From Encyclopedia of Buddhism
(Redirected from Nyingmapa)
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is a modified clone.
It is a copy of a Wikipedia article that we have modified in some way. But we have not vetted all the content on this page.
Vetting Image fair use 60x35px.png
Padmasambhava. Wall painting at Paro bridge (Bhutan).
Tibetan name
Tibetan རྙིང་མ་
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 紅教
Simplified Chinese 红教

The Nyingma (Tib. རྙིང་མ་, Wyl. rnying ma) school is one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Nyingma, or Ancient ones, are the followers of those original translations of the teachings of the Buddha into Tibetan which were carried out up until the time of the Indian translator Smrtijñanakirti in the late tenth century. They are known as the ‘Earlier Translation School‘, Ngagyur Nyingma (Wyl. snga 'gyur rnying ma), distinguishing them from the ‘New Schools’, Sarma, such as the Kadam, Kagyü, Sakya, and eventually Geluk, which followed the later translations made from the time of the great translator Rinchen Zangpo (958-1055) onwards.

The "Nyingma" school is founded on the first translations of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into Old Tibetan in the eighth century. The Tibetan alphabet and grammar was created for this endeavour.

The Nyingma school comprises several distinct lineages that all trace their origins to the Indian master Padmasambhava. Traditionally, Nyingmapa practice was advanced orally among a loose network of lay practitioners. Monasteries with celibate monks and nuns, along with the practice of reincarnated spiritual leaders are later adaptations.[1]

Distinct features of the Nyingma school include the terma tradition and the practice of Dzogchen.


Statue of Padmasambhava, a central figure of the Nyingma tradition, Bhutan.

A Scholar, a Yogi, and a Dharma King

Traditionally, the Nyingma school identifies three main figures with the origins of the Nyingma tradition: Shantarakshita (a scholar), Padmasambhava (a great tantric yogi), and King Trisong Detsen (the Dharma king).

According to the traditional account:

In the eighth century, while the great Buddhist traditions were flourishing in India, King Trisong Detsen invited the great Abbot Shantarakshita to establish Buddhism in Tibet. The King worked with Shantarakshita in establishing Buddhism, but they soon faced hindrances to their work. At Shantarakshita’s suggestion, the King of Tibet invited Padmasambhava to Tibet, requesting him to pacify the negative and obstructing forces. Through his compassion and wisdom, Padmasambhava overcame these obstacles, and genuine Buddhism was successfully transplanted in Tibet .

Together with the great bodhisattva, Abbot Shantarakshita, Padmasambhava built the renowned Samye monastery (in Southern Tibet), which became a principal center of learning, where most of the Sanskrit texts and literature from India were first translated into Tibetan. Under the guidance of Padmasambhava, Shantarakshita, and the Dharma King Trisong Detsen, the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni, as well as the commentaries of the Indian masters of Nalanda University and other places were fully translated into Tibetan at Samye.[2]

Systematization and growth

File:Kunkhyen Longchenpa.jpg
Longchenpa, wall painting of Namdroling Monastery.

Longchen Rabjampa, Drimé Özer (Longchenpa, 1308-1364, possibly 1369) is a central thinker and poet in Nyingma thought and Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. He is mainly known for his systematized integration and exposition of the major textual cycles such as the Menngagde in his various writings, which by his time had become central texts in the Nyingma tradition.[3] His main writings include the Seven Treasuries (mdzod bdun), the "Trilogy of Natural Freedom" (rang grol skor gsum), the "Trilogy that Clears Darkness" ("mun sel skor gsum"), and the Trilogy of Natural Ease (ngal gso skor gsum).

The 14th and 15th centuries saw the work of many tertons such as Orgyen Lingpa (1323–1360), Pema Lingpa (1346–1405), Sangye Lingpa (1340–1396) and Ratna Lingpa (1403–1479).[4] Another key figure was Karma Lingpa (1326–1386), who wrote down an important work called "Profound Dharma of Self-Liberation through the Intention of the Peaceful and Wrathful Ones" which includes the two texts of the bar-do thos-grol, the "Tibetan Book of the Dead".[5]

Lochen Dharmaśrī (1654–1717) wrote important commentaries on the Guhyagarbha tantra and his brother Terdak Lingpa (1646–1714) was the founder of the Mindrolling Monastery in 1670, one of the six major Nyingma monasteries.[6]

A later seminal figure in the development of the Nyingma system was Jigme Lingpa (1730-1798) "the greatest treasure finder of the eighteenth century",[7] whose Longchen Nyingthig ("The Heart-essence of the Vast Expanse") is a systematization of the path which is one of the most widely used Nyingma Dzogchen teachings today.[8]

Rime and the rise of scholasticism

In 1848, the Nyingma monastic college of Dzogchen Shri Sengha (rdzogs chen srwi sengha), was founded in Kham by a charismatic teacher, Zhanphan Thaye (gzhan phan mtha' yas, 1800-), in association with the active participation of Do Kyentse (rndo mkhyen rtse). According to Georges Dreyfus, the Nyingma school had traditionally "relied on non-ordained tantric practitioners to transmit its teachings through authorized lineages."[9] The foundation of this monastic school was a major shift in the Nyingma tradition, and is seen as a response to the growth of the Gelug school's hegemony which was based on a well organized system of monastic scholasticism and education.[9] The sort of study and learning in this monastery was mostly based on exegetical commentary, a contrast to the more debate based Gelug education. In this way, the Nyingma school revilatized itself and presented itself as a legitimate rival to the Gelug school.[9]

The 19th century also saw the rise of the non-sectarian 'Rime' movement, led by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892) and Jamgön Kongtrül (1813-1899) which sought to collect and print the teachings of the Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma schools in response to the hegemonic influence of the Gelug school.[10]

Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso (“Mipham the Great”, 1846-1912) was born into an aristocratic family in 1846 in Kham, a province of eastern Tibet. Mipham was a student of Rime scholars like Kongtrül. Mipham composed authoritative works on both the Sutra and Vajrayana teachings as understood in the Nyingma tradition, writing extensively on Dzogchen and Madhyamaka. According to Karma Phuntsho, Mipham's work "completely revolutionised rNying ma pa scholasticism in the late nineteenth 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."[11]

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.[12]

Following in the footsteps of Mipham, Khenpo Shenga was also an important figure in the revitalization of Nyingma monastic education by establishing the study of exoteric philosophy at Dzogchen Shri Sengha [9] through the use of classic Indian texts, which include the major works of Asanga, Nagarjuna and Aryadeva.[13] Khenpo Shenga composed commentaries on these key texts and scholastic textbooks. He focused on the study of these texts as a way to avoid sectarian disputes by appealing to classic Indian material.[13]

The 19th century also saw the production of new Terma texts, particularly by Orgyen Chokgyur Lingpa (1829-1870), Péma Ösel Mongak Lingpa (1820–1892), and Dudjom Lingpa (1835–1904). Another important figure is Patrul Rinpoche (b. 1808), who wrote The Words of My Perfect Teacher, a key text on Nyingma preliminaries.

Teachings, practices, and texts


Dzogchen ("Great Perfection") is the central distinctive practice and view which is the focus of Nyingma and it is seen by this school as the supreme practice.[14] It is seen as the ultimate understanding of the nature of mind, which is known as rigpa. Dzogchen seeks to understand the nature of mind without the subtle body practices and visualizations of other tantric forms, and Dzogchen tantras state that visualization practices are inferior to Dzogchen, which directly works with the nature of the mind itself.[15] A main feature of Dzogchen is the practice of “cutting through” (khregs chod) the everyday mind and its obscurations to reach the primordial nature of mind or rigpa, which is essential purity (ka dag) and spontaneity (lhun grub), and is associated with emptiness (shunyata). The second form of Dzogchen practice is referred to as “direct approach” (thod rgal) and involves making an effort at recognizing spontaneity through the use of visions or appearances. This is said to be associated with skillful means (upaya)[16]


Preliminary practices

Like in other schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Nyingma teachers various forms of ngöndro, or preliminary practices which help prepare the mind for later meditations. These include the cultivation of "bodhicitta", the "four thoughts that turn the mind", and Vajrasattva purification practice.

Yidam practice & protectors

Deity Yoga is also a feature of Nyingma. The foremost deities (yidam) 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 (Wylie: e ka dza ti), Rāhula (Wylie: gza' ra hu la) and Dorje Legpa (Wylie: rdo rje legs pa, Sanskrit: Vajrasādhu).

Other practices

Other forms of practice like Lojong and subtle body practices such as Trul khor are also taught in Nyingma.

Nine Yānas

The nine yanas (Skt. nava-yana; Tib. ཐེག་པ་དགུ, tekpa gu), or nine vehicles refer to nine successive stages of the path within the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism.[17][18]

The 14th Dalai Lama states:

In the early translation school of the Nyingma, a system of nine yanas is taught. Three of these--the paths of the sravaka, pratyekabuddha and bodhisattva--constitute the sutra tradition, while the tantric tradition consists of six levels--the three outer tantras and the three inner tantras. The tradition of Dzogchen, or Atiyoga, is considered to be the pinnacle of these nine yanas.[19]

Patrul Rinpoche states:

Just as it is impossible for a king to travel without the aid of his courtiers, in the same way the key points of all the yanas serve as steps and supports for the Dzogchen path.[20]

Scriptural Canon

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. This means that while Nyingma accept the Tengyur scriptures they also include writings that other schools reject as not being authentic for having no Indic sources—though Sanskrit originals of some have been discovered in Nepal.[21]

Nyingma Gyubum

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).[22] 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.

Dzogchen texts

Dzogchen literature is usually divided into three categories, which more or less reflect the historical development of Dzogchen:

  1. Semde (Wylie: sems sde; Skt: cittavarga), the "Mind Series"; this category contains the earliest Dzogchen teachings from the 9th century and later. It includes texts like the Harbinger of Awareness and the Kunjed Gyalpo (Sanskrit: Kulayarāja Tantra; The Great Leveler) Tantra, the most significant of the 'mind' tantras. Twenty-one main tantras are listed, though the Great Leveler contains five of them and other similar texts are included in different recensions of the Mind Section.
  2. Longde (Wylie: klong sde; Skt: abhyantaravarga), the series of Space; dating from the 11th-14th centuries. These texts emphasize emptiness (shunyata) or spaciousness. The most important text in this division is "Samantabhadra’s Royal Tantra of All-Inclusive Vastness" (Sanskrit: Mahāvarntaprasaranirajatantranāma).[23]
  3. Menngagde (Wylie: man ngag sde, Skt: upadeshavarga), the series of secret Oral Instructions, 11th-14th centuries. This division, including the important "Seventeen tantras", focuses on two major forms of practice, kadag trekchö, "the cutting through of primordial purity", and lhündrub tögal, "the direct crossing of spontaneous presence."[24]


According to the Nyingma-tradition, 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, and for when the dharma would need revitalizing in the future. These termas were later rediscovered. 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[25] 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 nineteenth century.

See also



  1. Sherpa, Lhakpa Norbu (2008). Through a Sherpa Window: Illustrated Guide to Sherpa Culture. Kathmandu, Nepal: Vajra Publications. ISBN 978-9937-506205. 
  2. The Nyingma Lineage (Nalandabodhi)
  3. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Germano.2C_David_2005
  4. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Powers.2C_John_page_382
  5. Fremantle, Francesca (2001), Luminous Emptiness: understanding the Tibetan Book of the dead, Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, ISBN 1-57062-450-X
  6. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Duckworth.2C_Douglas_2008
  7. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named germano
  8. Buswell, Robert; Lopez, Donald S. Jr., eds. (2014), The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, Princeton University Press
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 "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
  10. Dreyfus, Georges B.J. & Sara L. McClintock (eds). The Svatantrika-Prasangika Distinction: What Difference Does a Difference Make? Wisdom Publications, 2003, p. 320
  11. 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
  12. Duckworth, Douglas; Mipam on Buddha-Nature, The Ground of the Nyingma Tradition, State University of New York Press, 2008, pg xxvi.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Duckworth, Douglas; Mipam on Buddha-Nature, The Ground of the Nyingma Tradition, State University of New York Press, 2008, pg xxi.
  14. Powers, John; Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, page 383-384
  15. Powers, John; Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, page 384
  16. Powers, John; Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, page 386-387
  17. LotsawaHouse-tag.png A Brief Presentation of the Nine Yanas
  18. Tulku Thondop 1999, p. 16.
  19. Dalai Lama 2000, p. 47.
  20. Dalai Lama 2000, p. 87.
  21. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named :0
  22. http://www.rangjung.com/gl/Nyingma_Gyubum.htm
  23. Erik Pema Kunsang; Wellsprings of the Great Perfection. Rangjung Yeshe Publication Pg. 76
  24. Schmidt, Marcia Binder (Ed.) (2002). The Dzogchen Primer: Embracing The Spiritual Path According To The Great Perfection. London, Great Britain: Shambhala Publications, Inc. ISBN 1-57062-829-7 pg. 38)
  25. https://s3.amazonaws.com/sakyong-foundation/Rinchen-Terdzo-Empowerment-List.pdf


  • Dudjom Rinpoche, 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)

Further reading



  • Dudjom Lingpa. Buddhahood Without Meditation, A Visionary Account known as Refining Apparent Phenomena. Padma Publishing, Junction City 1994, ISBN 1-881847-07-1
  • Gyatso, Janet (1999). Apparitions of the Self, the Secret Autobiographies of a Tibetan Visionary. New Jersey: New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01110-9. 
  • 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
  • Reynolds, John Myrdhin, Self-Liberation through seeing with naked awareness. Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca-New York 2000, ISBN 1-55939-144-8

External links

This article includes content from Nyingma on Wikipedia (view authors). License under CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikipedia logo