The Ear-Whispered Lineages
Background: Two Streams into the River of Chö
By my retreat cabin in the Oregon forest surrounded by green moss and trees, flows a beautiful creek. It comes from the snow-melted waters of the Cascade Mountains. That creek flows into the McKenzie River and eventually reaches the Oregon coast.
Over many centuries many streams of the river have flown down from the pure source of the awakened teaching and practice called "Chö." Among them, two streams have fed into the river of the Geluk Chö tradition. Practiced carefully and discreetly they have been carried down by the Geluk masters.
1. Main Stream: The Ganden Ear-Whispered Lineage (Ganden/Ensa Nyengyü)
One stream is visible to those who approach the river. Literally, the "mainstream" is called the Ganden/Ensa Ear-Whispered Lineage (Ganden/Ensa Nyengyü), which has been held by the prominent masters in the Geluk order. I call them "prominent" because all these masters were also the lineage holders of the Ganden Ear-Whispered Lineage of Mahamudra and Guru Yoga, as well as Chö. The lineage itself has come from the founder of the Geluk tradition, Lama Tsongkhapa (1357–1419) 's direct transmission from Manjushri.
It is interesting to note here that recent research by a historian suggests that the lineage gurus of the Ganden/Ensa Ear-Whispered Lineage were the original disciples of Lama Tsongkhapa. The well-known teacher-disciple relationship between Lama Tsongkhapa and Khedrubje and Gyeltsabje was the later development.
Historically, Lama Tsongkhapa also received from Khedrub Chöje (d. 1379) of Samding, the Chö lineage that is traced back to Machik Labdrön and Padampa Sangye.
2. Underground Stream: The Machik Ḍākinī Ear-Whispered Lineage (Machik Khandro Nyengyü)
The other stream is thin and invisible, yet steadily flowing underground. At my retreat, once the spring season arrives, natural wellsprings of cool pure water flow out of a gap between the mossy rocks. Even in the dry season of summer, this thin stream does not cease but continues to flow uninterruptedly underneath the earth and gives the constant flow of unpolluted, fresh, and delicious water.
During my retreat, I often visited this spring and enjoyed its refreshing water, thinking that the Machik Ḍākinī Ear-Whispered Lineage is like this stream of pristine natural spring water that has been flowing hidden over the centuries. The lineage was once much treasured. It spread from the borders of Eastern Tibet to Amdo and all the way to Inner Mongolia. However, the Ḍākinī Lineage was strictly orally transmitted and by the early 20th century was on the verge of disappearing.
 For more about this lineage, see Janice D. Wills, Enlightened Beings: Life Stories from the Ganden Oral Tradition: Wisdom Publications, 1995
 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.
 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)
Read more about The Machik Ḍākinī Ear-Whispered Lineage.