The Dzogchen Lineage

Although Dzogchen teachings originate in time before time, they are preserved in only two traditions: the Nyingma and Bon traditions of Tibet. In the Nyingma tradition, Dzogchen, called Maha Ati, the Great Completion, is the highest of the nine paths. The Nyingma is the only school that contains the full Mahayana, the full Vajrayana and the full Dzogchen teachings.

The Dzogchen lineage begins with Garab Dorje who may have lived around the 7th century in Uddiyana, the mountainous area north of Gandhara. Garab Dorje received the transmission of Dzogchen directly from the deity Vajrasattva. As a youth he is said to have defeated 500 scholars in debate, and then retired in retreat until the age of 32. At that time, alone in the mountains, he began to receive over a three year period, the 6.4 million verses of the Dzogpa Chenpo. These he taught to his primary student Manjushrimitra.

Manjushrimitra was born in India. He was a Brahmin, a monastic pandit, learned in the five branches of knowledge, and in ‘all the teachings of cause and effect’. He received pure visions from Manjushri telling him a rare event has occurred, that one Garab Dorje was transmitting a teaching beyond cause and effect in a cemetery in Uddiyana and that he should go and receive instruction there. Manjushrimitra went, but brought along eight other pandits who did not believe there were any teachings beyond cause and effect. At the cemetery they engaged Garab Dorje in debate and were all soundly defeated.

Manjushrimitra was deeply upset at his doubts and offered to cut off his tongue, but Garab Dorje told him, “The bliss of self-perfection is beyond any school. The Great Completion is beyond any limits. The teachings of cause and effect neglect the natural state, then try to attain it with effort. Liberate yourself from this attachment.”

Manjushrimitra stayed and became Garab Dorje’s foremost student, receiving the teachings by ‘symbolic transmission’ rather than words. He classified the 6.4 milllion verses of Dzogchen into three categories: the ground teachings of Semde, philosophical teachings on ‘the way the mind dwells’; the path teachings of Longde, on effortlessness; and the fruition teachings of Menagde on the essential points.

Two writings translated into English are attributed to him: A philosophical text called Primordial Experience and a commentary on popular tantric work translated as Chanting the Names of Manjushri.

At his death, he left his last testament, to his primary student, Sri Simha, on the Six Experiences of Meditation:

O son of good family
If you wish to see the continuity
Of naked awareness
Then focus on absolute awareness as the object
Press the points of the body
Close the way of going and coming
Focus on the target
Rely on the unmoving
And grasp the vast expanse

Sri Simha is said to have come from China, where he studied with many teachers there. Avolokiteshvara appeared to him and said he should go to a certain charnel ground in India to receive teachings. He felt he should learn the tantras first and went to Wutai Mountain where he studied tantra for seven years. Avolokiteshvara appeared again, reminding him to go to India. He agreed, but decided it would be best to go by magical means, so he studied for three years to obtain the power of flight walking. Finally, he arrived in India and studied 25 years with Manjushrimitra. He transmited the lineage there notably to Padmasambhava. He arranged the Mennagde teachings into outer, inner, esoteric and innermost esoteric, then concealed these in temples in China and retired to a charnel ground. At his death he left his last testament, The Seven Nails to Jnanasutra:

Homage to perfect wisdom
The unity of uncreated clear light and emptiness
The great self-existing awareness, open and impartial,
Which pervades and abides in all

Nail the original immutable ground
With the seven great nails of the path of the nondual
The difficult path between samsara and nirvana
And the primordial great bliss will arise
Nail together samsara and nirvana
With the unobstructed clarity of pure gnosis
Nail together the observer and the observed
With self-existing clear light
Nail together mind and matter
With the spontaneous stainless essence
Nail together nihilism and eternalism
With liberation from all views
Nail together dharma and dharmata
With absolute awareness
Nail together elation and depression
With the absence of sense impressions
Nail together appearances and emptiness
With the primordial perfection of the limitless space of dharma

Jnanasutra is said to come from eastern India. He and Vimalamitra, who will later went to Tibet and oversaw many translations of Indian Buddhist texts into Tibetan, became friends and students together at Bodhgaya. Vajrasattva appeared to the two of them and said that they needed to go to China to get teachings. Vimalamitra went and received the Dzoghcen teachings there from Sri Simha, but not the texts. He came back and related his experiences to Jnanasutra who went and served Sri Simha for twelve years, getting all the oral instructions, empowerments and innermost esoteric teachings, meditating in the mountains of China, not an easy task, from his account,

The master, Sri Simha, kept behaving in mysterious ways, wandering in charnel grounds, transforming himself into various forms, mingling with dakinis and fearful beings without the slightest fear.

Jnanasutra received the Seven Nails, and then went back to India. There he met up again with Vimalamitra and gave him all the teachings and texts he didn’t get in China. At his death, he left his last testament, The Four Methods of Contemplation to Vimalamitra:

Homage to the primordially pure emptiness
How wonderful! If you train in these, joy will arise naturally
If you wish to attain the state of great equanimity
Gain experience in these contemplations
If you wish to be trained in all esoteric activities
Maintain all the appearances
In the directness of natural contemplation
If you wish to gain strength in your meditation
Remain in the union of mind and phenomena
Through the view of ocean like natural contemplation
If you wish to attain self-liberation from all views
Bring phenomena to cessation
Through mountain like natural contemplation
If you wish to attain all the results as they are
Liberate all the errors in training with the mountain like view

Vimalamitra had now received teachings from Sri Simha and Jnanasutra. He also had pure, direct visions of Garab Dorje. He was invited to Tibet with Padmasambhava by King Trisong Detsen and became famous as one of the first translators of Buddhist texts into Tibetan. He shared teachings with Padmasambhava, and also created his own lineage of teachings which eventually made their way to Lonchenpa in the 14th century.

After teaching in Tibet, it is said Vimalamitra returned to China to meditate on Wutai Mountain where he attained rainbow body. Since then there are many sightings of him. One story tells of a great lama who went there with his disciples. On the mountain, they ran across a grubby shoemaker. The lama went up and talked with him. The disciples saw the shoemaker put his shoes on the lama’s head and force him to drink dirty water from a pail next to him. Understandably, they were all disgusted by this. Afterwards they asked their lama what had just happened. “That was Vimalamitra,” he says, “and I received several important empowerments from him. Obviously your vision is still not pure!”



  1. Don said,

    July 9, 2007 at 3:47 am

    Indians are in tents
    Circle the wagons

  2. Javier said,

    January 7, 2009 at 9:00 am


  3. NamoKwanyin said,

    March 8, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    Thank you for your beautiful page.
    I am planning til visit Avolokiteshvara temples in India- some suggestion?
    Namo Kwanyin

    • April 16, 2009 at 5:42 pm

      My Eyewitness India mentions a gigantic image of Avalokiteshvara at Alchi Monastery in Ladakh and suggests one of the paintings at Ajanta is of Avolokiteshvara or perhaps Vajrapani. A number of images of Avalokitesvara have been found at Nalanda and are in various museums in India including the National Museum in Delhi. There is “a colossal statue of Avolokiteshvara with eleven heads and 1000 hands” at Lamayuru Gompa in Ladakh. There are also statues of Avaoliteshvara in the Buddhist caves at Aurangabad. And of course in Dharmasala.

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