Nyingma Tibetan name Tibetan: རྙིང་མ་ Wylie transliteration: rnying ma pronunciation in IPA: [ɲiŋma] official transcription (PRC): Nyingma THDL: Nyingma other transcriptions: — Chinese name traditional: 寧瑪派、紅教 simplified: 宁玛派、红教 Pinyin: Níngmǎpài, Hóngjiào
The Nyingma tradition is the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism (the other three being the Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug). "Nyingma" literally means "ancient," and is often referred to as Nga'gyur (Tibetan: སྔ་འགྱུར།, ZYPY: Nga'gyur, school of the ancient translations) or the "old school" because it is founded on the first translations of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into Tibetan, in the eighth century. The Tibetan script and grammar was actually created for this endeavour. In modern times the Nyingma lineage has been centered in Kham in eastern Tibet.
Early lineage and traditions
The Nyingma tradition actually comprises several distinct lineages that all trace their origins to the Indian master Padmasambhava, who is lauded in the popular canon as the founder of Tibetan Buddhism and is still propitiated in the discipline of reciprocity that is guru yoga sadhana, the staple of the tradition(s).
Historically, Nyingmapa are categorised into Red Sangha and White Sangha. Red Sangha denotes a celibate, monastic practitioner; whereas White Sangha denotes a non-celibate practitioner who abstains from vows of celibacy. At different times in one's life, due to changing circumstances and proclivities, individuals historically moved between these two Sanghas. Rarely was either determination of Red or White for the duration of one's life.
Nyingma maintains the earliest tantric teachings which have been given the popular nomenclature of Vajrayana. Early Vajrayana that was transmitted from India to Tibet may be differentiated by the specific term 'Mantrayana' (Wylie: sngags kyi theg pa). 'Mantrayana' is the Sanskrit of what became rendered in Tibetan as "Secret Mantra" (Wylie: gsang sngags): gsang sngags is the self-identifying term employed in the earliest literature, whereas Nyingma became associated in differentiation from the "New Schools" Sarma.
Part of a series on Tibetan Buddhism
History Timeline · Related-topics Schools Nyingma · Kagyu · Sakya · Gelug · Bön · Jonang Key concepts Three marks of existence · Skandha · Cosmology · Saṃsāra · Rebirth · Bodhisattva · Dharma · Dependent origination · Karma Major figures Gautama Buddha · Padmasambhava · Je Tsongkhapa · Dalai Lama · Panchen Lama · Lama · Karmapa Lama · Rinpoche · Geshe · Terton · Tulku Buddhahood · Avalokiteśvara · Four stages of enlightenment · Tantric yoga · Paramitas · Meditation · Laity Changzhug · Drepung · Dzogchen · Ganden · Jokhang · Kumbum · Labrang · Mindroling · Namgyal · Narthang · Nechung · Pabonka · Palcho · Ralung · Ramoche · Sakya · Sanga · Sera · Shalu · Tashilhunpo · Tsurphu · Yerpa Chotrul Duchen · Dajyur · Losar · Monlam · Sho Dun Texts Kangyur · Tengyur · Tibetan canon · Mahayana sutras · Nyingma Gyubum Sand mandala · Thangka · Ashtamangala · Tree of physiology
Geographical dissemination of Buddhism into the Tibetan plateau
Dargyay (1998: p. 5) provides a sound case that:
...at least in Eastern Tibet, there existed during and after the time of Lha-tho-tho-ri [Fl.173(?)-300(?) CE] a solid knowledge of Buddhism and that the upper classes of the people were faithfully devoted to it. But the border regions in the north and west probably had also come into contact with Buddhism long before the time of Srong-btsan-sgam-po. Buddhist teachings reached China via a route along the western and northern borders of the Tibetan culture and language zone; the same route was travelled by Indian Pandits and Chinese pilgrims in their endeavour to bring this Indian religion to China. There used to be contacts with the Tibetan population in these border regions. It is possible that the knowledge gained from these encounters was spread by merchants over large areas of Tibet. Thus, when Srong-btsan-sgam-po succeeded to the throne of Tibet in the year 627, the country was ready for a systematic missionary drive under royal patronage.
Germano (2002: unpaginated) states:
While Buddhist figures and movements surely were active on the Tibetan plateau long before, Tibetan religious histories concentrate on events in the latter half of the eighth century as marking a watershed during which Buddhism definitively established itself within Tibetan culture. With the official sponsorship of the emperor Trisong Detsen (khri srong lde btsan), the first major monastery was established at Samye (bsam yas), a broad scale translation project of the Buddhist canon into a newly minted Tibetan literary language was initiated, and a variety of lineages began to take hold. The explosive developments were interrupted in the mid-ninth century as the Empire began to disintegrate, leading to a century-long interim of civil war and decentralization about which we know relatively little.
Around 760, King Trisong Detsen invited Padmasambhava and the Nalanda University abbot Śāntarakṣita (Tibetan Shiwatso) to Tibet to introduce Buddhism in the "Land of Snows." King Trisong Detsen ordered the translation of all Buddhist Dharma Texts into Tibetan. Padmasambhava, Shantarakṣita, 108 translators, and 25 of Padmasambhava's nearest disciples worked for many years in a gigantic translation-project. The translations from this period formed the base for the large scriptural transmission of Dharma teachings into Tibet. Padmasambhava supervised mainly the translation of Tantra; Shantarakshita concentrated on the Sutra-teachings. Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita also founded the first Buddhist monastery Samye on Tibetan ground. It was the main center for dharma transmission in Tibet during this age.
Chinese Ch'an Buddhism was introduced during the Eighth Century to the Nyingmapa or 'Ancient School' of Tibetan Buddhism in three principal streams of teachings. The lineages concerned were: Master Kim, Kim Ho-shang, (Jin he shang) 金和尚 transmitted by Sang Shi who later became an abbot of Samye Monastery in c750 CE; the lineage of Master Wu Zhu, 無住 of the Pao T'ang School was transmitted within Tibet by Ye shes dbang po; and the teachings from Mo Ho Yen, 和尚摩訶衍 (Tibetan: Hwa shang Mahayana) that were a synthesis of the Northern School of Ch'an and the Pao T'ang School.
The Tibetan Dharma King Trisong Detsen (Tibetan:Khri srong lde btsan) hosted a famous two-year dharma debate, called Council of Lhasa, from 792-794CE, known in Western scholarship as the "Council of Lhasa" (although it took place at Samye) outside the capital. As part of this debate Trisong Detsen invited the Ch'an master Mo-ho-yen (whose name consists of the same Chinese characters used to transliterate "Mahayana") to debate with Kamalshila. Mo-ho-yen had been disseminating Dharma in the Tun-huang locale at the time. Moheyan lost the important philosophical debate on the nature of emptiness to the Indian master Kamalashila, and the king declared that Kamalashila's philosophy should form the basis for Tibetan Buddhism. As a result, the Mahayana tradition of Tibetan Buddhism has primarily been founded on the madhyamaka philosophy introduced by Kamalashila from India. In Tibet this is generally combined with the Vajrayana practice path introduced by Padmasambhava, also during the Eighth Century.
However, a Chinese source states that Hwashang won the debate, and some scholars have concluded that the entire episode is fictitious. Pioneering Buddhologist Giuseppe Tucci has speculated that Hwashang's ideas were preserved by the Nyingmapas in the form of the Dzogchen teachings. John Myrdhin Reynolds holds a very different point of view stating "Except for a brief flirtation with Ch'an in the early days of Buddhism in Tibet in the eighth century, the Tibetans exhibited almost no interest at all in Chinese Buddhism, except for translating a few Sutras from Chinese for which they did not possess Indian originals."
The miracle-powers of the 25 disciples of Padmasambhava are widely accepted among Tibetan Buddhists. These disciples were: King Trisong Detsen, Namkhai Nyingpo, Nub Chen Sangye Yeshe, Gyalwa Choyang, the princess of Karchen Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal, Palgyi Yeshe, Palgyi Senge, the great translator Vairotsana, Nyak Jnanakumara, Gyalmo Yudra Nyingpo, Nanam Dorje Dudjom, Yeshe Yang, Sokpo Lhapal, Nanam Zhang Yeshe De, Palgyi Wangchuk, Denma Tsémang, Kawa Paltsek, Shupu Palgyi Senge, Dré Gyalwe Lodro, Drokben Khyenchung Lotsawa, Otren Palgyi Wangchuk, Ma Rinchen Chok, Lhalung Palgyi Dorje, Langdro Konchog Jungné and Lasum Gyalwa Changchup.
From this basis, Tantric Buddhism was established in its entirety in Tibet. From the 8th until the 11th century, the Nyingma was the only school of Buddhism in Tibet. With the reign of King Langdarma (836–842) a time of political instability ensued which continued over the next 300 years, during which time Buddhism was persecuted and largely forced underground. From the 11th century onwards, the Nyingma tradition flourished along with the newer Sarma schools, and it was at that time that Nyingmapas began to see themselves as a distinct group and the term "Nyingma" came into usage.
Historically, the Nyingma tradition is unique amongst the four schools in that its supporters never held political power, and therefore its practitioners were mostly removed from the political machinations of Tibet. Indeed, the Nyingma traditionally had no centralized authority and drew significant power from not having one. Only since the Tibetan diaspora following the Chinese annexure of Tibet have the Nyingma had a head of the Tradition and this seat was only invested at the polite request of the Dalai Lama. Even so, the Nyingma tradition is still politically decentralized and often decisions are made in an oligarchy or community of the senior sangha within a given jurisdiction or locale. Nyingmapa are also historically characterized and distinguished by decentralization and by their general wider political disinterest, with a lesser emphasis on monasticism relative to the other schools, with a correspondingly greater preponderance of ngakpas, uncelibate householders and yogins.
There was never a single "head of the lineage" in the manner of either the Ganden Tripa or Dalai Lama of the Gelugpa, the Karmapa of the Karma Kagyu, or the Sakya Trizin of the Sakya. It was only recently in exile in India that this role was created at the request of the Tibetan Government in Exile, and it is largely administrative. Nevertheless, the lamas who have served in this role are among the most universally highly regarded. They are:
- Dudjom Rinpoche (c. 1904–1987), served from the 1960s until his death.
- Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (c. 1910–1991), served from 1987 until his death.
- Penor (Pema Norbu) Rinpoche (1932–2009) served from 1991 until retirement in 2003.
- Mindroling Trichen Rinpoche (c. 1930–2008), served from 2003 until his death.
- Trulshik Rinpoche (1923–2011), served from 2010 until his death on September 2, 2011. Selected after Chatral Rinpoche declined the position.
Rise of scholasticism and monasticism
In 1848, Dzogchen Shri Sengha (rdzogs chen srwi sengha), was founded by a charismatic teacher, Zhanphan Thaye (gzhan phan mtha' yas, 1800-), in association with the active participation of Do Kyentse (rndo mkhyen rtse). As scholar Georges Dreyfuss reports,
The purpose of this school was not . . . the study of the great Indian treatises . . . but the development of Nyingma monasticism in Kham, a particularly important task at that time. Up to then, the Nyingma tradition had mostly relied on non-ordained tantric practitioners to transmit its teachings through authorized lineages. The move toward monasticism changed this situation, putting a greater emphasis on the respect of exoteric moral norms of behavior as a sign of spiritual authority. This move participated in the logic animating the nonsectarian movement, the revitalization of non-Geluk traditions so that they could compete with the dominant Geluk school. Since the Geluk hegemony was based on a widespread monastic practice, it was important for the other schools to develop their own monasticism to rival the dominant Geluk tradition. This seems to have been one the goals of Zhanphan Thaye in creating the Dzokchen commentarial school. . . .A further and equally important step was taken a few decades later with the transformation by [Khenpo] Zhenga of this institution into a center devoted to the study of the exoteric tradition. This step was decisive in creating a scholastic model that could provide an alternative to the dominant model of the Geluk seats and could train scholars who could hold their own against the intellectual firing power of Geluk scholars.
For Zhenga and his followers, the way to return to this past was the exegetical study of commentaries, the proper object of scholarship. By downplaying the role of debate emphasized by the Geluk monastic seats and stressing exegetical skills, they accentuated the differences between these two traditions and provided a clear articulation of a non-Geluk scholastic tradition. In this way, they started the process of reversal of the damage inflicted on the non-Geluk scholarly traditions and created an alternative to the dominance of Geluk scholasticism, which had often tended to present itself in Tibet as the sole inheritor and legitimate interpreter of the classical Indian Buddhist tradition.
This scholastic movement led by Khenpo Shenga came on the heels of the work of Mipham, who "completely revolutionised rNying ma pa scholasticism in the late 19th century, raising its status after many centuries as a comparative intellectual backwater, to arguably the most dynamic and expansive of philosophical traditions in all of Tibetan Buddhism, with an influence and impact far beyond the rNying ma pa themselves."
Distinguishing features of the Nyingma lineage
The doxography employed by the Nyingma tradition to categorize the whole of the Buddhist path is unique. Nyingmapas divide the Buddhist path into nine yanas, as follows:
The Sutra System
- Shravakayana (Hinayana) the Vehicle of the Listeners or disciples.
- Pratyekayana (Hinayana) the Vehicle of the Solitary Buddhas, the way of solitary meditation.
- Bodhisattvayāna (Mahayana) the Great or Causal Vehicle, the Vehicle of Enlightened Beings, is the way of those who seek or attain enlightenment for the sake or intention of liberating not just oneself, but all sentient beings from Saṃsāra.
- Kriya (Wylie: bya ba'i rgyud) Tantra of Action
- Carya or Ubhaya (Wylie: u pa'i rgyud or spyod pa'i rgyud) Tantra of Conduct
- Yogatantra (Wylie: rnal 'byor gyi rgyud) Tantra of Union
- Mahayoga (Wylie: chen po'i rnal 'byor) Great Yoga
- Anuyoga (Wylie: rjes su rnal 'byor) Subsequent Yoga
- Atiyoga/Dzogchen (Wylie: lhag pa'i rnal 'byor or rdzogs chen) Ultimate Yoga; The Great Perfection
In the later schools the inner tantric teachings are known as Anuttarayogatantra, which corresponds to Mahayoga in the Nyingma system, while the Mahamudra teachings of the later schools are said to lead to similar results as the Dzogchen teachings.
Dzogchen Rinpoche (2007: p. 89) holds that:
When we study and practice the so-called lower and higher yanas, we might hear that the most sublime, or the pinnacle of all teachings are those of dzogchen, and this is true. The "lower" yanas of the shravaka and bodhisattva paths, the "higher" paths of the tantras, and the "pinnacle" path of dzogchen are distinguished from one another in this way. This gradation shows the various ways in which it is appropriate for beings of differing propensities to proceed upon the path. Ideally, a practitioner proceeds from the lower levels of practice to the higher levels, and then to the summit. This does not mean that the lower levels of practice are to be disparaged or ignored. We should not focus on the higher paths at the expense of the lower paths...".
Philosophy and doctrinal tenets
Capriles (2003: p. 100) elucidates the Nyingma Dzogchenpa view which qualifies the doctrinal position of the Madhyamaka Rangtongpa (Prasangika and Svatantrika) in relation to the 'absence of self-nature' (Sanskrit: swabhava shunyata):
Though the teachings of the Nyingmapa agree that all phenomena lack a self-nature and a substance, according to many Nyingma teachings reducing voidness to a mere absence would be an instance of nihilism, and identifying absolute truth with such an absence would imply that this truth cannot account for the manifestation of Awakening, or even for the manifestation of phenomena; therefore, they explain voidness as lying in the recognition of the absence of mental constructs that is inherent in the essence of mind in which space and awareness are indivisible, and define absolute truth as consisting in the indivisibility of emptiness and appearances, or of emptiness and awareness.
The following sentence is from Mipham's famed exegesis of Shantarakshita's Madhyamakalamkara and it foregrounds the relationship between the absence of the 'four extremes' (mtha' bzhi) and the nondual or 'indivisible Two Truths' (bden pa dbyer med), the Wylie is a transcription from Doctor (2004: p.126), the first English rendering is by Doctor (2004: p.127) and the second is by Blankleder and Fletcher of the Padmakara Translation Group (2005: p.137):
- "The learned and accomplished [masters] of the Early Translations considered this simplicity beyond the four extremes, this abiding way in which the two truths are indivisible, as their own immaculate way" (Doctor, 2004: p.127).
- de lta bu'i mtha' bzhi'i spros bral bden pa dbyer med kyi gnas lugs 'di la snga 'gyur gyi mkhas grub rnams kyis rang lugs dri ma med par bzung nas (Doctor, 2004: p.126).
- "The learned and accomplished masters of the Old Translation school take as their stainless view the freedom from all conceptual constructs of the four extremes, the ultimate reality of the two truths inseparably united" (Padmakara Translation Group, 2005: p.137).
Tantra and Dzogchen texts and praxis in the Nyingma tradition
With the advent of the transmission of Sarma traditions into Tibet, various proponents of the new systems cast aspersions on the Indic origins of much of the Nyingma esoteric corpus. Indic origin was an important component of perceived legitimacy at the time. As a result, much of the Nyingma esoteric corpus was excluded from the Tengyur, a compilation of texts by Buton Rinchen Drub that became the established canon for the Sarma traditions.
In response, the Nyingmapas organized their esoteric corpus, comprising mostly Mahayoga, Atiyoga (Dzogchen) Mind class Semde and Space Class (Longde) texts, into an alternate collection, called the Nyingma Gyubum (the Hundred Thousand Tantras of the Ancient School, Wylie: rnying ma rgyud ‘bum). Generally, the Gyubum contains Kahma (Wylie: (bka' ma) and very little terma (Wylie: gter ma). The third class of Atiyoga, the Secret Oral Instructions (Menngagde), are mostly terma texts.
Various editions of the Gyubum are extant, but one typical version is the thirty-six Tibetan-language folio volumes published by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche in New Delhi, 1974. It contains:
- 10 volumes of Ati Yoga (Dzogchen)
- 3 volumes of Anu Yoga
- 6 volumes of the tantra Section of Mahayoga
- 13 volumes of the sadhana Section of Mahayoga
- 1 volume of protector tantras
- 3 volumes of catalogues and historical background
There are 'eighteen great tantras' (Wylie: bshad pa dang cha mthun gyi rgyud tantra sde bco brgyad) at the heart of the 'Mahayoga' (Wylie: rnal 'byor chen po) tradition, grouped into 'five root tantras' (Wylie: rtsa ba sku gsung thugs yon tan phrin las kyi rgyud chen po lnga), 'five practice tantras' (Wylie: sgrub pa lag len du bstan pa rol pa' rgyud chen po lnga), and 'five activity tantras' (Wylie: spyod pa'i yan lag tu 'gro ba'i rgyud chen po lnga), and the 'two supplementary tantras' (Wylie: ma tshang kha bskong ba'i rgyud chen po gnyis). Together they are known as the Māyājāla. The "Guhyagarbha Tantra" (Wylie: rDo rje sems dpa' sgyu 'phrul drwa ba; gSang ba snying po) is the foremost of all of these and it abridges the content of the seventeen others.
"Eighteen" Texts of the Mind Division (Semde)
The mind class (semde) of Dzogchen was also said to comprise eighteen tantras, although the formulation eventually came to include slightly more. The Kunjed Gyalpo (Sanskrit: Kulayarāja Tantra; The All-Creating King) Tantras is the most significant of the group and is taken to be the primary or root tantra of the Mind Series. The first five are the "Five Earlier Translated Tantras", translated by Vairotsana. The next thirteen were translated primarily by Vimalamitra.
Yidam practice & protectors
The foremost deities practiced by the Nyingma masters are Vajrakīla (Tib. Dorje Phurba) and Vajra Heruka (also Vishuddha Heruka; Tib. Yangdak Tratung, Wylie: yang dag khrag 'thung), the third of the Eight Herukas who closely resembles Śrī Heruka of the Chakrasamvara tantra. The three principle protectors of the Nyingma lineage are said to be Ekajaṭī, Rāhula and Vajrasādhu.
Termas and tertons
The appearance of terma ("hidden treasures") is of particular significance to the Nyingma tradition. Although there have been a few Kagyupa "tertons" (treasure revealers) and the practice is endemic to the Bönpo as well, the vast majority of Tibetan Buddhist tertons have been Nyingmapas. It is held that past masters, principally Padmasambhava, secreted objects and hid teachings for discovery by later tertons at appropriate and auspicious times such that the teaching would be beneficial. These teachings may be physically discovered, often in rocks and caves, or they may be "mind terma," appearing directly within the mindstream of the terton.
Padmasambhava and his main disciples hid hundreds of scriptures, ritual objects and relics in secret places to protect Buddhism during the time of decline under King Langdarma. These termas were later rediscovered and special terma lineages were established throughout Tibet. Out of this activity developed, especially within the Nyingma tradition, two ways of dharma transmission: the so called "long" oral transmission from teacher to student in unbroken lineages and the "short" transmission of "hidden treasures". The foremost revealers of these termas were the five terton kings and the eight Lingpas.
The terma tradition had antecedents in India; Nagarjuna, for example, rediscovered the last part of the "Prajnaparamita-Sutra in one hundred thousand verses" in the realm of Naga, where it had been kept since the time of Buddha Shakyamuni.
According to Nyingma tradition, tertons are often mindstream emanations of the 25 main disciples of Padmasambhava. A vast system of transmission lineages developed through the ages. Nyingma scriptures were updated when the time was appropriate. Terma teachings guided many Buddhist practitioners to realisation and enlightenment.
The rediscovering of terma began with the first terton, Sangye Lama (1000–1080). Tertons of outstanding importance were Nyangral Nyima Oser (1124–1192), Guru Chowang (1212–1270), Rigdzin Godem (1307–1408), Pema Lingpa (1450–1521), Migyur Dorje (1645–1667), Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820–1892) and Orgyen Chokyur Lingpa (1829–1870). In the 19th century some of the most famous were the Khen Kong Chok Sum referring to Jamyang Khyentse, Jamgon Kongtrul and Chokgyur Lingpa.
Various traditions and important historical figures
It is generally agreed that Rongzom Pandita, Longchenpa and Ju Mipham are three of the greatest scholars in the history of the Nyingma lineage. Also important in establishing the modern curriculum was Khenpo Shenga.
During the ages, many great scholars and tantric Masters appeared within the Nyingma lineage. Most famous of all is the master and scholar Longchenpa (Longchen Rabjam), who, along with Rongzom Pandita, and Jigme Lingpa are known as kun kyen or "omniscient ones" - a rare title denoting doctrinal infallibility. He wrote many scriptures on the whole Nyingma-dharma. He is especially known for his presentation of the Nyingma philosophical view, that of Dzogchen in particular. His main works are the "seven treasuries" (Dzö dün), "three cycles of relaxation" (Ngalso Korsum), "three cycles of natural liberation" (Rangdröl Korsum) and the three "inner essences" (Yangtig Namsum). Longchen Rabjam also systematized the transmission of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, in a collection of texts called "The Four-fold Heart Essence" (Nyingthig Yabzhi).
Jigme Lingpa (1730-1798) and the Longchen Nyingthig
Jigme Lingpa further condensed the Nyingthig Yabzhi of Longchenpa into a cycle of termas called the Longchen Nyingthig, or "Heart Essence of the Vast Expanse". The Nyingthig Yabshi and the Longchen Nyingthig are known, respectively, as the earlier and later "heart essence." The Longchen Nyingthig became both the foundation of the main Dzogchen teachings in the contemporary period and of the Rime movement. Jigme Lingpa's teaching lineage flourished in Kham (eastern Tibet) around Dege, and after his death three incarnations were recognised as being his emanations: Do Khyentse (1800?-1859?), Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, (1820–1892) and Patrul Rinpoche, (1808–1887), all of whom were central to the Rime movement. In Bhutan popularly known as Lhoman, the teaching have been flourished by Jigme kundrel (the first Yongla Lama) and successive incarnation of Padtshaling Trulku. Both the first Padtshaling Trulku Drubtob Namgyel Lhundrub (1716-1786) and second Padtshaling Trulku Jigme Tenpai Gyaltshen( 1788-1850) were student of Ringzin Jigme Lingpa.
The Rinchen Terdzod (Tibetan: རིན་ཆེན་གཏེར་མཛོད།, Wylie: rin chen gter mdzod) is the most important collection of terma treasure to Nyingmapas today. This collection is the assemblage of thousands of the most important terma texts from all across Tibet made by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, at the behest of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo in the 19th century.
Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso (1846–1912)
Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso (“Mipham the Great”) was born into an aristocratic family in 1846 in Kham, a province of eastern Tibet. His name, Mipham Gyatso, means “Unconquerable Ocean,” and as a scholar and meditator he was so accomplished that he was enthroned as an emanation of the Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom. As such, he was asked to compose a definitive articulation of the philosophical outlook of the Nyingma lineage. This had never been systematized in the manner of the other four lineages and, as a result, was vulnerable to attack by hostile scholars.
As requested, Mipham Rinpoche composed authoritative works on both the Sutra and Vajrayana teachings as understood in the Nyingma tradition, writing particularly extensively on dzogchen. He is said to have composed these vast works effortlessly. They reinvigorated and revitalized the Nyingma lineage enormously, and he soon became one of the most renowned lamas in Tibet, attracting disciples from all traditions, many of whom became lineage holders. Mipham's works have become the foundation of study for not only the Nyingma lineage, but the Kagyu lineage as well. They hold a central position in all Nyingma monasteries and monastic colleges. Along with Longchenpa, he is considered the source of the Nyingma doctrine.
Six mother monasteries
Tradition has held that there are six monasteries known as "mother monasteries" of the Nyingma lineage, although there have been slightly different formulations of the six. At one time they included Dorje Drak, Mindrolling monastery and Palri monastery in Upper Tibet; and Kathok, Palyul and Dzogchen monasteries in Lower Tibet. After the decline of Chongye Palri Thegchog Ling monastery and the flourishing of Shechen, the mother monasteries became Dorje Drak and Mindrolling in the upper region, Shechen and Dzogchen in the center, and Kathok and Palyul in the lower part of Tibet. Dodrubchen is often substituted for Kathok in the list. Out of these "main seats of the Nyingma" developed a large number of Nyingma monasteries throughout Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal.
Also of great importance to the Nyingma lineage is Samye, the first Tibetan monastery, founded by Shantarakshita.
Contemporary lineage teachers
Authentic contemporary Nyingma teachers include His Holiness Trulshik Rinpoche, His Holiness Chatral Rinpoche, His Holiness Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche, Kyabje Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche, Kyabje Dodrupchen Rinpoche, Kyabje Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, Yangthang Rinpoche, Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, filmmaker Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche (son of H.H. Thinley Norbu Rinpoche), Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, Lama Gonpo Tseten, Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, Jigme Lodro Rinpoche, Terton Orgyen Kusum Lingpa, Sogyal Rinpoche, The Fifth Padtshaling Trulku Pema kunzang Tenzin Jamtsho (1960), Palden Sherab Rinpoche, Khenpo Sherab Sangpo, Garab Dorje Rinpoche (son of H.H. Thinley Norbu Rinpoche), Khentrul Lodro Thaye Rinpoche, Chamtrul Rinpoche and Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche, among others.
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- ^ Germano, David (March 25, 2002). A Brief History of Nyingma Literature. Source:  (accessed: Wednesday July 23, 2008)
- ^ Barber, A. W.(1990). The Unifying of Rdzogs Pa Chen Po and Ch'an. Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal. Vol.3, 04.1990. PP.301-317. Source:  (accessed: October 20, 2007).
- ^ Council of Lhasa A Dictionary of Buddhism
- ^ Yamaguchi, Zuihō (undated). The Core Elements of Indian Buddhism Introduced into Tibet: A Contrast with Japanese Buddhism. Source:  (accessed: October 20, 2007)
- ^ Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism (Volume One), page 70
- ^ Masao Ichishima, "Sources of Tibetan Buddhist Meditation." Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol. 2, (1982), pp. 121-122, published by University of Hawai'i Press.
- ^ Reynolds, John. http://vajranatha.com/teaching/DzogchenChinese.htm (accessed: November 18, 2010)
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- ^ "Where do Commentarial Schools come from? Reflections on the History of Tibetan Scholasticism" by Dreyfus, Georges. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies Vol. 28, Nr 2 2006. pgs 273-297
- ^ "Where do Commentarial Schools come from? Reflections on the History of Tibetan Scholasticism" by Dreyfus, Georges. Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies Vol. 28, Nr 2 2006. pgs 273-297
- ^ Review by Robert Mayer of Mipham’s Dialectics and the Debates on Emptiness: To Be, Not to Be or Neither. Buddhist Studies Review 23(2) 2006, 268
- ^ Rinpoche, Dzogchen (2007). Taming the Mindstream in Wolter, Doris (ed.) "Losing the Clouds, Gaining the Sky: Buddhism and the Natural Mind." Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0861713591 p.89 Source:  (accessed: July 29, 2008)
- ^ Capriles, Elías (2003). Buddhism and Dzogchen: The Doctrine of the Buddha and the Supreme Vehicle of Tibetan Buddhism. Part One Buddhism: A Dzogchen Outlook. Source:  (accessed: Saturday, August 23, 2008) p.1004
- ^ Doctor, Thomas H. (trans.) Mipham, Jamgon Ju.(author)(2004). Speech of Delight: Mipham's Commentary of Shantarakshita's Ornament of the Middle Way. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1559392177, p.127
- ^ Doctor, Thomas H. (trans.) Mipham, Jamgon Ju.(author)(2004). Speech of Delight: Mipham's Commentary of Shantarakshita's Ornament of the Middle Way. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1559392177, p.126
- ^ Shantarakshita (author); Mipham (commentator); Padmakara Translation Group (translators)(2005). The Adornment of the Middle Way: Shantarakshita's Madhyamakalankara with commentary by Jamgön Mipham. Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Shambhala Publications, Inc. ISBN 1-59030-241-9 (alk. paper), p.137
- Dudjom Rinpoche and Jikdrel Yeshe Dorje. The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: its Fundamentals and History. Two Volumes. 1991. Translated and edited by Gyurme Dorje with Matthew Kapstein. Wisdom Publications, Boston. ISBN 0-86171-087-8
- Dargyay, Eva M. (author) & Wayman, Alex (editor)(1998). The Rise of Esoteric Buddhism in Tibet. Second revised edition, reprint.Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt Ltd. Buddhist Tradition Series Vol.32. ISBN 81-208-1579-3 (paper)
- Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. The Opening of the Dharma. Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala 1974
- Keith Dowman. Skydancer - The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyal. Snow Lion Publ., Ithaca-New York 1996, ISBN 1-55939-065-4
- Ngawang Zangpo. Guru Rinpoché - His Life and Times. Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca-New York 2002, ISBN 1-55939-174-X
- Sogyal Rinpoche. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, ISBN 0-06-250834-2
- Dudjom Lingpa. Buddhahood Without Meditation, A Visionary Account known as Refining Apparent Phenomena. Padma Publishing, Junction City 1994, ISBN 1-881847-07-1
- Reynolds, John Myrdhin, Self-Liberation through seeing with naked awareness. Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca-New York 2000, ISBN 1-55939-144-8
- Longchen Rabjam. A Treasure Trove of Scriptural Transmission, a Commentary on The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena. Padma Publishing, Junction City 2001, ISBN 1-881847-30-6
- Longchen Ragjam. The Practice of Dzogchen. Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca-New York 1996, ISBN 1-55939-054-9
- Longchen Rabjam. The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena. Padma Publishing, Junction City 2001, ISBN 1-881847-32-2
- Longchen Rabjam. The Precious Treasury of the Way of Abiding. Padma Publishing, Junction City 1998, ISBN 1-881847-09-8
- Longchenpa. You Are the Eyes of the World. Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca-New York 2000, ISBN 1-55939-140-5
- Manjushrimitra. Primordial Experience, An Introduction to Dzogchen Meditation. Shambhala Publications, Boston & London 2001, ISBN 1-57062-898-X
- Nudan Dorje, James Low. Being Right Here - A Dzogchen Treasure Text of Nuden Dorje entitled The Mirror of Clear Meaning. Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca-New York 2004, ISBN 1-55939-208-8
- Padmasambhava. Advice from the Lotus-Born. Rangjung Yeshe Publications, Hong-Kong 1994, ISBN 962-7341-20-7
- Padmasambhava. Natural Liberation - Padmasambhava's Teachings on the Six Bardos. Wisdom Publications, Boston 1998, ISBN 0-86171-131-9
- Reynolds, John Myrdhin. The Golden Letters. Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca New York 1996, ISBN 1-55939-050-6
- Kathok Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism
- Nyingma Trust headed by Tarthang Tulku
- Nyingma Institute headed by Tharthang Tulku, with centres in Berkeley, Amsterdam and Rio de Janeiro
- Zangthal Translations of Tibetan texts into English.
- Padmasambhava Buddhist Center Headed by Kenchen Palden Sherab and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal with centers around the world and Padma Samye Ling Retreat Center and Monastery in Sidney Center, New York.
-  Bodhicitta Sangha - a Minnesota based dharma center
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