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Dugpa (Tibetan ’brug pa) is a word used by H. P. Blavatsky and the Masters of Wisdom as a synonym for a black magician or sorcerer, frequently referred to as "Brother of the Shadow".

General description

Mme. Blavatsky wrote:

Dugpas (Tib.). Lit., “Red Caps,” a sect in Tibet. Before the advent of Tsong-ka-pa in the fourteenth century, the Tibetans, whose Buddhism had deteriorated and been dreadfully adulterated with the tenets of the old Bhon religion,—were all Dugpas. From that century, however, and after the rigid laws imposed upon the Gelukpas (yellow caps) and the general reform and purification of Buddhism (or Lamaism), the Dugpas have given themselves over more than ever to sorcery, immorality, and drunkenness. Since then the word Dugpas has become a synonym of “sorcerer”, “adept of black magic” and everything vile. There are few, if any, Dugpas in Eastern Tibet, but they congregate in Bhutan, Sikkim, and the borderlands generally.[1]

Of the four main sects of Tibetan Buddhism, three (the Nyigmapas, Kagyupas, and Sakyapas), did not follow the reforms proposed by Tsongkhapa’s in his new order, the Gelugpas. The Nyigmapas wear red ceremonial hats. Among the Kagyupas, the Karmapas wear black hats while the Shamarpas wear red. The Sakyapas' headdress is also red, although this sect is not generally referred to by colour. The Gelugpas wear yellow hats. Therefore, by "red hat" Blavatsky probably meant some Böns, Nyigmapas and Shamarpas.

In the The Mahatma Letters the dugpas are frequently displayed as the enemies of the Masters and their disciples. For example, in one of his letters Master K.H. wrote to A. P. Sinnett:

In our mountains here, the Dugpas lay at dangerous points, in paths frequented by our Chelas, bits of old rag, and other articles best calculated to attract the attention of the unwary, which have been impregnated with their evil magnetism. If one be stepped upon a tremendous psychic shock may be communicated to the wayfarer, so that he may lose his footing and fall down the precipice before he can recover himself. Friend, beware of Pride and Egoism, two of the worst snares for the feet of him who aspires to climb the high paths of Knowledge and Spirituality. You have opened a joint of your armour for the Dugpas — do not complain if they have found it out and wounded you there.[2]

Drukpa Lineage

The word "dugpa" was frequently used by Mme. Blavatsky and the Masters in a generic sense to refer to the "red-cap" or "red-hat" sects of Tibetan Buddhism and the pre-Buddhist natives Böns. As David Reigle showed, this general meaning for the word "dugpa" was prevalent during Blavatsky's time. This mistake was corrected in 1895 by L. Austine Waddell’s book, The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism, where he states that the Dug-pa are a sub-sect of the red-cap sect Kagyupa.[3] This sub-sect eventually came to be the main school of Buddhism in Bhutan, known as the "Drukpa Kargyu".[4]

Mme. Blavatsky wrote an article in line with this view, where she uses the term "dugpa" in a more restricted way, applying it to the Nyingmapas and Shammars in Bhutan:

The "Dug-pa(*) or Red Caps" belong to the old Nyang-na-pa sect, who resisted the religious reform introduced by Tsong-kha-pa between the latter part of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries. It was only after a lama coming to them from Tibet in the tenth century had converted them from the old Buddhist faith so strongly mixed up with the Bhon practices of the aborigines--into the Shammar sect, that, in opposition to the reformed "Gyelukpas," the Bhootanese set up a regular system of reincarnations.

(*) The term "Dug-pa" in Tibet is deprecatory. They themselves pronounce it "Dög-pa" from the root to "bind" (religious binders to the old faith): while the paramount sect--the Gyeluk-pa (yellow caps)--and the people, use the word in the sense of "Dug-pa" mischief-makers, sorcerers. The Bhootanese are generally called Dug-pa throughout Tibet and even in some parts of Northern India.[5]

However, even this reference to this particular Bhutanese sect should not be taken in a too general way. In reference to the Brothers of the Shadow, Mme. Blavatsky wrote:

In Sikkim and Tibet they are called Dug-pas (red-caps), in contra-distinction to the Geluk-pas (yellow-caps), to which latter most of the adepts belong. And here we must beg the reader not to misunderstand us. For though the whole of Bhûtan and Sikkim belongs to the old religion of the Bhons, now known generally as the Dug-pas, we do not mean to have it understood that the whole of the population is possessed, en masse, or that they are all sorcerers. Among them are found as good men as anywhere else, and we speak above only of the élite of their Lamaseries, of a nucleus of priests, "devil-dancers," and fetish worshippers, whose dreadful and mysterious rites are utterly unknown to the greater part of the population.[6]


Tibetan word shamar (ཞྭ་དམར zhwa dmar) means "red hat." When Blavatsky regarded them as an offshoot of the Böns:

The Shammar sect is not, as wrongly supposed, a kind of corrupted Buddhism, but an offshoot of the Bön religion—itself a degenerated remnant of the Chaldean mysteries of old, now a religion entirely based upon necromancy, sorcery and sooth-saying. The introduction of Buddha’s name in it means nothing.[7]

There are references to this use of the term in the 19th century. For example, in a book on the history of Hindustan we find:

Two sets [sic] divide the votaries of Buddha, the Gyllookpa [Gelug-pa], distinguished by robes of yellow cloth, and the Shammar, clothed in red. In ancient times, the latter are reported to have been the most numerous; till the Gyllookpa assembling a mighty army, drove them from their possessions, and forced them to take refuge in Bootan, whose inhabitants are all of that sect.[8]


The Shamarpa is one of the two lineage holders of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Karmapa being the main one. The Shamarpas (the first one being established in 1284), are sometimes referred to as the "Red Hat Karmapas".

The 10th Shamarpa (1742–1793) was declared guilty of inciting a war between Tibet and Nepal. He was exiled from Tibet and a ban was placed on his future incarnations. In 1963, following a request from the 16th Karmapa, the Tibetan Government in Exile lifted the ban. Today, Künzig Shamar Rinpoche is the 14th Shamarpa.

C. W. Leabeteater's view

All through her writings Madame Blavatsky applies the name Dugpa to the brothers of the shadow – black magicians, as we often call them. Perhaps it is rather an unfortunate name to have chosen, because the dugpas do not quite deserve all the hard things she has said about them.

In Tibet, before Buddhism penetrated that land, there was much worship of elementals and nature-spirits, and offerings of a propitiatory character were regularly made to them. The religion was on a low level, as all religions of a propitiatory nature must be. “The Bhons and Dugpas,” says Madame Blavatsky, “and the various sects of the ‘Redcaps’, are regarded as the most versed in sorcery. They inhabit Western and Little Tibet and Bhutan.” The old religion thus still lives. . . .
The Bhon-pa are the followers of the aboriginal religion. The descendants of the converts made by the first mission are called Ninma-pa. That first incursion of Buddhism rapidly became corrupted by the old faith. The Kargyu sect represents the converts of the second mission, which was sent to Tibet some centuries later than the first. The Dug-pa, or Red-caps, belong to this sect, and so are two removes from the Bhon-pa. It also became impure, and allowed the old beliefs to creep in. . . .

The Dug-pa clan, then, is not quite so bad as it has been painted. They are Buddhists, with nature-worship super-imposed. This old worship, its enemies say, included animal sacrifices, and even human sacrifices at one time.[9]


  1. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary (Krotona, CA: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 105-106.
  2. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 131 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 436-437.
  3. Who Are the Dugpas in Theosophical Writings? by David Reigle
  4. Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. "Brug-pa", http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/82022/Brug-pa.
  5. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IV (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1991), 9-10.
  6. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. VI (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1989), 198.
  7. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IV (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1991), 15, fn.
  8. Lawrence Dundas Campbell et al, The Asiatic annual register or a view of the history of Hindustan and of the politics, commerce and literature of Asia, vol. 3 (London: Wilson and Co., Oriental Press, 1802), 15.
  9. Charles Webster Leadbeater, Talks on the Path of Occultism Volume 2, (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), ???.

Online resources