The Proto-Historical Origins of the Northern Treasures according to Se ston Padma dbang chen (15th c.)

Jean-Luc Achard

In the first part of his Garland of Jewels (Rin chen ‘phreng ba), Se ston Padma dbang chen briefly describes the origins of the Northern Treasures tradition, dating it back to the imperial period. We shall briefly recall here the well-known narrative that structures these origins. Se ston explains that in “earlier times” (sngon gyi dus na),2 there came an emanation of Mañjughoṣa (‘Jam pa’i dbyangs) who manifested as a king protecting Dharma under the name of Khri srong lde’u btsan (r. 755–797). At the age of thirteen, the young prince took hold of the royal seat and started to govern the country.3 Soon, his heart started to turn toward virtues and he became interested in Buddhist teachings. At the time, he was eighteen. He financed the building of temples (gtsug lag khang) that would lay the basis for the spread of Buddhism in the Tibetan kingdom, styled as a “region of darkness” (mun pa’i gling). To ensure this diffusion he decided to invite important masters from India, starting with the abbot Śāntarakṣita who was born in Zahor and whom Tibetans nicknamed “Abbot Bodhisattva”. The Abbot performed the ritual for subjugating the soil (sa ‘dul) and workers started to build the first Buddhist temple in bSam yas. However, as the now famous story goes, what was built by humans during the day was destroyed during the night by ill-intentioned demons.

Since the abbot failed to succeed in the building of the temple, the king was rather displeased. To counter the situation, Śāntarakṣita advised him to invite the ācārya Padmasambhava from India. Presented as having been miraculously born from a lotus on a lake, this master was described as not covered by the impurities of the womb. He had furthermore obtained the immortal Diamond Body (‘chi ba med pa rdo rje’i sku) and was said to be able to perform the activities of a thousand Buddhas.4 In India itself, he was already renown as an Emanation Body (sprul pa’i sku) capable of binding the Eight Classes of Gods and Demons (sde brgyad) into servitude.5 In reality, he was the concrete manifestation of Buddha Amitābha, living in the cave of Yari Gong (g.Ya’ ri gong) in India. Thus, three envoys were dispatched with gold in order to invite him.6 They met him in India and owing to the latter’s aspiration prayers formulated in a previous rebirth, Padmasambhava accepted the invitation to go to Tibet.7 The anachronistic date of their departure for Tibet is said to have been the 15th of the middle winter month of an Earth-Male-Horse year.8

On their way through the Himalayas and Central Tibet, Padmasambhava took the opportunity to subjugate and convert local pernicious gods and spirits (lha srin), turning them in protectors of the faith. Then, after having reached bSam yas, he performed the earth-taming (sa ‘dul) ritual, thus fulfilling the wishes of the king. According to the narrative of The Garland of Jewels (Rin chen ‘phreng ba, p. 4), beside the temple of bSam yas, Padmasambhava took part in the building of a hundred temples.

At the same time, the ācārya Vimalamitra was also invited to Tibet and Buddhism was declared the official religion of the kingdom. This period is furthermore presented (p. 4-5) as the one during which Vairocana, as well as the three main translators — sKa, Cog, and Zhang9 — started to translate the texts they had brought back from India.

According to Se ston’s classic, thaumaturgic account, Padmasambhava is said to have stayed one hundred and eleven human years in Tibet and to have travelled all over the kingdom, blessing special sanctuaries and subjugating demons. In order to benefit sentient beings, he is also said to have hidden Treasures (gter ma) throughout Tibet, from Khyung lung dngul mkhar in the west to Klong thang sgron me in the east.10

Se ston’s narratives goes on to describe Padmasambhava’s activities connected to those of Śāntarakṣita and king Khri srong lde btsan, as well as briefly discussing the purpose of the concealment of Treasures.11 The specific reason for the apparition of the Northern Treasures actually anticipates later events that would cause great sufferings to sentient beings. Thus, according to his prophetic vision, Padmasambhava explains that in five hundred years from his own time, obstacles would appear in the form of demons (bdud) entering the heart of the king of Gungthang, bKra shis lde, as well as that of his son.12 Because of that, Tibet would experience unbearable sufferings, so in order to subjugate this obstacle, Rig ‘dzin rGod ldem, a bodhisattva of the sixth bhūmi (sa drug), would appear as an antidote.

This state of affair is mentioned in various prophetic guides and manuals such as The Prophecy known as the All-Illuminating Lamp (Lung bstan kun gsal sgron ma), and so forth. One of these, entitled The Noble Prophecy of the Seven Profound Teachings (Zab mo lung bdun gyi ‘phags pa bka’i lung),13 says:

In particular, in the north-east of the Kulha (sKu lha) range in Mangyül,
An earth castle will appear, resembling (a heap of) many conch teeth.14
In later (times, a prince of) royal lineage, short in stature and endowed with bodhicitta,
Will be defeated by six demonic emanations and the populace.15
His son, endowed with a pink complexion and a round head,
Will come forth, having a patient character and a virtuous mind.16
(At that time,) the “blessings” of jealous demonic emanations (appearing) in human form
(Will produce) six black butchers.
Having gathered due to bad karma, throughout Gungthang,
(They will chase) the compassionate king, together with his retinue,
And, howling roars of fury, they will put them to the sword.17

In order to possibly prevent this fate, some works have been hidden that would be of help to the king himself. Thus, in The Prophecy known as the All-Illuminating Lamp (Lung bstan kun gsal sgron ma), it is said :

The instructions required for the prince,
Such as (the activities of) pacifying, increasing, subjugating and destroying,
Are hidden in Zangzang Lhadrak.
The Index-Guide required for the prince
Is hidden east of Riwo Trazang.18


As the descendants of the prince shall take hold of Gungthang,
Near the eastern (range) of the so-called Riwo Trazang (sanctuary),
The hidden yogi, Gökyi Demtruchen,
The noble yogi practicing tantric discipline,
Will take the dharmic charges protecting the descendants of the prince
That were hidden in the rock of Zangzang Lhadrak.
If this yogi and the circumstances fit together,
Happiness will spread for nine human generations.
However, if he and the circumstances do not fit together,
Elephantic demons will enter the heart of men:
They will cause conflicts, the king will be pushed to the border,
And on such a nefarious time, Gungthang will fall (to the hands of) Tö (i.e. Byang).20

And as a closing statement, in the Canonic List of the Teaching Guide (Lung byang bka’i them), it is said:21

At the end of the royal line of (the prince’s) descendants,
Gungthang will fall (to the hands) of Tö;
Thus, in order to protect the lineage of the Dharma King,
This Treasures trove gathered in the four repositories22
Was hidden in the middle of Zangzang Lhadrak.


Achard, Jean-Luc
“A Short Note on the Classification of Treasures according to Se ston Padma dbang chen (15th c.)”,

Desi Sangyé Gyatso
Mirror of Beryl – A Historical Introduction to Tibetan Medicine, translated by Gavin Kilty, The Library of Tibetan Classics, vol. 28, Wisdom Publications, 2010.

Herweg, Jurgen Wilhelm
The Hagiography of Rig ‘dzin Rgod kyi ldem ‘phru can And Three Historic Questions Emerging from It, MA, University of Washington, 1994, 329 pages.

Karmay, Samten Gyaltsen
“Une note sur l’origine du concept des huit catégories d’esprit”, Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines, no. 2, 2003, pp. 67-80).

Padma dbang chen (Se ston, 15th c.)
Byang gter spyi bcings: Byang gter chos skor rnams kyi spyi chings rin chen ‘phreng ba ces bya ba, manuscript from Ladakh, scanned in TBRC W23375, 110 pages.

Pearcey, Adam
“Liberation Upon Hearing — The History of the Great Jarung Kashor Stūpa”:

Rig ‘dzin rGod ldem (1337–1409)
Lung byang bka’i them, in sNga ‘gyur byang gter chos skor phyogs bsgrigs, 2015, s.l., s.d., TBRC W2PD 17457, vol. 1, pp. 209-212.

sNgags ‘chang Śākya bzang po
mChod rten chen po bya rung kha shor gyi lo rgyus thos pas grol ba, in dGe ‘dun chos ‘phel (ed.), gNas yig phyogs bsgrigs, Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, Chengdu, 1998, pp. 302-339.

Tulku Thondup Rinpoche
Hidden Teachings of Tibet, An Explanation of the Terma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, edited by Harold Talbott, Wisdom Publications, London, 1986.

Valentine, Jay Holt
“Missing Texts of Historial Value to the Northern Treasure Tradition” :

Vitali, Roberto
“Historiographical Material on Early Skyid-grrong (gathered from local documents and bKa’-brgyud-pa sources)”, in Ramon N. Prats (ed.), The Pandita and the Siddha – Tibetan Studies in Honour of E. Gene Smith, Amnye Machen Institute, Dharamshala, India, 2007, pp. 286-303.

  1. Thanks to Marianne Ginalski and to Jay Valentine for their suggestions and corrections. []
  2. I.e., during the 8th century. []
  3. At that time, the kingdom of Tibet was not limited to Central Tibet but embraced large parts of Central Asia, Northern China, most of the Himalayan regions, and so forth. However, this state of affairs was not to last long. []
  4. With such a Body, Padmasambhava is said to have obtained power over his lifetime (tshe la dbang ba). []
  5. On these eight classes, see Samten Karmay, “Une note sur l’origine du concept des huit catégories d’esprit”, passim. []
  6. These three envoys were sBa mi khri zher (of Yar klung), Śākya pra ba (of the ‘Chims clan), and Shud pu dPal gyi seng ge. []
  7. His aspiration prayers associated with a previous rebirth are an explicit reference to the legend surrounding the Bya rung kha shor (Bodnath) Stūpa on which see sNgags ‘chang Śākya bzang po, mChod rten chen po bya rung kha shor gyi lo rgyus thos pas grol ba, pp. 302-339. See the excellent translation of this work by Adam Pearcey, “Liberation Upon Hearing —The History of the Great Jarung Kashor Stūpa”, passim. []
  8. P. 4: sa pho rtsa dgu zla ‘bring po’i tshe bco lnga. The date is anachronistic because the addition of the element (‘byung ba) only happened after the introduction of the Kālacakra calendar in Tibet in the mid-11th century. []
  9. I.e., sKa ba dPal brtsegs, Cog ro Klu’i rgyal mtshan, et Zhang Ye shes sde. []
  10. Klong thang sgron me is located in Khams. See Se ston’s discussion of the various categories of Treasures in Achard, “A Short Note on the Classification of Treasures according to Se ston Padma dbang chen (15th c.)”. []
  11. Basically, the reason why Treasures were hidden is to prevent ominous signs (ltas ngan) affecting beings of future generations such as wars caused by frontier armies (mtha’ yi dmag dpung), providing beings with essential teachings at times when life’s expectancy is short, etc. Of course, Treasures are also envisioned as solutions for substituting short lines of transmissions of teachings ensuring stronger blessings compared with longer lineages potentially affected by samaya-breaking, and so forth. Actually, there are four main reasons why Treasures were concealed: 1. to prevent the teachings of the Buddhas to disappear; 2. to prevent the corruption of the teachings (through time and more or less qualified individuals in the lineage); 3. to prevent the deterioration of the blessing power (through potential samaya-breaking); and 4. to shorten the lines of transmissions and therefore ensure a more direct connection to the source of the teachings. On these topics, see Tulku Thondup, Hidden Teachings of Tibet, pp. 62-63. []
  12. On the dates of bKra shis lde’s rule, see Herweg, The Hagiography of Rig ‘dzin Rgod kyi ldem ‘phru can, p. 166 n. 421. []
  13. On this text, see Valentine, “Missing Texts of Historical Value to the Northern Treasure Tradition”, under the update 07/01/2023. The actual quote of this prophetic texts occurs in Se ston, pp. 21-22: khyad par mang yul sku lha’i byang shar du: sa mkhar dung gi so mang ‘dra ba ‘byung: de mthar rgyal rigs bong thung byang sems can: bdud kyi sprul pa drug dang ‘bangs kyis ‘joms: de sras (p. 22) dkar dmar mdog ldan mgo zlum pa: ngang rgyud ring zhing dge ba’i sems ldan ‘byung: bdud kyi sprul pa mi lus phrag dog can: de yis (=yi) byin rlabs bshan (= shan) pa nag po drug: las ngan dbang gi (=gis) ‘dus nas gung thang du: rgyal po snying brtse ‘khor dang bcas pa rnams: kye hud nga ro ‘don zhing gri ru ‘gum:. []
  14. This is an allusion to the name of the main Citadel of the Gungthang kings, named rDzong dkar, “the White Citadel” and most probably built in 1269-70. See, Roberto Vitali, “Historiographical Material on Early sKyid-grong”, p. 297. []
  15. This is obviously referring to king bKra shis lde. []
  16. This refers to Phun tshogs lde. []
  17. This certainly echoes the murder of Phun tshogs lde which occurred in 1370. On Phun tshogs lde, see Herweg, op. cit., pp. 167-169. []
  18. Se ston, op. cit., p. 22 : lung bstan kun gsal sgron ma las: zhi rgyas dbang grags (=drag) la sogs pa: lha sras dgos pa’i gdams pa rnams: zang zang lha drag la sbas: lha sras dgos pa’i kha byang ni: ri bo bkra bzang shar la sbas:. The Index-Guide is the kha byang text that contains details regarding the location where the gter ma listed in this guide are hidden, etc. []
  19. Op. cit., p. 22: lha sras gdung brgyud gung thang ‘dzin pa’i dus: ri bo bkra bzang zhes pa’i shar ‘dabs su:  sbas pa’i rnal ‘byor rgod kyi ldem phru can: brtul zhugs spyod pa’i rnal ‘byor dam pa yis: lha sras gdung brgyud skyobs pa’i chos skal rnams: zang zang lha brag brag la sbas pa len: rnal ‘byor de dang rten ‘brel ‘grig pa na: mi rabs dgu’i bar du bde bar ‘gyur: gal te de dang rten ‘brel ma ‘grig na: mi rnams snying la ‘gong po glang sna ‘jug: rme ‘thab byed cing rgyal po mtha’ la bcug: de ‘dra’i dus ngan gung thang stod du ‘byung:. []
  20. This is a reference to the conquest of Gungthang by the ta dben king of Byang. See Herweg, op.cit., pp. 268-269. Ta dben is a title for preceptors of Mongol rulers. See Desi Sangyé Gyatso, Mirror of Beryl, p. 532 n. 602. []
  21. P. 210: rgyal po’i gdung brgyud tha ma la: gung thang stod du ‘byung bar ‘gyur: chos rgyal gdung brgyud skyobs pa’i phyir: mdzod bzhi ‘dus pa’i gter mdzod ‘di: zang zang lha brag sked la sbas:. This text is included in the first volume of the 2015 edition of the dGongs pa zang thal, pp. 209-212. []
  22. mDzod bzhi, the corpus of treasures revealed by Rig ‘dzin rGod ldem in Zangzang Lhadrak. []

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Jean-Luc Achard (May 23, 2023). The Proto-Historical Origins of the Northern Treasures according to Se ston Padma dbang chen (15th c.). Northern Treasures Histories. Retrieved July 24, 2024 from

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