Rongzom Mahapandita: A Guide for Readers to the Great Rongzompa

We Tibetans have one crown ornament and two earrings. The crown ornament is Padmasambhava, and the two precious earrings are Milarepa and Rongzom Chenpo Chökyi Zangpo.

—Gö Lotsawa Chenpo Shonnu Pal, from The Blue Annals

Rongzom Chökyi Zangpo (1012–1088)—also known as Rongzompa, Rongzom Mahapandita, Rongzom Chozang, and Dharmabhadra— is along with Longchenpa and Mipham Rinpoche, one of the pillars of the Nyingma tradition who systematized much of the philosophical principles of the school.

A short biography is included in Cortland Dahl's Entrance to the Great Perfection:

Rongzom Chökyi Zangpo, also known as Rongzom Mahapandita, is widely regarded as one of the two greatest exponents of the unique views and practices of the Nyingma school. Along with Longchenpa, he is known as an “Omniscient One.” This rare title connotes both breadth of knowledge and depth of realization. His innate intelligence was so great, in fact, that Rongzom himself once remarked, “Since there is no teaching that I did not study, my learning is not insignificant. Yet, as I never needed to review the teachings I received more than once, neither is it great.

Rongzom was a contemporary of Atisha, Marpa Lotsawa, and many others who were instrumental in establishing new Buddhist lineages in the land of snows. He wrote extensively on a broad range of topics and demonstrated an unparalleled mastery of the Buddha’s teachings. The Indian scholars he interpreted often commented on his universal knowledge, encouraging him to write his own treatises. He was also praised by some of the greatest masters of the Sarma traditions, such as Atisha and Marpa. Echoing their sentiments, the great Gö Lotsawa wrote: “In the snowy land of Tibet, Rongzom remains unequalled as a scholar.” The greatest testament to Rongzom’s accomplishments, however, is the lasting influence he has had on the great thinkers of the Nyingma school. Mipam, perhaps the greatest Nyingma thinker of recent times, modeled his views on those of Rongzom and Longchenpa, a debt that he acknowledges repeatedly in his writings. Rongzom’s thousand-year-old legacy continues to exert a powerful influence on spirituality in Tibet.

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Essential Texts by Rongzompa

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Establishing Appearances as Divine: Rongzom Chokyi Zangpo on Reasoning, Madhyamaka, and Purity

By Rongzom Chokyi and Heidi I. Koppl

Establishing Appearances as Divine, a concise treatise by the eleventh-century Tibetan Buddhist philosopher Rongzom Chökyi Zangpo, sets out to prove the provocative point that everything that appears is actually deity manifest. Many books on Tibetan Buddhism address the important themes of mind training, compassion, and proper conduct, but this penetrating study and translation of Rongzom’s text goes beyond that in its aim to bring the reader face to face with his or her pure, divine nature.

This work is described in the present-day Nyingma tradition as a commentary on the Guhyagarbha Tantra. If one accepts this classification, it would lend further testimony to Rongzom’s general fondness for the Guhyagarbha teachings and his attempt to validate these teachings through the style of discourse usually associated with the classical dialectical approach. Considering that the initial thesis of Establishing Appearances as Divine follows almost verbatim that of Padmasambhava in his Garland of Views,  a treatise that itself is based on the Guhyagarbha, one may reasonably conclude that the traditional classification of Establishing Appearances as Divine as a text pertaining to the Mahāyoga class of Tantra is valid.

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Entering the Way of the Great Vehicle: Dzogchen as the Culmination of the Mahayana

By Rongzom Chokyi, translated and introduced by Dominic Sur

Rongzom Chökyi Zangpo wrote this treatise in the eleventh century during the renaissance of Buddhism in Tibet that was spurred by the influx of new translations of Indian Buddhist texts, tantras, and esoteric transmissions from India. For political and religious reasons, adherents of the “new schools” of Tibetan Buddhism fostered by these new translations cast the older tradition of lineages and transmissions as impure and decadent. Rongzompa composed the work translated here in order to clearly and definitively articulate how Dzogchen was very much in line with the wide variety of sutric and tantric teachings espoused by all the Tibetan schools. Using the kinds of philosophic and linguistic analyses favored by the new schools, he demonstrates that the Great Perfection is indeed the culmination and maturation of the Mahāyāna, the Great Vehicle.

There is an interesting note about Ronzom Mahapantida ability to commit teachings to memory only be hearing them a single time in Matthieu Ricard's account of Patrul Rinpoche, Enlightened Vagabond.

"When Rongzom Chökyi Zangpo was asked about the extent of his study of Buddhist scriptures, he answered, 'I can't say I studied extensively, since most of the texts I read only once. But I also can’t say that I didn’t study, since after reading them just once, I knew them almost by heart.”

Books Featuring Rongzom Chokyi Zangpo

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The Ruby Rosary Joyfully Accepted by Vidyadharas and Dakinis as the Ornament of a Necklace

By Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

The Ruby Rosary is Kyabje Thinley Norbu Rinpoche's explanation of The Pearl Necklace, a lineage prayer to the main figures in the Dudjom lineage.  Rongzompa was on of this series of enlightened masters.  This includes a dozen pages on this pillar of the Nyingma tradition, much of which is a translation of Mipham Rinpoche's account of his life.

The section concludes with:

In brief, this master was a peerless being who resided at the level of the truly great Noble Ones, and indeed his entire sacred life story of scholarship and realization is beyond the scope of ordinary minds. For the sake of ordinary beings, only the well-known and undisputed part of the sacred biography of this paṇḍita who unlocked the eight great treasures of sublime confidence is told here [by Mipham Rinpoche], based on the writings of Dorje Wangchuk, the layman of Yolchak, who was a direct disciple of the master. These writings are found in the great Gö Lotsawa’s Blue Annals, adorned with a few small extracts from the writings of [other] Tibetan scholars of the past.

Other Works that Include Rongzompa

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Jamgon Mipam: His Life and Teachings

By Jamgon Mipham and Douglas Duckworth

The great Mipham Rinpoche relied mainly on two giants in the Nyingma tradition: Longchenpa and Rongzompa.  The latter appears throughout this extraordinary work on Mipham.

Duckworth demonstrates many key features of Rongzompa's influence on Mipham:

  • The view of the Guhyagarbha Tantra
  • The association of “essential nature” (Tib. snying po, Skt. garbha) with the meaning of the Great Perfection.
  • Mipham appropriates Rongzom’s use of reason in what he calls the “valid cognition of pure vision”, which he uses to legitimate a view of appearances as divine (see Establishing Appearances as Divine above).
Cascading Waterfall
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A Cascading Waterfall of Nectar

By Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

Given Ronzompa's centrality in the Nyingma tradition and as a central figure in the Dudjom lineage, it is no surprise to see him, referred to as Omniscient [Kunkhyen] Rongzompa, throughout Kyabje Thinley Norbu Rinpoche's masterpiece here.

Ronzompa's words on eternalism and nihilism, alaya, the nature of deity, Buddhahood, the nature of emptiness, and much more.

In Rosary of the View Commentary (on the Guhyagarbha)by Great Omniscient Rongzom, it says:

If it is explained here, the nature of Vajra Kuntuzangpo
is the enlightened mind.
The nature of mind is enlightened, so it is vajra.
So therefore, from all to all, there are no phenomena
to abandon or throw away,
So it is always noble. That is why it is called Kuntuzangpo.

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The Ri-me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great: A Study of the Buddhist Lineages of Tibet

By Ringu Tulku

Ringu Tulku quotes Rongzompa's Points to Remember about the View at length when disussing how the higher and lower views relate to eachother.  Towards the  end of this several page section, Rongzompa explains,

All the Buddha’s teachings are of one taste and one way; nothing is excluded within the state of vast equality. For example, all the small streams flow into large rivers and then accompany the large rivers to flow into the ocean. Within the vast ocean, all the rivers have the same taste of salt. Similarly, all the small entrances of the lower yanas are small rivers of understanding personal selflessness, which wash away the dirt of the belief in substantial entities. They join the large rivers of the Mahayana sutras and all of them end up in the great ocean of Dzogpa Chenpo. There is not even a particle of dust that does not become of one taste with this great, vast equality.

Ringu Tulku also explains how their is a Rong Luk (tradition of ROngzompa) in explaining the Guhyagarbha tanta, stemming from his receiving the teachings from the lineages of Guru Rinpoche, Vairocana, and Vimalamitra.

Regarding the inner tantras, Rongzompa seven transmission lineages, ennumerating:

  1. Oral tradition or kama
  2. Earth terma
  3. Rediscovered terma
  4. Mind terma
  5. The Hearing Lineage
  6. The Pure Vision lineage
  7. Teachings recollected from past lives.
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Tara's Enlightened Activity: An Oral Commentary on The Twenty-one Praises to Tara

By Khenchen Palden Sherab and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal

In their definitive work on the Twenty-one Taras, the Khenpo brothers discuss how Rongzompa was the first recorded source of Tara teachings that are still preserved in Tibet.  Rongzompa’s lineage was passed down in the Nyingma School and received by Jigme Lingpa in the eighteenth century. Jigme Lingpa revealed a famous terma on the wisdom dakini Yeshe Tsogyal. Its condensed title is Dechen Gyalmo, or “Queen of Great Bliss.” He taught that externally we practice on Yeshe Tsogyal as she is, but inwardly we practice on the Twenty-one Emanations of Tara.

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The Nature of Mind: The Dzogchen Instructions of Aro Yeshe Jungne

By Patrul Rinpoche, Khenchen Palden Sherab, and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal

Rongzompa makes a brief appearance here when the Khenpo brothers discuss his role in the Aro tradition that is the focus of this book.

Two lineages sprang from the great master Aro Yeshe Jungne.  The first one began with these:

  1. Aro Yeshe Jungne
  2. Yazi Bonton of Kham
  3. Drulsha Gyalpo of Kharab
  4. Drumshig Sherab Monlam of Wu
  5. Chogro Sangkar of Tsam
  6. Rongzom Chokyi Zangpo

Rongzompa then incorporated the Aro teachings into the Nyingma kama. As a result, as the Nyingma kama flowed through the centuries into the present day, naturally the Aro teachings flowed with it.

Complete Nyingma 13
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The Complete Nyingma Tradition from Sutra to Tantra, Book 13: Philosophical Systems and Lines of Transmission

By Choying Tobden Dorje. tTranslated by Gyurme Dorje, with contributions by Lama Tharchin Rinpoche

Rongzompa makes a brief appearance here when Choying Tobden Dorje describes the transmission in Tibet of the Father Tantra cycle of Yamāri.

Rongzom ChoZang "attended upon Upālaśrīmitra [elsewhere identified as Upaya Shri Mitra] , and he translated the tantras of the Black [Slayer of Death] and Vajrabhairava and others, and also undertook their exegesis."

Additional Resources on Rongzompa

Lotsawa House has several important translations of Ronzompa's work including The Black Snake Discourse. lotswa house

The Treasury of Lives also has a profile of Rongzompa.