of the 4th Gyalwang Drukpa and the enmity of the Tsangpa ruler. Due to those events, the Central Drukpa split into the Southern Drukpa led by the Zhabdrung and his successors in Bhutan and the Northern Drukpa led by Gyalwang Pagsam Wangpo and the successive Gyalwang Drukpa tulkus in Tibet.[26]

The Lower Drukpa[edit]

The Lower Drukpa (Wylie: smad 'brug) was founded by Tsangpa Gyare's disciple Loré Wangchuk Tsöndrü (Wylie: lo ras dbang phyug brtson 'grus, 1187-1250). Lorepa built the Üri (Wylie: dbu ri) and Sengeri (Wylie: seng ge ri) monasteries and visited Bhutan, where he founded Tharpaling Monastery (Wylie: thar pa gling) in Jakar. A special transmission of the Lower Drukpa Lineage is known as The Five Capabilities (Wylie: thub pa lnga), which are:[27]

  1. Being capable of [facing] death: capability of Mahāmudrā (Wylie: phyag rgya chen-po 'chi thub)
  2. Being capable of [wearing only] the cotton cloth: capability of tummo (Wylie: gtum mo ras thub)
  3. Being capable of the tantric activities done in seclusion (Wylie: gsang spyod kyi ri thub)
  4. Being capable of [facing] the disturbances of 'don spirits: sickness (Wylie: nad 'don gyi 'khrug thub)
  5. Being capable of [facing] circumstances: capability of [applying] antidotes (Wylie: gnyen-po rkyen thub-pa)
The Upper Drukpa[edit]

The Upper Drukpa (Wylie: stod 'brug) was founded Tsangpa Gyare's disciple Götsangpa Gönpo Dorjé (Wylie: rgod tshang pa mgon po rdo rje, 1189-1258), a highly realized yogi who had many disciples. His main disciples were Orgyenpa Rinchenpel (Wylie: o rgyan pa rin chen dpal, 1230—1309), Yanggönpa (Wylie: yang dgon pa), Chilkarpa (Wylie: spyil dkar pa) and Neringpa.

Orgyenpa, who was also a disciple of Karma Pakshi, 2nd Karmapa Lama, became a great siddha who traveled to Bodhgaya, Jalandhar, Oddiyana and China. In Oddiyana he received teachings related to the Six Branch Yoga of the Kalachakra system known as the "Approach and Attainment of the Three Adamantine States" (Wylie: rdo rje gsum gyi bsnyen sgrub) and, after returning to Tibet, founded the Orgyen Nyendrup tradition and wrote many works including a famous guide to the land of Oddiyana. Ogyenpa had many disciples including Rangjung Dorje, 3rd Karmapa Lama, Kharchupa (Wylie: mkhar chu pa, 1284—1339) and Tokden Daseng (Wylie: rtogs dan zla seng).

Barawa Gyeltsen Pelzang (, 1255-1343) was a great scholar of the Upper Drukpa succession of Yanggönpa. He established the Barawa sub-school, which for a time was widespread in Tibet and survived as an independent lineage until 1959.[28] For a time this lineage was also important in Bhutan

The Central Drukpa[edit]

The Middle Drukpa (Wylie: bar 'brug) was the hereditary lineage of Tsangpa Gyare centered at Ralung. Following Tsangpa Gyare, the next holder of this lineage was his nephew Darma Sengge (Wylie: dar ma seng ge, 1177-1237), son of Tsangpa Gyare's brother Lhanyen (Wylie: lha gnyan). Darma Sengge was succeeded by his own nephew Zhönnu Sengge (Wylie: gzhon nu seng ge, 1200–66) and he by his nephew Nyima Sengge (Wylie: nyi ma seng ge, 1251-1287).

The lineage then went to his cousin Dorje Lingpa Sengge Sherap (Wylie: rdo rje gling pa seng ge shes rab, 1238-1287), son of Wöntak (Wylie: dbon stag), a member of the branch of the Drukpa lineage descended from Tsangpa Gyare's brother Lhambum Wylie: lha 'bum). The lineage passed to Sengge Sherap's brother Sengge Rinchen (Wylie: seng ge rin chen, 1258-1313), who was succeeded in turn by his son Sengge Gyelpo (Wylie: seng ge rgyal po, 1289-1326), grandson Jamyang Künga Senggé (Wylie: 'jam dbyangs kun dga' seng ge, 1289-1326), great-grandson Lodrö Sengge (Wylie: blo gros seng ge, 1345–90) and great-great-grandson Sherap Sengge (Wylie: shes rab seng ge, 1371–92). These first nine holders of Tsangpa Gyare's lineage were known as the "Incomparable Nine Lions" (Wylie: mnyam med seng ge dgu).

Sherap Sengge, who died at the age of 21, was succeeded on the throne of Ralung by his elder brother Yeshe Rinchen (Wylie: ye shes rin chen, 1364-1413) and he by his sons Namkha Pelzang (Wylie: nam mkha' dpal bzang, 1398-1425) and Sherap Zangpo (Wylie: shes rab bzang po, 1400–38). These three were considered the emanations of the three mahāsattvas Manjusri, Vajrapani and Avalokiteśvara, respectively. Sherap Zangpo's son was the second Gyalwang Drukpa, Gyelwang Jé Künga Penjor (Wylie: rgyal dbang rje kun dga' dpal 'byor, 1428–76), who received teachings from the most renowned lamas of his age and became a great author and teacher.

From the 2nd Gyalwang Drukpa, the lineage passed to his nephew Ngakwang Chögyel (Wylie: ngag dbang chos rgyal, 1465-1540), then successively in turns from father to son to Ngak gi Wangchuk Drakpa Gyeltsen (Wylie: ngag gi dbang phyug grags pa rgyal mtshan, 1517-1554), Mipham Chögyal (Wylie: mi pham chos rgyal, 1543-1604), Mipham Tenpa'i Nyima (Wylie: mi pham bstan pa'i nyi ma, 1567-1619) and Ngawang Namgyal, who was the great-great-grandson of Ngawang Chögyal.

In the Middle Drukpa tradition many great scholars appeared including the fourth Gyalwang Drukpa, Kunkhyen Pema Karpo (kun mkhyen padma dkar po) [1527—1592], Khewang Sangay Dorji (mkhas dbang sangs rgyas rdo rje) [1569—1645] and Bod Khepa Mipham Geleg Namgyal (bod mkhas pa mi pham dge legs rnam rgyal) (1618—1685) who was famed for his knowledge of poetics, grammar and medicine. His collected works fill over twenty volumes in modern editions. He founded Sangngak Chö Monastery (Wylie: gsang sngags chos gling) in 1571[29] to "subdue the klo pa", the inhabitants of southeastern Tibet.[30] This monastery, which is located in modern Lhoka Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region near the border with Arunachal Pradesh, India, became the seat of the successive Gyalwang Drukpa incarnations in Tibet and thus the center of the Northern Drukpa.

Three great siddhas of Middle Drukpa school were Tsangnyön Heruka (1452-1507), author of the Life of Milarepa, the Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, the Life of Rechungpa, and compiler of the Demchog Khandro Nyengyud; Drukpa Kunley (1455-1529); and Ünyön Künga Zangpo (Wylie: dbus smyon kun dga' bzang po, 1458-1532). All three were disciples of the 4th Gyalwang Drukpa.

Following the death of the 4th Gyalwang Drukpa, two incarnations were recognized: Paksam Wangpo (Wylie: dpag bsam dbang po), who was the offspring of the Chongje Depa, and Ngawang Namgyal, who was also the heir to Drukpa lineage of Ralung. Paksam Wangpo gained the backing of the powerful Tsangpa Desi, who was a patron of the Karma Kagyu and hostile to Ngawang Namgyal. The latter subsequently fled to Bhutan, where his lineage already had many followers, established the Southern Drukpa, and became both the spiritual and temporal head of the country, after which the country became known as Drukyül in Standard Tibetan and Dzongkha.

Shuksep Kagyu[edit]

The Shuksep Kagyu (Wylie: shug gseb bka' brgyud) was established by Gyergom Chenpo Zhönnu Drakpa (Wylie: gyer sgom chen po gzhon nu grags pa, 1090–1171), who founded the Shuksep Monastery in Nyiphu. The Shuksep Kagyu emphasised the Mahamudra teachings of the Dohas, spiritual songs of realisation by Indian masters such as Saraha, Shavaripa, Tilopa, Naropa and Maitripa. A notable member of this lineage was the nun Shukseb Jetsun Choying Zangmo.

Taklung Kagyu[edit]
Main article: Taklung Kagyu

The Taklung Kagyu (Wylie: stag lungs bka' brgyud), named after Taklung Monastery established in 1180 by Taklung Thangpa Tashi Pal (1142–1210).

Trophu Kagyu[edit]

The Trophu Kagyu (Wylie: khro phu bka' brgyud) was established by Gyeltsa Rinchen Gön (Wylie: rgyal tsha rin chen mgon, 1118–1195) and Künden Repa (Wylie: kun ldan ras pa, 1148–1217). The tradition was developed by their nephew, Thropu Lotsawa, who invited Pandit Shakyasri of Kashmir, Buddhasri and Mitrayogin to Tibet.

The most renowned adherent of this lineage was Buton Rinchen Drub (1290–1364) of Zhalu,[31] who was a student of Trophupa Sonam Sengge (Wylie: khro phu ba bsod nams sengge)[32] and Trophu Khenchen Rinchen Senge (Wylie: khro phu mkhan chen rin chen sengge).[33] Other notable teachers of this tradition include Chegompa Sherab Dorje (1130?-1200)[34]

Yazang Kagyu[edit]

The Yazang Kagyu (Wylie: g.ya' bzang bka' brgyud) founded by Sharawa Kalden Yeshe Sengge (d. 1207). His foremost disciple was Yazang Chöje Chö Mönlam (1169–1233) who in 1206 established the monastery of Yabzang, also known as Nedong Dzong, in Yarlung. The Yazang Kagyu survived as an independent school at least until the 16th century.

Yelpa Kagyu[edit]

The Yelpa Kagyu (Wylie: yel pa bka' rgyud) was established by Druptop Yéshé Tsekpa (Wylie: drub thob ye shes brtsegs pa, b. 1134). He established two monasteries, Shar Yelphuk (Wylie: shar yel phug) and Jang Tana (Wylie: byang rta rna dgon).

Dagpo Kagyu Lineages Today[edit]

The principle Dagpo Kagyu lineages existing today as organized schools are the Karma Kagyu, Drikung Kagyu and the Drukpa Lineage. For the most part, the teachings and main esoteric transmissions of the other Dagpo Kagyu lineages have been absorbed into one or another of these three independent schools. Periodic attempts are made to reestablish the institutional independence of some of the other lineages such as the Taklung and Barom Kagyu, but these have met with very modest success to date.

Kagyu Doctrines[edit]


Main article: Mahamudra

The central teaching of Kagyu is the doctrine of Mahamudra, "the Great Seal", as elucidated by Gampopa in his various works. This doctrine focuses on four principal stages of meditative practice (the Four Yogas of Mahamudra), namely:

  1. The development of single-pointedness of mind
  2. The transcendence of all conceptual elaboration
  3. The cultivation of the perspective that all phenomena are of a "single taste"
  4. 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.

The Six Yogas of Naropa[edit]

Main article: Six Yogas of Naropa

Important practices in all Kagyu schools are the tantric practices of Chakrasamvara and Vajravarahi, and particularly the Six Yogas of Naropa.

Kagyu Literature[edit]

In terms of view, the Kagyu (particularly the Karma Kagyu) emphasize the Hevajra tantra with commentaries by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye and Dakpo Tashi Namgyal, the Uttaratantra with commentaries by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye and another by Gölo Shönu Pal as a basis for studying buddha nature, and the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje's Profound Inner Reality (Tib. Zabmo Nangdon) with commentaries by Rangjung Dorje and Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye as a basis for tantra.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schaeffer 2001, p. 40.
  2. ^ Smith & Schaeffer 2001, p. 40.
  3. ^ Niguma Story
  4. ^ Jamgon Kongtrul 2003, p. 16.
  5. ^ These four lineages of instruction are enumerated by Situ Panchen as: 1. The instructions on Mahāmudrā (phyag rgya chen po'i gdam ngags);2. The instructions on caṇḍāli or "heat yoga" (gtum mo'i bka' babs); 3. The instructions on clear light ('od gsal kyi bka' babs); 4. The instructions on Karma Mudrā (las kyi phyags rgya'i bka babs)
  6. ^ "Atisha and the Restoration of Buddhism in Tibet by Gurugana Dharmakaranama". Lamayeshe.com. 2010-04-11. Retrieved 2012-09-10. 
  7. ^ Roerich, George N. (Translator) The Blue Annals. Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1988. [reprint of Calcutta, 1949] p. 403
  8. ^ TBRC P0RK1289
  9. ^ Dargey, Yonten. History of the Drukpa Kagyud in Bhutan. Thimphu 2001. pg. 58
  10. ^ The hereditary lineages starting from Ngok Choku Dorje's son Ngok Dode (Wylie: rngog mdo sde, b. 1090) up to 1476 AD are detailed on pp. 406-414 in Roerich's translation of the Blue Annals.
  11. ^ TBRC P3074
  12. ^ Tenzin Gyatsho, Dalai Lama XIV. The Gelug / Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra p. 262
  13. ^ "Transcriptions of teachings given by His Eminence the 12th Kenting Tai Situpa (2005),". Nic.fi. 
  14. ^ "The Karmapa's Return To Tsurphu In Tibet, The Historic Seat Of The Karmapas" Retrieved on December 22, 2008.
  15. ^ "The 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Trinley Thaye Dorje" Retrieved on December 22, 2008.
  16. ^ Dorje, Gyurme. Jokhang: Tibets most sacred Buddhist Temple . 2010 London, Thames and Hudson . pg. 12
  17. ^ Stearns, Cyrus. Luminous Lives: The Story of the Early Masters of the Lam dre in Tibet. Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-307-9
  18. ^ "The rise of Changchub Gyaltsen and the Phagmo Drupa Period″ in Bulletin of Tibetology, 1981 Gangtok: Namgyal Institute of Tibetology [1]
  19. ^ Dorje, Gyurme. Tibet Handbook: The Travel Guide. Footprint 1999. p.185 ISBN 1-900949-33-4
  20. ^ Berzin, Alexandra A Survey of Tibetan History: 4 The Pagmodru, Rinpung, and Tsangpa Hegemonies
  21. ^ Norbu, Dawa "China's Tibet Policy". RoutledgeCurzon 2001. p. 57
  22. ^ Stoddard, E Heather (2002) Golden Buddhas from Tibet: Reconstruction of the Façade of a Stupa from Densathil.
  23. ^ see: Dargye and Sørensen (2001) pp.ix–x, 34–36, 41–46
  24. ^ Dorje, Sangay and Kinga (2008) pp.146–7.
  25. ^ TBRC P910
  26. ^ Smith & Schaeffer 2001, pp. 44-5.
  27. ^ Martin 2006.
  28. ^ Smith 2001, p. 45.
  29. ^ Berzin 2013.
  30. ^ "gsang sngags chos gling". Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center. Retrieved 27 June 2015. 
  31. ^ Gyurme Dorje 1999, p. 200.
  32. ^ TBRC P3098
  33. ^ TBRC P3099
  34. ^ "Chegompa Sherab Dorje - The Treasury of Lives: Biographies of Himalayan Religious Masters". Tibetanlineages.org. Retrieved 2012-09-10. 


Further reading[edit]

  • Kapstein, Matthew. "The Shangs-pa bKa'-brgyud: an unknown school of Tibetan Buddhism" in M. Aris and Aung San Suu Kyi (eds.), Studies in Honor of Hugh Richardson Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1980, pp. 138–44.
  • Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen. The Great Kagyu Masters: The Golden Lineage Treasury. Ithica: Snow Lion Publications, 1990. [A translation of part of the Bka' brgyud kyi rnam thar chen mo- a collection of 'Bri gung Bka' brgyud hagiographies by Rdo rje mdzes 'od]
  • Quintman, Andrew, transl. The Life of Milarepa. Penguin Classics, 2010. ISBN 978-0-14-310622-7
  • Roberts, Peter Alan. The Biographies of Rechungpa: The Evolution of a Tibetan hagiography. London: Routledge, 2007. ISBN 0-415-76995-7
  • Smith, E. Gene. "Golden Rosaries of the Bka' brgyud Schools." in Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau, ed. Kurtis R. Schaeffer, 39-52. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001. ISBN 0-86171-179-3
  • Smith, E. Gene. "The Shangs pa Bka' brgyud Tradition." in Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau, ed. Kurtis R. Schaeffer, 53-57. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001. ISBN 0-86171-179-3
  • Smith, E. Gene. "Padma dkar po and His History of Buddhism" in Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau, ed. Kurtis R. Schaeffer, 81-86. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001. ISBN 0-86171-179-3
  • Thaye, Jampa A Garland of Gold. Bristol: Ganesha Press, 1990. ISBN 0-9509119-3-3
  • Thinley, Karma. The History of the Sixteen Karmapas of Tibet (1980) ISBN 1-57062-644-8
  • Brunnholzl, Karl. Luminous Heart: The Third Karmapa on Consciousness, Wisdom, and Buddha Nature Snow Lion Publications, 2009.
  • Rinpoche, Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang. The Practice of Mahamudra Snow Lion Publications 2009.
  • Rinpoche, Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen. The Great Kagyu Masters: The Golden Lineage Treasury Snow Lion Publications 2006.

External links[edit]

Barom Kagyu[edit]

Drikung Kagyu sites[edit]

Drukpa Kagyu[edit]

Karma (Kamtsang) Kagyu[edit]

Sites associated with Trinlay Thaye Dorje[edit]

Sites associated with Urgyen Trinley Dorje[edit]

Karma Kagyu sites[edit]

(Note: Karma Kagyu related sites that apparently do not take sides on the so-called "Karmapa controversy").

Taklung Kagyu[edit]

Shangpa Kagyu[edit]