Translation of the Twenty-One Little Nails

The Precepts of the Dharmakaya is a translation of a root text and its commentary from the Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyud, with advanced instructions on the practice of Bonpo Dzogchen meditation.

The teachings of Bon are organized into nine ways, or nine vehicles to enlightenment, the ninth and highest of which is known as Dzogchen. Among the four principal traditions of Bonpo Dzogchen, the oral tradition from the country of Zhang Zhung is of unique importance because it never became a terma, or hidden treasure text rediscovered long after its original composition. The precepts of Dzogchen were said to have originated with the primordial Buddha, Kuntu Zangpo, passing down at first through the direct mind to mind transmission and then later through the oral transmission of the 24 masters, all of whom attained the rainbow body of light. In Zhang Zhung in the 7th century, these precepts were communicated by the last in this line of masters to his Tapihritsa, who subsequently attained Buddha enlightenment through the practice of vision, or Thodgal. In the next century, he appeared on a number of occasions at the Darok Lake in Zhang Zhung to the tantric master Gyerpung Nangzher Lodpo, who set down the precepts in writing for the first time in the Zhang Zhung language. In the next century they were translated into Tibetan and thus these precepts have come down to our own day in an unbroken line of transmission. The teachings of the Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyud, the “Oral Tradition from Zhang Zhung”, are classified into 4 cycles of texts, which are designated outer, inner, secret, and exceedingly secret. Accordingly, these precepts are said to represent the actual words of the enlightened master Tapihritsa. The outer cycle focuses on the general view of Dzogchen, the inner cycle on the practice of contemplation, or Trekchod, the secret cycle on the practice of vision, or Thodgal, and the very secret on the removing of doubts with regard to the natural state of the nature of mind being the source of all visions, both in meditation practice and in normal life.

In this last class, there is found the text known as “The Twenty-One Little Nails”, these representing 21 essential points of Dzogchen practice. Included here in this volume is the translation of teh root text, and also that of the commentary attributed to Gyerpung. This represents one of the most important texts coming from early times for the understanding of Dzogchen upadesha practice.