The Nyingma- Old Translation School- Six Mother Monasteries



Nyingmapa School



The first period of introduction and extensive spreading of the Buddhist Teachings in Tibet , from the early fifth century King Lha Thothori Nyentsen to the later translator Rangzom (—-) in the 11th century is renown as the Great Secret Ancient Translation School or Nyingmapa.  The following is the short presentation of its origination and spread.[1]


In 433 A.D., several religious artefacts fell on the rooftop of Lha Thothori Nyentsen, the twenty-eighth King of Tibet’s palace.  Among those were scriptures, tsa-tsas, and a golden stupa, marking the onset of the Ancient School tradition. 


It is however during the reign of the later King Songtsen Gampo that the dharma began to spread in Tibet.  In 629 A.D., since until then, Tibet had neither a script nor a proper language, the King sent Thonmi Sambhota one of his gifted ministers to India to procure both an alphabet and grammar.  This Tibetan script was formulated in a relatively short period between 644 and 646 A.D.   In order to bring the two very famous statues of Lord Buddha, he married the two princesses respectively from Nepal and China, who brought a statue each as a dowry.  In 641, he founded the great Temple Complex of Rasa Thrulnang that encompasses more than seventy different individual temples. He established numerous further temples at specific geomantic places in order to tame the wildness of the land.    


King Songsten Gonpo proceeded to invite great Panditas from India, Nepal and China such as Kusara, Shankara, Shilamanju, and Hashang Mahayana.  Those masters worked alongside great translators such as Thonmi Sambhota and Dharmakosha, to render many scriptures both sutra and tantra into Tibetan, spreading Lord Buddha’s word.


The King promulgated spiritual and temporal laws such as ten virtues and sixteen mundane laws to benefit his people both in their lives and in future lives.  He composed the Mani Kabum, which was the first Tibetan doctrinal work.  


It is however during the reign of King Trisong Deutsen that the dharma became widely spread in the Land of Snow.  In the year 810, the King invited the Great Khenpo Santarakshita as well as Guru Padmasambhava, protector of all beings to Tibet.  The three immediately set about the construction of Samye Monastery.  In 827, Khenpo Santarakshita ordained the first seven Tibetan monks as in Nalanda University thus establishing the Vinaya tradition in the Land of Snow.  He further inaugurated the study of Madhyamika philosophy.


Guru Rinpoche taught the tantra teachings he received from the eight great Indian Vidyadharas to fortunate disciples and thus both Guru and Khenpo jointly spread sutras and tantra teachings all over the land.


At the same time, hundred and eight Pandita headed by Vimalamitra and Shantigarbha, and an equal number of translators under the direction of Vairocana, Kawa Peltseg, Chogro Lui Gyaltsen, and Shang Yeshe De jointly prepared the translations of the whole Buddhist cannon.  The distinctive feature of the Nyingma School of combined studies and practice was established from this time onwards.


Most of the translations as well as an extensive catalogue of works in the Buddhist cannon known as Karchag Denkarma were prepared between 826 and 848 A.D.  Such a spread over thorough and pure translation of Lord Buddha’s word, which at that time was still unadulterated, was unprecedented since his passing according to Atisha who also pointed out the singularity of this event by remarking that no scholar since that period had been able to clearly differentiate between the views of the Buddhist and Non-Buddhist schools[5]




When examined objectively the kindness of the Three Great is truly remarkable.  Through their activities both the people and the land of Tibet experienced great improvement.  We can quote the building of the Potala palace, Samye Monastery, the temple complex of Rasa Thrulnang, the arrival of the two great images of Lord Buddha, the establishment of ordained Sangha, the transmission of sutra and tantra teachings through study and practice, TERS, the translation of the whole Buddhist cannon among their achievement. 


Furthermore, Guru Rinpoche, forseeing degenerate times ahead which would threaten the very preservation of Buddhist teachings in Tibet, committed all the teachings to writing in the secret coded script of the dakinis with the help of his consort Yeshe Tsogyal and his main disciples.  Together they hid all these teachings known as Hidden Treasures, Ters all over the land of Tibet in rocks, lakes, and mountains etc, along with precious religious artefacts to be protected from the turbulent times ahead and preserved for future generations.  Pre-distined reincarnations of Guru Rinpoche’s main disciples were entrusted with the timely rediscovery of these treasures.  The authenticity and freshness of the teachings were thus totally ensured; only the predestined terton can decode the dakini script and reveal the teachings.   Some of these teachings were also imprinted by Guru Rinpoche in the mindstream of the tertons for future benefit.


  All the teachings and transmissions of these early days were preserved in monastic institutions throughout the land in particular through the six main monasteries of Dorje Drak, Mindroling, Dzogchen, Shechen, Kathok and Palyul which are still thriving to this day.



Kathok Dorje Den Monastery came into being in the year 1159 in the Kham Province by Kadhampa Desheg Sherab Senge.  Dorje Drak was established in 1632 in U-Tsang province by Dodrak Rigzin Ngagyi Wangpo.  Ogyen Mindroling was founded in 1675, by Terdag Lingpa in U-Tsang province, Shechen Tenyi Dargyeling was in 1734 in the upper part of Dokham province by the second Shechen Rabjam Gyurme Kunzang Namgyal.  Dzogchen Ogyen Samten Choeling in 1684 by the upper part of Dokham by Dzogchen Pema Rigzin, Palyul Namgyal Jangchub Choeling was founded by 1664 by Vidyadhara Kunzang Sherab in Kham province.  


These monasteries uphold both sutra and tantra teachings in particular the Mdo, Gyu and Sem teachings through study and practice both in Tibet and since the Chinese invasion also in India and many other countries.  Under the leadership of the last four great supreme heads of the Nyingma Lineage, H. H.Dudjom Rinpoche, H.H.Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, H.H. Penor Rinpoche, and H.H.Minling Trichen Rinpoche, Lord Buddha’s word has been preserved and spread through a vast range of compassionate activities-committed in writing, propagated and preserved in the form of centres of higher Buddhist studies and practiced in many retreat centres. 



Therefore the Nyingma Lineage characterized by both extensive study and simultaneous practice has preserved its authenticity through the activities of its successive enlightened lineage holders and the continuous uncovering of treasures or Ters, hidden by Guru Rinpoche and his disciples for the benefit of future generations. 






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