Tertons: Dharma Treasure Revealers
by Lama Tashi Tobgyal,
Retreat master from Raktrul Gompa, Bardor Tersar lineage:
"With regard to Guru Rinpoche himself we have to remember that Guru Rinpoche was, in a sense, even kinder, even more beneficial to Tibet, than Buddha Shakyamuni. Really, there is no difference between Buddha Shakyamuni and Guru Rinpoche. Guru Rinpoche was the direct emanation of Buddha Shakyamuni. But the difference is, for Tibetans, that Buddha Shakyamuni never visited Tibet, never brought the teachings there; Guru Rinpoche did. So all Tibetan Buddhism really owes its existence to the kindness of Guru Rinpoche and the Kashmiri abbot Shantarakshita.
Especially, Guru Rinpoche insured that he would, and has, produced a ceaseless stream of emanations. For example, his best known disciples, the twenty-five disciples, were each his own emanation to begin with: five emanations of his body, five of speech, five of mind, five of qualities, five of activity. And, each of the five [had five emanations] — body [of] body, body [of] speech, body [of] mind, etc. He gave each of them a different set of instructions, predicted their time of rebirth, who their disciples would be, entrusted their particular teachings to particular dharmapalas or protectors, and prophesied those future events that would indicate the time had come to revive their teachings. He provided the specific teachings that would serve as remedies for those particular events or situations and then concealed all of this — the teachings themselves, the prophesies, and the entrustment — as treasure or terma, so that they would survive until the time came for those future emanations to take birth.
These terma teachings are therefore very different from most dharma. They are not the clever compositions of brilliant scholars. In fact, the tertons, the treasure revealers who had discovered them, have in many cases been utterly illiterate, or functionally illiterate, or is some cases merely poorly educated. Yet they were able through receiving, finding the physical texts, and through their visions, to transcribe sometimes ten or even a hundred volumes of teachings."
"Tertons are always challenging to people because they often act unconventionally. And it’s natural, or not surprising, that during the life of a terton people usually think they’re crazy. After they pass away, of course, we all make statues of them and worship them and so on. Or they say, “Well, this is just too much — too many revelations, too many discoveries; this is not possible.” Actually if you learn what they’re really doing and what’s going on, you start to understand that they are emanations of Guru Rinpoche. They seem like ordinary men and women when you meet them, but they’re doing things that are simply beyond our usually experience. For example, they might lapse into a nap for a few minutes and you think, “Well, what is that? He was asleep for two, three minutes.” But as in the case of Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa, since dream time can be very different from waking time, he was able to get detailed instruction on feast dance from Guru Rinpoche and a retinue of dakinis in what for us probably would just look like somebody slumping for a few minutes and coming back out of it. And that’s what they’re doing. They’re doing things like this all the time. And it’s not surprising that we don’t recognize because we don’t it."