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SHANGPA KAGYU:

"The learned Saint, Khedrup Khyungpo Naljor, traveled to India and met the two Wisdom Dakinis (Niguma and Sukhasiddhi), Rahula, Maitripa and many other Holy Beings. He received teachings from one hundred and fifty Saints and Learned Ones and then returned to Tibet and propagated what came to be known as the Shangpa Kagyud Tradition. Nowadays, however, this Tradition is no longer held as a separate Tradition by anyone, although its lineages of initiations and oral transmissions exist in both the Sakya and Kagyud."

(Excerpt from the Opening of the Dharma, A Brief Explanation of the Essence of the Limitless Vehicles of the Buddha. Written by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro. Translated by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Gyatso, Malaysia, October 1984).

The Shangpa lineage was founded by Kedrup Khyungpo Naljor in the 11th century at approximately the same time as the birth of the Sakya and Kagyu Schools and shortly after the Kadampa of Jowo Atisha. The Shangpa School is unrelated to the Kagyu School of Marpa the Translator although both share the name 'ka gyu' which can be interpreted to mean 'oral lineage.'



The Shangpa & Jonangpa

(Published by Michael Sheehy on 01 Oct 2009)

The Shangs pa bka' brgyud lineage, as Tibetologist Matthew Kapstein has described, is like "some vine that adorns a whole forest without being able to stand by itself" so much so that it "may strike one who follows its twists and turns as being virtually an omnipresent element in Tibetan Buddhism" (Kapstein). Being so, its fairly safe to say that transmissions from the Shangs pa lineage have penetrated each of the mainstream Sarma traditions of Buddhism in Tibet while no institutionalized representation of the contemporary Shangs pa tradition is known to survive in Tibet today. With striking parallels, transmissions associated with the Jo nang pa are also like an unbroken vine complexly intertwined within many of today's mainstream traditions. However, despite the (still) common conception that the Jo nang pa no longer endure as a living tradition, they maintain an institutional presence in contemporary Tibet.

As Tibetan sources tell us, the Shangs pa was initiated by the Tibetan master Khyung po rnal 'byor (978/990-1127) who ventured to India and Nepal to receive tantric initiations, and who through his visionary encounters with the wisdom dakinis Niguma and Sukhasiddhi received the essential teachings of Niguma and the mahamudra instructions that have become the hallmark of the tradition. The predominant teachings of the tradition are derived from the Indian adepts, Vajrasana, Rahula, Maitripa, as well as Niguma and Sukhasiddhi. In addition to an emphasis on a specific practice associated with the six-armed Mahakala, the Shangs pa stress the practices consolidated into the Five Golden Teachings.

Though Khyung po rnal 'byor is credited with establishing over a hundred sites in and around the area of Zhang zhong in the valley of Shangs in central Tibet, and his immediate disciples are known to have established several each on their own, it seems that the only monastery of the Shangs pa that persisted in Tibet up to the early part of the 20th century was Rmog lcog Monastery (Smith). Instead, the Shangs pa have passed on through numerous streams within the dominant currents of Buddhism in Tibet. While there are several minor lines that continue, the four main streams of the Shangs pa transmission are: (1) the Bsam sdings lineage, (2) the 'Jag pa lineage, (3) the Thang lineage, and (4) the Jo nang lineage. The 'Jag pa lineage has succeeded from the master 'Jag chen 'Byams pa dpal (1310-1391) through his disciple Tsong kha pa (1357-1419), becoming an integral aspect of the Dge lugs tradition up to the present day.

The Jo nang lineage of the Shangs pa is alive and well among the Jo nang pa. The major figure to accumulate and synthesize the instructions of this lineage was Kun dga' grol mchog (1507-1566). However, the intersection between these lines occurred several generations prior to him. The lineage tree suggests that the 13th century master Khyung po Tshul khrims mgon po received transmission from Mkhas grub Gtsang ma Shangs ston (1234-1309) who was four generations removed from Khyung po rnal 'byor. Kun dga' grol mchog then received the Bsam sdings, 'Jag pa, and Thang lineages, as well as instructions in the visionary presence of the wisdom dakini Niguma. By the time of Kun dga' grol mchog's disciples, such as the master 'Gyur med bde chen (1540-1615), practices and instructions associated with the Shangs pa were deeply embedded within the Jo nang tradition. One question that needs further exploration is to what extent these exchanges were made or at least initiated during the lifetime of Thang stong rgyal po (1361-1485)?

As inheritor of Kun dga' grol mchog's legacy and throne at Jo nang, Taranatha (1575-1635) took a keen interest in the Shangs pa, writing numerous commentaries and expanding the core practice texts of the tradition. Although the lineage continued uninterruptedly for the next several generations after Taranatha, and was received by Jo nang masters in Amdo, it was not until the 'Dzam thang master 'Ba' mda' dge legs (1844-1904) came onto the scene that this practice lineage would be commented on within the Jo nang tradition with any degree of erudition or creativity. 'Ba' mda' Lama wrote several works related to the Shangs pa, including an extensive explanation of the Six Teachings of Niguma that is considered the authoritative work for Jo nang pas. This lineage then passed onto 'Jam mgon kong sprul (1813-1899), and in more recent times was represented by such great masters as the late Kalu Rinpoche and his disciple Bokar Rinpoche.

Kapstein, M. 'The Shangs-pa bKa'-brgyud: An Unknown Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.' In Tibetan Studies in Honour of Hugh Richardson. Aris and Suu Kyi (eds.), 140. Vikas Publishing House, 1980.

Smith, G. 'The Shangs pa Bka' brgyud Tradition.' In Among Tibetan Texts, 54. Wisdom, 2001.

This also appears on the Jonangpa.com blog.


The Shangpa Kagyu (shangs pa bka' brgyud) tradition was initiated in the 11th century by Khyungpo Naljor (khyung po rnal byor), who received the Mahamudra teachings in India from Niguma, the sister of Naropa. He established the monastery of Shang Shang Dorje Den (shangs shangs rdo rje ldan) in the Shang valley in Tsang. A single line of transmission, said to have been initiated by the Buddha Vajradhara and taught first to Niguma, passed to Kyungpo Naljor and then on to his disciple Mogchogpa (rmog lcog pa) through Wonton Kyergangwa Chokyi Sengge (dbon ston skyer sgang ba chos kyi seng ge), Nyanton Rigung Chokyi Sherab (gnyan ston), to Sanggye Tonpa Tsondru Sengge (sangs rgyas ston pa), was known as the transmission of the seven precious Shangpa. Then, in the 13th century Sanggye Tonpa passed the lineage on to multiple disciples and the Shangpa teachings were written down. The Shangpa lineages were largely absorbed into the institutional organizations of the Sakya, Kagyu, and Gelug, although it was partially revived in the 19th century by Jamgon Kongtrul ('jam mgon kong sprul); his two personal hermitages, Tsadra Rinchen Drag (rtsa 'dra rin chen brag) and Dzongsho Desheg Dupa (rdzong shod bde gshegs bdus pa) are both Shangpa Kagyu institutions. The Shangpa teachings are known as the Five Golden Doctrines (shangs pa gser chos lnga), which include the Nigu Chodrug, or (ni gu chos drug), the Six Doctrines of Niguma, a grouping similar to the Naro Chodrug of the Marpa Kagyu.

Alexander Gardner, 2009

[Extracted from the Treasury of Lives, Tibetan lineages website. Edited and formatted for inclusion on the Himalayan Art Resources website. November 2009].