Kagyu Monlam Chenmo Celebrates Two Shangpa Kagyu Lineage Holders

The Shangpa Kagyu tradition belongs to the Eight Great Practice Lineages (sGrub brgyud shing rta brgyad), which came to Tibet from India. The word Kagyu (bKa' brgyud) literally means "oral transmission" and Shangpa (Shangs pa) refers to the place where the lineage's founder Khyungpo Naljor (978? ̶ 1079?) settled, the Shang valley in Central Tibet to the north of Shigatse.  Although the lineage bears the name ‘Kagyu’ it is not related to the Dagpo Kagyu of which the Karma Kagyu is a part.  The Dagpo Kagyu are the lineage of Tilopa, through NaropaMarpa Lotsawa,  Milarepa and Dagpo Lhaje  [Gampopa ] while the Shangpa lineage descends from  two Indian women siddhis: Tilopa's student  Niguma, who was Naropa's sister,  and Sukhasiddhi . Both were root teachers of Khyungpo Naljor

Over the centuries, the Shangpa Kagyu has remained rather unknown, as most of its principal lineage holders chose to live as hidden yogins. The Shangpa Kagyu also does not have an established tradition of reincarnate tulkus carrying on the lineage so there are very few instances of the heads of the lineage reincarnating as another hierarch; the great majority of masters became the head of the lineage through the realization engendered by their practice and study.

This absence of a monastic seat and a reincarnation lineage has also meant that the Shangpa practices and teachings were dispersed through other lineages. The nineteenth century masters Jamgön Kongtrul Lodro Thaye and Jamyang  Khyentse Wangpo collected them, and Jamgön Kongtrul included these in his Treasury of Oral Instructions. He also restored an old retreat center (entrusted to him by his teacher Situ Chökyi Jungne of Palpung Monastery) and set it up as part of his residence at Tsadra Rinchen Drak to focus on retreats in the eight practice lineages, but primarily the Shangpa Kagyu. This year before and during the Monlam sees a commemoration of two Karma Kagyu lamas who were also lineage holders of the Shangpa Kagyu, Kalu Rinpoche and Bokar Rinpoche. 2014 is the twenty-fifth anniversary of Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche's parinirvana and the tenth anniversary of Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche's.  Before the Monlam, three events have marked this occasion: the Gyalwang Karmapa bestowing the empowerments for Knowing One Frees All; the rich and inspiring exhibit of photographs of the two teachers; and two elegant books illustrating their lives.

For the Monlam itself, a new altar was created that further honors these two masters in the form of the tormas. The first row of figures in all of the tormas relates to the Shangpa Kagyu tradition, which was carried by Kalu Rinpoche (1905-1989) and his heart son, Bokar Rinpoche (1940-2004), both of whom were primary lineage holders. The lineage has also been carried by other lamas.

A close connection also links the Karmapas and the Shangpa Kagyu. In recent times, the Sixteenth Karmapa requested the previous Kalu Rinpoche to give all the Shangpa Kagyu transmissions to his heart sons, so the lineage of the Shangpa practice is held today by Tai Situ Rinpoche, Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche, and Goshir Gyaltsap Rinpoche. Further, the Seventeenth Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje received the complete transmission of the Shangpa Kagyu from Gyaltsap Rinpoche and again when he received the transmission of Jamgön Kongtrul's Treasury of Oral Instructions. Bokar Rinpoche also came to teach the Seventeenth Karmapa, so there is a long and close connection between the lineages of the Shangpa Kagyu and the Karma Kagyu, which is being celebrated this year by honoring the two great teachers, Kalu Rinpoche and his heart son, Bokar Rinpoche.


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