by Martin Boord

extracted from The Cult of the Deity Vajrakila, Tring, 1993


When the eighth century ruler of Tibet and great Buddhist patron, Khri Srong-lde'u-btsan, sent messengers to India with offerings of powdered gold in order to invite the assistance of Padmasambhava in the founding of bSam-yas monastery, one of the messengers that he sent was his own uncle and close companion sNa-nam rdo-rje bdud-'joms. Following his arrival in Tibet, Padma-sambhava gave a large number of esoteric instructions to sNa-nam rdo-rje bdud-'joms who remained one of his five innermost disciples throughout the period of his most intense teaching activity. These magico-religious instructions were said to be of vital importance for the protection of the future descendants of king Khri Srong-lde'u-btsan and they were all carefully entrusted to sNa-nam rdo-rje bdud-'joms before being concealed in the mountains as a treasure to be revealed in the future for the benefit of Tibet in general and for the welfare of the royal line in particular.

In 1337, on the tenth day of the first month of the fire ox year, sNa-nam rdo-rje bdud-'joms was reborn in gNyan-yul as the treasure revealer dNgos-grub rgyal-mtshan. Upon his body were seen many auspicious marks. His father was sLop-dpon bdud-'dul, a tantric yogin with expertise in the practice of Vajrakila. The young dNgos-grub rgyal-mtshan studied these doctrines together with those of the Mayajala and Matarah and so on under his tutelage. It is said that he perfected the samadhi of Vajrakila at the age of eight. Following the death of his father he continued to be educated by his mother.

When he was just eleven years old, three feathery growths appeared on the top of his head and when he was twenty-three there were five. Because these growths looked like the feathers of a vulture he became famous as rGod kyi ldem-'phru-can, "the one with vulture's feathers". These extraordinary signs had been foretold in the prophecies and were regarded as the marks of a truly special being. He also became known as Mahavidyadhara (Rig 'dzin chen po) and this is the title which has been held ever since by each of his successive incarnations.

In 1364 a lama by the name of bZang-po grags-pa unearthed a number of treasure texts including eight related to the concealed treasures of Zang-zang lha-brag, near to the place where Rig-'dzin rgod-ldem was born. So he entrusted these texts to the vinaya master bSod-nams dbang-phyug and two companions who were to deliver them to "a yogin carrying a statue or rosary in his hand" that they would encounter to the east of the Zang-zang mountain.

A week or so later, as the three travellers were eating their meal on the bank of a stream near Brag-lung monastery in northern gYas-ru, rGod-ldem-can arrived there from sNa-mo-lung carrying in his hands a brass image of Vajrakila and a rosary. As they spoke together all the requirements of the prophecy were fulfilled and so, recognizing him as the one they sought, they handed over all the treasure scrolls and a sealed letter of good wishes.

Upon his return to sNa-mo-lung, Rig-'dzin rgod-ldem saw that the time had come to take out the key to the treasures. Thus, from a spot nearby three standing stones beneath the summit of Ri-bo bkra-bzang, rGod-ldem-can unearthed the next link in the chain of the Northern Treasures in the form of seven paper scrolls. In order to compensate for the removal of these scrolls, Rig-'dzin rgod-ldem buried another treasure in their place. During the new year celebrations on the following year, a tree spontaneously grew up there which is thought to remain until now.

Two months later, on the fourth day of the sheep month 1366, Rig-'dzin rgod-ldem led his followers up into "the mountains that look like a heap of poisonous snakes". The air was filled with rainbows as Rig-'dzin rgod-ldem guided his disciples to the southwest face of the mountain where the sky glowed ruby-red in the splendour of the setting sun. They climbed up to a cave and rGod-ldem-can went inside and began to pray. As the sky grew dark, the rock cave began to tremor and shake as a sign that the Master of the Treasures had arrived. They lit a number of butter-lamps and were able to discern upon the rock the clear image of a visvavajra. When the guru pressed beneath that mark with his paper scroll, it seemed to open like a door onto a triangular chamber within which they found a blue snake, as thick as a man's arm. It was lying in a coil with its face to the southeast upon a square blue stone slab, and concealed within its coils lay a maroon leather casket, the five-fold repository of the Northern Treasures.

From the central compartment of deep red leather, Rig-'dzin rgod-ldem took out the Kun bzang dgongs pa zang thal cycle in four volumes, which subsequently became among the most famous and revered of all the expositions of Atiyoga doctrines in Tibet. From within this section he also took out the teachings of Bla ma rig 'dzin gdung sgrub and other texts related to "the three roots" of tantric practice (guru, deva and Dakini ), together with the Atiyoga texts of Vajrakila and three kila wrapped in maroon silk, thirty paper scrolls wrapped in blue silk, and other sacred articles.

The front (eastern) compartment of the box was fashioned of white conch shell and contained texts of the rGyu 'bras la ldog pa cycle (putting an end to cause and effect) as well as teachings on the similarity of the awakened mind to the sky (dGongs pa nam mkha' dang mnyam pa'i chos) and the tantras of the Ka dag rang byung rang shar cycle concerning the natural presence and arising of primordial purity.

The golden southern chamber of the chest contained teachings on the fourfold practice of deity invocation (sNyen sgrub rnam pa bzhi'i chos) and the texts of the gSang sgrub guru drag po rtsal and bKa' brgyad drag po rang byung rang shar. These important ritual cycles became famous "like the sun and the moon" due to the brightness and clarity within the minds of those who practised them. Also in this chamber were found texts relating to Vajrakila in his form as Mahottarakila with nine faces and eighteen hands.

From the western compartment of red copper, Rig-'dzin rgod-ldem took out the rTen 'brel khyad par can and the Phyi sgrub 'gro ba kun grol which form part of the rTen 'brel chos bdun cycle. He also took out the Tsan dan gyi sdong bu lta bu'i chos and a volume in which were found the rTa mgrin dregs pa dbang sdud, the 'Khor 'das dbang sdud and the Lha chen teachings, as well as a further volume containing the Byang chub sems dpa'i spyod dbang.

Within the black northern compartment of iron were found the most violent of all the wrathful ritual texts. Many Vajrakila teachings were taken from this chamber of the box as well as the dGra bgegs thal bar rlog pa'i chos, a text said to be as pernicious as the stem of a poisonous plant. Eight treatises on the compounding of ritual medicine were also found there, together with further commentaries (upadesa) and instructions on the making of "thread crosses" (mdos) but not all of these texts were transcribed and disseminated.

Having discovered these five treasuries of teachings, Rig-'dzin rgod-ldem organized each of the sections into one hundred and one parts. Arranging them clearly, he taught the doctrines contained therein to his chosen pupils.

These teachings, the Byang-gter or Northern Treasures, were transmitted through the three lineages known as the Mother, Son and Disciple lines. The successive holders of these doctrines are renowned as having attained many higher and ordinary siddhi.

The third incarnation of rGod kyi ldem-'phru-can (Ngag gi dbang-po, 1580-1639) founded the monastery of rDo-rje-brag, which has been the main seat of learning for the lineage of the Northern Treasures. It is one of the principal rNying-ma-pa monasteries in Tibet. The present incumbent is Thub-bstan 'jig-med rnam-grol rgya-mtsho, the tenth incarnation of the gter ston, born in Lhasa in 1936. Despite the overthrow of Tibet by the communist Chinese, he has remained in Tibet and has lately been active in the rebuilding of his monastery which was almost completely devastated during the "cultural revolution". There is also a rDo-rje-brag monastery in Simla, HP, India.

see also Ngödrup Gyeltsen, or Rikdzin Gödemcen by Dudjom Rinpoche
see also Northern Treasures (expanded and revised version)