History in the Tibetan world is not a chronological record of events, a backdrop against which individuals serve as players; rather, it focuses on the lives of remarkable individuals who themselves define the course of history. This is particularly the case in the spiritual realm. A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems is an account of how a system of teachings and methods—the Dzogchen tradition known as the Nyingtik, or “Heart Drop”—has been passed down through generations of masters to the present day.
When there is so much material about the teachings themselves and the means of putting them into practice, why read biographies? The traditional answer is that the inspiring lives of great practitioners arouse our faith and devotion; however, there is something more. By learning about those from whom we have received the great legacy of teachings, we come to feel more connected to them—even a part of their family.
A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems is the only comprehensive history of the Nyingtik lineage, which forms the core of teachings known as Dzogchen (Great Perfection) in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It was written by the late Nyoshul Khen Rinpoché Jamyang Dorjé, one of the most outstanding and knowledgeable exponents of Dzogchen. In this work, framed as a series of biographical accounts, Nyoshul Khenpo provides a wealth of information invaluable to spiritual practitioners, as well as historians studying the cultures of central Asia.
In the Introduction, Sogyal Rinpoché underscores the importance of this work: “‘There could come a time in the future,’ [Nyoshul Khenpo] wrote, ‘when holders of the lineage would profess to transmit the lineage without being able to recall even the names of its masters.’ This is why he considered this history to be ‘as indispensable as our eyes or our life force,’ providing all the grounds and inspiration ever needed for total conviction. He compared the life stories of the vidyadhara masters in this lineage to a fine chain of gold or a garland of rare gems. . . . With immense attention to detail, Nyoshul Khenpo maps out the ‘ultimate lineage of direct transmission,’ the heart of all the lines of transmission of Dzogpachenpo from the primordial buddha to the present day, showing the connection between masters and students in an unbroken line of succession. His work stands out because of its completeness, for it includes all of the distinct lineages, along with the lives of the students of the great masters, stories from the oral tradition, and the different teaching styles. Anyone who matters is represented here, every link in the chain, including masters of our time. . . . It is a milestone, and I do not feel that it will ever be equaled.”