The Meaning of Lineage

The Tibetan word gyupa means both lineage and transmission.

There is the exposition lineage and the meaning lineage.

The first, the exposition lineage is to understand the words, the means of expression. It is related to study and contemplation, the first two steps of the three steps for completing the Buddhist path. It is where one relies on someone who has the intelligence born of study and contemplation and gives rise to that intelligence oneself. At that point one has properly received the exposition lineage.

The second, the meaning lineage, is not concerned with words, but with the inner meaning of that being expressed, realisation. The student practices and meditates (the third step of the three steps) to realise what the past lamas realised. When that is accomplished, the meaning or realisation lineage is received.

The more important of these two is the meaning lineage. This is because if the student realises what the past lamas have realised, they hold the real Dharma, it has survived, the lineage continues. But if only the words have been understood the true meaning lineage has become broken.

Those of the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages consider the meaning lineage to be exceptionally important.

Lineage in brief is each of the statements and meanings of the Buddha’s sacred words, and the learned followers’ teachings, being understood, realised, and thus continuing. Increasing and gaining intelligence, and receiving proper lineage in this way is held sacred and essential.

The main lineages in Tibet

The lineages of Buddhism were transmitted to Tibet over the centuries, gradually developing into eight streams or lineages of transmission known as the “Eight Great Chariots” or the “Eight Practice Lineages.”

These traditions encompass the major schools and lineages within Tibet:

  1. The main doctrinal lineage of Kama, the Eight Sadhanas Sections and the core of Dzogchen of the Ancient Translation School known as Nyingmapa
  2. Atisha’s lineage, the Old Kadampa School, and the New Kadampa (Gelugpa)
  3. The lineage of the glorious Sakyapa
  4. The Four Major Schools and Eight Minor Schools of the lineage of the Marpa Kagyü Tradition
  5. The Shangpa Kagyü
  6. Phadampa Sangye’s and Machik Lapdron’s lineages of Shije and Chod
  7. Jordruk: Six Applications Lineage, The Vajra Yoga Instruction Lineage
  8. Nyendrup Lineage: Four Branches of Approach and Accomplishment. The Great Yogi Orgyenpa Rinchenpal’s Lineage​


The sections dedicated to various lineages on this site reflect those transmissions that Drupon Khen Rinpoche has himself received.