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Drukpa Kagyü School (Bhutan) also known as “lho 'brug” Schwerk, Dagmar


The Drukpa Kagyü school belongs to the Kagyü school of Tibetan Buddhism. Standard Tibetan religious historiographies divide the Kagyü school into four main lineages: (1) the Phagdru Kagyü school with eight minor lineages founded by students of Phagmodrupa Dorje Gyelpo (1110–70), (2) the Karma Kagyü school, (3) the Barom Kagyü school, and (4) the Tshelpa Kagyü school. The Drukpa Kagyü school is counted among the minor lineages of (1) the Phagdru Kagyü school. However, the Drukpa Kagyü school is also heterogeneous with different sub-branches, such as the Bhutanese branch (lho ‘brug) with which this entry deals. In detail, the Drukpa Kagyü school goes back to the Buddhist master Tsangpa Gyaré Yeshe Dorje (1161–1211). In its beginnings, this school was associated with a strong emphasis on meditation and the simple lifestyle of mendicants. The Drukpa Kagyü school further split into three sub-branches, each established by another disciple of Tsangpa Gyaré Yeshe Dorje: (1) the middle Drukpa, (2) the upper Drukpa, and (3) the lower Drukpa. In fact, in reality, interactions between the sub-branches of the Drukpa Kagyü schools have been much more complex. Before the seventeenth century, Buddhist masters of all three sub-branches of the Drukpa Kagyü school were active and established religious institutions in Bhutan, such as Phajo Drukgom Zhikpo (1184–1251) or the famous “Madman of the Drukpa,” Drukpa Künlé (1455– 1529). The Bhutanese branch of the Drukpa Kagyü school (Tib. lho ’brug) was newly established after the seventeenth century resulting from an additional split of the middle Drukpa Kagyü school into a “Northern,” i. e. Tibetan/Ladakhi, and “Southern,” i. e. Bhutanese branch. This split was caused by a dispute over Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594–ca. 1651) as the rightful incarnation of the earlier eminent lineage master, the 4th Drukchen Künkhyen Pema Karpo (1527-92). This subsequently led to Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel’s flight to Bhutan and the foundation of the State of Bhutan in 1625/26. In Bhutan, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel successfully institutionalized a system of governance that united religious and political authority, the “Joint Twofold System of Governance” (Tib. srid chos gnyis ldan). Under him, a regent exercised political power while the “Chief Abbot of Bhutan” oversaw the religious institutions and was the head of the new Bhutanese Drukpa Kagyü school-starting with the 1st Chief Abbot Pekar Jungné (1604–72). This “Joint Twofold System of Governance” was renewed in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan from 2008. As of today, the 70th Chief Abbot Tulku Jigmé Chödra (b. 1955) is in office. In particular, regarding the Drukpa Kagyü school as a religious group, the relationship between the societal spheres of religion and politics is complex and very interesting. As in the other Kagyü schools, the central doctrine and meditative system in the Bhutanese Drukpa Kagyü school is Mahāmudrā (Tib. phyag rgya chen po). Other essential teachings are the “Six Yogas of Nāropa,” called in this school the teachings of “Merging and Transference” (Tib. bsre ’pho), and the “Six Cycles of Equal Taste” (Tib. ro snyoms skor drug). In particular, since the seventeenth century, important doctrinal and ritualistic innovations and new teaching cycles by their founder Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel were introduced. This entry covers the Bhutanese Drukpa Kagyüschool (Tib. lho ‘brug), but it does not include religious groups of the Drukpa Kagyü schools outside of Bhutan on a global scale, primarily associated with branches and monasteries of the Drukpa Kagyü school from Ladakh, Darjeeling, or Tibet. Technical note: Tibetan and Bhutanese proper names, place names, and terms are spelled phonetically roughly according to the THL Simplified Phonetic Transcription of Standard Tibetan by David Germano and Nicolas Tournadre. Crucial Tibetan or Sanskrit terms are transliterated and preceded by an abbreviation denoting the respective language and set in brackets, i. e. (Tib.) or (Skt.). The transliteration of Tibetan characters follows the system of Turrell W. Wylie. Sanskrit characters are transliterated according to the International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration (IAST). Birth-and-death dates follow the reference works used here or otherwise the Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC). For convenience and further research, in the bibliographical references for Tibetan primary sources, the author's name and the title are given in Wylie transliteration. If available, a Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC) catalog number is provided in square brackets.

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