The Nyingma School, is the oldest tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Its origins go back to the eighth century reign of the Dharma King Trisong Deutsen in Tibet. During this time, with the help of Acharya Padmasambhava and Bodhisativa Shantarakshita, the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha and commentaries of the Indian scholars of Nalanda University were translated in very pure form at Samye, the first Tibetan monastery.
The Nyingma teachings are uniquely categorized in nine yanas, or vehicles. The main practices are emphasized in the three inner tantras of Maha Yoga, Anu Yoga, and Ati Yoga. Ati Yoga is also known as the Great Perfection, Dzogpa Chenpo, or simply as Dzogchen. The practice of Dzogchen is the heart of the Nyingma tradition. It is the most ancient and direct stream of wisdom within the teachings of Buddhism.
Historically, the Land of Snows had many Dharma kings who were manifestations of the Three Classes of Deities: Avalokiteshvara, Manjushri, and Vajrapani. The dharma first originated during the reign of the 28th King, Lha-Tho-Tho-Ri-Nyentsen. In 433 A.D. when he was 60, a Buddhist scripture called Pang Kong Chag Gya Pa fell onto his palace rooftops, along with a few other religious objects. During the reign of Songtsen Gampo (617-698), the 33rd King of Tibet, the Tibetan Script was created, and hundreds of temples were built, including Rasa Thrulnang. Scores of sutra teachings were translated and the rules of the divine doctrine of ten virtuous actions and the sixteen worldly principles were laid down. Tibetan history considers this period as the time when Buddhadharma was firmly established in Tibet.
History of the Nyingmapa
The 38th King, Trisong Deutsen (790-858), fully propagated the Buddha’s teaching in the whole of Tibet by inviting one hundred and eight eminent scholars and masters from India, the Land of the Aryas, including Guru Padmasambhava, Acharya Shantarakshita, Pandita Vimalamitra and so on. Vairocana, Kawa Peltseg, Chogro Lui Gyaltsen, Shang Yeshe De and many other outstanding translators translated most of the sutra and tantra teachings prevalent in India at that time. Guru Rinpoche brought through his supernatural powers, many esoteric teachings of the Unsurpassed Tantra from various places, including countries other than India and even non-human areas, for the benefit of beings in Tibet. Thus the teachings of Nine Yanas spread throughout all of Tibet like the rays of sun. During the rule of Tri Relpachen (866-901) the 41st King, the previously translated works were edited. At this time recognition was given to two classes of sangha: monks, those who wear maroon robes, and lay practitioners, who wear white clothes and long hair.
Gradually many scholars and masters who held this tradition came to Tibet, and until the present day the teachings of sutra and tantra continue to be practiced without degeneration. Due to differences in translation between the period of the first or earlier translations and the later translations, there came about in Tibet the traditions of the Nyingmapa (the ‘old ones’) and the Sarmapa (the ‘new ones’). What has been mentioned above is a brief account of the origination of the earlier translations in the beginning, then its subsequent establishment, and finally its dispersion throughout the country.
The Nyingma tradition includes two types of teachings: Kama and terma. Kama teachings are preserved through the lineage of teachers and students. Terma teachings are those which were concealed by Guru Rinpoche for the benefit of future beings and were later revealed by accomplished masters. Large monasteries that practiced both kama and terma teachings came to be known as ‘ma-gon’ or mother monasteries. Smaller monasteries originating from these are called ‘bu-gon’, son monasteries. From these as well small monasteries were born, which are called ‘yang-gon’ or additional monasteries.
Historically, there have been two different listings of the six mother Nyingma monasteries. Earlier they included Dorje Drag, Mindroling and Palri Monasteries in Upper Tibet; and Kathok, Palyul and Dzogchen monasteries in Lower Tibet. Following the decline of Chongye Palri Thegchog Ling monastery and the flourishing of Shechen Monastery, the mother monasteries became Dorje Drag and Mindroling in the upper region, Shechen and Dzogchen in the center, and Kathok and Palyul in the lower part of Tibet. These six great mother monasteries uphold the distinct Nyingma teachings to this day and their reputation reaches far and wide.