The Martsang Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism is an unbroken lineage based on the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha’s sutras and tantras which was founded 850 years ago by Choje Marpa Sherab Yeshe in 1167 (1134-1203).
Choje Marpa was born in Kham, east Tibet, which he left at the age of twenty to go and study at Sangphu the great monastic college of the Kadampa tradition in central Tibet. There he studied such subjects as pramana, madhyamaka, paramita, vinaya and abhidharma under such Kadampa masters as Chadul Dzinpa (1091-1166) and Chapa Chokyi Senge (1109-1161). After five years he became a great scholar, having thoroughly learned and understood these teachings.
Afterwards, Choje Marpa followed Phagmo Drupa Dorje Gyalpo (1110-1170), receiving and mastering the profound secret Kagyu teachings and mastered the teaching of the Sakyapa tradition and other teachings.
In 1167, Choje Marpa founded Tashi Sho monastery in Markham. During his lifetime, the monastic community came to number more than ten thousand, establishing the Martsang tradition as a union of the Kadampa, Kagyu lineages, and Sayka lineage.
The Mantrayana tradition of Martsang Kagyu includes the six Dharmas of Naropa, Chakrasamvara, Guhyasamaja and Hevajra, which are from the Kagyu lineage that was transmitted through Marpa, Milarepa, Rechungpa, and Phagmo Drupa; the Lamdre which is from the Sakya tradition; and Tara practices from the Kadampa tradition. In particular, numerous individuals became siddhas through practicing the meditation instructions of the transmission originating from Choje Marpa’s experiences and realizations.
Choje Marpa’s principal pupil was Drogon Rinchen (1170-1249), who in 1200 founded Tsomdo Monastery in Markham. He promulgated the teachings and practices of Martsang Kagyu and had numerous pupils who were both scholars and siddhas. The Tashi Sho and Tsomdo monasteries became famous and were called “Sun Sho and moon Tsom.”
In 1274, Lochen Chogyal Phakpa (1235-1280), who was then the ruler of Tibet, visited Tsomdo Monastery and became its benefactor.
During the time of such lineage holders as Drogon Rinchen, Yeshe Gyaltsen, Changchub Drakpa, Sonam Yeshe, Rinchen Gyaltsen, and Konchok Gyaltsen, thousands of pupils from Tashi Sho and Tsomdo monasteries and beings in general greatly benefited from the teachings.
Unfortunately, in 1639, a Mongolian army destroyed the Martsang Kagyu monasteries along with many other Tibetan monasteries. Although both monasteries were rebuilt, Dzungarian Mongols destroyed them again in 1718, from which loss Martsang Kagyu could not recover.
However, Martsang Kagyu teachings continued to be transmitted and in the twentieth century, the eleventh Gangri Karma Rinpoche (1910-1960) received them from Trinlay Gyamtso, who was the Khenpo, or principal scholar, of the Tropu Kagyu, and from the lama Karma Lingpa.
The eleventh Gangri Karma Rinpoche passed this transmission on to his main disciple, Chodrak Gyamtso, who in turn transmitted these teachings to H.H. the twelfth Gangri Karma Rinpoche (b. 1964).
Many siddhas have prophesied that there will come a time when Martsang Kagyu will be revived from its embers. Mahasiddha Nyakre Sewo wrote:
A time will come when the Martsang teachings will be protected.
A time will come for the benefit of beings that is yet to be maintained,
For this to occur there must be good karma and prayers.
The great seat will be Sho Monastery.
Drogon Rinchen wrote:
I will, for sixteen lifetimes,
benefit beings in countless worlds.
In seven hundred years, in the time of ruin,
I will have the name Karma.
In Gartok Natang in the center of Markham
I will found a Dharma community that will be destroyed by Maras.
There will be obstacles for eighteen cycles of time.
Then I will revive the Martsang from its embers,
and with great conduct I will be a guide
for countless beings as far as the ends of the ocean.
These prophecies tell how there will be a time when Martsang Kagyu will be revived from its embers and will bring a benefit to beings that has yet to be accomplished.
His Holiness the twelfth Gangri Karma Rinpoche has begun the task of reviving Martsang Kagyu from its embers. In early 2009, he founded a Martsang Kagyu Dharma Center in Taiwan, and in the same year, held a commemoration to mark the 843rd anniversary of the founding of the Martsang Kagyu as well as establishing Martsang Kagyu International to organize and promote all Martsang Kagyu events and teachings. For that occasion, Samdhong Rinpoche, the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile, sent the following letter:
It is with great joy that I write to the Martsang Kagyu Foundation on its commemoration in memory of the founding of the Martsang Kagyu 843 years ago and of its loss 371 years ago.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama commends the Martsang Kagyu Foundation for its altruistic aim of preserving Tibet's unique culture and in particular its goal of reviving the Martsang Kagyu from its embers through publishing and distributing rare Martsang Kagyu texts, sponsoring paintings of the Martsang lineage lamas, and other such activities.
At this critical time for Tibet’s unique culture and politics, the Martsang Kagyu Foundation is tirelessly dedicated to both religious and secular progress. With its loyalty and courageous dedication to the Tibetan cause, it brings the Dharma to both Tibetan and Western people in the UK.
His Holiness prays and hopes that your activities will bring ever greater happiness to beings in general and benefit for both Buddhism and the people of Tibet.
For this special occasion we send out best wishes and prayers to Gangri Karma Choktrul Rinpoche and all those taking part. May it be a successful event.
Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche,
Dharamsala, 30th November 2009
On 19th June 2016, His Holiness held the opening ceremony of the Martsang Kagyu London Centre and celebrated the 850th anniversary of Martsang Kagyu.
His Holiness is presently working tirelessly on his plans to rebuild a Martsang Kagyu Monastery that will provide pupils with the environment to study such subjects as the Buddhist sciences, sutras, tantras, philosophy, crafts, rituals, and meditation to benefit all of beings.
Martsang Kagyu lineage diagram
Source : Martsang Kagyu Head Office
The heart disciples of Gampopa is Phagmodrupa (1110~1170) who inherited Gampopa’s teaching, while Phagmodrupa promoted the teaching with great popularity to form Phagmodrupa Kagyu sect. The eight major heart disciples:
1. Choje Marpa Sherab Yeshe founded Martsang Kagyu in 1167,
2. Yeshe Tseg founded Yelpa Kagyu in 1171,
3. Gyaltsab Rinchen founded Trophu Kagyu in 1171,
4. Kyopa Jigten Sumgyi founded Drikhung Kagyu in 1179,
5. Thangpa Tashi Pal founded Taklung Kagyu in 1180,
6. Gyergom Tsultrim Senge founded Shuksep Kagyu in 1181,
7. Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje founded Drukpa Kagyu in 1193,
8. The 2nd generation disciple Yasang founded Yasang Kagyu in 1205.