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Yeshe Tsogyal who concealed terma together with Guru Rinpoche)]<nomobile>Template:DisplayImages</nomobile> Terma (Tib. Template:BigTibetan, Wyl. gter ma) — spiritual treasures hidden by Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal in the earth and in the minds of disciples to be revealed at the appropriate time by ‘treasure revealers’ or tertöns. Many of these Template:BigTibetan, ter were collected by Jamgön Kongtrul and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo into more than sixty volumes, the Rinchen Terdzö, or Treasury of Precious Termas. The Terma lineage, together with the Nyingma Kama, are the two modes of transmission of the teachings of the Nyingma School. Tulku Thondup writes: :“In order to prevent the deep teachings and sacred objects of tantra from becoming mixed, diluted, or lost in the distant Template:Wiki, and in order to maintain their blessing powers afresh for Template:Wiki followers, Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal concealed them. They are discovered at the appropriate time by realized masters through their enlightened power.”[1][2]

Categories of Terma[edit | edit source]

The golden image at the centre is a kutsab known as Ngödrup Palbar and was discovered from Tsiké Norbu Punsum.[3]

Termas are divided into two categories, according to the manner in which they were concealed and discovered:

In the discovery of earth termas, earthly materials such as symbolic script written on yellow scroll are used to awaken the terma in the mind of the tertön. In the discovery of mind termas, no external earthly objects are relied on.

In many instances of mind terma, seeing or hearing symbolic words or Template:Wiki in visions causes the discovery of the terma.

TerchöTemplate:Wiki can be in three parts: Lama, Dzogchen & Tukjé Chenpo (Tib. Template:BigTibetan, la dzog tuk sum), i.e.
Another division is into Kagyé, Gongdü and Phurba.[4]

The Terma Tradition[edit | edit source]

[[Image:3rddodrupchen.jpg|thumb|Dodrupchen Jikmé Tenpé Nyima wrote a treatise on the terma tradition)] Tulku Thondup explains the Terma tradition of Tibet as follows:

In a number of spiritual traditions of the world there are many instances of the discovery of teachings and objects through mystical power.

Similarly, in various traditions and lineages of Buddhism, in India as well as Tibet, numerous mystical discoveries of teachings and objects have taken place.

In the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, the tradition of concealment and revelation of teachings and materials of religious value through the mystical power of enlightened beings is most prevalent by far.

This tradition of mystical discovery is known in Tibetan as Ter ('Treasures'), Terma ('Treasured Ones'), or Terchö ('Dharma Treasures' or 'Treasured Teachings').[5]

The main source of the Terma tradition of the Nyingma school is Guru Padmasambhava. [6]

While transmitting esoteric teachings to his realized disciples in Tibet, Guru Padmasambhava concealed many teachings with the blessings of his enlightened mind Template:Wiki in the nature of the intrinsic awareness of the minds of his disciples through the power of “mind-mandated transmission” (Tib. Template:BigTibetan, Wyl. gtad rgya); thereby the master and disciple became united as one in the teachings and realization.

Here, the master has concealed the teachings and blessings, the esoteric attainments, as ter in the pure nature of the minds of his disciples through his enlightened power, and he has made aspirations that the ter may be discovered for the sake of beings when the appropriate time comes.[7]

Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche writes:

In Template:Wiki the Buddha’s teachings amid the Template:Wiki Template:Wiki that dominated Tibet at that time, Padmasambhava saw clearly that some teachings would have to wait for a more appropriate time to take root.

He concealed them until certain great practitioners…would reveal them and bring them to fruition.[8]

Notes[edit | edit source]

Further Reading[edit | edit source]

External Links[edit | edit source]

LotsawaHouse-tag.png A collection of translations of termas on Lotsawa House Template:RigpaWiki

Terma (Tibetan: Template:BigTibetan, Wylie: gter ma; "hidden treasure") are key Tibetan Buddhist and Bön teachings, which the tradition holds were originally esoterically hidden by various Template:Wiki such as Padmasambhava and his consorts in the 8th century for Template:Wiki discovery at auspicious times by other Template:Wiki, known as tertöns.

As such, they represent a tradition of continuing revelation in Buddhism. The majority of terma teachings are tantric in nature, although there are notable exceptions.

Padma VTao.gif

Terma tradition[edit | edit source]

Tradition holds that terma may be a physical object such as a text or ritual implement that is buried in the ground (or earth), hidden in a rock or Template:Wiki, secreted in a herb, or a tree, hidden in a lake (or water), or hidden in the sky (space).

Though a literal understanding of terma is "hidden treasure", and sometimes objects are hidden away, the teachings associated should be understood as Template:Wiki 'concealed within the mind of the guru',

that is, the true place of concealment is in the terton's mindstream.

If the concealed or encoded teaching or object is a text, it is often written in dakini script: a Template:Wiki type of code or writing.

Fremantle (2001: p. 19) states:

...termas are not always made public right away. The conditions may not be right; people may not yet be ready for them; and further instructions may need to be revealed to clarify their meaning.

Often, the tertön himself has to practice them for many years.

In this way, one may see the tradition of terma and terton as analogous to that of inspiration and providing a legitimate Template:Wiki forum to ensure continuation of tantric tradition, and ensuring Vajrayana Buddhism's and Bön's continued relevancy in an evolving world.

The terma tradition is particularly prevalent in, and significant to, the Nyingma lineage.

Two of the most famous tertön in the 20th century, Dudjom Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, were of the Nyingma school.

Tertön are also prevalent in Bön and a few tertön have been Kagyu.

Padmasambhava and his principal consorts and disciples secreted away and hid scriptures, ritual objects and relics etc., to secure and Template:Wiki Buddhism during the time of Template:Wiki under King Langdarma.

Some of these terma have been rediscovered and special terma lineages established throughout Tibet as a result.

Out of this activity developed, especially within the Nyingma tradition, two ways of dharma transmission: The so called "long oral transmission" from teacher to student in unbroken disciplic lineages and the "short transmission" of terma.

The foremost revealers of these terma were the Five Terton Kings and the Eight Lingpas.

In the 19th century some of the most famous were the Khen Kong Chok Sum referring to Jamyang Khyentse, Jamgon Kongtrul and Chokgyur Lingpa.

Guru Padmasambhava.jpg

Terma have been relayed by nāga and the dakini, of the Template:Wiki and the heavens respectively, and have also been hidden by teachers such as the great translator Longchenpa.

Antecedents and analogies in other traditions[edit | edit source]

The Template:Wiki Mahayana figure Nagarjuna rediscovered the last part of the "Prajnaparamita-Sutra in one hundred thousand verses" in the realm of nāga, where it had been kept since the time of Buddha Shakyamuni.

The terma tradition of rediscovering hidden teaching is not unique to Tibet.

It has antecedents in India and Template:Wiki resonances in Hindu Vaishnavism as well.

The Template:Wiki Template:Wiki Chaitanya is said to have rediscovered a fragment of the Brahma Samhita in a trance state of devotional ecstasy.

There is another occasion involving Chaitanya who deposited his divine love (Template:Wiki) for great Template:Wiki Narottama dasa Thakura in the river Padma in Template:Wiki.

When Narottama turned twelve years of age, he collected this treasure after a revelation in a dream.

Types of terma[edit | edit source]

Fremantle (2001: p. 17) affirms that according to tradition:

Termas are of two main kinds: earth treasures and intention treasures, or mind treasures.

A teaching concealed as an intention treasure appears directly within the mind of the tertön in the form of Template:Wiki or letters to fulfill the enlightened intention of Padmakara.

Earth treasures include not only texts, but also sacred images, ritual instruments, and Template:Wiki Template:Wiki, and are found in many places: temples, monuments, statues, mountains, rocks, trees, lakes, and even the sky.

In the case of texts, they are not, as one might imagine, ordinary books that can be read straightaway.

Occasionally, full-length texts are found, but they are usually fragmentary, sometimes consisting of only a word or two, and they are encoded in symbolic script, which may change mysteriously and often disappears completely once it has been transcribed.

They are simply the Template:Wiki supports that act as a trigger to help the tertön reach the Template:Wiki level of mind where the teaching has really been concealed.

It is the tertön who actually composes and writes down the resulting text, and so may be considered its author.


The earth-terma are physical objects — which may be either an actual text, or physical objects that trigger a recollection of the teaching.

The mind-terma are constituted by space and are placed via guru-transmission, or realizations achieved in meditation which connect the practitioner directly with the essential content of the teaching in one simultaneous experience.

Once this has occurred, the tertön holds the complete teaching in mind and is required by convention to transcribe the terma twice from memory (if of textual nature) in one uninterrupted session.

The transcriptions are then compared and if no discrepancy or inconsistency is evident, the terma is sealed as authentic.

The tertön is required to realise the essence of the terma prior to formal transmission.

In one sense, all terma may be considered as mind-terma as the teaching associated is always inserted in the mind of the practitioner, in other words the terma is always a direct mindstream transmission from the vidyadhara.

The terma may also be held in the mindstream of the tertön and realised in a Template:Wiki incarnation at a beneficent time.

A vision of a Template:Wiki or symbol may leaven the Template:Wiki of the latent terma in the mindstream of the tertön.

The process of hiding in the mindstream implies that the practitioner is to gain Template:Wiki in that life.

At the time of terma concealment, a Template:Wiki is generally made concerning the circumstances in which the teaching will be re-accessed. Especially in the case of an earth-terma, this usually includes a description of locality, and may specify certain ritual tools or objects which are required to be Template:Wiki, and the Template:Wiki of any assistants and consorts who are required to accompany or assist the tertön.

Though somewhat contentious, the kind of revealed teaching embodied in the terma system is based in Template:Wiki Mahayana Buddhist traditions.

The example of Nagarjuna is often cited; the Prajnaparamita teachings are traditionally said to have been conferred on Nagarjuna by the King of the nāgas, who had been guarding them at the bottom of a lake.

Similarly, the Six Treatises of Asanga are considered to have been conferred on him by the Buddha Maitreya, whom he visited in Tushita heaven during a vision.

"Pure visions" are pure teachings received from the vision of deities and are not necessarily terma as they do not require mindstream transmission from a vidyadhara to the practitioner experiencing the pure vision.

The esoteric teachings resulting from pure vision are based on the tantras and are sometimes attributed as terma due to their merit.

Bön terma[edit | edit source]

A terma tradition also exists in the Bön religion.

Most Bön termas were hidden during the period of Template:Wiki under King Trisong Deutsen, and rediscovered around the 11th century.

Teachings were hidden by masters such as Lishu Tagring and Drenpa Namkha, often inside Buddhist temples as in Samye and Lhodrak.

The Three Treasures of Everlasting Bon[edit | edit source]

For the Bonpo, the Gankyil denotes the three principal 'terma' (Tibetan) or "treasure cycles of Everlasting Bon,

The Northern Treasure is compiled from texts revealed in Zhangzhung and northern Tibet, the Southern Treasure from texts revealed in Bhutan and the southern area of Tibet, and the Central Treasure from texts revealed in Template:Wiki Tibet close to Samye Monastery.

A cavern of treasures[edit | edit source]

'A Cavern of Treasures' (Tibetan: Template:BigTibetan, Wylie: mdzod phug) is a terma uncovered by 'Shenchen Luga' (Tibetan: Template:BigTibetan, Wylie: gshen chen klu dga') in the early eleventh century. Martin (n.d.: p. 21) identifies the importance of this scripture for studies of the Zhang-Zhung language:

"For students of Tibetan Template:Wiki in general, the mDzod phug is one of the most intriguing of all Bon scriptures, since it is the only lengthy bilingual work in Zhang-zhung and Tibetan (some of the shorter but still significant sources for Zhang-zhung are signalled in Orofino 1990."

Prominent terma cycles[edit | edit source]

One of the most famous terma known throughout the world is Bardo Thodol (Tibetan: Template:BigTibetan, Wylie: bar do thos grol; "Liberation by Hearing in the State of Bardo").

It is popularly (but incorrectly) known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

As a set of funerary texts and practices, it had a very specialized utility, and was revealed by Karma Lingpa, who also revealed the Zhitro teachings.

Among other famous terma cycles are:

Minor terma cycles[edit | edit source]

These teachings were revealed as terma to the 17th century Terton, Migyur Dorje, and were expanded upon by his root teacher, Karma Chagme Rinpoche (the great Kagyu master).

Template:R Wikipedia:Terma (religion) Template:TibetanTerminology