Chögyal Terdag Lingpa

Ancestry and Birth

Rigzin Terdag Lingpa was the speech emanation of the great translator Vairocana. At the request of the dakinis, the body of his pristine cognition assumed the form of Heruka and Terdag Lingpa, accompanied by rainbows and various wondrous omens, was born on Monday, March 26, 1646 (tenth day, second month, fire dog year).

His mother was Yum Lhandzin Yangchen Drolma, who was herself a direct descendant of the Chögyal Dynasty of the great kings Songtsen Gampo and Trisong Deutsen.

His father, Sangdak Thrinley Lhundrup, was the reincarnation of Nubchen Sangyay Yeshe, one of the twenty-five disciples of Guru Padmasambhava. Sangdak Thrinley Lhundrup himself, born at Chak Jangchubling in 1611 (iron female pig year), was the son of Khedrub Don-Nga Tenzin, a learned and accomplished teacher of the Nyö clan. Sangdak Thrinley Lhundrub was a renowned scholar and teacher who studied with more than 30 highly
accomplished masters of the time. He then bestowed these profound and vast teachings on his supreme spiritual son of body, speech and mind, the great treasure finder Chögyal Terdag Lingpa Rigzin Jurme Dorje.

Doctrinal Transmissions

Terdag Lingpa’s studies of the doctrinal transmissions were infinite. As is written in the Nyingma Choe-jung (history) authored by His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche:

“It would be difficult to even fully comprehend the titles of the texts he studied and mastered, but they include all the transmitted precepts of the Nyingma lineage including well known treasures such as: The Sutra Which Gathers All Intentions, The Magical Net, The Three Samayoga and The Cycles of Yangdak Heruka, Vajrakilaya and Yamantaka. The great accomplished masters of India and Tibet such as Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra, Humkara, Buddhaguhaya, Vairocana, Yeshe Tsogyal, Nyangral Nyima Ozer and the all knowing Longchenpa, appeared before him in their Supreme Wisdom form and created emanational mandalas empowering Terdag Lingpa in the transmitted precepts and treasures. These transmissions were later exemplified by his own treasure teachings and commentaries upon the essential instructions of the profound path. He beheld and was empowered by many meditational deities such as Vajrakumara, Vajrasattva, Yangdak Heruka, the Great Compassionate One, the peaceful and wrathful deities and Vajra Yogini. Chögyal Terdag Lingpa maintained and taught the profound teachings for the benefit of all sentient beings and embodied the three indestructible truths of all Buddhas.”

The Great Terton

Terdag Lingpa was a a great Terton or ‘treasure’ (terma) finder.

At the age of eighteen, he discovered the terma of the Innermost Spirituality of the Awareness-Holder [rig-’dzin thugs-thigs] at Yamalung on Friday, June 15, l663 ([tenth day 5th month, water hare year).

At the age of twenty-two, he discovered the terma of Yamantaka, The Destroyer of Arrogance [gshin-rje dregs joms] at Sheldrag on Saturday, September 24, 1667 (8th day khrums month, fire sheep year).

At the age of thirty-one, he discovered the terma of the Wrathful Guru (guru grag-po) and the Atiyoga and the Vajrasattva cycle [rdor sems ati skor] at Okar Drak on Saturday, December 19, 1676 (15th day, tiger month, fire dragon year)

At the age of thirty-five, he discovered the terma of the Doctrinal Cycle of the Great Compassionate One as The Universal Gathering of the Sugatas [thugs-rje chenpo bde gshegs kun-dus kyi chos skor] in public at Shawuk Tago on Friday, August 23, 1680 (29th day, 6th month, iron monkey year).

The Great Master and His Students

Terdag Lingpa transmitted the precious teachings to numerous fortunate students who gathered before the great master, drinking the nectar of his speech. Foremost amongst his personal disciples was the supreme conqueror, the precious Fifth Dalai Lama with whom he shared a patron-priest relationship.

Many other renowned masters of the time considered him their teacher:
Sangyay Gyatso, the regent of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, Rigzin Pema Thrinley of Dorje Drak, Sakya Trizin Kunga Tashi, the Zhabdrung (along with his successor and the other personages at Tsethang and Neudong),
the Tsurphu Gyaltsab, Trehor Choktrul, Drikung Kunchok Thrinley Zangpo, Taklungpa Tenzin Sizhi Namgyal, Drukpa Paksam Wangpo, Gampo Choktrul Zangpo Dorje, Chamdo Gyalwa Phagpa Lha, Ngawang Chökyi Tulku, Ngawang
Kunga Tenzin of Dokham, Kathog Gyalsay Sonam Detsen, the second Dzogchen
Pema Rigzin Jurme Thekchog Tenzin.

Of the great famous masters in that period, there seem to have been none who did not supplicate him.

Preservation and Spreading of the Teachings

Known as one of the greatest Tertons of Tibet, this great treasure finder worked tirelessly to preserve and spread the dharma throughout Tibet. He established Og Min Ogyen Mindrolling monastery in 1676, ensuring the continuation and preservation of the profound Nyingma teachings.

Many precious teachings, on the brink of being lost, were compiled and restored under his guidance. He authored a magnificent treatise, the Terchen Kabum (collected works), containing expositions on the various branches of studies of Tibetan Buddhism in sixteen volumes. Terdag Lingpa also compiled texts such as the bDud ’joms Bhum Zang, a collection of various empowerments on which the Great Terdzod was later based. He bestowed these precious teachings on his younger brother, Lochen Dharmashri, an emanation of the great translator Yudrak Nyingpo, who then transmitted them to Gyalsay Drincen Rinchen Namgyal, an emanation of Vimalamitra.

Lochen Dharmashri: His Greatest Disciple

Chögyal Terdag Lingpa’s main disciple was his younger brother, the great Lochen Dharmashri, the sun of the teachings, born in 1654 (wood male horse year). He was renowned throughout Tibet as one of the most learned exponents of Buddhism in its history.

Lochen Dharmashri authored one of the most famous treatises of the Nyingma School, the Lochen Kabum. These twenty volumes of his collected works begin with his unprecedented writings on the intentional meaning of The Sutra Which Gathers All Intentions (Dupa mdo) and the Magical Net (Gyutrul Drawa), in the form of great commentarial expositions. His commentaries on the Guhyagarbha Tantra – the Sangdag Gongjen and the Sangdag Zhalung
– are famous for their clarity and eloquence.

As is written in the Nyingma Choe-jung by H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche:

“From these two, master and disciple (Terdag Lingpa and Lochen Dharmashri), the lineage divided into many streams, extending all the way from the monasteries of Kathog, Palyul, Sechen and Dzogchen in Kham to Gyelmorong in the far east and to the Golok region of Amdo.”

Directives and Instructions to Disciples and Descendants

Chögyal Terdag Lingpa’s advice for his disciples and descendants was to work continuously for the preservation and spread of the precious Dharma. As one of the great visionaries of Tibet, he instructed his descendants to stay away from any intrigue, the antithesis of Dharma. The followers of his lineage were to maintain a low profile and to live as true practitioners.

His directive was that the main Mindrolling monastery should preserve the pure teachings and shine as an example and reference for the Nyingma tradition regarding all liturgies and sacred rituals, such as lama dances, mandala drawings, ritual instruments and objects, as well as other fine points of doctrine and conduct. He cautioned his followers that the number of monks in the monastery should never be
so many that the teachers could not give full attention to each individual. Thus, at the times in Tibet when massive monasteries had thousands of monks, Mindrolling never had more than three hundred.

In keeping with his deep understanding of the essence of the spiritual life, the monastery that Terdag Lingpa built for the practice and study of dharma, is hidden in the valley of Drachi, on a site especially chosen so that the quiet splendor of the monastery comes into view only when one is almost there. This, he said, was to remind all the followers of the lineage how a true practitioner should live.

Terdag Lingpa’s Legacy

In this way, Chögyal Terdag Lingpa’s contribution towards the preservation and spread of the precious teachings has continued through the succeeding centuries. As quoted from the Nyingma Choejung of
H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche:

“At a time when the elucidation and accomplishment of the wonderful legacy of Trisong Deutsen and other great masters of the transmitted precepts and traditions of the Nyingma School, foremost amongst which is the trilogy of The Sutra which Gathers All Intentions, The Magical Net and The Mental Class, had almost become like a lamp that had run out of oil, Terdag Lingpa, with courageous and untiring great perseverance, sought out those transmissions and traditions and restored the teachings from their very foundations through his efforts and attainments. In fact, because of the kindness of this great Bodhisattva, his brothers, disciples and his descendants, the Sa-Nga Nyingmapa or the Ancient School of Secret Mantrayana has been equal to the meaning of its name, and its genuine, continuous lineage has increased without decline down to the present day. Therefore, none can match Terdag Lingpa’s wonderful kindness and legacy. Due to the efforts of this great master, we later Nyingmapa do not merely rely on ephemeral ceremonies and rituals and refer to them as profound doctrines but continue to maintain this tradition in its pure form, which is a great treasure trove of teachings.”


On the morning of March 17, 1714 (the second day of the second lunar month), Chögyal Terdag Lingpa said, “I must take seven steps toward the East”. He then rose and after walking seven steps,
sat down cross-legged and, as his Last Testament [’da ka’i zhal chams], said:

“Appearances, sounds and awareness are deities, mantras and the sphere of dharmakaya,
Spreading forth infinitely as display of kayas and primordial wisdom.
Within the practice of great, profound and secret yoga,
May these be indivisible and of one taste within the innermost essence of mind.”
He then said, “Now the dakinis have arrived to usher me on” and raised his hands
in the gesture of playing the damaru and bell and with a contemplative gaze, sitting in meditation posture, passed into Parinirvana amidst many wondrous omens.

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