A Short Note on the Classification of Treasures according to Se ston Padma dbang chen (15th c.)

by Jean-Luc Achard


Se ston Padma dbang chen is the author of an interesting work dedicated to the Northern Treasures (byang gter), entitled The Garland of Jewels, a General Presentation of the Cycles of Teachings belonging to the Northern Treasures (Byang gter chos skor rnams kyi spyi bcings rin chen ‘phreng ba).1 In this text, his purpose is to explain the specific nature of this tradition according to eight main topics, namely: 1. where the Treasures were hidden; 2. for whom they were intended; 3. the prophecies regarding the individuals that will reveal them; 4. the time when they should be revealed; 5. the defects resulting from not excavating them; 6. the qualities resulting from discovering them; 7. how they should be taught; and 8. what are their contents.

Among these topics, he first discusses the literary category of gter mas or Treasures. He thus explains that, in general, in the system of hidden Treasures, there exist several categories of Ter (gTer) such as:

  • great Treasures (gter chen),2
  • minor Treasures (gter phran),
  • arch-minor Treasures (gter yang phran),
  • Treasures of the Heart (thugs gter), as well as
  • Treasures connected to a profound Oral Transmission (snyan brgyud zab mo’i gter).3

Furthermore, he adds that Treasures can also be divided according to the following groupings:

  • religious Treasures (chos gter),4
  • wealth Treasures (nor gter),
  • material Treasures (rdzas gter),
  • Treasures containing sacred substances (dam rdzas kyi gter), and so forth.

In Gu ru Chos dbang’s Inventory Listing of the Treasure Teachings (gTer chos bka’ rtsi them byang), the categories of Treasure that are being enumerated are :

  • royal master Treasures (rgyal po’i bla gter),
  • ordinary minor Treasures (thun mong gter phran),
  • profound Treasures (zab gter),
  • support-Treasures (rten gter),
  • local Treasures or Treasures containing objects (yul gter), depending on how one interprets the meaning of yul,
  • water Treasures (chu gter),
  • wealth Treasures (nor gter),
  • wood Treasures (shing gter),
  • Dharmic Treasures (chos gter),
  • Bön Treasures (bon gter), etc.5

The dissimulation of these Treasures is generally presented as an event due to the limited positive karmic propensities of beings, so that the Treasures themselves were aimed at “better times”, etc., while actually starting to appear during what is known as a period of degeneration.6 As a matter of fact, in a more general perspective, this dissimulation is viewed as ensuring the prolonged duration of the teachings of the Buddhas and as providing the welfare of sentient beings during degenerate times.7 During such times, Emanation Bodies (sprul pa’i sku) will come as regents (rgyal tshab) of the Buddha’s teachings and will reveal numerous Treasures, prolonging the duration of the Dharma in Tibet. According to Gu ru Chos dbang (1212–1270),8 the specific locations in which gter ma were hidden (supposedly in the 8th century) could be rocky mountains (ri brag), temples (gtsug lag khang), stūpas (mchod rten), places marked with a specific sign (sa mtshan),9 great trees (shing chen), large boulders (pha bong), palaces (rgyal khab), caverns or holes on the ground (sa phug), and so forth.

One should note that in Se ston’s presentation of Treasures, there is no mention of the expression dgongs gter in the section explaining the various categories of gter mas.10 It is an interesting compound that is often wrongly understood and consequently wrongly translated. In general, in Western literature, we find it rendered as “mind treasures”11 and even “mental treasures”.12 However, “mind treasures” would correspond to “sems kyi gter” which, as anyone well acquainted with the system of Treasures would admit, amounts to anything but a Treasure (gter) retrieved from the state of Contemplation (dgongs pa). Rather, such a “mind treasure” would rely on passions (nyon mongs) affecting the ordinary mind (sems), instead of depending on the natural display of Wisdoms (ye shes) that characterizes Contemplation itself. Thus, a dgongs gter is a treasure that arises in the continuum of the gter ston while the latter remains in the state of Contemplation (dgongs pa), not in the contrived condition of the ordinary mind (sems).



Akester, Matthew (transl.) — The Life of Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo, by Jamgön Kongtrül, Sechen Publications, Delhi, 2012.

Gyatso, Janet — Apparitions of the Self, The Secret Autobiographies of a Tibetan Visionary, Princeton University press, Princeton, 1998.

Gyume Dorje & Matthew Kapstein (transl.) — The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, Wisdom Publications, Boston, 1991.

Kunsang, Erik Pema (transl.) — Blazing Splendor, The Memoirs of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, Hong Kong, 2005.

Lavolé, Oriane — gTer ma as Timely Tradition: The Collapse of Time and Centrality of Timeliness in gTer ston mChog gyur gling pa’s Literary Self-Portrayal, MA, unpublished, Kathmandu, 2018 (136 pages).

Martin, Dan — Tibetan Histories — A Bibliography, in collaboration with Yael Bentor, MS Word document dated October 28, 2020, 706 pages.

Padma dbang chen (Se’i grub chen, d.u.) — Byang gter chos skor rnams kyi spyi chings rin chen ‘phreng ba ces bya ba, manuscript from Ladakh, scanned in TBRC W23375, 110 pages.

Wallace, Alan B. (transl.) — Düdjom Lingpa’s Visions of the Great Perfection Digital Preview, Wisdom Publications, Somerville, 2015 (107 pages).

  1. For the approximative period in which Se ston Padma dbang chen lived (the early 1400’s), I rely on D. Martin, Tibetan Histories, no. 168 (which follows E. Smith). The text itself was written during a me mo yos year (p. 107) which possibly corresponds to 1447 CE. []
  2. It would seem that these great Treasures are identical with the rgyal po’i bla gter mentioned in Gu ru Chos dbang’s gTer chos bka’ rtsi them byang (quoted in Byang gter chos skor rnams kyi spyi bcings rin chen ’phreng ba, p. 6). Later in the text (p. 7), the author quotes his own prophetic work in which he explains that great Treasures (gter chen) are revealed by Emanations Bodies (sprul pa’i sku), while minor Treasures are excavated by “fortunate ones with the proper karmic connection” (las ‘phro can). []
  3. Ib., p. 5. []
  4. This expression can be used and understood as “religious Treasures” when comparing it to other kinds of Treasures such as those containing material wealth or special substances. It can also be used when contrasting this particular kind of Treasures with those known as Bönpo Treasures (bon gter), in which case chos gter should be understood more precisely as Dharmic Treasures. []
  5. Ib., p. 6. []
  6. As compared to what is retrospectively envisioned as the “golden age” of the first introduction of Buddhism in the 8th century in Central Tibet. []
  7. Ib., pp. 5-6. Such a dark age is described as a period in the future (i.e., the future viewed from the perspective of the 8th century) when the Revelation of the Buddhas nears its end, when the negative power of the demons (bdud) is strong and when non-virtuous activities spread in multiple ways (ib., p. 5). In the Rangjung Yeshe dictionary (under snyigs ma’i dus), such a period is described as “the fourth or degenerate age of the aeon which is suited for the practice of the Unsurpassed Yogatantras”. []
  8. Quoted on ib., p. 6. []
  9. Such signs might be a vajra, a cross or double-vajra, a svāstika, etc. []
  10. On page 7, the verse dgongs pa zab mo gter du sbas(“[My] Contemplation was hidden in profound Treasures”) does not relates to dgongs gter but rather refers to the Contemplation state (dgongs pa) of Padmasambhava. []
  11. See inter alia, A. Wallace, Düdjom Lingpa’s Visions of the Great Perfection, pp. 36, 39, 92; E.P. Kunsang, Blazing Splendor, p. 53, 248, etc.; O. Lavolé, gTer ma as Timely Tradition, p. 76; G. Dorje & M. Kapstein, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, pp. xxv, 518, and 802; M. Akester, The Life of Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo, p. x, 24, 35 and so forth. []
  12. J. Gyatso, Apparitions of the Self, pp. 54, 92. []

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Jean-Luc Achard (May 1, 2023). A Short Note on the Classification of Treasures according to Se ston Padma dbang chen (15th c.). Northern Treasures Histories. Retrieved July 24, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.58079/opes

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