Unbroken Lineage of Mind Transmission

- Excerpted from the introduction to A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems, in which Sogyal Rinpoche recounted the teachings of Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche.

nyoshul khenIn the case of the Dzogchen Teachings, and the great oral lineage of pith instructions, from the time of the great primordial buddha until today, the lineage has continued unbroken and unimpaired. If we trace the lineage back to the primordial buddha Samantabhadra , or even simply to the omniscient Longchenpa, we have tangible signs of this lineage in the world— for example the “Looks Like Me” statue of Longchenpa, and the paintings and other representations of him that exist. In the case of Guru Rinpoche, there are five major kutsap, or “representative” images. All these constitute representations of enlightened form.

 As for representations of enlightened speech, we have many of the great treatises, including the Seven Treasuries by Longchenpa. These have not disappeared or diminished, but still exist in this world.

As for enlightened mind, there is a well-known saying in the teachings. “Confer the enlightened intention on the fortunate child.” What this refers to is the transmission of the realization of this ultimate wisdom mind by the master to the student. But this does not happen for just any ordinary person. A number of circumstances have to come together, in terms of how the master and the student interact: there are the authentic teachings, or pith instructions, there is the master who has the authentic blessing of the lineage, and there is the student, who has authentic faith and devotion. When these three “authentics” come together, the realization of the Great Perfection can awaken in the student’s mindstream.  

Some seven hundred years ago, when the omniscient Longchenpa passed on this transmission to his students, he actually transmitted this enlightened realization to his disciples. Yet it was not just Longchenpa who did this. It has always been like this, from the primordial buddha Samantabhadra down to our own root guru, with the previous generations passing on this enlightened realization to the succeeding generation in an uninterrupted line that has lasted until the present day. And this is why the Dzogchen lineage has not waned or disappeared but is still alive in this world of ours.

In every case, from Samantabhadra down to our own root guru, all of those masters have transmitted this to their disciples, one after another, generation after generation. Whether we think of the dimension of form, speech or enlightened wisdom mind, none of them have disappeared; they are all still present. So we can truly have conviction in the authenticity of this lineage. 

Therefore it is vital nowadays to have an understanding of exactly where these teachings come from and through whom these teachings have passed. If we fail to understand this kind of historical background, it is almost as if we were children who had lost their mother. Or to take another example, imagine we have an exquisite vase made of gold, encrusted with gems, and to the handle of this vase we attach a string that goes to another vase, one made of clay. From that clay vase, another string is attached to that goes to yet another vase, and so on, until we have five, six, seven, eight vases down the line. At a certain point, the person who holds the last one in succession may have no idea where the original golden vase is. That person has forgotten it or doesn’t know how to find it, simply thinking, “Well, I’ve got this vase that I’m holding in my hands, there’s nothing other than this.”

To avoid such a predicament we need to understand everything that has gone before. This is why it is important to study the names and life stories of the lineage masters.