Jan 18th 2008
[A terdak is the person given the responsibility to spread a terton’s terma teachings. Jigme Rinpoche is the terdak for Namkha Drimed Rinpoche’s termas. In this edited transcript, I asked Jigme Rinpoche about the fact that the terma empowerment texts are often written by someone other than the terton. This is the case with the empowerments for the Vidyadhara’s Sadhana of Mahamudra and his Werma Sadhana (The Rigden Abhisheka). His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche wrote these empowerments, respectively.]
Jigme Rinpoche: Well, I think there are a few reasons for this. First of all, there are differences in the termas when they are first found by a terton. Some termas come complete with the instructional manuals and everything. Other termas come only with the root text. Sometimes a particular terton is directly linked to the empowerment of whatever terma he has discovered. In this case, the terton is in such a state of mind that he doesn’t require a manual to go along with the text. The empowerment of the disciple is more about the terton’s mind-transmission taking place directly. In this case terton is using the root text only, and that’s fine.
Walker Blaine: I have heard stories like that with both of the Vidyadhara’s texts.
Jigme Rinpoche: Yes. But in order for this to develop into a lineage, a tradition has to follow. The later teachers who may be transmitting the terma have to have a manual. This is because it is not the same mind as the terton giving the empowerment; they are not the founder of the terma. Therefore they have to rely on a written manual to do the job of transmitting the empowerment properly, with the proper respect. So you often find that the later teachers write the manuals for the original root texts.
That’s one reason. The second reason is that some of the termas are too old, the tertons are too early, so the manuals have been lost somewhere. Only the root text remains. In this case there is an urgent need to preserve the terma and a manual is needed. Therefore an equally qualified master will write the manual.
There are other situations when the text is just too complicated to be easily transmittable. In these cases the texts are simplified based on a more complex, complicated manual. This is so that there is a more regular way to give the empowerment.
Walker Blaine: Does that responsibility fall to the terdak?
Jigme Rinpoche: It is usually falls to the terdak. Sometimes if falls to someone who comes along on the path later, who is totally devoted to that path, and has some signs indicating that he or she should be writing this.
Walker Blaine: Would you say a little more about what a terdak is?
Jigme Rinpoche: I think that the role of a terdak is basically to continue the teaching properly as a proper recipient, a proper vessel in whose body, speech or mind the entire lineage of the terton’s teachings can be truly transferred. It goes to the proper person, into the right hands. This channel is based on either having a blood link or on someone who has a really good relationship with the terton in terms of samaya, in terms of devotion. That is who becomes the recipient.
The terdak can be a physical son or a spiritual son. Sometimes it can be both in one person. The actual role of the terdak is to keep the teaching from disappearing, and to make good use of the teaching so that it is established properly and begins to be of proper benefit. That is one of the main reasons behind there being a terdak.
The terton and terdak have a relationship from previous lives. Most often they have entered a particular mandala together during in an empowerment bestowed at the time of Guru Rinpoche. Somewhere the terton and terdak have shared one common mandala. That’s where the relationship started. And then, after many, many lifetimes, they are born as father and son [spiritually and/or physically]. This is the time when they have a particular role to play with that particular text.
Walker Blaine: I have read the terton does not spread the terma too widely and the terdak is the one to do that.
Jigme Rinpoche: Exactly. That’s the point. Sometimes it depends on who the terdak is. For example, if the terdak happens to be a Karmapa or a Dalai Lama, the teaching is sure to spread like fire. It’s like that. And in other cases it could be that the terdak is very simple guy, but a great practitioner. It doesn’t mean that is wrong person. He can be highly accomplished, a real spiritually accomplished person, but he maybe not very well known. Then terma teachings begin to benefit on a smaller scale. There are different varieties.
Some tertons do seem to appoint a terdak who has a great popular influence. This is driven by circumstances. But this person is not always the real lineage heir. In this case the terdak would be someone who could take care of the teaching and spread it to many places. But it might not mean this is a spiritually proper person who has actually accomplished the practice.
Walker Blaine: Why would a terton choose such a vehicle?
Jigme Rinpoche: I think it just depends on each terton. They each have a different purpose in their mind. Sometimes they feel the terma teaching going to be of more benefit if it reaches to more people at that particular time in history. If so, then they will do it like that. At other times they think it will be beneficial if only a few people receive the teaching. So, they sometimes they will pass on the lineage in that way.
I think we can never actually question why a terton does certain things. It’s beyond our imagination. Terdaks play a very important role for the spread and the upkeep of the actual terma teachings.