Alien and Internal Prophecies regarding Rigdzin Gödem according to Setön Pema Wangchen

by Jean-Luc Achard
(CNRS, CRCAO)1

Setön’s brief analysis of the prophecies related to Gödem in his Generalities about the Northern Treasures (Byang gter spyi bcings) consists of a mere, yet logical, twofold list, enumerating first the main prophecies that are to be found in alien Terma literature (gter kha gzhan nas), i.e., outside the corpus of the Northern Treasures (Byang gter), and then listing those that are included within that corpus. In doing so, he intends to demonstrate the manifest importance of Gödem in the Nyingma tradition as a whole, and not only within his own lineage.

1. Prophecies made outside the Northern Treasures

In this first category, Setön quotes seven main sources—all of gter ma origins—, some of which have supposedly been discovered prior to Gödem’s birth. The first text that is quoted is The Prophecy of the Treasure (revealed by) Künkyong Lingpa (Kun skyong gling pa’i gter kha’i lung bstan),2 in which appears the following prophetic statement:

His miraculous power will be said to fulfill the aspirations of those to be tamed;
This man with a vulture feather on his head
Will retrieve all treasure vases (from) Trazang;
How can the summary of these be thoroughly sufficient?
3

The next reference is that of Orgyen Lingpa’s Prophecies (O rgyan gling pa’i lung bstan), in which it is said:

The Body Emanation will be Nyima Özer;
The Speech Emanation will be Ngagi Wangchuk;
The Mind Emanation will be Gökyi Demtru(chen);
The Qualities (Emanation) will be Orgyen Lingpa; and
The Activities (Emanation) will be Tseten Gyeltsen.
These five are Padmasambhava himself.
4

This is a quite famous presentation of five important Treasure Revealers (gter ston) who embody Padmasambhava’s inexhaustible wheel of ornaments (mi zad rgyan gyi ‘khor lo) displaying his emanations in the form of manifestations of his Body, Speech, Mind, Qualities, and Activities, as all fully enlightened Buddha would commonly do. Of the five masters that are mentioned, it should be noted that the first three are revealers of Treasures associated with the Eight Pronouncements (bKa’ brgyad).5 The first one is Nyangrel Nyima Özer (1124–1192) who revealed the Eight Pronouncements Collection known as the Assembly of the Blissful Ones (bKa’ brgyad bde gshegs ‘dus pa). The second one is Guru Chöwang (1212–1270) who discovered the Eight Pronouncements Collection known as the Utterly Perfect Arcane (bKa’ brgyad gsang ba yongs rdzogs). And the third is obviously Gödem himself with his revelation of the Natural Arising of the Self-Emergent Eight Pronouncements (bKa’ brgyad rang byung rang shar). I have so far been unable to identify any discovery of texts related to the Eight Pronouncements among the termas of Orgyen Lingpa and those of Tseten Gyeltsen that have survived down to our present time. Rather, it would seem that what connects them together is their discoveries of Dzogchen texts and cycles. As a matter of fact, Nyangrel is famous for spreading the revelation of his bönpo friend Nyemo Zhuyé. This revelation consists mainly in a set of Yangti Tantras (yang ti’i rgyud) and Chiti Tantras (spyi ti’i rgyud) which are now included in the Collection of Ancient Tantras (rNying ma’i rgyud ‘bum).6 Guru Chöwang is also famous for excavating a large corpus associated with Yangti entitled The Equanime Union of the Buddhas (Sangs rgyas mnyam sbyor). Gödem is of course primarily well-known for his revelation of the large corpus of The Transparent Contemplation of Samantabhadra (Kun bzang dgongs pa zang thal) which is for the specific Northern Treasures tradition what the Heart Drops literature is for the other branches of the Dzogchen lineages among the Nyingmapas. Despite the fact that most of his revelations have not come down to us, Orgyen Lingpa is said, as far as the context of the Great Perfection is concerned, to have revealed a Heart Drops of Padmasambhava (Padma snying thig), a Long Life Practice according to Dzogchen (rDzogs chen tshe sgrub), as well as individual texts belonging to the doxographical categories of Ati, Chiti, and Yangti. For his part, Tseten Gyeltsen is known for having excavated a single work about Dzogchen entitled The Natural Freedom of Equality according to the Great Perfection (rDzogs chen mnyam nyid rang grol). To my knowledge, this work has not surfaced yet.7

The next prophetic account quoted by Setön comes from The Prophecy known as the All-Illuminating Lamp (Lung bstan kun gsal sgron ma), in which it is said:

In the northern direction of Latö,
A tertön with the name of “Vulture” will
come.8

This clearly refers to Gödem’s birthplace, located close to Riwo Trazang in Latö, the vast, western region of Tsang. His name is also explicitly given as vulture (rgod po) in reference to the vulture’s feather that appeared in his hair when he was twelve years old.9

Next, Setön quotes the following prophetic verses from The Lamp Clarifying the Path-Index for Nyang’s treasures (Myang gi gter ma lam byang gsal sgron):

In the eastern direction of this mountain,
A yogi looking like a lion will appear;
He will be one born a fire year
And will live in a hidden manner.
10

The mention of the “lion” (seng ge) is a reference to Gödem’s fearlessness and to his status as an important Treasure Revealer. The fierce animal is also used below in another prophecy in which it points, not to the tertön himself, but to his birthplace. His life lived in a concealed manner (sbas pa’i tshul du) means that he was a hidden yogi (sbas pa’i rnal ‘byor pa) engaged in practices that he did not disclose publicly and reached signs of realization that he similarly kept secret. He would thus appear as an ordinary man to those who met him casually.

The next quote made by Setön is extracted from The Testament known as the Pearls of the Heart (Zhal chems thugs kyi thigs pa), in which Rigdzin Gödem is prophesized in these two verses:

Before (the mountain) named Riwo Trazang,
A fortunate bodhisattva will
appear.11

And, in The Crucial Threshold to the Extended Quintessential Guide (sNying byang rgyas pa gnad kyi them bu), it is said:

On the eastern foothills of Mount Trazang,
(Where) the boughs of a great solitary tree
Abiding like a (powerful) lion are rare,
12
Owing to aspiration prayers (formulated) in former lifetimes,
He shall practice the Yidam Vajrakīlaya.
13

The mention of the former lifetimes is essentially a reference to Gödem’s previous embodiment as Nanam Dorje Düdjom who received Vajrakīlaya transmission from Padmasambhava. The practice of this Yidam has been central to the tradition of the Northern Treasures since its inception. In the same quote, it is said:

This one born in a year of the fire element
(Will engage in) a wrathful Conduct without obstructions.
Having a great intelligence and a sharp mind,
His name (will show he belongs) to those who accomplish the desires (of sentient beings)
(Since) he shall plant the victorious banner of the Dharma.
14

The year characterized as being associated with the fire element (me) indeed corresponds to 1337 which is actually a Female Fire Ox year (me mo glang). The name showing that he will fulfill the wishes of sentient beings is most certainly a hint at his personal name, Ngödrup Gyeltsen (dNgos grub rgyal mtshan), which means the “Victorious Banner of Accomplishments”, accomplishments being siddhis through which he is said to have the capacity to concretely help sentient beings.

Setön’s last quote comes from the famed Seven Topics of the Crucial Precepts of the Heart Drops (sNying tig gnad kyi man ngag don bdun), a treasure revealed by Zangpo Drakpa, in which the prophecy regarding Gödem provides a conflicting date:

On the eastern foothills of the so-called Mount Trazang,
During an ox year with a water element, he who is endowed with mole marks
(Will bear) the signs of these blessings of mine, (Orgyen) Padma,
(With) vulture feathers appearing again and again on the top of his head.
15

It is important to understand that this Water Ox year does not correspond to a date of birth, which would be either 1313 CE or 1373 CE, respectively too early and too late to fit with the rest of the traditional chronology associated with Gödem’s life.16 Rather, it must be corrected to an Earth Ox year (sa mo glang, 1349 CE) which is, according to his Biography, the year he had vulture feathers appearing in his hair at the age of 12.17

2. Internal Prophecies occurring within the corpus of the Northern Treasures

Setön uses eight different internal sources prophesizing the coming of Gödem. In the present paper, I shall simply try to identify them and will defer the discussion of their contents to another paper.

The first source quoted by Setön is The Three Kinds of Lamps (sGron ma rnam gsum). This text is included in the Gongpa Zangthel collection (vol. 1, pp. 225-262)18 and has also been published under the title Instructions Given to the Treasure Revealer—The Cycle of the Three Kinds of Lamps (gTer bton la gdams pa: sGron ma rnam gsum gyi bskor [= skor]). It is included in the Biographies of the Northern Treasures Tradition and Prophecies for the Future (Byang gter lugs kyi rnam thar dang ma ‘ongs lung bstan, pp. 1-47). This is a treasure revealed by Gödem, the discoverer describing himself as a “deluded beggar” (rmongs pa ku su lu).19 The three Lamps that make up the contents of the text are: 1. the outer Lamp of the body (phyi ltar lus kyi sgron ma), 2. the inner Lamp of Conduct (nang ltar spyod pa’i sgron ma), and 3. the secret Lamp of Awareness (gsang ba rig pa’i sgron ma). The first contains the prophetic narration about Padmasambhava and Gödem’s incarnation (skye brgyud) close to Riwo Trazang. The second contains key elements and instructions that were compiled by Padmasambhava for the benefit of Gödem himself. The third is a dialogue between Padmasambhava on one side, and Yeshe Tsogyel, Mutri Tsenpo, and Nanam Dorje Düdjom on the other side.

The second internal work that Setön quotes is The List of the Six Oral Transmissions (sNyan brgyud drug gi tho byang), a famed text from the Gongpa Zangthel. Its secondary title is The List of Precious Teachings, Similar to the Key to the Heart of Wisdom (Rin po che’i lung byang ye shes thugs kyi lde mig lta bu).20 Its colophon merely states it was rediscovered in Zangzang Lhadrak by Rigdzin Gödem.

The next work used by Setön is The Entrusted Seal of the Natural Clarity of Reality according to the cycle of the Great Compassionate One (Thugs rje chen po chos nyid rang gsal gyi gtad rgya). Actually, Setön’s wording is misleading. This is not a text. Rather, it is a part of chapter 4 of The Tantra of the Natural Clarity of Reality, of the Universal Liberation of Migrating Beings according to the Wishfulfilling Jewel of the Great Compassionate One (Thugs rje chen po yid bzhin nor bu ‘gro ba kun grol gyi chos nyid rang gsal gyi rgyud ces bya ba).21

After that, Setön quotes a text entitled The Extended Quintessential Guide (sNying byang rgyas pa) which corresponds to The Crucial Record of the Extended Quintessential Guide (sNying byang rgyas pa gnad kyi them bu),22 a Terma originally revealed by gter ston Zangpo Drakpa.

Then, he refers to The Hook of Compassion, An Abridged Quintessential Guide (sNying byang bsdus pa thugs rje’i lcags kyu) which is apparently not available in its full form.23

Thereafter, he quotes The Great Transmission of the Empowerment Flow to the Eight Pronouncements (bKa’ brgyad kyi dbang gi chu bo babs so chen mo)24 which, as its title indicates, belongs to the system of the bKa’ brgyad.25

The penultimate quotation made by Setön is from The Second Scroll of the White Whetstone (‘Dzeng rdo dkar po shog ril gnyis pa). As one can see from its title, it is the “Second Scroll” (shog ril gnyis pa) which means that there should be others, or at least a “First Scroll” (shog ril dang po). This is indeed the case and the entire White Whetstone cycle26 comprises actually six scrolls, as follows : 1. First Scroll, pp. 230-231; 2. Second Scroll, pp. 231-235; 3 Third Scroll, pp. 235-238; 4. Fourth Scroll, pp. 238-241;27 5. Fifth Scroll, pp. 241-243; and 6. Sixth Scroll, pp. 243-244.

Eventually, the last work used by Setön as an internal source prophesizing the coming of Gödem is the Prophecies of He Who Sees Everything (Kun tu gzigs kyi lung bstan).28 However, as far as I know, it is not included in the Byang gter phyogs bsgrigs but it is quoted by Guru Tashi and the Fifth Dalai Lama without however specifying who the discoverer of this prophetic work is. Even if the text does not seem to be available at present there is little doubt, from the quotes that have reached us, that it is an internal source of prophecies related to the Northern Treasures.29

Bibliography

Achard, Jean-Luc
— “Le Tantra du Précieux Amoncellement exprimant la Quintessence des Trésors — analyse thématique & édition critique”, Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines, no. 27, Octobre 2013, pp. 103-125.
http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/ret/pdf/ret_27_06.pdf
—  “The View of spyi-ti yoga”, Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines, no. 31, pp. 1-20. Reprinted in Trails of the Tibetan Tradition, Papers for Elliot Sperling, edited by Roberto Vitali, Amnye Machen Institute, Dharamshala, 2014.
http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/ret/pdf/ret_31_03.pdf
— “The Base of the Natural State according to the Gter snying rin po che spungs pa’i rgyud of the Spyi ti Yoga Tradition”, in Reasons and Lives in Buddhist Traditions, Studies in Honor of Matthew Kapstein, edited by Dan Arnold, Cécile Ducher, and Pierre-Julien Harter, Studies in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, Wisdom Publications, Sommerville, 2019, pp. 225-239.
— “A Short Note on the Classification of Treasures according to Se ston Padma dbang chen (15th c.)”, https://fchnt.hypotheses.org/1465

bZang po grags pa (14th c.)
sNying tig gnad kyi man ngag don bdun pa, in Byang gter lugs kyi rnam thar dang ma ‘ongs lung bstanBiographies of the Northern Treasures Tradition and Prophecies for the Future, Reproduced from manuscripts from the library of Bla-ma Senge of Yol-mo)”,published by Sherab Gyaltsen and Lama Dawa, Gangtok, Sikkim, 1983, pp. 273-297.

Gu ru bKra shis (18th c.)
Chos ‘byung: Gu bkra’i chos ‘byung —bsTan pa’i snying po gsang chen snga ‘gyur nges don zab mo’i chos kyi byung ba gsal bar byed pa’i legs bshad mkhas pa dga’ byed ngo mtshar gtam gyi rol mtsho zhes bya ba, Krung go’i bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang, 1990.

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.

Ngag dbang Blo bzang rgya mtsho (Dalai Lama V, 1617–1682)
Byang pa rig ‘dzin chen po ngag gi dbang po’i rnam par thar pa ngo mtshar bkod pa rgya mtsho, in rGyal dbang lnga pa ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho’i gsung ‘bum, Krung go’i bod rig dpe skrun khang, vol. 11, pp. 476-567.

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.

Samten Chhosphel
Kunkyong Lingpa”, https ://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/Kunkyong-Lingpa/2232.

Valentine, Jay Holt
Missing Texts of Historical Value to the Northern Treasure Tradition
https://fchnt.hypotheses.org/in-search-of-lost-histories-missing-texts-of-historical-value-in-the-northern-treasure-tradition

Collection

Byang gter phyogs bsgrigs: sNga ‘gyur byang gter chos skor phyogs bsgrigs, Byang gter dpe sgrig tshogs chung, 2015, 64 vols, BDRC:W2PD17457.

  1. I would like to thank Marianne Ginalski and Jay Valentine for their kind suggestions and corrections. []
  2. So far I have been unable to locate this title. Kun skyong gling pa is said to have been born in 1396 or 1408 and to have passed away at the age of 82 (either in 1477 or in 1489). See Samten Chhosphel, “Kunkyong Lingpa”, https://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/Kunkyong-Lingpa/2232. []
  3. Se ston, pp. 382-383 : rdzu ‘phrul (p. 383) gdul bya’i re ba bskong ba zhes: rgod kyi ldem phru dbu la skyes pa ni: bkra bzang gter gyi bum pa thams cad ‘byin: de rnams mdor bstan zhib tu ga la ldang:. The last verse of the quatrain simply means that there would be much more to say. []
  4. Id., p. 383: sku sprul nyi ma ‘od zer yin: gsung sprul ngag gi dbang phyug yin:  thugs sprul rgod kyi ldem phru yin: yon tan o rgyan gling pa dang : ‘phrin las tshe brtan rgyal mtshan yin: ‘di lnga padma ‘byung gnas dngos:. []
  5. Stéphane Arguillère has noted this issue and should present the result of his research on the topic in a blog entry on this website. []
  6. On the revelation of these sPyi ti works, see Achard, “Le Tantra du Précieux Amoncellement”; id., “The View of spyi-ti yoga”; and id., “The Base of the Natural State”, passim. []
  7. It should not be confounded with the eponymous work by Longchenpa which belongs to his Trilogy on Natural Freedom (Rang grol skor gsum). []
  8. Id., p. 383: la stod byang gi phyogs su ni: rgod po’i ming can gter bton ‘byung:. []
  9. See Herweg, The Hagiography of Rig ‘dzin Rgod kyi ldem ‘phru can, p. 64, passim. []
  10. Id., p. 383: ri bo de yi shar phyogs nas: seng ge lta bu’i rnal ‘byor pa: ‘byung ba me’i lo pa gcig:  sbas pa’i tshul du gnas pa ‘byung:. []
  11. Id., p. 383: ri bo bkra bzang zhes bya’i mdun: byang chub sems dpa’ las can ‘byung:. []
  12. The actual meaning of the verses seng ge lta bur gnas pa yi: gcig pu sdong chen yal ga dkon is not entirely clear to me. Herweg (p. 62) has a different understanding than mine but in my humble opinion his rendering violates the grammar too severely to be correct. []
  13. Id., p. 383: ri bo bkra bzang shar ‘dabs su: seng ge lta bur gnas pa yi: gcig pu sdong chen yal ga dkon: tshe rabs snga ma’i smon lam gyis: yi dam rdo rje phur pa sgrub:. []
  14. Id., p. 383: ‘byung ba me yi lo pa la: spyod pa drag po thogs rdugs med: blo rtsal shes rab che ba la: ming ni ‘dod pa ‘grub pa’i rigs: chos kyi rgyal mtshan legs par ‘dzugs:. []
  15. Id., p. 383: ri bo bkra bzang zhes bya’i shar ‘dabs su: chu khams glang lo sme ba’i mtshan rtags can: padma nga yi byin gyis brlabs pa’i rtags: spyi bor rgod kyi ldem phru yang yang ‘byung:. []
  16. The “wrong” reading of Setön’s quote is confirmed by the actual passage appearing in Zangpo Drakpa’s sNying tig gnad kyi man ngag don bdun pa, p. 278.1. It is therefore not a mistake made by Setön when compiling all these quotations. []
  17. Herweg, op. cit., p. 64. []
  18. With the following title: The Testament known as the Three Kinds of Lamps (Zhal chems sgron ma rnam gsum). The title itself is followed by: “Taught by Orgyen (Padma) to the yogi [that shall] reveal the Treasures” (gter ston gyi rnal ‘byor o rgyan gyis gsungs so, p. 225). []
  19. P. 46 (this does not appear in the version included in the Gongpa Zangthel). The colophonic data does not explicitly identify him as Gödem but the lines that precede them precisely state that the doctrinal material associated with this text (if not the text itself) are concealed in the Eastern White Conch Repository (shar dung mdzod dkar po, p. 46 and also as mentioned on p. 3 of the text), while other sections and their related instructions are hidden in the Central Brown Rhinoceros Chest (dbus bse sgrom smug po, p. 35). []
  20. dGongs pa zang thal, vol. 1, pp. 191-202. []
  21. Byang gter phyogs bsgrigs, vol. 4, pp.  This text is one of the four tantras of the Thugs rje chen po yid bzhin nor bu cycle which was discovered by Gödem from  the “Western Red Copper Treasury” (nub zangs mdzod dmar po), a division of the Brown Rhinoceros Chest (bse sgrom smug po). The actual quote is to be found on p. 60 of this text. []
  22. Vol. 33, pp. 143-159. []
  23. See Valentine, “In search of lost histories”, passim. So far, I have only located quotations from this work, not the text itself. []
  24. The text is included in the Byang gter phyogs bsgrigs, volume 9, pp. 579-587. []
  25. The actual quote made by Setön appears at the end of the work on p. 587. []
  26. Byang gter phyogs bsgrigs, vol. 14, pp. 229-245. []
  27. The end of the Fourth Scroll is not explicitly marked in the text but internal evidence shows it actually ends on the first line of p. 241. []
  28. Kun tu gzigs is generally an epithet of Avalokiteśvara (sPyan ras gzigs). []
  29. See Gu ru bkra shis, Chos ‘byung, p. 488; Ngag dbang Blo bzang rgya mtsho, Byang pa rig ‘dzin chen po ngag gi dbang po’i rnam par thar pa, p. 487. []

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Jean-Luc Achard (June 23, 2023). Alien and Internal Prophecies regarding Rigdzin Gödem according to Setön Pema Wangchen. Northern Treasures Histories. Retrieved July 24, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.58079/opeu


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