The special teachings of the 'Bri-gung bKa'-brgyud-pa are called the "Profound Five-fold Path of Mahamudra", for which they preserved a unique lineage stemming from sGam-po-pa. Their greatest scholar was 'Jigs-rten mGon-po, whose teachings are known for short as the "One Thought", dgongs-gcig. The 'Bri-gung-pa especially stressed the bKa'-brgyud-pa tradition of meditative retreat and had many hermitages of yogins. They also had close connections with the rNying-ma-pa, and some of their head lamas were rDzogs-chen masters.
The 'Bri-gung monastery was founded by 'Jigs-rten mGon-po (1143-1212), a student of Phag-mo-gru, whose teacher was sGam-po-pa (see bKa'-brgyud-pa). The monastery and the new order soon grew in wealth and power, and allied with a Mongol faction to attack and undermine Sa-skya in the latter half of the thirteenth century, until 'Bri-gung monastery was destroyed by the Sa-skya-pa with their Mongol allies in 1290. After this, the 'Bri-gung-pa played no significant role in Tibetan politics but their religious tradition had been widely established elsewhere and remained active. After their hereditary line of lamas died out in the seventeenth century, two incarnation lineages shared the religious leadership of the school - these lamas are called the 'Bri-gung Che-tshang and the 'Bri-gung Chung-tshang.
|Symbols||The 'Bri-gung bKa'-brgyud-pa share much of their ritual and symbolic system with other Tibetan Buddhist groups and specifically with the other bKa'-brgyud-pa orders.|
It is not possible to estimate numbers of followers since the Tibetan Buddhist schools do not demand exclusive allegiance. It has been estimated that in the period before the Chinese invasion, the two main monasteries at 'Bri-gung housed approximately 500 monks each, but only about 300 of these would be in residence at any one time (Tsarong Paljor 1987 "Economy and Ideology on a Tibetan monastic estate in Ladakh", Ph.D thesis [University of Wisconsin-Madison]: 46). There were other smaller monasteries of the school in the 'Bri-gung province and further afield, including Khams in Eastern Tibet, and the himalayan borderlands. After the Chinese destruction of monasteries in Tibet, 'Bri-gung bKa'-brgyud-pa refugees have been active in reconstruction in exile; these efforts were further encouraged by the escape of the 'Bri-gung Che-tshang from Tibet in 1974 and his subsequent establishment of the 'Bri-gung headquarters in exile. 'Bri-gung bKa'-brgyud-pa lamas have travelled internationally and have followers in the West and in East Asia (eg. in Japan). Since the 1980s, the 'Bri-gung tradition has been revived in Tibet; meditation hermitages have grown up in the 'Bri-gung area, and some of the monasteries are being rebuilt.
Since 1978, the 'Bri-gung have established their headquarters (in exile) at the 'Bri-gung monastic centres in Ladakh, where the 'Bri-gung Che-tshang is based.