Garab Dorje (Fl. 55 CE) (Tibetan: དགའ་རབ་རྡོ་རྗེ་, Wylie: dga’ rab rdo rje) was the semi-historical first human to receive direct transmission teachings from Vajrasattva. Garab Dorje then became the teacher of the Ati Yoga (Tib. Dzogchen) or Great Perfection teachings according to Tibetan buddhist and Nyingma school traditions. The Tibetan Bon beliefs, which pre-date buddhism, differ in their origin story of Dzogchen.
Garab Dorje (or Garap Dorje) is his only attested name. The Sanskrit offerings are reconstructions. No Sanskrit name has been found in a colophon to attest to historicity. That said, John Myrdhin Reynolds cited Prahevajra or Pramodavajra in his book Self-Liberation Through Seeing with Naked Awareness [rig pa ngo sprod gcer mthong rang grol].
According to the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, Garab Dorje transmitted the complete empowerments of Dzogchen to Manjushrimitra, who was regarded as his chief disciple. Padmasambhava is also known to have received the transmission of the Dzogchen tantras directly from Garab Dorje.
Garab Dorje received the empowerment and transmission of the Mahayoga teachings of the Secret Matrix Tradition (Guhyagarbha tantra) from Mahasiddha Kukuraja.
Garab Dorje's birth is interpreted in different ways by different people: In an interpretation, he was born as a son of Su-dharmā and an island-dwelling daughter of king Upa-rāja of Dhana-koṣa, in the land of Uddiyana, also the birthplace of Padmasambhava. Garab Dorje is said to have received all the Tantras, scriptures and oral instructions of Dzogchen directly from Vajrasattva and Vajrapani. In another interpretation, his mother is named as Pāraņī, located on the banks of lake Kutra.
The Nyingmapa lineage conveys Garab Dorje's birth to be a miraculous birth by a virgin daughter of the king of Odiyana (Uddiyana), and that he recited Dzogchen tantras at his birth.
A detailed interpretation of the hagiographic nativity of Garab Dorje briefly contextualizes his mother, a bhikṣuṇī whose sadhana was Yoga tantra, and her parents. The bhiksuni daughter has a dream in which a man holds the vase of the Astamangala, the 'threefold world', with the syllables 'oṃ ā hūṃ' and svāhā:
The Lord of Secrets (gSang-ba'i-bdag-po) instructed the Holders of Wisdom (Rig-'dsin) in Dhanakośa in Uḍḍiyāna the contemporary Swat valley. There was a large temple, called bDe-byed-brtsegs-pa; it was surrounded by 1608[Notes 1] smaller chapels. King Uparāja, and Queen sNang-ba-gsal-ba'i-od-ldan-ma resided there. They had a daughter called Sudharmā; she took the novice vows, and soon afterwards the full monastic vows. Sudharmā, together with her maidens, stayed on an island and meditated about the Yoga Tantra (rnal-'byor-gyi rgyud). One night the Bhikṣuṇī Sudharmā dreamed that a white man had come, who was utterly pure and beautiful. He held a crystal vessel in his hand which had the letters oṃ ā hūṃ svāhā engraved upon it. Three times he set the vessel upon the crown of her head, and light then shone from it. While this happened, she beheld the threefold world perfectly and clearly. Not long after this dream the Bhikṣuṇī gave birth to a true son of the gods.
In the tradition of the oral transmission lineage, Garab Dorje's teachings are also shared through quotations.
Before becoming Garab Dorje's student, Manjushrimitra heard of Garab Dorje's Dzogchen teachings, and sought a debate to defeat the heretical views. Manjushrimitra lost the debate and realized his errors. Garab Dorje then gave Manjushrimitra the complete Dzogchen empowerments, and summarized his teaching as follows: The nature of mind is the original Buddha without birth or cessation, like the sky! When you understand that, all apparent phenomena are beyond birth and cessation. Meditating means letting this condition be as it is, without seeking.
As Garab Dorje attained paranirvana, his body dissolved into a mist of rainbow light. Manjushrimitra called to his teacher and Garab Dorje responded by handing his last teaching to Manjushrimitra, which was enclosed in a golden casket the size of a thumbnail. Inside, the three precepts known as the Three Words that Strike to the Heart of the Essential Point, or Tsig Sum Nèdek, (Wylie: tshig gSum gNad brDeg) contain the whole of the Dzogchen teachings, and are a universal introduction to Dzogchen.
Garab Dorje's "Three Words that Strike to the Heart" are considered the essential teaching by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and the infallible key point by Patrul Rinpoche. "The Three Statements that Strike the Vital Point" teaching, as translated by Lotsawa House:
Introducing directly the face of rigpa itself. (ngo rang tok tu tré)
Deciding upon one thing and one thing only. (tak chik tok tu ché)
Confidence directly in the liberation of rising thoughts. (deng drol tok tu cha)
Though not his writings the tradition holds that the Seventeen Tantras were directly revealed to Garab Dorje. The following texts are attributed to Garab Dorje: