From Buddha World

Guru Rinpoche - Padmasambhava
Guru Rinpoche - Padmasambhava

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 the "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. 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 ones 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.


Around 760, King Trisong Detsen invited Padmasambhava and the Nalanda University abbot Shantarakshita (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, Shantarakshita, 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.

25 disciples

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.

Early period

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.

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 orgins 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 Mayayoga, 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).[5] 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

Eighteen great tantras of Mahayoga

There are 'eighteen great tantras' (Wylie: bshad pa dang cha mthun gyi rgyud tantra sde bco brgyad) at the heart of the Mantrayana '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. They are as follows: 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 as follows:

Root tantras:

  • Equalizing Buddhahood (the tantra of the body) (Wylie: Sangs rgyas mnyam sbyor gyi rtsa ba mkha' 'gro ma bde mchog rtsa ba'i rgyud)
  • The Secret Moon, (the tantra of speech) (Wylie: dPal Zla gsang thig le rtsa ba'i rgyud)
  • The Assembly of Secrets (Guhyasamaja Tantra) (the tantra of mind) (Wylie: dPal gSang ba 'dus pa)
  • The Glorious Supreme Primal Tantra (the tantra of qualities) (Wylie: dPal mchog dang po)
  • The Activity Garland Tantra (the tantra of activities) (Wylie: Kar ma ma le)

Practice tantras:

  • The Heruka Practice Tantra (Wylie: He ru ka rol pa'i rgyud)
  • The Hayagriva Supreme Practice Tantra (Wylie: rTa mchog rol pa'i rgyud)
  • The Compassion Tantra (Wylie: sNying rje rol pa'i rgyud)
  • The Nectar Practice Tantra (Wylie: bDud rtsi rol pa'i rgyud)
  • The Arising of the Twelve Kilayas Tantra (Wylie: Byit to ta ma rol pa'i rgyud; Phur pa bcu gnyis)

Activity Tantras:

  • The Mountain Pile (Wylie: Go 'phang dbang gis bgrod pa ri bo brtsegs pa'i rgyud)
  • The Awesome Wisdom Lightning (Wylie: La spyod pas dor ba rngam pa glog gi 'khor lo'i rgyud)
  • The Array of Samayas (Wylie: gZhi dam tshigs gis bzung ba bkod pa rgyal po'i rgyud)
  • The One-Pointed Samadhi (Wylie: Nyams su ting 'dzin gyis blangs pa rtse gcig bsdus pa'i rgyud)
  • The Rampant Elephant (Wylie: 'Phang lta bas bcad pa glang po rab 'bog gi rgyud)

Last Tantras that complete whatever is incomplete:

  • The Vairochana Net of Magical Display (Wylie: rNam par snang mdzad sgyu 'phrul drwa ba'i rgyud)
  • The Noble, Skilful Lasso, the Concise Lotus Garland (Wylie: Thabs kyi zhags pa pad mo'i phreng ba'i rgyud)

"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. Tantras belonging to the Mind Division include:

  • Rigpa'i Khuchug (Cuckoo of Presence)
  • Tsalchen Trugpa (Great Potency)
  • Khyungchen Dingwa (Great Garuda in Flight)
  • Dola Serzhun (Refining Gold from Ore)
  • Minubpa'i Gyaltshen Dorje Sempa Namkhache (The Victory Banner that Does Not Wane - Total Space of Vajrasattva)
  • Tsemo Chung-gyal (Supreme Peak)
  • Namkha'i Gyalpo (King of Space)
  • Dewa Thrulkod (Jewel-Encrusted Bliss Ornament)
  • Dzogpa Chiching (All-Encompassing Perfection)
  • Changchub Semtig (Essence of Bodhicitta)
  • Dewa Rabjam (Infinite Bliss)
  • Sog-gi Khorlo (Wheel of Life)
  • Thigle Trugpa (Six Spheres)
  • Dzogpa Chichod (All-Penetrating Perfection)
  • Yidzhin Norbu (Wish-Fulfilling Jewel)
  • Kundu Rigpa (All-unifying Pure Presence)
  • Jetsun Tampa (Supreme Lord)
  • Gonpa Tontrub (The Realization of the True Meaning of Meditation)
  • Kunjed Gyalpo (Sanskrit: Kulayarāja Tantra; The All-Creating King)
  • Medchung Gyalpo (Wonderous King)
  • Dochu (The Ten Concluding Teachings)

Of these, the first five are the "Five Earlier Translated Tantras", translated by Vairotsana. The next thirteen were translated primarily by Vimalamitra. Of the remaining three, the Kunjed Gyalpo is taken to be the primary or root tantra of the Mind Series.

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 or "whispered 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 incarnations 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. Orgyen Kusum Lingpa is a living terton.