Hi Sangyey, few points before I answer your questions. Firstly nyingma.com is an incognito site of aro which is a western guy claiming to be a terton without any lama supporting that claim. Nyingmas know very well the grave dangers of false tertons as detailed by Padmasambhava. However the famous beautiful letter of late Nyushol posted with good intentions of Hayagriva is well known. As I said before there are different views on the necessity of ngondro before taking Dzogchen teachings or even Direct Introduction. Frankly masters incorporate Dzogchen into their every moment and make it the dominant POV in their various teachings implicitly or explicitly. Ngondro depends on the dzogchen path of a guru and what he advises, some ask for it aome don't and they all respect each others' various ways and lineages. Also you can have more than one Dzogchen guru and follow their varying advice on their teachings simultaneously. You can either have one guru or more, the choice is yours and the latter is unavoidable for almost all of great practitioners and masters in history till now.
I have to say only asking a guru's permission or even advice about what one can study as advised above to you in the name of being 'safest', has nothing to do with TB or Nyingma. A master would not say in Tibet to his students, if you come across a a teaching being given, travel back to me and ask if it's 'safest' to take that teaching or read a text. This is just against TB & Nyingma tradition of taking teachings from different masters like a bee visiting different flowers. Even more illogical to give you a list of what to study after saying following a lama on what to read is safest.
Username you stated in your above post that Nyingma's look toward the master. Is this a thing Nyingma's generally like to do perhaps a little more specifically than others school might emphasis?
Dzogchen is the pinnacle of the view and practices. Different levels, Mahayana & Vajrayana yogas & Mahamudra/Dzogchen, were revealed after Shakyamuni in stages. Garab Dorje brought Dzogchen back to this lucky rare planet. Padmasambhava manifested to finish this process and he left termas for a long time after himself. Then things go down in Kaliyuga and Maitreya the fifth Buddha, comes and the process is repeated though in different ways, and then so on for different future Buddhas. So as Nyingmas we look at tertons (of different schools) and masters such as the Karmapa who is the the sixth Buddha, Lion's Roar, or HHDL or any other great master regardless of schools. Great beings reincarnate in different schools. Also the source of emanations, from various Buddhas to Padma and his consorts to Vima& Vairo & Trsiong etc., manifest in all schools and even in secret normal people either as whole or in part or in combination. Buddhas' intention might manifest as a strategic bridge that saves many lives during centuries or a certain hospital or certain works of art etc. Also we highly value great practitioners who becme great masters/mistresses by their own efforts regardless of lineage/school or a practitioner who makes great progress in a single lifetime. In a way this is the best. You can sense the great masters/mistresses of varying schools/lineages in their presence and also by what they say and do.
Also, why is the term 'cycle' used?
Here is what I meant. A terton's terma practice can be of many types. Some are secret or not to be revealed for others or a wide circle. Some do not get revealed or are delayed due to circumstances. Some are very small target specific practices, but some are medium or large 'cycles'. This means that cycle has different levels and stages. So a major large cycle might have an ngondro to generation/completion stages to trekcho/thogal, ie: a complete cycle from A-to-Z. A major terton might have many small to medium to even several large terma cycles. See link 1 below.
What is Nyingma's philosophical view on emptiness or what school of Madhyamaka do they follow?
Two things to keep in mind. Nyingmas are not centralized. They are a diverse set of lineages historically, anything from a village/family terma or practice lineage to a minor/major mega multi-complex monastery tradtion to diverse followers of a majotr terton (Jigmed Lingpa/Dudjom/etc.) to a mix of above (usual). So there are different emphasis in different monasteries where Madhyamaka is taught. Dodrubchen's is different to Kathok is different Mindrolling to Dzogchen Monastery etc. Great masters studied most as well as other schools. There are many historical debates, Nagarjuna/Chandra vs. Asangha/Vasu or Rangtong vs. Shentong or Prasangika vs. Citamttra vs. Yogacara etc. In his big red book Dudjom praises all traditions and even corrects Yogacara into a proper context he calls greater Madhyamaka's Yogacara based on a firm grounding of Prasangika. A lot of these were historic swings of the pendulum to avoid extremes. So we accept them all for a reason, to moderate.
The ultimate truth can not be stated like a concept, though concepts are necessary to make progress initially till enlightenment. Generally on philosophy, I would say Mipham changed things by bringing in more clarity into the philosophical tradition taught to monks at a time when it was much needed, though Jigmed Lingpa's tradition also thrives as I said. Though most of what Mipham said was stated before, but his context and compilation and mastery was novel, very powerful, apt and still influential. I think every Ningma should read Mipham's Beacon of Certainty (links below) even if they don't fully understand it. We also believe in diversity and freedom of debate and think the revival of suppressed Jonangs as well as Shentongs by Tsultrim/Kalu etc. or any other cultural heirtage is good. But one must not dwell too much on conceptual stages/debates and use them as tools and means not the end. Same with Mipham whose philosophy, like all Buddhist ideas/philosphy, is ultimately a stepping stone towards the ultimate realization which is possible by the practice of Vajrayana/Mahamudra/Dzogchen.
Frankly one could spend many lifetimes on all these and never finish. So we have to look at our circumstances and make a plan. Ultimately Dzogchen view, simply same as Buddha's or Prasangika as Longchenpa showed, incorporates all. However a firm grounding in Buddha's basic teachings (4 truths, 8fold noble path), 4 thoughts which turn the mind from samsara, etc. and a baisc understanding of emptiness and Madhyamaka is necessary for all. But one can also develop these more with further study in time and practicing Vajrayana and specially Dzogchen to make things clearer and see how many paths are there to help different people and types of beings in this world and time as well as others. So it's best to relax and take things slowly one day at a time and mix study with practice as well as personal contemplation on how things really are from day to day in our lives. Probably lots of mistakes in what I said as a typical ignorant so do ask various vajra sisters/brothers (as is our tradition) and teachers you connect to even if they say diverse things, which is ultimately great. Good luck.
1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jigdral_Ye ... jom_Tersar
Miphms Beacon of Certainty:
2: http://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?titl ... _Certainty
3: Pettit's book: http://www.wisdompubs.org/pages/display ... n=&image=1
4: His PhD thesis which was polished to be printed as the book above. First link for download as PDF: http://vajrayana.faithweb.com/rich_text_6.html
Dzogchen masters I know say: 1)Buddhist religion essence is Dzogchen 2)Religions are positive by intent/fruit 3)Any method's OK unless: breaking Dzogchen vows, mixed as syncretic (Milanese Soup) 4)Don't join mandalas of opponents of Dalai Lama/Padmasambhava: False Deity inventors by encouraging victims 5)Don't debate Ati with others 6)Don't discuss Ati practices online 7) A master told his old disciple: no one's to discuss his teaching with some others on a former forum nor mention him. Publicity's OK, questions are asked from masters/set teachers in person/email/non-public forums~Best wishes