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.