The founder of the Drukpa Kagyu Lineage was Lingshen Repa Pema Dorje (1128-1188). He was a disciple of Pagmo Drugpa, Dharma brother of the 1st. Karmapa. Through his extraordinary openness to devotion, Lingshen Repa achieved realization naturally and effortlessly. For this quality he was known as the Saraha of Tibet. (Saraha was the greatest realized Master among the 84 mahasiddhas in India).
His principal disciple was Tsangpa Gya Repa, Yeshe Dorje (1161-1211). He was the first Drukchen Rinpoche. His Dharma activity and achievements were so great that during his lifetime it was said: “Half of Tibet’s population is Drukpa Kagyu, half of those are mendicants, half of the mendicants are realized masters”.
Tsangpa Gyare went to a place called Nam between Lhasa and Tsurphu and saw nine dragons there. They flew up from there to the sky and begun roaring. In that place, in 1205, Tsangpa Gyare established his Dharma seat and he called it Namdruk Center. Thus it became known as Namdruk Monastery and Tsangpa Gyare decided to name the lineage that spread from it as Drukpa Kagyu.
His lineage pervaded Ladakh, Kashmir and the Swat Valley of today’s Pakistan, as well as Western Tibet and China. From his lineage there was a continuous line of great-realized Masters.
In the early 15th. Century came Pema Karpo “White Lotus”, the fourth Drukchen Rinpoche, one of the best-known Drukpa Kagyu lineage holders, acknowledged as an emanation of Avalokiteshvara. One of his many disciples, Yongzin Ngawang Zangpo, a lineage holder of meditation and realization, had numerous disciples among whom 45 principal ones reached the level of realization where there is no distinction between meditation and no meditation – a skillful integration of meditation into mundane life.
The three supreme disciples among these 45 realized masters were Taktsang Repa, Khampa Karma Tenphel (1548-1627) (the 1st. Khamtrul Rinpoche) and Konchok Gyalpo (the 1st. Kyabje Dorzong Rinpoche). Prophecies were given to each by their teacher. Taksang Repa went on to establish Hemis Monastery in Ladakh and from there spread the Drukpa Kagyu teachings throughout the North-Western region of Tibet.
Karma Tenphel established retreat centers in Kham and had many great disciples. From there he founded Khampagar Monastery and institutes, retreat centers, branch monasteries and nunneries that were finally, through his later incarnations, to number almost 200. And Konchok Gyalpo was sent to spread the teachings in China, but on the way he was attacked by very aggressive robbers from Rongmi in Kham and due to his apparent invincibility the robbers developed a spontaneous and devote faith in him and asked him to stay in Rongmi. The 1st. Kyabje Dorzong Rinpoche established there his first retreat place, Dorje Dzong.
According to the records and history of the Drukpa Kagyu monasteries in Kham written by the 8th Khamtrul Rinpoche in 1961, Taktsang Repa, Khampa Karma Tenphel and Konchok Gyalpo were the most important at the time.
Khamtrul Rinpoche in turn had three main disciples: Zigar Sonam Gyamtso, the 1st Zigar Rinpoche; Trulshig Trinley Gyamtso, the 1st in the line of Adeu Rinpoche, and Drukpa Choegyal Gyamtso (b.1578), the 1st Drugu Choegyal Rinpoche. These three Dharma brothers were known as the three oceans.