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>Choying Tobden Dorje and the Story Behind the Complete Nyingma Tradition

In Memorium: Alak Zenkar Rinpoche reflects on Lama Tharchin Rinpoche and the Complete Nyingma Tradition
Lama Sonam Tsering on The Complete Nyingma Tradition
Praise for The Complete Nyingma Tradition

The following foreword from The Complete Nyingma Tradition details the life Choying Tobden Dorje, a close disciple of The First Dodrubchen Rinpoche, and author of the multi-volume Complete Nyingma Tradition is included in the each volume of The Complete Nyingma Tradition.

Dzogchen Choying Tobden Dorje was one of the four spiritual heirs of Dodrubchen Jigme Trinle Ozer who are known as the "four supporting beams with the name Dorje." He is identified [in that prophetic verse] as the "one from the north who resembled a meteorite spike thrust into the ground." This great embodiment of splendid renown was born in the Ponru clan in 1785 (the wood snake year of the thirteenth sexagenary cycle) at Zhopong Lakha in the Repkong district of Amdo. His father was named Rinchen and his mother Ngodrub Dolma. From childhood he joined the spiritual community close to his birthplace, at Shelgon Dechen Chokyi Podrang. There, he learned without difficulty to write, read aloud, and spell the Tibetan alphabet (yi ge’i phyi mo), and so forth. Under Waka Tsering, secretary to Chogyel Ngagi Wangpo, the local potentate (sa skyong chen mo), he perfectly trained in the ordinary subjects of classical learning, exemplified by various scripts and history, and after attending upon Shingza Paṇḍita Lobzang Dargye Gyatso at Rabgya Ganden Tashi Jungne, he applied himself to training in the entire range of the ten fields of classical learning.

Then, after mentally rejecting the excellent phenomenal appearances of this worldly life, Choying Tobden Dorje met Drubwang Pema Rangdrol, who had journeyed to the Repkong area for the benefit of living beings. While Drubwang Pema Rangdrol devoted himself for a number of years to the essence of spiritual practice in retreat at Drakar Tsegyal in Tsanggo Dzong, Choying Tobden Dorje and Drubwang Kalden Rangdrol both acted as his attendants. The supreme Nyangkye Nangdze Dorje said that this was in accord with the following prediction that had been made [in former times] by the great awareness holder Palden Tashi:

From the hermitage of Drakar Tsegyal,
A mother bird and two offspring will take flight.

It was in those circumstances that Choying Tobden Dorje received from Drubwang Pema Rangdrol the entire corpus entitled Further Secret: Wish-Fulfilling Gem of Hayagrīva and Vajravārāhī (Yang gsang rta phag yid bzhin nor bu), a treasure doctrine that had been revealed by Kunzang Dechen Gyelpo. In particular, he perfectly studied, pondered, meditated on, and mastered profound guidance in the Great Perfection, from the initial mind training of the outer and inner preliminary practices to the main practice. In this way the enlightened intention of reality, [union] of awareness and emptiness, was born in Choying Tobden Dorje’s mind. This period coincided with the lifetime of the third incarnation of Rigdzin Palden Tashi, king of secret mantra in Repkong; in his next lifetime that master would be reborn as the mantrin Dorje Namgyal, father of the learned scholar Gendun Chopel.

Choying Tobden Dorje

Choying Tobden Dorje then traveled to Dzogchen Orgyen Samten Choling in Kham, where, in the presence of many learned and accomplished masters, including Dzogchen Tulku Migyur Namkha Dorje and his nephew Pema Kundrol Namgyal, he studied and trained in the doctrinal traditions of sūtra and mantra in general and insatiably drank from the nectar stream of maturational [empowerment] and liberating [guidance] according to the transmitted precepts and treasures. In particular, at that time, from Dodrub Kunzang Zhenpen [Trinle Ozer] who was staying at the Rudam Shinje meditation cave, he received many tantras, transmissions, and pith instructions pertaining to the vehicle of indestructible reality, including the Earlier and Later Innermost Spirituality (sNying thig gong ’og). Later also, when Dodrubchen Rinpoche resided at Yarlung Pemako, Choying Tobden Dorje went there to see him repeatedly and received [instruction on] the Secret Nucleus from the Net of Magical Emanation (sGyu ’phrul gsang ba’i snying po), the Trilogy of Rest(Ngal gso skor gsum), Unsurpassed Pristine Cognition (Ye shes bla ma), and so forth.

In 1828 (the earth male tiger year of the fourteenth sexagenary cycle) at Ko’ude Valley in Repkong, Choying Tobden Dorje founded the monastery of Dzogchen Namgyeling and nurtured an infinite number of students, including those known as the twenty-one teachers of the Great Perfection: Shardakpa Rabjampa, Bongtak Marik Munsel, Rigdzin Hūṃnak Mebar, and so forth.

The First Dodrubchen Rinpoche, the main teacher of Choying Tobden Dorje

Further, Dodrub Rinpoche had once remarked that the auspicious conditions existed for the preceptor, master, and religious king to converge in the same household. In accordance with that prediction, Choying Tobden Dorje accepted the ḍākinī Kunga Chodron as his consort (rig ma). To them were born two sons: the omniscient Tenpe Nyima, an emanation of the great preceptor Śāntarakṣita; and Togden Tenpe Gyeltsen, an emanation of the religious king Trisong Detsen. Choying Tobden Dorje himself was unmistakably an emanation of Guru Rinpoche. Likewise, based on the timely ripening of the superb aspirations of three masters—Choying Tobden Dorje, Dola Jigme Kalzang Choying Dorje, and Khamla Namkha Gyatso—the large community of awareness holders known as Repkong Longchen Ngagmang developed.

The Precious Treasury of Sūtra and Tantra [presented here in translation as The Complete Nyingma Tradition from Sutra to Tantra] is the magnum opus among Choying Tobden Dorje’s compositions, which were said to have filled almost twenty volumes. These writings included an autobiography (rang rnam), a collection of his songs of spiritual realization (mgur tshogs), a cycle on the practical application of wrathful mantra (drag sngags lag len gyi skor), and a supporting cycle on the profound doctrine (zab chos yang rgyab skor). Nevertheless, some of those very important books vanished, with only their titles remaining, in the midst of turbulent times. Apart from The Precious Treasury of Sūtra and Tantra, his remaining extant works have been published by the Qinghai Ngagmang Research Institute in two volumes: the Guide to the Great Perfection according to the Cycle of the Further Secret: Wish-Fulfilling Gem of Hayagrīva and Vajravārāhī (Yang gsang rta phag yid bzhin nor bu) and An Anthology of the Miscellaneous Writings of Dzogchen Choying Tobden Dorje (rDzogs chen chos dbyings stobs ldan rdo rje’i gsung thor phyogs bsgrigs). These two were printed in 2006 and 2010, respectively, through the Beijing Nationalities’ Publishing House.

The Precious Treasury of Sūtra and Tantra contains the essence of the enlightened intention expressed in oceans of discourses and tantras delivered by the conquerors of the ten directions; the commentaries on the enlightened intention of the words of the buddhas written by many learned and accomplished masters of India and Tibet who elucidate the teaching; the practical application and experiential guidance deriving from the lineages of accomplished masters who maintain the teaching; the exegetical traditions of various learned teaching styles; the structure of the ground, path, and result of the sūtra and mantra vehicles; an analysis of view, meditation, and conduct; the gradation of vows and commitments in accordance with [the distinctions between the vows of] individual liberation, bodhisattva, and secret mantra; and an exegesis of the five major fields of classical learning. In this work, nothing is lacking, and it is unprecedented. Concerning its supreme eloquence, the sublime elderly master Dodrub Rinpoche made this timely prophetic declaration:

At first you cast the concerns of this mundane life from your mind and in seclusion applied yourself with intense diligence. Through the trio of study, reflection, and meditation on the sacred doctrine, you excellently refined your own mental continuum. Next, you brought the mental continuum of others to maturation and liberation through the trio of teaching, debate, and composition. Finally, through the trio of understanding, meditative experience, and realization, you have most extensively enhanced the spiritual and temporal well-being of the doctrine and sentient beings, for your own sake and for the sake of others. Now, for the sake of fortunate persons of the present and the time yet to come, you must prepare an auspicious text with words that describe those experiences, one that establishes by means of the view the abiding nature of all phenomena of cyclic existence, nirvāna, and the spiritual path; that may be experientially cultivated through meditation; that achieves success through conduct; and that is imbued with blessings.

At the time this prediction came true, Tendzin Chogyel Tsering Dondrub Pelzangpo, the Qosot ruler of Kokonor (Qinghai), encouraged Choying Tobden Dorje to compose the work, promising at that time to facilitate its printing and aid the precious Buddhist teaching. Due to this and other auspicious coincidences, Choying Tobden Dorje began writing in 1836 (the fire monkey year of the fourteenth sexagenary cycle), and fortunately completed the task in 1838 (the earth dog year).

The root text is in verse; the synoptic outline explains the framework of the treatise; the concise commentary is written in prose; the extensive commentary is accompanied by supportive citations from the scriptures; and the illustrated version is extremely vivid. Thus, the whole work has these five main sections, which are contained in thirteen precious volumes, with three parts: an introduction, a main text, and a conclusion. These volumes in turn comprise twenty-five books, 2,179 subtopics, and eighty separate chapters, a number equal to the Buddha’s minor marks of physical perfection.

Another of the spiritual heirs of Dodrubchen Rinpoche who were known as the "four supporting beams with the name Dorje" was Jigme Kelzang Choying Dorje, who is [described in the aforementioned prophecy] as the "white conch shell of the east who appeared with a resounding Brahmā-like voice." His reincarnation Dzong-ngon Pema Tukchok Dorje, who lived in the Repkong area, later praised The Precious Treasury of Sūtra and Tantra with these words:

Its root text in verse facilitates memorization.
Through its authentic citations from the canon confidence undoubtedly arises.
The clarity of its extensive commentary facilitates understanding of the intended meaning.
Its framework distinguishes main topics and subtopics.
This eloquent composition imbued with these four special qualities
Gathers in their entirety the essential points of the commentaries
On the enlightened intention of oceanic discourses and tantras in general.
And in particular, it articulates the profundity
Of the six million tantras of the path of Atiyoga, highest of the vehicles.
The content of this precious treasury, with its many profundities,
An unprecedented treatise sealed with the seven possessions of a universal monarch,
Is resplendent, for it lacks nothing; it is error-free and unadulterated.

With these words he clearly elucidated the uncommon, special qualities of this treatise.

Subsequently [following his completion of this treatise], the Qosot ruler of Qinghai, Tsering Dondrub; Choying Tobden Dorje’s mother, Ngodrub Dolma; his son, the omniscient Tenpe Nyima; his disciples Kunpang Gendun Palden, Atsok Lektsok Gyatso, Lama Marik Munsel, and Lama Dorje Sherab; and, likewise, his faithful patrons with their entourage collected the funds necessary to sponsor the original carving of the woodblocks of the treatise. Over time these individuals fostered the continuity of its reading transmission, teaching, and study. Apart from that, the carving of the woodblocks for the sections of the extensive commentary (entitled A Beauteous Ornament of the Aeon of Mighty Brahmā) which concern the Tantra of the Secret Nucleus and the cycle of the Great Perfection was undertaken much later; for the words of aspiration contained in the colophon of the first imprint clearly indicate that the latter carving was completed in 1903 (the water hare year of the fifteenth sexagenary cycle). The complete set of woodblocks for the thirteen volumes of The Precious Treasury of Sūtra and Tantra was installed at the seat of Dzogchen Namgyeling. Then, thirty-five years later, in March 1938, through the depredations of the Qinghai warlord [Ma Bufang], those original woodblocks were consumed by the outer element, fire. Further, during the great calamity of the Cultural Revolution, even the transmission of guidance according to this treatise was interrupted in the Repkong area. These are extremely tragic matters.

In the 1980s, in accordance with the hopes of a few scholars, the Institute of Ancient Texts and the Nationalities Research Center, under the Committee of the Nationality Affairs of Sichuan Province, both began the process of searching out, collecting, and editing The Precious Treasury of Sūtra and Tantra. The Committee of the Nationality Affairs of China then initiated a nationwide project to restore rare ethnic texts, and they provided funding. Thus, as a result of sixteen years of painstaking labor, the original texts have been found, collected, and minutely collated and proofread. Consequently, in the year 2000, we were able to publish and distribute through the Sichuan Nationalities’ Publishing House a modern edition of this treatise. That said, an original copy of the latter volume of the illustrated version, entitled A Garland of Suns, still eludes our search.

lama tharchin rinpocheThe great mantrin Tsedrub Tharchin, a native of Repkong living in the United States, regarded this unique jewel of sovereign power that is sufficient to gather and elucidate all the sūtras, tantras, and treatises as the beautifying adornment of the Repkong Ngagmang community. He single-mindedly applied himself to finding and restoring the continuity of its reading transmission and guidance. He kept two projects in mind: the translation of the entire Precious Treasury of Sūtra and Tantra into English so it could spread throughout the world, and the founding of a college based on The Precious Treasury of Sūtra and Tantra within the Repkong Ngagmang community. He felt that this would ensure that the resplendent wealth of his ancestors’ heritage would be passed down to future generations. With this pure, insightful intention firmly in mind, his enlightened activity has been significant.

Now, the first of Repkong Lama Tharchin Rinpoche’s aspirations has come true: The Treasury of Sūtra and Tantra has been translated into English and published under the title The Complete Nyingma Tradition from Sutra to Tantra. Its distribution will spread the precious teachings of the Buddha throughout this wide world. I consider this to be a wholly positive, meaningful event that will prove to be healing and beneficial in every way. To all who participated in this project, headed by Lama Tharchin Rinpoche—translators, editors, benefactors, and others—I offer my humble esteem again and again in great measure, and I send my aspirations for the auspicious success of all your projects.

Offered respectfully by Hūṃchen
March 2014

[Chenak Hūṃchen is a yogin with a long family connection to the Repkong Ngagmang community, where he has been actively engaged in publishing their texts and preserving their traditions.]

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