Garab Dorje first human lineage holder of Dzogchen
Garab Dorje

Origins of the lineage

The Dzogchen teachings have a long history. Within the Buddhist tradition, Dzogchen is said to have originated with Garab Dorje, who lived in Oddiyana approximately 360 years after the parinirvana of Buddha Sakyamuni. Many scholars identify Oddiyana with the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan, but it could also have been Afghanistan.

Long before this, though, Dzogchen teachings had also been transmitted through Shenrab Miwoche, the founder of Bön, the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet. Early sources speak of the twelve primordial teachers of Dzogchen, some of who pre-date Garab Dorje by many thousands of years. The last of these teachers before Garab Dorje was Shakyamuni Buddha.

The first four knowledge holders

The main student of Garab Dorje was Manjusrimitra, who systematized the Dzogchen teachings into Semde, the mind series, Longde, the series of space, and Menngagde or Upadesha, the essential instructions series. This classification is still used today. Manjusrimitra transmitted the knowledge to his disciple  Sri Singha, who in turn passed it on to Jnanasutra. The first four human knowledge holders (rigdzin or vidyadharas) Garab Dorje, Manjushrimitra, Sri Singha and Jnanasutra, all attained Rainbow Body at the time of their death, but in response to their students’ anguished pleas, they reappeared in a blaze of rainbow light, leaving their last testaments.

Later lineage of teachers

The great scholar Vimalamitra received the testaments from both Sri Singha and Jnanasutra. The quintessence of his teaching is known as the Vima Nyingtik, one of the Heart-essence teachings of the Great Perfection. He was one of the teachers of Padmasambhava.

The lotus-born, Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, is regarded as the second Buddha. He firmly established the Tantric and Dzogchen teachings in Tibet in the ninth century CE, and collaborated in the creation of  the first Buddhist monastery there. He had two chief consorts, one an Indian princess, Mandarava, and the other a Tibetan princess, Yeshe Tsogyal.

Lonchenpa (1308–1363) was responsible for the scholastic systematization of Dzogchen thought. He is known for his voluminous writings, including the highly influential Seven Treasuries.

Jigme Lingpa (1730–1798) discovered the Longchen Nyingthig, the Heart Essence teachings of Longchenpa, the most famous and widely practiced cycle of Dzogchen teachings.

Adzom Drukpa (1842–1924) was a great lineage holder of the Longchen Nyingtik teachings. Chögyal Namkhai Norbu was considered to be his immediate reincarnation.

Changchub Dorje (1863–1961) was the root teacher of  Chögyal Namkhai Norbu.

Padmadambhava, the lineage holder who introduced tantric Buddhism and Dzogchen to Tibet.
(Courtesy Auckland Museum)