Rigdzin Terdag Lingpa
Rigdzin Terdak Lingpa is the terton name for the founder of the Mindroling tradition, Minling Terchen Gyurme Dorje. He is a major contributor to the Rinchen Terdzo because he was a very active terton and because he and his brother, Lochen Dharma Shri, assembled the Dobum, The Wish Fulfilling Vase, a collection of vital termas that preceded the Rinchen Terdzo by 300 years. Jamgon Kongtrul used the Dobum as a basis for what to include in his collection; it is part of the additional volumes to the Rinchen Terdzo. Many of the empowerments we’ve received have been done according to the presentation in the two-volume collection, and besides discovering termas, Minling Terchen wrote empowerment rituals for several termas discovered by other tertons. This is the same as what His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse did for the Sadhana of Mahamudra terma and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche did for Werma Sadhana, both termas discovered by the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
The name Rigdzin Terdak Lingpa is worth a brief stop. Lingpa means someone who is a sanctuary for beings. Terdak means lord of terma. This name was in prophecies about him left by Padmasambhava and earlier tertons. Prophecy in the Tibetan tradition sometimes carries a sense of seeing the future, but also a sense of command. Because karma is always dependent on us, we ought to do our best to make sure a positive prophecy is fulfilled.
The Sanskrit word for rigdzin in is vidyadhara. This title is often applied to some of the great Nyingma practitioners and tertons as well as the earliest, most highly attained teachers in the Nyingma. As a title for someone ‘vidyadhara’ doesn’t pop up so often in other Tibetan traditions such as the Kagyu or Gelug. The second syllable, dhara or dzin, is easy to explain; it means to hold or to grasp. The first syllable, vidya or rig, is harder to explain; it means awareness or knowledge in the sense of knowing our most fundamental, natural state of being. A Vidyadhara is someone who holds awareness, holds a complete realization and actualization of our most basic nature.
In the Nyingma teachings there is a well-known explanation of four types of vidyadharas. These are four levels of highest accomplishment in dzogchen, the most refined presentation of mind and meditation in the Nyingma tradition. The lowest level refers to someone having perfected their meditation on a deity to the point that it is as stable as a physical body and after death they consciously arise in the intermediate state between births in the form of the deity, much like as in a lucid dream. The highest level of vidyadhara has brought that realization to perfection and has transformed the ordinary body into a body of light and at death these beings leave no physical remains. Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyal accomplished the rainbow body, the level of the fourth vidyadhara.
Vidyadhara, incidentally, is a title Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche assumed the title toward the end of his life in the west. Looking back on this from here in Orissa while receiving empowerments for the huge number of Nyingma practices and lineages he carried, it seems an interesting coincidence that he left us with so Nyingma a title for himself. While there were a lot of interesting reasons presented for why Trungpa Rinpoche changed his name, the end result is that we formally refer to him in a very dzogchen way.
Minling Terchen lived about 300 years before Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye and was born in 1646 in southern central Tibet. His father, Nyötön Samdak Thrinlay Lhundrub, was his teacher in his youth, and his mother, Lhandzin Yangchen Drolma, came from a noble family. He was, like many other great tertons, an extraordinary child. His father began to teach him the eight logos at the age of four. By the age of eleven he was acting as his father’s lineage heir and had perfect command over all aspects of whatever ritual tradition he was taught.
A year earlier, he had a vision of Padmasambhava and due to this Minling Terchen had a stable recognition that all life’s appearances are like a dream. If our practice and understanding are good that’s how we should instinctively understand things to be. Rigdzin Terdak Lingpa never wavered from this, day or night. This is not easy to accomplish, especially at the age of ten.
As a terton he began his career around the age of 13. While revealing many termas in his life, some of them publically, he was also known for doing very intensive retreat practices in the traditions of his era, both the Nyingma which arrived in King Trisong Detsen’s time and the later traditions that had arrived from India from the end of the tenth century and onward. He often did these intensives in renowned retreat places like the caves near Samye, the first monastery in Tibet, called Samye Chimpu. These days Samye Chimpu retreats nearly a day’s drive from Mindroling monastery, the Tibetan seat of his tradition.
As time went by, Minling Terchen’s initial realization that all appearances are like dreams became stronger and stronger. It was said that many people who met him would be spontaneously liberated—they themselves would have an experience like his, though maybe not so stable. This was a period where the presence of his body was the major way he benefited students. Then, at the age of 32, his realization of enlightened speech became very strong and he was to give people an experience of realization though how he spoke the teachings. Enlightened speech is connected to the inner energy flows in the body becoming purified. This leads to being able to communicate others in a much more pure, effective and direct way. At 35, he became able to do teach on the level of mind. Though he continued to teach with words as before, he would also forcefully move the minds of his students into realization so they were not stuck with a dry intellectual understanding.
Students from all over Tibet, from all walks of life came to him. He was offered a great deal of wealth and immediately used this to help others through building monasteries, assisting the poor, and undertaking projects for the preservations of the teachings like printing of texts and building stupas. He was completely impartial and while being a storehouse of the major streams of Nyingma teachings, both the terma tradition and the unbroken oral tradition coming from the time of Padmasambhava, he also maintained minor traditions like the chod practice of Machig Labdron and the Shangpa which was later cared for and revitalized by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye.
In 1714, at the age of 69, Minling Terchen became ill and began to give final instructions to his family members. He passed away in the manner of a highly realized teacher, giving instructions up to the moment of his passing, making aspirations and finally departing with many miracles. His main successor was his younger brother, Lochen Dharma Shri, a very famous teacher in his own right. Their family lineage continues to the present. The Venerable Jetsunma Khandro Rinpoche, presently hosting the Rinchen Terdzo in Northern India, is a direct descendent.