Directory of Vajrayāna/Mantrayāna Lineages
The Mahāsiddhas and their Dharma Heirs

The origin of Tibetan Vajrayāna/Mantrayāna Buddhism lies in the Indian Mahāsiddha tradition. Between the 8th and 13th century this tradition became established in Tibet and thereafter virtually died out in India. The four predominant Tibetan orders today are an amalgam of different Indian traditions which have been been preserved in the Himalaya region and especially Tibet. Below you find a brief description of the four main orders, and of several less widely known traditions of the Vajrayāna, as well as links to various kinds of transmission lineages which have, as over the centuries, been assimilated into the various orders, thus preserving to a large extent numerous medieval Indian Buddhist traditions.
  • The Nyingma Order traces it's origin to the Indian Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) who was instrumental in introducing Buddhism to Tibet in the 8th century.
    Among it's main practices are Dzogchen and Vajrakīlaya.

  • The Sakya Order traces it's origin to the Indian Mahāsiddha Virupa. Among it's main practices are: Lam Dre, Hevajra, Vajrakīlaya, and Vajrayoginī and it's protector diety is Dorje Lekpa.

  • The Kadam Order traces it's origin to the Indian scholar monk Atiśa Dīpankara Śrījñāna and his principle student Dromtönpa (1003-1064). The Kadampas are more known for their intense study of Śākyamuni Buddha's teachings, the Sūtras, their strict adherence to the Vinaya (disciplinary rules) and to a lesser extent for their Practice of Tantra. Of the few tantric practice dieties were Avaloktiśvara, Tārā, and Acala.

  • The Marpa Kagyü Order traces it's origin to the the tibetan translator Marpa Chökyi Lodro (1012-1096/9) who was a student of the Indian Mahāsiddha Nāropa. The Marpa Kagyü has four surviving orders. The biggest order, the Karma Kagyü originates from Gampopa's disciple Düsum Khyenpa and the other three orders are decendants of Gampopa's disciple Phagmo Drupa.

  • The Shangpa Kagyü tradition traces it's origin to Khyungpo Naljor (984-1139?) whose most important teachers were the Indian yoginīs Niguma and Sukhasiddhi who themselves were students of the Mahāsiddhas Nāropa and Virupa respectively.

  • The Chöd tradition traces it's origin to the Tibetan woman Machig Labdrön (1055-1153) who was a pupil of the Indian Mahāsiddha Padampa Sangye. "Mahāmudra Chöd" is a Prajñāparamitā practice which Machig Labdrön developed in Tibet. It is the only major tradition which originated in Tibet and was later imported to India.

  • The Jonang Order traces it's origin to Kunpang Tukje Tsondru (1243-1313). It's two core transmissions are the Dro Kālachakra lineage and the Shentong Mahāmudra lineage.

  • The Gelug Order was founded by the reformer Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419). Due to the fact that Je Tsongkhapa received all of the major Kadampa transmissions, the Gelug is often considered to be an extension of the Kadam Order. Among it's main practices are: Lam Rim, Guysamāya, Yamāntaka, Kālachakra, Cakrasaṃvara, and Vajrayoginī. It also maintains, to some extent, the scholarly tradition of the great Indian Universities - Nālandā, Vikramaśila, Somapuri, and Odantapurī.

  • Although generally considered to be a part of the Mahāyāna, the Japanese Chen-yien/Shingon Order traces it's origin to three Indian monks from Nālandā University (Śubhākarasiṃha (s) (637-735), Vajrabodhi (s) (663-723), and Amoghavajra (s) (705-774) who brought a limited number of Tantric transmissions directly from India to medieval China.
    These practices were taken to Japan by Kūkai (774-835) in 800 CE and are still actively practiced in the Shingon Order and, to a lesser extent, in Japanese Tendai temples today.

The links below show various transmissions of these traditions from India to Tibet. Primarily three types of lineages are shown in the tables referred to below.
  • The first type of lineage is generally referered to as "Transmission Lineages". This is the confirmation of a certain state of awareness in the pupil by the teacher. Because a teacher can recognize this in more than one pupil these lines are shown as an often branched, staggered linear array.

  • Secondly, the "Reincarnation Lineages" are not branched and represent the reincarnation of the "same" buddhist adept over time.

  • Additionally, a few charts indicate different persons who were closely associated with, or were heirs to a certain Order or Tradition. Here the relationship among the persons listed is not always of the same nature, but they do have a significant Dharma connection with members of that order/lineage.

Early Indian Masters
Early Indian Dharma Masters Indian Mahāsiddhas

Padmasambhava's Dharma heirs Yeshe Tsogyal's Dharma Heirs
The Nyak Lineage The Nup Lineage
The Zur Lineage The Zong Lineage (in preparation)

New "Sarma" traditions:

Sakya Throne Holders Lam Dre Lineage
Nāro Vajrayoginī

Atiśa and his Heirs Lam Rim Lineage
Extensive Deeds Lineage Classical Lineage
Instruction Lineage  

Marpa Kagyü
Tilopa's Dharma Heirs (the early Kagyü Order) Barom Kagyü

Drukpa Kagyü
The Drukpa Kagyü Order H. H. XII Drukpa Rinpoche

Drikung Kagyü
The Drikung Kagyü Order Profound Action Lineage
Profound View Lineage Profound Blessing Meditational Experience Lineage

Karma Kagyü
The Karma Kagyü H. H. XVII Karmapa
H.E. XII Tai Situpa Rinpoche H.E. IV Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche
H.E. XII Gyalsap Rinpoche H.E. X Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche
The Shamar lineage H.E. III Tenga Rinpoche

Shangpa Kagyü
The Shangpa Kagyü Order  

The Chöd Tradition A Gelug Chöd lineage

Jonang (Dro) Kālacakra Lineage Jonang Shentong Mahāmudra lineage

Tsongkhapa's Dharma Heirs H.H. XIV Dalai Lama
H.E. XI Panchen Lama Nāro Vajrayoginī
The Ganden Tripas  

Chinese Chen-yien/Japanese Shingon Lineage  

Various Tantric Lineages
Nāro Vajrayoginī

MP3 Vajrayāna teachings Dr. Berzin

Good sources for practice material
Diety Images  

Good sources for historical biographical information
The Treasury of Lives Rangjung Yeshe Wiki Dharma Dictionary
Rigpa Shedra Wiki Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center

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