The Dharma transmission – Founders & patriarchs of Buddhist currents
A lineage in Buddhism is a line of transmission of the Buddhist teaching that is “theoretically traced back to the Buddha himself.”
Table of Contents
- 1 - The successors of Buddha’s teachings
- 2 - Lineages in the context of Tibetan Buddhism
- 3 - List of founders & patriarchs
- 3.1 - Padmasambhava
- 3.2 - Nagarjuna
- 3.3 - Milarepa
- 3.4 - Je Tsongkhapa
- 3.5 - Marpa Lotsawa
- 3.6 - Atiśa
- 3.7 - Kūkai
- 3.8 - Nichiren
- 3.9 - Kangan Giin
- 3.10 - Kakuban
- 3.11 - Nōnin
- 3.12 - Mazu Daoyi
- 3.13 - Kuiji
- 3.14 - Jianzhen
- 3.15 - Daoxuan
- 3.16 - Dōgen
- 3.17 - Dushun
- 3.18 - Jinul
- 3.19 - Shinran
- 3.20 - Saichō
- 3.21 - Doshin So
- 3.22 - Mugaku Sogen
- 3.23 - Mongkut
- 3.24 - Eisai
- 3.25 - Enchin
- 3.26 - Hōnen
- 3.27 - Mahadeva (Buddhism)
- 3.28 - Lanxi Daolong
- 3.29 - Ippen
- 3.30 - Bodhidharma
- 3.31 - Shōkū
The successors of Buddha’s teachings
The acknowledgement of the transmission can be oral, or certified in documents.
Several branches of Buddhism, including Chan (including Zen and Seon) and Tibetan Buddhism maintain records of their historical teachers.
These records serve as a validation for the living exponents of the tradition.
In Chan and Zen Buddhism, dharma transmission is a custom in which a person is established as a “successor in an unbroken lineage of teachers and disciples, a spiritual ‘bloodline’ (kechimyaku) theoretically traced back to the Buddha himself.”
The dharma lineage reflects the importance of family-structures in ancient China, and forms a symbolic and ritual recreation of this system for the monastical “family”.
Lineages in the context of Tibetan Buddhism
Within the context of Tibetan Buddhism, the importance of lineage extends far beyond the ordinary sense of a particular line of inheritance or descent.
Lineage is a sacred trust through which the integrity of Buddha’s teachings is preserved intact as it is transmitted from one generation to the next.
The vital link through which the spiritual tradition is nourished and maintained is the profound connection between an enlightened master and perfectly devoted disciple.
The master-disciple relationship is considered extremely sacred by all the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
List of founders & patriarchs
This is a non-exhaustive list of founders and patriarchs of some influential Buddhist currents.
Padmasambhava (Tib.: Guru Rinpoche) is the Indian founder of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet. In the 11th century with the rise of the Revealed Treasure tradition (Tib.: terma) the worship of Padmasambhava took on cult status.
Hundreds of new deity forms of Padmasambhava were created representing all aspects of iconography and Tantric activity; peaceful, wrathful, male, female, wealth, power, healing, etc.
Nāgārjuna is widely considered one of the most important Buddhist philosophers. Along with his disciple Āryadeva, he is considered to be the founder of the Madhyamaka school of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Nāgārjuna is also credited with developing the philosophy of the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras and, in some sources, with having revealed these scriptures in the world, having recovered them from the nāgas. Furthermore, he is traditionally supposed to have written several treatises on rasayana as well as serving a term as the head of Nālandā.
Jetsun Milarepa was a Tibetan siddha, who was famously known as a murderer when he was a young man, before turning to Buddhism and becoming a highly accomplished Buddhist disciple.
He is generally considered one of Tibet’s most famous yogis and spiritual poets, whose teachings are known among several schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
He was a student of Marpa Lotsawa, and a major figure in the history of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.
He is also famous for the feat of climbing Mount Kailash.
Tsongkhapa, usually taken to mean “the Man from Onion Valley”, born in Amdo, was a famous teacher of Tibetan Buddhism whose activities led to the formation of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. He is also known by his ordained name Losang Drakpa or simply as “Je Rinpoche”. Also, he is known by Chinese as Zongkapa Lobsang Zhaba, He was the son of a Tibetan Longben Tribal leader who also once served as an official of the Yuan Dynasty of China.
Marpa Lotsawa, sometimes known fully as Marpa Chokyi Lodro or commonly as Marpa the Translator, was a Tibetan Buddhist teacher credited with the transmission of many Vajrayana teachings from India, including the teachings and lineages of Mahamudra. Due to this the Kagyu lineage, which he founded, is often called Marpa Kagyu in his honour.
Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna was a Bengali Buddhist religious leader and master from the Indian subcontinent. He was one of the major figures in the spread of 11th-century Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism in Asia and inspired Buddhist thought from Tibet to Sumatra. In 1013 CE, he traveled to the Srivijaya kingdom and stayed there for 12 years and came back to India. He is recognised as one of the greatest figures of classical Buddhism, and Atisa’s chief disciple Dromtön was the founder of the Kadam School, one of the New Translation schools of Tibetan Buddhism, later supplanted by the Geluk tradition in the fourteenth century, adopting its teaching and absorbing its monasteries.
Kūkai (空海), also known posthumously as Kōbō-Daishi , 774–835, was a Japanese Buddhist monk, civil servant, scholar, poet, and artist who founded the Esoteric Shingon or “mantra” school of Buddhism. Shingon followers usually refer to him by the honorific title of Odaishisama (お大師様) and the religious name of Henjō-Kongō (遍照金剛).
Nichiren was a Japanese Buddhist priest who lived during the Kamakura period (1185–1333) and developed the teachings that are now considered Nichiren Buddhism, a branch school of Mahayana Buddhism.
Kangan Giin was a disciple of Dōgen and the founder of the Higo school of Sōtō Zen Buddhism. It has been claimed that his father was Emperor Go-Toba or Emperor Juntoku. He did much evangelization work in Kyūshū, where he founded Daiji-ji (大慈寺) in Kumamoto. Before practicing with Dōgen, Giin started his Buddhist path as a Tendai monk. He later abandoned that school and became a member of Daruma School under Kakuzen Ekan. Along with his fellow students Tettsū Gikai and Gien, Giin became a student of Dōgen when Giin’s teacher Ekan himself became a student of Dōgen. Dōgen died without giving dharma transmission to Giin, but he received it later from Dōgen’s primary disciple, Koun Ejō.
Kakuban, known posthumously as Kōgyō-Daishi was a priest of the Shingon sect of Buddhism in Japan and credited as a reformer, though his efforts also led to a schism between Kogi Shingon-shū and Shingi Shingon-shū .
Kakuban is also famous for his introduction of the “esoteric nembutsu”.
Dainichibō Nōnin (大日房能忍) was a Japanese Buddhist monk who started the first Zen school in Japan.
Mazu Daoyi (709–788) was an influential abbot of Chan Buddhism during the Tang dynasty. The earliest recorded use of the term “Chan school” is from his Extensive Records. Master Ma’s teaching style of “strange words and extraordinary actions” became paradigmatic Zen lore.
Kuījī, also known as Ji, an exponent of Yogācāra, was a Chinese monk and a prominent disciple of Xuanzang. His posthumous name was Cí’ēn dàshī, The Great Teacher of Cien Monastery, after the Daci’en Temple or Great Monastery of Compassionate Grace, which was located in Chang’an, the main capital of the Tang Dynasty. The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda was built in Daci’en Temple in 652. According to biographies, he was sent to the imperial translation bureau headed by Xuanzang, from whom he later would learn Sanskrit, Abhidharma, and Yogācāra.
Jianzhen, or Ganjin in Japanese, was a Chinese monk who helped to propagate Buddhism in Japan. In the eleven years from 743 to 754, Jianzhen attempted to visit Japan some six times. Ganjin finally came to Japan in the year 753 and founded Tōshōdai-ji in Nara. When he finally succeeded on his sixth attempt he had lost his eyesight as a result of an infection acquired during his journey. Jianzhen’s life story and voyage are described in the scroll, “The Sea Journey to the East of a Great Bonze from the Tang Dynasty.”
Daoxuan was an eminent Tang dynasty Chinese Buddhist monk. He is perhaps best known as the patriarch of the Four-part Vinaya school. Daoxuan wrote both the Continued Biographies of Eminent Monks and the Standard Design for Buddhist Temple Construction. Legends retold in his biographies also associate him to a relic of the Buddha which came to be called Daoxuan’s tooth, one of the four tooth relics enshrined in the capital of Chang’an during the Tang dynasty. He is said to have received the relic from Nezha, a divinity associated with Indra.
Dōgen Zenji, also known as Dōgen Kigen (道元希玄), Eihei Dōgen (永平道元), Kōso Jōyō Daishi (高祖承陽大師), or Busshō Dentō Kokushi (仏性伝東国師), was a Japanese Buddhist priest, writer, poet, philosopher, and founder of the Sōtō school of Zen in Japan.
Dushun (557–640) was the First Patriarch in the Huayan School of Chinese Buddhism, which has the Indian Avatamsaka Sutra as its central scripture.
Jinul Puril Bojo Daesa, often called Jinul or Chinul for short, was a Korean monk of the Goryeo period, who is considered to be the most influential figure in the formation of Korean Seon (Zen) Buddhism. He is credited as the founder of the Jogye Order, by working to unify the disparate sects in Korean Buddhism into a cohesive organization.
Shinran was a Japanese Buddhist monk, who was born in Hino at the turbulent close of the Heian Period and lived during the Kamakura Period. Shinran was a pupil of Hōnen and the founder of what ultimately became the Jōdo Shinshū sect of Japanese Buddhism.
Saichō was a Japanese Buddhist monk credited with founding the Tendai school of Buddhism based on the Chinese Tiantai school he was exposed to during his trip to Tang China beginning in 804. He founded the temple and headquarters of Tendai at Enryaku-ji on Mount Hiei near Kyoto. He is also said to have been the first to bring tea to Japan. After his death, he was awarded the posthumous title of Dengyō Daishi (伝教大師).
Doshin So , (1911–1980) was a Japanese soldier and martial artist. He is most known as the creator and founder of Shorinji Kempo and the doctrine Kongo Zen . Practitioners of Shorinji Kempo refer to him as Kaiso, Japanese for “the founder”.
Mugaku Sogen (無学祖元), also known as Bukko Kokushi was a prominent Zen Buddhist monk of the 13th century in Japan, an emigre from Song dynasty China. He was adviser to Japan’s most powerful ruler of the day, the regent of the shōgun (Shikken) Hōjō Tokimune. He founded the Zen temple Engaku-ji in Kamakura, one of Japan’s five most important Zen temples.
Mongkut was the fourth monarch of Siam (Thailand) under the House of Chakri, titled Rama IV. He ruled from 1851 to 1868.
In 1809, Prince Isarasundhorn was crowned as Buddha Loetla Nabhalai (later styled King Rama II.)
In 1824, Mongkut became a Buddhist monk (ordination name Vajirayan; Pali Vajirañāṇo), following a Siamese tradition that men aged 20 should become monks for a time.
In 1835 he began a reform movement reinforcing the vinaya law that evolved into the Dhammayuttika Nikaya, or Thammayut sect.
Myōan Eisai/Yōsai was a Japanese Buddhist priest, credited with founding the Japanese line of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism. In 1191, he introduced this Zen approach to Japan, following his trip to China from 1187 to 1191, during which he was initiated into the Linji school by the master Hsü an. It is also said that he popularized green tea in Japan, following this same trip. He was also the founding abbot of Japan’s first Zen temple Shōfuku-ji and Kennin-ji. He is often known simply as Eisai/Yōsai Zenji (栄西禅師), literally “Zen master Eisai”.
Enchin (円珍) (814–891) was a Japanese Buddhist monk who founded of the Jimon school of Tendai Buddhism and Chief Abbot of Mii-dera at the foot of Mount Hiei. After succeeding to the post of Tendai zasu , in 873, a strong rivalry developed between his followers and those of Ennin’s at Enryaku-ji.
Hōnen was the religious reformer and founder of the first independent branch of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism called Jōdo-shū . He is also considered the Seventh Jōdo Shinshū Patriarch.
Mahādeva is a controversial figure who appears in various roles in the histories of the early Buddhist schools.
Lanxi Daolong, born in Sichuan Province, China in 1213 A.D., was a famous Chinese Buddhist monk, calligrapher, idealist philosopher, and is the founder of the Kenchō-ji sect, which is a branch of the Rinzai school.
Ippen Shōnin was a Japanese Buddhist itinerant preacher (hijiri) who founded the Ji-shū branch of Pure Land Buddhism.
Bodhidharma was a semi-legendary Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th or 6th century. He is traditionally credited as the transmitter of Buddhism to China, and regarded as its first Chinese patriarch. According to a debunked 17th century apocryphal story found in a manual called Yijin Jing, he began the physical training of the monks of Shaolin Monastery that led to the creation of Shaolin kungfu. He is known as Dámó in China and as Daruma in Japan. His name means “dharma of awakening (bodhi)” in Sanskrit.
Shōkū , sometimes called Seizan (西山), was a disciple of Hōnen, founder of the Jōdo-shū Buddhist sect. Shōkū later succeeded Jōhen, another disciple of Hōnen, as the head of a former Shingon Buddhist temple, Eikandō, established a separate branch of Jōdo-shū called the Seizan branch, and completed the transition of Eikandō from a Shingon temple into a Jōdo shū one.