Nyingma Perspective on Obstacles to the Revelation of Treasures (gter ma)

by Jean-Luc Achard

While the discovery of Treasures is generally seen as a very auspicious sign, in particular for those attending a “public revelation” (khrom gter), as well as for the immediate environment of the treasure site (gter gnas) and the locals, situations (lit. “defects”) resulting from not revealing Treasures (ma thon pa’i skyon) are the particular causes of ominous events. Thus, when the circumstances surrounding a revelation fall under the power of demonic forces (bdud), the Treasure Revealer will potentially lack the specific “good fortune” necessary to carry out his revelation. In a wider perspective, this is often portrayed in apocalyptic literature as a dramatic state of affairs leading to the arising of intense sufferings for Tibet and its inhabitants. In such a context, both the “king of Tibet” (bod kyi rje) and the population will face dire obstacles. To illustrate this situation, in his Precious Garland (Rin chen phreng ba), Setön Pema Wangchen first quotes a passage from the Seven Topics of the Crucial Precepts of the Heart Drops (sNying tig gnad kyi man ngag don bdun), a treasure revealed by tertön Zangpo Drakpa, in which it is said:

If, having fallen under the power of the demons, (the tertön) lacks the good fortune to reveal Treasures,
The Tibetan king and his people will experience unbearable sufferings.

The impossibility of revealing a Treasure is thus linked to: 1. the power of demons affecting both the environment and sentient beings; and 2. the lack of good fortune which affects both the Treasure revealer and the population that would otherwise benefit spiritually and materially from the Treasure itself.3 Demons will disturb the environment by causing havoc in a wide range of areas, such as generating untimely rains and frost, hailstorms, earthquakes, mudslides, and so forth. They will also cause epizooties, lethal diseases in both cattle and humans, thus creating an imbalance in the five elements (in both their outer and inner modalities), etc.4 Breaks of samayas (dam tshig) among those assisting the Treasure revealer will similarly render the discovery purely and simply impossible.5 Entrusting  the Treasure to wrathful protectors is generally thought to ensure that demonic forces will not cause obstacles to the revelation in general or to the actual practice of those following the related tradition. As explained by Tulku Thondup,6 the protectors are often the chiefs of these demonic forces and the minor entities in their entourage would in general not disobey the orders of their rulers.7

A prophetic narrative very similar in theme to that of the Seven Topics is recorded in the Lamp Clarifying the Itinerary Pathway (Lam byang gsal ba’i sgron ma, a Treasure revealed by Nyang-rel) in which it is stated:

If, at that time, demons become victorious,
Sentient beings will not possess merits and consequently,
If the great Revealer is not endowed with the good fortune to extract (Treasures),
Then a Chinese Gongpo spirit, known as Jungpo Nyingkün,
8  will come to Tibet:
He will enter the hearts of the powerful leaders of Tibet,
As well as those of their armed forces.
In order to bring the merits of sentient beings to exhaustion,
The teaching of poisoned weapons will be spread by (fiends) masquerading as heart-companions
To all those with great merits,
Those of great wealth, as well as
All those cherishing the welfare of sentient beings in general.
People will be given to murdering,
They will plunder each other’s power and riches,
They all will strive in vicious activities and
Non (virtuous) practices will occur suddenly.
Sentient beings will kill, overpower, deceive and rob one another,
And will only engage in sinful deeds.

In the view of this apocalyptic narrative, the “teaching of poisoned weapons” is nothing other than “wrong teachings” that will only bring obstacles, sins, sicknesses, and so forth.10 Such teachings may appear authentic at first but their practice will result in disasters, affecting even those with great merits. This is a reason why authenticity is crucial in the context of treasure revelations. In general, tertön themselves have to be authenticated by unquestionable authorities. Most of those who have studied this literary genre know the story about Chogyur Lingpa (1829–1870) visiting Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé (1813–1899) in order to have him check his treasures and being sent to Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820–1892) for final approval.11

In the perspective of those involved in the treasure tradition, the tragic events described in the last part of the above prophecy definitely demonstrate the importance of Termas not only for spiritual purposes but also for society in general. The fact that a special location—a treasure sanctuary (gter gnas)—hosts a terma often ensures happiness and good crops to the whole region. This might be a cause of contention between locals and treasure revealers who may be seen as thieves (rkun ma) since revealing the treasure could deprive the place of its favorable status and situation. Also, treasure Protectors (gter srung) and Lords of treasures (gter bdag), who are generally of a wrathful nature, must be respected and often demand the tertön to replace the terma with a substitute (gter tshab) of at least equal value. In numerous instances, the tertön is only authorized to “borrow” the texts and copy them before returning them to their guardians. In other cases, he becomes the owner of the original yellow scrolls (shog ser) containing the teachings and may replace them with jewels and precious substances.12


Achard, Jean-Luc
Wrong Views about Dzogchen, Khyung-Lung Editions, to appear in 2024.

Hanna, Span
“Vast as the Sky, the Terma Tradition in Modern Tibet”, in G. Samuel, H. Gregor, & E. Stutchbury, Tantra and Popular Religion in Tibet, International Academy of India Culture, Aditya Prakashan, 1995, pp. 1-13.

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.

Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche
The Life of Chokgyur Lingpa, translated by Tulku Jigmey Khyentse and Erik Pema Kunsang, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 3rd ed., 1988.

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.

Smith, Malcolm
The Self-Arisen Vidyā Tantra, Wisdom Publications, 2018.

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

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.


  1. I would like to thank Marianne Ginalski for her kind suggestions and corrections. []
  2. As quoted by Setön in his Precious Garland (Rin chen phreng ba), p. 391: gal te bdud kyi dbang du gyur nas gter thon pa’i skal ba dang mi ldan na: bod kyi rje ‘bangs bzod pa’i thabs med pa’i sdug bsngal la sbyor ro/. []
  3. The negative influence from the demons is to be seen as the main cause (rgyu), while the lack of good fortune is considered as a secondary cause (rkyen). []
  4. On the five outer and inner elements, see chapters 19 and 20 of The Tantra of the Natural Emergence of Awareness (Rig pa rang shar gyi rgyud; see M. Smith, The Self-Arisen Vidyā Tantra, pp. 131-138). []
  5. In such cases, the traditional literature on the subject explains that the door of the Treasure (gter sgo) will simply vanish or the Protectors of the Treasure (gter srung) will render it invisible. Likewise, the surroundings of the Treasure site (gter gnas) might become a warzone, a region facing repeated pandemics, etc. In some instances, the very life of the gter ston might be at risk. The attitude of the public witnessing the revelation is also crucial. On this topic, see S. Hanna, “Vast as the Sky”, passim. []
  6. Hidden Teachings of Tibet, p. 114. []
  7. On these Protectors, see ibid., p. 243-244 n. 158. They are generally defined as gter srung (Treasure Protectors) or gter bdag (Lords of the Treasures); see Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Oracles and Demons of Tibet, p. 254. []
  8. “He who steals the heart-essence of the elemental forces” (‘Byung po snying rkun). Elemental forces (‘byung po) correspond to the bhūta entities of the Indian folklore who affect sentient beings by causing imbalance in their inner elements (through sending illnesses, and so forth). On the Gongpo (‘gong po) spirits, see Nebesky-Wojkowitz, op. cit., pp. 283-285. []
  9. As quoted by Setön in his Precious Garland, p. 391: gal te de’i dus su bdud kha rgyal ‘gro bas: sems can bsod nams dang mi ldan pas: gter chen thon [392] pa’i skal ba dang mi ldan na: bod du rgya’i ‘gong po ‘byung po snying rkun zhes pa yong ste: de bod kyi mi dbang che ba: dmag dpung che ba rnams kyi snying du zhugs te: sems can gyi bsod nams zad par byed pa’i phyir: mi bsod nams che ba: longs spyod che ba: sems can spyis don la gces pa kun la: grogs snying du rdzus pas dug mtshon gyi bstan pa dar te: srog la hur thums byed: mnga’ thang longs spyod la ‘phrog res byed: thams cad sdig pa’i las la brtson: mi spyod glo bur du ‘gyur: sems can gcig gis gcig gsod pa dang : ‘joms pa dang : bslu ba dang : ‘phrog pa dang : sdig pa’i las sha stag spyod par ‘gyur ro: zhes gsungs so/. []
  10. Wrong teachings, based on wrong or incorrect Views (log lta), have been the subject of intense discussions in Tibet. In general, a wrong teaching is always that of the “others” (gzhan rnams), these being either Hindu heretics, Bönpos, or even Buddhists from another school of thought. Dzogchen has not been spared in this field, sometimes with good reasons. Indeed, individuals unable to understand the distinction between Dzogchen (as a pure a perfect state) from the Dzogchenpa (as a still impure and imperfect practitioner) often deviate into wrong views, essentially by having their View fall into their Conduct (spyod pa’i phyogs su lta ba ‘chor ba). Lama Sowa (12th c.?) is quite a paradigmatic figure on this issue. See Achard, Wrong Views about Dzogchen, pp. 98-100. []
  11. Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche, The Life of Chokgyur Lingpa, p. 4. []
  12. Sometimes even just grains. []

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Jean-Luc Achard (February 5, 2024). Nyingma Perspective on Obstacles to the Revelation of Treasures (gter ma). Northern Treasures Histories. Retrieved July 24, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.58079/vr4h

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