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date: 25 March 2023

Tsangpa Gyare (1161–1211), Founder of the Drukpa Kagyü Schoollocked

Tsangpa Gyare (1161–1211), Founder of the Drukpa Kagyü Schoollocked

  • Seiji KumagaiSeiji KumagaiResearch Division for Ethics and Spirituality, Kyoto University


Buddhism was introduced to Tibet in the 7th century and became the state religion of the Tibetan Empire in the 8th century, only to face a temporary all-out decline in the ensuing century. After Atiśa’s visit to Tibet in the 11th century, Buddhism revived there. Just after the Kadam school (Bka’ gdams pa) was founded by the followers of Atiśa, the Kagyü school (Bka’ brgyud pa) and the Sakya school (Sa skya pa) were also established, and so Tibetan Buddhism became rich in diversity. The Sakya school was ruled by the Khön family and remained mostly unitary. On the other hand, the Kagyü school developed the master–disciple relationship, producing many subschools established by the foremost students of famous teachers. Thus, four disciples of Gampopa (Sgam po pa Bsod nams rin chen or Dwags po lha rje, 1079–1153) founded the four primary subschools, and Phagmo Drupa (Phag mo gru pa Rdo rje rgyal po, 1110–1170) established the eight secondary subschools.

It is a well-known fact that the Karma Kagyü school (Karma bka’ brgyud) became the most prominent subschool among them. The second largest subschool regarding the number of followers was the Drukpa Kagyü school (’Brug pa bka’ brgyud). This school has been a state Buddhist school in Bhutan (or Druk Yul) since the establishment of the country by the 17th head abbot Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (Zhabs drung Ngag dbang rnam rgyal, 1594–1651).

Fortunately, modern Western researchers have provided us with a general outline of the history of the Drukpa Kagyü. However, some details remain unclear. Due to difficulties of accessing many of his works, the life and thoughts of Tsangpa Gyare (Gtsang pa rgya ras Ye shes rdo rje, 1161–1211), the founder of the Drukpa Kagyü school, have been insufficiently studied. Information about its founder is necessary to improve our understanding of the school. Thus, this article aims to re-examine Tsangpa Gyare’s life, integrating both philological and field information in an effort to provide a historical mapping of Tsangpa Gyare according to both his spiritual lineage of pre-reincarnations and dharma lineages (master and disciple relationship), and an examination of his life. In order to understand the life and personality of this figure, this article will examine Tsangpa Gyare’s own works as well as varied sources referring to him.


  • Buddhism

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