Rinchen Terdzo

Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye

December 23rd, 2008 by Walker Blaine

When reading the lives of amazing beings one is humbled. That is especially true when learning about Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. His activity in life was so vast and his desire to benefit so strong that afterward he passed away, he took many simultaneous rebirths. Two of them—Shechen Kongtrul and Palpung Kongtrul had direct connections with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Shechen Kongtrul was one of the Vidyadhara’s main gurus.

As an aside, I’d like to say that is interesting to note that three of the Vidyadhara’s main teachers—Shechen Kongtrul, Khenpo Gangshar, and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche were successive abbots of the Shechen shedra or monastic university. The founder and first abbot of the Shedra at Shechen was Mipham the Great, the Sakyong’s predecessor. Shechen at the time of the Vidyadhara’s youth was like Oxford or Cambridge, a great university that everyone aspired to go to.

Jamgon Kongtrul was born in 1813. His father, or as we’d say, his stepfather who raised him, was not a Buddhist, but a practitioner of Bon, the native religion of Tibet. Historians suspect this probably influenced Jamgon Kongtrul’s non-sectarian approach. He genuinely wanted to find the heart of every tradition along with preserving what was unique in each tradition. As a child he loved to dress like a monk, play at performing rituals and he learned the alphabet as soon as he saw it. Details like these are seen differently in the Buddhist perspective. Being able to read that easily isn’t just ‘being smart.’ It means that positive habitual tendencies and aspirations from prior lives are very strong.

As a youth, even before he’d practiced intensively, he had great faith in Padmasambhava and saw him and other teachers in his dreams. He was well liked because of his gentle demeanor and at sixteen his employer, a local chieftain, sent him to Shechen Monastery to study with a guru there, Shechen Ontrul. At this time there was no shedra although it was a famous monastery. While at Shechen he studied a great many topics and soaked things up quickly. At this time he began receiving empowerments and teachings on terma, quite normal at Shechen, a Nyingma monastery. The Konchog Chidu which we received the other day was among the first practices he received there.

Jamgon Kongtrul took full ordination at the age of 20, and at 21 the local chieftain who’d sent him to Shechen now insisted he now go to Palpung Monastery. Palpung was presided over by the great Kagyu teacher, Tai Situ Pema Nyinche Wangpo. Ontrul Rinpoche sent Jamgon Kongtrul off with the advice, ‘Don’t become sectarian.’ At Palpung Jamgon Kongtrul furthered his studies immensely and he received many, many Kagyu and Nyingma teachings from His Eminence Tai Situ Rinpoche and others. By this time he was also studying medicine. When requested what meditation deity would be best for to practice, Situ Rinpoche told Jamgon Kongtrul to practice White Tara, a feminine aspect of compassion that has a strong connection with long life and vitality. He had a very successful retreat on White Tara in the Jonang tradition—a school of Tibetan Buddhism which was thought to have been destroyed by the Cultural Revolution until ten or fifteen years ago when several gurus emerged from Tibet.

By his mid-twenties Jamgon Kongtrul had done many retreats on a variety of yidams and he’d already started teaching. The 14th Karmapa insisted that Jamgon Kongtrul teach him Sanskrit. His name, Kongtrul, came from being recognized by Situ Rinpoche as the rebirth of a former student of his, Kongpo Bamtang Tulku. This name became contracted to Kongtrul—trul being short for tulku, meaning emanation or enlightened manifestation. Lodro Thaye, Limitless Intellect, is the name he received when taking the bodhisattva vow, the vow to liberate all beings from suffering. Jamgon means gentle protector and is a name for Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom.

In his late twenties, Jamgon Kongtrul began an extended retreat in a hermitage above Palpung. This began as a three year, but soon extended to the rest of his life. He only came out of retreat in order to teach, join intensive group practices, mediate in wars or disputes, or in some way benefit beings. Although they’d met around eight years earlier Jamgon Kongtrul and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo began to work together intensively around the time Kongtrul was 36. They both had the same desire to go beyond the sectarianism that was causing the deterioration understanding and good relations between the many different schools of Buddhism as well as Bon. Together with Chogyur Lingpa they collected and exchanged whatever teachings they could. This began what is now known as the Rime movement, a renaissance of unbiased teaching that continues to this day.

For many years Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo urged Kongtrul to write his Five Great Treasuries. The Rinchen Terdzo, The Treasury of Precious Termas is one of these. The best known is probably the Treasury Of Knowledge. It is a massive ten-part presentation of all objects or topics one could know, starting with the variety of Buddhist cosmologies and moving from there to describe the appearance of the Buddha from many perspectives, the various schools of dharma, the classical sciences and all aspects of training from entering the dharma up to the fruition. Everything is described from a variety of perspectives, impartially. The last three great treasuries are the 8 volume Tantric Treasury of the Kagyu Vajrayana Instructions, the 18 volume Treasury of Spiritual Advice, and the 20 volume Treasury of Extensive Teachings. Two of his other major works are The Compendium Of All Sadhanas and The Compendium Of All Tantras. Jamgon Kongtrul wrote a large number of smaller works, some of them very influential too.

We’ll pick up on Jamgon Kongtrul’s life in a later entry.

Chogyur Lingpa, One of the Great Tertons

December 16th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

December 11th

Today we finished the abhishekas for the sadhanas combing the three roots and moved to the empowerments for the sadhanas related to the guru, the source of blessings. This section is divided into many parts starting with the outer practices, supplications to Padmasambhava as an outer figure. There was one empowerment related to this section, drawn from the very famous terma cycle discovered by Chogyur Lingpa, the Barche Kunsel, Eliminating All Obstacles. Students of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, whose reincarnation was enthroned last month, will be familiar with this text. Receiving the Barche Kunsel was particularly significant for Jamgon Kongtrul the Great because at this time he recognized Chogyur Lingpa to be Guru Rinpoche in person. Around that time in his life, Jamgon Kongtrul was afflicted by a form of seemingly incurable leprosy affecting his eye. Chogyur Lingpa gave him a meditation practice to do for this and the disease disappeared with no medical explanation.

The lungs for this section of the Rinchen Terdzo contain a very famous terma, set of supplications known as The Seven Chapters. One section of this text is already well known to the Shambhala community as it is has been popularized by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche as the ‘Guru Rinpoche Song’. A prose translation of this can be found in the supplications for the long Vajrakilaya sadhana as well as in public translations. The Seven Chapters in their entirety are included Sogyal Rinpoche’s beautiful two-language publication of all the major Nyingma supplications titled (I think) A Great Rain Of Blessings. At the end of the day we moved to a preliminary abhisheka for the next series of empowerments related to the guru, the inner practices.

Chogyur Lingpa (1829-1870) is one of the most remarkable figures in the Rime movement of the 19th century. He was friend as well as both teacher and student to Jamgon Kongtrul the Great who put the Rinchen Terdzo together, and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo who traveled all over Tibet to gather the many nearly extinct termas and transmissions included in the collection. In Chogyur Lingpa early years he studied extensively with Drukpa and Kagyu masters as well as with teachers from Surmang.
Throughout his life Chogyur Lingpa experienced many visions, direct experiences deities, and performed many miracles. One amazing about thing about him was that he revealed many termas in full view, sometimes in front of hundreds of people. On one occasion he flew to the ceiling of a cave and publically removed objects from solid rock. On another he pulled a vajra, a ritual scepter, half-way out of solid rock leaving in part way in so people could see what was happening.

Chogyur Lingpa was very renowned during his lifetime and many of his termas are included in the Rinchen Terdzo. He upheld and transmitted most of the kama lineages, discovered many terma objects and medicines including more than one hundred statues of Guru Rinpoche and relics belonging to the Indian siddhas, spread a large number of rediscovered termas (yangters), revealed mind termas (termas that arise solely in the mind of the terton), had pure visions of the deities, recalled his former lives and transmitted teachings from those lives with great clarity, and could visit Padmasambhava in a pure realm and converse with him as though in person. In short, he was one of the most amazing people you could ever hope to meet. At the time of his passing in 1870 there were many signs, including earthquakes and rainbows.

The First Terton, The Essential Terma

December 11th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

December 10th

The earliest terton in Tibet was named Sangye Lama. He was born at the start of the eleventh century and became a monk who practiced vajrayana. Sangye Lama is said to have lived eighty years. During his life he travelled and propagated the dharma widely, particularly in Central Tibet. He discovered several termas some of which were vajrayana practices, some of which were rituals from the sutra tradition translated from Chinese into Tibetan. This might have been important at that time because the monastic tradition was re-establishing itself in Central Tibet after the suppression of King Langdarma in the 9th century. All that remains of Sangye Lama’s original termas are some of the sutra rituals.

However, there is a kind of terma called a yangter, a rediscovered terma. These are termas that were discovered by one terton, and then re-concealed for the future because it was not the right time for the terma to be revealed. Sangye Lama re-concealed a terma called The Twenty One Dialogues Of The Sadhana That Combines the Three Roots in this manner. [The three roots are the guru, yidam or meditation deity, and protector, to be described in the coming days.]

Sangye Lama’s terma was then rediscovered by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo in the 19th century. Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo is said to be a reincarnation of Sangye Lama, and the rediscovered terma is said to contain the essence of all of Sangye Lama’s termas. Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye later arranged this text into two empowerments: the essential empowerment and the torma empowerment. A torma is a colorful type of offering cake. Often a torma is a representation of the deity in a symbolic form.

Today we moved from the tantra class empowerments to the sadhana class. The essential and torma empowerments just mentioned were the first two empowerments in the sadhana class. After them came three more terma traditions of sadhanas combining the three roots, those of Karmapa Rangjung Dorje, Ratna Lingpa and the Northern Terma tradition, the terma cycles revealed by Gokyi Demtru Chen. The current lineage holder of the Northern Terma tradition is Changling Rinpoche who recently taught in Halifax and western Canada.

At the start of the session, just before we started the sadhana class empowerments, we received the final terma in the tantra section called  The Empowerment for Chogyur Lingpa’s Supreme Bliss [Skt: Samvara] of the Union of the Buddhas. Lama Gyurme Dorje told us The Union Of The Buddhas is a Nyingma form of Chakrasamvara practice.

SMR Post: Practice During the Rinchen Terdzo

December 9th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

If people would like to connect with the events of the Rinchen Terdzo through practice,  the Sakyong has several suggestions. He stressed that it really depended on what kind of time we have, saying that it might be different for someone at a practice center as opposed to someone in New York. Here are some remarks the Sakyong made about practice during the Rinchen Terdzo:

“There are certain practices people can do to connect. They could do Werma, the Gesar practice, or Magyal Pomra (composed recently for the Dorje Kasung). Those would be directly connected. Another practice that could be done is the Sadhana of Luminosity because that that has Guru Rinpoche, Yeshe Tsogyal and Ekajati.

“For others, it may be a good time for them to read up, study the suggested readings. You know, it’s a good way to come along.

“In order to work with obstacles one could be do a protector chant and dedicate it so that things go well. One can do that kind of very simple practice. It depends on how much time people have.”

The Sakyong also recommended The Blazing Guru. Acharyas can give the lung for this short guru yoga written by the Sakong a couple years ago.

For recommended reading, please see the short list of books in the Introduction section of this blog. Here is another recommendation: The Lotus Born, a biography of Guru Rinpoche translated by Erik Pema Kunsang. Another short book that is quite interesting is The Life And Teaching Of Chogyur Lingpa, by Orgyen Tobgyal. It is about one of the major more recent tertons who played a great part in the creation of the Rinchen Terdzo.

Why Now is the Time for Terma

December 8th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

Interview with Jigme Rinpoche: Part One 
December 4th 2008

[For definitions of terms related to terma, click here.]

To the Shambhala community the Rinchen Terdzo is a fairly unknown area. And also to the larger public in Asia, the nature of this kind of large volume of empowerments is a fairly unknown area. They generally consider such empowerments as the Rinchen Terdzo to be something very important. But even though everybody sees it in terms of being an enormous source of blessings, not so may people are actually informed or even aware of the basic details.

I think what you need first is a brief overall history of the origination of the Terdzo. And that brings up the subject of kama and terma. Kama and terma are the two major transmissions as far as the old school, the Nyingma school, is concerned. Every part of the tantric lineage is rooted in the kama first. Terma is drawn from the kama teachings. The termas are extracted [from the kama, and then] rewritten, recomposed and done in a manner that is fitting for a particular time, particular situations. So, the source of the terma teachings is basically the kama.

Kama is where all the root tantras start from. In the Nyingma lineage we have the three major modes of transmission which are the gyalwa gong gyu, enlightened mind to mind transmission, the rigdzin dak gyu, the vidyadharas’ way of transmission through symbol, and the gangzak nyan gyu meaning person-to-person verbal transmission. These are the three modes of transmission. So kama is transmitted in that style. Within that is contained every major part of the root tantras.

Terma is made in Tibet. Terma is a true local product of Tibet. Kama comes all the way from India and goes all the way back to the dharmakaya.

Terma is especially related to the life and work of Padmasambhava, Guru Rinpoche. [Padmasambhava created the termas.] The reason he brought the terma teachings into existence is mainly because he saw the events that were going to unfold in Tibet in the future. He saw that the kama teachings would no longer be secure because, first, it’s a very long time so there is always the possibility of distortions somewhere. Second, [he saw that] due to the general disintegration of elements [the kama teachings might degenerate].

Even though a lot of practice would unfold that was constant, particularly in Tibet, Guru Rinpoche foresaw that the dharma would be come under heavy destruction. There would be moments when the kama teachings would be directly affected. In order to save the kama teachings, Guru Rinpoche drew out the essence of the kama [and made the termas]. Another reason he did this is because the kama is very elaborate. It sometimes has highly complicated rituals because it’s coming from a long way back in time. So, he extracted and drew out the essential part of the kama. Then he made it into what is known as terma.

Therefore, the termas are all based on the kama teachings, particularly timed in a way that they will be revealed when the right time comes. This is how terma teachings flourish—beginning in history with the 108 great tertons and thousands of minor tertons. These terma renewed, gave life to, the actual essential part of the kama teaching so that they were not distorted, not retouched by any person. The termas have a direct link to the source in terms of closeness of the lineage. Here we are talking about the terton, whoever it may be. The terton can be a present, living terton of this century, but he is directly linked to Padmasambhava.

So it cuts through all possible paths of destruction. This is why now is the time for terma. And this is why terma is so precious, so important. We do still have kama teachings continuing, but not in their fullest form. We still have the kama form of ritual practice being preserved in certain monasteries. But the majority are now practicing terma.


Note: When remarks are in brackets in this article they are editorial. When they are in parentheses, they are a remark from the speaker set aside to better convey the meaning.

Rinchen Terdzo and the Vidyadhara

December 7th, 2008 by Walker Blaine

By Acharya Larry Mermelstein

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, one of the Vidyadhara’s close teachers from Tibet, republished the entire Rinchen Terdzo anthology sometime in the 1970s, adding to it somewhat, I believe. He kindly gave a copy of this to the Vidyadhara. Proper cloth wrappings and text labels were sewn for each volume, and Lama Ugyen Shenpen carefully reordered the 111 volumes into the more traditional 63-volume arrangement in order to facilitate the use of its index. Lama Ugyen was very familiar with these texts, as it had been his job to prepare the texts needed each day for his guru, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, during the six-month-long empowerment ceremonies he conferred in Asia, which he did on several occasions.

Sometime after all the texts had been wrapped and shelved nicely in a specially constructed lacquer cabinet in A-Suite, in the sitting room next to his personal office, I remember Rinpoche commenting about how excited he was to have these books so close to him. He exuded what seemed to be a very visceral feeling of gratitude and deep devotion to these particular teachings. Whenever the Vidyadhara left his home in Boulder to teach the three-month Seminary program, he always wanted us to bring the entire Rinchen Terdzo, along with 30-40 other volumes of his Tibetan library, to the Seminary. These filled several large trunks. Simply put, he wanted this collection near to him at all times possible.