Namkhé Nyingpo

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Namkhé Nyingpo

Namkhé Nyingpo (Tib. ནམ་མཁའི་སྙིང་པོ་, Wyl. nam mkha'i snying po) (8th-9th century) — one of the twenty-five disciples of Guru Rinpoche.

Traditional sources recount that Namkhé Nyingpo was born into the Nub (Gnubs / Snubs) clan,[1] at Nyang Karda Shambu (Nyang dkar mda' sham bu).[2] Namkhé Nyingpo was ordained by Shantarakshita as one of the first Tibetan monks and he became a disciple of Padmasambhava. Namkhé Nyingpo learned Indic languages[3] and travelled to Nepal and India. According to the Pema Kathang, Namkhé Nyingpo was sent by King Trisong Deutsen together with four companions to India to seek teachings. There, they met and received teachings from Humkara in India.[4] During this time Namkhé Nyingpo also received the teachings on Shri Heruka (Yangdak Heruka) from Humkara.[5] Other sources recount that prior to Namkhé Nyingpo’s journey to India, Padmasambhava transmitted the Kagyé to his foremost Tibetan disciples. It was at that time, that Namkhé Nyingpo was for the first time entrusted with the practice of Shri Heruka.[6] In any case, all the sources agree that Namkhé Nyingpo was a close student of both Humkara and Padmasambhava. Namkhé Nyingpo also shared a close relationship with King Trisong Deutsen, since he served as both the king’s teacher and healer and transmitted the Shri Heruka teachings to King Trisong Deutsen. [7]

Namkhé Nyingpo was exiled by ill-willed ministers, and thus settled at Lhodrak Kharchu (Tib. Lho brag khar chu), at the caves representing Padmasambhava’s enlightened mind, where he entered retreat. As a result of this retreat, Namkhé Nyingpo accomplished the mahamudra vidyadhara through Shri Heruka. As a sign of his realization, Namkhé Nyingpo is said to have been able to fly through the sky, riding the rays of the sun and is thus often painted like this.[8] Thus, Namkhé Nyingpo reached the same accomplishment as his teacher Humkara and becomes, so to speak, the Tibetan counterpart of the ‘Indian/Newar’ siddha Humkara.

Following Samten Lingpa’s account, during his retreat Yeshé Tsogyal visited Namkhé Nyingpo and gave him the necessary instructions and empowerments to progress in his practice.[9] Yeshé Tsogyal continued to stay at Lhodrak Kharchu practicing Dzogchen, during which time she recounted her life-story to Namkhé Nyingpo and Gyalwa Changchub, who wrote it down and concealed it as a terma-treasure.[10]

According to Pema Lingpa’s terma-treasure the Lama’s Jewel Ocean (Tib. Bla ma nor bu rgya mtsho), Namkhé Nyingpo, following a prophecy, met Shelkar Dorje Tso in her homeland in Shang Tanak (Tib. Shangs rta nag).[11] There, Namkhé Nyingpo introduced Dorjé Tso to the practice of Shri Heruka through which she later gained siddhis. Namkhé Nyingpo introduced and ‘offered’ Dorjé Tso to Padmasambhava, as a result of which Dorjé Tso becomes Padmasambhava’s spiritual consort.[12]

Matthew Kapstein provides a translation of a short passage from a Dunhuang manuscript describing various miraculous light appearances during Namkhé Nyingpo’s death. As Kapstein observes, these light appearances closely resemble the descriptions of the death of masters in the Dzogchen tradition.[13]

Namkhé Nyingpo is most prominently known together with Kawa Paltsek as the compiler of the Lhenkarma (D 4364), one of the surviving translation catalogue of the first diffusion of Buddhism to Tibet. Besides this catalogue, the Tengyur preserves only one work (D 1678) attributed to Namkhé Nyingpo as a translator. This work—a sadhana dedicated to Shri Heruka—according to the colophon, was translated by Namkhé Nyingpo on orders of King Trisong Deutsen under the supervision of the work’s author Humkara at Nalanda. Given that Namkhé Nyingpo worked on the translation of the Sarvabuddhasamayoga literature it is peculiar that he did not include it in the Lhenkarma.[14]

The Pema Kathang states that Namkhé Nyingpo transmitted the following Shri Heruka texts to King Trisong Deutsen: 1. Yangdak Tsagyü (Tib. Yang dag rtsa rgyud), 2. Yangdak Lü (Tib. Yang dag lus), 3. Yangdak Tsongpa (Tib. Yang dag tsong pa), 4. Yangdak Phurdrakmé Drupthab Jé (Tib. Yang phur sbrags ma’i sgrub thabs rje).[15] The Pema Kathang also ascribes the translation of six tantras to Namkhé Nyingpo: 5. Khakhor Dampé Gyü (Tib. Bka’ ‘khor dam pa’i rgyud), 6. Khorpo Metsek Metar Barwé Gyü (Tib. Khro po sme brtsegs me ltar ‘bar ba’i rgyud), 7. Jampal Sang Gyü (Tib. ‘Jam dpal gsang rgyud), 8. Ga’u Nakpö Gyü (Tib. Ga’u nag po’i rgyud), 9. Rolang Sang Gyü (Tib. Ro langs gsang rgyud), 10. Chitta Sang Gyü (Tib. Citta gsang rgyud).[16]

Furthermore, Namkhé Nyingpo plays an important role as a ‘co-author’ in the Nyingma terma tradition in which he either requested the terma teaching, such as in the famous Le’u Dünma, or served as a scribe such as for Yeshé Tsogyal’s biography.



  1. Another very prominent figure from the Nub clan of the same time period is Nupchen Sangye Yeshe. Sangye Yeshé is counted as one of the 25 disciples of Padmasambhava and is credited with having brought the Anuyoga teachings to Tibet.
  2. Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Taye, The Hundred Tertöns, translated by Yeshe Gyamtso, (Woodstock: KTD Publications, 2011): 40-41.
  3. It is unclear which specific languages Namkhé Nyingpo. It is likely that Namkhé Nyingpo knew Sanskrit, vernaculars spoken in India at the time and/or Newar.
  4. These five are: 1. Namkhé Nyingpo (Tib. nam mkha’i snying po), 2. Epagsha of Drugu (Tib. Gru gu e pag sha), 3. Vīra of Rugyong (Tib. ru gyong b+Ir), 4. Langchen Palseng (Tib. rlangs chen dpal seng), and 5. Gyalwé Lodrö of Dretsün (Tib. ‘bre btsun rgyal ba’i blo gros). Yeshe Tsogyal, The Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, Vol. I & II, (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978): 472.
  5. Although we find mentioning of both an Indian as well as a Newar Humkara, Lo Bue suggests that the Indian and the Newar Humkara were the same. Thus, Humkara born in Nepal, later travelled to India and Nalanda. Later Humkara travelled to Samyé in Tibet. See: Lo Bue, Eberto, “The Role of Newar Scholars in Transmitting the Indian Buddhist Heritage to Tibet,” in Les habitants du toit du monde. Hommage ά Alexander W. Macdonald, (Nanterre: Société d’ ethnologie, 1997): 632.
  6. Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Taye, The Hundred Tertöns, translated by Yeshe Gyamtso, (Woodstock: KTD Publications, 2011): 40.
  7. Yeshe, Tsogyal, The Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, Vol. I & II, (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978): 478 & 509.
  8. Ibid., 475-479. See also: Yeshe Tsogyal, The Lotus-born: the life story of Padmasambhava, (Boston: Shambhala, 1999): 83-89.
  9. Gyalwa Changchub and Namkhai Nyingpo, Lady of the Lotus-Born: The Life and Enlightenment of Yeshe Tsogyal, (Boston: Shambala, 2002): 160.
  10. Ibid., 162 & 208.
  11. Shang and Tanak are areas of south central Tibet, northeast of Lhodrak.
  12. Sarah Harding, The Life and Revelations of Pema Lingpa, (Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 2003): 99-114.
  13. Matthew Kapstein, “The Strange Death of Pema the Demon Tamer,” in M.K., ed., The Presence of Light (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004): 138-139.
  14. See the discussion above: The Translation of the Sarvabuddhasamāyoga Literature.
  15. Yeshe, Tsogyal, The Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, Vol. I & II, (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978): 478.
  16. Ibid., 509.
  17. Source: Treasury of Lives

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