top of page


The Ear-Whispered Lineages

Background: Two Streams into the River of Chö

Near my retreat cabin in the Oregon forest, enveloped by verdant moss and towering trees, a serene creek meanders gracefully. Originating from the snow-melted waters of the Cascade Mountains, this creek finds its way into the McKenzie River, eventually joining the vast expanse of the Oregon coast.

Through the passage of centuries, numerous tributaries of wisdom have flowed from the pristine source of the awakened teachings and practices known as "Chö." Among them, two streams have nourished the river of the Geluk Chö tradition. These streams have been carefully and discreetly upheld by Geluk masters, ensuring their continuity and purity down through the ages.


1. Main Stream: The Ear-Whispered Lineage of Bliss Heaven (Ganden/Ensa Nyengyü)


One prominent stream observable to those who approach the river is what we metaphorically refer to as the "mainstream" - the Ganden/Ensa Ear-Whispered Lineage (Ganden/Ensa Nyengyü). This lineage has been meticulously preserved by esteemed masters within the Geluk order. What distinguishes these masters as "prominent" is their simultaneous stewardship of the Ganden Ear-Whispered Lineage of Mahamudra and Guru Yoga, alongside Chö. Originating from the direct transmission of Lama Tsongkhapa (1357–1419) through Manjushri, the lineage holds a pivotal place within the Geluk tradition. [1]


Of note is recent historical research suggesting that the lineage gurus of the Ganden/Ensa Ear-Whispered Lineage were Lama Tsongkhapa's original disciples. The widely recognized teacher-disciple relationship between Lama Tsongkhapa and Khedrubje and Gyeltsabje is believed to have evolved later in history. [2]

Historically, Lama Tsongkhapa also received the Chö lineage from Khedrub Chöje (d. 1379) of Samding, which traces its roots back to Machik Labdrön and Padampa Sangye.[3]


2. Underground Stream: The Machik Ḍākinī Ear-Whispered Lineage (Machik Khandro Nyengyü)


Another stream, though thin and unseen, flows steadily beneath the surface. At my retreat, with the arrival of spring, natural wellsprings of cool, pure water emerge from crevices between moss-covered rocks. Even during the parched summer months, this slender stream never falters, persistently coursing beneath the earth to provide a constant flow of untainted, refreshing water.

During my retreat, I frequented this spring, relishing its rejuvenating waters and likening the Machik Ḍākinī Ear-Whispered Lineage to its hidden, pristine flow. Once highly revered, this lineage traversed from the outskirts of Eastern Tibet to Amdo and stretched as far as Inner Mongolia. Yet, strictly transmitted orally, by the early 20th century, the Ḍākinī Lineage teetered on the brink of disappearance.



[1] For more about this lineage, see Janice D. Wills, Enlightened Beings: Life Stories from the Ganden Oral Tradition: Wisdom Publications, 1995


[2] Elijah S. Ary, Authorized Lives: Biography and the Early Formation of Geluk Identity: Wisdom Publications, 2015. His research suggests that the institutionalized entity was not well defined in the early days of the school before the 15th-century. This also suggests the original nature of the Chö Ear-Whispered Lineage in the Geluk was not strongly affiliated to the institutional framework.


[3] Édou Jerome, Machig Labdrön, and the Foundations of Chöd, Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 1996, p.191 note 46. Khamnyon Jikdrel Chökyi Senge (Khams snyon' jig 'bral chos kyi seng ge, 19th c.e.), The Precious Garland, Ornament of Liberation, the Transmission History of Pacification and Severance (Zhi byed dang gcod yul gyi chos 'byung rin po che' I phreng ba thar pa'i rgyan). Khamnyon's historical account also suggests that the long lineage can be traced back to Machik Labdrön who transmitted it to Khedrup Chöji of Samding. He then transmitted it to the Second Dalai Lama Gendun Gyatso (1475-1542). More on FN 35.


(An excerpt from Chöying Khandro's presentation - THE UNFOLDING OF NYENGYÜ: THE MACHIK ḌĀKINĪ EAR-WHISPERED LINEAGE at Tara Mandala, 2017  Copyright, 2017, Chöying Khandro)

The Machik Dakini Ear-Whispered Lineage:


Unveiling a Hidden Tradition of Tibetan Vajrayana Chö


Shrouded in secrecy for centuries, the Machik Ḍākinī Ear-Whispered Lineage (Machik Khandro Nyengyü) emerges as a rare, enigmatic, and unparalleled tradition within Tibetan Vajrayana Chö. Carried forth by Geluk masters through oral transmission, this lineage has remained unaffiliated with any sect or institution, its existence largely unknown until recent years.

Highly Valued and Disseminated


Once treasured as a sacred Tantra transmission, the lineage traversed from Eastern Tibet to Amdo and Inner Mongolia. Despite its discreet nature, it permeated remote regions without establishing institutional ties. Revered for its profound and potent practices, imbued with the blessings of the Dakinis, the lineage faced extinction by the early 20th century, its survival dependent on oral transmission.

Distinctive Lineage of Wandering Yogis and Yoginis

The hallmark of the Machik Ḍākinī Ear-Whispered Lineage lies in the distinctive lifestyle of its practitioners, embodying various forms of yogic tradition: wandering hermits Ensapa), mountain solitaries (ritöpa)), and fearless explorers of daunting sites (nyentröpa). Emphasizing retreats as the path to flawless renunciation, bodhicitta, and the wisdom of emptiness, practitioners undertake unique retreats such as the Seven-Evening Wilderness Retreat and the 108-Spring Retreat (chumik-gyatsa- korwa). These culminate in the profound practice of Tröma Nakmo, the wrathful aspect of Machik Labdrön.

The emphasis of this lineage is placed on retreats through which one can develop flawless renunciation, bodhicitta, the wisdom of cutting through the demon of self-grasping, and the realization of emptiness--the ultimate meaning of Prajnaparamita. The strong emphasis on the integrated system of “view,” “meditation,” and “conduct” as the path of a chö practitioner is reflected by such unique retreats as the “the Seven-Evening Wilderness Retreat (Nyentrö Shakdün)” and “the 108-Spring Retreat (Chumik Gyatsa)”. All the practices and retreats of the lineage culminate with the profound retreat practice of Tröma Nakmo, which is the wrathful aspect of Machik Labdrön.

Complete, Integrated Tradition of the Chö Lineage

As a comprehensive and cohesive tradition, the Machik Dakini Ear-Whispered Lineage encompasses a rich array of practices, empowerments, readings, and musical transmissions. It provides practitioners with a thorough system of Tantric practice, guiding them towards the ultimate goal of full awakening. Central to this lineage are both common and uncommon Chö empowerments, which empower practitioners to engage in formal Chö retreats and connect with Chö-related yidams.

In the face of unprecedented challenges posed by the Chinese invasion of Tibet, the 9th Khalkha Jetsün Dampa demonstrated remarkable foresight by opening the gates of the lineage to the West in the early 1990s. This historic decision marked the first time that key Chö empowerments and transmissions were imparted outside of Tibet.

Twenty-five years ago, Chöying Khandro, as the direct senior disciple of Khalkha Rinpoche, undertook the monumental task of translating the entire set of 11 lineage texts and recording all lineage melodies. Through the Dakini’s Whisper Five-Leveled Chö Mastery Journey, she continues to tirelessly transmit the lineage's teachings and practices to individuals in the modern world, ensuring its profound legacy endures for generations to come.

The Machik Dakini Ear-Whispered Lineage stands as a uniquely integrated tradition, encompassing Tibetan meditational, cultural, and liturgical heritage. It comprises clearly defined sets of practices, retreats, empowerments, readings, and musical transmissions, alongside full commentaries. This lineage offers practitioners a complete and authentic system of Tantric practice, leading them toward the realization of full awakening. Central to this tradition are both common and uncommon Chö empowerments, granting practitioners permission to undertake formal Chö retreats and engage with Chö-related yidams. Each yidam practice includes specific visualizations, mantra recitations, fire pujas, and commitments following the retreat, ensuring a comprehensive journey along the path of awakening.

Recent Endeavors of Transmissions

Following the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959, which led to the global Tibetan Diaspora, preserving the lineage faced an even greater challenge. By the early 1990s, the 9th Khalkha Jetsün Dampa, Jampel Namdröl Chökyi Gyeltsen, had emerged as the sole lineage holder. Recognizing the imminent threat of the lineage's disappearance if it remained shrouded in secrecy, Khalkha Rinpoche made a pivotal decision to open up the tradition to the West. In 1993 and subsequently, in 1994-1995, key Chö empowerments and transmissions of the Machik Ḍākinī Ear-Whispered Lineage were imparted outside of Tibet for the first time.

Twenty-five years ago, following his initial visit to the West, Khalkha Rinpoche, at the behest and encouragement of Chöying Khandro, his direct senior disciple, embarked on the monumental task of translating the entire set of 11 lineage texts and recording all lineage melodies. Through Dakini’s Whisper Five-Leveled Chö Mastery Journey, they endeavor to ensure the lineage's transmissions, teachings, and practices are accessible to individuals in the modern world, safeguarding its profound wisdom for future generations.

Copyright 2016 Chöying Khandro

This is copyrighted material. Duplicating any part of this site without permission is prohibited.

bottom of page