The Meaning of Longsal

In 2010 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu kindly gave an interview to The Mirror at Tashigar South about various aspects of the ‘Longsal Cycle of Teachings’ or ‘The Innermost Essence of the Dakinis of the Luminous Clarity of the Universe’, the collection of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu’s rediscovered teachings. Most of them were received through his dreams of clarity and daytime visions over a period of many years. His fortunate students have been able to receive these teachings and benefit from his great wisdom and clarity.

These Longsal Teachings have been translated from the Tibetan and edited by Adriano Clemente and, to date, gathered and published in ten volumes by Shang Shung Edizioni.
Chögyal Namkhai Norbu kindly gave an interview to The Mirror at Tashigar South about various aspects of these precious teachings that we are very happy to republish here.

The Mirror: Rinpoche, your series of Longsal Teachings is called “Longchen Osel Khandro Nyingthig”, which means the “Longsal Cycle” or “The Innermost Essence of the Dakinis of Luminous Clarity of the Universe”. What does ‘Longsal’ literally mean and why have you chosen this title for your Longsal series of Terma Teachings?

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu: ‘Long’ means longchen, universe, and refers not only to our consideration of the universe, but also the total universe in all its dimensions. In the teaching we have the dimensions of Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, Nirmanakaya, pure and impure dimensions, so the universe includes all these kinds of dimensions. That is called long. Then longchen: chen means total. Ösel stands for light, which means that all sentient beings have that original potentiality represented by light, and so the light represents all the dimensions of the universe.

‘Khandro Nyingthig’ means knowledge is related to energy and energy is the principle of functioning. The teaching needs to function for one to have realization, to get into one’s real nature, and that kind of functioning is connected to the dakini. The dakini are the sign of the energy of the entire universe. For example, ‘Nangwa yabla tongpa yum’ means that visions are like yab, while the yum represents their potentiality or real function. We can then understand what dakini really means, not just some beings flying and walking in space. Many people consider dakini to be like that, but you should go into the real sense. Then nyingthig means the essence of knowledge: nying means center, the center of all knowledge, thig means something like thigle, potentiality, and is really the potentiality of all the existence of the teachings. So when we make this title shorter, we say longsal. This is the short version of the title.

M: Many terma cycles are rediscovered teachings, in the sense that the master who first taught them, for example Guru Padmasambhava, felt the time for them to be taught and practiced had not come yet, so he intentionally concealed them for the future tertön to discover. Is this Longsal Cycle like this or not? What in general are the different kinds of termas and which of these types are longsal?

ChNN: Most terma traditions come from Guru Padmasambhava, and then later also from his disciples who discovered different kinds of terma teachings. But we cannot say this tradition is only related to Guru Padmasambhava and did not exist before. Of course, a physical teacher did not give all teachings, particularly Dzogchen teachings and Sambhogakaya to Nirmanakaya teachings, to physical students. Many of these teachings are discovered and received in a different way and this is called termaterma through mind, through visions, etc.

Guru Padmasambhava hid many teachings knowing how the kaliyuga would be, how the condition of human beings would get worse and worse and how there would be more problems and less time. He knew how the teachings would be able to help beings and which kind of teachings would be needed, so connected with time, many of his disciples would be reborn in certain periods and would discover and spread those teachings. This is called tertön and terma.

Sometimes a terma is discovered that has been put in someone’s mind, and also a terma on the material level that has been put in a statue, in a rock, or in different objects. Some teachings come from different kinds of drönbu: materials inside something, the seeds of the teaching, some seed syllables or signs of this teaching, and when the tertön has a connection with this drönbu, all these teachings can appear through this drönbu in a particular place, at a particular time and are written down and spread. It can also be like this.

The symbol of the Longsal

In the Longsal Series there are all these aspects. Most of my longsal teachings, however, have come through dreams of clarity, sometimes meeting teachers and the teachings appear or are received. Sometimes I receive the teaching, but I am not able to write it down. If it is a mind terma there is no problem to write it down; I have also had this kind of experience. Most of these teachings are received in dreams and I write down just a little. If the dream is not finished, later I may see some sacred places with writings on rocks and have the opportunity to read them, or sometimes there are some books connected with this teaching and I am able to read the books. Other times when the terma is not finished, my teacher Changchub Dorje or my uncle Khyentse Rinpoche help me to finish it. There are also specific guardians related to the termas called mentsün, which is a class of dakini who protect and work around this teaching and also help to finish it. There are different aspects of these termas and we cannot say they manifest in only one way.

M: Rinpoche, has your series of Longsal Terma been transmitted by one particular dakini through dreams?

ChNN: Most of these longsal teachings are connected with that dakini from whom I later also received the Vajra Dance. I discovered that her name is Sukha Siddhi and she is something like an emanation of Goma Devi. There is also a yogini called Sukha Siddhi from the Shangpa Kagyu tradition, who lived in India. The Sukha Siddhis share the name but not the principle. They are different.

M: Are all Longsal teachings primarily related to Dzogchen and Anuyoga, or have you chosen to focus on those teachings in the Longsal cycle that are related to these more than other aspects? 

ChNN: Yes. This teaching of Goma Devi that we have is related mainly to Dzogchen and Anuyoga. In general, we find Goma Devi in the teaching lineage of the Nyingmapa tradition, in all the three series of Tantras, Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga, called nang gyu de sum. Goma Devi is very important. 

M: Do these longsal teachings need to be kept secret and in what way are they more secret than other teachings, for example? 

ChNN: The nature of Dzogchen knowledge is secret. Ordinary people who have no capacity or fortunate circumstances cannot meet or receive this teaching and even if they receive it they cannot understand it or sometimes they understand it in the wrong way. For that reason in this teaching it is very important that teachers know if their students have that kind of fortune or condition, if it exists or not. We cannot dif- fuse this teaching everywhere to people who do not have at least a connection with this teaching.

M: Can longsal be called gongter (mind treasure) or tag nang (pure vision), or is it both?

ChNN: It is both. There is also a way through the mind. I am able to write things because the dakini and teachers sometimes empower something in my dreams and I can later write it down. I am not saying I am like a tertön in the Nyingmapa tradition, who has the capacity to write everything down. All the longsal writing has been a bit of a sacrifice. Many writings have to be continued as sometimes there is an aspect of tag nang; there are many visions through dreams, and also some things that are not a dream. Sometimes there is a vision in the daytime during my practice showing a precise connection so in that way it can also be a kind of tag nang.

M: So is there a difference between mind and dream terma? 

ChNN: There is not very much difference between mind terma and dream because mind terma always has its origin through our mind. A dream is also connected with that so there is not much difference.

M: What is the origin of this Longsal Series and the lineage? 

ChNN: In the Longsal Series lineage there are teachings related more to Anuyoga and sometimes more to Dzogchen. The origin of the teachings of longsal is always at the level of the Dharmakaya. Then, of course, the teachings of the Sambhogakaya manifest in a different way. For example, our most important Nirmanakaya teacher, Garab Dorje, received many transmissions of the Sambhogakaya aspect from Vajrasattva, and sometimes many of these transmissions were also received from an aspect of Vajrapani. They can also be received from five different Dhyani Buddhas, so we cannot not say there is only one way. It depends on which kind of practice is related to Sambhogakaya and which to Dharmakaya.

M: How many of your cycles of Longsal Teachings have been revealed already and how do you receive permission to reveal them to your students?

ChNN: I have already communicated and taught many of these Longsal Teachings to my students. But this does not mean I have taught everything, because there are some teachings that must be given in a different way to people who really have capacity and show their capacity, otherwise the teachings create problems for people who have no capacity.

M: Who are the main guardians of these Longsal Teachings? 

ChNN: The main guardian of these teachings is, of course, Ekajati. The second most important guardian related to this teaching is Dorje Yudrönma who is also related in some sense to the manifestation of Ekajati. So then Dorje Yudrönma and Tseringma are called mentsün, which means something like a dakini but also refers to something dominating more the Nirmanakaya dimension. For example, there is a very famous mountain that is sacred to Dorje Yudrönma in Bhutan and the mountain sacred to Tseringma is also in the region of the Himalayas. They are sacred places and that means there is some connection at the level of Nirmanakaya. But of course this is relative, and in the real sense they always protect the teachings and have their dimension not only on this earth but also in different dimensions.

M: Can you tell us a little about the first time you received indications of this Longsal Terma? 


Rinpoche in Sikkim in 1959

ChNN: The first time I received the Longsal Terma I was seven years old and I received a kind of drönbu in my hand. At that time I had no knowledge of these things. I discovered the right side of the Longsal teaching sign later when I was thirteen years old, and these signs appeared very often in my dreams. I had some interesting dreams, but I still did not have much idea or knowledge about them. I had these kinds of dreams at the time I was traveling from East to Central Tibet and also a dream of the Dorje Yudrönma guardian, and in that period the longsal sign became something concrete. I also received some information about a practice called tra, which means doing a rite in a mirror where letters, forms or colors that indicate something appear in the mirror.

I did that practice later when I arrived in Sikkim in 1959 and in that period some indications appeared in the mirror of this kind of teaching. Since that time the longsal sign has developed. But the total longsal sign, this main one, appeared later and I received it at almost the same time as I received the teaching of the Dance of Vajra.

M: Does the appearance of one part of the longsal sign and then another have anything to do with how the terma develops?

ChNN: I have received many signs and teachings, and one of them that appeared is related to the sign of the longsal. The right side looks like the number three and the left side looks like number three reversed. I saw this central sign and later in my dream it developed totally and I understood and discovered that these partial signs are related to the complete one. Once I had experienced the total sign, then many Longsal teachings developed completely.

M: Often in terma teachings there is a person called a chödag or terdag – the owner or one responsible, for example, for the Vajrapani terma, you, Rinpoche, are the terdag. Do we know who is the terdag for this cycle of Longsal Terma Teachings?

ChNN: Chödag and terdag mean that there is a student closely related to the person who has received the terma and the teaching, and that student becomes the terdag or chödag, which means they spread or become the upholder of that teaching and transmission. This is related to lineage.

You know, for example, that in the teachings, not only in Dzogchen, but also in any kind of Vajrayana teaching, first of all there is a teacher and then the teacher teaches the students. Sometimes there are very good students who have some knowledge of the teachings, like an imprint – all the teaching is very precise and they do not invent, add, change or modify anything. These kinds of students are like chödag or terdag and the teachings continue. Many of these are terma teachings from famous tertöns, famous teachers. For example, the Chöd practice is the family lineage of Machig Lapdron. The Drukpa Kagyu and the Sakyapa traditions are also continued through their children. In these lineages they received complete transmission and the lineage from their fathers. Then they became good practitioners and became chödag and terdag and teachers.

In Tibet we have many lineages through reincarnations. The Karmapa was the first official reincarnation lineage. There was the first Karmapa then there was his reincarnation, who received the first Karmapa’s teaching and transmission and continued it. That is just like a family lineage, the same thing. For example, some good students become chödag or teachers and later their sons or reincarnations receive the teachings and then they become the holders of that lineage and give that teaching. Reincarnations of serious teachers are reborn in order to benefit and continue transmitting to their students.

For that reason sometimes the reincarnations alternate. You can understand this through the situation of the Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama. One Panchen Lama dies and then later a reincarnation comes; that reincarnation receives the transmission from the Dalai Lama. When that Dalai Lama dies, his reincarnation receives that transmission from the Panchen Lama and they continue by alternating the reincarnation of this transmission. That is the reason why teachers reincarnate – to maintain the transmission seriously and perfectly. It is important to understand how the teaching is continued for the lineage.

M: Can there be different terdag for different phases of the longsal cycles?

ChNN: We do not name a longsal terdag publicly like in some kind of bureaucracy. Sometimes there are indications in a terma. For example, when I was three years old Peyu Karma Yangtse recognized me as the reincarnation of Adzom Drukpa and gave me the name Jamyang Rolbe Dorje. Then I saw the chödag and terdag in a series of trag nag teachings of Changchub Dorje and received the transmission of the series of trag nag mainly from the son of Changchub Dorje. In this teaching there are also indications of chödag and terdag and my name, Jamyang Rolbe Dorje, also appears. This means there is some connection and firstly it means the connection is to my knowledge because my knowledge of Dzogchen teachings woke up through my connection with my teacher Changchub Dorje. Before I met Changchub Dorje I had received many important teachings from many important teachers, also of Dzogchen, but I did not have that precise knowledge. After I had this knowledge I spread it. For example, when I started to teach Dzogchen teachings there were not many students, and now in this world, in this globe, there are a great number of my students of Dzogchen and many have knowledge of Dzogchen teaching. 

M: What exactly is a cycle of longsal teachings and how does one know when the cycle is complete, for example?

ChNN: A cycle of longsal means there is a relationship between all these different teachings – they are of the same family, the same transmission, most are related to the transmission of Goma Devi and they are connected. This is a cycle.

M: Thank you very much Rinpoche for this beautiful interview and for your precious time.

Many thanks to Jacob Braverman and Enrico Dell’Angelo for their collaboration in this interview.
Transcribed by Naomi Zeitz
Edited by Liz Granger and Naomi Zeitz
Tibetan consultant: Adriano Clemente

Tashigar South March 5, 2010
Republished from The Mirror issue 102, January/February 2010


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