1) Vehicle of the Arhat: a Hearer (Sravaka) of the Teachings aspires to become a Arthat (Arthat is somone who is "worthy," often translated as saint into English). An Arhat is someone who, through accordance with monastic discipline and meditative realization, is free from desire and suffering. Therefore, an Arhat gains a limited enlightenment. The enlightenment of an Arhat is not equal to that of a Buddha. An Arhat is "free" from suffering, but still has not reached the final goal. Also, the Sravaka Path is for one's own personal liberation. Most of the Buddha's disciples appeared as arhats but in reality were bodhisattvas.


2) Vehicle of the Solitary Buddha: this path is when someone becomes enlightened, but is a hermit and does not teach others how to become enlightened. This only occurs when Buddhism does not exist in the world, so right now this path is non-existant.


3) Bodhisattva Vehicle: A Bodhisattva is someone who is trying to become enlightened, trying to become a Buddha. The goal of a Bodhisattva is to become enlightened just like the Buddha. The Bodhisattva becomes enlightened for the benefit of all living beings, not just himself. The main focus of this path is what we call "bodhicitta." Bodhicitta can be defined as "the aspirition to become enlightened for the benefit of all living beings." Buddhahood is supreme enlightenment, it is not limited in any way. The Bodhisattva path, unlike the others previously mentioned, is about having compassion for everyone.


(note: a deity in Buddhism is not a creator god; therefore the denotation should not be referred to here. A deity is either an enlightened being such a Buddha or an unenlightened being that is at a higher or more powerful position than us. The deities mentioned here are enlightened beings.)


Three Outer Tantras:

1) Kriya-yoga: relatively the deities are seen as masters and oneself as the disciple, although absolutely all phenomena are equal. Purification, visualization, and proper conduct is emphasized.


2) Carya-yoga: the deities are seen as equal to oneself, like friends, and one develops a deep connection to that realization.


3) Yoga-tantra: one sees oneself as the deity and realizes the actualization that one is no other than the deity.


The Three Inner Tantras are:

Mahayoga: the generation stage of practice when one sees the world as a purified field and that of its absolute nature. It is called the Father Tantra.


Anuyoga: the completion stage when one actualizes the thought that the universe and all are a sacred mandala, without dualism, free from all extremes and the two truths are unified. It is called the Mother tantra.


Atiyoga: one realizes directly the ultimate and natural state of the mind (the mind of the Buddha). One transcends all phenomena and extremes.


It is said by Lochen Dharamsari,

In Mahayoga one realizes all phenomena as the magical display of ultimate mind, the

indivisibility of appearance and emptiness.

In Anuyoga, one realizes all phenomena as manifestive power of the ultimate mind, the

indivisibility of the ultimate sphere and wisdom.

in Atiyoga, one realizes that all phenomena are self appearances of the ultimate mind,

the spontaneously arisen wisdom, which is primordially free from arising and cessation.


The Great Perfection (Dzogchen) is the result of Atiyoga. The realization of Dzogchen refers to enlightenment.


Dzogchen first consists of the view, the ground basis in which we all have the nature, essence and potential to become enlightened. Then there is the action or meditation that one practices to become enlightened. Finally in Dzogchen there is the fruition; the fruit of one’s practice is enlightenment.


The Atiyoga is further divided into the:

1) Cittavarga (Sems sDe): these are instructions on the mind, the lineage is attributed to Vairochana, one of the principle translators of the sutras and tantras of the 9th Century.


2) Abhyantaravarga (kLong sDe) are the instructions on the great expanse or unending experience


3) The Upadesabarga (Man Nhah sDe) are the guidance instructions on the essential point, which is attributed to Guru Rinpoche’s Nying thig (Heart Drop) lineage of Vimalamitra who was a great Indian master.


Terton Pema Lingpa


The Short Transmission of the Lineage (Terma Lineage)


The Nyingma lineage also occurs through a direct transmission of the teachings of Padmasambhava to a Terton (revealer of the treasured teachings called termas). Unlike the long transmission and the handing down of the lineage through centuries, this Terma transmission shortens the lineage, refreshes the teachings, continue blessings and renews disappearing texts. The Short transmission is beneficial since the long lineage sometimes fades. Also, the short transmissions can suit the mental capacities of the beings during a certain era.


The Terma Tradition

There is a tradition within Buddhism to conceal a teaching to benefit future generations. Even the Buddha Shakyamuni concealed Sutras such as those on the Prajna Paramita, to be discovered by Nagarjuna.


In Tibet, Guru Rinpoche did the same. Guru Rinpoche predicted circumstances in which the revealers of his teachings would appear. After giving a teaching that would benefit beings in the future, Guru Rinpoche or his disciples would conceal it to be revealed in the future.


The termas, and even religious objects, were sworn to be protected by certain Terma Protectors and Dakinis. These protectors and female spirits will only deliver the terma to the correct Terton. The termas were concealed by various means:

1) Earth Termas/scriptures: the terma scribe either wrote the terma in symbolic Dakini Script, or in Tibetan or Sanskrit. The symbolic script can only be read by the Terton. It usually just awakens the Terton's mind to the teaching. These writings are often done on yellow scrolls and put in caskets. The destined Terton is the only person who will discover it. A scripture can be concealed by Guru Rinpoche in various places, as in some cases, the casket would simply fall from the sky. Even though a terma might be written, its entirety is already within the mindstream of the Terton.


2) Mind Termas: these are transmitted directly from Guru Rinpoche to the mind of the Terton without the use of yellow scrolls. Thus, the awakened and realized Terton discovers and recalls (from his own enlightenment) the teaching of Guru Rinpoche. A vision of a syllable or symbol can cause the Terton to fully recall a terma. Both the Earth and Mind Termas require a mind to mind transmission from Guru Rinpoche to the Terton.


3) Pure Vision: these are not necessarily termas, since they do not require the mind to mind transmission from Guru Rinpoche. But these are pure teachings received from the vision of deities. These esoteric teachings are based on the tantras, and are sometimes called termas due to their merit.


The major termas collections contain Instructions on the Guru, Yidams and Dakinis (Rootor the Sources), the Branch instructions on the aspects and accomplishments of the siddhis and attainments (including other sacred objects and mantras), and the Heart teachings/practices of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Dzogchen and the Guru Padmasambhava.


A terma is discovered only after

1) Guru Rinpoche gave his prediction and command that a certain Terton will discover it

2) The Terton receives a prophecy to discover the terma

3) Preparatory rituals and purification are performed before the discovery

4) It is properly determined which consort and companions should be taken along, and whether or not the terma will be revaled in public.

5) It is determined how to propitiate the Terma Protector who must hand over the Terma, and what to replace once the terma is taken (sometimes the terma is returned and re-concealed)


A true Terma which is fully authentic might bring obstacles at first, but confer great benefit.


However, evil incarnations have attempted to produce false termas. They are soon known to be false since the terma's effects are not beneficial and not dharma.


Tertons are often incarnations of Guru Rinpoche’s disciples. They are realized and accomplished beings who appear due to the command of the Guru. They are not to be judged by their behavior, as Guru Rinpoche said, “The hidden enlightened beings appear in uncertain form, (while) the fool deceivers (false Tertons) are great hypocritical mimics of the dharma practitioner.”


Many Tertons take the afflictions of others unto themselves, and engage in all activities as the equal and nondual nature of enlightenment. Therefore, one’s egocentric expectations of a Terton do not constitute sound judgment. The Buddha said enlightened beings appear in all forms, from a Buddha, to a butcher and prostitute. Therefore, to judge an authentic Terton is a grave mistake.


The Terma tradition has produced over one hundred major, and many more minor tertons. The Five Terton Kings were Nyangral Nyima Özer (1124-92), Guru Chowang (1212-70), Dorje Lingpa (1346-1405), Padma Lingpa (b.1405) and Jamyang Khyentse (1820-1892).


Terton Ratna Lingpa (1403-1473) compiled the Kangyur and Tengyur, plus the Nyingma Tantras, which was organized originally by Longchen Ranjampa in the 14th century. Kathok and Gonchen Monastery, along with Terdak Lingpa and Lochen Dharmasri, also collected many of the tantras.


Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye complied and collected the lineages into the Rinchen Terdzo which composed over sixty volumes. This was kept at Palpung Monastery of the Tai Situ Rinpoche. Other masters such as Mipham Rinpoche, Patrul Rinpoche and Dodrupchen Rinpoche composed some of the most authoritive texts and explainations on the terma tradition.


Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910-1992) published a thrity three volume set of the “Collection of Ancient Tantras,” in India.



Tulku Ugyen Rinpoche, His Holines Dilgo Khyentse, and the Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche.

Samye Monastery, Tibet



The Sangha


The Nyingma Lineage has, of course, a monastic institution of monks, but also a strong tradition of lay practitioners. These lay practitioners use ordinary life, and transmute it into enlightened activity.


Monasteries of the Nyingmapa Lineage


Samye Monastery was built in 810 during the stay of Padmasambhava, it was consecrated by him. It wasn’t until centuries later that other great monasteries were built.


Kathog was founded in the twelfth century in central Tibet by Dampa Desheg. The inner tantras were closely followed, while in other parts of Tibet these teachings were very rare. In 1656 the monastery was restored and expanded. Until the communist invasion it housed over eight hundred monks. The lineage of Dudul Dorje and Lonsal Nyingpo is followed here. The Nyingthig Atiyoga teachings are a special practice of Kathog. Kathog Rinpoche is considered the present head of the monastery.




Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche

HH Mindroling Trichen

Dzogchen Rinpoche

Dorje Drag monastery was founded in central Tibet, in 1659, by Rigzin Ngagi Wangpo. It preserved the northern treasures (termas). These teachings were revealed in the 14th century and later brought to Dorje Drag. The present head of the lineage is Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche.


The Mindroling monastery was founded in central Tibet by Terdag Lingpa and his brother Lochen Dharmasri. It is renowned for intense study and practice, chanting, art and sacred dance. In Tibet, Mindroling was the most prestigious Nyingma institution and its abbot was highly respected. Its temple and grounds housed a three story high Padmasambhava statue and stupa for Terdak Lingpa. Its holder, the Mindroling Trichen, is considered the most esteemed position within the Nyingma school. He is the supreme holiness of the Nyingma lineage.


Kathog Situ Rinpoche, Chatral Rinpoche, Dudjom Yangsi


Palyul monastery founded in eastern Tibet in 1665 by Rigdzin Kunzang Sherab, preserving teachings of Ratna Lingpa. Tarthang Monastery was a satellite monastery of Palyul. Pema Norbu is the present abbot of Palyul.


Dzogchen monastery founded in eastern Tibet in 1685 by Pema Rigdzin. Nyima Ragpa’s termas were preserved as well as kama (oral) teachings. It housed well over 800 monks. Dzogchen Rinpoche and Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche are its main Lamas.


Shechen Monastery was founded in Eastern Tibet in 1735 by Gyurmey Kunzang Namgyal, the brother of the 2nd Shechen Rabjam. It was modeled in the Mindroling and Dzogchen practices and held a strict monastic discipline, housing over two hundred monks.


Most of the Nyingma institutions which were described above have been re-established in India and Nepal, and more recently the ancient temples in Tibet are being rebuilt. Among some other highly esteemed masters of the lineage are Trulshik Rinpoche, Dodrupchen Rinpoche, Khenpo Phunstok, Namhka Drime Rinpoche and others.