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Drukpa Lineage Explained

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The Drukpa Lineage or simply Drukpa, sometimes called either Dugpa or "Red Hat sect" in older sources, is a branch of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Kagyu school is one of the Sarma or "New Translations" schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Within the Drukpa Lineage, there are further sub-schools, most notably the eastern Kham tradition and middle Drukpa school which prospered in Ladakh and surrounding areas.

In Bhutan the Drukpa Lineage is the dominant school and state religion. History

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 principle 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 Drukpa 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་,) branch in Tibet headed by the Gyalwang Drukpa and the Southern Drukpa (Dzongkha: ལྷོ་འབྲུག་,) 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.

Spread of Drukpa Lineage in Ladakh area

Once Tagtshang Repa Ngawang Gyatso (1573 - 1651), a disciple of the 5th Gyalwang Drukpa Paksam Wangpo (1593 - 1641) and Drukpa Yongzin Ngawang Sangpo, was meditating at Ugyen dzong, a retreat cave near Kargil of Guru Padma Sambhava and Naropa, after his pilgrimage to the Swat Valley (now in Pakistan), when he received an invitation from King Jamyang Namgyal of Ladakh.

He declined the royal invitation, saying that he did not have either permission from his Guru or guidance from the dakinis to visit the royal court of Ladakh, and returned to Tibet.

When Sengye Namgyal ascended the royal throne of Ladakh, he petitioned Drukpa Paksam Wangpo to send Tagtshang Repa to Ladakh to give spiritual guidance to the royal court and propagate the teachings of the Drukpa lineage in Ladakh.

Following the instructions of Drukpa Paksam Wangpo, Tagtshang Repa arrived in Ladakh in 1624, at the age of 50, and first founded the monastery at Hanley.

Two years later, he arrived at Hemis and was received by King Sengge Namgyal and members of the royal court.

In 1630, he built the Hemis Jangchub Ling shrine (today called Dukhang Nyingpa) and founded the Sangha.

With royal patronage, successive reincarnations of Tagtshang Repa spread the Drukpa lineage all over the kingdom of Ladakh as well as Zanskar and Lahaul.

The king of Ladakh also invited Jamgon Ngawang Gyaltsen from Bhutan to visit Ladakh, where the prime minister, the king and royal family members, warmly received him with honour and respect.

He gave many teachings to the king and the people of Ladakh and displayed many miracles.

Jamgon was particularly famous for his ability to perform miracles and make predictions.

He also proved himself to be an expert in making Zung scrolls, mandala drawings and cross-thread objects, which can still be seen in most of the dzongs in Ladakh.

Thus he also played a pivotal role in spreading the Drukpa lineage in Ladakh.

The Drukpa Lineage has more than a thousand monasteries in Tibet, Bhutan, Ladakh and other parts of Himalayas and the legacy of guiding countless beings on the path of Dharma and ultimate enlightenment for more than 800 years.

Contemporary organisation

The Southern Drukpa are led by the Je Khenpo (an elected office, not a tulku lineage), who is the chief abbot of the Dratshang Lhentshog of Bhutan.

The Northern Drukpa are led by the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa or incarnation of the Gyalwang Drukpa.

In Kham, Khamtrul Rinpoche traditionally has been the most prominent Drukpa Lineage master, and still commands a huge following in Kham.

Unlike previously where the lineage was divided geographically into Northern, Middle and Southern Drukpa, the Drukpa Lineage masters today often cross these traditional borders and communicate to strengthen the lineage and the teachings.

In April 2009, the first of a yearly event known as the Annual Drukpa Council (ADC) was held on Druk Amitabha Mountain in Kathmandu, Nepal.

More than 40 masters of the lineage from India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet attended this event and over 10,000 lay practitioners and at least 1,000 monks and nuns or more met on this occasion.

This was the first time an annual event for the Drukpa Lineage involving all the three major branches will be held, as a concerted effort to reunite the strengths of the Drukpa Lineage and to mend the historical connections of different monasteries and organizations.

In July 2007, when the lineage celebrated its 800-plus-years' legacy in Shey, Ladakh, more than 100,000 attended the event that included celebrations and prayers, as well as mask dancing by 300 nuns.

This event, boasted of the first firework in the Himalayas, the first 800 sky lanterns being lit in the Himalayas and the first 12,000 bio-degradable balloons sent to the sky, was covered by international media [11] [12]

In 2010, the Gyalwang Drukpa launched an initiative to plant one million trees in Ladakh, as part of the ‘one million trees’ campaign initiated by Wangari Maathaï, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

As part of this initiative, the Gyalwang Drukpa led the Live to Love volunteers to break the Guinness World Record twice for most trees planted simultaneously.

The first in October 2010, 9,313 volunteers planted 50,033 trees within half an hour, breaking their first Guinness World Records for the "Most Trees Planted" category.

In October 2012, they broke again the Guinness World Records for the same category, with over 9,800 volunteers planted nearly 100,000 trees, safeguarding villages from mudslides and cleaning polluted air.[13]

The Drukpa Lineage under the guidance of its spiritual masters, in particular His Holiness the Twelfth Gyalwang Drukpa,[14] has established centers across the world, especially in Europe.


In March 2008, the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, declared his preference that:

He goes on to note that the "different lineages within a major Tibetan Buddhist branch are like brothers, of course some brothers do better than others,

but that doesn't mean that those doing better could self-appoint themselves as the heads of other weaker brothers' households and take over their assets, wives and children, in the name of 'helping' and in the name of 'supporting'," and for that reason it is better that dKar-brgyud not be used any longer.[15]

Indian Government Issued Commemorative Stamp in the name of "Drukpa Lineage"

On 14 May 2014, Department of Posts-Government of India celebrated Buddha Purnima with the release of a commemorative stamp on the Drukpa Buddhists, a rare and perhaps first recognition given by the Indian government to a particular Buddhist lineage.

Forced Conversion of Drukpa Monasteries in Mount Kailash by Karma Kagyu

On 10 September 2014, the Gyalwang Drukpa issued an official statement [17] that the Drukpa monasteries in Mount Kailash have been forcibly taken over by the Karma Kagyu order with Drukpa monks and yogis being forced out of their monasteries, and photographs of Drukpa masters have been replaced with photographs of Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje.

Symbols designed by Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje adorned these monasteries.

Tirthapuri and Drira Phug are the two most prominent heritages having been forcibly taken over.

Till now, only Chungyalpa from office of Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje has replied, saying "in the late 70s, a high lama of their sect had visited the Kailash region and witnessed how four Drukpa monasteries had been desecrated.

'He had then urged that these be restored because they are very sacred.'".

However, observers note that 1970s was a turbulent time when the Cultural Revolution took place and places of religious importance were not permitted for entry.

While the Gyalwang Drukpa has only mentioned two Drukpa monasteries in Kailash that have been forcibly converted to Karma Kagyu by influential masters and followers of the sect, office of Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje has declared four monasteries in this region have been affected.

Witness statements have been posted on social media and documentations provided by the local Buddhist association have proven that the monasteries were Drukpa until 2006.

Western perception

Some nineteenth and early-twentieth century writers believed the "Dugpas" to be sorcerers focusing principally on the left-hand path traditions and various Tantric practices of Buddhism. Alexandra David-Néel claims that the name "Dugpa" comes from the Tibetan word for thunder, as the first monastery was built during a thunderstorm.

The name "Dugpa" was used on the television show Twin Peaks to refer to a group of black magicians connected to the Black Lodge Monasteries

Important monasteries of the Drukpa order include:

    Ralung Monastery in Central Tibet just north of Bhutan
    Druk Sangag Choeling Monastery
    Hemis Monastery
    Punakha Dzong, the winter home of the Dratshang Lhentshog
    Tashichho Dzong, Thimphu, which houses the Dratshang Lhentshog in summer
    Namdruk Monastery
    Kardang Monastery, the main monastery in Lahaul

Drukpa Lineage Masters

    H.H The Gyalwang Drukpa
    H.E Drukpa Yongzin Rinpoches
    H.E Drukpa Choegon Rinpoches
    H.E. Chogdra Rinpoche

Drukpa Lineage Abbots

Khenpo Choedhar, Khenpo Sodhar, Khenpo Lodoe Sangpo, Kenpo Jigme Dorjee, Khenpo Thringa, Khenpo Sonam Gyatso, Khenpo Ngedoen Tenzin, Khenpo Lobsang Tsultrim, will update more...

Notes and References

    Book: Ray, Reginald A. Reginald Ray

    . Reginald Ray. Secret of the Vajra World: The Tantric Buddhism of Tibet. Shambhala Publications. 2002. 53. 1-57062-917-X.
    The Wand that opens the Eyes and Dispels the Darkness of Mind. Compiled by Tashi Namgyal, translated in 2004. pg. 3
    Book: Blavatasky, H.P;. 1 Mar 2003. The Theosophical Glossary. Kessinger Publishing Co. 0766147118. Initiations And Initiates In Tibet, p. 34
    Book: Dargye, Yonten. History of the Drukpa Kagyud School in Bhutan (12th to 17th Century A.D.). 2001. Thimphu, Bhutan. 99936-616-0-0.
    The Biographies of Rechungpa: The Evolution of a Tibetan hagiography. Roberts, Peter Alan. Routledge, 2007. ISBN 0-415-76995-7, pg. 53
    The History of Tibet. ed. Alex Mckay. London: Routledge Curzon, 2003: 191 - 192.
    The Drukpa Lineage goes around the world. Kuensel Newspapers, 1 August 2008 Welcome to Annual Drukpa Council (ADC) Website Druk Gawa Khilwa Abbey
    "Pilgrims flock to India for Buddhistdragon’ celebration" AFP
    More news, photographs and media articles on the 800th anniversary celebration in Ladakh New world record for planting trees in Leh The Gyalwang Drukpa News - Monks and Baby Sheep Indian Government Releases Postage Stamp on Drukpa Lineage The Gyalwang Drukpa's Official Statement On Forced Conversion of Drukpa Monasteries Tibetan Buddhist Sect Seeks Indian Intervention Eye on border, China fanning intra-sect rivalry: Ladakh's Buddhist leader Witness Statement by Helga Hirschberg Witness Statement by Dr. Johann Cronjaeger, Germany