In terms of early Buddhist history, Dzogchen is said to have originated with Garab Dorje in Oddiyana during the period 300 years after the parinirvana of Buddha Sakyamuni. Many scholars associate Oddiyana with the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan but it could also have been Afghanistan. The pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet, the Bonpo tradition, also has Dzogchen teachings, which are called the ‘Shangshung Nyengyud’. However, early Dzogchen sources also speak of twelve primordial teachers of Dzogchen, some of whom pre-date Garab Dorje by many thousands of years. The last of these teachers before Garab Dorje was Shakyamuni Buddha. These profound Dzogchen teachings are, therefore, by all accounts, extremely ancient.

Garab Dorje was born around 60 A.D., and is considered to be the first human Knowledge Holder or Rigdzin (rig dzin : Vidyadhara) of the Dzogchen teachings in our epoch. Garab Dorje’s main student was called Manjusrimitra who in turn passed on his knowledge to Sri Singha, both of whom attained total realization. Since that time, the lineage of teachers has remained intact in an unbroken lineage right down to the present day, to Chögyal Namkhai Norbu.