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Nyingma (Old School) is the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, tracing their lineage back to the 8th century Tibet, during the reign of King Trisong Detsen ((710-755). Nyingma traditional history traces it's Dzogchen teachings back to the Primordial Buddha, Samantrabhadra and the Indian mahasiddhas, Garab Dorje, Sri Simha and Jnanasutra. The origins of the Nyingma Order in Tibet begins with Padmasambhava, Yeshe Tsogyal, Vimalmitra, Vairotsana, and Shantarakshita. Nyingma teachings have been passed down through an unbroken lineage to the present time.
According to Robert Beer in his book, The Handbook of Tibetan Symbols:
"The symbolic design of a lotus, book, and sword rising above a lake, and flanked by a double-headed duck and parrot, was first believed to have been painted upon a wall at Samye monastery in central Tibet by the great Sakya master, Sakya Pandita (1182-1251).
An alternative belief maintains that this motif first appeared as a cryptograph during the six-year reign (836-842) of the Bönpo king Langdarma, who suppressed Buddhism, destroyed many monasteries, and prohibited th artistic creation of Buddhist imagery. This cryptic or coded motif is both an insignia of the three great Bodhisattvas, and an emblem of the early transmission of the Buddhist teachings into Tibet.
As the emblem of the three great Bodhisattvas, Manjushri is represented by the lotus-borne book and wisdom sword, Avalokiteshvara by the double-headed orange and pink duck, and Vajrapani by the double-headed green parrot. These three Bodhisattvas represent the wisdom, compassion, and power aspects of the Buddha respectively, and are collectively know as the "Lords of the Three Families". The Tathagata Family of Manjushri transmutes ignorance, the Padma family of Avalokiteshvara transmute desire, and the Vajra Family of Vajrapani transmutes anger.
Five of the most important eighth century founders of the Tibetan Nyingma tradition are represented in this design, as the emblem of the first transmission of Buddhism into Tibet. The lake from which the lotus stem rises represents the great Indian Buddhist master Shantarakshita, the "Lake of Serenity", whos was invited into Tibet by King Trisong Detsen. The lotus represents the great Indian tantric master Padmasambhava, the "Lotus born", who was similarly invited by the king upon the recommendation of Shantarakshita. The book and flaming wisdom sword represent the great Tibetan Buddhist king Trisong Detsen (Tib. Khri-srong lde-btsan), who ruled Tibet between 754-797, and was considered to be an emanation of Manjushri. The two-headed duck represents the great Indian master and translator from Kashmir, Vimalamitra, who was also invited to Tibet by Trisong Detsen. The two-headed parrot represents the great Tibetan translator and disciple of Padmasambhava,
Vairocana. The two eyes and beaks of each bird, facing towards opposite directions, symbolize both the transmission of the Buddhist teachings from India into Tibet, and their translation from Sanskrit into Tibetan."
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