Nyingma Kama (rnying ma bka’ ma) literally means the Oral Lineage of the Ancient Ones. The term Kama in general refers to the Buddhist teachings that came through a long lineage from one master to another. Nyingma Kama specifically is a collection of teachings from the three inner tantras (nang brgyud sde gsum) that are considered to have been brought to Tibet from India and translated into Tibetan during the early translation period (8th and 9th centuries). Every major Nyingma master since the 8th century holds the Kama lineage.
These Kama teachings were transmitted through a long line of masters dating back to the Indian origins of Buddhism through the time when it was first brought to Tibet. It is said to be the very teachings that Padmasambhava and his disciples were actually practicing. Padmasambhava extracted the quintessence of these elaborated practices as a concise corpus of teachings that where then concealed as termas (gter ma), and revealed later for the sake of future generations.
The Kama is comprised of the teachings of the Trilogy of Sutra, Mayajala, and Citta. Within this structure, the Mayajala serves as the basis or tantra, the Sutra is the commentary or agrama (lung), and the Citta is the essential instruction.
The Mayajala teaching belongs to the Mahayoga. It is based on the philosophical view of the intrinsic purity of all appearances, as well as the equality of samsara and nirvana. It employs meditations on the mandalas of the One Hundred Peaceful and Wrathful Deities as explained in the Guhyagarbha Tantra.
The Sutra belongs to Anuyoga. It is based on the tantric scripture, the Samdhisamgraha Sutra, The Gonpa Dupa Do (dgongs pa ’dus pa mdo), which regards the meaning of all the Buddhist vehicles in the context of the view of Anuyoga. It is path has two aspects: the path of means which uses yogic exercises, and the path of liberation.
Citta refers to the instructions of the mind class of the Great Perfection. These teachings are concerned with sustaining the recognition of mind’s undeluded clarity, unstained by the confusion of samsara. This is a most profound path, through which many generations of meditators attained enlightenment. Some, like Vairochana’s octogenarian student, Mipam Gonpo (mi pham mgon po), even dissolved their bodies into light.
It is said of the Kama teachings that they “first fell to Nyak, then to Nub, and finally to Zur.” This means that they first were held and propagated by Nyak Janakumara (gnyags dznya na ku ma ra), next by Nub Sanggye Yeshe (gnubs sangs rgyas ye shes), and finally by the masters of the Zur lineage. Both Nyak Janakumara and Nub Sanggye Yeshe were direct disciples of Padmasambhava and Vimalamitra and are among the Twenty-five Disciples.
The Zur lineage began with Zur Shakya Jungne (zur po che shakya ’byung gnas), Zungchung Sherab Drakpa (zur chung shes rab ’byung gnas), and Zur Shakya Sengge (zur shakya seng ge). This lineage was well-known for its practice of Yangdag Heruka, and also established an important lineage of teaching the Sutra, Mayajala, and Citta Sections.
From these masters onward, the Kama teaching spread widely. The tradition of the Zur clan remained a hub of the Nyingma Kama teachings in Central Tibet. In eastern Tibet the Kama was preserved at the Katog monastery which was established by the great master Dampa Deshek (dam pa bde gshegs) in the 12th century.