‘GOLDEN TEACHINGS’ OF KAGYU TANTRA: Marpa the Translator and student Ngog, the Seven Ngog Mandalas, Thirteen Tantras of Marpa, Kongtrul’s ‘Treasury of Kagyu Mantras’, 17th Karmapa’s birthday teaching and Drikung Kagyu ‘Mar-Ngog’ activities

Marpa the Translator, Kagyu lineage master and teacher of Milarepa. Statue by 10th Karmapa, Choying Dorje

 “I made three great surrenders, but did not receive more than three cycles of teachings–not because the master did not have teachings but because my wealth was not enough.”–Ngog Choku Dorje on Marpa (Ducher, 2017:388)

In this lineage of Marpa Lotsawa,
Many good tidings will arrive at the door.
In the hard-core determination of Milarepa
སངས་རྒྱས་བསྟན་པའི་སྲོག་ཤིང་ཡོད། །
Is the life-pillar of Buddha’s teachings.
To those who hold this life-pillar
May the auspiciousness of the excellent lineage come!
May the auspiciousness of the Kagyu lineage gurus come!
May the auspiciousness of the excellent yidams come!
From “Life of Milarepa”, Part II, Chapter 5 – The Parting from the Guru (tr. Adele Tomlin)

On this new moon day today, am happy to offer a new research post on the legacy of Kagyu translators and Tantras, in particular the seven Ngog Mandalas and Thirteen Tantras of Marpa, handed down from Marpa, which were subsequently compiled by Jamgon Kongtrul in the Treasury of Kagyu Mantras (Kagyu Ngag Dzo). This post includes a recent teaching given on these topics by the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje on the occasion of his official 36th birthday, 26 June 2021. His announced plan to teach and preserve the Kagyu literary and cultural heritage will be of great historical, intellectual and cultural value, and is something worthy of admiration and respect. It is also essential and important for practitioners to know the history and background of these practices.

May this article be of benefit in helping the 17th Karmapa fulfil that goal, in preserving and promoting these profound and rare teachings, texts and practices and in bringing harmony, respect and awakening to all those who follow the Kagyu lineages.

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 9th July 2021.

Kagyu Lineages and Texts – 17th Karmapa’s 36th Birthday teaching
17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje. Photo by James Gritz.

On 26th June 2021, the occasion of his recent 37th birthday, HH Gyalwang 17th Karmapa gave a speech in Tibetan (the full text and video of the Tibetan is here, it is not stated who did the later English translation published on 6th July). He referred to his own challenging and lonely background such as being taken from his parents as a young child into a monastery and how he had to learn not to express his own feelings and had been trained to do what others wanted and demanded of him[i].

Dagpo Gampopa, one of the main students of Milarepa, and founder of Kagyu lineages, such as Karma Kagyu

The Karmapa then went on to speak about the Kagyu inheritance, not just the Karma Kagyu but all the Kagyu lineages that arose from Marpa and others. In particular, he mentioned the Drikung, Taglung and Drugpa Kagyu lineages[ii]. The Karmapa spoke of his plans to bring into the shedra curriculums well-known texts from the other Kagyu lineages:

“In the Kagyu tradition, for example, the Kagyu forefathers have left us an extraordinary inheritance: Marpa and Ngokpa’s explanations of the tantras, Milarepa’s fortitude and pith instructions, Gampopa’s Cleaning Up the Essence, the Karmapa’s Pointing Out the Three Kayas and Prana and Mind Inseparable, Lama Shang’s Ultimate Supreme Path, the Barom Swift Path of Mixing and Transference, Pakmodrupa’s secret mantra, the Taklung Thirty-Nine Liberations, the Drikung Single Point of the Three Vows, Tsangpa Gyare’s Single Taste of Interdependence, and Lorepa and Götsangpa’s devotion and revulsion,  and so forth. Each is complete with all of the qualities, but there are numerous differences, such as how the names of the gurus are recited and how one is cared for by the guru. But we have not taken care of many of these instructions, and they have been lost. So, we must consider taking care of our inheritance to be our primary responsibility, and that is the first place we need to direct our energies. Therefore, I am making plans that in the coming years, our Kamtsang shedras will study and discuss the Taklung Three Vows, the Drikung Single Intent, the Drukpa Mahamudra Treasury of the Victors, and so forth, one per year.

In addition, there has also been some talk of my writing a commentary on the Jewel Ornament of Liberation, and earlier this year I also taught the Four Dharmas of Gampopa. In the process, I have had the opportunity to look through many Kagyu texts. What I feel as I do so is that if we want to grasp the full intent of Marpa, Milarepa, Gampopa, and the other Kagyu forefathers’ thought in its entirety, it would not be right not to look at the pith instructions, commentaries, and questions and answers written by the masters of all Kagyu lineages, the four elder and eight younger. I became convinced that studying and researching them to the appropriate level will make us able to bring out and understand clearly the particular features of the view, meditation, and conduct and the ground, path, and fruition of the Kagyu lineage. For these reasons, I see it as very important that we, within our Kamtsang tradition, should study, teach, and discuss the distinctive features and commentarial traditions of the other Kagyu lineages, and I am making plans to do so.”

I recently wrote about another Kagyu lineage, that of the Hunter (Khyira) Lineage from Milarepa here as well as Dagpo Gampopa, here. For more on the 8th Karmapa’s texts on the Single Intention by Drikung Kagyu founder, Jigten Gonpo, see here. See Bibliography below for full sources.

Pagmodrugpa with his previous incarnations. He is one of the main students of Dagpo Gampopa and several Kagyu lineages came from him.
Marpa’s Two Main Lineages: Practice and Explanation
Marpa the Translator with student, Jetsun Milarepa.
Marpa the Translator with student, Jetsun Milarepa.

The 17th Karmapa then spoke about two main lineages that came from the great Kagyu forefather and translator, Marpa the Translator, Chokyi Lodro (1012-1097):

“We often say that there are two traditions that come from the great being Marpa the Translator, the lineage of practice (drubgyu) and the lineage of explanations (shegyu). The lineage of practice has been passed down without interruption from Milarepa and is what we now call the Dakpo Kagyu.

For the lineage of explanations, there are several lineages of explanation passed down from Meton, Tsurton, and Ngokpa, [these are the other main students of Marpa] but these days the lineage of explanations is in severe decline—the situation is difficult. Among the lineages of explanation, the ones for which there is still a transmission of the empowerments and reading transmissions are known as the “Seven Ngok Mandalas.”

Some assert that this distinction is meaningless in any case, because the lineage of Ngok has both Drubgyud and She-gyud and the lineage of Milarepa has both Drubgyu and She-gyu.

Ngogton Choku Dorje, the Seven Ngok Mandalas, the ‘three great donations’

So what are the Seven Ngog Mandalas spoken about here and who is Ngog?

Shri Hevajra with Nine-deities. At the top center is Marpa the Translator, with both hands extended over the knees performing the ‘earth witness’ mudra (gesture); attired in the garments of a layman. At the left is the famous Tibetan yogi Milarepa with the right hand cupped to the ear and the left holding a skullcup in the lap; wearing a white cotton robe and red meditation belt, seated in a relaxed posture. At the right is the lama Gampopa with the hands folded in the lap in the mudra of meditation; wearing the robes of a monk and a red cap. https://www.himalayanart.org/items/623

Ngog Choku Dorje ( Rngog chos sku rdo rje, 1036 -1102? ) or Ngog Ton Choku Dorje ( rngog ston chos sku rdo rje) from the ancient Tibetan family Ngog (rngog) was one of the four main students of Marpa (1012-1097). When Marpa needed to find sponsors to return to India, he travelled the countryside giving dharma instruction in exchange for gold and other gifts. It was during this time that he is said to have met Ngog. He passed on to him his main practice, Hevajra Tantra, as part of a series of tantras that came to be known as the Seven Mandalas of Ngog. Ngog was also said to be the lama whom Milarepa once fled to when Marpa refused to give him teachings.

The Seven Mandalas of Ngok is prominent among the Kagyu, Jonang and Gelug schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Considering the importance of them, it is surprising to find little written about them in English.  Chapter Two of the PhD thesis, A Lineage in Time – The Viscisstudes of the Ngogpa Kagyu from the 11th through 19th Centuries (EPHE, 2017), by Dr. Cecile Ducher, goes into significant detail about the history, content and so on of the Ngog mandalas. See also Ducher (2019) The Treasury of Kagyu Mantra: A Nineteenth-Century Collection of Marpa’s Tantric Teachings. For the most extensive English-language analysis of the life of Ngog Choku Dorje, see Ducher (2017: Chapter 3)

It is interesting to note that Ngog received these transmissions from Marpa after ‘three great surrenders’ (donations). Ducher (2017: 88) writes:

“[Ngog] Chodor is known to have received Marpa’s commentarial lineage (bshad brgyud) and to have preserved all the precise tantric material Marpa obtained in India. In most biographies, this legacy is described as being made up of three cycles of teachings received as a consequence of three great “donations.” The first donation was made shortly after the first meeting, in-between Marpa’s two journeys to India. Marpa was then invited to gZhung and granted Chodor the transmissions of Hevajra, which became his main yidam and that of the Ngogpa lineage in general. The second donation occurred at the end of Marpa’s life. It was composed of books and everything that Chodor could bring to Lhodrag (lHo brag), and served as a support for the transmission of the Catuṣpīṭhatantra. The final cycle, that of the Mahāmāyātantra, was also received in Lhodrag , as a result of Chodor having offered to Marpa his entire herd, even an old, crippled goat.” [ii]

Ducher (2017:87) also considers how the expression ‘Seven Mandalas of Ngog’ came into existence and that it seems to have originated from Karma Trinlepa, after Go Lotsawa completed the Blue Annals in 1476:

“The printing and wide distribution of the Blue Annals (Deb ther sngon po) in the following years ensured the rapid adoption of the expression in later writings, and from that point onwards, the Ngog tradition is generally referred to as the rngog dkyil bdun, the “Seven Maṇḍalas of the Ngog.” Thus, as the exact expression Ngog Kyil Dun (rngog dkyil bdun) is not found in texts predating the Blue Annals , we can conclude that it was Karma Trinley (1456-1539) who coined the expression, although the concept of seven maṇḍalas existed beforehand.”

Kongtrul’s revival of the tradition at the heart of his ‘Treasury of Kagyu Mantras’
First Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, compiler of Treasury of Kagyu Mantras (Kagyu Ngag Dzo)

The Treasury of Kagyu Mantras (Kagyu Ngak Dzo) is an anthology of Kangyu Tantric cycles compiled by Jamgon Kongtrul in the years 1853-1855 and is believed to be the first of his five collections. The heart of the Treasury of Kagyu Mantras consists of the Seven Mandalas of Ngok transmitted by Marpa to Ngok Choku Dorje. As Ducher (2019) writes:

“Kongtrul (Kong sprul) defines his work in the introductory title of the collection as the “golden teachings of the glorious Mar Ngog Kagyu (Mar rngog bka’ brgyud),” which, at his time, were “weak like a stream in winter.” True to his aim of reviving the tradition, Kongtrul compiled a three-volume collection which can be considered as the apotheosis of the Ngog (rNgog) tradition, gathering in an unprecedented way the seven maṇḍalas together with other representative transmissions of Marpa and of the highest yoga tantras in general.”[iii].

Hevajra and Nairatmya according to the lineage of Ngogton Choku Dorje of the Marpa Kagyu Tradition. From Ngogton’s descendants branches of the lineage went into other Kagyu traditions such as the Karma Kagyu as evidenced in this composition with the appearance of three Karmapas and a Shamarpa. https://www.himalayanart.org/items/61401

The seven maṇḍalas of Ngok consists of:

1) the nine-deity maṇḍala of Hevajra (dgyes rdor lha dgu);

2) the fifteen-deity maṇḍala of his consort Nairātmyā (bdag med ma lha mo bco lnga);

3)  the forty-nine-deity maṇḍala of Vajrapañjara (rdo rjegur rigs bsdus lha zhe dgu);

4) the seventy-seven-deity maṇḍala of Yogāmbara, the male form of Catuṣpīṭha (gdan bzhi’am rnal ’byor nam mkha’lha mang);

5) the thirteen-deity maṇḍala of Jñāneśvarī, Jñānaḍākinī, the female form of Catuṣpīṭha (ye shes dbang phyug ma lha bcu gsum);

6) the five-deity maṇḍala of Mahāmāyā (sgyu ma chen mo lha lnga);

7) the fifty-three-deity maṇḍala of Nāmasaṃgīti of the gSang ldan Tradition (’jamdpal mtshan brjod gsang ldan lugs).

Mandala of nine deity, two-armed Hevajra, one of the seven Ngog mandalas

Ducher (2017: 87) writes:

“Ngog received the first six maṇḍalas as well as the protective deity Dusolma (Dud sol ma) from Marpa and the last, Nāmasaṃgīti, from two disciples of Smṛtijñānakīrti. Maṇḍalas 1 and 2 in the list are associated with the Hevajratantra, number 3 with the explanatory Vajrapañjaratantra, numbers 4 and 5 with the Catuṣpīṭhatantra, number 6 with the Mahāmāyātantra, and number 7 with the Nāmasaṃgīti. Practices of the perfection phase specifically associated with Hevajra, Catuṣpīṭha and Mahāmāyā were also transmitted in the Ngog lineage. Among these, the most representative was “merging and transference”(bsre ’pho), which is the name of the practice of the six doctrines (chos drug) according to the Hevajratantra. In addition to these cycles, Ngog also received from Marpa the transmission of the protective deity Dusolma , who became the guardian of his spiritual wealth and the symbol of the Ngog tradition.”

Transmission Lineages from Ngog Choku Dorje Onwards

The 17th Karmapa then explained the lineages of the two main transmissions from Ngog Choku Dorje:

“There were two main transmissions of Ngok Choku Dorje’s lineage of explanations, the Ram and Ngok traditions. It is said that Kunkhyen Choku Oser wrote a text establishing that the Ram and Ngok traditions both have the same intent. Of these two, the Ram and Ngok, the Ngok tradition was passed down by Ngok Choku Dorje’s son Dode, and that split into two transmissions, the Tsangtsa and Gyaltsa transmissions. The Tsangtsa transmission was passed down to Treushing Rinpoche Jangchup Palwa, who it seems Lord Tsongkhapa respected highly and frequently praised as being learned and awakened in the tradition of Ngok. Jangchup Palwa’s students at that time included Jamyang Choje Tashi Palden, Taklung Ngawang Drakpa, Go Lotsawa Shonnu Pal, Panchen Jampa Lingpa, and many other learned students. He taught the Hevajra tantra from a manuscript called the Dorjema, and each time he taught it, he made a mark. It is said he made 182 marks.

At one point, the lineage of explanation of Vajra Catuhpitha was lost, so Lord Tsongkhapa told Jangchup Palwa that he absolutely must revive it. Jangchup Palwa went to see an old lama at Treushing Monastery named Loppon Tsulgon and received the transmission of the tantra of Vajra Catuhpitha from him. After that, he taught Vajra Catuhpitha many times.

In particular, Trimkhang Lotsawa Sonam Gyatso (khrims khang lo tsA ba bsod nams rgya mtsho, (1424-1482) received the empowerments of the Seven Ngok Mandalas and wrote complete new sadhana and mandala ritual texts for them. Later, he gave the empowerments of the Seven Ngok Mandalas to the Fourth Shamar Chennga Chodrak, on which occasion there were many miraculous signs, such as rainbows forming around the edges of the mandala. Panchen Sönam Drakpa wrote in his history of the Kadampa that Trimkhang Lotsawa’s most important activity was to spread the tradition of the Ngok mandalas.

Mahasattva Lodro Gyaltsen of Dema Tang also went to Shung and received from Jangchup Palwa many of the Ngok dharma teachings. According to his liberation story, he took Dhumangari as his dharma protector. Also, when Druk Gyalwang Choje went to Shung and met Jangchup Palwa, Jangchup Palwa said to him, “I have been waiting for you until now. Now I can return the dharma to its owner.” He then gave him all the empowerments and pith instructions of the Ngok Mandalas, including the minor teachings, entrusting the teachings to him.

Similarly, the two well-known masters of the Shennga Kagyu, Pakpa Lha and Shiwa Lha, went to Machen in Tsari, where they received the Seven Ngok Mandalas from Choje Tsangchenpa along with their auxiliary teachings. The biographies of many Tibetan masters describe how they received the teachings and empowerments of the Seven Ngok Mandalas. The Fifth Dalai Lama’s biography of Gonpo Sonam Chokden relates how he received the Seven Ngok Mandalas from Ngokton Jamyang Oser.

In later times, when the First Jamgon Kongtrul compiled the Seven Ngok Mandalas, he consulted old manuscripts including those by Trimkhang Lotsawa, Shamar Chennga Chodrak, Jetsun Taranatha, and Karma Chakme. Most of these texts are still extant, which is fortuitous.

These days we have been receiving many old manuscripts from Tibet, including many from the seats of the Ngok tradition. This includes many of the manuscripts I have mentioned, including the texts by Trimkhang Lotsawa. The transmissions of the empowerments of most of these were all transmitted in full to Situ Panchen Tsuglak Chokyi Nangwa (1700-1774). His reincarnation, Situ Pema Nyinche, also received the complete transmission, and it is said that the Gelukpa Amchok Geshe Tulku Konchok Tenpay Gyaltsen received them all. I think this will be beneficial for us in our research.”

Image courtesy of Carl Djung
Fifteen deity Nairatmya mandala. one of the seven Ngog mandalas.
Shri Hevajra Panchadaka Mandala (pal gye pa dor je rig du kyil kor. English: The Combined Glorious Hevajra Five Lords Mandala) with 49 Deities from the Vajrapanjara Tantra. See: https://www.himalayanart.org/items/81
Thirteen-deity Jñānaḍākinī mandala, one of the seven Ngog mandalas. Accompanying the assembly of this thirteen-deity mandala are the thirty-seven dakinis of the Vajravarahi and Vajrayogini mandala cycles who appear within the roundels in the four corners. 14th Century Tibetan thangka by Nepalese/Newar artist (see: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/37802).
Five-deity Mahāmāyā mandala, 12th Century thangka (see: https://www.himalayanart.org/items/68899)
Mañjuśrīnāmasaṃgīti, 14th Century Tibetan thangka, see: https://www.himalayanart.org/items/12296
The Thirteen Tantras of Marpa and Karma Kagyu
Marpa Lotsawa

The 17th Karmapa then went on to speak about how the First Jamgon Kongtrul compiled these seven mandalas with other tantras of Marpa to make thirteen Tantras [such as the Chakrasamvara, Vajravarahi, Guhyasamaja, Buddhakapala, and Vajrabhairava mandalas] into the Treasury of Kagyu Mantras [iii]. He said:

The Treasury of Kagyu Mantras that Jamgon Kongtrul compiled primarily contains tantra, not sutra. Within the tantra, it is primarily the unexcelled tantra, and within that, it is primarily from the tradition of Marpa. This mainly contains the transmissions of the Marpa Tradition that have been passed down through the Kamtsang and Drikung Kagyu. Jamgon Kongtrul himself said that he took the tantras of Marpa to heart and just wished to prevent their transmission of ripening and liberation from being lost. As he said, it is important for all of us followers of Marpa the Translator to treasure this inheritance and practice it. The great masters of the past have said this, and I have also come to feel a degree of certainty in it myself.

Not long after I arrived in India, we held the Karma Kagyu Conference in Varanasi. At that time, each monastery was assigned one of the thirteen Marpa Tantras, and I suggested that they should hold pujas of these tantras annually. The monasteries have done as I suggested and consider each of these like their special deity. They have received the empowerments and transmissions from the Heart Sons, studied the ritual with Kyabje Vajradhara Tenga Rinpoche, and so on. In this way, they have taken great interest and have been practicing them to this day.

At the time of Situ Panchen, in Jangyul they compiled an index of the deities of the unexcelled tantra and painted twenty-seven thankas. I have received old thankas from this transmission of just about all of them. It seemed to me that the monasteries holding the pujas needed to see the thankas, so I was able to offer them to the monasteries. Also, a few years ago, I let them know that I would be able to provide some assistance for building retreat centers for the Marpa Tantras.”

HH 17th Karmapa studying with HE Tenga Rinpoche

A recent edition of Dharmachakra, the magazine published by New Zealand Karma Kagyu Trust, includes a letter from the 17th Karmapa concerning the Kagyu curriculum. He requested that Kagyu monasteries practice the Thirteen Tantras of Marpa. [Comment by Carl Djung. This letter was from 2002. I have seen copy of this letter, in English, around April-May 2017, but cannot find it again. 30th of August 2017]. The 17th Karmapa assigned the pujas as follows:

Thirteen Tantras of Marpa as allocated to Karma Kagyu monasteries by 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje

Also, the Karmapas themselves produced manuals on the Mar-Ngog tantras such as:

“The manuals composed by the Venerable Omniscient Rangjung Dorje (Rang byung rdo rje [3d Karmapa, 1284-1339] on the three—Hevajra, Cakrasaṃvara and Guhyasamāja—as well as on Mahāmāyā, and so on; and by his successors: the Venerable Thongwa Donden [mThong ba] Don ldan [the 6th Karmapa, 1416-1453]; the 7th Karmapa, Chodrag Gyatso [Chos grags rgya mtsho, 1454-1506]; [the 8th Karmapa] Mikyo Dorje (Mi bskyod rdo rje (1507- 1554); the Great Jamyang Dondrub Ozer [’Jam dbyangs [Don grub ’od zer] from Tshurpu (14th-15th c), and so on, that is to say the main Kaṃtshang tradition, in which many manuals on most tantras of the Mar-Ngog [tradition] were composed.” (Ducher 2019).

1st Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa, one of the main students of Dagpo Gampopa and founder of the Karma Kagyu lineage

The Karmapa then spoke of his own plans to compile a supplement to Kongtrul’s Treasury with other Tantras from the 1st Karmapa and Rechungpa:

“I also have the idea that I should perhaps compile a supplement to Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye’s Treasury of Kagyu Mantras. As I mentioned, the Treasury of Kagyu Mantras primarily contains, among the four classes of tantra, texts of the unexcelled tantra. Even within the unexcelled tantra, there are some in Dusum Khyenpa’s Five Sets of Five Deities. Not all of those deities are from the unexcelled tantra class, but Vajravarahi, Chakrasamvara, and Hevajra are. There are also the teachings on Gyalwa Gyatso passed down from Rechungpa, and other important tantras that are not included in the Treasury of Kagyu Mantras.

There are also texts from the lower tantra classes such as Akshobhya and Sarvavid as well as tantras that previously had been transmitted in the Karma Kamtsang but now have been lost, such as the Abhisambodhi of Vairochana, Vajradhatu, and so forth, from the time of the Sixth Karmapa. The empowerments, transmissions, mandala, and rituals are probably mostly from the Sakya and Buton traditions, so I thought that if I could restore the transmission of these empowerments, we could include them and have texts from all four classes of tantra. Then the Treasury of Kagyu Mantras would be even more complete than it already was, it seems to me.”

Rechungpa, one of the main students of Milarepa
Drikung Kagyu and the Mar-Ngog lineage

The current Drikung Kagyu head, HH Kyabgon Tinley Lhundup has also been supporting efforts to preserve and promote the Mar-Ngog lineage and tradition. For example, on the Mahaparinirvana of Ngog Choku Dorje, 11th August 2021, there will be a special commemoration event on Marpa-Ngog lineage with him, HE Choeze Kuchen Rinpoche and Dr. Cécile Ducher[iv], see Milarepa Centre for details here and image below.

In 2004/5 Drikung Head gave teachings on the Hevajra Tantra. Then recently, in April 2021,  HH gave  2-week teachings on BUM-CHUNG NYIMA, a unique Marpa-Ngok tradition commentary on the Hevajra Root Tantra, to Drikung Kagyu’s Rinpoches, Khenpos, Drupons, and Monks in Taiwan and bestowed Hevajra Empowerment, see here.


A unique commentary on the Hevajra Root Tantra (BUM-CHUNG NYIMA) was completed and published by the Drikung Chenpo head in March 2021. This rare but precious commentary was compiled by HH based on notes from Marpa (1012-1097), Ngok Shedang Dorje (1090-1166) and Lodro Thaye the Great (1813-1899).

There is a forthcoming plan for Drikung Chenpo to give teachings on Hevajra Tantra in Germany in 2022. See also: https://mar-ngok.org/

New Song released for 17th Karmapa’s 36th birthday

Ames, Spencer (2019): About Hevajra in Cambodia.

Djung, Carl (2020): “Small drops gathered for the sake of inspiration” Short descriptions of the 39 lineage-holders of one transmission of the Hevajra 9-deity practice. (The Marpa Ngok Hevajra Lineage).

Ducher, Cécile (2017): Building a Tradition: The Lives of Mar-pa the Translator. Collectanea Himalayica, Vol. 5. München: Indus Verlag.

Ducher, Cécile (2017): A Lineage in Time: The Vicissitudes of the rNgog pa bka’ brgyud from the 11th through 19th centuries. PhD dissertation. Ecole Pratiques des Hautes Etudes, Paris.

Ducher, Cécile (2019): The Treasury of Kagyü Mantra: A Nineteenth-Century Collection of Marpa’s Tantric Teachings.

Ducher, Cécile (2020): Goldmine of Knowledge – The Collections of the Gnas bcu lha khang – Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines – no. 55 – Juillet 2020 – pp 121–139 – ret_55_06.

Ducher, Cécile (2021): A Neglected Bka’ brgyud Lineage: The Rngog from Gzhung and theRngog pa Bka’ brgyud Transmission. Mahamudra in India and Tibet. eds. Jackson, Roger and Mathes, Klaus-Dieter. (Brill Publications).

Glück, Elvira (2018): About the Phyang Gompo in Ladakh, The Hevajra Temple and the annual Hevajra Drubchöd.

Tomlin, Adele (2021):

The ‘Treasury of Kagyu Mantras’ (Kagyu Ngag Dzo) – Composition, Sources, Contents and Editions

NEW PUBLICATION: ‘Milarepa’s Songs to the Hunter and Animals’, the Khyira Kagyu lineage

The 8th Karmapa on the ‘Single Intention’ (Gong Chig) by Jigten Sumgon

The Doctor of Dagpo (Dagpo Lhaje) whose family tragedy led to monkhood: ”Four Dharmas’ of Gampopa’ by 17th Karmapa (Part II)

When Gampopa met Milarepa: A tale of beggars, buttocks and bliss. ‘Four Dharmas’ of Gampopa by 17th Karmapa (Part III)

‘The Crown Jewel of Kagyu’: Gampopa’s Collected Works, Last Testament and Textual Sources : ‘Four Dharmas’ of Gampopa by 17th Karmapa (Part IV)

May Dharma go along with Dharma’: The difference between ‘real Dharma’ and ‘pretend Dharma’: ‘Four Dharmas’ of Gampopa by 17th Karmapa (Part V)

Walther, Marco (2016): Between Family and Transmission Lineage: Two Historical Works of the rNgog bKa’ brgyud pa.


[i]  The 17th Karmapa said:

“To say a little about my personal situation, it is hard to describe how it feels to look back over the past thirty-six years. When I look at how long the previous Karmapas lived, on average they did not live much past fifty. Though their lives were not long, the benefit they brought to the teachings and beings is so enormous that it is difficult to express. In comparison to them, I have the feeling that I have fruitlessly and pointlessly wasted most of the past thirty-six years of my own life.

I spent the first seven years of my life in my homeland, living a modest nomadic life with my parents, siblings, and the other local people. These days, it is difficult to find an environment to live in like what I had at that time. People who live in cities nowadays can’t even imagine what it was like to live at that time, much less have any experience of it. But for me, that was by far the happiest and freest time of my life. The main reason is that I was with my parents, and I had the feeling that I was living under the protection of their love.

I still have trouble expressing what my life has been like since the time I turned seven. All of a sudden, people told me I was the reincarnation of the Gyalwang Karmapa and put me on the throne. I really did not know at that time what it means to be the Karmapa. But people said I was the Karmapa, so I myself began to lead my life and receive an education as if I were the Karmapa.

From that time onward, there were huge changes in my life. The biggest is that my own personal feelings and opinions were no longer important, and the way that other people’s ideas about how I should be became more important. So sometimes I felt as if I were an actor, as if I were performing the role that other people thought I should be playing or wanted me to play. That is how it felt to me. What it means is that I am a human being and naturally have feelings of happiness and sadness. But I felt as if I should hide my own feelings, or as if there was no one to express them to. The main thing is I had to live as some important personage the way others expected me to. I may not be the only one who has felt like this; I think that many other Tibetan tulkus have probably also felt the same.

Anyways, it was only when I had got older and had done a bit of study that I gradually began to have some understanding of what the Karmapa is and of the activity the previous Karmapas performed. Only then did my own responsibility gradually become clear to me. Previously, I thought I had to pretend, but that changed. I began to think that I should be a servant of the activity of the Gyalwang Karmapas. From then on, I no longer had to worry about whether I was the Karmapa, and no longer had any pride of being Karmapa, or any disquiet of feeling I should pretend I was.”

[ii] Ducher (2017: 386-7): “He made a first great donation and gave [Mar pa] a tent with a herd of hundred black female yaks). It is said that he received a first cycle containing:-the root tantra [of Hevajra]–theTwo Segments–;-the explanatory tantra–the Pañjara–;-five sādhanas: the Saroruhavajra-sādhana; the Six Branches; the Five Ḍākinīs; the Amṛtaprabha, and Nairātmya;-the empowerment in the 9 male deities, the 15 female deities and the combined families of Pañjara;-instructions on the six doctrines of Nāropa.

(For the middling great donation, he offered ten volumes, foremost among which the Ratnakūṭa, as well as everything he could bring to lHo brag). He received a second cycle containing:-the Śrīcatuṣpīṭhatantra;-the Great Explanatory Tantra and the *Mantrāṃśa;-the Maṇḍalopāyikā;-Yogāmbara and Jñāneśvarī;-the commentary on the [mantra beginning with]*ekavṛkṣa;-the Kakṣapuṭa; the Catuṣpīṭhacatustattva; the Appearance of Perfect Knowledge.- and the Death Cheating

(For the last great donation, he offered everything he could bring to lHo brag, most notably a herd of hundred sheep and young goats). He received a third cycle containing:
-the three chapter Glorious Mahāmāyā tantra;
-the three extensive and condensed [sādhanas] on the creation stage;
-both the root text and commentary of the Key Instructions on Suchness on the
perfection phase;
-the maṇḍala ritual; and the gtor ma ritual.”

[iii] Ducher (2019:72-73) cites Kongtrul’s sources in his ‘Treasury of Kagyu Mantras’ compilation as those of Marpa, 3rd Karmapa, Trimkhang Lochen Sonam Gyatso, Jetsun Tāranātha and Karma Chagme:

“Secondly Kong sprul mentions the Tibetan works that precede him. In this category, he
differentiates five stages of writings available to him and that he consulted in order to
elaborate the Kagyu Ngag Dzo:

1) The earliest Tibetan texts such as the mDo sbyar and Gur gyi srog shing by Mar pa [commentaries on Hevajra and Pañjara]; the manuals composed by rNgog Zhe sdang rdo rje as well as his commentary on the Two Segments [i.e. the Hevajratantra, called] Likeness of a Precious Ornament; the Collected [Works] of mGar [bKra shis dbang phyug] and rTsags [Dar ma rgyal po, who were mDo sde’s main disciples]; the “Old rNgog maṇḍalas,” which are
compilation of manuals by later rNgog such as Kun dga’ rdo rje, Thogs med grags pa, Rin chen bzang po, and so on.
2) The manuals composed by the Venerable Omniscient Rang byung rdo rje [3d Karmapa, 1284-1339] on the three—Hevajra, Cakrasaṃvara and Guhyasamāja—as well as on Mahāmāyā, and so on; and by his successors: the Venerable [mThong ba] Don ldan [the 6th Karmapa, 1416-1453]; the 7th [Karma pa, Chos grags rgya mtsho, 1454-1506]; [the 8th Karma pa] Mi bskyod rdo rje (1507- 1554); the Great ’Jam dbyangs [Don grub ’od zer] from mTshur phu (14th-15th c), and so on, that is to say the main Kaṃ tshang tradition, in which many manuals on most tantras of the Mar rNgog [tradition] were composed.
3) The “Manuals on rNgog Maṇḍalas” composed by Khrims khang Lo chen bSod nams rgya mtsho. They provide outlines and clarify practices on the basis of the Old rNgog Maṇḍalas. Based on these, the manuals of the Lord sPyan snga [the 4th Zhwa dmar Chos grags ye shes] have the wise vision endowed with the two forms of knowledge which thoroughly strains the stains of errors.
4) The great Venerable Jo nang [Tāranātha, 1575-1634] cleaned the general hybridations and crossovers [which had crept in] the rNgog practices and composed manuals which purely and
unmistakably expound the Indian root texts and Mar pa’s interpretation.
5) Lord Karma Chags med summarized thoroughly the extensive initiation texts which are set in for example the Old rNgog Maṇḍalas by unifying the self and front [generation stages], thus
speeding up the empowerment.

[iv] Ducher also recently won the Khyentse Foundation Award for Best PhD Dissertation in 2019, see here.

5 thoughts on “‘GOLDEN TEACHINGS’ OF KAGYU TANTRA: Marpa the Translator and student Ngog, the Seven Ngog Mandalas, Thirteen Tantras of Marpa, Kongtrul’s ‘Treasury of Kagyu Mantras’, 17th Karmapa’s birthday teaching and Drikung Kagyu ‘Mar-Ngog’ activities

  1. Worthy to add that Thrangu Rinpoche mentioned Marpa and Ngogpa instructions in his ,, Calling Karmapa Rigpe Dorje from
    Afar ,, .

  2. I have requested my Guru Vajradhara Tai Situpa to give an Hevajra Empowerment to his Mahamudra students. I have received this empowerment from both the Sakya tradition (Khenpo Lama Migmar) and from Garchen Rinpoche since it was Marpa’s main practice. Let us pray that he fulfills my request and that the Karma Kagyu tradition re-introduces this practice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s