Nyingma Gyubum

Nyingma Gyubum (Tibetan: རྙིང་མ་རྒྱུད་འབུམ, Wylie: rnying ma rgyud ‘bum ) is the 'Collected Tantras of the Ancients', that is the Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga Tantras of the Nyingma.[1]


The Nyingma Gyubum of the Nyingma was a dependent arising resulting from the 'normalization' of the Kangyur and Tengyur by the Sarma traditions which for the most part excluded Nyingma literatures. Davidson (2005: p. 225) opines that the first edition of the Nyingma Gyubum began formation by the twelfth century with certain texts drawn from the Terma literature.[2]

Space Class

According to Thondup & Talbott (1997: p. 48) there are only seven extant texts of the Space Class and they are collected in the Nyingma Gyubum.[3]

Extant versions

Cantwell and Mayer have since 1996 published four monographs on the rNying ma'i rGyud 'bum, and have critically edited a number of its texts. Their work has established that the nine easily available extant versions fall into three distinct lines of descent. Thus the four Bhutanese versions of Tshamdrag, Gangteng-A, Gangteng-B and Drametse form one line of descent, all from a Lhalung original. The Rigzin, Tingkye, Kathmandu and Nubri versions all hail from a common ancestor in South Central Tibet, but Kathmandu and Nubri are of a slightly different sub-branch to the Tingkye and Rigzin. Dege is unique unto itself.[4]

Harunaga & Almogi (July, 2009) hold that there are at minimum seven extant versions of the Nyingma Gyubum of different sizes, ranging from 26 to 46 volumes in length.[5]

Degé (Wylie: sde dge) Edition

The terton Ratna Lingpa (1403–1471) was important in the compilation of the Nyingma Gyubum's first evocation and Jigmed Lingpa (1729–1798) built upon this compilation and it was published with the impetus of Getse Mahapandita (1761–1829), one of Jigme Lingpa's disciples, through patronage of the royal house of Degé.[6]

Further to this, Rigpa Shedra (2009) hold that the Nyingma Gyubum:

"...was first compiled by the great tertön Ratna Lingpa after similar compilations of texts made in the 14th century, such as the Kangyur and the Tengyur, had omitted many of the Nyingma tantras. It was first published towards the end of the 18th century under the guidance of the Omniscient Jigmed Lingpa, in Derge, thanks to the patronage of the regent queen Tsewang Lhamo." [6][7]

Jigme Lingpa gathered Nyingma texts that had become rare, starting with Nyingma tantras held in the manuscript collection of the Mindrolling Monastery. This collection of the Nyingma tantras led to the amassing of the 'Collection of Nyingma Tantras', the Nyingma Gyübum (Wylie: rNying-ma rgyud-'bum) for which Getse Mahapandita wrote the catalogue, proofread and arranged for its printing by soliciting the expensive and labour-intensive project of carving the wood blocks for the block printing. The wood block carving was forded through the patronage of the 'Degé' (Wylie: sDe-dge[8]) Royal Family of Kham who favoured and honoured Jigme Lingpa.[9] Getse Mahapandita proof read the Nyingma Gyübum.[9]

Collected Tantras of Vairochana (Wylie: bai ro’i rgyud ’bum)

The 'Collected Tantras of Vairochana' (Tibetan: བཻ་རོའི་རྒྱུད་འབུམ, Wylie: bai ro’i rgyud ’bum ) is collection of ancient tantras and esoteric instructions compiled and translated by the eighth century Tibetan master Vairochana.

Tingkyé (Wylie: gting skyes) Edition

An admirable pioneering catalogue of this collection, including all titles, chapters and colophons, was made by Kaneko in Japan. Some years later, this was usefully rendered into a digital version by THDL.

Tsamdrak (Wylie: mtshams brag) Edition

Anthony Hanson-Barber provided the first title and colophons catalog of this collection. His work was then expanded into a fuller catalog including chapter headings by the THDL team.

Importantly, the Kunjed Gyalpo is the first text in the Tsamdrak edition of the Nyingma Gyubum.[12]

Catalog of the Master Edition

Though not a true extant edition, the THL Tibetan Literary Encyclopedia under the directive of Germano has distilled a Master Edition taking the abovementioned editions into account.

Rig 'dzin Tshe dbang nor bu Edition

Cantwell, Mayer and Fischer (2002) in association with their partnerships document the Rig 'dzin Tshe dbang nor bu Edition of the Nyingma Gyubum.[13]

'Gangteng' (Wylie: sgang steng) Edition

Cantwell, Mayer, Kowalewski & Achard (2006) have published a catalogue in English of this edition of the Nyingma Gyubum.[14]

Indigenous Himalayan discourse rendered in English: an emic narrative

What constitutes a tantra according to the Nyingma?

Early in the naturalization and acclimatization of Indian and Chinese tantric Buddhadharma and siddha traditions into the Himalaya and Greater Tibet in general, the Guhyagarbha Tantra (Wylie: gsang ba snying po ) of the Mahayoga class of literature "represents the most normative vision of what constitutes a tantra for these Nyingma lineages".[15] Indigenous Tibetan exegetical works discuss what constitutes a 'tantra' in an enumeration of ten or eleven "practical principles of tantra" (Wylie: rgyud kyi dngos po ) understood as defining the distinctive features of mainstream tantric systems as understood and envisioned at that point in time:[15]

  1. 'A view of the real' (Wylie: de kho na nyid lta ba )
  2. 'determinate conduct' (Wylie: la dor ba spyod pa )
  3. 'mandala array' (Wylie: bkod pa dkyil 'khor )
  4. 'successive gradation of empowerment' (Wylie: rim par bgrod pa dbang )
  5. 'commitment which is not transgressed' (Wylie: mi 'da' ba dam tshig )
  6. 'enlightened activity which is displayed' (Wylie: rol pa phrin las )
  7. 'fulfillment of aspiration' (Wylie: don du gnyer ba sgrub pa )
  8. 'offerings which brings the goal to fruition' (Wylie: gnas su stobs pa mchod pa )
  9. 'unwavering contemplation' (Wylie: mi g.yo ba ting nge 'dzin ), and
  10. 'mantra recitation' (Wylie: zlos pa sngags ) accompanied by 'the seal which binds the practitioner to realization' (Wylie: 'ching ba phyag rgya ).[16]

Modern 'Western' discourse in English: an etic narrative

Timeline of salient scholarship

Germano (1992) discussed the Atiyoga tantras in his thesis.[17] Ehrhard (1995) documents the discovery of manuscripts of the Nyingma Gyubum from Nepal.[18] In 1996 at the University of Leiden, Mayer completed the first PhD that was specifically on the rNying ma'i rGyud 'bum and its different editions. In his thesis he established for the first time the various branches of transmission of the rNying ma'i rGyud 'bum by stemmatic analysis. These three branches he identified as the East Tibetan, the Bhutanese, and the South Central Tibetan (which subdivides into two sub-branches). This remains the standard method to categorise the various rNying ma'i rGyud 'bum editions, since all editions subsequently discovered have been found to fall within one or another of these lines of transmission. Mayer's PhD also identified the first irrefutable proof of the sources of Mahāyoga texts, and reviewed what was then known of the rNying ma'i rGyud 'bum's history. Germano's earlier work was further appended with Germano (2000) specifically related to the Nyingma Gyubum.[19] Cantwell, Mayer and Fischer (2002) in association with the British Library documented the Rig 'dzin Tshe dbang nor bu Edition of the Nyingma Gyubum.[13] Cantwell and Mayer subsequently published their third monograph on the rNying ma'i rGyud 'bum, discussing its history and its various editions and providing critical editions of two sample texts: "The Kīlaya Nirvāṇa Tantra and the Vajra Wrath Tantra: Two Texts from the Ancient Tantra Collection". Vienna, 2006. Derbac (2007) tendered an MA thesis on the Nyingma Gyubum as a whole.[20] In 2008, Mayer and Cantwell published their fourth monograph relating to the rNying ma'i rGyud 'bum, in which they showed that virtually all Dunhuang text on Phur pa subsequently reappeared within various parts of the rNying ma'i rGyud 'bum, thus proving that the rNying ma tantric materials are definitely contemporaneous with or older than the Dunhuang texts.[21] As of 2010, they are still at Oxford University and completing their fifth volume on the rNying ma'i rGyud 'bum. As well as the monographs, they have also produced catalogues and many journal articles and conference papers on the rNying ma'i rGyud 'bum.

Etic discourse and narrative

In his MA thesis for the University of Alberta, in the terrain of scholarly etic discourse of the manifold Nyingma Gyubum editions, Derbac (2007: p. 2) proffers:

"...that the major editors of the various rNying ma'i rgyud 'bum editions played a far greater role in emending colophons, catalogues, and editions than scholars have previously assumed."[20]

In saying this, Derbac is agreeing on the one hand with emic [traditional] scholarship, which frankly celebrates the major role of the famous editors such as Ratna Lingpa and Jigme Lingpa in compiling catalogues for the rNying ma'i rgyud 'bum. In addition, he is also confirming the conclusions of earlier scholarship, such as [1] Mayer's Leiden PhD thesis of 1996, which was later published as a book 'The Phur pa bcu gnyis: A Scripture from the Ancient Tantra Collection' [2] the conclusions of David Germano's THDL collection in the early 2000s, and [3] Cantwell and Mayer's book 'The Kīlaya Nirvāṇa Tantra and the Vajra Wrath Tantra: Two texts from the Ancient Tantra Collection', published in 2006 by the Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna. Derbac cites all the above three sources, as well as others of the works by Mayer and Cantwell on the rNying ma'i rGyud 'bum.

Primary resources


  1. Germano, David (2000). 'Canons at the boundaries: the rnying ma tantras and shades of gray between the early and late translations'; in Eimer, Helmut & Germano, David (2002). The many canons of Tibetan Buddhism: PIATS 2000 : Tibetan studies : proceedings of the Ninth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies. Brill. 9004125957, 9789004125957. Source: (accessed: Tuesday March 23, 2010), p.199
  2. Davidson, Ronald M. (2005). Tibetan Renaissance: Tantric Buddhism in the Rebirth of Tibetan Culture. New York Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-13470-3 (cloth), ISBN 0-231-13471-1 (pbk.), p.225
  3. Tulku Thondup, Harold Talbott (1997). Hidden teachings of Tibet: an explanation of the Terma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Second Edition. Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-122-X, 9780861711222. Source: (accessed: Thursday April 15, 2010), p.48
  4. See Cathy Cantwell and Robert Mayer, The Kīlaya Nirvāṇa Tantra and the Vajra Wrath Tantra: two texts from the Ancient Tantra Collection. Vienna, 2006.
  5. Isaacson, Harunaga & Almogi, Orna (July, 2009). The Manuscript Collections of the Ancient Tantras (rNying ma rgyud 'bum): An Examination of Variance. Source: (accessed: Tuesday March 23, 2010)
  6. 1 2 Rigpa Shedra (October, 2009). 'Nyingma Gyübum'. Source: (accessed: Wednesday March 24, 2010)
  7. Ronis, Jann (May 2013). "Tsewang Lhamo". The Treasury of Lives: Biographies of Himalayan Religious Masters. Retrieved 2013-08-10.
  8. Dharma Dictionary (December 28, 2005). 'sde dge'. Source: (accessed: August 2, 2008)
  9. 1 2 Rigpa Shedra (July 22, 2008). 'Gyurme Tsewang Chokdrup'. Source: (accessed: August 2, 2008)
  10. 旧译宁玛十万续 禅扎寺钞本 全46函 rnying ma rgyud 'bum
  11. Catalog of the Tinggyé (gting skyes) Edition of The Collected Tantras of the Ancients @ THL Tibetan Literary Encyclopedia
  12. http://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Kulayaraja_Tantra
  13. 1 2 Cathy Cantwell, Robert Mayer and Michael Fischer (2002). The Rig 'dzin Tshe dbang nor bu Edition of the rNying ma'i rgyud 'bum: An Illustrated Inventory. Published by the Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing, University of Kent at Canterbury, in association with The British Library, London. Source: (accessed: Tuesday March 23, 2010)
  14. Cathy Cantwell, Rob Mayer, Michael Kowalewski & Jean-Luc Achard (2006). "sGang steng Catalogue [of the Nyingma Gyubum]". Revue d'Etudes Tibétaines: The sGang steng-b rNying ma'i rGyud 'bum manuscript from Bhutan. Number 11, Juin 2006. Source: (accessed: Monday March 29, 2010)
  15. 1 2 Germano, David F. (1994). "Architecture and Absence in the Secret Tantric History of rDzogs Chen". In The Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, vol. 17.2, p.205. Source: (accessed: Wednesday march 24, 2010)
  16. Dharma Dictionary (December, 2005). 'rgyud kyi dngos po bcu'. Source: (accessed: Wednesday March 24, 2010)
  17. Germano, David Francis (1992). "Poetic thought, the intelligent Universe, and the mystery of self: The Tantric synthesis of rDzogs Chen in fourteenth century Tibet." The University of Wisconsin, Madison. Doctoral thesis. Source: (accessed: Friday December 18, 2009)
  18. Franz-Karl Ehrhard (1995). 'Recently discovered manuscripts of the rNying ma rgyud 'bum from Nepal'. In H. Krasser, M. Torsten Much, E. Steinkellner, H. Tauscher (1995). Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 7th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Graz 1995, Volume I: 253-267.
  19. Germano, David (2000). 'Canons at the boundaries: the rnying ma tantras and shades of gray between the early and late translations'; in Eimer, Helmut & Germano, David (2002). The many canons of Tibetan Buddhism: PIATS 2000 : Tibetan studies : proceedings of the Ninth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies. Brill. 9004125957, 9789004125957. Source: (accessed: Tuesday March 23, 2010)
  20. 1 2 Derbac, Mihai (2007). rNying ma’I rgyud ‘bum: A Tibetan Buddhist Canon. MA Thesis, University of Alberta. Source: (accessed: Tuesday March 23, 2010)
  21. Cathy Cantwell and Robert Mayer, Early Tibetan Documents on Phur pa from Dunhuang. Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna, 2008
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