Monthly Archives: March 2024

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.

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  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. []