Revisiting the Revelation of the Gongpa Zangthel

Jean-Luc Achard

The cycle of the Transparent Contemplation of Samantabhadra or Künzang Gongpa Zangthel (Kun bzang dgongs pa zang thal) contains several non-doctrinal narrative works explaining the history of the lineage, the contents of the collection, prophecies, and other similar texts.2 At the very outset of the first volume, the collection includes an interesting short work dedicated to the story describing the actual revelation of the treasure (gter ma). What is even more interesting is that it is written in the first person, which means that what we read in this text is said to have been directly written down by the tertön, namely Rigdzin Gödem (1337–1408) himself.3

The narration itself is very straightforward and replete with details which give it a definite flavor of authenticity. As will be seen in the translation, extraordinary marvels and wonders are at the core of the story, but given the nature of the event, the intervention of such elements in the narrative does not come as a surprise. As a matter of fact, the role played by atmospheric miracles and the encounters with the Guardians of the Treasure (gter srung) are standard topics occurring in such a revelatory context. Therefore, they should not be automatically dismissed as superstitions since there are numerous elements at play during the revelation of a terma that would easily challenge the most skeptical minds.4 Many of these elements—provided they have not been produced by the imagination of the tertön—are impossible to analyze from a scientific perspective but would nevertheless definitely deserve to be investigated in an emic perspective. I have just mentioned two of them—atmospheric “events” and contacts with local entities5—as these are central in the text translated below, but other modalities such as prophecies, environmental disturbances, collective karma, astrological conjunctions, etc., play crucial roles before, during, and after the revelation itself.

The last part of the text contains prophetic elements about the future of the treasure and the fortunate ones (none explicitly named) that will come from Yangleshö in Nepal.6

The version of the text that is translated below is directly based on the newer edition of the Gongpa Zanthel but an older xylographic edition has also been consulted.7


[P. 1]               The History of the Treasure Revelation
[gTer bton pa’i lo rgyus]

[P. 2]
Namo Guru (homage to the master!).

The ācārya Padmasambhava hid a stack of treasure repositories in the middle of the rocky mountain that looks like a heap of poisonous snakes.8 And he concealed the key to this (treasure) on the top of mount “Riwo Trazang.” The index and itinerary guide (of this treasure previously) appeared from (the discovery made in) Drompa Gyang.9

On the eighth day of the waxing moon of the snake month in the horse year,10 during the conjunction of the Puṣya constellation and the Kilaka (Jupiter) planet,11 I, Ngödrup Gyeltsen,12 together with a devoted retinue, went to reveal (the treasure). At that time, at the first lights of dawn, I saw a characteristic ray of light:13 on top of the sun arose a ray of while light similar to a wishfulfilling tree, coming from the eastern direction and entering Mount Riwo Trazang. (At that spot,)14 I dug under a rock on which dew15 (had gathered) as if snow had fallen upon it, and inside a sealed reliquary made of stone (that was hidden there), among (pieces of) charcoal, there was a one finger-span, solid and white whetstone which I took out.

Then, on the fourth day of the sheep month [p. 3],16 during the conjunction of the Puṣya constellation and the Kilaka planet, since (Padmasambhava) had said (in the Index) that we were to excavate the treasure repository (on that precise date), I, Ngödrup Gyeltsen, together with the hermit Sangyé Tenpa17 and Rigdzin Gönpo,18 the three of us set out on the path (to the treasure) and overturned extremely confusing, demonic obstacles that had occurred (on our way). We prayed to Guru (Padmasambhava) and consequently five-colored rainbows appeared in the sky in an unceasing flow.

When we arrived at the foot of the rocky mountain resembling a heap of poisonous snakes, three rainbows similar to strips of white silk appeared in a row from the south-west. For two days we searched the (actual) sanctuary in the middle of this great rocky mountain, and when we actually found the place, rainbows arose (again) in the sky.

In the evening, as we were praying in this location, the cave itself shook and shivered violently, indicating that this was a sign of the coming of the Treasure Lord. Then, at midnight [p. 4], as we were looking around the place by the light of butter lamps, (we found out that) on the first boulder located in the south-west (within the cave), there was a vajra cross. Below it (was an opening in which) I inserted the key19 and a door opened in the boulder. Inside was a very small cavern in which pebbles and charcoal had been deposited.20 Once these were removed, I found a square blue stone, with a silver-colored door ornament nailed to it. On top of it was a snake (statue) of light blue color with a yellow belly and of a diameter of approximatively an upper arm, coiling in the form of an eight-faceted gem. Its head was turned toward the south-east and in his heart were three jewel protrusions. Inside these were a scroll and a mere semblance of jewels. The whole interior of the snake was like covered with gold color, and jewels—the mere size of thumbs—were dangling, attached to its spine. However, since they were not mentioned in the Index (Kha byang), I left them there.

Thereafter, I opened the central treasure repository and took out three scrolls, three phurbus and the single brown silk piece that (had been used) to wrap them up.

From the repositories in the four directions,21 I took out two mother-scrolls and two son-scrolls22 on which the eight mother-and-son seed-syllables of the four female gate-keepers were drawn with medicinal dew (used as ink). In these four outer repositories were multiple jewels, as well as four turquoise stones being supports of the soul of king (Trisong Detsen)23but since they were under the watch of the Treasure Lords who told me not to take them out, I did not open the (compartment where they had been placed).

From within the key (itself), I took out seven scrolls, including an Index of Treasures (gTer gyi kha byang), and so forth. I filled up its inside with a bodhi-tree,24 [p. 5] as well as grains, five kinds of jewels, thus packing it fully with terma-substitutes.25

The breaking of the day and the revelation of the Treasure occurred at the same time. Feeling delighted, joyous and invigorated, we took the treasure repositories with us and set out back on the road when, at the first lights of dawn, a rainbow entered the cave, while rain fell in all directions. Wherever we went, rainbows looking like tents pitched in the sky continuously appeared as if large banners were hanged in midair (to accompany us).

As we arrived in front of Mount Riwo Trazang, rays of light coming from the waning phase of the sun arose in a ruby-colored sky in which I saw extraordinary omens appearing individually in gigantic and smaller pure visions. That very night, there was an earthquake and many wrathful omens linked to the elements.

Furthermore, wherever I went, numerous trustworthy signs occurred as described in the texts. Signs appeared in accordance with the prophecies given in the Seven Principles making up the Crucial Precepts of the Heart Drops [Teachings] (sNying tig gnad kyi man ngag don bdun):26 as to the vulture feathers on my head,27 when I reached the age of twelve and then twenty-one, some roots of my hair became white, resembling the feathers of a vulture. At first three appeared and afterwards five of them.

When I reached the age of twenty-seven, in front of Mount Riwo Trazang, I found an externally round leather bag with an oily color, as if filled with milk, which was actually filled with liquid amṛta.

(Then,) at the age of thirty (in 1366), I revealed the great Treasure [p. 6] and in the year of the sheep (1367), at the place where I had found the key on Mount Riwo Trazang, at the time of the new year, during the first month of spring, the seed of a fruit tree had grown on the rock (where I had found the Treasure) and (had become a full-grown tree) with its trunk, branches, leaves and fruits. On the top of this mountain appeared numerous extraordinary signs on favorable occasions and auspicious configurations of planets and stars. I (personally) saw these, together with my devoted retinue.

In these degenerate times, these treasure teachings have the capacity of bringing a bit of happiness to the realm of Tibet. Auspicious (signs keep on) occurring at the place where the Treasure was revealed. Even in the future, Speech and Mind emanations hailing from Yangléshö in Nepal, will come in Mangyül and Kyirong, and on Riwo Trazang, they will find the self-arisen sanctuaries of practice marked with the signs of the Guru’s (i.e. Padmasambhava) Body, Speech, and Mind. They will bring a great benefit to transmigrating beings. It is said that, owing to the power of their karmic propensities, these teachings will spread at the frontier between Tibet and the southern regions.

The history relating how, (I), Rigdzin Gökyi Demtruchen, revealed the treasure of the rocky mountain similar to a heap of poisonous snakes was composed in the practice place of Namolung, the Valley of the Ancient Ones.28 Maṅgalaṃ!


Bag, Amulya Kumar
“Astronomy in Indus Civilization and during Vedic Times”, in International Journal for Humanities and Social Sciences, vol. 20, 1985, pp. 121-130.

Gerke, Barbara
“Engaging the Subtle Body: Re-Approaching Bla rituals in the Himalayas,” in Mona Schrempf (ed.), Soundings in Tibetan Medicine, Anthropological and Historical Perspectives, Brill’s Tibetan Studies Library, volume 10, Leiden, 2007, pp. 191-212.

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.

Khenpo Namdrol Rinpoche
Precious Treasury of Genuine Meaning, Teaching and Commentary given by Khenpo Namdrol Rinpoche, Oral Translation by Sangye Khandro, Written Translation by Lama Chönam and Sangye Khandro, Light of Berotsana Translation Group, 2012, s.l., vol. 4, 585 pages.

Rig ‘dzin rgod ldem (1337–1408)
gTer bton pa’i lo rgyus, in sNga ‘gyur byang gter chos skor phyogs bsgrigs, s.l., 2015, vol. 1, pp. 1-6. BDRC W2PD17457. Smanrtsis Shesrig Spendzod, Leh, 1979, vol. 93, pp. 1-7.

Schwieger, Peter
Die Werksammlungen Kun-tu bzaṅ-po’i dgoṅs-pa zaṅ-thal, Ka-dag raṅ-byuṅ raṅ-śar und mKha’-‘gro gsaṅ-ba ye-śes-kyi rgyud, Tibetische Handschriften und Blockdrucke, Teil 9, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, Wiesbaden, 1985.

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
“An Introduction to The Chariot of Marvels: Northern Treasure Master Padma ‘phrin las’s Memoir of a Journey to Byang Ngam ring in 1690”, Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines, no. 62, Février 2022, pp. 216-232.


  1. My thanks go to Marianne Ginalski for her corrections and suggestions on the original draft of this paper. []
  2. These appear either as compositions or as revealed material. The text translated below is a composition. []
  3. There are other works directly attributed to rGod ldem’s hand, such as The Symbolic Omens Appearing in Dreams, in Eight Chapters (mNal lam brda’i ltas le’u brgyad ma) which will be discussed in another paper. []
  4. I am not formulating here a panegyric of some sort of the gter ma phenomenon but the recurring nature of these elements during the revelation of a treasure must certainly be studied on its own, even if only for proposing a hermeneutic interpretation of some of its components. Having recourse to hackneyed arguments limiting the interpretative process to cultural representations that have no reality at all is evidently a dead-end that has deviated research into fossilized, clearly uniformed opinions. The process of revealing treasures is much more complex as is evidenced by the Third rDo grub chen rin po che (1865–1926)’s work on the topic, entitled The Ocean of Wonders (Ngo mtshar rgya mtsho); see the translation of this text in T. Thondup, Hidden Teachings of Tibet, passim. []
  5. The first ones can possibly be witnessed by a third party but not necessarily the second ones. []
  6. Bdr:G01AG03004 (present-day Pharping). So far, I am not in the capacity of identifying these figures. []
  7. See the references under Rig ‘dzin rgod ldem in the bibliography. []
  8. This is in fact a toponym but its literal meaning is also an interesting element. Two mountains actually play a key role in the revelation of the Northern Treasures by Rig ‘dzin rgod ldem: the present one (known in Tibetan as Brag ri dug sprul spungs pa ‘dra ba) and Ri bo bkra bzang. According to the narrative accounts widespread in the rNying ma tradition, the hiding of treasures by Padmasambhava is supposed to have happened in the 8th century AD. []
  9. This revelation was made by bZang po grags pa (14th c.), sometime before that of Rig ‘dzin rgod ldem. []
  10. Identified as Sunday, 19th April, 1366 by Herweg, The Hagiography of Rig ‘dzin Rgod kyi ldem ‘phru can, (p. 93). []
  11. This precise timing has not been chosen at random. Not only is it specified in the Kha byang and other prophetic sources, but it also corresponds to the optimal time condition in general for giving empowerments, special secret teachings such as rDzogs chen, retrieving gter ma, and so forth. See an interesting list of these requirements in Khenpo Namdrol Rinpoche, Precious Treasury of Genuine Meaning, vol. 4, pp. 43-44. The actual Puṣya constellation is the eighth of the twenty-seven constellations and is defined as the divine abode where Brihaspati (i.e., Jupiter), the god of devotion and piety, teaches the devas. In traditional Vedic astronomy, the arising of Jupiter in this constellation (in particular if this occurs on a Thursday) is said to be a day of a particularly auspicious nature. Puṣya is the sixth among the twenty-eight constellations (nakṣatra) of Indian astronomy. See A.K. Bag, “Astronomy in Indus Civilization”, p. 125. []
  12. dNgos grub rgyal mtshan. This is the ordinary name of Rig ‘dzin rgod ldem, apparently, from the present context, the one he used to refer to himself. []
  13. The translation is literal, the meaning being simply that of a “very special ray of light.” []
  14. I.e., at the precise location where the ray of light hit the ground. []
  15. Correcting tshil ba into zil ba. []
  16. Sunday, June 14th, 1366 (Herweg, op. cit., p. 94). []
  17. Ri khrod pa Sangs rgyas bstan pa. He is presented as an uncle (zhang po) of rGod ldem (ib., p. 91). He is identical with Bla ma Do pa ba (see ib., pp. 38, 94). []
  18. Elements regarding this personage are quasi inexistent. He appears to have been a servant, either of rGod ldem himself or of his uncle. See Schwieger, Die Werksammlungen Kun-tu bzaṅ-po’i dgoṅs-pa zaṅ-thal, p. xxxv. []
  19. This key was the one found on the top of Mount Riwo Trazang as stated at the beginning of the text. []
  20. In treasure caches, charcoal is often used to prevent dampness and the incursion of insects. []
  21. The stone-chest is thus to be conceived as having a central compartment, as well as one compartment in each direction, much like having the general outer shape of a four-petaled lotus. []
  22. Mother and son (ma bu) texts are often in the form of a root-text (rtsa ba), i.e., the mother text, and a commentary or complementary treatise, i.e., the son text. []
  23. On turquoise soul-stone, see B. Gerke, “Engaging the Subtle Body”, pp. 197-198. []
  24. Most evidently a drawing or some seeds of such a tree. []
  25. gTer tshab. On these substitutes see Tulku Thondup, Hidden Teachings of Tibet, p. 84 and 257 n. 240. []
  26. dGongs pa zang thal, vol. 3, pp. 285-303. []
  27. The presence of these feathers in the gter ston’s hair is the reason why he is known as Rig ‘dzin rGod kyi ldem ‘phru can, the “Knowledge Holder Having Vulture Feathers” and these feathers are among the extraordinary signs described in prophetic texts. []
  28. gNa’ mo lung. This toponym is also regularly spelt sNa mo lung, the Jasmine Valley. It is located in La stod, in the Byang myriarchy (bdr:G4815). This is rGod ldem’s actual birthplace (see Valentine, “An Introduction to The Chariots of Marvels,” p. 225). []

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Jean-Luc Achard (March 1, 2024). Revisiting the Revelation of the Gongpa Zangthel. Northern Treasures Histories. Retrieved July 24, 2024 from

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