Guru Rinpoche

GURU RINPOCHE, one of the greatest adepts of Buddhist India, is the founder of Buddhism in Tibet. He is known as Padmasambhava (Padma ’Byung gNas), the Lotus-Born, and Guru of Oḍḍiyāṇa. In Tibet he is popularly known as Guru Rinpoche, the Precious Master. The Nyingmapas respect him as the second Buddha.

Before going into the life of Guru Rinpoche, I would like to discuss some of the problems we might have in understanding such a powerful, esoteric, mystical, and enlightened life as that of Guru Rinpoche.

How can an adept perform miracles and attain the light body? Prahevajra, Mañjushrīmitra, Shrīsiṃha, Jñanasūtra, Vimalamitra, and Guru Rinpoche and his consorts, as well as many of his disciples, were manifestations of Buddhas or highly enlightened beings. Their lives and life spans were not limited like the life of an ordinary person. Manifestations of the Buddhas in the form of great adepts appear now and then in the history of the world, but very rarely. Prahevajra, Mañjushrīmitra, Shrīsiṃha, and Jñānasūtra dissolved their manifested bodies into Dharmakāya, without leaving any mortal remains behind at the end of their lives. Because they achieved control over their life span, they lived for centuries. Vimalamitra, as the result of his scholarship and dedication to Nyingthig meditation, achieved the body of great transformation, and he is still in this light body and will remain in the same form for thousands of years. And Guru Rinpoche, although he was a manifestation of Amitābha Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, manifested as a powerful being who was in pursuit of esoteric trainings to accomplish the results for the benefit of beings. He too is believed to be in the light body of great transformation.

The accomplishments of these adepts lie not in the mere longevity of their mortal bodies or the acquisition of an astral body, but in attainment of the enlightened body, the self-arisen light of the intrinsic awareness, the Buddha nature. Although for us ordinary people it is impossible to see the light body as it is, when there is the possibility of receiving benefits, we will see it in forms that are suited to our nature.

When we hear the stories of adepts living for centuries or exhibiting miracles, most of us are hesitant, at best, to accept them. Also there are people who read about adepts and enjoy stories of longevity and miracles but are unable to accept them because they are not in accord with what they are experiencing now. Yet most ancient cultures and religions have recorded events involving superhuman beings, and supernatural attainments such as longevity and the display of miraculous powers, as the result of inner spiritual strength and meditative power, but not because of material power.

Today we are witnessing material miracles, which would never have been believed in ancient times, but we have lost or are losing touch with our inner power. We have become mere slaves of the external material world. So the problem is not whether the esoteric powers are unfounded, but rather that we are turning ourselves into strangers to the true power of our own inner truth, like a person who keeps riches hidden at home and goes begging for alms in the street.

Why do Buddha manifestations need to study? If masters like Guru Rinpoche are manifestations of the Buddhas, why do they have to go through vigorous training and why do they face obstructions? There are two points. First, the emanations of the Buddhas will appear and will perform their activities strictly in whatever forms and roles they have manifested. If they have manifested as social servants, they will fulfill that role by becoming people who provide food, shelter, and medicine, or they will work to strengthen moral and family values, even if they are Buddha emanations. Therefore, if the adepts have manifested as esoteric masters, they will play the role of learning as students, practicing as meditators, and accomplishing as adepts—just as, if you make a spoon out of gold, it will function as a spoon, and if you make an ornament out of gold, it will function as an ornament; it doesn’t matter that the gold is a precious metal that could be preserved as part of the nation’s treasures.

Second, various manifestations (Nirmāṇakāya) appear not according to the Buddha’s perspective but according to the perspective of ordinary people, for whom they appear in order to serve them. Usually, ordinary people do not have the best karma and temperaments with which to see, feel, and receive the best of the manifestations. According to their karmic and emotional nature, the role of the manifestation will also be limited. Even great adepts like Guru Rinpoche have been seen by most people in ordinary form or similar to ordinary form and not in the light body of great transformation. When Guru Rinpoche was in Tibet, King Trisong Detsen had a hard time believing that he was in the light body. At Guru Rinpoche’s insistence, the king hit him with his fist three times, and each time the king could not touch his body and could only touch his seat.

Great adepts such as Prahevajra and Guru Rinpoche not only were manifestations of the Buddhas, but manifested as gifted beings with the qualities of adepts. They are endowed with extraordinary power and enlightened wisdom. Adepts like them have exhibited their power of manifesting many forms at a time, drawing many forms into one, and displaying opposing elements, such as water and fire in harmony, in accordance with the karmic and mental nature and need of the disciples who are their audience. All those miraculous manifestations were possible because of the matured karma of many people of that time and place.

Why are there different versions of the lives of many adepts? The life of Guru Rinpoche in particular is one of the most miraculous lives there could possibly be in any history of the spiritual world, and so it comes with a great number of variants. Variant versions do not imply that one account is true and the others false. The manifestations of the lives of adepts appeared differently to different people in different places and times in order for them to be served in the most appropriate way. On many occasions, a single manifestation in a single instant has been seen differently by different people. This is because of adepts’ enlightened power, their ultimate control over the illusory forms, time, and space of ordinary phenomena. That is the very point, which makes the power of the fully accomplished masters extraordinary, and a great source of blessing and positive power for wise, open-minded, and devout people. Also, the whole reason why Buddha manifestations appear before us ordinary people is because of our natures and needs, being various beings, but not because of karmic and habitual pressures of the concepts, emotions, and actions of the manifestations.

Among numerous different versions of the biography of Guru Rinpoche written by great scholars and/or discovered by great tertöns who are his spiritual heirs, there are many that are comprehensible to common people like myself. Relying on those sources, the following is a brief account of Guru Rinpoche’s life.

Eight (or, according to some, twelve) years after the passing away of the Buddha, a manifestation of Amitābha Buddha adorned with auspicious physical marks was born not by the womb of a woman, but by immaculate birth in a lotus in the Milk Ocean in the northwestern part of the country of Oḍḍiyāna amid wondrous signs.

At that time, there was a great generous king called Indrabhūti in Oḍḍiyāṇa. He had provided for all the material requests of poor people for many years until all his treasure was emptied. Now he had nothing to give, and he also lost his eyesight. He had no child who would succeed him to the throne to take care of his subjects. Still, with his usual courage and enthusiasm in providing for the needs of his people, despite the objections of the ministers, he himself with his loyal minister Kṛiṣhṇadhara and a large crew sailed across the ocean to find the wish-fulfilling gems. On the way back, having obtained the gems and also having restored his eyesight through the power of the gems, the king and his minister saw an amazingly beautiful child of about eight years old sitting in a blossoming lotus in the middle of the Milk Ocean. Astonished, the king asked the child: “Who are your parents? What is your lineage? What is your name? What do you eat? What are you doing here?” In reply the child sang the following verses in an enchanting voice.

My father is the intrinsic awareness, Samantabhadra. 

My mother is the ultimate sphere, Samantabhadrī.

My lineage is the union of intrinsic awareness and ultimate sphere.

My name is the glorious Lotus-Born [Padmasambhava]. 

My country is the unborn ultimate sphere.

I consume dualistic thoughts as food.

My role is to accomplish the actions of the Buddhas.

When they heard this, faith and joy blossomed in the heart of everyone. The child accepted the king’s invitation to join them. The king adopted the child and took him to his palace, where he made him the crown prince. At that time Guru Rinpoche was known as Padmasambhava (or Padmākara), the Lotus-Born.

Once again, the king and his subjects enjoyed great prosperity. The king showered with generous gifts all the needy people of his country. Happiness and peace prevailed in the country. The young prince was schooled in many disciplines and excelled in studies and athletic games. Then he married the Ḍākinī Prabhāvatī (One with Lights) and served the kingdom according to the law of Dharma. At that time he was known as King Shikhin (One with a Turban).

Guru Rinpoche knew that by serving in the role of a king he would not be able to serve the true needs, the spiritual benefits of others. He requested the king to permit him to renounce the kingdom but was refused. Then he saw a skillful means for his escape. By the power of his foreknowledge he saw that the time of death was at hand for the son of the wicked minister Kamata because of the boy’s previous karma. So while they were dancing together, Guru Rinpoche let his trident fall from his hand, and it killed the boy. Sorrowfully, the king complied with the stern law of the kingdom and banished him to roam in charnel grounds. Taking leave, Guru Padmasambhava sang to his royal parents:


Although it is rare to find parental [kindness], 

You cared for me as parents and enthroned me.

Because of his karmic debt, the minister’s son was killed by me. 

Even if I am banished, there is no fear, for I have attachment to no one.

Even if I am executed, there is no fear, for death and birth are the same for me.

It is excellent that I am being banished, because for the state the law is sacred.

Father and mother, please stay well.

Because of our karmic links, we will meet again.


Guru Rinpoche was banished to Shītavana charnel ground. There he practiced esoteric exercises and beheld the peaceful deities. Then he went to the Joyous Grove (Nandanavana; dGa’ Ba’i Tshal) charnel ground and received esoteric empowerments from the Ḍākinī Mārajitā (Subduer of Negative Forces). He went to Sosadvīpa charnel ground and was blessed by Ḍākinī Shāntarakṣhitā (Preserver of Peace). Commanding hosts of ḍākinīs, he enjoyed esoteric disciplines in different charnel grounds. He was known then as Shāntarakṣhita (Preserver of Peace).

He went to the island of Dhanakosha, where he spoke to the ḍākinīs in their symbolic language and brought them under his command. At Paruṣhakavana charnel ground, while practicing esoteric exercises, he beheld the pure vision of Vajravārāhī and received her blessings. With his enlightened power, he subdued the nāgas of an ocean and the zas of the sky. Wisdom ḍākas and wisdom ḍākinīs bestowed accomplishments upon him. He was known then as Dorje Trakpo Tsal (the Mighty Vajra-Wrath).

He went to the Vajrāsana, Bodhgayā, and displayed various miracles, acknowledging that he was a self-realized Buddha. With various purposes in mind he went to the country of Sahor and took the ordination of renunciation from master Prabhāhasti. He was known then as Shākyasiṃha (the Lion of the Shākyas).

He received the teachings of Yogatantra eighteen times and beheld the pure vision of the Yogatantra deities. He received empowerment from Ānandā, a wisdom ḍākinī in the form of a nun. She transformed Guru Rinpoche into a letter HŪṂ, which she swallowed. In her body Guru Rinpoche was given the entire Outer, Inner, and Esoteric empowerments, and she passed him out of her body through her padma.

At Deche Tsekpa stūpa, he received the empowerments and instructions of eight maṇḍalas from eight vidyādharas, namely Mañjushrīmitra, Nāgārjuna, Hūṃkara, Vimalamitra, Prabhāhasti, Dhanasaṃskṛita, Rombuguhya, and Shantigarbha. He received the Guhyagarbha-tantra from Buddhaguhya, and Dzogpa Chenpo, particularly Nyingthig, from Mañjushrīmitra. In Tsubgyur Tsal charnel ground, he met Shrīsiṃha and studied Me-ngagde tantras and Khandro Nyingthig teachings for twenty-five years. He beheld the pure visions of many divinities even without doing any particular practice or meditation on them. He attained the state of Knowledge- holder with karmic residues (rNam sMin Rig ’Dzin). He was known then as Loden Chokse (Wise Supreme Passion).

In the sūtric tradition of Buddhism, the stages of attainments are classified as ten stages and five paths, and they are the steps for reaching Buddhahood. In tantric traditions, the stages are divided or classified in different ways. Most of the Nyingma tantric scriptures have four attainments, called knowledge-holders (vidyādhara).

The knowledge-holder with residues is the first of the four knowledge-holders. He has three characteristics. His mind has been perfected or matured as the deity, but the residues of karmic effect on the gross physical body have not yet been renounced, and immediately after release from the mortal body (death), he will attain the knowledge-holder of great sign (Phyag rGya’i Rig ’Dzin), the third attainment, which I shall discuss later.

He went to the country of Sahor, where he met Princess Mandāravā, the daughter of the king, who was practicing Dharma in solitude as a nun. Because the esoteric meaning of his relationship with the princess was misunderstood, he was burned alive on a huge pyre at the order of the king. Instead of being burned, he transformed the fire into a body of water and the fuel into a lotus. The next day, Guru Rinpoche was seen sitting on the lotus in the middle of the lake. The lake is believed to be the Rewalsar Lake of Mandi District in Himachal Pradesh in northern India. In expiation the king of Sahor offered him his royal crown, robe, and shoes with is whole kingdom, and Princess Mandāravā as his spiritual consort. Guru Rinpoche gave teachings to the king and his subjects, and many attained realization. (In most representations of Guru Rinpoche, he is shown wearing the lotus hat, the brocade cloak, and the shoes offered by the king of Sahor to signify his enlightened power.)

Then he and Mandāravā went to Māratika Cave in Nepal,and for three months they performed the sādhana of long life. Buddha Amitāyus appeared before them and conferred the empowerment of longevity, by which they became inseparable from him. They achieved the state of the knowledge-holder, which has control over life. By this second attainment, not only was his mind perfected as the deity, but even his gross body was perfected. This attainment has the qualities of freedom from four contaminations (Zag Pa). The four contaminations are the afflicted emotions of wrong views, loss of the body (death) without control or choice, no control over the harmony of the elements of the body (health), and taking rebirth according to karma, without control or choice. The first and second knowledge- holders are equivalent to the path of insight, the third path, and the first stage of the ten stage system of sūtric tradition. In this you abandon the obscurations of emotional afflictions (Nyon sGrib), the first of the obscurations, the other being the intellectual obscurations.

Then, with Mandāravā, he returned to the country of Oḍḍiyāna. While they were making the rounds in quest of alms, he was recognized as the one who had killed the minister’s son. Because he had defied the sentence of banishment, they burned him with his consort in a huge conflagration. But again, the following day they found them both sitting on a lotus in a lake, wearing skull garlands around their necks. He was known then as Pema Thötreng Tsal (the Lotus-Born, Mighty Skull -Garlanded).

With his consort, Guru Rinpoche remained in Oḍḍiyāṇa for thirteen years as the presiding guru of the kingdom, and there he gave the empowerments and instructions of Kadü Chökyi Gyatso. The king and many fortunate subjects attained supreme realization and attained the light body. He was then known as Padmarāja (the Lotus-Born King).

Guru Rinpoche manifested himself as Indrasena, an accomplished monk who, with a novice of his, converted Emperor Ashoka (3rd century BCE) to Buddhism. Ashoka, the greatest ruler of Indian history, propagated Buddha’s teachings beyond the Indian borders.

Some anti-Buddhists offered poison to Guru Rinpoche, but he remained unharmed. Some threw him into the Ganges, but he was carried upstream rather than down. He was then known as Khyeu Khadeng Tsal (Young Mighty Garuḍa).

At various charnel grounds, including Kula Dzok, he gave the teachings of tantra to ḍākinīs, and he extracted the life essence from powerful spirits, whom he appointed as Dharma protectors. He was known as Sūryarashmi (Rays of the Sun).

At Bodhgayā he defeated five hundred upholders of wrong views in a debate. When they tried to overcome him by magic, he turned it back upon them by the power of the mantras of Ḍākinī Mārajitā, the lion-faced female deity. As the teachers had been silenced, he pacified the villages and converted them to Buddhism. He became known then as Siṃhanāda (Lion’s Roar).

Then at Yangle Shö, now known as Pharping in Nepal, with the consort Shākyadevi, the daughter of King Puṇyadhara (Preserver of Virtues) of Nepal, he practiced the sādhana of the Yangdak (Shrīheruka) maṇḍala. At that time there had been no rain for three years because of the obstructions raised by powerful spirits. Disease and famine were widespread. He asked for Vajrakīla texts to be brought to him from India. When just two loads had arrived, the disasters afflicting the country were pacified. Hence there is the saying “Yangdak is rich in attainments, like a merchant. But Vajrakīla is necessary for protection, like a guard.” They both achieved the state of the knowledge-holder of great seal (Phyag rGya’i Rig ’Dzin; mahāmudrā Vidyādhara). In this attainment one’s base body (or actual body) is in the form of the deity. For the benefit of beings, it appears in various emanated forms. The power of one’s foreknowledge and other powers is clearer, purer, and stabler than that of the knowledge-holder with control over life and similar (but not equal) to the qualities of the enjoyment body. This is the equivalent of the realizations up to the ninth stage, and the path of meditation, the fourth path of the common Buddhist tradition.

In Sosadvīpa charnel ground, Guru Rinpoche, who already was a highly accomplished tantric master, received the transmission with the teachings of the three cycles of Dzogpa Chenpo with the tantras and Khandro Nyingthig from Shrīsiṃha. He trained in it for three years and attained the light body of great transformation (’Pho Ba Ch’en Po).

The highest accomplished Dzogpa Chenpo meditators exhaust all existents into the true nature and unite their minds into the ultimate enlightened nature, the primordial purity. If they choose, they can also dissolve or transform their physical bodies into purity. There are two major categories of attainment, the rainbow body and the rainbow body of great transformation. Through the perfection of the meditation of cutting through (Khreg Ch’od), at the time of their death (over a period of a couple of days), their bodies dissolve and disappear. They leave no mortal gross form of flesh, bone, or skin behind but only the twenty nails and the hair of the body. Although this is a dissolution of the body and not a transformation of the body into a light body, it is called rainbow body, since during the process of dissolution there always appear tents, arches, and circles of rainbowlike lights of various colors around the body and the dwelling. Through the practice of direct approach (Thod rGal), they transform their mortal body into a subtle light body and remain in that as long as there is a service to perform for the benefit of ordinary beings. For such a person, not only his or her body but all phenomenal appearances have transformed into the form and nature of subtle light. However, ordinary people will not see his or her light body as it is, but will see nothing or will see it in ordinary form, as mentioned earlier in the chapter on Vimalamitra. Also there are many great Dzogpa Chenpo adepts who leave their body, in the form of relics (Ring bSrel), images, and/or letters, as the object of inspiration and the followers.

Guru Rinpoche visited places all over India and many other countries and islands, serving beings by means of his miraculous power and enlightening teachings. He even visited Zhangzhung, manifesting as the Tavihṛicha (’Od Kyi Khyeu), and taught Dzogchen Nyen-gyü, now known as one of the main teachings of Dzogpa Chenpo in the Bön religion, to lead many into the attainment of enlightened mind and light bodies.


In the ninth century, King Trisong Detsen, the thirty-seventh ruler of the Chögyal dynasty of Tibet, invited Shāntarakṣhita from India with the intention of establishing Buddhism.

Shāntarakṣhita, ordained in the Sarvāstivādin monastic lineage, was one of the celebrated scholars and proponents of the Svātantrika philosophy of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Among his famous writings were Madhya-makālamkāra on the middle-way philosophy and Tattvasaṃgraha on logic. After his arrival in Tibet, for six months he gave discourses on the ten virtuous deeds and interdependent causation, and laid the foundations of Samye Monastery. This agitated the local spirits of Tibet, who were protectors of Bön, the shamanistic native religion that worshiped them with sacrifices. As a result, Phangthang Palace was washed away by flood, and Red Hill Palace, the original structure of the present Potala Palace, was destroyed by lightning. Disease, famine, drought, and hailstorms afflicted the country. Whatever construction of the monastery was done at Samye during the day was dismantled the same night by hostile forces. Anti-Buddhist ministers, who began to oppose the king, demanded that he send Shāntarakṣhita away. Thereupon Shāntarakṣhita said to the king, “You must invite Guru Padmasambhava. He is the most powerful adept living on the earth. There will be no difficulty in getting him to come here, because of the aspirations we made in common during our previous lives.” Then he left the country for a while and went to Nepal.

The king dispatched seven emissaries under the leadership of Nanam Dorje Düdjom to invite Guru Rinpoche. Guru Rinpoche knew of their mission by his foreknowledge. He came as far as Mang-yül Kungthang and met them there. He accepted their invitation but advised them to return home, as he would come afterward by himself. He scattered the gold pieces sent to him as presents by the king, saying: “If I need gold, all phenomenal existents are gold for me.” He gave a handful of sand to the emissaries, and it all turned into gold.

In the Iron Tiger year (810 CE) Guru Rinpoche came to Tibet. He was then over a thousand years old. With his enlightened power, he traveled all over the three provinces of Tibet: Ngari, the upper or western province; Ü and Tsang, the center province; and Dokham, the lower or eastern province. Displaying his enlightened miracles at many places in Tibet, he bound the powerful nonhuman spirits of Tibet by vow to protect the Dharma and its followers. These included the twelve tenmas, the thirteen gur-lhas, and the twenty-one ge- nyens.

The king received Guru Rinpoche in the garden of Tragmar Ombu. When Guru Rinpoche consecrated the Tragmar Drinzang Temple, the images moved out and in and ate food offerings as if they were people. Then he went to the top of Hepori Hill and brought all the spirits of Tibet under his command by dancing through the sky in fierce vajra steps and proclaiming the song of “overwhelming all the arrogant beings”:

O gods and demons, build the temple!

With humility and observance, all gather here to do the work! 

Fulfill the wishes of Trisong Detsen!


Thereafter, with the assistance of the spirits, Samye, the Inconceivable One, was built without any hindrances. On the model of Odantapurī Monastery of India, Samye Monastery was built in the design of the traditional Indian cosmos. The main temple in the center had three stories symbolizing Mount Sumeru. The lower story, which represented the Nirmāṇakāya pure land, was built in the style of Indian architecture; the middle story, representing the Sambhogakāya, in the style of Chinese architecture; and the top story, representing the Dharmakāya, in the style of Tibetan architecture. Four large temples were built in the four directions from the main temple representing the four continents; the eight minor temples in between them represented the eight subcontinents. Two temples were built in the east and west representing the sun and moon. At the four corners were built four large stūpas. Bathing, dressing, and residential places were also arranged. All these structures were surrounded by a high wall surmounted by one hundred and eight small stūpas. Outside the wall were three big temples built by the three queens. Within five years the whole structure of the monastery was completed. Guru Rinpoche and Shāntarakṣhita performed the consecration ceremony, which was accompanied by auspicious and miraculous signs. Images of deities in the temples came out and went in, as if they were alive. A rain of flowers showered from the clear sky. Sweet music was heard and continued to be heard now and then. Rainbow beams and tents arched in all directions. The astonished people celebrated in wonder and devotion. Food and entertainments were offered to be enjoyed by all. Guru Rinpoche and Shāntarakṣhita, true Buddhas in human form, were present before the naked eyes of people of every walk of life. The light of Dharma was being established in Tibet for centuries to come. There was nothing but joy and peace.

Samye became the most important place of meditation, worship, teaching, research, and writing. Samye was a great library, museum, and treasury of Buddhist scriptures, religious objects, and invaluable treasures of Tibet along with those brought from India, China, Nepal, and Central Asia. This was the seat where great masters gave discourses, fortunate students became accomplished scholars and adepts, and Indian and Tibetan scholars translated Buddhist scriptures into Tibetan.

Under the patronage of King Trisong Detsen, abbot Shāntarakṣhita, Guru Rinpoche, master Vimalamitra, and other Indian and Tibetan scholars, Buddhism was firmly established in Tibet. The scholars gave teachings of both sūtra and tantra, and many Tibetans emerged as great scholars and adepts. Many great Tibetan translators, such as Vairochana, Kawa Paltsek, Chok-ro Lü’i Gyaltsen, and Zhang Yeshe De, translated many sūtras and tantras into Tibetan with the supervision of great Indian scholars such as Vimalamitra, Shāntarakṣhita, Guru Rinpoche, and Kamalashīla.

Shāntarakṣhita, ordained seven young Tibetans as fully ordained Buddhist monks in the Sarvāstivādin lineage to determine whether or not it was possible for Tibetans to lead the monastic life. They were known as the seven testers. After their success in monastic disciplines, hundreds of others followed them, leading to the formation of one of the greatest monastic communities in the world. In addition to Nyingmapas, many Gelukpa monks are also ordained in the Sarvāstivādin lineage, which was brought to Tibet by master Shāntaraḳshita.

Guru Rinpoche gave the king and his subjects various teachings, empowerments, and entrustments of tantra, especially of the great sādhana of eight maṇḍalas (sGrub Pa bKa’ brGyad), which he had received from the eight great masters in India. Among many recipients of this empowerment, eight became the famous accomplished authorities of these eight sādhanas.

During this period two clerical systems were established. The saffron-robed monks, who are celibate, dwell in the monasteries, and the white-robed long-haired ones, who are lay tantric priests, live in temples and villages. The introduction of the system of white-robed clergy brought the benefit of the teachings to the homes of men and women, so that the Dharma reached and was preserved at the grass- roots level. In contrast, during the later period of the Dharma in Tibet, other schools concentrated the learning and practice of Buddhism more among the monks in the monasteries in order to preserve the purity of the discipline.

Guru Rinpoche and his consort Yeshe Tsogyal traveled all over Tibet by miraculous power and worked ceaselessly for the happiness, security, and wisdom of future Tibetans and others. They performed sādhanas, gave blessings, and left imprints of their bodies, hands, and feet. They concealed many ters. Some of the most important sacred places that they visited and blessed are twenty mountains of snow and rock (Gangs Brag) in Ngari, twenty-one sādhana places (sGrub gNas) in Ü and Tsang, twenty-five great pilgrimage places (gNas Ch’en) in Dokham; three (or four) main hidden lands (sBas Yul rGyal Mo), five ravines (Lung INga), and three valleys (lJongs gSum).

At thirteen different places with the name of Taktsang (Tiger’s Lair), such as Mönkha Nering and Senge Dzong (now in Bhutan), Guru Rinpoche manifested in a wrathful form and bound all the high and low nonhuman beings by his command. Then he was known as Dorje Trolö (Wild Wrathful Vajra).

During Guru Rinpoche’s visit to Tibet, he fulfilled three major goals. First, as we discussed before, through the display of spiritual power, he pacified the human and nonhuman forces who were obstructing the founding of Dharma in Tibet. Second, he brought Buddhism in general and especially the transmission of the teachings and blessing powers of tantra for his many Tibetan disciples and their followers. Third, in order to prevent the deep teachings and sacred objects from becoming mixed, diluted, or lost in the distant future, and in order to maintain their blessing powers afresh for future followers, Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal concealed them as ter. Because of the ter tradition of Guru Rinpoche, his followers, even today, are receiving his timely teachings and prophesies with fresh blessing powers. In this world there are many systems of mystical discoveries, because of psychic power, spirit power, pure visions, and even minor spiritual power, but the discovery of Guru Rinpoche’s ter tradition is totally unique in its process and substance. Drawing on the third Dodrupchen’s interpretations, I would like to write a few paragraphs about it.

Guru Rinpoche concealed many teachings as ter, while transmitting esoteric teachings to his realized disciples. It is a concealment of teachings and the esoteric attainments as ter in the pure nature, the intrinsic awareness of the minds of his realized disciples through Guru Rinpoche’s enlightened power with aspirations that the ter may be discovered for the sake of beings when the appropriate time comes. By the power of this method, which is called the mind-mandate transmission (gTad rGya), the actual discoveries of the teachings were made possible.

Then, when the time for benefiting beings with a particular teaching arrived, the reincarnations of the realized disciples of Guru Rinpoche discovered the ter, which had been transmitted and concealed in them by the master in one of their past lives.

The transmissions of ter are channeled through six lineages: (1) the enlightened-mind-to-enlightened-mind transmission of the Buddhas, (2) indication transmission of the knowledge-holders, (3) oral transmission of ordinary disciples, (4) the transmission of aspirational empowerment or the mind-mandate transmission, (5) transmission through prophetic authorization, and (6) the entrustment to the ḍākinīs.

In the ters, because of the manner of discovery, there are two major categories. The first is the earth ter (Sa gTer). It involves the discovery of earthly materials such as symbolic scripts (brDa Yig) written on a scroll of paper known as a yellow scroll (Shog Ser). However, the symbolic scripts merely become the key for the discovery; they are neither the real ter of teachings nor the transmission of the attainment, which comes only from the mind of the tertön. When the tertön discovers a symbolic script, he sees or contemplates the symbolic script or unites his naked wisdom with it, and thereby awakens the transmission of the power of Guru Rinpoche’s vajra speech wisdom, which has been concealed in him. Contemplation of the symbolic scripts enables him to decode the words of it, and that in turn awakens the concealed transmission of teachings and attainments themselves. In addition to the symbolic scripts, there are the discoveries of thousands of complete texts, medicinal materials, images, and ritual tools discovered from rocks, lakes, earth, or sky as ter or as supporting ter substances (gTer rDzas).

The second category is the mind ter (dGongs gTer). The principles of concealment, transmission, and discovery are similar to those of earth ter, except that mind ter does not rely on any external or earthly support, such as yellow scrolls, as the key to discovery. In many instances of mind ter, seeing or hearing symbolic words or sounds in visions causes the discovery of the ter but usually the discovery does not rely on any external sources and there is no involvement of earthly objects as the means of discovering the ter. A tertön discovers the mind ter by awakening the mind-mandate transmission spontaneously from the expanse of intrinsic awareness of his or her mind, when the circumstances and the time have matured.

There is also a third important system of mystical discovery of teachings known as pure vision (Dag sNang). Pure vision teachings are not terma. They are merely teachings given by Buddhas, deities, and teachers in visions. However, there are cases in which ter teachings have been discovered or designated as pure vision teachings, and when that is the case, they are in fact ter teachings, not an ordinary pure vision discovery.

Now, concerning the Nyingthig teachings, Guru Rinpoche confidentially  transmitted the seventeen tantras and Longsal-tantra of Megagde of Dzogpa Chenpo, including Khandro Nyingthig, to Yeshe Tsogyal at Tidro in Zhotö of Drikung Valley. Later, at Chimphu near Samye, when Princess Pemasal, the daughter of King Trisong Detsen, died at the age of eight, by his power Guru Rinpoche recalled the consciousness to the body. When she regained consciousness, he entrusted to her the instructions and transmission of Nyingthig as her Dharma inheritance, and then she died. Guru Rinpoche instructed Yeshe Tsogyal as follows: “This is the time for Vima Nyingthig to benefit the Nyingthig followers. But when Vima Nyingthig diminishes, Khandro Nyingthig will benefit people. So conceal the Khandro Nyingthig teachings as ter.” Guru Rinpoche told the king:

Emaho! Great king, please listen to me:

There is no essence in worldly affairs.

Instead of endlessly revolving in the cycle of sufferings again and again,

Make sure to attain the everlasting reign of the Dharmakāya king.

Realize the essence of the objects, the unborn ultimate sphere. 

Stay in the essence of place, solitude in the forests.

Look for the essence of hermitages, the ultimate nature, [the union of] clarity and emptiness.

Rest in the essence of the house, the innate nature of the mind. 

Set up the essence of the kitchen, mindfulness and awareness. 

Develop the essence of treasure, the twofold mind of enlightenment.

Have the essence of wealth, dual accumulations.

Exert yourself in the essence of merits, the ten virtuous deeds. 

Have the essence of fatherhood, compassion toward the beings. 

Sustain the essence of motherhood, emptiness nature.

Have the essence of children, the inseparability of the development and completion stages.

Meditate on the essence of the spouse, the clarity, bliss, and no- thought.

Look at the essence of friends, the teachings of the Sugata. 

Observe the essence of the maṇḍala, the changeless clarity. 

Obey the essence of teachings, the taming of one’s own mind. 

See the essence of view, the unchanging clarity and emptiness. 

Rest in the essence of meditation, the nature of mind, as it is. 

Dismantle the dualistic delusions, the essence of actions.

Accomplish the essence of results, spontaneous perfection with no efforts.

Then you will be happy in both this life and the next, 

And swiftly you will attain Buddhahood.

As instructed by Guru Rinpoche, Yeshe Tsogyal concealed the tantras and instructions of Me-ngagde at Senge Trak of Bumthang in Bhutan and the teachings for mendicants (Khandro Nyingthig) in Tramo Trak of Takpo Tanglung. Centuries later, Pema Ledreltsal (1291–1319?), who was the rebirth of Princess Pemasal, withdrew the ter of Khandro Nyingthig concealed at Tramo Trak. Her next tülku, Longchen Rabjam (1308–1363), was responsible for the wide dissemination of Nyingthig teachings by teaching and writing on them.

On the second floor of the central chapel of Samye Monastery, Guru Rinpoche conferred teachings and mind-mandate transmission of Longchen Nyingthig to King Trisong Detsen, Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal, and Vairochana. He gave the prophetic empowerments, saying that these teachings will be discovered by Jigme Lingpa, a tülku of King Trisong Detsen and Vimalamitra.

King Trisong Detsen died at the age of sixty-nine. He was succeeded by prince Mu-ne Tsepo, but he died after only one year and seven (or six) months’ reign and was succeeded by his younger brother Prince Mutik Tsepo.

After staying fifty-five years and six months in Tibet, in the Wood Monkey year (864 CE), without heeding the requests of King Mutri Tsepo and his subjects, Guru Rinpoche went with the king and a huge number of followers to the Kungthang Pass in Mang-yül Province in order to leave Tibet for Zangdok Palri (Copper-Colored Mountain), his manifested pure land. On the Kungthang Pass, the king lamented in the following words:

Trisong Detsen has gone to heaven. 

Guru of Oḍḍiyāṇa goes to his pure land. 

Mutri is left behind in Tibet.

Father’s life was too short. 

Guru’s kindness is too limited. 

My merits are too meager.

Now the law of Dharma institutions has diminished. 

The joys of Tibetan subjects are exhausted.

While the guru and father were present, 

Why didn’t I die!

Consoling the king and his subjects, Guru Rinpoche said:

While you are young, exert yourself in Dharma practice, 

For it is hard to comprehend Dharma in old age.

O lord and subjects, life is momentary.

When you have a gross thought, looking in at the subject [mind], 

Relax naturally without discriminations.

O lord and subjects, it is crucial to ascertain the view. . . .

If there is no compassion, the root of your Dharma training is rotten.

Think about the suffering character of saṃsāra again and again. 

O lord and subject, do not delay [your dedication in] Dharma. 

Devout people accomplish their goal by themselves.

There is no justification in leaving Dharma for others to practice.

. . .

Gain the experience of Dharma before you die.

It is too late when you rely on ceremonies after death. . . .

For devout people, Padmasambhava hasn’t gone anywhere. 

For those who pray to me, I am [always] at their door. . . .

Now Padmasambhava will not stay in Tibet but will go to the land of rākṣhasas,

As birds fly away from the tops of trees.

From the sky in the midst of colorful clouds a divine horse with ornaments appeared, and riding on the horse, Guru Rinpoche rose up and up into the sky and flew toward the west with Yeshe Tsogyal and an ocean of divine beings amid the sweet sound of music and songs of praise. The image of Guru Rinpoche and his party became smaller and smaller as they flew away, and the sound of music slowly faded. Then there was nothing but the quiet, clear, and empty sky of Tibet over the heads of the lord and his assembled subjects. However, different people had different perceptions of his departure. Some saw him leaving by riding a lion and others saw him riding sunbeams.

Then Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal descended to the sacred cave of Tsawa Rong. After giving more teachings and prophecies, he rose to the sky with lights. Taking leave of his consort, with love and kindness Guru Rinpoche said the following to her, and flew away:

Kyema, Yeshe Tsogyal, please listen! 

Padmasambhava goes to the land of great bliss.

I remain in the Dharmakāya, the deathless divinity.

It has nothing in common with the separation of body and mind [at death] of ordinary people. . . .

Meditate on Guru Yoga, which is the quintessence [of the trainings].

Two feet above the crown of your head, on lotus and moon, in the midst of lights,

Visualize Padmasambhava, the Lama of the beings. . . .

When the visualization becomes clear, receive the empowerments and contemplate on it. . . .

Recite Guru siddhi [mantra], the heart-quintessence [of prayers].

Finally, unify your three doors with [mine], inseparably. 

Dedicate and make aspiration for the [realization of the mind of the] Guru.

Contemplate in the essence of Dzogchen, effortlessly. 

There are no teachings superior to this.

The love of Padmasambhava has no rising or setting [but will always be there].

The link of lights of my compassion for Tibet will never be severed [even after I have departed].

For my children who pray to me, I am always in front of them. For people who have faith, there is no separation from me.

It is believed that Guru Rinpoche is still present as knowledge-holder of spontaneous accomplishment (Lhun Grub Rig ’Dzin) in Zangdok Palri, a manifested pure land (sPrul Ba’i Zhing), invisible to ordinary beings. The knowledge-holder of spontaneous accomplishment is the fourth and final stage of attainment, before instantly becoming a fully enlightened Buddha. Its realizations and activities are similar to those of the Buddha, and its forms are similar to those of the enjoyment body. This attainment is equal to the tenth stage and the path of meditation, the fourth path of common Buddhism. Also in the third and fourth attainments, one abandons the intellectual obscurations with their traces. So Guru Rinpoche is a Buddha in mind but appears as an adept, who is in the final stages of attainment, without dissolving into Dharmakāya, by taking the form of the light body of great transformation.

Guru Rinpoche will remain in his manifested pure land as long as it is beneficial for many beings, for he has manifested as an adept, who has achieved the attainment of deathless vajra-body and great transformation.

Among the numerous disciples of Guru Rinpoche in Tibet, the great ones are the king and twenty-five subjects, the eighty adepts, who attained the rainbow body at Yerpa, the hundred and eight great meditators of Mount Chuwo, the thirty great tāntrikas of Yangdzong in Drak Valley, the fifty-five realized ones at Sheltrak in Yarlung Valley, the twenty-five ḍākinīs, and the seven yoginīs.

He had numerous highly realized female disciples in Tibet. Tisam of the Dro family flew in the sky as the result of her spiritual power. Rinchentso of the Mago family hung her robes on the rays of the sun. Kargyalpak of the Oche family beheld the visions of deities. Changchup of the Chok-ro family displayed both the opposites, fire and water, in her body simultaneously. Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal of the Kharchen family manifested the presence of various Buddhas in different parts of her body. Lhakarma of the Dzin family flew in the sky and entered into the earth without hindrance. Sherap Phagma of the Shuk family held vast collections of the Buddha’s teachings in her memory. Lhamoyang of the Ba family fulfilled various wishes of people through the power of the perfection of her meditative absorption. Dorjetso of the Shelkar family crossed the Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) River standing on a bamboo walking stick.

Tulku Thondup

“Masters of Meditation and Miracles: Lives of the Great Buddhist Masters of India and Tibet”