The Treasury of Lives

The Nyingma (rnying ma) - literally the "ancient" - is considered the oldest tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, although when the disparate institutions and strands of transmission were first conceived as belonging to a singular and coherent entity is not clear. According to legend, the Nyingma teachings were brought to Tibet in the eighth century by Padmasambhava, a tantric ritual specialist invited to Tibet to subjugate native deities that were obstructing the dissemination of Buddhism. Padmasambhava and other Indian masters such as Vimalamitra, and select Tibetan translators such as Vairocana, propagated the tradition's primary teaching, Dzogchen, a tantric system that has also been adopted to varying degree by other traditions. The Indic scriptures that were translated in the eighth and ninth centuries and the teachings by the masters of that era have come to be known as the "Kama," or spoken word tradition. Since at least the twelfth century Nyingma teachers known as terton, or "treasure revealers" have produced new scriptures said to have been concealed by Padmasambhava or others for the benefit of future eras. The Nyingma maintains both lay and monastic traditions, with six mother monasteries: Dorje Drak and Mindroling in central Tibet, and Katok, Pelyul, Dzogchen and Zhechen in Kham.

Incarnation Lines




The style of this painting is known as tshal thang, a red background with fine gold lines forming the shapes of the subject deities. Only the eyes are filled with white and black pigments.


An early image of Padmasambhava with Nyangrel Nyima Ozer and masters of various traditions, including Padampa Sanggye.


This eighteenth century painting features Padmasambhava surrounded by his consorts Yeshe Tsogyel and Mandarava. Below are Śāntarakṣita  and Trisong Detsen. 

Khenpo Jigme Puntsok with Khandro Tāre Lama and Namtrul Jigme Puntsok

Prolific treasure revealers Namtrul Jigme Phuntsok and Khandro Tāre Lhamo are pictured beside Khenpo Jigme Puntsok, who gave them teachings and also authorized them as treasure revealers. 

The First Dorje Drak Rigdzin

A nineteenth century painting featuring the First Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Rigdzin Godemchen Ngodrub Gyeltsen, a Nyingma treasure revealer who discovered the Jangter, or Northern Treasures. 

Third Karmapa and Lineage Masters

A unique image made with ink shows Buddhist masters from multiple traditions. The style is considered unusual and has been associated with the Tenth Karmapa.

Rigdzin Kunzang Sherab

An 18th century painting of Rigdzin Kunzang Sherab, the founder of Pelyul monastery, surrounded by deities and Nyingma masters.

Padmasambhava with Jigme Lingpa and Disciples

This 18th century painting depicts Padmasambhava as a monk surrounded by several disciples and Jigme Lingpa above his head.

Three Sisters

The Three Sisters were Indian deities brought into the Tibetan pantheon initially in the eleventh century by the Sakya translator Bari Lotsawa Rinchen Drak and later through treasure revelation.

Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje

This 19th century painting depicts the central figure of Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje with previous Nyingma masters above. 

Padmasambhava as Pema Jungne

A nineteenth century painting of Padmasambhava as Pema Jungne depicts his disciple Sokpo Pelgyi Yeshe in the lower left corner. 

Padmasambhava as Sengge Dradok

This Nyingma painting of Padmasambhava as Sengge Dradok shows Yeshe Tsogyel in the lower right corner.

Jatson Nyingpo

19th century painting of Jatson Nyingpo from eastern Tibet depicts the prolific treasure revealer wearing monks robes.

Padmasambhava - Guru Drakpo

This 20th century painting depicts Padmasambhava in wrathful form as Guru Dragpo, in the treasure tradition of Padmasambhava biographer Nyangrel Nyima Ozer.

Namkhai Nyingpo

Namkhai Nyingpo, one of the twenty-five disciples of Padmasambhava, is depicted with long-life ritual implements. Other details of this nineteenth century painting from Kham suggest a elements from Jamgon Kongtrul's story of Namkhai Nyingpo and Dorje Tso. 


This 18th century painting of Vajrakila depicts Sakya masters on either side of Vajrasattva.

Rahula and Retinue

Rahula, wrathful protector of the the treasure tradition, is depicted with various masters in a nineteenth century painting from Kham. 


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