The Kagyu Kālacakra ‘forgotten’ lineages and texts: Tsami and Rechungpa

The Seventeen Six-Yogas Kālacakra Lineages and Kagyu

Today, for Chokor Duchen (chos ‘khor dus chen, the day marking the first teaching of the Buddha), I wanted to offer some brief research that relates to my forthcoming publication of the first section (on the common preliminaries) of the Kālacakra Six Yogas text by Jonang master, Tāranātha, called One Hundred Blazing Lights: A Supplementary Commentary on ‘Seeing the Meaningful’ (zab lam rdo rje’i rnal ‘byor gyi ‘khrid yig mthong ba don ldan la nye bar mkho ba’i gsal byed lhan thabs su sbyor rgyu’i yi ge ‘od brgya ‘bar ba).

In this text, Tāranātha details the seventeen distinct lineages of Kālacakra Six Yogas and how the Jonang master Kunpang Tsondru (kun spangs thugs rje brtson ‘grus) (1243-1313) not only received all the lineage transmissions but also collated them together. My translation of these seventeen lineages detailed in the text is here. In summary, they are: Gyijo, Ma, Trom, Atisha, Dro, Rwa, Tsami, Dorje Drag, the three of Galo, two of Khache Panchen Śākyaśrī, two of Vibhūticandra, Chag and Menlung.

The Dro and Rwa Lineages

Most people who study Kālacakra are aware of two main lineages of ‘ Dro and Rwa (based on the names of the Tibetan translators who translated the Kālacakra tantra into Tibetan) that are followed by the Tibetan lineages today.

—In terms of Jonang, Tāranātha states even then that they generally follow the lineages of ‘Dro and the long and short lineages of Vibhuticandra.

—Gelug generally follow the Rwa (Lotsawa) lineage, passed down to Buton Rinpoche.

—Kagyu hold the ‘Dro, Tsami, Rechungpa lineages. Jamgon Kongtrul the First (a great Karma Kagyu and Rimey master) received all the lineages of Kālacakra (including Dro) from his main Jonang teacher, Ngawang Chophel Gyatso. He was particularly influenced by the Jonang master Tāranātha.

—Sakyapa hold one of Galo and the two of Khache Panchen Śākyaśrī.

—The Nyingma hold the lineage passed down to Mipham Gyatso, who wrote several texts and commentaries on Kālacakra. For more on the connection between the Nyingma master Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Kālacakra, see my other page here.

Karma Kagyu Kālacakra lineages and texts

The ‘forgotten’ Kagyu lineages are those of Tsami and Rechungpa.

  • The Tsami Tradition itself, which is the tradition of the Yogamālā (the Garland of the Six Yogas) composed by the translator Tsami Sangye Drak[1], transmitted through Selo (Zhönnu Tsultrim) and Nyötön Öma.
  • That which Rechung Dorje Drakpa[2] received from Amoghavajra.[3]

These were passed down to the 3rd Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje (rang byung rdo rje), the 8th Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje (mi bskyod rdo rje) and other Kagyu masters (including Drikhung and Drugpa lineages).

According to Edward Henning:

“The use of the practice texts of the Tsami tradition, the most notable being written by the eighth Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje (mi bskyod rdo rje), has largely ceased, and the practices of the Jonang tradition written by Tāranātha are now mainly used. But still the maṇḍala is drawn according to the original Karma Kagyu methods even though there are some clear, although minor, contradictions between the descriptions given in the maṇḍala drawing texts and the practice texts. These differences have sometimes caused puzzlement to modern Karma Kagyu maṇḍala artists, unaware of the full history of their tradition.”

Jamgon Kongtul Lodro Thaye was also a Kalacakra lineage holder and composed many texts on the subject too. The eighth Karmapa, Mikyo Dorje, in particular, wrote a lot on the Kālacakra, yet so far there are no translations of his work on it and little is known about the Tsami six-yogas lineage either. A translation project for sure!

The current 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, has recieved the Kalacakra public empowerments from HH the 14th Dalai Lama as well.

8th karmapa 18th century

Copyright and all rights reserved, Adele Tomlin, July 2018.

Update, August 2020: Since writing this, I found out more about the Tsami lineage from the transmission record of 16th Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje, see here.


[1] There is not much publicly, translated English language material about Tsami Lotsāwa. According to one source, Tsami Lotsāwa Sangye Trak was the only Tibetan throne-holder of Vajrasana and Nalanda Buddhist universities.

[2] Rechungpa (ras chung rdo rje grags pa, Vajrakirti), (1083/4-1161) is a major holder of the Kagyu lineage. The so-called “moon-like“ disciple and foremost heart son of Milarepa.

[3] Amoghavajra (705- 744) was a prolific translator who became one of the most politically powerful Buddhist monks in Chinese history and is acknowledged as one of the Eight Patriarchs of the Doctrine in Shingon Buddhism.

Catalogue of Karma Kagyu Kalacakra texts

Here is my catalogue of some of the texts that the Kagyu masters wrote on Kālacakra below. The reference for where they are in TBRC is included. I have not included the texts by Kagyupa Drikhung Chokyi Dragpa (’bri gung pa chos kyi grags pa) or the many works by Kagyupa Drugpa Pema Karpo (‘brug pa pad ma dkar po).

  • Rechungpa

sbyor ba yan lag drug pa ras chung pa’i gdams ngag

dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i sgrub thabs mdor bsdus pa rin chen phreng ba/ W3PD27

rdo rje shugs kyi sgrub thabs/ W3PD27

dus kyi ‘khor lo’i gtor ma/ W3PD27

dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo las btus pa’i spos sbyor/ W3PD27

dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i bsdus don dri med ‘od kyi tshul gsal bar byed pa’i rgyan W3PD27

dus kyi ‘khor lo’i mngon par rtogs pa rnam dag snang ba/ W3PD27

dus kyi ‘khor lo’i sgrub thabs bsdus pa/ W3PD27

bcom ldan ‘das dus kyi ‘khor lo’i ye shes btsan thabs su dbab pa’i cho ga rje btsun mar rngog nas brgyud pa/ TBRC W8039

sbyor ba yan lag drug gi snying po bsdus pa/ W8039

bcom ldan ‘das dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i sgub dkyil phan bde kun stsol/W8039

bcom ldan ‘das dang po’i sangs rgyas ‘gro ba dang mi ‘gro ba’i ‘jig rten la dus bzhi bgrod tshul gyi ‘khor lo yid mtshor bzhad gad kyi ‘grel chen/

dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i rim gnyis ‘bro lugs kyi brgyud pa’i gsol ‘debs rdo rje ‘babs pa chen po/ W21808

  • Chokyi Dragpa (chos kyi grags pa)

dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i bskyed rdzogs kyi gdams pa zab lam rdo rje’i rnal ‘byor sbyor ba yan lag drug gi khrid yig rnam ‘byed shing rta/

dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i sbyor drug gi sngon ‘gro chos spyod kyi ngag ‘don zung ‘jug them skas/

  • Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas)

dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i rim gnyis ‘bro lugs kyi brgyud pa’i gsol ‘debs rdo rje ‘bebs pa chen po/ W20877

bcom ldan ‘das dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo lhan cig skyes pa’i sgrub thabs rjes gnang dang bcas pa’i yi ge snying po grub pa/ W20877

chos rgyal rigs ldan gtso bor gyur pa rdo rje’i rnal ‘byor brgyud pa’i bla ma mchod pa’i cho ga rdo rje nyi ma’i snang ba chen po/ W20877

bcom ldan ‘das dus kyi ‘khor lo’i khro rgyal rdo rje shugs kyi sgrub thabs dang rjes gnang bklogs chog tu bkod pa ye shes grub pa/ W20877

dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo sku gsung thugs yongs rdzogs kyi dkyil ‘khor du byis pa ‘jug pa’i dbang bskur bklags chog tu bkod pa ye shes rgya mtsho’i bcud ‘dren/ W21808

sbyor drug stan thog gcig ma’i dmigs khrid mdor bsdus snying gi thig le/ W21808

dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i rim gnyis ‘bro lugs kyi brgyud pa’i gsol ‘debs rdo rje ‘babs pa chen po/ W21808

dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i rim gnyis ‘bro lugs kyi brgyud pa’i gsol ‘debs rdo rje ‘babs pa chen po/ W21808