Savage Roads

Sunday, December 30, 2012

History of Nyingma Buddhism

History of Nyingma Buddhism

PadmasambhavaThere are four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism:
  • Nyingma (founded 8th cen­tury A.D.)
  • Kagyu (founded in the early 11th century)
  • Sakya (founded in 1073 A.D.)
  • Gelug (founded in 1409 A.D.)
Besides these four major schools, there was also an impor­tant 19th c. devel­op­ment in Tibetan Bud­dhism known as the “Rime Move­ment” (pro­nounced ree’-mey).  ”Rime” means “no sides” or “non-sectarian.” It arose partly in reac­tion to sec­tar­i­an­ism fos­tered by the dom­i­na­tion of the Gelug views in the cul­ture and pol­i­tics in Tibet, because of which other schools felt their unique char­ac­ter and styles were threat­ened.  In an effort to pre­serve the com­par­a­tively smaller tra­di­tions, the Rime move­ment was founded on the ancient Bud­dhist idea that it is wrong to igno­rantly crit­i­cize other tra­di­tions or reli­gions.  This move­ment gath­ers and incor­po­rates teach­ings from all of the Bud­dhist schools and the major non-Buddhist Tibetan tra­di­tion called Bon, and Rime prac­ti­tion­ers fol­low mul­ti­ple lin­eages and prac­tices.  Rime is not an effort to unite the var­i­ous schools, rather an effort to rec­og­nize and appre­ci­ate their dif­fer­ences, and their unique and valu­able contributions.

King Trisong Detsen The word “Nyingma” means “ancient,” refer­ring to the school’s char­ac­ter­is­tic of being the old­est among all of Tibet’s Bud­dhist tra­di­tions.  Often called the “ancient trans­la­tion school,” the Nyingma lin­eage began in the lat­ter part of the 8th c. when the Tibetan King Trisong Det­sen invited both the renowned Indian guru Shan­tarak­shita, abbot of the great Bud­dhist Nalanda Uni­ver­sity, and the tantric mas­ter Pad­masamb­hava, to come to Tibet and intro­duce Bud­dhism to his peo­ple.  Under the king’s order,  Shan­tarak­shita, Pad­masamb­hava, the Indian mas­ter Vimalami­tra, the Tibetan trans­la­tor Vairochana, along with 108 trans­la­tors and 25 of Padmasambhava’s clos­est stu­dents, under­took this mon­u­men­tal task of ren­der­ing all of the extant Bud­dhist scrip­tures into Tibetan from San­skrit, and accom­plished it in one gen­er­a­tion. In addi­tion to the trans­la­tion of the tantras (the eso­teric teach­ings of the Bud­dha), super­vised mainly by Pad­masamb­hava, and the sutras (oral teach­ings of the Bud­dha) super­vised mainly by Shan­tarak­shita, these two also founded Tibet’s first Bud­dhist monastery, Samye, which became the main cen­ter for Bud­dhist teach­ing in Tibet for the next 300 years.

Shantarakshita These events formed the basis of the early dis­sem­i­na­tion of Bud­dhism in Tibet up to the 11th cen­tury, which did not all pro­ceed smoothly. Polit­i­cal insta­bil­ity fol­lowed the suc­ces­sion of the anti-Buddhist king Lang­darma  (836–842) and his sub­se­quent assas­si­na­tion.  The per­se­cu­tion of Bud­dhism under Lang­darma and later local lead­ers was such that most Bud­dhist prac­tice was forced under­ground. When in the 11th cen­tury the per­se­cu­tion abated, new lin­eage trans­mis­sions from Indian to Tibetan mas­ters caused new schools of Bud­dhism to rise, includ­ing the Kagyu, Sakya, and much later, the Gelug, men­tioned above.  When this began to hap­pen, mem­bers of the exist­ing school began to see them­selves as a dis­tinct group, iden­ti­fy­ing them­selves as fol­low­ers of the “ancient” or “Nyingma” tra­di­tion, as con­trasted to the “Sarma” or” new” traditions.

The four major schools of Tibetan Bud­dhism dif­fer in their size, polit­i­cal ethos, empha­sized prac­tices, and of course, lin­eage.  Unlike the other three major schools, sup­port­ers of the Nyingma tra­di­tion rarely held polit­i­cal power in Tibet, gen­er­ally pre­fer­ring to remain at a dis­tance from Tibetan polit­i­cal con­cerns.  Tra­di­tion­ally, the Nyingma had no cen­tral­ized author­ity. It is only since the Chi­nese inva­sion of Tibet that the Dalai Lama politely requested that the Nyingma fol­low­ers rec­og­nize some­one to rep­re­sent them within the Tibetan government-in-exile.  Other then that, the Nyingma tra­di­tion remains polit­i­cally decen­tral­ized.  Deci­sions are often made by a com­mu­nity of the senior prac­ti­tion­ers within a given locale. Nyingma fol­low­ers are his­tor­i­cally dis­tin­guished from other schools of Bud­dhism by their cat­e­go­riza­tion of the spir­i­tual path into nine pro­gres­sively more sub­tle yanas, or vehi­cles, and the unique ninth vehi­cle called Dzogchen, or the “Great Per­fec­tion.” Within the Nyingma are also two dis­tinct com­mu­ni­ties of monas­tics and lay tantric prac­ti­tion­ers (Tib. ngakpa).
While the other three major schools have tra­di­tion­ally rec­og­nized spir­i­tual and polit­i­cal heads:
  • The Dalai Lama of the Gelug school (the newest school, hav­ing the largest population)
  • The Karmapa of the Kagyu school
  • The Sakya Trizin of the Sakya school
the Nyingma school has only rec­og­nized such spir­i­tual and polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives since the 1960s after the inva­sion by the Chi­nese in 1950:
  • Dud­jom Rin­poche (c. 1904–1987), served from the 1960s until his death.
  • Dilgo Khyentse Rin­poche (c. 1910–1991), served from 1987 until his death.
  • Penor (Pema Norbu) Rin­poche (1932–2009) served from 1991 until retire­ment in 2003.
  • Min­drol­ing Trichen Rin­poche (c. 1930–2008), served from 2003 until his death.
  • Trul­shik Rin­poche (1923–2011). Selected after Cha­tral Rin­poche declined the position.

Palyul Monastery

Palyul MonasteryThere were six major monas­ter­ies uphold­ing the Nyingma tra­di­tion in Tibet.  Among them was Palyul Monastery, estab­lished in 1665 in east­ern Tibet.  A lin­eage of Nyingma teach­ers arose from this monastery, known as the Palyul Lin­eage.  Like other schools of Tibetan Bud­dhism, the Palyul Lin­eage of the Nyingma tra­di­tion is sus­tained by teach­ers and cen­tres around the world.  The rec­og­nized head of the Palyul tra­di­tion is cur­rently His Holi­ness Karma Kuchen Rin­poche, who suc­ceeded his teacher, His Holi­ness Penor Rinpoche.
Like all schools of Tibetan Bud­dhism, the Nyingma school rec­og­nizes those who make sig­nif­i­cant and pre­cious con­tri­bu­tions to the teach­ings of the Bud­dha.  Among those so rec­og­nized by the Nyingma school are:

Longchenpa The most famous of all great schol­ars and tantric mas­ters of the Nyingma lin­eage, besides Pad­masamb­hava him­self, is Longchenpa (Longchen Rab­jam).  Along with Rong­zom Pan­dita and Jigme Lingpa, Longchenpa is known as one of the “omni­scient ones,” a rare title rec­og­niz­ing the infal­li­bil­ity of their wis­dom, knowl­edge and accom­plish­ment in the teach­ings of the Bud­dha.  Longchenpa wrote many com­men­taries on the whole body of Nyingma teach­ings.  He is espe­cially known for his pre­sen­ta­tion of Dzogchen, which is the most pre­cious and highly regarded prac­tice in the Nyingma school.  One of his most notable con­tri­bu­tions was the sys­tem­ati­za­tion of the teach­ing and induc­tion into the prac­tice of Dzogchen.


Jigme Lingpa (1730–1798) and the Longchen Nyingthig

Jigme LingpaJigme Lingpa con­densed Longchenpa’s sys­tem­ati­za­tion of Dzogchen into a series of spe­cific prac­tices and teach­ings called the Longchen Nyingthig, or “Heart Essence of the Vast Expanse”.  This con­den­sa­tion became the foun­da­tion of the main Dzogchen teach­ings in the con­tem­po­rary period, in both the Nyingma tra­di­tion and in the Rime (non-sectarian) movement.

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