Apocalyptic Times and the Revelation of Rigdzin Gödem’s Transparent Contemplation of Samantabhadra

by Jean-Luc Achard


In his Garland of Jewels (Rin chen phreng ba), a fascinating work devoted to the “General Presentation of the Cycles of Teachings of the Northern Treasures” (Byang gter gyi chos skor rnams kyi spyi chings), Setön Pema Wangchen (15th c.) provides a brief analysis of the period in which Rigdzin Gödem was to reveal the treasure of the Transparent Contemplation of Samantabhadra (Kun bzang dgongs pa zang thal). Basing himself on a series of prophecies, Setön uses five main sources from which he has extracted brief excerpts. These are the subject of the present short paper.

In general, termas are said to be revealed during particularly difficult moments in history, in the course of degenerate times and situations. In traditional Tibetan context, this is often described as periods plagued with spiritual decay, a general decline in virtues, a fall of the royal (or local) Houses, internal conflicts, a general disintegration of familial structures, moral corruption and so forth. This degeneration of times is also expressed in the form of demonic manifestations, the spread of vicious behaviors, epidemics, epizootics, etc. For instance, in the Three Kinds of Lamps (sGron ma rnam gsum), the conditions requiring the revelation of Gödem’s terma are termed as follows:

During the period of degeneration and bad times (associated with) this Treasure,
At the time when the king falls into the populace,
When butchers become leaders of men,
When quarrels rage between fathers and siblings,
When divine supports2
 are destroyed and broken to pieces,
When one is being deceived by beloved companions,
When discord spread between masters and disciples,
When teachers are put to the sword,
When tantrikas perform (only) village rituals,
When foxes wear the hide of lions,
When Gongpo spirits carol songs,3

When scholars sell (teachings) like charlatans,
When attachments and aversions blaze like fire,
When human corpses are scattered
4 across the plains,
A noble emanated individual (arising)
From this Compassion of mine, (Orgyen) Pema,
Will come before this mountain
And, at that time, will excavate this treasure

The text thus enumerates thirteen conditions that should be understood as follows :

  1. the fall of the king among the populace is a common event associated with the collapse of a dynasty or royal family, causing a general havoc that spreads throughout society and threatens its very foundations;
  2. in traditional Tibetan society, butchers are one of the lowest social categories, because in a Buddhist context they violate the abstinence from killing sentient beings; therefore, when such individuals become leaders among men, the roots of non-violence are challenged on a daily basis;
  3. the quarrels between fathers and siblings are indicative of disputes between parents and children, especially when the latter refuse basic forms of respect for their elders;
  4. the divine supports are temples, statues, paintings, as well as books, and all kinds of religious implements; in the view of Buddhist followers, when these supports are destroyed, it is generally done by non-believers stimulated by nihilistic dogmas specific to the ends of time;
  5. the fact of being deceived by loved ones— either spouses or friends— points to a time when it is impossible to trust anyone because most of the basics of morality and ethics have simply disappeared from everyday life, and vices definitely take the lion’s share;
  6. the discord spread between masters and disciples essentially implies the transgression of vows and the breaking of samayas characterizing times when both masters and disciples lack good fortune;
  7. the killing of masters is something that happens in times of extreme chaos when barbarians set out to eradicate a tradition, usually accompanied by ethnic cleansing;
  8. the reference to tantrikas mainly occupied with performing village rituals indicates a period when the study and practice of religious teachings have become scarce, while what generally remains active are the village rituals performed to obtain food and money;
  9. foxes wearing the hide of lions simply refers to people behaving in ways that are deceptive, essentially in a religious context, with individuals pretending to have realizations and capacities that are evidently beyond their grasp;
  10. the Gongpos caroling songs is a general reference to times when demons take precedence over everything, negatively influencing individuals and leading them on wrong paths;
  11. the mention of scholars selling their teachings like charlatans is also a common image of so-called masters who teach only for money and brag about secret teachings that, according to them, nobody else possesses, etc.;
  12. the spread of attachments and aversions is similarly a recurring feature of the degenerate times, when dualistic delusions create shameful behaviors between people who should otherwise do their best to help each other; and
  13. the scattering of human corpses in the plains points to times when people do not show any respect for the deceased and simply expose their corpses to the elements, without proper burial or funerary rituals.

In the last section of the above quote, the “noble emanated individual” (sprul pa gang zag dam pa) is of course Rigdzin Gödem himself.

In a considerably milder, less apocalyptic mood, the next quote is extracted from the Fourth Scroll of the White Whetstone (‘Dzeng rdo dkar po’i shog ril bzhi pa) which focalizes on the issue related to the Gungthang king and describes the circumstances requiring the revelation of the treasure as follows:

Listen, faithful Tibetans!6
Generally, the multiple demonic emanations in Tibet bring suffering to sentient beings.
In particular, when the ancestral lineage of the kings of Gungthang is subdued by the commoners,
On  the rocky (mountain) similar to a heap of serpents,
Where the four treasure repositories are hidden,7
A fortunate yogi will extract them and will subdue the enemies (affecting) the Body of the king.8 

This is a general reference to the fate of the House of Gungthang, alluding to the king’s decision not to officially endorse the discovery of the treasure by refusing to provide the necessary riches that would make up the “treasure substitutes” (gter tshab) that the tertön must put in place of the original treasures he reveals.9

Furthermore, in the Extended Quintessential Guide (sNying byang rgyas pa), several other features are put forward, which the text describes as follows:

As for the time of the excavation of this Treasure,
In five hundred years in these degenerate times,
On the peak of Mount Riwo Trazang,
He will be wearing the hat of a human being
While suddenly in the valleys of Mangyül,
An errant army will strike like lightning
And on the banks of the copper lake of Mangyül,
The earth will tremble and the soil and stones will be destroyed.10

It is challenging to interpret correctly this prophetic statement. It occurs in a dialogue between Padmasambhava and the Prince Mutri Tsenpo regarding the actual time and circumstances that should announce the necessity to reveal the treasure. Therefore, the context is exactly the same as that of the previous prophecy but the actual details are completely different. Three elements should be highlighted that demand further investigation:

  1. the individual wearing a human hat (mi zhwa) is certainly Gödem himself, since there is a reference to the peak of Mount Riwo Trazang where Gödem found the terma; however, the precision regarding the wearing of a hat is rather puzzling;11
  2. the errant army (log pa’i dmag sde) must certainly not be a reference to the Ya tshe army with which the previous kings of Gungthang had troubles;12 it might rather point to the Mongols hordes under the control of the local Sakya hierarchs who actually mesmerized the Gungthang king (Phun tshogs lde) and, as mentioned above, prevented Gödem from obtaining the indispensable “treasure substitutes” for his revelation;
  3. the earthquake is probably a classic apocalyptic literary element since I have been unable to identify any such event around the time of the discovery (1366). However, it could definitely be an earthquake of a moderate intensity which has not be recorded at the time.13

In the Index known as the Repository of the Treasures (Kha byang gter gyi bang mdzod), the apocalyptic features essentially revolve around a gradual degeneration of spiritual practice and an endemic spread of vices and other depravities. More precisely, the actual precise period coinciding with the revelation of the Treasure is identified with the fall of the House of Gungthang. Thus, in this Index, it is said:

As to the time these Treasures should appear,
In five hundred years (from now), the power of the Secret Formulas will vanish:
Holy places will be destroyed,
And Secret Formulas will be practiced in the cities and countryside;14
Tantrikas will perform village rituals for ordinary folks;
As food, one will eat the life-wind (of others);15
These will be times when good fortune will be reduced to pieces
And when the practice of Dharma will not have power anymore.
Those living religiously will be ashamed (to do so)16
While those who greatly refrain from decency17 will indulge in vices and experience sufferings.
In particular, one descendant of Prince Mutri Tsenpo will appear in Mangyül Gungthang18
But he shall fall among the populace of subjects, commoners and those engaged in accidental vices.19
At that time, in the northern country of Thoyor Nakpo,
Before the mountain known as Riwo Trazang,
A noble one born in a fire year will appear
And will subsequently reveal the four Dharmas.20

Another work entitled The Lamp Clarifying the Itinerary Pathway (Lam byang gsal ba’i sgron ma)21 describes similar events whose advent indicates that it is high time for Rigdzin Gödem to reveal his Treasure. The text says :

When the lifetime comes down to fifty years,
The Mongol laws will fall into decay;
The religious law will be entirely destroyed;
The power of Secret Mantras will vanish, causing the spread of Dre spirits, Gö demons, and elemental entities;
Nobles will indulge in robbery and pillage;
Chieftains will gorge themselves with sweet foods;
hers and sons will engage in family feuds;
Companions will lure (one another);
(Only) those (prompt to) speak a lot will be exalted;
Monks of higher status will die poisoned;
Stags will be butchered;
Pious ones will (focus on) making profits;
Monks will eat meat (and drink) chang;
Geshés will engage into quarreling activities;
Tantrikas will perform village rituals;
Empowerments will be conferred to terribly vicious (people);
Secrets will be concretely revealed (openly);
Frost and hail will devastate (crops) throughout the year;
Epidemics will spread massively (all over the country);
As soon as this negative period comes up,
This means that the time has come to reveal the Treasure.22

As a conclusion, another passage from The Lamp Clarifying the Index of the Path provides the actual date of discovery:23

As a snowcap covers the peak of Riwo Trazang,
From the north, an army will dart like lightning (throughout) the valleys of Mangyül.
In the country of India, the Bodhi-Tree will oblique toward the south.
The stūpa of Kashmir (built by) Kaniṣka will be cracked on its north-east side.
The Swayambunath stūpa in Nepal will oblique toward the north.
Thus, omens indicating non-virtues will appear.
Lightning will fall down from the sky on the Scarlet Rock of Samyé.
When such (events) happen,
On the Rocky Mountain Similar to a Heap of Serpents,
The Treasure will appear in a year of the horse.24

The year of the horse is indeed 1366, the year that is commonly accepted as corresponding to the date of the actual discovery by Gödem of the Transparent Contemplation of Samantabhadra and other treasures in the same site. The first verse of the quote is interesting because it explains that Mount Riwo Trazang was at the time covered with a snowcap which would be the case only in winter. However, the discovery is repeatedly said to have happened in June of this year,25 a period in which the summit of Riwo Trazang is generally devoid of snow. Therefore, the snowcap appears as a particular feature indicating the unusual circumstances that generally characterize Treasure discoveries.

At the end of the section devoted to the apocalyptic period of revelation, Setön briefly discusses the general chronology of the Northern Treasures enabling him to determine its terminus ad quo based on the actual, datable terminus ad quem. Thus, he states:

It is reported that the Great Vidyadhara (Rigdzin Gödem) appeared six hundred and twenty years after Orgyen Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) went to subjugate the Rākṣasas in the south-west. The Great Vidyadhara retrieved the Treasure in the year of the horse (1366) when he was thirty. Thus, six hundred and fifty years after Orgyen Chenpo departed for the south-west, (Gödem) discovered his great Terma.26

Therefore, subtracting six hundred and fifty years to 1366, one obtains the year 716 CE which is probably too early since Padmasambhava is supposed to have been invited during the reign of Trisong Detsen whose rule over Tibet lasted from 755 to 797 CE according to most chronologies. However, it is interesting to remark that this calculation still remains within credible limits, contrary to what one is generally confronted with in the terma literature.

Western Sources

Ambraseys, N. and Jackson, David
“A note on early earthquakes in northern India and southern Tibet”, in Current Science, vol. 84, no. 4, 2003, pp. 570-582.

Boord, Martin
“The First Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Rigdzin Godemchen Ngodrub Gyeltsen” (https://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/The-First-Dorje-Drak-Rigdzin,-Rigdzin-Godemchen-Ngodrub-Gyeltsen/P5254).

Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Réne de
Oracles and Demons of Tibet, The Cult and Iconography of the Tibetan Protective Deities, Book Faith India, Varanasi, Second reprint, 1996.

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.

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.

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

Jackson, David,
“The Early History of Lo (Mustang) and Ngari”, in Contributions to Nepalese Studies, Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies (CNAS), Tribhuvan University (TU), Kathmandu,Nepal. Volume 4, Number 1, December 1976, pp. 39-56.

Valentine, Jay
“The Ray of Sunlight: An Illumination of the Life of the Great Emanation”, FCHNT internal working document, 2023, 187 pages.

Tibetan texts

 sGron ma rnam  gsum: gTer bton la gdams pa sgron ma rnam gsum gyi bskor, Byang gter lugs kyi rnam thar dang ma ‘ongs lung bstanBiographies of the Northern Treasures Tradition and Prophecies for the Future, Gangtok, Sikkim, 1983, pp. 1-47.

‘Dzeng rdo dkar po’i nang nas byung ba’i shog hril skor, sNga ‘gyur byang gter chos skor phyogs bsgrigs, Byang gter dpe sgrig tshogs chung, 2015, vol. 14, pp. 229-245.


 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 for her kind suggestions and corrections. []
  2. See below for details. []
  3. On ‘gong po, see Nebesky-Wojkowitz,Oracles and Demons of Tibet, pp. 283-285. []
  4. The verb that is used is ‘grems pa (spread out, display, etc.) in the original text. Funnily enough, Setön, in his Garland of Jewels (Rin chen ‘phreng ba, p. 30) reads that as ‘grims pa, as if understanding the verse as meaning something like “zombies rambling in the flatlands”. []
  5. sGron ma rnam gsum, p. 36: gter ‘di dus ngan snyigs ma’i dus: rgyal po dmangs su ‘bebs pa’i dus : shan pas mi mgo byed pa’i dus:  pha spun dme ‘khrug byed pa’i dus: lha rten bshig nas brdung ba’i dus: snying brtse’i grogs kyis bslu pa’i dus: slob dpon slob ma rnyog pa’i dus: dge bshes gri ru ‘chi ba’i dus: sngags pa grong chog byed pa’i dus: seng lpags wa yis gon pa’i dus: ‘gong pos rgyang glu len pa’i dus:  mkhas pas zog po brin pa’i dus:  chags sdang me ltar ‘bar ba’i dus: mi ro thang la ‘grems pa’i dus: padma nga yi thugs rje las: sprul pa’i gang zag dam pa gcig:  ri bo ‘di’i mdun du ‘byung :  de dus gter ‘di ‘don par ‘gyur:. []
  6. The locutor in this quote is Padmasambhava, addressing the prince (Mutri Tsenpo), his subject (i.e., his main disciples), and his consort (Yeshe Tsogyel). These are the “faithful Tibetans”. []
  7. On these four treasure repositories, see Herweg, p. 74 and 98. []
  8. ‘Dzeng rdo dkar po, p. 239: nyon cig bod kyi dad pa can: spyir du bod bdud kyi sprul pa sna tshogs kyis sems can sdug la sbyor: khyad par du gung thang rgyal po’i gdung brgyud ‘bangs kyis ‘dul pa’i dus su: brag lto ‘phye spungs pa ‘dra ba la: gter mdzod bzhi sbas pa’i: rnal ‘byor las can gcig gis bton nas rgyal po’i sku dgra ‘dul bar ‘gyur ro:. Se ston reads (p. 31) the line gter mdzod bzhi sbas pa’i: as gter mdzod bzhi sbas pa which I follow here because the one who extracts the treasures is not the one who has hidden them. []
  9. This decision is said to be the very reason why his House collapsed. In fact, the four treasure repositories were meant by Padmasambhava to protect the king (Herweg, p. 74) and some of these, containing inter alia the “four soul turquoises of the king” (rgyal po’i bla g.yu bzhi)—which would have guaranteed the long-life of the king—were simply left unopened (id., p. 98). Regarding “substitutes for terma” (gter tshab), Tulku Thondup (Hidden Teachings of Tibet, p. 84) says: “The Terton puts a substitute in place of an Earth Terma. It can be religious objects, offering materials or any kind of auspicious substances as homage to please the protectors. The substitute helps to maintain the auspiciousness of the land provided by the Terma.” []
  10. As quoted by Setön (Rin chen phreng ba), p. 389: gter ‘di ‘don pa’i dus tshod ni:  lnga brgya dus kyi snyigs ma la: ri bo bkra bzang rtse mo la: ‘gro ba mi yi zhwa skon zhing: mang yul rong du glo bur gyis: log pa’i dmag sde glog ltar khyug: mang yul bse yi mtsho ‘gram du: sa g.yos byung ste sa rdo ‘jig:. []
  11. As we shall see below, the Riwo Trazang mountain will be covered by a snowcap at the time of the revelation. This is the only cross-reference I could find regarding this hat issue. See an illustration of Gödem wearing a hat (instead of being depicted with his vulture feathers in his hair) in M. Boord, “The First Dorje Drak Rigdzin, Rigdzin Godemchen Ngodrub Gyeltsen” (https://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/The-First-Dorje-Drak-Rigdzin,-Rigdzin-Godemchen-Ngodrub-Gyeltsen/P5254). []
  12. See D. Jackson, “The Early History of Lo (Mustang) and Ngari”, p. 44. []
  13. An important earthquake affected Gungthang in 1505 CE which shows that the region is not immune to such phenomena. See Ambraseys and Jackson, “A note on early earthquakes in northern India and southern Tibet, p. 578. []
  14. I.e., publicly without respect for the samayas of secrecy. []
  15. I.e., one will kill sentient beings to eat them. []
  16. This means that those practicing the teachings of Dharma will be the target of mockery and verbal persecution from non-religious individuals. []
  17. Dictionaries render khrel ‘dzem che ba as “very modest” which may be incorrect here. Rather, understanding the expression literally gives the meaning of “[those who] greatly (che ba) refrain (‘dzem) from decency (khrel)” which actually fits with a behavior consisting in living a debauched life leading to the constant experience of suffering. Conversely, given the context of an evident degeneration in times and conduct, this line may actually mean that even those who are ordinarily very modest will devote themselves to debauchery. []
  18. This refers to king bKra shis lde, the father of king Phun tshogs lde who would eventually provide Gödem with the riches necessary for the treasure substitutes (gter tshab). []
  19. “Those engaged in accidental vices” translates glo bur gyi sdig spyod rnams. This obviously points to people who may not be constantlyengaged in vices but who let the worst of them take over, leading them to temporary or accidental revolting behaviors. These people are placed within the ranks of subjects and commoners who should, during prosperous times, respect kingship and other social values. []
  20. P. 389: gter ‘di rnams ‘byung ba’i dus tshod ni: lnga brgya tha ma la gsang sngags kyi nus [p. 390] pa yal te: chos ‘khor ‘joms: gsang sngags grong yul du spyod: sngags pa skye bo’i grong chog byed: zas su srog dbugs za ba: bskal (= skal) pa dum bur rtsod pa byed: chos la spyod dbang med pa’i dus ‘byung ngo: su chos byed pa ngo tsha dang: khrel ‘dzem che ba rnams sdig pa sdug bsngal la sbyor: khyad par mang yul gung thang du lha sras mu khri btsan po’i bu brgyud gcig ‘byung ste: bran dang ‘bangs dang glo bur gyi sdig spyod rnams kyi ‘bangs su ‘bebs so: de’i dus su byang tho yor nag po’i yul: ri bo bkra bzang zhes bya ba’i mdun du: skyes bu me’i lo pa gcig ‘byung : de’i rjes chos bzhi po thon par ‘gyur ro:. []
  21. We have seen elsewhere that this is a treasure from Nyang (Nyang/Myang gi gter ma), as quoted by Setön in his Garland of Jewels(Rin chen phreng ba, p. 389-390). []
  22. Tshe tshad lnga bcu la song ba’i dus su: hor khrims cha’i nyams ‘gro: chos khrims bstan (= gtan) nas bshig: gsang sngags kyi nus pa yal nas ‘dre rgod ‘byung po dar: mi chen jag ‘joms byed: sde pa ar (= mngar) zas za: pha spun nang dme byed: snying grogs kyis bslu: dpung pa su mang kha grag ( = spungs su mang kha drag): che btsun dug gis ‘chi: sha ra ba gri ru gsod: btsun pa tshong khye (= khe) byed: dge slong sha chang za: dge bshes ‘khrug las byed: sngags pa grong chog byed: dbang sdig po che la bskur: gsang ba dngos su ston: sad ser lo la rngam: nad rims khol bur g.yo: dus ngan de lta bu byung pa dang : gter de ‘don pa’i dus [391] la babs pa lags so:. []
  23. A slightly different version of the prophecy has been translated by Jay Valentine (in a FCHNT internal working document, 2023, p. 24). []
  24. Ri bo bkra bzang gi rtse la zhwa dkon (= gyon): byang phyogs nas mang yul rong kha dmag glog ltar ‘khyug: rgya dkar po’i yul du byang chub kyi shing bu lho ru yo: kha che’i mchod rten ka ni ka byang shar du ral: bal po’i ‘phags pa shing kun gyi mchod rten byang phyogs su yo: mi dge ba’i ltas ‘byung:  bsam yas kyi brag dmar la nam mkha’i thog ‘bab: de lta bu byung pa’i dus su:  brag ri lto ‘phye spungs pa ‘dra ba la: lo rta’i lo la gter ‘byung par ‘gyur ro:. []
  25. On June 14th, 1366 according to Herweg, p. 291 n. 303. []
  26. P. 391: o rgyan rin po che lho nub srin po’i kha gnon la gshegs nas/ lo drug brgya dang nyi shu nas/ rig ‘dzin chen po ‘byon par gsungs la/ rig ‘dzin chen pos dgung lo sum cu bzhes pa rta’i lo la gter bzhes pa yin pa/ de ltar na o rgyan rin po che lho nub la gshegs nas lo drug brgya dang lnga bcu nas gter chen spyan drangs pa yin no/. []

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Jean-Luc Achard (August 1, 2023). Apocalyptic Times and the Revelation of Rigdzin Gödem’s Transparent Contemplation of Samantabhadra. Northern Treasures Histories. Retrieved July 24, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.58079/opev

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