Dedicated to the Yelpa Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism


Rinpoche is the head of two convergent lineages: the Yelpa and Hungkara Lineages:

Yelpa Kagyu Lineage

One of the great masters of the profound path of Mahamudra was Gampopa, the founder of the Kagyu school of Buddhism in Tibet. Gampopa had three main disciples, one of whom was Phakmo Drupa (1110-1170 AD). Phakmo Drupa was famous for establishing the eight Kagyu “later” or “minor” lineages (Drikung, Taklung, Tsalpa etc) in Tibet during the 12th century. One of these is the Yelpa lineage.

Yelpa Yeshe Tsek (1134-1194) was a primary student of Phakmo Drupa. He studied with him for many years and is said to have received and realized all of his teachings. Eventually, Yelpa Yeshe had to leave Phakmo Drupa to share these teachings with others. By then he was considered a highly accomplished Lama in his own right. All of Phakmo Drupa’s students honored Yelpa Yeshe by accompanying him (at the beginning of his journey) to his homeland in Kham. As he left he said:

In every way and every time,
I am protected by the lama’s light.
May the lama bless me that I
never for one second be deprived
of the state of emptiness-compassion.
May I be free from grasping to
the illusory bodily aggregate.
May I resolve all reifications back into mind.

May all my deeds work toward dharma and
May I act constantly for the benefit of beings.

Tana Monastery TibetYeshe Yelpa (also known as Sangye Yelpa) went on to establish four major monasteries in the Kham region: one in the east (named Yelphuk Monastery), one in the north (Tana Monastery), one in the south (Dozong Monastery) and one in the west (Gonmang Monastery).  His profound realization attracted many important students, and he became the founder of the Yelpa Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, one of the eight later Kagyu sects of Tibetan Buddhism. (Only one of those monasteries, Tana Monastery, the one in the north, is still in existence today.) Khenchen Puwa (who resided at Yelphuk Monastery) and Tana Yangonpa (from Tana Monastery – picture to the right) were two of the primary disciples of Yelpa Yeshe Tsek (the other two students’ names are lost).

Tana Dungsey Rinpoche is the present head of the Yelpa Kagyu Lineage. (Click here to learn more about Tana Dungsey’s father the previous Yelpa Kagyu lineage holder  – Tana Tulku Rinpoche.)

Hungkara Lineage

Tana Dungsey Rinpoche is also the head of an unbroken ancestral spiritual lineage beginning with Hungkara (Phungara). Hungkara was a teacher of  Guru Rinpoche – likely the most revered teacher in Tibet at that time – while Guru Rinpoche was still in India. Guru Rinpoche made a prophecy that the son of Hungkara, named Khedarpa, would go to Tibet and do great things. Hungkara’s son Khedarpa did in fact go to Tibet where he became renowned for subjugating negative forces and pacifying evil spirits. He in turn had a son, Tana Yongonpa, who was heir to the Hungkara lineage and who became famous as a great teacher.

Hungkara and Yelpa lineages connect

Tana Yongonpa met  Sangye Yelpa, and asked for teachings. He became the primary student of Sangye Yelpa. And so, in addition to being the holder of the Hungkara lineage, Tana Yongonpa as the primary student of Sangye Yelpa, also became the holder of the Yelpa lineage.  The Hungkara tradition was primarily of the Nyingma school of Buddhism and the Yelpa lineage was primarily of the Dhakpo Kagyu tradition, originating with Gampopa. Tana Yongonpa was able to integrate the profound teachings from these two highly revered lineages, offering teachings and practices grounded in the Dhakpo Kagyu tradition that was the basis of the Yelpa Kagyu and enriching these with teachings and practices associated with the Hungkara lineage.

Tana Yongonpa  became the primary teacher in the Ling Region in Tibet. He lived at the same time as Karma Pakshi, the 2nd Karmapa. Together they went to the Court of the Chinese Emperor, Kublai Khan, where a long relationship ensued. Returning later to the Court alone, Tana Yongonpa produced several miracles, including manifesting a dorje and a bell in the sky. To honor him, Kublai Khan gave him an unusually long scarf (100m) upon which was written the title “King of Dharma, Master of Great Miracles in Kham”.

Characteristics of the Yelpa Kagyu Lineage

Tana Yangonpa was able to meld teachings from two highly revered lineages: the Hungkara and the Yelpa lineages. These teachings and practices have been passed on forming an unbroken lineage that has continued thru today with Tana Dungsey Rinpoche as its present lineage holder.

The “Six Yogas of Naropa” and Mahamudra are the central practices of the Yelpa Kagyu lineage. These practices utilize both method and wisdom to attain liberation in accordance with the generation and completion stages of Mahamudra. However, the lineage holds many other centrally important Kagyu and Nyingma teachings as well. The Yelpa Kagyu Lineage has been continuously transmitted from Yelpa Yeshe Tsek, its founder, to all Tana lineage masters up to the present. The present lineage holder is now Tana Dungsey Rinpoche (1976- ) who has seats in India and the USA.

The Yelpa Lineage and Gesar of Ling

Gesar of Ling Relics

There is a strong connection between the Yelpa Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism and Gesar of Ling (the Kham warrior and folk hero of old Tibet). The founder of the Yelpa tradition, Yelpa Yeshe Tsek, was the primary teacher in the kingdom of Ling in the Kham region of Tibet, the home of the family of King Gesar of Ling. So it was not surprising that shortly after Gesar’s death many of Gesar’s most valuable possessions, including his armor, sword and bow were offered to Yelpa Yeshe Tsekpa to be housed in the Tana Monastery. This monastery soon became the center of many Gesar-related activities. A number of  precious antiquities that were part of the Gesar legacy were lost during the Cultural Revolution but many still remain at the refurbished Tana Monastery in Tibet, where they continue to be among the most revered treasures of Tibet today.

On 4.29.24, Rinpoche presented a talk on the relationship of the Tana Yelpa Lineage with Gesar of Ling. This talk included anecdotes by Rinpoche’s father who, before having to flee Tibet, grew up at the Tana Monastery in Tibet which was the repository of 100s of Gesar of Ling antiquities. 

A recording of Rinpoche’s talk about the connections between Gesar and Sangye Yelpa may be found in the “Recorded Teachings” section, for Members only. Click here if you are a Member

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