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The Nyingma Kama Collections

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 Posted on February 19, 2010 by Michael Sheehy in Research

By Paldor and Michael Sheehy

 Nyingma Kama, a collection of the oral teachings and practices brought to Tibet by Guru Padmasambhava and other great Vajra Masters during the Early Translation Period, taught to the Twenty-Five Disciples and passed down from teacher to student to the present day.

These texts are written in the u-chen Tibetan script.

Though the oral precepts of the Nyingma were introduced from the time of the imperial period, it was not until Smin gling Gter chen Rig ‘dzin ‘gyur med rdo rje (1646-1714) and his younger brother Smin gling Lo chen D+harma shrI (1654-1718) wrote a series of commentaries on these teachings that the kama (bka’ ma) or collection of oral transmissions were created. This indicated a separate category of Nyingma canonical literature in contrast to the terma (gter ma) or revelatory treasures.

In the 19th century, during the years 1840-1845, the scholar Rgyal sras Gzhan phan mtha’ yas (1800-1855) composed a set of ritual texts in association with the kama. Including the table of contents, this set totaled 9 volumes (ka-ta) and 83 individual texts (sometimes delineated as 88 works), and printing blocks were carved at Rdzogs chen Monastery in Kham. This was the 1st compilation of the Nyingma Kama Collections.

A few decades later at Dpal yul Monastery in 1875, Rgyal sprul Pad+ma mdo sngags bstan ‘dzin (1830-1892) then added an additional 16 volumes making the total of the kama 25 volumes (ka-ra) including 266 individual texts. The blocks for these were originally carved at Dpal yul Monastery and were later practiced and developed as part of the curricula at all of the major Nyingma monasteries in Kham, including Rdzogs chen, KaH thog, and Zhe chen. This became known as the Phyogs bsgrigs thengs gnyis pa or the second compilation of kama.


Bdudjoms Rin po che ‘Jigs bral ye shes rdo rje (1904-1988) later edited the existing kama collection and added another 33 volumes (ka-si), totaling 58 volumes or 567 individual texts. These were all handwritten manuscripts that were printed in India and titled the Bka’ ma rgyas pa. Gzan dkar Rin po che was then instrumental in publishing a set of 100 volumes that were distributed to monasteries and libraries. This expanded edition was the 3rd compilation of the kama.

In 1992, while Karma Bde legs was in KaH thog Monastery receiving the kama transmissions, he noticed that they had additional kama works that were not included in the Bdudjoms Rin po che collection. A year later, he went to visit Mkhan po Mun sel in Mgo log and discussed with him the additional works that he had discovered at KaH thog. Mkhan po Mun sel then suggested that the kama undergo a recompilation and though he did not have much money at the time, he gave 1,000 yuan to Karma Bde legs and asked his students KaH thog Mkhan po ‘Jam dbyangs and Nyga rong Tshe ring rgya mtsho to proceed. Under the auspices of this project, KaH thog Mkhan po ‘Jam dbyangs and Nyag rong Tshe ring rgya mtsho traveled to the various Nyingma monasteries throughout Kham, Karma Bde legs travelled through U-Tsang, Nepal and India. Also, Gzan dkar Rin po che helped in Europe and the United States in order to collect rare kama manuscripts and actualize Mkhan po Mun sel’s request. An edition of 100 copies of 120 kama volumes were then printed for the festive occasion of the Tenth Day Ceremony (Tshe’i bcu’i dus ston) at the reopening of KaH thog Monastery. This is known as the Bka’ ma shin tu rgyas pa or the extremely extensive edition of the kama. In addition to this one time printing of the 120 volumes, there were printings of an additional 55 volumes that were distributed to monasteries and added to the exisitng 58 volumes of the Bdudjoms Rin po che edition, making the kama a 113 volume collection.

With the advice of Gzan dkar Rin po che, Tshe ring rgya mtsho started to organize the computer input of the entire kama. This was oficially initiated as a government project under the direction of the Sichuan Department of Minorities (Si khron mi rigs don gcod khang) at the National Minority Rare Text Collection and Restoration office (Dpe rnying dpe dkon ‘tshol sdud khang). This department spent 1 million and 3 hundred thousand yuan to rearrange, edit, add, and publish the kama in a total of 133 volumes (ka-po) or 1,110 individual texts. Though this is often referred to as the 2nd edition of the 3rd compilation, it is in fact a 4th compilation of the Nyingma Kama Collection.

The TBRC Library currently features outlines for the Bka’ ma rgyas pa (58 vols.) compiled by Bdudjoms Rin po che and the Bka’ ma shin tu rgyas pa (120 vols.).