The Omniscient Longchenpa (1308-1363)

Within the Nyingma lineage, the Omniscient Longchenpa is regarded as the most important master since the great Guru Rinpoche.

Longchenpa Drime Ozer was born in 1308 in the upper Dra valley of central Tibet. From a young age he exhibited a precocious intelligence and deep faith in the Buddhist teachings. By the time he entered the religious life at Samye Monastery at the age of twelve, he had already studied and contemplated numerous sutras and tantras. For the next fifteen years, he traveled from center to center, studying, ethics, epistemology, logic, metaphysics, soteriology and the different systems of tantra with many of the most famous teachers of his day. His mastery of Buddhist philosophy was legendary and his approach non-sectarian.

Then at the age of 27, he met Rigdzin Kumaradza, an emanation of Vimalamitra. Over the next number of months, the young Longchenpa endured numerous privations as his teacher moved from camp to camp. But his persistence was rewarded as Rigdzin Kumaradza took him under his care and bestowed upon him the empowerments, transmissions and pith instructions for the Luminous Great Perfection, Osel Dzogpa Chenpo. He stayed with his teacher for more than two years before setting off to devote himself to practice in isolated places.

His reputation drew numerous disciples as yogins and ordinary people flocked to hear him teach. Remarkable events and numerous miracles were reported to have occurred in his presence, yet most remarkable of all he directly introduced thousands of fortunate disciples to Dzogchen.

In his hermitage at Gangri Tokar, he wrote the Seven Treasuries: The Treasury of the Way of Abiding, The Treasury of Pith Instructions, The Precious Treasury of Philosophical Systems, The Wish-Fulfilling Treasury, The Treasury of Words and Their Underlying Meaning, The Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena, and The Treasury of the Sublime Spiritual Approach. Together, these seven works are said to give an exhaustive presentation of Dzogchen according to the extensive approach of a pandita. Dza Patrul Rinpoche said, “To encounter them is to encounter the very face of Samantabhadra.”

Another of Longchenpa’s great accomplishments was to codify the Nyingthig or ‘Heart Drop’ teachings in his hugely influential collection, the Four Higher Collections of the Heart Drop. This collection centers upon the Heart Drop of Vimalamitra (the Nyingthig teachings transmitted orally from Vimalamitra to Kumaradza) and the Heart Drop of the Dakini (the essence of Guru Rinpoche’s terma teachings). The collection is completed by Longchenpa’s summaries, which present the Dzogchen teachings according to the profound approach of a simple yogin: the Innermost Heart Drop of the Guru (a summary of the Heart Drop of Vimalamitra), the Innermost Heart Drop of the Dakini (a summary of the Heart Drop of the Dakini) and the Innermost Heart Drop of Profundity (a summary of the two Innermost Heart Drops).

As would have been common for a respected lama of the time, Longchenpa was asked to mediate in a long-running dispute between two rival parties, the Drigung and Phakmodrupa factions. The Phakmodrupas suspected Longchenpa of unfairly favoring the Drigung party however and forced him into exile into Bhutan. While in Bhutan, he established six major centers and continued to teach on a vast scale. Eventually, the Phakmodrupa leader, Tai Situ, changed his mind and Longchenpa was able to return to Tibet, where he lived out his days engaged in works aimed at benefiting the Buddhist teachings and beings at large.

It is difficult to overstate Longchenpa’s influence and importance. He is remembered by the tradition as a second Buddha, a second Samantabhadra, as an omniscient lord of the Dharma. His works on Dzogchen, which combine extensive quotes from the Dzogchen tantras with lucid explications, are considered authoritative. They are the standard against which all others are measured. His verse is fluid and beautiful poetry. In his discussions of Dzogchen, he refers again and again to sutra and tantra, demonstrating how Dzogchen is both consistent with and the pinnacle of the Buddha’s teachings. His is a contribution not likely to be matched.

The Great Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682)

The Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lozang Gyatso, is a towering figure in Tibetan history, renowned for both His temporal and spiritual accomplishments.

The boy who would become known as the Great Fifth Dalai Lama was born in 1617 to a family with strong ties to the Drukpa Kagyu school. While still young, He was recognized by the first Panchen Lama as the reincarnation of the fourth Dalai Lama, given the name Lozang Gyatso and installed at Drepung Monastery. His training began shortly thereafter. Under the guidance of several teachers He received a thorough education and went on to write extensively of Buddhist philosophy and the other traditional fields of knowledge. His collected writings total twenty-six volumes while His pure visions fill another two.

During His youth, Tibet was in turmoil. Following the collapse of the early Tibetan dynasty in the ninth century, political authority devolved into the hands of local lords. The lands of central Tibet remained divided until the thirteenth century, when Mongol hordes overran Tibet. Mongolians were to remain an important force in Tibetan politics for the next few centuries. In 1261, Godan Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, transferred power to the Sakya hierarch Drogon Chogyal Phakpa. Yet his successors would rule for just over fifty years before being overthrown by the Phakmodrupas. They in their turn were displaced by the Rinpung administration, who later fell at the hands of the prince of Tsang in 1565.

In 1635, unrest erupted into civil war as rival Mongolian factions threw their support behind competing Tibetan camps. Eventually, the forces of Gushri Khan defeated the Chogthu Mongols and their allies, the administration of Tsang. Thus it was that in 1642, the twenty-five year old Dalai Lama was installed as the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet. His reign, like His spiritual predilections, was notable for the diversity of its achievements: Under Him, the arts and sciences enjoyed generous patronage. His authority was acknowledged by the Manchu rulers of China. He established the dralha of Nechung as an official State Oracle. He recognized Lozang Chokyi Gyaltsen as an incarnation of Amitabha and reserved the title ‘Panchen Lama’ for him and his incarnations. He built the Naga Palace with its exquisite murals depicting esoteric Dzogchen practices and restored the ancient imperial palace on Marpo Ri to create the famous Potala Palace of today.

From this brief list, one can see how the Great Fifth Dalai Lama was, in the words of E. Gene Smith, “a tolerant prince with a well-developed eclectic bent of mind.” He went to great lengths to reconcile the conflicts of the previous centuries and His commitment to the other Tibetan schools is well-attested in the relationships He cultivated with important lamas in the Sakya school and the various Kagyu denominations.

Yet His abiding interest lay with the Nyingma School. He received the transmissions for the Nyingma Kama from Zurchen Choying Rangdrol and was known as a dedicated practitioner of the Northern Treasures revealed by Rigdzin Godem. While in retreat on the Dynamic Energy of Vajra Wrath, the secret mind sadhana of the Northern Treasures, the Fifth Dalai Lama experienced a series of pure visions. With the help of His scribe and secretary Gelong Jamyang Drakpa, He recorded these as the Pure Visions Sealed with Secrecy.

To the enduring benefit of the Nyingma teachings, the Great Fifth forged a relationship with Minling Terchen Gyurme Dorje. Gyurme Dorje, then only eleven years old, received his first monastic vows from the Great Fifth and went on to become the great tertön, or revealer of hidden treasures, known as Terdak Lingpa. Terdak Lingpa regarded the Great Fifth as one of his two main teachers while the Great Fifth in turn received many empowerments and transmissions from Terdak Lingpa. In 1676, with patronage from the Great Fifth, Terdak Lingpa founded Orgyen Mindroling Monastery. From that time up to the present, Mindroling has performed rituals for the wellbeing of the Tibetan government under the Dalai Lama.

Though the Great Fifth Dalai Lama passed away in 1682 at the age of sixty-six, His influence is still felt, both in the spiritual and temporal realms.

Terdak Lingpa (1646-1719)

Terdak Lingpa Gyurme Dorje (1646-1719) was born in 1646 to a master of the Dzogchen teachings named Sangdak Trinley Lhundrup. At the feet of his father, Gyurme Dorje received numerous empowerments and soon began to display the qualities of an accomplished master. As a youth of 11, he received monastic ordination from the Fifth Dalai Lama. Over time the two developed a close relationship such that Terdak Lingpa considered the Great Fifth to be one of his two main teachers. Terdak Lingpa in turn offered many teachings and transmissions to the Great Fifth.

In the years that followed, Terdak Lingpa received instruction from numerous lamas. In particular, he studied both the kama and terma lineages and came to master the works of Longchen Rabjampa. Through diligent practice, his realization of the teachings deepened and he began to reveal hidden treasures concealed centuries before in the expanse of his enlightened mind.

Terdak Lingpa played a critical role in the preservation and propagation of the Nyingma lineages of kama and terma. The kama teachings had been transmitted orally since their introduction into Tibet during the eighth and ninth centuries. The terma teachings, though originally concealed by Guru Rinpoche, were only revealed in subsequent centuries by incarnations of Guru Rinpoche’s direct disciples. Terdak Lingpa compiled the Nyingma Kama, the canon of teachings orally transmitted in the Nyingma tradition. He also gathered a great many termas into a single collection, entitled the Excellent Vase that Provides All You Desire (Dojo Bumzang). This would later become the core of Jamgon Kongtrul’s famous Precious Treasury of Termas (Rinchen Terdzo). Terdak Lingpa thus ensured neither lineage would disappear, thereby offering a service of immeasurable value to later followers of the Nyingma teachings.

In 1670 or 1676, with the urging and support of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, Terdak Lingpa founded Orgyen Mindroling Monastery in the Drachi Valley south of Lhasa. Under Terdak Lingpa, it swiftly emerged as one of the premier Buddhist institutions in Tibet.