The Barom Kagyu Lineage

The history of the lineage is central to understanding the importance of Venerable Sonam Tenzin Rinpoche’s endeavours to bring the Barom Kagyu lineage to the west. The Kagyu lineages are historically known as the practice lineages, in which oral instruction is of pre-eminent importance. This emphasis is reflected in the literal meaning of Kagyu. The first syllable, ‘Ka’, refers to the scriptures of the Buddha and the oral instructions of the guru. The second, ‘gyu’, means lineage or tradition. Together, these syllables mean the lineage of oral instructions. The lineage is the vehicle by which the Buddha’s teachings are passed down from generation to generation.

From the Buddha, the dharma
From the dharma, the realised sangha
From the sangha, the presence of jnana nature – the essence;
When this jnana is ultimately made manifest
There is supreme enlightenment
Endowed with every ability to accomplish
The good for each and everyone
- Uttara Tantra

The Kagyu lineage originated with the great yogi Tilopa, born in Bengal, India in 988 AD. Tilopa received and emphasised in his personal practice the special transmissions handed down through Dharmakaya Buddha Vajradhara – the Guhyasamaja Tantra transmissions descending from the mahasiddha Nagarjuna, the clear light and bardo doctrines of the mahasiddha Lawapa, the heruka Chakrasamvara lineages descending from the mahasiddha Luipada, the mahamudra lineages of the mahasiddha Shavari, and the inner heat (tummo) doctrines of the Hevajra Tantra as transmitted through Krishnacharya. He spent years in intensive practice of meditation and eventually achieved enlightenment.

These teachings were passed on from Tilopa to Naropa and were systemised as The Six Yogas of Naropa that are considered central practices in the Kagyu lineage. Naropa, born to an aristocratic family in 1016, renounced the worldly life at a young age and dedicated himself to intense study and practice. The feats of devotion and the many hardships he endured in his pursuit of spiritual perfection are legendary amongst Tibetans. In his later life, he trained many disciples the most famous of whom is Marpa the Translator.

Marpa Chokyi Lodoe (1012 –1099) travelled three times to India and four times to Nepal in search of religious teachings. He studies at the feet of one hundred and eight spiritual masters and adepts, principally Naropa and Maitrepa. He subsequently returned to Tibet where he spread the dharma teachings. The lineages of tantric teachings he received from Naropa he passed on to his foremost disciple Milarepa (1040-1123), the most celebrated and accomplished of tibet’s tantric yogis, who, like Naropa, achieved the ultimate goal of enlightenment in one life time.

Kagyu Lineage

Lineage of the Kagyu order. Above the central figure of Milarepa are Vajradhara and Marpa, and the Five Sisters protective goddesses.
To his right, Naropa above Gampopa, to his left, Tilopa above Rechung.

Milarepa’s transmission was continued by Gampopa, a skilled physician who first received teachings from Kadampa and later Mahamudra and the six yogas of Naropa from Milarepa. The great master Gampopa (1040-1123), also known as Dakpo Lhaje, established the framework of the Kagyu lineage by unifying Milarepa’s Mahamudra lineage with the Kadampa lineage. This lineage came to be known as Dakpo Kagyu, the mother lineage of the Kagyu tradition.

The Dakpo Kagyu tradition gave rise to four major schools founded by the illustrious disciples of Gampopa. The Barom Kagyu lineage was founded by Barom Dharma Wangchuk, one of these four realised practitioners. Thus, a tradition that has been passed in succession from Tilopa to Naropa, Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa comes to us in the west through Barom Dharma Wangchuk and the lamas of the Barom Kagyu lineage.


Barom Dharma Wangchuk and a thangka depicting the Barom Kagyu Lineage