Why Now is the Time for Terma
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.