The subject depicted in this thangka is called Guruparampara, a “Line of Teachers.” It depicts the family tree of Nyingma lineage, as it were, and its function is to indicate a line of descent. The meaning of this presentation is to show a refuge for believers. It creates a kind of structure with a number of deities and teachers in whom devotees take refuge, because they will help believers in the course of their .
Tibetan Buddhism has such a unifying symbol, known variously as a Refuge assembly, Field of Merit, or Refuge Tree. It is known as a Refuge assembly because it is a visualized gathering of figures representing the three Refuges. It is known as a Field of Merit because by visualizing a great array of Enlightened figures and then making offerings to them, and by performing other skillful actions, such as committing oneself to the Bodhisattva .
By the time the painter sat down to begin the sketch he already had in mind the main contents and design of the thangka. Usually, the patron had indicated to the painter precisely which deities he wanted to be depicted. Sometimes the patron also furnished a diagram that showe the names and relative positions of each figure in the painting, such diagrams often having been composed by the lama of the patron. When the .