The Drukpa lineage was founded in west Tibet by Tsangpa Gyare (1161–1211), a student of Ling Repa, who mastered the Vajrayana practices of the mahamudra and Six Yogas of Naropa at an early age. As a tertön or "finder of spiritual relics", he discovered the text of the Six Equal Tastes, previously hidden by Rechung Dorje Drakpa, the student of Milarepa. While on a pilgrimage Tsangpa Gyare and his disciples witnessed a set of nine dragons (Tibetan: druk) roaring out of the earth and into the skies, as flowers rained down everywhere. From this incident they named their sect Drukpa.
Also important in the lineage were the root guru of Tsangpa Gyare, Ling Repa and his guru, Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo, who was in turn a principal disciple of Gampopa as well as Dampa Sumpa , one of Rechung Dorje Drakpa's main disciples.
A prominent disciple of Tsangpa Gyare's nephew, Onre Darma Sengye, was Phajo Drugom Zhigpo (1208–1276) who in 1222 went to establish the Drukapa Kagyu teachings in the valleys of western Bhutan.
Branches of the Drukpa Lineage
The outstanding disciples of Tsangpa Gyare Yeshi Dorje (1161–1211), the first Gyalwang Drukpa, may be divided into two categories: blood relatives and spiritual sons. His nephew, Onre Darma Sengye (1177–1237), ascended the throne at Ralung, the main seat of the Drukpa lineage. Darma Sengye guided the later disciples of Tsangpa Gyare, such as Gotsangpa Gonpo Dorje (1189–1258), onto the path of realization, thus becoming their guru as well. Darma Sengye's nephew and their descendants held the seat at Ralung and continued the lineage.
Gyalwa Lorepa, Gyalwa Gotsangpa and his disciple Gyalwa Yang Gonpa, are known as Gyalwa Namsum or the Three Victorious Ones in recognition of their spiritual realization. The followers of Gyalwa Lorepa came to be called the 'Lower Drukpas'. The followers of Gyalwa Gotsangpa came to be called the 'Upper Drukpas'. And the followers of Onre Darma Sengye came to be called the 'Middle Drukpas'.
After the death of 4th Gyalwang Drukpa, Kunkhyen Pema Karpo, in 1592, there were two rival candidates for his reincarnation. Gyalwang Pagsam Wangpo, one of the candidates, was favored by the King of Tsang and prevailed. His rival, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, was then invited to Western Bhutan and eventually he unified the entire country and established Drukpa as the preeminent Buddhist school from Haa all the way to Trongsa.
The Drukpa Lineage was divided from that time on into the Northern Drukpa (Dzongkha: བྱང་འབྲུག་, Wylie: byang 'brug) branch in Tibet headed by the Gyalwang Drukpa and the Southern Drukpa (Dzongkha: ལྷོ་འབྲུག་, Wylie: lho 'brug) based in Bhutan and headed by the Shabdrung incarnations. Ever since Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal appointed Pekar Jungne as the 1st Je Khenpo, the spiritual head of all monasteries in Bhutan, successive Je Khenpos have acted to date as spiritual regents of Bhutan.
Several of Tsangpa Gyare's students started sub-schools, the most important of which were the Lower Drukpa founded by Gyalwa Lorepa Wangchug Tsondru and the Upper Drukpa founded by
Gyalwa Gotsangpa Gonpo Dorje. This branch further gave rise to several important sub-schools. However the chief monasteries and succession of Gyalwang Drukpa Tsangpa Gyare passed to his nephew, Önre Darma Senge, at Ralung Monastery; this lineage was known as the Central Drukpa. This lineage of hereditary "prince-abbots" of Ralung continued until 1616, when Ngawang Namgyal, the Zhabdrung Rinpoche, fled to Bhutan due to a dispute over the incarnation of the 4th Gyalwang Drukpa and the enmity of the Tsangpa ruler. Due to those events, the Central Drukpa split into the Southern Drukpa led by the Zhabdrung and his successors in Bhutan and the Northern Drukpa led by Gyalwang Pagsam Wangpo and the successive Gyalwang Drukpa tulkus in Tibet.
The Lower Drukpa (Wylie: smad 'brug) was founded by Tsangpa Gyare's disciple Loré Wangchuk Tsöndrü (Wylie: lo ras dbang phyug brtson 'grus, 1187-1250). Lorepa built the Üri (Wylie: dbu ri) and Sengeri (Wylie: seng ge ri) monasteries and visited Bhutan, where he founded Tharpaling Monastery (Wylie: thar pa gling) in Jakar. A special transmission of the Lower Drukpa Lineage is known as The Five Capabilities (Wylie: thub pa lnga), which are:
- Being capable of [facing] death: capability of Mahāmudrā (Wylie: phyag rgya chen-po 'chi thub)
- Being capable of [wearing only] the cotton cloth: capability of tummo (Wylie: gtum mo ras thub)
- Being capable of the tantric activities done in seclusion (Wylie: gsang spyod kyi ri thub)
- Being capable of [facing] the disturbances of 'don spirits: sickness (Wylie: nad 'don gyi 'khrug thub)
- Being capable of [facing] circumstances: capability of [applying] antidotes (Wylie: gnyen-po rkyen thub-pa)
The Upper Drukpa
The Upper Drukpa (Wylie: stod 'brug) was founded Tsangpa Gyare's disciple Götsangpa Gönpo Dorjé (Wylie: rgod tshang pa mgon po rdo rje, 1189-1258), a highly realized yogi who had many disciples. His main disciples were Orgyenpa Rinchenpel (Wylie: o rgyan pa rin chen dpal, 1230—1309), Yanggönpa (Wylie: yang dgon pa), Chilkarpa (Wylie: spyil dkar pa) and Neringpa.
Orgyenpa, who was also a disciple of Karma Pakshi, 2nd Karmapa Lama, became a great siddha who traveled to Bodhgaya, Jalandhar, Oddiyana and China. In Oddiyana he received teachings related to the Six Branch Yoga of the Kalachakra system known as the "Approach and Attainment of the Three Adamantine States" (Wylie: rdo rje gsum gyi bsnyen sgrub) and, after returning to Tibet, founded the Orgyen Nyendrup tradition and wrote many works including a famous guide to the land of Oddiyana. Ogyenpa had many disciples including Rangjung Dorje, 3rd Karmapa Lama, Kharchupa (Wylie: mkhar chu pa, 1284—1339) and Tokden Daseng (Wylie: rtogs dan zla seng).
Barawa Gyeltsen Pelzang (, 1255-1343) was a great scholar of the Upper Drukpa succession of Yanggönpa. He established the Barawa sub-school, which for a time was widespread in Tibet and survived as an independent lineage until 1959. For a time this lineage was also important in Bhutan.
The Central Drukpa
The Middle Drukpa (Wylie: bar 'brug) was the hereditary lineage of Tsangpa Gyare centered at Ralung. Following Tsangpa Gyare, the next holder of this lineage was his nephew Darma Sengge (Wylie: dar ma seng ge, 1177-1237), son of Tsangpa Gyare's brother Lhanyen (Wylie: lha gnyan). Darma Sengge was succeeded by his own nephew Zhönnu Sengge (Wylie: gzhon nu seng ge, 1200–66) and he by his nephew Nyima Sengge (Wylie: nyi ma seng ge, 1251-1287).
The lineage then went to his cousin Dorje Lingpa Sengge Sherap (Wylie: rdo rje gling pa seng ge shes rab, 1238-1287), son of Wöntak (Wylie: dbon stag), a member of the branch of the Drukpa lineage descended from Tsangpa Gyare's brother Lhambum Wylie: lha 'bum). The lineage passed to Sengge Sherap's brother Sengge Rinchen (Wylie: seng ge rin chen, 1258-1313), who was succeeded in turn by his son Sengge Gyelpo (Wylie: seng ge rgyal po, 1289-1326), grandson Jamyang Künga Senggé (Wylie: 'jam dbyangs kun dga' seng ge, 1289-1326), great-grandson Lodrö Sengge (Wylie: blo gros seng ge, 1345–90) and great-great-grandson Sherap Sengge (Wylie: shes rab seng ge, 1371–92). These first nine holders of Tsangpa Gyare's lineage were known as the "Incomparable Nine Lions" (Wylie: mnyam med seng ge dgu).
Sherap Sengge, who died at the age of 21, was succeeded on the throne of Ralung by his elder brother Yeshe Rinchen (Wylie: ye shes rin chen, 1364-1413) and he by his sons Namkha Pelzang (Wylie: nam mkha' dpal bzang, 1398-1425) and Sherap Zangpo (Wylie: shes rab bzang po, 1400–38). These three were considered the emanations of the three mahāsattvas Manjusri, Vajrapani and Avalokiteśvara, respectively. Sherap Zangpo's son was the second Gyalwang Drukpa, Gyelwang Jé Künga Penjor (Wylie: rgyal dbang rje kun dga' dpal 'byor, 1428–76), who received teachings from the most renowned lamas of his age and became a great author and teacher.
From the 2nd Gyalwang Drukpa, the lineage passed to his nephew Ngakwang Chögyel (Wylie: ngag dbang chos rgyal, 1465-1540), then successively in turns from father to son to Ngak gi Wangchuk Drakpa Gyeltsen (Wylie: ngag gi dbang phyug grags pa rgyal mtshan, 1517-1554), Mipham Chögyal (Wylie: mi pham chos rgyal, 1543-1604), Mipham Tenpa'i Nyima (Wylie: mi pham bstan pa'i nyi ma, 1567-1619) and Ngawang Namgyal, who was the great-great-grandson of Ngawang Chögyal.
In the Middle Drukpa tradition many great scholars appeared including the fourth Gyalwang Drukpa, Kunkhyen Pema Karpo (kun mkhyen padma dkar po) [1527—1592], Khewang Sangay Dorji (mkhas dbang sangs rgyas rdo rje) [1569—1645] and Bod Khepa Mipham Geleg Namgyal (bod mkhas pa mi pham dge legs rnam rgyal) (1618—1685) who was famed for his knowledge of poetics, grammar and medicine. His collected works fill over twenty volumes in modern editions. He founded
Sangngak Chö Monastery (Wylie: gsang sngags chos gling) in 1571 to "subdue the klo pa", the inhabitants of southeastern Tibet. This monastery, which is located in modern Lhoka Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region near the border with Arunachal Pradesh, India, became the seat of the successive Gyalwang Drukpa incarnations in Tibet and thus the center of the Northern Drukpa.
Three great siddhas of Middle Drukpa school were Tsangnyön Heruka (1452-1507), author of the Life of Milarepa, the Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, the Life of Rechungpa, and compiler of the Demchog Khandro Nyengyud; Drukpa Kunley (1455-1529); and Ünyön Künga Zangpo (Wylie: dbus smyon kun dga' bzang po, 1458-1532). All three were disciples of the 4th Gyalwang Drukpa.
Following the death of the 4th Gyalwang Drukpa, two incarnations were recognized: Paksam Wangpo (Wylie: dpag bsam dbang po), who was the offspring of the Chongje Depa, and Ngawang Namgyal, who was also the heir to Drukpa lineage of Ralung. Paksam Wangpo gained the backing of the powerful Tsangpa Desi, who was a patron of the Karma Kagyu and hostile to Ngawang Namgyal. The latter subsequently fled to Bhutan, where his lineage already had many followers, established the Southern Drukpa, and became both the spiritual and temporal head of the country, after which the country became known as Drukyül in Standard Tibetan and Dzongkha.