A Short Guide to Tibetan Buddhism

Four Schools Of Tibetan Buddhism
Other Buddhist Schools
Non-Buddhist Traditions
Usenet Discussion Groups
Other Online Tibetan Buddhist Information (Miscellaneous Links)
Books to Read

Four Schools Of Tibetan Buddhism

Nyingma Kagyu Sakya Geluk

Return to top

Nyingma ('The Ancient Ones' )

This is the oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism. It is based on a lineage of teachings and traditions introduced during the reigns of the Buddhist Kings of the Yarlong Dynasty in the eighth and ninth century by Padmasambhava, Shantarakshita, Vilalamitra, and others.

Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava)

Return to top

Kagyu ( 'Oral Lineage' )

The particular feature of the Kagyu lineage is that the teacher, after having mastered the teachings, clears away defects - relating to intellectual understanding, meditational experience, and the various levels of realisation. Upon completion of the process, the teacher is able to point out and introduce mahamudra to the disciple. The Kagyu teachings have been transmitted and preserved this way, in an unbroken line, until the present time.
Shangpa Kagyu, was founded by Khyungpo Nyaljor (978-1079).
The late Kalu Rinpoche (1905-1989) was the principle contemporary exponent of this tradition. Rinpoche's Monastery and Retreat Center is located in New York.
The Dagpo Kagyu lineage
(a generic name for various Kagyu lineages descended from Dagpo Lharje Gampopa) began with:

Siddha Tilopa (988-1069)

who was taught directly by the Buddha Dorje Chang (Vajradhara). He gave his teaching to

Siddha Naropa (1016-1100)

whose disciple

Marpa (1012-1097)

passed it to

Milarepa (1052-1135)

who is the teacher of

Dagpo Lharje Gampopa (1079-1153)
founder of Dakpo Kagyu.

Four 'Major' Kagyus (Directly from Dharma-Lord Gampopa)
Baram Kagyu
Founded by
Baram Darma Wangchuk
Karma Kagyu
Founded by

Dusum Khyenpa
Tsalpa Kagyu
Founded by
Zhang Yudakpa Tsondu Dakpa
Pagtru Kagyu
Founded by

Phagmo Drupa

Eight 'Great' Kagyus (From Phagmodrupa or Pagtru Kagyu)
Drikung Kagyu
Founded by

Jigten Sumgon
Taklung (Taglung) Kagyu
Founded by
Taglung Thangpa Tashe Pel (1142-1210)
Drukpa (Lingre) Kargyud
Founded by
Ling Repa(1128-1189)
Yazang Kagyu
Founded by
Yeshi Senge
Trobu (Trophu) Kagyu
Founded by
Rinpoche Gyaltsa
Martsang (Martshang) Kagyu
Founded by
Marpa Rinchen Lodoe
Yerpa (Yelpa) Kagyu
Founded by
Yelpa Yeshe Tseg
Shukseb (Shugseb) Kagyu
Founded by
Chokyi Sengey

Return to top

Sakya 'Grey Earth'

The Sakya tradition originated in the eleventh century, and has been closely associated with the Khon Family. Khon Lui Wangpo Sungwa became a disciple of Guru Rinpoche in the eighth century. Through the next thirteen generations, the Dharma continued to be propagated through the Khon family. In 1073, Sakya Monastery was built by Khon Konchok Gyalpo which established the Sakya Tradition in Tibet. He studied under Drokmi the Translator (992-1072) and became a master of many deep teachings.

Return to top

Gelug 'Way of Virtue'

This is lineage combines the teachings and practices of the Nyingma, Kagyu and Sakya with the Sutra and Tantra systems of Indian Buddhism and the intellectual heritage of Nagarjuna and Asanga. It was founded by Gyalwa Tsongkhapa (1357-1419)
Tsongkhapa's disciple, Gyalwa Gedun Drupa was the first of the fourteen successive rebirths of the Dalai Lama. The present Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso, known to his followers as Vajradhara Vagindra Sumati Shasana Dhara Samudra Shri Bhadra. He was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 in recognition of his tireless efforts on behalf of world peace and alleviating the sufferings of the Tibetan people under the genicidal policies of the Chinese government.

Return to top

Other Buddhist Schools

Kadam School

A school of Tibetan Buddhism founded by the eleventh century century Indian scholar and saint Atisha and his Tibetan disciple Dromtonpa. This school is particularly known for its great emphasis on practical application of the ideals of a Bodhisattva within the practitioner's daily life and is responsible for the development in Tibet of a specific collection of writings known as Lojong or "Thought Transformation". The Kadam school later evolved into three sub-divisions Lamrimpa, Shungpawa, and Mengapa, each founded by one of the three Kadam brothers, whose names were Potowa, Chekawa, and Phuljungwa. Although there is no existing school of Tibetan Buddhism now explicitly known as Kadam, the teachings in this school are highly respected by all the four major traditions, and in particular by the Gelug school.Excerpted from A Handbook of Tibetan Culture

Rime School

A non-sectarian or eclectic movement which crystallized during the nineteenth century in Eastern Tibet where the study and integration of all schools of Tibetan Buddhism were encouraged by the leading figures of that time, namely: Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, Chogyur Dechen Lingpa, and Ju Mipham Gyatso. A principal feature of the Rime movement was the emergence of a new literature. This consisted primarily of compendiums of major works of all the major and minor schools of Tibetan Buddhism on convergent topics of thought and practice. Excerpted from A Handbook of Tibetan Culture

Return to top

Non-Buddhist Traditions


An ancient spiritual tradition, considered by scholars to be of Zoroastrian or Kashmiri Buddhist origin, which was widespread in Tibet, particularly in the western region of Zhangzhung prior to the official introduction and establishment of Buddhism. Although its literature appears to distinguish it from both the indigenous beliefs of Tibet and the Buddhist traditions, it has over the last several hundred years assimilated many of the teachings of the Buddha Shakyamuni and developed a neo-Buddhist theoretical foundation. The Bon tradition is particularly strong in the Shand region of Tsang, in Kongpo, Khyungpo, and the Ngawa region of Amdo. Excerpted from A Handbook of Tibetan Culture

Ligmincha Institute
Bon Shen Ling | Tibetan Bon Education Fund

Return to top

Discussion Groups
Named Buddhist Newsgroups(Usenet)

alt.religion.buddhism.tibetan alt.religion.buddhism.nichiren
alt.religion.buddhism.nichiren.shoshu.news alt.buddha.short.fat.guy
talk.religion.buddhism uk.religion.buddhist

Return to top


Tibetan Spirit
Tibetan Buddhist Arts

Snow Lion Publications
Publishes and stocks books on Buddhism, as well as being a source of dharma items, such as incense, malas, thangkas, etc.

Indian Book Center (Sri Satguru Publications) publishes books in English, Tibetan, and English.

Traditional Tibetan Healing
traditional remedies for modern ailments - effective herbal supplements for your health.

Four Gates
Sacred Tools for Happiness

Return to top

Books to Read


Here are some online references

These references are in addition to those elsewhere in the document
If these should be placed elsewhere, ie, with a particular lineage or school,
or if I have missed one, please send me email to correct the error.
Return to top

Karma Kagyu

Return to top

Taklung Kagyu

Head of this lineage is now Shabdrung Rinpoche in Sikkim
Return to top

Drukpa Kargyud

Head of this lineage is headed by His Holiness the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, who has re-established his monastery in Darjeeling, India
  • Drukpa Kargyud Website
    Return to top

    Mail Comments to Jack Churchward

    Last updated 10/26/11.