Understanding our spiritual lineage

A reminder by Lama Sangyay Tendzin


As genuine Dharma Practitioners that we are, it is essential that we gain some clarity into the lineage that we are receiving and of which, to a certain degree, we become a living depository.

The Karma Kamtshang Lineage streamed down from the transmission lineage brought to Tibet by Marpa in the following way:


Indian Gurus Tilopa & Naropa

Tilopa received, practiced and mastered the lineage of tantric teachings called “The Four Special Transmissions”:

  • The yoga of illusory body and the yoga of transference;
  • The yoga of dream;
  • The yoga of luminosity;
  • The yoga of inner heat.

Guru Tilopa had received these teachings from two original sources, called the direct and indirect lineage:

  • The direct lineage and original source of the teachings was Buddha Vajradhara;
  • The indirect lineage comes from four main teachers of Tilopa.

Guru Naropa, received from Guru Tilopa these teachings in their entirety.


Marpa Lhodrakpa

Marpa from Lhodrak was first trained as a translator under Drogmi Yeshe. He then travelled three times to India and four times to Nepal in search of Buddhist teachings. He is said to have studied with a hundred and eight masters and yogis, but his principle teachers were Guru Naropa and Guru Maitripa. Marpa brought these lineages to Tibet

The Marpa Kagyüd Transmission went as follows:

  • Milarepa held Marpa's tradition of the Practice Lineage;
  • Other of his great students: Ngog Choku Dorje, Tsurton Wangi and Meton Chenpo, held Marpa's tradition of the Teaching Lineage.

In this way the two great systems of the practice lineage and the teaching lineage were founded in Kagyüd lineage.



Milarepa, was the predicted primary disciple and lineage holder of Marpa who gave him the complete Mahamudra teachings. Practicing them, he achieved enlightenment in one lifetime.


Gampopa & Rechungpa

The great master Gampopa, known as Dakpo Lharje, and Rechungpa were the heart disciples of Milarepa. Gampopa, prophesized by Buddha in the sutras, pioneered in establishing the framework of the lineage by unifying Milarepa's Mahamudra lineage with the stages of the path tradition of the Kadampa lineage.

Gampopa is at the origin of the monastic branch of the lineage known as the Dhakpo Kagyüd.

Among Gampopa's three heart disciples who were tantric yogins from Kham, Dusum Khyenpa & Phakmo Drukpa were at the origin of more streaming lineages:

Dusum Khyenpa was the heart disciple who established the Karma Kagyüd lineage.

Phagmo Drupa had several heart sons who initiated the 'chun-gyay' (see below).

From then on, the transmission of the teachings went through outstanding realized masters  as explained hereafter:


Chen zhi

From Gampopa's disciples, four main lineages developed:

  • The Barom Kagyüd founded by Barom Dharma Wangchuk;
  • The Tshalpa Kagyüd founded by Zhang Tshalpa Tsöndrü Dragpa;
  • The Karma Kagyüdor The Karma Kamtshang founded by Dusum Khyenpa;
  • ThePhagdru Kagyüd founded by Phagmo Drupa.


Chun gyay (Eight lesser)

From Phakmo Drupa's disciples, eight additional Kagyupa Schools developed:

  • The Drikung Kagyüd, founded by Kyobpa Jigten Gonpo;

Drigung Kagyüd founded by Kyobpa Jigten Gonpofounded by Kyobpa Jigten Gonpo;

  • The Taklung Kagyüdfounded by Taglung Thangpa Tashi Palden;
  • The Drukpa Kagyüdfounded by Lingje Repa Pema Dorje & Tshangpa Gyaray ;
  • The Yazang Kagyüdfounded by Zarawa Yeshe Senge;
  • The Trophu Kagyüdfounded by Drogon Gyaltsha;
  • The Shuksep Kagyüdfounded by Nyephu Gyergom Chenpo;
  • The Yelpa Kagyüdfounded by Yelpa Yeshe Tsek;
  • The Martsang Kagyüdfounded by Choje Marpa Dondrup.

Among these lineages, one of the most widely known is the Karma Kagyüd lineage, which was impeccably continued over the centuries through the activity of the Gyalwang Karmapas.