Among the four main Tibetan Buddhist schools, the Kagyü (Bka’ brgyud) school produced the highest number of subschools in the early period after its foundation. Within this school, the Drukpa Kagyü (‘Brug pa bka’ brgyud) school became religiously and politically influential in Tibet and its surrounding areas along with the Karma Kagyü (Karma bka’ brgyud) school and the Pakdu Kagyü (Phag gru bka’ brgyud) school. The Drukpa Kagyü school was responsible for the unification of Bhutan in the 17th century and currently has the second largest number of adherents within the entire Kagyü school. Thus, the Drukpa Kagyü school has played an important role both politically and religiously in Tibet and the Himalayan regions. Fortunately, modern historians’ studies have enabled us to grasp the historical outline of the school. However, most of them treat only a particular era or rely only on a limited number of biographies and dharma annals. Therefore, they often offer insufficient or incomplete information. The early history of the Drukpa Kagyü school, in particular, has not been exhaustively examined or philologically studied. To understand the Drukpa Kagyü school fully, it is necessary to comprehend the precise order of events in its early history. This article thus has the objective of reexamining the early history of the school, primarily focusing on three generations: the founder of the Drukpa Kagyü school, Tsangpa Gyare (Gtsang pa rgya ras Ye shes rdo rje, 1161–1211), his root master Ling Repa (Gling ras pa Padma rdo rje, 1128–1188), and his disciples such as Darma Senge Sangye Wonre (Darma seng ge Sangs rgyas dbon ras, 1177–1237). The article also examines the relationship between the Lingre Kagyü school and the Drukpa Kagyü school, as well as the classification of subschools inside the Drukpa Kagyü school.
Early History of the Drukpa Kagyü School
Mahāmudrā in India and Tibet
Roger R. Jackson
Mahāmudrā, “the Great Seal,” is a Sanskrit term (Tibetan: phyag rgya chen po) that connotes a wide range of concepts and practices in Indian Mahāyāna and, especially, Tibetan Buddhism, most of them directly or indirectly related to discourse on ultimate reality and the way to know and achieve it. The term first appeared in Indian tantric texts of the 7th or 8th century ce and gained increasing prominence in the final period of Buddhism’s efflorescence on the subcontinent, particularly in the sometimes transgressive Mahāyoga and Yoginī tantras and the works of such charismatic great adepts (mahāsiddhas) as Saraha, Tilopa, and Maitrīpa. By the 11th century, Mahāmudrā had come to refer, in India, to a hand gesture signifying clear visualization of a deity, one of a number of “seals” (with or without hand gestures) that confirm tantric ritual procedures, a consort employed in sexual yoga practices, a meditation technique in which the mind contemplates its own nature, the great bliss and luminous gnosis that result from advanced subtle-body practices, a way of living in the world freely and spontaneously, and the omniscient buddhahood that is the final outcome of the tantric path. It also came to be synonymous with such concepts as emptiness, the middle way, sameness, the co-emergent, the natural mind, luminosity, the single taste, non-duality, meditative “inattention,” buddha nature, non-abiding nirvāṇa, and a buddha’s Dharma Body—to name just a few. Although little discussed during the period of Buddhism’s introduction to Tibet (c. 650–850), Mahāmudrā came to the fore on the plateau during the so-called Tibetan Renaissance (c. 950–1350), finding a place of greater or lesser prominence in the ideas and practices of the religious orders that formed at that time, including the Kadam, Sakya, Shijé, Shangpa Kagyü, and—most notably—the powerful and influential Marpa Kagyü, for which it is a pivotal term, referring to the true nature of the mind, a style of meditation aimed at the realization of that nature, and the perfect buddhahood resulting from that realization. Although it has all these meanings and more, Mahāmudrā became best known as a contemplative technique in which the mind realizes, and settles within, its own true nature: as empty and luminous. It was brought to the center of Kagyü religious life by Gampopa (1079–1153), and studied, practiced, and systematized by generations of great Kagyü scholars and meditators. In later times, it sometimes inspired syncretic formulations, which combined the practices of Kagyü Mahāmudrā with those of the Nyingma Great Perfection (Dzokchen), or the Gelukpa analysis of the emptiness of all existents. Over the course of a millennium or more in Tibet, the Great Seal informed ritual, prompted ecstatic poetry, provoked debate, became the focus of yogic retreats, and was used as a lens through which Indian Buddhist thought and Tibetan institutional history might be viewed. With the post-1959 Tibetan disapora and the subsequent spread of Tibetan Buddhism outside Asia, Mahāmudrā has become a topic of interest for scholars and practitioners in many and varied settings, and a part of the vocabulary of educated Buddhists everywhere.
Tsangpa Gyare (1161–1211), Founder of the Drukpa Kagyü School
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.
Marpa Lotsawa Chökyi Lodrö
Marpa Lotsawa Chökyi Lodrö (Mar pa chos kyi blo gros, 1000?–1085?) is one of the most famous intrepid translators of the 11th century, who traveled from Tibet to India and brought back to his homeland many of the Buddhist teachings that would decline in India over the following centuries. Marpa is the Tibetan founder of the Kagyü school, one of the main religious orders of Tibetan Buddhism. He was the disciple of some of the greatest luminaries of India such as Nāropa (d. 1040) and Maitrīpa (986–1063), and the master of the yogin and poet Milarepa (1028?–1111?). Marpa lived during the period of the second spread of Buddhism in Tibet, a period of cultural renaissance that followed the collapse of the Tibetan Empire in the 9th and 10th centuries. At that time, many Tibetans traveled south to Nepal and India in order to receive, practice, and translate the various Buddhist traditions, sutra and tantra, that were blossoming in India. Marpa specialized in Highest Yoga tantras (Sanskrit niruttaratantras) and transmitted in Tibet cycles associated with the tantras of Hevajra, Guhyasamāja, Cakrasaṃvara, Mahāmāyā, and Catuṣpīṭha. He is well known for the potency of his key instructions related to the perfection phase of these tantras, known as the Six Doctrines of Nāropa (nā ro chos drug). With the success of his disciples’ practice, the Six Doctrines of Nāropa and Mahāmudrā became central teachings in all subdivisions of the Kagyü lineage. Marpa’s life is mostly known through a long biography composed in the early 16th century by Tsangnyön Heruka (Gtsang smyon he ru ka, 1452–1507), but there are many other biographies written before and after that date. Despite basic inconsistencies in the narratives, it can be concluded that Marpa first left home at twelve. He went to study with Drokmi Lotsawa (’Brog mi lo tsā ba, 992–1074) in Tibet, and then continued on toward Nepal and India, where he spent about twenty years in total, making several journeys in Tibet, Nepal, and India. In India, he mostly traveled off the beaten track and lived the life of an Indian yogin, far from the main institutions of the time. Although he met famous masters such as Nāropa and Maitrīpa, he attended on them in jungles, mountains, and charnel grounds, and mostly traveled alone, sometimes accompanied by his friends, the Tibetan Nyö (gnyos) Lotsawa or the Newari Paiṇḍapa. During his first journey to India (in the 1020s and early 1030s), he received all the transmissions for which he became famous in Tibet, and he deepened his understanding during a second journey in the late 1040s. At that time, he is said to have visited most of his teachers again, and to have had visions of Nāropa, who was then either dead or considered to be engaged in tantric practice. In Tibet, he settled in the southern region of Lhodrak, where he became an important landowner and tantric master. Although he often traveled elsewhere in Tibet in the earlier part of his life in order to accumulate gold and disciples, in the later part he mostly stayed in his estate of Drowolung, where his disciples came to meet him. As a lay practitioner, he had children, but his family lineage did not continue after his death. His religious lineage continued with Milarepa, who transmitted the “lineage of practice” (Tibetan sgrub brgyud), which further flowed through Gampopa and all the Kagyü sub-lineages. Ngok Chödor (Rngog chos rdor) and Tsurtön Wangngé (Mtshur ston dbang nge) were other important disciples who held Marpa’s “lineage of exegesis” (bshad brgyud), especially with regard to the Hevajra and Guhyasamāja traditions, respectively.