Introduction: Key to the Precious Treasury

This was written as an introduction to the book, "Key to the Precious Treasury", by Dpdrupchen Jigme Penpa'i Nyima. 


Utmost subtle and sublime luminous mind,

Slumbering in the adventitious delusions of dualistic perception,

Is awakened through the Vajrasattva paths of

Skillful means and liberation:

The absolute meaning, the Secret Essence—to you I pay homage.[1]

Jigmed Tenpa’i Nyima


The Key to the Precious Treasury (rin chen dzod kyi de mig)[a] is one of the most important treatises on the cycle of the Secret Essence (sangwa’i nyingpo)[b] tantra of the Nyingma composed by one of the greatest luminaries of Tibet, Jigmed Tenpa’i Nyima, the third Dodrupchen Rinpoche (1865-1926). The Secret Essence comes down to us through three modes of transmission: wisdom mind transmission through the presence of the indivisible wisdom between buddhas, symbolic transmission through gestures from highly-accomplished vidyadharas to vidyadharas, and aural transmission through words from wisdom masters to disciples.

According to the Secret Essence lineage history, eighteen years after the mahaparinirvana of the historical Buddha, Vajrapani Buddha revealed the genuine teachings of Samantabhadra, ultimate buddhahood, in the form of the Secret Essence to the human world. He taught them at a gathering of five extraordinary beings atop Mt. Malaya, which is thought to be Mt. Sripada in Sri Lanka. From there, the transmission was passed along from accomplished vidyadhara to accomplished vidyadhara.

Finally, Vimalamitra, Guru Padmasambhava, and others brought the Secret Essence teachings from India to Tibet in the eighth century. Tibetan masters have continued to pass them down in an unbroken lineage, keeping these teachings, trainings, and accomplishments alive to this very day.

Those highest esoteric tantric teachings translated into Tibetan from Indian languages during “the early translation period”—from the 8th through the 11th centuries—were classified as “the three inner tantras or yogas.” Among them, mahayoga is known as the foundation of all three inner tantras, focusing mainly on the development stage. Anuyoga is regarded as the path, focusing mostly on the completion stage. Atiyoga (dzogpachenpo) is considered the result, focusing on the indivisible union of the primordially-pure nature and the spontaneously-present intrinsic nature. The Secret Essence is the root teaching of all eighteen tantras of mahayoga.

Studying the Secret Essence is crucial for all who seriously wish to learn any of the three inner tantras, as mahayoga is the foundation of all the inner tantras and the Secret Essence is the root tantra of mahayoga. The great Mipham writes,[2] “One must learn the tantric trainings by relying on mahayoga as it teaches the ground, path, and result of all tantric cycles.” He also says,[3] “Correct understanding of the visions of all three inner tantras depends on understanding the Secret Essence.” The Secret Essence is also the source of numerous teachings on the one-hundred peaceful and wrathful deities, one volume of which—the Tibetan Book of the Dead (bardo tö drol)[c]—is quite popular in the West.

There are a number of major commentaries[4] on the Secret Essence; however, the Key to the Precious Treasury has become one of the four[5] most popular commentaries. It is written by the third Dodrupchen, a highly respected scholar and adept. Referring to the third Dodrupchen’s famous treatise about memory, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama noted, “Today, a writer of this quality is very rare in this land.”[6] The present Dalai Lama has frequently praised the third Dodrupchen’s writings, too. He says, “Reading Dodrupchen was as if he were stroking my head in confirmation, giving me confidence that my insight was not unfounded.”[7]

Gyalsey Zhenphen Tayey (1800-?), with the assistance of Paltrul Rinpoche (1808-87), established a forty-five day annual seminary to study and practice the Secret Essence at Yarlung Pemako Monastery, the seat of the first Dodrupchen. Paltrul Rinpoche presided over the seminary for the second two years. Later, the seat of Dodrupchen moved to the Do valley, the present site of Dodrupchen Monastery, and so did the annual seminary.

At the tender age of twenty-one, the third Dodrupchen wrote his first acclaimed work, a commentary on the Secret Essence entitled The Feast of Excellent Discourses (lek shed ga ton),[d] to teach the annual seminary combined with the commentary by Lochen Dharma Shri. Later, a new understanding of the Secret Essence dawned in him, and he composed his second commentary—the Key to the Precious Treasury. It is known that he gave teachings on the Secret Essence forty times at Dodrupchen Monastery before his health prevented him from even seeing students. The annual seminaries continued until the end of the 1950s. From dawn to dusk, monks would study and practice the Secret Essence for forty-five days. During the entire duration, only those who were part of the program were allowed even to enter the Secret Essence temple.

There are two traditions of common and uncommon interpretations of the Secret Essence. The Zur tradition interpreted the view of the Secret Essence as pure mahayoga. Rongzom and Longchen Rabjam, however, interpreted it as the mahayoga of ati. The Key to the Precious Treasury follows the Zur interpretation, as does Lochen Dharma Shri’s commentary on it.

The Key to the Treasury elucidates the view of the Secret Essence that sees all existence encompassed within the two extraordinary truths. In genuine truth, the aspect of luminosity free from conceptual elaborations is ultimate basic space. The aspect of natural clarity free from obscurations is ultimate wisdom. The aspect of being the treasury of body, speech, mind, qualities, and actions of buddhahood is the ultimate result. In relative truth, the world and beings arise as infinite purity—the magical manifestation of actual genuine truth. In their true nature, the two truths are nondual—indivisible.

By training on the path of method (tab lam)[e] and path of liberation (drol lam)[f] of the Secret Essence, we can purify all adventitious defilements and cravings in life, death, and the bardo; realize everything as the magical manifestation of the enlightened mind; perfect the four stages of the vidyadharas; and awaken the ultimate ground as it is, with twenty-five enlightened attributes.

The Key to the Precious Treasury further details the ten esoteric trainings (gyud kyi ngö po chu)[g] taught in the Secret Essence. They are the profound view of the nature as it is, conduct, mandala, empowerment, root and branch samaya, enlightened activity, common and uncommon accomplishment, unwavering samadhi, offering, and mantra and mudra.

Followers of inner esoteric Buddhist teachings should study the Key to the Precious Treasury slowly and repeatedly and enshrine it on their meditation altars as a source of wisdom and blessing. This volume is the presence of Vajrasattva Buddha in the form of words illuminating the profound meaning of genuine truth, inspiring us to practice the paths of method and liberation in order to awaken the wisdom that naturally occurs, the true nature of our own mind. These secret teachings are for those who are empowered into the mandala of the esoteric body through the lineage of vidyadharas who whispered it in the inner sanctuaries of hermitages or proclaimed it with enlightened confidence in the great assembly halls of monasteries and nunneries in peaceful Himayalan valleys for tens of centuries. Today we celebrate the arrival of these sacred teachings in the wise world of the West made possible by the generosity of sponsors and the care and dedication of Lama Chonam and Sangye Khandro who—after studying the Key to the Precious Treasury for a number of years—have translated it beautifully into English.

To the buddhas, lineage masters, and powerful protectors of the Secret Essence, I pray for your compassionate blessings to open our devotional hearts to the wisdom lights of these sacred teachings and awaken the innate buddha qualities that we all inherit in our minds.

Tulku Thondup Rinpoche

The Buddhayana Foundation, USA


[a] rin chen mdzod kyi lde mig

[b] gsang ba’i snying po; Skt. Guhyagarbha

[c] bar do thos grol

[d] legs bshad dga’ ston

[e] thabs lam

[f] grol lam

[g] rgyud kyi dngos po bcu

[1] A Celebration of Excellent Explanations (lek shed ga ton/legs bshad dga’ ston) by Jigmed Tenpa’i Nyima (Sitron Mirig Petrunkang 2003), p.208.

[2] Essence of Clear Light (ödsal nyingpo/’od gsal snying po by Mipham Jampal Gyepa’i Dorje (Derge edition) f3b/6.

[3] Essence of Clear Light (ödsal nyingpo/’od gsal snying po by Mipham Jampal Gyepa’i Dorje (Derge edition) f4b/5.

[4] Some of the major commentaries are: Heart of the Sun (nyima’i nyingpo/nyi ma’i snying po) by Guru Padma Gyalpo, which came through Dampa Deshek (1122-1192) and was written down by Tsangton Dorje Gyaltsen (1126-1216); Parkhab (spar khab) by Gegpa Dorje; Commentary on the Rare and Supreme (kon chog drel/dkon mchog ‘grel) by Rongzom Chokyi Zangpo (11th century); Extensive Commentary (gya cher drel/rgya cher ‘grel) by Nyi-Ö Senge; Clarifying the Meaning of Tantra (gyud don sal ched/rgyud don gsal byed) by Yungton Dorje Palzang (1284-1365); Precious Blazing Tent (rinchen bar wa’i gur/rin chen ‘bar ba’i gur) by Drolchen Samdrub Dorje (1295-1376); Torch Illuminating the Meaning of Tantra (gyud don sal dron/rgyud don gsal sgron) by Namkha Rinchen; Ascertaining the Meaning of Tantra (gyud don nam nge/rgyud don rnam nges) by Manlung Mikyod Dorje; An Overview for Dispelling the Darkness of the Mind (chi don yid kyi munsel/spyi don yid kyi mun sel) and A Synthesis of the Meaning of Dispelling the Darkness of Ignorance (dü don marig munsel/bdus don ma rig mun sel) by Longchen Rabjam (1308-63); Celebration through Sight (tong wa don tok/mthong ba don rtogs) by Pema Gyurmed Gyatso (1686-1717); Ocean of Excellent Explanations (lek shed rol tso/legs bshad rol mtsho) by Gyurmed Tsewang Chogdrub (b.1761-?); A Celebration of Excellent Explanations (lek shed ga ton/legs bshad dga’ ston) by Jigmed Tenpa’i Nyima (1865-1926); Supplementary Drops of Nectar (lhen tab dudtsi tigpa/lhan thab bdud rtsi’i thig pa) by Lobzang Konchog Dronmed,1859-1936); and Key that Opens the Gateway to the Profound (zab don go gya ched pa’i de mig/zab don sgo brgya ‘byed pa’i lde mig) by Gyurmed Pende’i Ödzer (20th century).

[5] Dispelling Darkness in the Ten Directions (chok chu munsel/phyogs bcu’i mun sel by Longchen Rabjam (1308-63), Ornament of Wisdom Intent (sang dag gong gyen/gsang bdag dgongs rgyan) by Lochen Dharma Shri (1654-1717), Essence of Clear Light (ödsal nyingpo/’od gsal snying po) by Mipham Jampal Gyepa’i Dorje (1846-1912), and Key to the Precious Treasury (rinchen dzod kyi de mig/rin chen mdzod kyi lde mig) by the third Dodrupchen (1865-1926).

[6] Masters of Meditation and Miracles by Tulku Thondup (Shambhala 1996), p.249/3.

[7] Dzogchen: The Heart Essence of the Great Perfection by H.H. the Dalai Lama (Snow Lion 2000), p.120.