The doxography employed by the Nyingma tradition to categorize the whole of the Buddhist path is unique. Nyingmapas divide the Buddhist path into nine yanas, as follows:

Dudjom Jigdral Yeshe Dorje emphasized the eight lower vehicles are intellectually fabricated and contrived:

Rongzom held that the views of sutra such as Madhyamaka were inferior to that of tantra, as Koppl notes:

Various editions of the Gyubum are extant, but one typical version is the thirty-six Tibetan-language folio volumes published by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche in New Delhi, 1974. It contains:

Dzogchen literature is usually divided into three categories, which more or less reflect the historical development of Dzogchen:

Unlike the other three schools, the Nyingma school does not incorporate a spiritual leader of the school, but rather organizes itself with autonomous monasteries which coordinate activities when necessary.

The Nyingma tradition is therefore decentralized and often individual monastery administration decisions are made by the community of the lamas together with senior sangha members. Nyingmapa are also historically characterized and distinguished by this decentralization and by their general wider political disinterest. Their monasteries and sanghas, and wider communities, consist of a blend of monastic vow holders, of vow holding ngagpa householders, and of yogins.

Special terma lineages were established throughout Tibet. Out of this activity developed, especially within the Nyingma tradition, two ways of dharma transmission: the so-called "long" oral transmission from teacher to student in unbroken lineages and the "short" transmission of "hidden treasures". The foremost revealers of these termas were the five terton kings and the eight Lingpas.

According to Nyingma tradition, tertons are often mindstream emanations of the 25 main disciples of Padmasambhava. A vast system of transmission lineages developed through the ages. Nyingma scriptures were updated when the time was appropriate. Terma teachings guided many Buddhist practitioners to realisation and enlightenment.