The Karma Kagyu Refuge Field was described in the form of a five-branched tree by 9th Karmapa, Wangchug Dorje in his 16th century texts Lhancig Kyejor Tri and Paglam Dropa’I Shingta.
Based on known examples of Karma Kagyu Refuge Trees, the type of composition became popular in the sect only after Jamgon Kongtrul wrote the 19th century text, Ngedon Dronme (English: The Torch of Certainty) a commentary on the 9th Karmapa’s texts.
In summary, these texts describe the following:
A golden tree trunk grows out of a beautiful lake. In the centre is Vajradhara (Tibetan: Dorje Chang) as Root Lama surrounded by the Kagyu Lamas.
On the other four main branches that radiate towards the four cardinal directions are: the Yidams on the front branch; to the left are the Buddhas of past, present and future and the ten directions; on the rear branch are their teachings represented by a stack of sacred scriptures or pechas; to the right is the Sangha represented by Bodhisattvas and monks; beneath the Lamas are all the Dharmapalas surrounded by their helpers.