The Lineage Transmission Knowledge Model

TBRC Lineage Transmission Records

As part of our ongoing work in the Research Department, we are building a database of Lineage records in the TBRC Library. Over the past year, we have customized a knowledge model specifically to capture Lineage Transmission data, as documented in Tibetan  gsan yig  literature — literally, "Records of Reception." In so doing, we are mapping the complex networks of historical lineage transmission across the Tibetan cultural world.

To date, we have published 1900+ distinct Lineage records that interlink more than 41,000 Person records. In many ways, these Lineage documents are a kind of "missing link" — connecting Persons-to-Persons, Works-to-Persons, and Topics-to-Persons — amplifying the TBRC Library ontology.

These Lineage records are an important facet of our ongoing research to document Tibetan literary information about social and textual networks. Related research includes Successive Incarnation Lines and Abbatial Lines affiliated with Monastic Seats.

Gsan yig: Records of Transmission

From the 11th century onwards in Tibet, we discern a deliberate effort by Tibetan authors to establish lineage transmissions of specific teachings and texts that culminated in the early 13th century with the Tibetan meta-genre of gsan yig or thob yig – i.e. types of brgyud yigThese "Records of Reception" served to register lines of transmission, tracing each successive line back to Indian origins, thereby operating as textual sources to legitimize hermeneutic efforts. In effect, these texts were authenticating the authority and canonicity of transmissions being received and negotiated in Tibet.

A few early examples of this meta-genre include the gsan yig of the early terton Nyangrel Nyima Odzer, Sakya hierarchs Kunga Nyingpo and Drakpa Gyeltsen, commander and Kagyu formulator Lama Zhang, Geluk forefathers Khedrup Je and TsongkhapaNgorchen Kunga Zangpo, and the moderator of Mongol Patron-Priest relations Pakpa Lodro Gyeltsen, to name a few.

So far we have entered Lineages based on the gsan yig records of Jamgon Amnye Zhab, the first volume of Dalai Lama 05 Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso's 4-volume gsan yig, and much of Jamgon Kongtrul's.

Because these records of reception detail what was transmitted, and to whom, over the course of multiple generations, they serve as textual goldmines for bibliographical and biographical research. A closer look at these lineages will surely give us a more granulated vision of the sociology of knowledge transmission in Tibet.

Customizing the Lineage Knowledge Model

With an initial set of 746 Lineages with approximately 1,800 Persons that were input by Jowita and Ralf Kramer, starting over a decade ago, the TBRC research team set out to design a knowledge model to further register this Lineage data. These early records served as the template for this new model and the current release.

In customizing a model that would accurately reflect the data portrayed in gsan yig source texts, Michael Sheehy and Lobsang Shastri began to closely read select gsan yig and examine the limitations in the Lineage documents that were imported from the Kramer's efforts. Keeping to our internal adage that networks are defined by relations, we sought to define which relations the literature was documenting and to capture those exact relations.

The Lineages model was structured to capture a few critical interlinking features,

  • Holder-to-Receiver Relationships
  • Bibliographic Location Information
  • Transmission Object(s) (i.e. sgrol ma / gsung 'bum, etc.)
  • Transmission Type(s) (i.e. l ung /  dbang  /  khrid, etc.)
  • Alternative Transmission Lineages (i.e. parallel streams)
  • Associated Transmission Lineages per Person

The basic concept of the model is that there is a Transmission Object that is transmitted from a Lineage Holder to one or more Receivers. This creates the Transmission Line, interlinking these Persons with mutual Objects of Transmission in a continuum. For example, in this Lineage (brgyud pa), the Transmission Object is 'Hayagriva with an Iron Sword' – rta mgrin lcags ral can (T2GS1155), the Transmission Type is an Authorization Initiation – rjes gnang (T7), and the Holder-to-Receiver line is listed successively per Person, each Receiver becoming the successive Holder:

By identifying such relations by reading various gsan yig and observing patterns in the initial data, we realized the necessity to design the model in order to represent several specialized relations including: multiple Holders or Receivers per generation, parallel streams of Alternative Lineages, intersecting Lineages "Down To" or "Down From" a Holder in a particular Transmission Line. Examples of terminology in gsan yig that express these relations and that are reflected in the TBRC Lineages model, include:

  • གཉིས་ཀྱིས་གསན་་་
  • gnyis kyis gsan
  • > received by two [HOLDERS]
  • གསུམ་གྱིས་གསན་་་
  • gsum gyis gsan
  • > received by three [HOLDERS]
  • དེ་གསུམ་ཀ་ལ་HOLDER X་པས་གསན་་་
  • de gsum ka la HOLDER X pas gsan
  • > received these three [LINEAGES] from HOLDER X
  • Operation = Alternative Lineage
  • ཡང་ན་་་
  • yang na
  • Operation = Alternative Lineage
  • འདི་ཡན་གོང་ལྟར་འདྲ་་་
  • 'di yan gong ltar 'dra
  • > prior are same as above Lineages
  • Operation = Down To
  • HOLDER X་མན་འདྲ་་་
  • HOLDER X man 'dra
  • > from HOLDER X is same as above
  • Operation = Down From
  • མན་གོང་དང་འདྲ་་་
  • man gong dang 'dra
  • > below are same as above Lineages
  • Operation = Down From
  • མན་ཆད་སྔར་བཞིན་ནོ།
  • man chad sngar bzhin no
  • > below are same as before Lineages
  • Operation = Down From
  • མན་གོང་རྣམས་དང་འདྲ་་་
  • man gong rnams dang 'dra
  • > below are same as above Lineages
  • Operation = Down From

Such relations are derived from complex data sets in the texts. For example, in the gsan yig of Muchen Sangge Gyaltsen (1542-1618) [MS66.2], it reads, "yang klan btsad tsha nyi ma lcam la/ rgya mkhar thang spe ba'i mkhan po 'phags pa skyabs kyis gsan/." There are a few cases in this particular lineage where the author is making a reference to a person that was previously recorded. The model thereby was built to include these additional Holders/Receivers,

Where the gsan yig makes reference to a Receiver not in succession [see lines, MS 66.1, 66.2, 66.4], a case of nonlinear annotations in the text, there are intersecting Lineages inserted "Down From" those particular Holders. For instance, in this case, Pakpa Kyab (P3078) was the Receiver,

  • DOWN FROM Lineage = L1RKL1253 :  dpal gsang ba 'dus pa 'phags lugs kyi bskyed rims kyi bshad pa rgya gzhung rnams dang/ paN chen gung ru sogs kyi mdzad pa'i rnam bshad mang po'i steng nas/ rje rdo rje 'chang gyi sgrubs dngos grub rgya mtsho dang sbyar ba shin tu rgyas pa/
  • DOWN FROM Lineage = L1RKL1254 : d pal gsang ba 'dus pa 'phags lugs kyi bskyed rims kyi bshad pa rgya gzhung rnams dang/ paN chen gung ru sogs kyi mdzad pa'i rnam bshad mang po'i steng nas/ rje rdo rje 'chang gyi sgrubs dngos grub rgya mtsho dang sbyar ba shin tu rgyas pa/

In this way, we are capturing and expressing configurations of Lineage Transmissions from where they begin and intersect, based on the information recorded in gsan yig literature.

Future Directions of Research

Now that this initial release of the Lineage data set is publicly available via, we are working to strengthen connections of the core relations in the Lineages model with correlated objects in our library ontology. Current and future steps in our research on Lineage Transmissions will include,

  • Continue to enter Lineages from various gsan yig
  • Interlink Alternative Lineages with existing Lineages
  • Apply visualization tools to display Lineage successions and networks
  • Improve the Transmission Line view for Lineage record pages
  • Implement a faceted browse of Lineages by Object and Type

Select Readings on Tibetan Gsan yig Literature

Ehrhard, Franz-Karl. 2012. 'Flow of the River Ganga': The Gsan-yig of the Fifth Dalai Bla-ma and Its Literary Sources. In Studies on the History and Literature of Tibet and the Himalaya. Roberto Vitali (ed.). Kathmandu: Vajra Publications, 79-96. Access at:

Kramer, Jowita. 2008. "The gsan yig of A mes zhabs: Observations Regarding Its Stylistic and Formal Features." In: Contributions to Tibetan Literature. PIATS 2006: Tibetan Studies (Proceedings of the Eleventh Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Königswinter. Orna Almogi (ed.). Halle: International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, 489-510.

Sobisch, Jan-Ulrich. 2002. "The 'Records of Teachings Received' in the Collected Works of A mes zhabs: An Untapped Source for the Study of Sa skya pa Biographies." In Tibet, Past and Present: Tibetan Studies 1. PIATS 2000: Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the Ninth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies. Henk Blezer (ed.). Leiden: Brill, 161–181.

SOBISCH, Jan-Ulrich. 2007. Life, Transmissions, and Works of A-mes-zhabs Ngag-dbang-kun-dga'-bsod-nams, the Great 17th Century Sa-skya-pa Bibliophile. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag. Handbuch der Orientalistik; Supplementband, 38.

Van der Kuijp, Leonard. 1995. Fourteenth Century Tibetan Cultural History VI: The Transmission of Indian Buddhist Pramānavāda According to the Early Tibetan Gsan yig-s*. In Asiatische Studien: Zeitschrift der Schweizerischen Asiengesellschaft. Études asiatiques: revue de la Société Suisse-Asie. Access at:

Van Schaik, Sam. 2000. "Sun and Moon Earrings: Teachings Received by Jigmé Lingpa." In Tibet Journal, 25.4. Access at:

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