The Drikung Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism
The Drikung (Drigung) Kagyu of Tibetan Buddhism lineage is one of the eight small branches of the Kagyu school. It was founded by Lord Jigten Sumgon (1143-1217) at the end of the twelfth century, and is centered at Drikung Thil Monastery, located northeast of Lhasa, Tibet.
The Kagyu school (literally, the “Oral Lineage”) is one of four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the other three being the Nyingma, Sakya, and Gelug schools. The Kagyu, and especially the Drikung Kagyu, is known for its intense commitment to meditation practice, and thus is sometimes referred to as the “Practice Lineage.”
The origin of the Kagyu school may be traced to the primordial Buddha Vajradhara, who bestowed teachings on the Indian mystic Tilopa (988-1089). Tilopa passed the lineage to the pre-eminent Indian scholar and mystic Naropa (1016-1100). Naropa’s teachings were brought to Tibet by the great translator Marpa (1012-1097). Marpa sold all of his belongings and traveled to India three times on foot in order to study with the great masters of his day and bring their Dharma teachings back to his homeland. In addition to his main guru Naropa, Marpa studied with the Indian Masters Maitripa and Kukuripa.
Marpa’s main disciple was Milarepa (1052-1135), who started his life a murderer. Through great regret and Marpa’s guidance, he transformed his life into perpetual retreat, becoming without question one of Tibet’s greatest saints, as well as a beloved religious poet. Of Milarepa’s many disciples, the role of successor fell to Gampopa (1079-1153), a great scholar-practitioner, who is considered the founder of the Kagyu as a distinct school of Tibetan Buddhism.
Prior to meeting Milarepa, Gampopa had studied and mastered the Kadampa teachings (stemming from Lord Atisha). In his teachings, he brilliantly combined the ethical and practical applications of Kadampa practice with the meditation instructions of Mahamudra and the Six Yogas of Naropa that he had received from Milarepa. He is perhaps best known as the author of the classic Buddhist text The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, the earliest of Tibet’s “gradual path” treatises.
The various branches of the Kagyu school stem from Gampopa’s students. The four major branches, of which the most famous is the Karma Kagyu, were founded by Gampopa’s direct disciples. Gampopa named Phagmodrupa (1110-1170) as his successor, and the eight small Kagyu branches, including the Drikung and Drukpa Kagyus, were established by Phagmodrupa’s own students.
Phagmodrupa’s main disciple was Lord Jigten Sumgon, who was considered the head of Phagmodrupa’s 500 closest disciples. Following his guru’s prophecy, Jigten Sumgon went to Drikung and founded Drikung Thil monastery. His writings and oral instructions form the basis for the teachings and practices of the Drikung Kagyu, and the lineage of his disciples came to be known by the name of the land in which they started.
The Drikung Kagyu lineage has a rich history and has played important roles in Tibetan religious and political events, as well. In the following centuries, the Drikung lineage spread throughout Tibet and switched from being led by a hereditary lineage to the double reincarnation lineages of His Holiness’ Chetsang and Chungtsang Rinpoches. Today the Drikung is overseen by H.H. Chetsang Rinpoche, who resides in India, and H.H. Chungtsang Rinpoche, who lives in Tibet. In the Himalayan world, it remains especially strong in Ladakh, Nakchu, and Nangchen, and of course at its monastic seat of Drikung Thil. Now, it is spreading across the world, with Dharma centers in six continents and several flourishing monasteries in exile.
A brief biography of Lord Jigten Sumgon may be found at:
The full list of heads of the Drikung Kagyu is listed here:
Teachings of the Drikung Kagyu
The Drikung Kagyu’s lama is Jigten Sumgon, the central yidam deity is Chakrasamvara, and the dakini is Vajravarahi. The Drikung’s special Dharma protectors are Achi Chokyi Drolma (the great-grandmother of Lord Jigten Sumgon), Mahakala, and Tsi-u Mar. The holy teachings of the Drikung Kagyu are the Five-fold Mahamudra, and the practice is, as Jigten Sumgon taught, cultivating Mahamudra and ethical discipline as a single object.
The teaching of Five-fold Mahamudra originated with Milarepa. Phagmodrupa assigned it the name “Five-fold Mahamudra” (“chak-chen nga-den,” in Tibetan), and gave Lord Jigten Sumgon the responsibility of propagating it, and it remains a Drikung specialty. In Five-fold Mahamudra, the entire Buddhist path is condensed into five points: (1) Bodhicitta (the mind of enlightenment), (2) Yidam Deity Practice, (3) Guru Yoga, (4) Mahamudra Meditation, and (5) Dedication. No matter what teachings one follows, enlightenment is impossible without these five aspects, and this clear and concise presentation is Lord Jigten Sumgon’s legacy to practitioners of today.
A brief history of the Drikung Kagyu lineage may be found at:
More on the Drikung Kagyu lineage may be found at: