Rinchen Terdzo

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.

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.