A statuette of Longchenpa
Tibetan name
Tibetan ཀློང་ཆེན་རབ་འབྱམས་པ
Wylieklong chen rab 'byams pa
THLLongchen Rapchampa (Longchenpa)
Tibetan PinyinLongqên Rabjamba (Longqênba)
Lhasa IPA[lɔŋtɕʰẽpa]
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese隆欽然絳巴
Simplified Chinese隆钦然绛巴
Standard Mandarin
Hanyu PinyinLóngqīn Ránjiàngbā

Longchen Rabjam Drimé Özer (Tibetan: ཀློང་ཆེན་རབ་འབྱམས་པ་དྲི་མེད་འོད་ཟེར།, Wylie: klong chen rab 'byams pa dri med 'od zer), commonly abbreviated to Longchenpa (1308–1364, an honorific meaning "The Vast Expanse") was a Tibetan scholar-yogi of the Nyingma school ('Old School') of Tibetan Buddhism.[1] According to tibetologist David Germano, Longchenpa's work led to the dominance of the Longchen Nyingthig lineage of Dzogchen (Great Perfection) over the other Dzogchen traditions.[2] He is also responsible for the scholastic systematization of Dzogchen thought within the context of the wider Tibetan Vajrayana tradition of philosophy which was highly developed at the time among the Sarma schools.[2] Germano also notes that Longchenpa's work is "generally taken to be the definitive expression of the Great Perfection with its precise terminological distinctions, systematic scope, and integration with the normative Buddhist scholasticism that became dominant in Tibet during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries."[3]

Longchenpa is known for his voluminous writings, including the highly influential Seven Treasuries and his compilation of Dzogchen scripture and commentaries, the Nyingthig Yabshi (The Inner Essence in Four Parts).[4][5] Longchenpa was also a terton (treasure revealer) and some of his works, like the Khadro Yangtig, are considered terma (revealed treasure texts).[6] Longchenpa's oeuvre (of over 270 texts) encapsulates the core of Nyingma thought and praxis and is a critical link between the school's exoteric (or sutra) and esoteric (i.e. tantric) teachings. Longchenpa's work also unified the various Dzogchen traditions of his time into a single system.[7] Longchenpa is known for his skill as a poet and his works are written in a unique literary voice which was widely admired and imitated by later Nyingma figures.[8]

Longchenpa was the abbot of Samye, one of Tibet's most important monasteries and the first Buddhist monastery established in the Himalayas. However, he spent most of his life travelling or in retreat.



Longchen Rabjam was born in 1308 in a village in the Dra Valley in Yuru, U-Tsang.[9] He was born to the Nyingma lama Lopon Tsensung, a descendent of the Rog clan.[9] Longchenpa's mother died when he was nine and his father died two years after. After being orphaned, he entered Samye monastery in 1320 under the Abbot Sonam Rinchen and master Lopon Kunga Ozer.[9] Longchenpa was an avid student with a great capacity for memory.[10]

In 1327, Longchenpa moved to the Kadam monastic college of Sangpu Neutok, the most esteemed center of learning in Tibet at the time. He stayed for six years at Sangpu, mastering the entire scholastic curriculum of logical-epistemology, yogacara and madhyamaka as well as poetics.[10][11] During this period, Longchenpa also received teachings and transmissions from different Tibetan Buddhist traditions, including Kadam, Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma.[12] Longchenpa studied under various teachers, including the famous Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje (1284-1339), from whom he received the six yogas of the Kālacakra and the six dharmas of Nāropa.[13]

Longchenpa left Sangpu to practice in the solitude of the mountains, after coming into conflict with certain Khampa scholars.[14] After leaving Sangpu, Longchenpa entered a period of retreat for eight months in complete darkness (winter 1332–1333), where he had some important visions of a young girl who promised to watch over him and grant him blessings.[15] Afterwards, Longchenpa met his main teacher, the Ngagpa Rigdzin Kumaradza (1266-1343), from whom he received Dzogchen teachings while traveling from valley to valley with a nomadic group of about seventy students.[16][17] It is said Longchenpa lived in great poverty during this period, sleeping on a sack and eating only barley.[18]

Longchenpa accompanied Kumaradza and his disciples for two years, during which time he received all of Rigdzin Kumaradza's transmissions (mainly focusing on the Vima Nyingthig and the Khandro Nyingthig). Longchenpa was permitted to teach after a three-year period of retreat (1336-1338) in mChims phu, not far from Samye (according to the mThong snang ’od kyi dra ba, other sources give longer periods like six years).[19][20][18] He is said to have had various visions of different deities, including Padmasambhava, black Vajravārāhī, Guru drag po, and the goddess Adamantine Turquoise Lamp (rDo rje gyu sgron ma)[18]

Mature period

Longchenpa then gathered a group of eight disciples (men and women) in order to initiate them into the Dzogchen teachings (in 1340).[19][6] During this initial period of teaching, Longchenpa and his disciples experienced a series of visions of dakinis and states of possession (the possessions only happened to the women of the group) which convinced him and his disciples that Longchenpa was destined to teach the Dzogchen Nyingthig tradition of the Esoteric Instruction series.[21][6]

Longchenpa also embarked on a project of compiling the main texts of the Vima Nyingthig and the Khandro Nyingthig along with a series of his own commentaries on these works.[22] Most of Longchenpa's mature life was spent in his hermitage at Gangri Thokar, either in meditation retreat or studying and composing texts.[22]

In 1350, at the age of 42, Longchenpa had a vision of Vimalamitra which asked him to restore the temple of Zhai Lhakhang (where the Seventeen Tantras had been concealed by Nyang Tingdzin Zangpo).[23] In the process of this work, Longchenpa took on a Drikung Kagyu student named Kunga Rinchen. Kunga Rinchen had political designs and came into conflict with the powerful Changchub Gyaltsen, who had the support of the Mongol Authorities in Beijing and attacked Kunga Rinchen's monastery.[24]

Longchenpa fled to Bumthang, Bhutan to avoid conflict. Here he relinquished his monastic vows, married and had a daughter and a son.[25] He also founded a series of small monasteries in Bhutan, including Tharpa Ling, his main residence. Longchenpa's lineage survives in Bhutan.[26] After living in Tharpa Ling for 10 years, he returned to Tibet and was reconciled with Changchub Gyaltsen, who even became Longchenpa's student.[26]


Longchenpa's writings and compilations were highly influential, especially on the Nyingma tradition. According to Germano, Longchenpa's work:

had an immediate impact, and in subsequent centuries was to serve as the explicit model for many Nyingma compositions. In particular, his Seminal Heart writings were intensely philosophical as well as contemplative, and architectonic in nature. Though on the whole their characteristic doctrines and terminology are present in the earlier literature stemming from ICe btsun seng ge dbang phyug onwards, their terminological precision, eloquent style, systematic range and structure, and integration with normative Buddhist discourse constitute a major innovation in and of themselves.[27]

A detailed account of Longchenpa's life and teachings is found in Buddha Mind by Tulku Thondup Rinpoche[28] and in A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems by Nyoshul Khenpo.[29] Pema Lingpa, the famous terton (finder of sacred texts) of Bhutan, is regarded as the immediate reincarnation of Longchenpa.


View of Dzogchen

Longchenpa is widely considered the single most important writer on Dzogchen teachings. He was a prolific author and scholar, as well as a compiler of Dzogchen texts. According to David Germano, Longchenpa's work systematized the Dzogchen tradition and its extensive literature while also providing it with a scholastic and philosophical structure based on the standard doctrinal structures that were becoming dominant in the Tibetan Buddhism of late tenth to thirteenth centuries.[30]

According to Germano, Longchenpa's main Dzogchen scriptural sources were: "(i) the Kun byed rgyal po, (ii) The Seventeen Tantras of the Great Perfection (including two closely affiliated tantras—the kLong gsal and Thig le kun gsal) (iii) the Seminal Heart system of Vimalamitra (Bi ma snying thig) and (iv) the Seminal Heart system of Padmasambhava (mKha' 'gro snying thig)."[3] Longchenpa's Dzogchen philosophy is based on the Dzogchen view outlined in these tantric texts. This worldview sees all phenomena (dharmas, Tib. chos) as the emanations or expressions (rtsal), displays (rol pa), and adornments (rgyan) of an ultimate nature or principle (Dharmatā, Tib. chos nyid, or Dharmadhātu, Tib. chos kyi dbyings)[31]

This ultimate principle is described in various ways by Longchenpa, using terminology that is unique to Dzogchen, such as the basis or ground (ghzi) or the "nature of mind" (sems nyid). Longchenpa describes this fundamental basis as being primordially pure and empty while also having the nature of a subtle self-arising awareness. This empty and spontaneous primordial glow (ye gdangs) is the subtle basis for the arising of all phenomenal appearances.[32]

Longchenpa brought Dzogchen thought more closely into dialogue with scholastic Buddhist philosophy and the Sarma tantric systems which were normative in the Tibetan academic institutions of his time.[33] One of Longchenpa's main motivations was to provide a learned defense of Dzogchen thought and practice.[34] Longchenpa's writings also intent to prove the overall superiority of the Dzogchen path over the other eight vehicles of sutra and tantra. His work also posits that this supreme Dzogchen view is not just the pinnacle of Buddhism (which Longchenpa compares the peak of a mountain), but it is in fact a keystone to the entire Buddhist Dharma, without which the "lower vehicles" cannot be fully understood or justified (just like one cannot see the entirety of a mountain unless one is at the top).[35]

In his Theg mchog mdzod, Longchenpa also provides an extensive doxography of Buddhism (based on the nine yanas) in order to explain why Dzogchen (i.e. Atiyoga) deserves the highest rank in this doxography.[36] Longchenpa's understanding of the relationship between Dzogchen and the lower vehicles is inclusive, and he sees Dzogchen as embracing all of the eight vehicles while also sublimating and transcending them.[37]

Dzogchen practice

Longchenpa categorized Dzogchen as a teaching within "secret mantra" (Vajrayana), and specifically, he considered it to be part of the perfection stage of secret mantra practice, defining this "great perfection phase" (rdzogs rim chenpo), as "resting in the pristine unfabricated enlightening-mind of awareness" (in his bSam gtan ngal gso 80.2).[38] Furthermore, Longchenpa defended the validity of Dzogchen as a stand-alone system of formless and effortless perfection stage practice, which did not require preliminary practice of the generation stage of deity yoga (unlike other tantric systems) nor standard tantric initiation rituals. Instead, for Longchenpa, the practice of Dzogchen merely relies on a pointing out (sems khrid) of the mind's nature in an encounter with a teacher.[39]

In his Grub mtha' mdzod, Longchenpa describes how Dzogchen transcends the classic tantric generation and perfection stages which for him are based on effort, mental constructs and fixation. For Longchenpa, Dzogchen relies on simple (spros med) and more natural methods which are based on the recognition of the nature of the mind and the Dzogchen view (Ita ba) of reality.[40] Longchenpa also argues that this Dzogchen method is "superior to that of stress-filled actualization involved in ordinary generation and perfection" (Zab mo yang tig vol. 11, 344.2-6).[41]

In the root verses and auto-commentary to his chapter on meditation within The Treasury of the Dharmadhatu (chos dbyings mdzod), Longchenpa placed strong emphasis on the importance of the practice of the "four ways of resting" in the nature of awareness (cog gzhag bzhi) and the "three samadhis" (ting nge 'dzin gsum), offering also detailed explanations for their practice.[42] In the foreword to the book The Meditations of Longchen Rabjam, Thrangu Rinpoche explicitly notes:

One of the most renowned presentations of Dzogchen is given in Longchen Rabjam’s Chöying Dzöd. This text gives clear instructions on how to develop the view and practice the meditation of resting in the nature of awareness. Studying and practicing these meditations will be of great benefit to everyone who encounters these instructions.[43]

Longchenpa also critiques tantric perfection stage methods (such as the six yogas of Naropa) which focus on manipulating the winds (vayu) in the channels (nadis) of the subtle body in order to confine them into the central channel. Longchenpa sees these techniques are inferior, because they are strenuous and forceful and may lead to delusory appearances.[44] Longchenpa contrasts these tantric techniques with those of Dzogchen in which "the winds are left to naturally calm down of their own accord, there is no insertion into the central channel."[45]

Germano describes Longchenpa's view on this topic as follows:

In his Grub mtha' mdzod kLong chen rab 'byams pa also incisively criticizes these normative modernist tantric practices of forcefully inserting the energy winds into the central channel in the attempt to achieve primordial gnosis. He contrasts this to Great Perfection contemplation in which the body's luminous channels are let be, and thus naturally expand outwards from their current presence as a thin thread of light at the body's center, so as to directly permeate one's entire existence and dissolve all energy blockages therein. He retains the emphasis on the body's center and light-experiences, yet undercuts the tone of control and manipulation.[46]


Longchenpa wrote over 270 works according to Tulku Thondup.[26]

Seven treasuries

The Seven Treasuries (mdzod bdun), which elucidate the meaning of the Nyingma school's worldview and Dzogchen, are his most influential and famous original treatises.[5][26]

The Seven Treasuries are:[47]

According to Germano, the Tsik Dön Dzö and the Tekchok Dzö together constitute Longchenpa's primary scholastic work on the Dzogchen tradition.[48][better source needed]

Nyingthig Yabshi

Longchenpa compiled various Dzogchen Menngagde scriptures (including the Seventeen Tantras) into the collection known as the Nyingthig Yabshi (The Inner Essence in Four Parts).[5] In this compilation, Longchenpa combines his editions of the Vima Nyingtig and the Khandro Nyingthig, along with his own commentaries on these cycles (the Lama Yangtik and the Khandro Yangtik respectively).[5] Longchenpa also composed a supplementary commentary to the Nyingthig Yabshi, called the Zabmo Yangtig.[19]

According to Germano, Longchenpa's compilation "brought much needed order and organizational clarity to the at times chaotic mass of the Vimalamitra-transmitted Seminal Heart scriptures inherited from Kumaradza."[7]

Other works

Some of his other important original compositions include:[5][49]

English translations

Seven Treasuries







Trilogy of Natural Ease




Trilogy of Natural Freedom

Trilogy of Dispelling Darkness

Other translations

Name and titles

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Apart from Longchenpa's names given below, he is sometimes referred to by the honorary title "Second Buddha" (Tib. rgyal ba gnyis), a term usually reserved for Guru Padmasambhava and indicative of the high regard in which he and his teachings are held. Like the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, Rongzompa and Jigme Lingpa, he carried the title "Kunkhyen" (Tibetan; "All-Knowing").

Various forms and spellings of Longchenpa's full name(s), in which Longchen means "great expanse", "vast space", and Rab 'byams "cosmic", "vast", "extensive", "infinite".

See also



  1. ^ van Schaik (2011), p. 92-93.
  2. ^ a b Germano (1994).
  3. ^ a b Germano (1994), p. 301.
  4. ^ Rabjam (1998).
  5. ^ a b c d e Dalton (2004), p. 425.
  6. ^ a b c Germano & Gyatso (2001).
  7. ^ a b Germano (1994), p. 274.
  8. ^ Arguillère (2007), p. 195-211.
  9. ^ a b c Longchenpa (2020), p. xxvi.
  10. ^ a b Longchenpa (2020), p. xxvii.
  11. ^ Lobel (2018), p. 88.
  12. ^ Longchenpa (2020), p. xxviii-xxix.
  13. ^ Arguillère (2007), p. 49-51.
  14. ^ Rabjam (1996), p. 145–188.
  15. ^ Arguillère (2007), p. 87-91.
  16. ^ van Schaik (2011), p. 93-94.
  17. ^ Longchenpa (2020), p. xxx.
  18. ^ a b c Arguillère (2007), p. 94.
  19. ^ a b c Longchenpa (2020), p. xxxii.
  20. ^ van Schaik (2011), p. 94.
  21. ^ van Schaik (2011), p. 95.
  22. ^ a b Longchenpa (2020), p. xxxiii.
  23. ^ Longchenpa (2020), p. xxxiv.
  24. ^ Longchenpa (2020), p. xxxiv-xxxv.
  25. ^ Longchenpa (2020), p. xxxvi.
  26. ^ a b c d Longchenpa (2020), p. xxxvii.
  27. ^ Germano (1994), p. 275.
  28. ^ Thondup (1989).
  29. ^ Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche (2005).
  30. ^ Germano (1994), p. 205, 274.
  31. ^ Arguillère (2007), p. 195-201.
  32. ^ Longchenpa & Thondup (1996), p. 42, 60-61.
  33. ^ Germano (1994), p. 209.
  34. ^ Germano (1994), p. 242.
  35. ^ Arguillère (2007), p. 202.
  36. ^ Germano (1994), p. 250.
  37. ^ Arguillère (2007), p. 195-207.
  38. ^ Germano (1994), p. 224.
  39. ^ Germano (1994), p. 225-228.
  40. ^ Germano (1994), p. 230.
  41. ^ Germano (1994), p. 232-233.
  42. ^ Barth (2013), p. 80-196.
  43. ^ Barth (2013), p. 9.
  44. ^ Germano (1994), p. 316-319.
  45. ^ Germano (1994), p. 319.
  46. ^ Germano (1994), p. 318.
  47. ^ van Schaik (2013), p. 10, 327.
  48. ^ a b c Germano (1992), ch. 2, pp. 10-38.
  49. ^ Arguillère (2007b), ch. 1.1.
  50. ^ Lobel (2018), p. 96.

Works cited

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Further reading