The Drikung Kagyu Lineage

A Brief History of the Drikung Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism

The Kagyu (bka' brgyud) lineage is sometimes referred to as the “lineage of oral-instructions.” The founder of the Kagyu lineage was the Mahasiddha Tilopa (988–1069), who lived in Northern India. He is considered having received a direct transmission from the primordial Buddha Vajradhara. In this context, the Kagyu lineage has originated from the very essence of reality itself and thus transcends all space and time. Viewed from another level of understanding, he also had human teachers, from whom he received four special transmissions, The Four Oral Instructions (bka' babs bzhi) for which he became the lineage holder. When Tilopa's transmission is linked directly to Vajradhara, it is called the "direct transmission" but when it is traced to his human teachers, it is referred to as the "indirect transmission."

These transmissions form the core of the precepts and secret instructions of the Kagyu lineage that is transmitted from generation to generation, uninterrupted from master to disciples. The contents of the Four Oral Instructions include both the path of means and the path of liberation.

These teachings were passed from Tilopa to his disciple, the Mahasiddha Naropa (1016–1100) and they were systematized as the Six Yogas of Naropa, meditations that are considered an essential teaching of the Kagyu lineage. Naropa transmitted his knowledge to Marpa Chokyi Lodro (1012–1097), the great translator, who journeyed from Tibet to India in order to receive instructions and who subsequently returned to Tibet and spread the teachings of the Dharma widely.

Marpa's most important disciple was Jetsun Milarepa (1040–1123). He became one of Tibet's great yogis. His life story, beginning with difficult circumstances due to his father's early death, his vengeance upon his dishonest aunt and uncle, and his subsequent regret which led to an earnest desire to enter the way of the Dharma, is widely known among Tibetans. Through his perseverance and ability to accept all circumstances which he met, he achieved profound realization of the ultimate nature of reality. His teachings are recorded in the 100,000 songs of Milarepa and other collections.

Milarepa's teachings were carried on by Gampopa (1079–1153), also known as Dakpo Lhaje, the physician from Dakpo. He first studied under the Kadampa tradition, which is a gradual and systematic path. At a later age, he met Milarepa and practicing under him received and realized the true meaning of the complete teachings. Since that time, the lineage has been known as the Dakpo Kagyu. It is from Gampopa that the first Kagyu schools originated: the Karma Kagyu, Tselpa Kagyu, Barom Kagyu, and Phagdru Kagyu.

The founder of the Phagdru Kagyu was Phagmodrupa Dorje Gyalpo (1110–1170), one of Gampopa’s most important disciples. His own lineage died out as a religious institution, while Phagmodrupa’s main disciples founded their own lineages, of which only three are still existant: the Drikung Kagyu, Taklung Kagyu, and Drukpa Kagyu.


The Origin of the Drikung Kagyu Lineage

Phagmodrupa’s Heart Son, Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon (1143–1217), took over the throne of Phagdru at Densa Thil Monastery for three years after his teacher’s death (1177–1179). He then established his own lineage with the foundation of Drikung Thil Monastery in the area of Drikung, as Phagmodrupa had predicted.

Although Phagmodrupa had countless students, Jigten Sumgon was one of his closest and principal disciples. Phagmodrupa prophesied that a Bodhisattva (Jigten Sumgon), who already attained the ten Bhumis (the stages on the path of a Bodhisattva), would carry on the teachings and blessings. Jigten Sumgon received the complete teachings, secret oral transmissions, explanations and initiations, and enlightened realization blessings, and so forth from Phagmodrupa. In turn Jigten Sumgon transmitted the complete teachings to his chief disciple, Gurawa Tsultrim Dorje (1154–1221).

Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon was a descendant from the Kyura clan. As was the custom in many schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Jigten Sumgon chose his successor from among his relatives. Thus, initially all but three Drikung Kagyu throne holders came from the male offspring of the Kyura clan, although there were no set guidelines for the succession among the family members. From the very beginning in Drikung powers were shared; spiritual leadership was reserved to the Denrab (gdan rabs), the throne holder, while secular matters were under the governance of a Gompa (sgom pa), a civil administrator. Both usually were members of the Kyura clan.


For the full account of the history and further information on 

Early Developments (1217–1400)

The Period of Reform (1400–1615)

The Era of Chetsang and Chungtsang Rinpoche (1615 – present)

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