Rinchen Terzö: The Treasure of Jewels

 

Rinchen Terzö (རིན་ཆེན་གཏེར་མཛོད་), also known as Terzö (གཏེར་མཛོད་) is a collection of revealed teachings compiled by the great master Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thayé (1813-1899) in Tibet. It literally means the treasury (གཏེར་མཛོད་) of jewels (རིན་ཆེན་) or the precious treasury. The collection contains a large number of texts believed to have been revealed by treasure discoverers who lived before and during the life of Jamgön Kongtrul.

Terzö contains the ter, or hidden treasure teachings. There is a general theory in Vajrayāna Buddhism that some teachings given by the Buddha or enlightened saints needed to be concealed in safe places until the right time came along. Later on, when the time was ripe, those teachings were revealed and propagated to help the spread of Buddhist Dharma. It is widely believed in the Himalayas that Guru Rinpoché and his disciples hid many teachings in rocks, lakes, mountain, temples, statues and so forth for exactly these purposes. It is also probable that when Buddhism lost its state support in the middle of the 9th century and it was persecuted by some powerful anti-Buddhist figures, many Buddhist objects including texts were hidden in caves, mountains and rocks for safe keeping.

When Buddhism began to revive a few generations later, some people used guides or notes about where the treasures can be found, and retrieved the hidden objects. The process gradually became mystical and ritualised involving prophecies and miracles to extract the treasures. The teachings revealed through such methods from rocks, lakes, caves, houses and statues in the form of scrolls and through visions and spiritual experiences became known as terchoe or treasure teachings and their discoverers are called tertöns. They deal with different classes of Nyingma spiritual doxography and contain ritual texts, biographies, hymns, medical and astrological treatises and, most importantly, meditation instructions.

Throughout the second millennium, many tertöns frequented sacred sites in Bhutan and elsewhere, rediscovering teachings that are believed to have been hidden by Guru Rinpoché or by one of his students. The corpus of their rediscovered writings grew incrementally but they remained independent and were not consolidated until the end of the 19th century, when they were formally compiled in a single collection called Rinchen Terzö by Jamgön Kongtrul, one of the greatest polymaths of his time. The Rinchen Terzö included thousands of titles organized into sixty-three volumes according to a version from eastern Tibet. One hundred eleven volumes were compiled by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoché (1910-1991 in Bhutan in 1976) using a different version.

Today, very high lamas give the reading transmission of the entire Rinchen Terzö and also the empowerments from this collection. The Rinchen Terzö represents the revealed teachings of the Nyingma tradition and are often juxtaposed with the received traditions or kama teachings. To a devotee, the Rinchen Terzö collection represents the literary and religious heritage bequeathed by Guru Rinpoché to the Himalayan world.

 

Karma Phuntsho is the Director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of The History of Bhutan. The piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel as part of a series called “Why We Do What We Do.”

 

Bhutan Cultural Library Bhutan

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A summary of the compilation and contents of the Rinchen Terzö (rin chen gter mdzod), the cumulative treasure teachings.

Collection Bhutan Cultural Library
Visibility Public - accessible to all site users (default)
Author Karma Phuntsho
Editor Ariana Maki
Year published 2017
Original year published 2016
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UID shanti-texts-39251