The Seventeen Lineages of the Kālacakra Six Vajra-Yogas – according to Jonang master Kunpang Chenpo

In the section entitled ‘Confidence in the Teacher’, of One Hundred Blazing Lights: A Supplementary Commentary on Seeing the Meaningful, Tāranātha explains why confidence in the teacher is an essential part of the Six Vajra-Yogas path of Kālacakra. He also explains the transmission of the Six Vajra-Yogas from India into Tibet, and the role the Jonang master, Kunpang Chenpo played in ensuring the seventeen main lineages of the Six Yogas were preserved and disseminated.

Interestingly, major sections of this commentary were copied verbatim by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye in his Treasury of Knowledge. This is not surprising as he was majorly influenced by the Jonang, and one of his own main teachers was the Jonang master, Ngawang  Chophel (ngag dbang chos ‘phel) at the Jonang Dzamthang monastery.

The Seventeen Lineages of the Six Vajra-Yogas

.Excerpt from Jetsun Tāranātha’s One Hundred Blazing Lights: A Supplementary Commentary on Seeing the Meaningful. Translated by Adele Tomlin (forthcoming publication, 2019). Copyright and All Rights Reserved.

”Generally, as the oral instructions of the six vajra-yogas are extremely numerous, the  [Jonang] lineage holder, Lord of Dharma, Tulku Kunpang Chenpo Thugje Tsondru[1] received the complete transmission of the oral practice instructions on the six stages of the Kālacakra yogas from seventeen different complete lineages. Even though the essence of the path is not different, the presentation of the individual instructions and advice given differs greatly. Having taken up the individual instructions on these practices, he [Kunpang Chenpo] established the experiential realizations in accordance with those instructions.

In that respect, there are seventeen lineages of the Six Vajra-Yogas. These are the lineages of:

  • The Translator Gyijo Dawai Özer[2] – the esoteric instructions on the Six Yogas along with the lesser tantra and commentary.
  • The Translator Ma Gewai Lodrö.[3]
  • The Trom Translator, Padma Özer.[4]
  • That which Lord Atisha[5] received from Krṣṇābhijnā (bla ma nag po).
  • The Dro Lineage of Lotsāwa Dro Sherab Drak[6], which came from the tradition of Kashmiri Pandita Dawa Gonpo (Somanātha).[7]
  • The Rwa Lineage of Translator Rwa Chörab[8] (which came from the Pandita Samantasrī[9]).
  • The Tsami Tradition itself, which is the tradition of the Yogamālā (the Garland of the Six Yogas) composed by the translator Tsami Sangye Drak[10], transmitted through Selo (Zhönnu Tsultrim) and Nyötön Öma.
  • That which Rechung Dorje Drakpa[11] received from Amoghavajra.[12]

[The next] three lineages came through the glorious Galo (Ga Lotsāwa)[13] that are in the lineage of Tsami but were not the same as the Yogamālā  tradition. They are:

  • The six-branch yoga of the Kālacakra’s own tradition that Galo gave to Zhang Tselwa[14] and others.
  • The six-branch yoga of the Hevajra mother tantra that Galo gave to the great Sakyapa Lama Kunga Nyingpo.[15]
  • The six-branch yoga of the Guhyasamāja father tantra that Galo gave to Geshe Kyura Akyab.

Even though Galo received these all from Tsami, the methods of instruction in the Yogamālā (The Garland of Six Yogas) and Galo traditions are quite different and so are counted separately.

  • That which great Kashmiri Pandit Śākyaśrī[16] gave to the translator Pelo Chökyi Zangpo using the esoteric instructions of Nāropa’s great commentary on the Hevajra Tantra.
  • That which the great Śākyaśrī also gave to the Lord of Dharma Sakya Panchen[17], distinguished by the Six Vajra Verses of the hearing lineage.

These [above] are the two lineage traditions from the Kashmiri Scholar, Śākyaśrī (Khache Panchen).

  • The indirect [or long] lineage of Vibhū[18] The lineage in which Pandita Vibhūticandra received the Six Yogas, of the tradition of the adept Anupamarakṣita [Peme Tso], from the master Ratnarakṣita.
  • The direct [or short] lineage of Vibhūti. Called so because in the monastery Stambihar, Nepal, Vibhūti had a direct experience when siddha Śavaripa revealed his face directly bestowing the Six Yogas.

These are the two traditions of Vibhūticandra.[19]

  • That which the translator Chak Chöje Pal (1197-1264)[20] received from the esoteric instructions of the Nepalese guru Ravindrarakṣita and the Indian Rāhulaśrībhadra.
  • That from the one known as Menlung Guru (the great adept Punyaśri, or known in India as the great adept Dipamkara) who attained vajra body immortality and even now abides on Potala Mountain[21].  First, he meditated on the Rwa and Dro traditions’s unified pith instructions, primarily that of the Dro tradition, yet when he achieved accomplishment, he did not have to rely on other lineages. In any event, he composed the Litany of Names Six Yogas (Nāmasamgītā).

In that way, these are the seventeen lineages of the Six Vajra Yogas.  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.

As for the direct lineage of Pandita Vibhūticandra, the yogi Senge Bum requested the instructions from the three direct disciples of Vibhūticandra: Marton Yangbar, Lhopa Zhontshul, and Nyegpo Chödan. Kunpang Chenpo then received them from him [Senge Bum].

Kunkhyen Choku Özer[22] also received the instructions from a direct disciple of Vibhūticandra, Chalton Pemachen. Kunpang Chenpo also received them from him [Kunkhyen Choku], as well as directly from Chal Pemachen.

In the reported statements of Buton Rinpoche, it mentions the lineage tradition of Kodragpa. Now there is also the perfect, complete and renowned lineage of the four direct disciples of the Vibhūti lineage.  Even in here too there are various minor differences, if these are counted as different lineages, then there will be twenty in total.[23].”

—Excerpt from A Hundred Blazing Lights, by Jetsun Taranatha.

The Blue Annals, Chapter 10 also lists the biographies and lineages of Kālacakra, here is an English translation of that here.


[1] Kunpang Chenpo (kun spangs thugs rje brtson ‘grus) (1243-1313).  His life and works are also referred to in SHEEHY 2009 (who refers to the biography written about him by Jonang master, Ngawang Lodro Dragpa) and in STEARNS 1996:

Kun-spangs-pa was responsible for first gathering together all the extant lineages of the six vajra yogas in Tibet, and then furthering their propagation. Kun-spangs-pa wrote a number of important texts on the six yogas, although only one seems to have survived to the present day. This is the earliest available Tibetan work on the six yogas, the Dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo ‘i rnal ‘byor yan lag drug gi ‘grel pa snying po bsdus pa, written by one Dpal Mi-bskyod rdo-rje, a yogin of the Kalacakra, who is identified as the siddha Yu-mo-ba. This is, of course, a false attribution. The Snying po bsdus pa is a commentary upon the six yogas revealed by Savaripa to Vibhuticandra.

As discussed above, Vibhuticandra came to Tibet as a young man in 1204, whereas the Tibetan Kalacakra master Yu-mo-ba Mi-bskyod rdorje was born in the first cycle of the Tibetan system of reckoning dates, which began in 1027. In fact, Thugs-rje brtson-‘grus is only one of the many names of the founder of Jo-nang. He was also known as Kunspangs Chos-rje, Zhang Thugs-rje brtson-‘grus, Kun-tu bzang-po, and Dpal Mi-bskyod rdo-rje. He occupies a central position in the transmission lines of these teachings as received by both Bu-ston Rin-chen grub and Dol-po-pa Shes rab-rgyal mtshan. Kun-spangs-pa received and practiced seventeen different lineages of the sadahgayoga, and then synthesized them.  Tāranātha, gives a clear and succinct sketch of these seventeen lineages, many of which are associated with the different Tibetan translators of the Kalacakratantra and Vimalaprabha.  In his treatment of the history of the six yogas in Tibet, ‘Jam-mgon Kong-sprul (1813-1899), Theg vol. 1, 549-551, simply copies verbatim Tāranātha’s entire discussion.’ n.71.’’

See also Stearns’ biography of him at Treasury of Lives:

While he was staying at Se Kharchung (se mkhar chung), which had been the hermitage of the great Seton Kunrik (se ston kun rig, 1029-1116) of the tradition of Lamdre, it is said that the Kalki emperors of Shambhala simultaneously appeared to him in a vision and granted permission for him to write a commentary on the Kālacakra Tantra. According to tradition during this period the goddess Nakmen Gyalmo (nags sman rgyal mo) also appeared and invited him to take up residence at the spot that would later become Jonang Monastery (jo nang dgon), which he agreed to do after three years.

He resided at the hermitage of Khacho Deden (mkha’ spyod bde ldan), he wrote a series of texts on the practice of the six-branch yoga of Kālacakra, experienced a vision of Kālacakra, and received prophecy from the deity. The essential teachings of the six-branch yoga had previously existed only as oral instructions, and Kunpang’s works were the first extensive manuals of guidance for these teachings written in Tibet.

When Kunpang was staying in the cave hermitage of Kyipuk Deden (skyid phug bde ldan) at Jonang he is said to have had a vision of the great Indian adept Virupa and wrote a text in which he rearranged the order of Virupa’s Vajra Lines (rdo rje’i tshig rkang), the basic text of Lamdre. Kunpang taught his students both the traditions of the old and new translations of secret mantra. Dedicated meditators gathered from every direction and about six hundred of them were always at Jonang, each of whom was said to have developed good experience and realization, thus initiating the institution of what became known as Jonang Monastery, which is traditionally given the founding date of 1294. Kunpang practiced the six-branch yoga as his main meditation and lived in the Jonang area for twenty-one years. He taught the great Vimalaprabhā commentary to the Kālacakra Tantra many times.


[2] Gyijo Lotsāwa (gyi jo zla ba’i ‘od zer) translated the Kalacakra Tantra in 1027 and its commentaries after inviting Bodhibhadra to Tibet.

[3] Ma Gewai Lodrö (1044 – 1089) was one of five young men who accompanied Rinchen Zangpo to Kashmir. Only he and two others survived. They translated many important works.

[4] Not much biographical information is publicly available in the English language, but he was apparently a student of Gyijo Lotsāwa.

[5] Atīśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna (jo bo rje dpal ldan A ti sha) (982 – 1054) was a Buddhist Bengali religious leader and master.  He was one of the major figures in the spread of 11th century Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism in Asia and inspired Buddhist thought from Tibet to Sumatra. He is recognised as one of the greatest figures of classical Buddhism, and Atisa’s chief disciple Dromtön was the founder of the Kadam School. Atisa is also considered to be a key figure in the establishment of the Sarma schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

[6] Dro Sherab Drak (‘bro shes rab grags-pa), born at the beginning of the 11th century, who worked mainly with the Kashmiri paṇḍita Somanātha. See Appendix below for the full Dro tradition lineage holders.

[7] For more information on Somanātha Somanātha (zla ba mgon po) was very intelligent, and could memorise about sixteen verses with each breath. He studied with the teacher “The good Brahmin”, and in Kashmir learned all dharmas.   Later, he travelled to the centre of the country and at Nālendra he listened to many profound Vajrayāna teachings such as the Kālacakra.  In practice, he fully accomplished Prāṇāyāma and Dharāṇā, his movements of bowel and urine ceased, and he had many powers such as being able to petrify thieves by just pointing at them.

He travelled to Tibet three times, and taught many teachings, including the Pradīpodyatana (sgron gsal), the six Treatises (on Mādhyamika), and the five Treatises of Asaṅga. In particular he widely spread the Kālacakra.

[8] Rwa Chorab (rwa chos rab), was born in the middle of the 11th century. He travelled to Nepal and worked with the Newari paṇḍita Samantaśrī, who lived in Patan, just south of Kathmandu. This lineage is the one mainly practised by the Gelug such as Tsongkhapa. According to the Blue Annalas the Rwa tradition starts with tsi lu pa, then to Piṇḍo, Kālacakrapāda, the Senior, Kālacakrapāda, the Junior, Mañjukīrti, and then to Samantaśrī, the paṇḍita invited to Tibet by Rwa Chorab. He was the nephew of the well known translator Rwa Lotsawa Dorje Dragpa (rwa lo tsāba rdo rje brags pa) (1016- 1198). After escorting Samantaśrī back to Nepāl and receiving a special hat as a gift, Rwa Chorab traveled in Central Tibet and kham to teach the doctrine. His Kālacakra lineage was passed down especially to Rwa Yeshe Seng (rwa ye shes seng), then to Rwa Bum Seng (rwa ‘bum seng), and then to Ga Lotsāwa (rgwa lo tsāba).

[9] Samantashri’s s teacher was Manjukirti  who was a direct student of Nalendrapa.

[10] 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.

[11] 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.

[12] 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.

[13] Ga Lotsāwa  (1105/1110 – 1198/1202) was a great siddha and translator who visited India; also known as Palchen Galo [‘Galo’ is an abbreviation of Ga Lotsāwa, or “the translator of the Ga clan”].

[14] Zhang Tshelwa (zhang tshal pa) (1123-1193). Also known as Tsöndrü Drakpa (brtson ‘grus grags pa), was a disciple of Dakpo Gomtsül and founder of the Tsalpa branch of the Kagyü School.

[15] Sakyapa Lama Kunga Nyingpo (1092 – 1158) was the first Sakya throne holder and the founder of Sakya monastery.

[16] Śākyaśrī Bhadra (1127­- 1225), whose immense learning was incomparable even in India, was head of the famed dharma universities of Vikramaśilā  and Nalanda, and  who was continually blessed with visions of the mother of the buddhas, Arya Tara, was the last of the great Indian panditas to visit Tibet.

[17] Sakya Paṇḍita Künga Gyeltsen (chos rje sa skya paṇḍita kun dga’ rgyal mtshan (1182- 1251)) was a Tibetan spiritual leader and Buddhist scholar and the fourth of the Five Sakya Forefathers (sa skya gong ma lnga). Künga Gyeltsen is generally known simply as Sakya Paṇḍita, a title given to him in recognition of his scholarly achievements and knowledge of Sanskrit. He is considered to be the fourth Sakya Forefather and sixth Sakya Trizin and one of the most important figures in the Sakya lineage.

[18] Vibhūticandra (nnal-‘byor zla-ba) an Indian Buddhist master, first came to Tibet in 1204, and was active and influential for several decades in the transmission and translation of both sutra and tantra teachings. He traveled to Tibet three times, and at least one of the works he translated himself into the Tibetan language has been passed down to the present as an important tantric practice in living transmission. More details of his life story are found here in Tāranātha’s text. The best and most detailed English-language source is that of STEARNS 1996.

[19] Regarding Tāranātha’s historical account of the two Vibhuti lineages, I make reference to  Cyrus Stearns’ study: The Life and Tibetan Legacy of the Indian Mahapandita Vibhuticandra  (International Journal of Buddhist Studies, 1: 19, 1996).

[20] Chak Lotsāwa Chöjé Pal  (chag lo tsA ba chos rje dpal) (1197-1263/4) was a Tibetan translator who visited Bodh Gaya in 1234. He was a student of Nyang Ral Nyima Özer. For further reading see George Roerich, Biography of Dharmasvāmin (Chag lo tsa-ba Chos-rje dpal), Patna: K.P Jayaswal Research Institute, 1959.

[21] The pure realm of Chenrezig.

[22]Choku Özer was Kunpang Chenpo’s root lama.  From Treasury of Lives:

Kunpang received the transmission of all the treatises and oral instructions possessed by the great Choku Ozer (chos sku ‘od zer). In particular, although he had previously studied the Ra (rwa) tradition of Kālacakra, he now received from Choku Ozer the Kālacakra initiation, the explanation of the Kālacakra Tantra, the great Vimalaprabhā commentary, and an experiential transmission of the Kālacakra completion-stage practices of the six-branch yoga in the Dro (‘bro) tradition.

[23] In the Blue Annals, Chapter 10, the author lists approximately twenty individuals who translated the Kālacakra and notes that no other tantra had so many translators in Tibet. The chapter closes with some general notes on who translated some of the other texts related to the Kālacakra, such as the Commentary by Vajragarbha on the Hevajra-tantra, and the commentary on the Saṃvara tantra attributed to Vajrapāni, and the Sekoddeśaṭīkā.


Sheehy, Michael: ”A Lineage History of Vajrayoga and Tantric Zhentong from the Jonang Kālacakra Practice Tradition” in As Long as Space Endures. Essays on the Kālacakra Tantra in Honor of H.H the Dalai Lama, 237-258. Edited by Edward A. Arnold. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 2009.

Stearns, Cyrus:  ”The Life and Tibetan Legacy of the Indian Mahapandita Vibhuticandra”International Journal of Buddhist Studies, 1: 19, 1996.

Copyright and all rights reserved by Adele Tomlin, 2018.

Below is an image of the lineage tree of the Kalacakra Dro Lineage, mainly followed by Jonang and Kagyu (up to the two students of Kunpang Chenpo). Taken from the Jonang Foundation website.

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