Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems
Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage
Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche's work is the only comprehensive history of the Nyingtik lineage, which forms the core of the teachings known as Dzogchen. The late Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche was one of the most outstanding and knowledgeable modern exponents of Dzogchen and this epic work, framed as a series of biographical accounts, provides a wealth of information invaluable to spiritual practitioners, as well as historians.
"With immense attention to detail, Nyoshul Khenpo maps out the ultimate lineage of direct transmission, the heart of all the lines of transmission of Dzogpachenpo from the primordial Buddha to the present day, showing the connection between masters and students in an unbroken line of succession. His work stands out because of its completeness, for it includes all of the distinct lineages, along with the lives of the students of the great masters, stories form the oral tradition, and the different teaching styles. Anyone who matters is represented here, every link in the chain, including masters of our time…It is a milestone, and I do not feel that it will ever be equaled." Sogyal Rinpoche.
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History in the Tibetan world is not a chronological record of events, a backdrop against which individuals serve as players; rather, it focuses on the lives of remarkable individuals who themselves define the course of history. This is particularly the case in the spiritual realm. A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems is an account of how a system of teachings and methods-the Dzogchen tradition known as the Nyingtik, or "Heart Drop"-has been passed down through generations of masters to the present day.
When there is so much material about the teachings themselves and the means of putting them into practice, why read biographies? The traditional answer is that the inspiring lives of great practitioners arouse our faith and devotion; however, there is something more. As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoché once told me, "You must make the dharma your own. It's as though Milarepa were your old granddaddy." By learning about those from whom we have received the great legacy of teachings, we come to feel more connected to them-even a part of their family. At the same time that Nyoshul Khen taught his students the Dzogchen manual Timeless Awareness as the Guiding Principle (Yeshé Lama), he taught them this history. Clearly he felt that this was not just a reference book, but an integral element of the living transmission of the teachings.
The structure of the book may prove challenging to many readers, as Nyoshul Khenpo does not order his material in a strictly linear way. Although it is crucial to demonstrate that a lineage is an uninterrupted line of transmission, the tracing of that lineage does not always proceed in a straight line. In every generation, there are any number of authentic masters of the tradition who are capable of handing it down to any number of qualified students, who in turn become masters in their own right. Indeed, a careful reading of the book, aided by the lineage diagrams in the Appendix, will show that a certain degree of backtracking is required, as parallel lineages or those branching off the main trunk come under discussion. We have taken the liberty of inserting chapter divisions that, in conjunction with the diagrams, will help to clarify the organization of the book.
In his introduction, "The Precious Lamp," Nyoshul Khenpo points out that today's students can trace their lineages back in a number of ways through their primary teachers to the very origin of all the lineages-the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra-without the integrity of any one lineage being compromised. "This history," he tells us, "shows how the individual lineages can be traced back to Samantabhadra in a straightforward way, without any error. The distinct lineages will not be blurred." Still, in shaping this book, he had to make certain choices about which lineages to emphasize. As he explains in his summary (Chapter 21):
Likewise, in discussing what I refer to as the primary and secondary lineages, I have regarded as primary the particular lineage I myself have received, for, as is said, it is "the deity on whom my flower has fallen." It should be understood that it is on this basis alone, and not on the basis of any assumption of superiority or inferiority, that other lineages have been considered "secondary." Those who are small-minded or prejudiced might think that the distinction I have made between primary and secondary Dzogchen lineages is somehow fixed in stone. I humbly request that people respect my attempt to portray the realization that masters of awareness in the lineage have attained in the past due to their skillful practice in following the example of our Teacher, the Buddha.
Thus Nyoshul Khen underscores his sense of personal connection to the lineage and the teachings.
Integral to the Nyingma understanding of transmission is the "threefold lineage," comprising the "mind-to-mind transmission by victorious ones" (gyal-wa gong-gyu), the "transmission through symbols by masters of awareness" (rig-dzin da-gyu), and the "oral transmission by human individuals" (gang-zak nyen-gyü). It is through this threefold lineage that the Dzogchen teachings came into our human world. Nyoshul Khen discusses the components in Chapters 1 through 3, respectively; and, in fact, everything from Chapter 3 onward pertains to the third, oral transmission by human individuals.
A further development in the third transmission (and extremely important for the Tibetan tradition) is explored in Chapters 3 and 4. It was Manjushrimitra who originally divided the Dzogchen tantras received by Garab Dorjé into three categories: the Category of Mind (scm dé), the Category of Expanse (long dé), and the Category of Direct Transmission (men-ngak dé). But it was three of Shri Simha's students-Bairotsana, Padmakara, and Vimalamitra-who brought distinct lineages of these categories of teachings, called the "three wellsprings" of the Dzogchen teachings, to Tibet. The kama transmissions of teachings from the Categories of Mind and Expanse were passed down primarily by Bairotsana (Chapter 3). The teachings of the Category of Direct Transmission came from both Padmakara (Guru Rinpoché) (Chapter 3) and Vimalamitra (Chapter 4). Those from Padmakara were terma transmissions, whereas those from Vimalamitra contained elements of both kama and terma; Nyoshul Khen refers to the latter as the "more extensive lineage" (ring-gyu). He traces each of these parallel lineages down to the fourteenth-century master Longchenpa (Chapter 5), who is arguably the most significant figure in the book and in whom all three lineages converged.
In Chapter 6, Nyoshul Khen follows the mainstream lineage from Longchenpa down to Jigmé Gyalwai Nyugu in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. At this point, there are two parallel lineages to consider, deriving from the two principal students of Jigmé Gyalwai Nyugu.
The lineage from the famous Paltrul Rinpoché is discussed in Chapter 7. It is with this lineage-from Paltrul Orgyen Jigmé Chokyi Wangpo, to Nyoshul Lungtok Tenpai Nyima, to Khenchen Ngawang Palzang, to Lungtrul-that Nyoshul Khen was most closely associated. In addition, he examines the lineage of the second Penor Rinpoché, who also studied (as did Nyoshul Khenpo's teacher) with Khenchen Ngawang Paizang; this lineage brings us to the present day and the present Penor Rinpoché, the third in this series of incarnations.
In Chapter 8, Nyoshul Khenpo returns to the early nineteenth century and traces the second lineage from Jigmé Gyalwai Nyugu. This begins with another of his students, the great Jamyang Khyentsei Wangpo, and consists of several branching lines: through Khyentsei Wangpo's student Gyurmé Ngedon Wangpo down to the late Dudjom Rinpoché (another of Nyoshul Khenpo's Dzogchen teachers), and through his student Adzom Drukpa Rinpoché down to Jamyang Khyentsé Chokyi Lodrö and Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoché (yet another master from whom Nyoshul Khenpo received Dzogchen transmissions).
With Chapter 9, Nyoshul Khenpo returns to the time of Jigmé Lingpa and the lineage of the Dodrupchen incarnations (the first Dodrupchen and Jigmé Gyalwai Nyugu had been fellow students of Jigmé Lingpa). Here, as elsewhere in the book, Nyoshul Khenpo discusses both the line of the original master's incarnations and that of his or her students and their students in turn. Historically, one of the roles played by students was to recognize and train successive incarnations in order to provide the living link that is essential to a viable lineage. The line of students in this chapter brings us to the present day with Trulzhik Rinpoché, who also had a close connection to Dilgo Khyentsé Rinpoché, reminding us that, while they remain uninterrupted, lineages are often anything but linear.
Beginning with Chapter 10, Nyoshul Khenpo looks back to consider the major figures in the mainstream lineages that he has covered to this point, taking them as "nodes" from which lineages comprising students other than the primary ones already discussed branch out. Thus other students of Longchenpa (and their students in turn), including the Pema Lingpa line of Longchenpa's incarnations, are examined in Chapter 10. Other students of Terdak Lingpa Gyurmé Dorjé are discussed in Chapter 11; those of Jigmé Lingpa and his student, the first Dodrupchen, in Chapter 12; those of Jarnyang Khyenstei Wangpo, in Chapter 13; and so on. As Nyoshul Khenpo moves into more recent times, these branch lineages become rather complex, especially as he does not always follow a chronological line within a chapter, sometimes going back to discuss a parallel line. Inevitably, the records of more recent masters contain greater detail than those of masters of past centuries, and so there are further instances of crossover, in which a given master received transmission not only from the teacher under whose lineage he or she is discussed, but from other contemporary teachers. Nyoshul Khenpo's listings, as he states, are not "fixed in stone."
A complication facing Western readers unfamiliar with Tibetan names and titles is the casual way in which Tibetan authors refer to a single figure by multiple names or variations of a single name. Thus Longchenpa is referred to as Longchen Rabjam, Drimé Ozer, the Omniscient King of the Dharma, the Omniscient Guru, or simply the Omniscient One. Jamyang Khyentsé Chökyi Lodrö is occasionally referred to as Khyentsé Chokyi Lodrö (and several times as Jamgon Chökyi Lodrö). Indeed, the author of this book is known variously as Nyoshul Khenpo and Nyoshul Khen Rinpoché (titles) and as Jamyang Dorjé (his personal name). Nonetheless, rather than standardize the names, we have for the most part retained those that Nyoshul Khenpo recorded. The variation of names is only one issue among many raised by numerous references in the text that may be unfamiliar to Western readers but that would be clear to an educated Tibetan reader. This book is filled with a wealth of biographical, bibliographical, geographical, and political references; a companion volume that will provide background information for these references is in preparation.
It was more than ten years ago that Nyoshul Khenpo did me the great honor of asking that I translate into English what turned out to be the first volume of his work (making up the first part of the present book, through Chapter 9). I received the second volume several years later, and on several occasions Nyoshul Khenpo sent me whole passages that he had rewritten in his meticulous efforts to ensure the accuracy and thoroughness of his work. It was not until shortly before his untimely passing that I was able to send Khen Rinpoché a draft of my completed translation. I know that he would have wanted to see the publication of his monumental work in English before his death, and I can only hope that the painstaking effort that has gone into refining this translation has justified the delay in publication.
After the completion of my draft, based on a copy of the manuscript given to me by Nyoshul Khenpo, the publication of his work in Tibetan made it possible to compare the two versions and thus ensure that my translation reflected the version that Nyoshul Khen approved as the definitive edition. Completing this work has been a poignant, even painful, process, an ongoing reminder of the force of impermanence. In a number of cases, a master was still alive when Nyoshul Khenpo wrote his text, but in the intervening time it became necessary to alter the translation to account for that master's demise. Indeed, it is entirely possible that some of the information in this book is no longer current. For me, this reflects what Khen Rinpoché felt very keenly when he undertook to write this history: that without constant effort and care, looking to the past for guidance and toward the future with inspiration, even a lineage as precious as this one is always in danger of disappearing from our world.