Part I: The Dagpo Kagyu lineage holders of Dro/Jonang Kālacakra

I am currently translating a ‘Supplication to the Kālacakra Lineage’ by Kagyu and Rime Tibetan Buddhist master, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye.  Kongtrul himself was considered to be an incarnation of Jonang master, Jetsun Tāranātha, as was his great friend and teacher, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. Therefore, I was very happy to come across a recently published (yet untranslated) book on Kālacakra, The Blue Sapphire Jewel:  History of Kālacakra[i], by contemporary Tibetan Buddhist Kagyu Kālacakra teacher, Khenpo Donyo Lodro Rinpoche.

Khenpo Donyo is based at Bokar monastery, Mirik, India (where there is also a 3-year Kālacakra retreat centre) and he is a long-time student and friend of another Kagyu Kālacakra master, Bokar Rinpoche. For more on Bokar Rinpoche and the  Kālacakra stupa at Bokar monastery, see previous post here. Khenpo Donyo Lodro Is one of the few living Kagyu masters who received the full Jonang transmission of Kālacakra with Bokar Rinpoche, in 2004, from Jonang master, Khenpo Kunga Sherab Rinpoche, see here.

Khenpo Donyo (R) with Bokar Rinpoche (L) and Khenpo Kunga Sherab Rinpoche (C) in 2004.

Although I have not translated the life-stories in full, as contained within this text (but will do at some point), I decided to translate the names of these Kagyu masters cited by Khenpo Donyo, and have added some relevant biographical footnotes and information where available.

Interesting to note, that the Tai Situpas and Pawo lineages were an important part of this transmission lineage, which came to them from the Nyingma Dzogchen master, Khatog Tsewang Norbu.  As well as a not so well-known Kagyu teacher, Karma Osel Gyurme, the lama who first gave the transmission to Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye.

The unbroken stream of oral instructions and empowerment transmission of the Jonang Kālacakra that passed down to the unparalleled Dagpo Kagyu masters:

  • Drubney Kunzang Wangpo (16?? – 17??)[ii]
  • Khatog Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu (1698-1755)[iii]
  • 8th Tai Situ Panchen, Chokyi Jungne (1700-1774)[iv]
  • Be Lotsawa Zurmang Tsewang Kunkhyab[v] (1718-1790) and Ontrul Wangyal Dorje[vi]
  • The 8th Pawo Tsugla Chogyal(1782-1781)[vii]
  • The 14th Karmapa, Thegchog Dorje (1798-1868)[viii]
  • Karma Osel Gyurme (18?? – 18??) [ix]
  • Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye (1813-1899)[x]
  • 11th Tai Situ Pema Wangchog Gyalpo (1886– 1952)[xi]
  • 16th Karmapa, Rigpe Dorje (1924-1981)

Interestingly, according to this historical account, the 16th Karmapa got the transmission of the Jonang/Dro Kālacakra  as well as the transmission of the eight practice lineages (of which the Kālacakra six yogas is one) from the 11th Tai Situpa (p.548-9).  The 16th Karmapa also received the Kālacakra empowerment from HH 14th Dalai Lama in India. So that is where the unbroken lineage from Dro to Tāranātha to the Dagpo Kagyu masters ends.

11th Tai Situpa, Pema Wangchuk Gyalpo

Here is a lovely photo said to have been taken of HH 16th Karmapa getting the Kālacakra empowerment from HH 14th Dalai Lama.

However, after this, Khenpo Donyo writes about other lineages that continued on from Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye to other Kagyu lineage Tibetan Buddhist masters, such as Kalu Rinpoche and Bokar Rinpoche. That is the topic of the next post!


Primary Sources

‘jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas               Phyogs med ris med kyi bstan pa la ’dun shing dge sbyong gi gzugs brnyan ’chang ba bLo gros mtha’ yas kyi sde’i byung ba brjod pa Nor bu sna tshogs mdog can. (Kongtrul’s Autobiography) Bir, India: Kandro, 1973. TBRC W20880

mkhan po blo gros don yod                                         bde bar gshegs pa’i ring lugs spyi dang bye brag rgyud thams cad kyi rgyal po dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i chos skor gyi byung ba brjod pa thub bstan mdzes par byed pa’i rgyuan in+dra nI la’i phra tshom (Published in 2005, Bokar Monastery Publications (‘bo dkar nges don chos ‘khor gling gi bla spyi spar bskrun zhus) TBRC W00EGS1016994).

Secondary Sources

Barron 2003                        Barron, Richard, The Autobiography of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye: A Gem of Many Colours, Snow Lion Publications, 2003.

Sheehy 2009                        Sheehy, Michael, Kongtrul’s Jonangpa Connections, blog post, Jonang Foundation website, 2009.

Stearns 2010                       The Buddha From Dolpo, Shambhala Publications, 2010.

Zangpo 2001                        Zangpo, Ngawang, Sacred Ground: Jamgon Kongtrul on Pilgrimage and Sacred Geography, Snow Lion Publications, 2001.


[i] bde bar gshegs pa’i ring lugs spyi dang bye brag rgyud thams cad kyi rgyal po dpal dus kyi ‘khor lo’i chos skor gyi byung ba brjod pa thub bstan mdzes par byed pa’i rgyuan in+dra nI la’i phra tshom (Published in 2005, Bokar Monastery Publications (‘bo dkar nges don chos ‘khor gling gi bla spyi spar bskrun zhus) TBRC W00EGS1016994).

[ii] Drubchen Kunzang Wangpo was a disciple of Chalungpa Ngawang Trinley (ngag dbang ‘phrin las, 1657 -1723). A Jonang Kālacakra master, Ngawang Trinley took ordination from his paternal uncle, Lodro Namgyel (blo gros rnam rgyal, 1618-1683), a disciple of Tāranātha Kunga Nyingpo (tA ra nA tha kun dga’ snying po, 1575-1635).  For more on Ngawang Trinley’s life see Kunzang Wangpo is said to be in the Ka’ ma transmission lineage of the four lineages (rgyud bzhi).

[iii] Khatog Rigdzin Tshewang Norbu (kaH thog rigs ‘dzin tshe dbang nor bu). A Dzogchen Nyingma master of Khatog monastery.. He traveled to Central Tibet where he met all of the great masters of that time and was a close friend of 8th Situ Panchen.  His collected writings include historical works, copies of 8th and 9th century inscriptions, and ritual texts. He served the Tibetan government as an emissary and peace maker among the warring princes of Ladakh. He was active in the restoration of the Svayambhunath Stupa in Nepal (see TBRC W19801). According to biographical sources see,

In 1725, Tsewang Norbu went to Tibet, where he received an audience with the Twelfth Karmapa Jangchub Dorje (karma pa 12 byang chub rdo rje, 1703-1732) and the Eighth Zhamarpa Pelchen Chokyi Dondrub (zhwa dmar 08 dpal chen chos kyi don grub, 1695-1732). He also met the Third Trewo Lama Karma Tendzin Dargye (tre bo 03 karma bstan ‘dzin dar rgyas) who became his third root lama, and introduced him to the Jonang tradition.

Tsewang Norbu later received the entire Jonangpa tradition’s teachings from Drubchen Kunzang Wangpo (grub chen kun bzang dbang po, seventeenth century), and he is credited with bringing about a renaissance of the teachings, particularly of the Jonang zhentong, or  “other emptiness” view (gzhan stong). Tsewang Norbu had first attempted to meet with Kunzang Wangpo in 1726, while en route to Nepal, but was unable to do so. When he returned to Tibet the following year, the two met, and Tsewang Norbu received the extensive transmission at the hermitage Genden Khacho (dga’ ldan mkha’ chos) in Tsang, which was named Rulak Drepung (ru lag ‘bras spung) prior to its forced conversion to Geluk. Tsewang Norbu transmitted the Jonang teachings to many Kagyu and Nyingma lamas, most importantly to the Eighth Tai Situ, Chokyi Gyeltsen (ta’i si tu 08 chos kyi ‘byung gnas, c.1699-1774), with whom he spent time at the Swayambhunath Stupa in Kathmandu in 1748.

Khenpo Donyo (p.492) says that when Tsewang Norbu met Kunzang Wangpo, he received the Kālacakra empowerment, the instructions on the Great Madhayamika Empty-of-Other view, the instructions on the completion stage of the six Vajra-yogas, the One Hundred Instructions by Jonang Kunga Drolchok and the collected works of Dolpopa and Tāranātha.

According to STEARNS 2010: 78-79:

Tsewang Norbu  travelled again to Jonang in 1734, ascending the teaching throne previously occupied by Dolpopa and Tāranātha and gave many initiations, textual transmissions and esoteric instructions of the original Jonang teachings to a large gathering.’…and ‘gave the Jonang teachings in Central Tibet, where he passed a number of transmissions to the 13th Karmapa Dudul Dorje (1733-97), and the Tenth Sharmapa, Chodrup Gyatso (1742-92).

See also Sheehy, 2011

[iv] 8th Tai Situ Panchen Chökyi Jungne (chos kyi ‘byung gnas (1700-1774)), a student of the 12th Karmapa, Jangchub Dorje  (byang chub rdo rje (1703-1732)) and teacher of the 13th Karmapa. A great master and prolific writer. According to most sources he was not only an exceptionally accomplished master, but also a great scholar, who produced many volumes of writings, and famous for his travels. On his second visit to Nepal, in 1748, he met again with Kathok Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu and received from him many transmissions of the Jonang tradition, especially on the view of empty-of-other (gzhan stong). He received the Kālacakra empowerment and oral instruction transmission on the six Vajra-yogas from Tsewang Norbu.  For more on the 8th Tai Situ connection with Jonang and Tsewang Norbu, see STEARNS 2010: 79-80. Sheehy 2011, has also written about their connection, see note above.

[v] Belotsawa Tsewang Kunkhyab (‘Be lo tshe dbang kun khyab) of Zurmang monastery was a student of 8th Tai Situ. He wrote a history of the Karma Kagyu with the 8th Tai Situ Panchen. Khenpo Donyo Lodro states that he received the empowerments and oral transmissions of Kālacakra from the 8th Tai Situpa. Also, that he had also arranged and compiled the collection of works by Tāranātha that had become scattered and disordered.

[vi] Ontrul Rinpoche (dBon trul rin po che, dbon sprul dbang rgyal rdo rje) was one of the main students of Belotsawa. He was also called Karma ngedon tenzin rabgye or Tshabtsa Tulku Karma Rinchen, according to Khenpo Donyo Lodro, see p.514. It states that he received the common and uncommon empowerments and instructions from Belotsawa. Another source states he was a recinarnate master who administrated Palpung monastery and directed the construction of its three-year retreat centre (see ZANGPO 2001: 253)

[vii] Eighth Pawo, Tsuklak Trengwa, Tsuklak Chokyi Gyalpo (gtsug lag chos kyi rgyal po (1782 – ) was the younger brother of the 9th Tai Situpa. The Pawo incarnations are an important line in the Karma Kagyü School. According to Treasury of Lives,

The Pawo incarnation line began with the fifteenth century Chowang Lhundrub, posthumously identified as the First Pawo. The Second Pawo, Tsuklak Trengwa, was a prominent sixteenth-century Kagyu scholar whose history of the Karma Kagyu tradition, the Chojung Khepai Gaton, or Scholar’s Feast, is still read today. He was based at Sekhar Gutok monastery, at the time a Kagyu monastery, which became one of the seats of the line, together with Lhalung Monastery. After Sekhar Gutok was converted to the Geluk tradition in the seventeenth century, the Fifth Dalai Lama gave the Fifth Pawo, Tsuklak Trinle Gyatso Nenang Monastery, which he had confiscated from the Seventh Zhamar. Since that time the incarnation line has also been known as the Nenang Pawo.

[viii] According to Khenpo Donyo (p521), the 14th Karmapa, Thegchog Dorje, received the Kālacakra transmission and empowerments from the eighth Pawo, Chokyi Gyalpo in 1831.

[ix] Karma Osel Gyurme was a Karma Kagyu master whose teacher, Chabtsa Tulku Karma Ratna, studied with Belo Tsewang Kunkhyab. Karma Ratna was apparently the Vajra master at Palpung monastery at the time of the Tsadra monastery consecration (see ZANGPO 2001, p.251). Osel Gyurme became a teacher of Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye.  Sheehy states in his blog post ‘Kongtrul’s Jonangpa Connections‘ (2009) that:

‘Gyurme was a student of Karma Ratna and is also referred to as Lama Gonpo Tsewang. According to the history of the Jonangpa, he met Kongtrul on his way to Gyalrong as he was traveling from Dzamthang, and it appears as if he conferred numerous transmissions upon Kongtrul during their time together.’ (although he does not cite a specific source for this).

Khenpo Donyo Lodro’s account explains that Jamgon Kongtrul received the Jonang Kālacakra transmissions from Karma Osel Gyurme who got it from 14th Karmapa, Thegchog Dorje. In his autobiography (see Barron, 2003), Kongtrul states that it was in the eighth month of the Water-Hare Year (1843-1844):

…the venerable and holy lama Karma Osel Gyurme was to bestow the empowerments and oral transmissions from the works by Jonang Jetsun Rinpoche, and so I went to upper Ling province. There were about ten of us gathered, including Dabzang Tulku Rinpoche, and Karma Osel Gyurme spent some three months bestowing the empowerments of most of the classes of tantra found in the collected works of Tāranātha (the Kālacakra foremost among these), as well as the oral transmissions for five or six volumes of Tāranātha’s writings. During this time, I experienced in my dreams some significant indications and a great sense that I was receiving blessings.

[x] According to biographical sources, in the late 1840s, Kongtrul made an extensive teaching and alms tour of eastern Kham and southern Amdo, including religious centers such as Gyelmorong and Serta. At Dzamtang Monastery (dzam thang dgon), a major Jonang institution, he taught Kālacakra to the monks, and received teachings on the same topic from a Jonang lama named Ngawang Chopel (sngags dbang chos ‘phel, 1788-1865). According to Sheehy (2009) :

In his record [Kong sprul gsan yig] compiled by Tashi Chöphel in two volumes, it states that Kongtrul received the lineage of reading transmissions (lung) of Dolpopa’s works from Karma Tenpa Saljé. Though I have yet to identify this lama, it seems as though it was not Ngawang Tenpa Saljé who was the sixth vajra-master of Tsang Chen Monastery in Dzamthang since he was not born until 1878. Regardless, Kongtrul’s record then identifies the previous masters in this lineage as being Mipham Thrinlé Rabten who received the transmission from Lama Sonam Chodrak who in turn received it from Ngawang Chöphel.

In 1849, when he returned from Amdo, he taught the Jonang tantric traditions at Dzongsar Monastery (rdzong sar dgon), at Khyentse Wangpo’s request.  In his autobiography, Kongtrul states that in the Fire-Sheep year (1847-48):

In that region there were many small monasteries following the extensive lineage of the Jonang tradition. Many of the lamas and monks convened, and I bestowed the complete empowerments of the glorious Kalachakra, instruction on the preliminary practices for its six branch yoga, the empowerment of Vajrabhairava, and other transmissions.

And once arriving at Dzamthang monastery:

I requested detailed instructions on the Six Yogas of The Kalacakra Tantra, together with practical instruction, from a lama named Ngawang Chophel, who had mastered the study and practice of the Vajra Yoga cycle of the mahasiddha Tsangpa Tsang.

Sheehy (2009) writes about this Jonang lama:

Ngawang Chöphel was the inheritor of the seat at Jonang Tsang Chen Monastery and was its first vajra-master, several generations after it was established.

Later in the following Earth-Monkey year(1848-49) (ibid. p77), Kongtrul returns to Palpung monastery and meets his teacher, the 9th Tai Situ Rinpoche:

A lama named Tetsa had given me some ounces of gold, and whatever there was I offered to Kyabje Rinpoche and requested from him the sublime empowerment of the Kalachakra and the complete instructions for the Six Branches of Union.

Then after that (p78):

During this period, the incarnate master Jamyang Khyentse was residing at Dzongsar….He said that it was now imperative that he receive from me a complete transmission of all the empowerments for the classes of tantra of the Jonang tradition. Accordingly, I agreed to this and he came to Palpung Monastery. I myself [61b] moved to Khangsar College in the monastery. For a fairly large group of lamas and incarnates and monks, Lord Khyentse himself foremost among them, I used the writings of Jonang Jetsün Rinpoche to give all the empowerments I had previously received for these classes of tantra, principally the glorious Kalachakra; I also gave the oral transmissions for the sadhanas and mandala rituals, instructions on the Six Branches of Union, transmission of the seven mandalas of the Ngok tradition according to the set of manuals written by Karma Chagme, and the blessing ceremonies and instructions for the Six Yogas of Niguma according to the Jonang tradition.

In the Water-Rat year (1852-3), (p83), Kongtrul states he went to meet Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche in central Tibet:

To Khyentse Rinpoche, who had come especially, and to about twenty other lamas and incarnations, including Donyon Tulku, I gave the entire collection of empowerments and oral transmissions of The Precious Source of Sadhanas from the Jonang tradition. Khyentse Rinpoche very graciously bestowed gifts on me, such as a precious “regent” statue, which was a terma discovered by Dorjé Lingpa, and a complete set of block prints of the works of Jonang Jetsün Rinpoché.

Then in (1854-1855), (ibid. p. 95):

Through the kindness of the venerable lama Karma Osel Gyurme, I received the empowerments and oral transmissions from the collected works of Jonang Jetsün Rinpoché that I had not previously received. These included the great ordination from the Kalachakra cycle.

Then in Fire-Dragon Year (1856-57):

Lord Khyentse himself conferred on me the bodhisattva vow according to both the Madhyamaka tradition (according to the manuals used in the tradition of Mindroling Monastery) and the Chittamatra tradition (as arranged by my master himself). With this as an introduction, he then transmitted The One Hundred Instructions of [Jonang master] Kunga Drolchok to me very thoroughly, giving a concise overview using a structural analysis; explaining these teachings in detail, using those instruction manuals for which he had received oral transmission; summarizing these hundred instructions using their actual wording; and finally conferring an empowerment using the texts (83a).

[xi] The Eleventh Tai Situpa  (pad ma dbang mchog rgyal po, 1886-1952) was recognized at the age of four as the reincarnation of the previous Tai Situ by the Fifteenth Karmapa, Khakhyap Dorje, and was then enthroned at Palpung Monastery. He received ordination and teachings from Khakhyap Dorje, as well as teachings and empowerments from Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye.  According to Khenpo Donyo: he received the great empowerment and transmission of Kālacakra from Jamgon Kongtrul, in 1891 (the iron-hare year), and was responsible for recognizing the Sixteenth Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje. He remained the Sixteenth Karmapa’s root Lama and transmitted to him the main teachings and empowerments of the Kagyu lineage, including Kālacakra.