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Nyingma Buddhism account in Bhutan

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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 Buddhism originally finds its root in India and it is generally divided into two great schools: the Mahayana meaning Greater Vehicle and Hinayana meaning Lesser Vehicle. These days Hinayana is more popularly known as Theravada.

The Sanskrit word Yana meaning vehicle, suggests a path which leads sentient beings to higher states depending on their deeds. Bhutan is the only independent Mahayana country in the world today. Buddhism set its foot in the country in the 7th century when A.D, when the first two temples of Kyichu in Paro and Jampa in Bumthang were built in the first half of the 7th Century by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo.

However, the major growth of Buddhism started only in the 8th Century with the visit of Indian saint, Padmasambhava, popularly known as Guru Rinpoche in Bhutan. His teachings laid the foundation for one of the most important and unifying forces in the development of Bhutan’s unique culture and tradition. Now the country’s religion has become its way of life.

From the 13th century onwards, many religious masters came to Bhutan from Tibet and spread the teachings of their schools such as Sakyapa, Drukpa Kagyudpa, Chagzampa, Kathogpa and Nyingmapa. Many of these schools were able to establish only small temples and in the course of time merged with other schools. Today, Drukpa Kagyudpa and Nyingmapa are the two most prominent schools in Bhutan.

The introduction of Buddhism occurred in the seventh century A.D., when Tibetan king Srongtsen Gampo (reigned A.D. 627-49), a convert to Buddhism, ordered the construction of two Buddhist temples, at Bumthang in central Bhutan and at Kyichu in the Paro Valley. This had laid foundation of Bhudha dharma in Bhutan.

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In A.D. 747, a Buddhist saint, Padmasambhava (known in Bhutan as Guru Rinpoche and sometimes referred to as the Second Buddha), came to Bhutan from India at the invitation of one of the numerous local kings. After reportedly subduing eight classes of demons and converting the king, Guru Rinpoche moved on to Tibet. Upon his return from Tibet, he oversaw the construction of new monasteries in the Paro Valley and set up his headquarters in Bumthang.

According to tradition, he founded the Nyingmapa sect - also known as the "old sect" or Red Hat sect - of Mahayana Buddhism, which became for a time the dominant religion of Bhutan. Guru Rinpoche plays a great historical and religious role as the national patron saint who revealed the tantras - manuals describing forms of devotion to natural energy - to Bhutan.

After Guru Rinpoche, his Nyingma teachings were preserved and spread by his reincarnations and treasures revealers in Bhutan. Since then, many sub-sect of Nyingma teachings were flourished in Bhutan, such as Longchen Nyingthig, teaching of Kunkhyen Longchen Ramjam, Pedling, the revealed treasures of Terton Pema Lingpa, Dorling, the revealed treasure teaching of Terton Dorji Lingpa, Dudjom terser teaching, discovered teachings of Dudjom Rinpoche, Jangter teachings of Namkhia Nyingpo Rinpoche and other holders of treasures teachings are dominant in Bhutan today.

Khenlop Chesum- Khenpo, Guru and King

Brief Account of Nyingma tradition of Buddhism:

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The Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism traces its origin to the Indian adept, Guru Padmasambhava, who came to Tibet in 817 C.E. at the invitation of King Trisong Deutsan (742-797) in order to subdue the evil forces then impeding the spread of Buddhism. Guru Rinpochey, as he is popularly known, bound all evil spirits by oath and transformed them into forces compatible with the spread of Buddhism. In collaboration with the great Bodhisattva Abbot Shantarakshita, Guru Rinpoche then built Samye monastery, which became a principal centre of learning and the site where many of the texts that would make up Tibet's vast Buddhist literature were first translated into Tibetan.

Guru Rinpoche also gave widespread teachings from the highest classes of tantra and in particular to his twenty-five principal disciples. These first Tibetan adepts are renowned for their spiritual accomplishments, for example, Namkhai Nyingpo for his feat of travelling on beams of light, Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal for reviving the dead, Vairochana for his intuition, Nanam Yeshe for soaring in the sky, Kawa Peltseg for reading others thought and Jnana Kumara for his miraculous powers.

Contemporary Indian masters Vimalamitra, Buddhaguhya, Shantipa and the tantric adept, Dharmakirti, also came to Tibet and spread tantric teachings. So, although the study of logic and Buddhist philosophy was not yet prevalent, the practice of tantra in extreme secrecy was much favoured. Even the work of translating such esoteric texts as Kun-byed rgyal-po, mDo-dgougs-'dus and the Mahamaya cycle of teachings by Vairochana, Nyag Jnana Kumara, Nubchen Sangye Yeshe and others, was carried out In great secrecy.

Seeing the disciples unripe and the time inappropriate for many of the other teachings he had to reveal, Guru Padmasambhava hid hundreds of Treasures in the forms of scriptures, images and ritual articles, in air, Cave Mountains, river and lands, with instructions for their revelation for the benefit of future generations. Subsequently, more than one hundred masters have revealed these Treasures and taught them to their disciples. So, besides the tantric teachings, it is these lineages of revealed teachings combined with the Great Completion or Dzogchen doctrine taught and disseminated successively by Garab Dorje, Shri Simha, Guru Rinpoche, Jnana Sutra, Vimala Mitra, which are distinguished In Tibet as Nyingma doctrine


The Nyingma tradition divides the entire Buddhist teachings into Nine Vehicles:

the Three Common Vehicles comprising the Hearer, Solitary Realizer, and Bodhisattva vehicles dealing with those categories of teachings included in the sutras taught by Buddha Shakyamuni;

the Three Outer Tantras consisting of Kriya Tantra which places greater emphasis on practicing proper external behavior, physical and verbal conduct aimed at purification and simple visualization practice;

Upa Tantra which lays more emphasis on developing both external and internal faculties with the goal of achieving a deeper affinity with the meditational deity; and Yoga Tantra, which I mainly aimed at developing the strength of inner psychophysical vitality as taught by Vajrasattva.

Finally, the Three Innermost Tantras comprising Mahayoga, primarily emphasising the Generation Stage practice in which the ordinary level of perception and attachment are eliminated through sacred vision and divine pride;

the Annuyoga, emphasising Completion Stage practice in which the vajra body is used as a serviceable means to actualize primordial awareness and the Atiyoga, in which all emphasis is directed towards full activation of the generation and completion stage practices, enabling the yogi to transcend all ordinary time, activity and experience, as taught by Samantabhadra Buddha.

The first six of these nine vehicles are common to all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, whereas the last three, the Innermost Tantras, are exclusive to the Nyingma tradition.

Due to the slightly different approaches of various lineages in presenting Dzogchen three sub-schools have developed: The Mind School (Sems-sde) is attributed to Shrisimha and Vairochana's lineage, the Centredness School (kLong-sde) is attributed to Longde Dorje Zampa, and Shrisimha and Vairochana's lineage, whereas the Quintessential Instruction School (Man-ngag-sde) is attributed directly to Guru Padmasambhava's lineage of the Heart's Drop (sNying-thig) cycle of teachings and practice. Although Dzogchen is the unique feature of Nyingma practice, even among the lay followers the practice of reciting Guru Rinpoche's prayers, observing the 10th and 25th of every lunar month as a day for feast offerings, and even retiring into retreat for three years and three months individually or in company are common.


According to the history of the origin of tantras there are three lineages: The Lineage of Buddha's Intention, which refers to the teachings of the Truth Body originating from the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra, who is said to have taught tantras to an assembly of completely enlightened beings emanated from the Truth Body itself. Therefore, this level of teaching is considered as being completely beyond the reach of ordinary human beings. The Lineage of the Knowledge Holders corresponds to the teachings of the Enjoyment Body originating from Vajrasattva and Vajrapani, whose human lineage begins with Garab Dorje of the Ögyan Dakini land.

From him the lineage passed to Manjushrimitra, Shrisimha and then to Guru Rinpoche, Jnanasutra, Vimalamitra and Vairochana who disseminated it in Tibet. Lastly, the Human Whispered Lineage corresponds to the teachings of the Emanation Body, originating from the Five Buddha Families. They were passed on to Shrisimha, who transmitted them to Guru Rinpoche, who in giving them to Vimalamitra started the lineage which has continued in Tibet until the present day.

This last mode of transmission is most commonly employed for ordinary people. However, the former two lineages may still exist amongst the highly realized Dzogchen masters.

There is yet another tradition which enumerates six lineages for the origin of the tantras by adding: the Commissioned Instruction Lineage (bK'a-babs lung-bstan-gyi-btgyud-pa), the Treasure Doctrine Lineage of the Fortunate One's (Las-'phrn gter-gyi-brgyud- pa) and the Lineage of Trustees Established through Prayers (sMon-lam gtad-rgya'i-brgyud-pa).

The Nyingma tantric iterature and its transmission are classified into three groups:

the Oral,

Treasures, and


These three may be further subsumed under two categories:

the Oral comprising primarily the tantras and associated texts belonging to the cycle of Mahayoga tantras; the root and explanatory tantra belonging to the cycle of Annuyoga tantras; and finally, the Atiyoga or Dzogchen cycle of tantras.


The Treasure transmission comprises the innumerable treasure texts revealed by subsequent Treasure Masters, which were hidden by Guru Rinpoche himself in 9th century as well as numerous teachings later revealed through enlightened minds and meditative visions of Nyingma masters. Hundreds of masters have appeared who have revealed treasures. Among them, Nyangral Nyima Özer (1124-92), Guru Chowang (1212-70), Dorje Lingpa (1346-1405), Padma Lingpa (b.1405) and Jamyang Khyentse (1820-1892) are renowned as the Five Kings of the Treasure Masters. Their revealed treasures concern, among others, the cycle of teachings and meditations related to Avalokiteshvara, Guru Rinpoche's sadhanas, the Dzogchen teachings, the Kagy cycle of teachings, the Vajrakila or Phurba cycle of teachings, medicine and prophecies.

Hence, in addition to the standard Mahayana Buddhist canon of the Kangyur and Tangyur, many further teachings may be found in the Collection of a Hundred Thousand Nyingma Tantras, compiled in thirteenth century by Tertön Ratna Lingpa (1403-1473) and organized by Kunkhyen Longchen Ramjampa (1308-1363). Besides this, numerous works such as the sixty volumes of the Rinchen Terdzod compiled by Kongtrul Yonten Gyatso (1813-1899) and the writings of Rongzom, Dodrupchen, Paltrul, Mipham and many others have added to the rich collection of Nyingma literature. The oldest Nyingma institution is Samye temple completed in 810 C.F. by Shantarakshita and Guru Padmasambhava under the patronage of King Trisong Deutsan.

Subsequently, no big monasteries were built until the 12th century, when Nechung Monastery was built in Central Tibet by Chokpa Jangchub Palden and Kathok Monastery was founded in Kham by Ka Dampa Desheg (1112-92) in 1159. This is an indication that unlike the other Buddhist traditions the Nyingmapa did not become institutionalized until much later in their history.

However, later on in Tibet starting from the 15th century onwards, great monastic universities were built, such as Mindroling, founded in 1676 by Rigzin Terdag Lingpa, otherwise known as Minling Terchen Gyurmed Dorje (1646-1714) and Dorje Drag founded in 1659 by Rigzin Ngagi Wangpo in central Tibet; and Palyul established by Rigzin Kunsang Sherab in 1665; Dzogchen built by Dzogchen Pema Rigzin in 1685 and Zhechen established by Zhechen Rabjampa in 1735, all in Kham province. Dodrupchen and Darthang monasteries were established in Amdo.

Principal monastic institutions re-established in exile, after occupation of Tibet are Thekchok Namdrol Shedrub Dargye Ling, in Bylakuppe, Karnataka, Ngedon Gatsal Ling, in Clementown, Dehradun; Palyul Chokhor Ling and E-Vam Gyurmed Ling in Bir, and Nechung Drayang Ling at Dharamsala, and Thubten E-vam Dorjey Drag at Shimla in Himachal Pradesh, India.

The Nyingma tradition is presently headed by, Taglung Tsetrul Rinpoche who succeeds the line of vajra president of Nyingma lineage. The passed Nyingma heads include, Dudjom Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Penor Rinpoche, Minling Trichen Rinpoche, Trulzhig Rinpochey, and Dodrupchen and Jadrel Rinpoches are some of the living Nyingma spiritual masters.