an account of the origin and development of the Byang-gter
or Northern Treasures tradition

by Martin Boord

revised and expanded version [1]


Concealment of the treasures

In the various biographies of the treasure revealer dNgos-grub rgyal-mtshan (1337-1408) it is said that his dharmakaya form is Samantabhadra and his sambhogakaya form is Vajrasattva.  His nirmanakaya career commenced in India, where he manifestated in more than two dozen incarnations [2] before he was born in Tibet in the eighth century of the Common Era as sNa-nam rdo-rje bdud-’joms.

At that time, the 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, and one of the messengers entrusted with this task was his minister of state (zhang blon) and close companion sNa-nam rdo-rje bdud-’joms.  Following his return from India, sNa-nam rdo-rje bdud-’joms became the king’s minister for religious affairs (chos blon) and one of Padmasambhava’s five innermost disciples, [3] remaining close by the guru’s side throughout the period of his most intense teaching activity.  As a result of practising the many esoteric instructions imparted to him, sNa-nam rdo-rje bdud-’joms became master of mind and breath.  Skilled in the accomplishment of Vajrakila, he attained unsurpassed awakening which he demonstrated by such feats as passing through solid rock and travelling great distances in the blink of an eye.  Said to be of vital importance for the protection of the future descendants of king Khri Srong-lde’u-btsan, the teachings received by sNa-nam rdo-rje bdud-’joms throughout his lifetime were carefully concealed in a cave in the mountains where once Padmasambhava and his retinue had meditated for seven days.  Alongside the texts were placed images of Vajrakila and the ten wrathful kings, as well as blessed ritual kila which were stabbed into the rock, and a self-igniting fire.  All of this was sealed up by guru Padmasambhava himself who inscribed three symbolic letters on the door to the treasure cave and hid three keys on the mountain summit.  Finally he marked the middle of the mountain with 600 jewels obtained from the guardian nagaraja.  This mountain, he predicted, was destined to become the abode of buddhahood and its treasure revealed in the future for the benefit of Tibet in general and for the welfare of the royal line in particular.

In 1173 sNa-nam rdo-rje bdud-’joms was born again in Tibet, this time in Khro-phu, southern Tsang.  His name is variously recorded as Byams-pa-dpal the translator, or as Bal-po A-hum-’bar the tantric yogin.  In this life he revealed some gter ma from their place of concealment in sPa-gro, Bhutan, which were transmitted by dPal dga’-ba lung-pa.  By the time of Kong-sprul blo-gros mtha’-yas these texts had disappeared, but then ’Jam-dbyangs mkhyen-brtse received an ancient copy from the hands of a dakini and Kong-sprul was thus able to include them in the Rin chen gter mdzod, together with his own supplementary notes.


Rediscovery of the hidden treasures

In 1337, on the tenth day of the first month of the fire ox year, he was reborn in the area known as gNyan-yul (Place of Snake Demons) or Tho-yor nag-po (Country of the Black Stone Cairn), near mount bKra-bzang in western gTsang, just north of gCung ri-bo-che. [4]   The name he was given in this incarnation was dNgos-grub rgyal-mtshan (Victory Banner of Spiritual Attainment).  The sky was filled with rainbow light and the air was sweetly scented at the time of his birth.  Music was heard and flowers fell from the heavens.  Upon his newborn body were seen many auspicious marks including the sign of a vajra upon his forehead, the sacred seed-syllable upon his chest, a conch-like neck and a pair of black and white moles (sme ba, tilaka) upon the crown of his head.

dNgos-grub rgyal-mtshan’s mother, Jo-lcam bsod-nams khye-’dren, was a virtuous lady of noble descent, daughter of a mantra adept called Do-pa, son of Phug-cha.

dNgos-grub rgyal-mtshan’s father, sLob-dpon bdud-’dul (Sri-’dul-dpal), belonged to the distinguished De-gyin-hor clan whose ancestry was said to trace back to the Mongolian king Gur-ser.  His forebear De-gyin deva raja came to Tibet as part of the retinue of the maternal uncle of the Chinese princess Chin-ch’eng, daughter of Shou-li, prince of Yung.  Chin-ch’eng was one of the wives of Khri lde-gtsug-brtsan (Mes-ag-tshom), father of Khri Srong-lde’u-brtsan.  Upon his arrival in Tibet, De-gyin deva raja became minister of religious offerings (mchod blon) and his family was bequeathed the estate (gzhi kha) of sNa-mo.

sNa-mo-lung-pa sLop-dpon bdud-’dul was also a tantric yogin with expertise in the practice of Mayajala, Matarah and the Phur bu zeu smug gu, an early cycle of the deity Vajrakila that had been passed down in his family for many generations, and the young dNgos-grub rgyal-mtshan studied these doctrines under his father’s tutelage.  He demonstrated remarkable skill in both understanding and practice from a very early age, perfecting the samadhi of Vajrakila by the time he was eight years old.  Following the death of his father, he continued to be educated by his mother and then by dPal-chen ’bum-pa, the teacher from Se, and his brother Legs-pa-ba.

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 with awe 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.

When he was 25 years of age, Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem found the first of the naga jewels left for him as a sign by Padmasambhava on the eastern slope of mount bKra-bzang.  It had the form of a hexagonal crystal, about the size of a goose egg, and was discovered in the heart of a globular container, immersed in sweet-tasting fragrant nectar that sparkled like the sun.

During this same period, while the former rDo-rje bdud-’joms was incarnate in the person of Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem, the former lha sras Mu-khri btsan-po (son of king Khri Srong-lde’u-btsan) took birth in southern La-stod as the sprul sku bZang-po grags-pa.  Living as a monk in the bKa’-brgyud school, he practised resolutely for many years in retreat until the signs of success were accomplished.  With the blessings of guru Padmasambhava, who actually appeared as a yogin and trained him, bZang-po grags-pa unearthed a number of treasure texts, including the famous Seven Chapter Prayer of Padmasambhava (Le’u bdun ma) and the Prayer Which Clears the Path of all Obstacles (gSol ’debs bar chad lam sel).  From the temple of Gram-pa-rgyang, built in the seventh century by Srong-btsan sgam-po, [5] he took out rituals of both Hayagriva and Maitreya and then, in 1364 at rGyang yon-po-lung, he discovered several sadhana of Vajrapani, guides to places of pilgrimage, and keys to the discovery of yet more gter ma.  Among these texts, eight were related to the concealed treasures of Zang-zang lha-brag, including the Gab pa snying gi lde mig (Key to the Concealed Heart) which specifically mentioned the discovery of the naga jewel on the eastern slope of mount bKra-bzang, and also the essential inventory (snying byang) entitled Man ngag gnas kyi don bdun ma. [6]   In the new year (February/ March 1365) bZang-po grags-pa entrusted these texts to sTon-pa bsod-nams dbang-phyug [7] and two companions with instructions to pass them on to “a yogin carrying a statue or rosary in his hand” that supposedly they would encounter to the east of the Zang-zang mountain and who would begin to engage them in a conversation concerning bKra-shis-lde, the ruler of Gung-thang. [8]

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, Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem lamented the death of Khri bKra-shis-lde and all the requirements of the prophecy were fulfilled.  Recognizing him as the one they sought, they handed over the various treasure scrolls together with a letter of good wishes sealed by Padmasambhava himself.

Upon his return to sNa-mo-lung, Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem interpreted the rising of the planet Jupiter in the eighth lunar mansion [9] as a sign that the time had come to take out the key to the treasures.  At the first crack of dawn on the eighth day of the snake month in the year of the fire horse (1366), there came from the east a beam of white light “like the trunk of the wish-fulfilling kalpalata” that struck the summit of mount bKra-bzang and a spot beneath that was indicated by a light fall of snow.  Thus, from the vicinity of three obelisks (rdo ring) within the cavity of a projecting white rock (’dzeng brag dkar po) 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 (shog ril).  These scrolls were stored in a box of stone, arranged together with others of bronze and copper so as to serve the mountain as its heart, mouth and eye.  In order to compensate for the removal of these scrolls, Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem buried another treasure in their place, sponsored by the king of Gung-thang, and the resultant cavity known as rLung-gseng (Windy Hollow) is reported to be still in existence today. [10]   During the new year celebrations on the following year, as Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem reached the age of thirty, a fruit tree spontaneously grew up there which is also thought to have remained until now.

Two months later, on the fourth day of the sheep month 1366, Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem was engaged in the rite of bestowing upon his disciples the abhiseka of Vajrakila.  During the preliminary section of the rite, just as he was establishing the mandala of deities within the bodies of his disciples, the guru arose and led his followers up into the mountains that look like a heap of poisonous snakes (dug sbrul spung ’dra).  The texts describe the air as sweetly scented and filled with rainbows as Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem guided his disciples to the southwest face of the mountain where the atmosphere glowed with ruby-red light in the splendour of the setting sun.  They climbed up to a mountain cave and, leaving two disciples stationed beneath the entrance, [11] rGod-ldem-can went inside and began to pray.  As the sky grew dark following the setting of the sun, the rock cave began to tremor and shake as a sign that the master of the treasures (gter bdag) had arrived.  At midnight they lit a number of butter-lamps and by their light the group was able to discern upon the rock the clear image of a visvavajra.  When the guru pressed beneath that mark with his paper scroll (the symbolic key to the treasures) it seemed to open like a door onto a triangular chamber within which they found a pale blue snake of liquid copper with a yellow belly, as thick as a man’s arm.  It was lying in a coil with its face to the southeast upon a square blue stone, the top of which was marked in nine sections with silver coloured nails so that it resembled the back of a tortoise.  The coils of the snake looked like an enormous eight-sided precious stone and upon its heart were three gem-like excrescences from which were extracted a roll of paper and a symbolic jewel (rin po chei rtags tsam cig).

Resting upon the blue stone slab, concealed within the serpent’s 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, said to be the distilled essence of one hundred thousand profound texts of the Great Perfection.  This cycle was subsequently to become one of the most famous and revered of all the expositions of atiyoga doctrines in Tibet.  From within this central compartment he also took out the teachings of Bla ma rig ’dzin gdung sgrub and other texts related to the sadhana of guru, deva and dakini, [12] together with the atiyoga texts of Vajrakila and three kila wrapped in maroon silk, all of which had been activated by Padmasambhava himself.  The first one he had used on the occasion of attaining siddhi in Yang-le-shod in Nepal, the second he was using when he saw the face of Vajrakila at dPal chu-bo-ri, and the third he used to subjugate the enemies and obstructors in sTag-tshang seng-ge bsam-’grub in Bhutan. [13]   Also there were thirty paper scrolls wrapped in blue silk, lockets of hair from the heads of Padmasambhava, Khri Srong-lde’u-brtsan, Ye-shes mtsho-rgyal, sNa-nam rdo-rje bdud-’joms and others, as well as sundry additional sacred articles (byin rlabs kyi rdzas).

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 the dGongs pa nam mkha’ dang mnyam pa’i chos teachings on the similarity of the awakened mind to the sky, 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 the sNyen sgrub rnam pa bzhi’i chos teachings on the fourfold practice of deity invocation, 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 that they induced 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 (dug gi sdong po lta bu).  Eight treatises on the compounding of ritual medicine (sman gyi tshad byas pa) were also found there, together with further commentaries (upadesa) and instructions on the making of ‘thread crosses’ (mdos) [14] but not all of these texts were transcribed and disseminated.

Having discovered these five treasuries of teachings (mdzod lnga), Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem is said to have organized each of the sections into one hundred and one parts and rearranged the folios of yellow paper (shog ser po ti) into pairs like mother and son, marked with the seed-syllables (bija) of the four goddesses of the gates.  Building a small monastery at bKra-bzang which was inherited as the residence of his son rNam-rgyal mgon-po, Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem then taught the doctrines contained within the fivefold treasury to his son, his wife and his chosen pupils. [15]

These teachings became known as Byang-gter or Northern Treasures in order to distinguish them from the Lho-gter (Southern Treasures) that had been revealed in previous centuries by Nyang-ral nyi-ma ’od-zer (1136-1204) and Guru chos-dbang (1212-1270).  These three gter ston are widely renowned in Tibet as the kaya, vac and citta emanations of Padmasambhava himself and thought to be the three greatest gter ston of all.

Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem is also credited with the discovery of seven ‘hidden lands’ (sbas yul) in which people could live in happiness in the peaceful pursuit of Dharma. [16]   Having gone to Sikkim (’Bras-mo gshong) in the year of the ox, he resided in the area for 11 years (1373-84), experiencing many prophetic dreams, working miracles there for the benefit of all beings, and blessing the land (especially the White Rock Cave of bKra-shis-lding) as a powerful place for meditation. [17]   The Chronicle of the rulers of Sikkim describes a local cult dedicated to the holiest mountain in that vicinity (Gangs-chen mdzod-lnga) as contained in the work of a later Byang-gter gter ston, Shes-rab me-’bar.  Sacred dances in honour of the deities thought to reside on the five peaks of that mountain are annually performed by royal command on the full moon day of the seventh Tibetan month and Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem himself recovered further gter ma from the central peak.  This secondary revelation was in the form of images: one of Padmasambhava in wrathful guise and one of the goddess mThing-kha.  Letters announcing these discoveries were dispatched to Tibet suspended from the necks of vultures.

Apart from the gter ma which he himself revealed, Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem held the key to other lists of hiding places (them byang, kha byang) and was thus instrumental in the unearthing of many more texts and powerful cult objects.

In fulfilment of the prophecies that describe the treasures of Zang-zang lha-brag as being of particular importance to the dynastic descendents of Khri Srong-lde’u-btsan, in 1389 at the age of fifty-two, Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem was appointed the role of personal preceptor to the king of Gung-thang, mChog-sgrub-lde. [18]   The bla ma bestowed a large number of instructions and empowerments upon the king, as well as giving him Padmasambhava’s own kila called Srid gsum bdud ’dul [19] and other sundry sacred items of great potency.  A particular cult object deemed to be endowed with especial power for the descendents of the royal line is referred to in our texts as ‘the precious Gong khug ma.’  It remains unclear as to whether this item is itself a text, or a ritual kila that was always carried by the siddha of Oddiyana and inherited from him, together with appropriate oral instructions, by Ye-shes mtsho-rgyal. [20]   In either case it is reckoned to represent the power of Vajrakila and embody the essence of the Vajrakila doctrines.

It was during his period of residency with king mChog-sgrub-lde that Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem opened up the hidden land of sKyid-mo-lung.  Most of the period, however, he spent engaged in meditation in his monastery at Ri-bo dpal-’bar, a gift from the king.

During summertime in the year of the iron snake (1401), Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem bestowed the extensive transmission of the dGongs pa zang thal upon Se-ston thugs-rje rgyal-mtshan and fifteen of his followers.  Thus the important branch lineage in Se was strengthened.

Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem passed away in Zil-gnon, Sikkim, at the age of seventy-one in 1408, the year of the male earth mouse.  The large number of teachings and special tantric precepts that he handed down to posterity 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.


Maintaining the continuity of the tradition

Having thus established the school of the Northern Treasures in Tibet, Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem remains, to this day, committed by his vows as a bodhisattva to propagate these teachings so long as they continue to serve the needs of humanity.  Thus, in accordance with his religious precepts, he is said to have manifested an emanation in the mid-14th century known as the rGod ldem yang sprul, the glorious (dpal ldan) ’Jam-dbyangs bla-ma.  Appearing in gTsang at upper Nyang, which is west of Yar-’brog lake along the Nyang-chu river in the region of rGyal-rtse, from an early age ’Jam-dbyangs bla-ma made his home within a community of rNying-ma practitioners and he was able to clear away all their doubts and confusions concerning the teachings of both sutra and tantra.  In upper Nyang, in a secret Dakini treasure cave, he discovered gter ma teachings including powerful prayers to the guru, deva and dakini, through which thousands of individuals attained liberation.  Bringing particular blessings to the local populations of Shangs, rTa-nag and ’U-yug, the teachings revealed by him at that time were later incorporated into the Northern Treasures system and the lineage of these teachings remained unbroken even in the time of Kong-sprul blo-gros mtha’-yas, who included several of these texts in the Rin chen gter mdzod and composed supplementary explanations to accompany them.

The first of his ‘great’ incarnations, however, said to have been predicted by Kun-skyong gling-pa, was in mNga’-ris glo-bo [21] as the gter ston Legs-ldan bdud-’joms rdo-rje (1512-1625).  His father at that time was ’Jam-dbyangs rin-chen rgyal-mtshan, a renowned scholar and yogin, the final incarnation of Marpa lo-tsa-ba.  His mother was the lady ’Bro-lcam Khrom-pa-rgyan, and his elder brother was the famous mNga’-ris pan-chen.  His father was his first teacher, but it was from his root guru Sakya bzang-po that he received the transmission of the Northern Treasures. [22]   He also studied with a number of other great masters of both bka’ ma and gter ma, and became a vital link in the transmission of the anuyoga teachings, which he received from his father and subsequently entrusted to sKyi-ston Tshe-ring dbang-po along a lineage that descended to Rig-’dzin Padma ’phrin-las.  From their places of concealement in bSam-yas, ’On-phu stag-tshangs and Lha-ri snying-po in Sikkim, he revealed three further volumes of teachings. [23]

His elder brother, mNga’-ris pan-chen Padma dbang-rgyal (1487-1543), [24] a distinguished scholar and adept in the Byang-gter lineage, established a temporary monastery around his mountainside retreat cave, to which he gave the name Evam lcog-sgar. [25]   Anticipating the future expansion of this encamped community of monks, he composed a strict code of conduct to be followed by all who dwelt there. [26]   In this way, the teachings of the vidyadhara householder rGod-ldem-can came to be the central field of study for a community of ordained bhiksu.  These teachings were further supplemented by Padma dbang-rgyal’s own gter ma discovery, the cycle of Rig ’dzin yongs ’dus. [27]   Encouraged by the gter ston Shes-rab ’od-zer, Padma dbang-rgyal continued to build up both the fabric and the reputation of this religious community and eventually established the monastery of Thub-bstan gser-mdog-can.  He died at the age of fifty-six in the village of ’On-sme-thang.

In 1550 Padma dbang-rgyal was reborn in upper gYas-ru, northern Tibet, as bKra-shis stobs-rgyal dbang-po’i-sde (1550-1607), the son of clan chieftain Nam-mkha’ rin-chen, a descendent of the kings of Mi-nyag.  His mother was Chos-skyong ’dzom-chen.  Furthering the work of his predecessor, bKra-shis stobs-rgyal discovered important gter ma in the temple of firya Palo in bSam-yas, and in the golden stupa at Lho-brag ’jod-pa.  Flying up to a cave of secret practice on top of the Lhang-lhang rock in gTsang-rong, he unearthed three further cycles of teachings [28] and he became famous for his religious activities in both Khams and China.  Among his collected writings is a biography of guru Padma, completed in 1603, and the Byang gter mnga’ dbang skor gyi mtha’ dpyod byang pa gu ru ral pa can gyi legs bshad.  His main Byang-gter teacher was Rig-’dzin legs-ldan rdo-rje, but he also studied with Byams-pa chos kyi rgyal-mtshan, Ratna bhadra, Rin-chen phun-tshogs and Yan-pa blo-bde.  Wishing to heal the rift with the rulers of gTsang that had disrupted the peace of the Byang-gter monastic community and forced the monks to wander from place to place, bKra-shis stobs-rgyal, with the support of his religious patron Pho-bo bka’-gnam rgyal-po, continued to build up the mountainside retreat centre mNga’-ris pan-chen evam lcog-sgar which he now renamed Guru padma’i evam lcog-sgar.

At the age of thirty, bKra-shis stobs-rgyal fathered a son who was to be the last in his family line of hereditary princes of Byang ngam-ring descended from the kings of Mi-nyag.  The boy’s mother was Lha-lcam yid-bzhin dbang-mo of the divine clan of Za-hor.  Recognized as the third incarnation of the Mahavidyadhara rGod kyi ldem-’phru-can, this great incarnation Ngag-gi dbang-po (1580-1639) took refuge with the ’Bri-gung chos rgyal Rin-chen phun-tshogs from whom he received the name Ngag-dbang rig-’dzin rdo-rje chos-rgyal bstan-pa’i rgyal-mtshan dpal-bzang-po.  Receiving from his father all the empowerments of bka’ ma and gter ma, he trained as a bhiksu, a bodhisattva and guhyamantrin, upholding all three sets of vows in perfect purity.  Practising with single-pointed application at Yar-lung shel-brag and other power places associated with guru Padmasambhava, he beheld the faces of deva and dharmapala so that he gained incomparable siddhi and the ability to bring enormous benefit to all beings.  Among his disciples were mKhas-grub bkra-shis rnam-rgyal, author of a seminal work clarifying the tenets of the rNying-ma school, and Zur-chen Chos-dbyings rang-grol, a great guru whose own disciples included Dalai Lama V (to whom he imparted the teachings of Vajrakila, the eight heruka sadhana and the sNying thig), Rig-’dzin Padma phrin-las, and others.

Under Ngag-gi dbang-po’s influence, peace and harmony came to prevail among the feuding warlords of eastern Tibet.

Travelling westwards, he shifted the residence of Evam lcog-sgar to the northern bank of the Tshang-po river, to an auspicious location indicated by the self-arisen symbol of a vajra (rdo rje) in the form of a nearby rock (brag), west of bSam-yas in the central province of dBus.  There, in 1632 (the year of the water monkey), he founded the monastery Guru padma’i evam lcog-sgar thub-bstan rdo-rje-brag.  Since then, that monastery has been the main seat of learning for the lineage of the Northern Treasures and the see for all successive incarnations of its gter ston, subsequently known by the title “Vidyadhara of rDo-rje-brag.”  Ngag-gi dbang-po, the third incarnation of rGod-ldem-can, was thus also known as rDo-rje-brag rig-’dzin I.  During the lifetime of its founder, the monastery of rDo-rje-brag probably housed around two hundred monks. [29]   Growing larger in later years, it was destined to become one of the principal rNying-ma-pa monasteries in Tibet.  Even so, Rig-’dzin Ngag-gi dbang-po was not satisfied with what he had been able to achieve by the end of his lifetime and he entrusted further plans for its development to his leading disciple bsTan-’dzin nor-bu of Yol-mo. [30]

The great Fifth Dalai Lama, in the year of his birth in 1617, was given an empowerment of long life by Ngag-gi dbang-po.  As he grew up he came to receive the full series of tantric authorisations of the Northern Treasure tradition (some of which were said to have been received directly from the deceased master bKra-shis stobs-rgyal in mystic visions [31] ), as well as the unbiased teachings of his own (dGe-lugs-pa) and other schools.  The Great Fifth admired and honoured Ngag-gi dbang-po and composed his biography.

Ngag-gi dbang-po died in 1639.

Two years later, at Mon-mkhar rnam-sras-gling, Blo-bzang padma ’phrin-las (1641-1718) was born as the son of Karma phun-tshogs dbang-rgyal of the Bya-nag clan.  His birth being marked by an unusually high number of auspicious portents, the boy was soon recognized as the fourth in the line of Mahavidyadhara.  At the age of six he was placed upon the throne of rDo-rje-brag by his former disciple bsTan-’dzin nor-bu of Yol-mo.  Padma ’phrin-las subsequently became a disciple of the Fifth Dalai Lama from whom he received both sramanera and bhiksu vows.

Studying intensively under some of the greatest teachers of his day, [32] Padma ’phrin-las received the empowerments and commentaries of a large number of tantric doctrines from both the old and new schools which he put into practice during extended periods of retreat, not only in the monastery of rDo-rje-brag but also in the power places of sGrags yang-rdzong and Chu-bo-ri, blessed by Padmasambhava.  As a result of his great erudition and insight, he was able to revise and greatly extend the teachings of his own incarnation line, the Northern Treasures school of rDo-rje-brag.  Gathering together all of the teachings that had been handed down in the three streams of transmission from the original gter ston (the Mother, Son and Disciple lineages), he united them into a single line.  He composed a number of new treatises and worked extensively to arrange the ritual texts of the Byang-gter in proper liturgical order, supplementing the original texts with extra parts wherever necessary.  Correcting such errors as had arisen in the transmission, he reinstated earlier traditions of ritual activity which had become lost or confused, such as the proper systems of chanting, laying out of mandala, preparing the sacrificial bali and so on, filling thirteen volumes with his work.

As well as the great importance attached to his efforts on behalf of the Byang-gter, Kun-mkhyen padma ’phrin-las is renowned for his role in the transmission lineage of the mDo dgongs pa ’dus pa, the preeminent scripture of anuyoga.  Urged by the instigations of his teacher, the great Fifth Dalai Lama, he composed the ’Dus pa mdo’i dbang chog dkyil ’khor rgya mtsho’i ’jug ngogs and conferred the empowerment of the sutra on numerous occasions.  He also transmitted the complete teachings and empowerments of the Kalacakra-tantra and the empowerments of mahayoga.  Both O-rgyen gter-bdag gling-pa and Lo-chen dharma-sri were among his disciples. [33]

Rig-’dzin chen-po padma ’phrin-las was killed in 1718 when the invading Dzungar Mongols, fanatical protectors of the dGe-lugs-pa, razed the monastery of Thub-bstan rdo-rje-brag to the ground. [34]

The fifth incarnation of Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem was bsKal-bzang padma dbang-phyug (1720-1770), born at Nyag-rong lcags-mdud in the district of sPo-’bor-sgang (Bu-bor-sgang) in southeastern Tibet, to a family claiming descent from the ancient lHa dynasty of Tibetan monarchs.  Following his enthronement as rDo-rje-brag rig-’dzin III he thoroughly repaired all damage to his monastery which, once revitalized, remained a major centre for the rNying-ma tradition for the next two hundred years.  His own visionary teachings (dag snang) include the bKa’ ’dus chos kyi rgya mtsho and the Padma drag po meditations upon the guru in ferocious aspect.  Scenes from these visions are reenacted as sacred dances in the first month of every year, as part of the New Year celebrations.

After him came Khams-gsum zil-gnon (Kun-bzang ’gyur-med lhun-grub rdo-rje, the sixth incarnation and rDo-rje-brag rig-’dzin IV), born at gSer-tog in the region of Dar-rtse-mdo. [35]   He founded a monastery called sGar grwa-tshang at Dar-rtse-mdo as a branch of rDo-rje-brag (rDor-brag-smad), and this easternmost establishment of the Byang-gter tradition became the family monastery of the lCags-la rulers of Dar-rtse-mdo.  He also obtained a special longevity practice in a pure vision, which was included in the Rin chen gter mdzod by Kong-sprul blo-gros mtha’-yas.

The next incarnation was Ngag-dbang ’jam-dpal mi-’gyur lhun-grub rdo-rje (rDo-rje-brag rig-’dzin V, 1839-1861) who came from rNam-sras-gling in Mon-mkhar.  Unfortunately, dying at the young age of 22 years, little is recorded of his lifetime’s achievements.

The sixth Mahavidyadhara of rDo-rje-brag was sKal-bzang padma dbang-rgyal bdud-’dul rdo-rje, born in upper La-yag in lHo-brag.  Famous for his skill in fierce tantric rites, he is said to have repulsed the invading Gorkha army by means of his occult power, for which service to his country he was rewarded by the government with the title Hu thug thu.  He also died young.

Thub-bstan chos-dbang mnyam-nyid rdo-rje, the ninth incarnation of Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem, was born at Ra-mo-che rgyal-gdong, near Lhasa, in the fifth month of the wood monkey year (1884).  His father was bSod-nams stobs-rgyal and his mother was Tshe-gcig-sgrol-ma.  He received his first vows at the age of two from Dalai Lama XIII, who also gave him his name.  At the age of three he was recognized and taken to rDo-rje-brag to be enthroned.  Having received the entire lineage teachings of the Northern Treasures school from the masters ’Jigs-med rgyal-ba’i-myu-gu and Yongs-’dzin skal-bzang tshul-khrims, in the year of the iron rat (1900) he was able to welcome his first preceptor, the thirteenth Dalai Lama, as a guest to rDo-rje-brag.  Five years later he took his final vows at Yar-’brog brag-ra from the preceptor Kun-bzang padma ’gro-’dul rdo-rje.  In 1911 he restored the structure of rDo-rje-brag monastery and in 1916 he established a new retreat centre for the monastery, called Shel-brag ri-bo lho-nub.  Having been invited by the lCags-la prince to visit Dar-rtse-mdo, Thub-bstan mnyam-nyid rdo-rje travelled extensively in Khams, visiting many of the Byang-gter monasteries and building a great stupa.  He passed away in the year of the water monkey, 1932.

The present incumbent (rDo-rje-brag rig-’dzin VIII) is Thub-bstan ’jig-med rnam-grol rgya-mtsho who was born in Lhasa in 1936.  Recognized as the tenth incarnation of the gter ston, he was ordained as a monk by Ra-sgreng rinpoche, the regent after the Thirteenth Dalai Lama.  As well as studying the Byang-gter tradition with ’Go-tsha mkhan-chen Theg-mchog bstan-’dzin, a disciple of his predecessor, he has been taught by mKhan rinpoche of sMin-grol-gling and bDud-’joms rinpoche.  Despite the overthrow of Tibet by the communist Chinese, rNam-grol rgya-mtsho has remained in Tibet where he has lately been active in the rebuilding of his monastery which was almost completely devastated during the ‘cultural revolution.’ [36]


Five incarnations who upheld the Northern Treasures in Yol-mo, Nepal

Yol-mo-ba sprul-sku I
sNgags-’chang Sakya bzang-po
(15th century)

An incarnation of ’Gos Padma gung-btsan, the great Dharma minister of king Khri srong-lde’u-btsan, Sakya bzang-po was born in southern La-stod at Gram-pa-ljongs (Gram-so-rdzong) into a family of tantric lineage holders.  Studying with many of the great Dharma masters of his day, such as Nam-mkha’ dpal-ldan of Kong-po, Nam-mkha’ rgyal-mtshan, Sangs-rgyas bstan-pa (uncle of the gter ston Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem), O-rgyan dpal-bzang from gTsang and Padma gling-pa, he learned the doctrines of both the old and new schools.  Receiving innumerable transmissions, he became knowledgeable in both bka’ ma and gter ma.  Meditating at the Byang-gter site of Ri-bo dpal-’bar, he achieved success in all his practices.

Discovering Avalokitesvara precepts in ‘the wall of snow’ (gangs kyi ra-ba) to the south of Gung-thang, he pierced the wall and opened up the “hidden land” of Yol-mo, one of the seven hidden lands (sbas yul) deemed preeminantly suitable as sites for meditational retreat, a “place where the Dharma will flourish after its disappearance in Tibet.”

Whilst at bSam-yas monastery in the year of the water monkey (1452), he received predictions from the dakini, and from within the red stupa of bSam-yas he took out gter chos including the Zhig gsos lung bstan gyi shog ril, and another concerning Bya-rung kha-shor stupa at Boudhanatha in Nepal.  This latter text had been discovered centuries earlier by Lha-btsun sngon-mo who had reconcealed a copy within the red stupa.  Later, in Lha-sa, Sakya bzang-po discovered some of the great works of Srong-btsan sgam-po.  With the blessings and support of Kun-dga’ grags-pa of Kong-po, Padma gling-pa and Kun-dga’ rin-chen, Sakya bzang-po then went on a pilgrimage to the sacred sites of the Kathmandu valley where he restored the Bya-rung kha-shor stupa at Boudhanatha, thus fulfilling a vow he had made in the presence of Padmasambhava during his earlier incarnation as ’Gos Padma gung-btsan.  In Nepal he is said to have discovered sacred relics of the early Nepalese king ’Od-zer go-cha.  He also supervised a major restoration of the great stupa at Svayambhunath, in which a cakra and spire were placed on top of the edifice by gTsang-smyon (the crazy yogin of gTsang) Sangs-rgyas rgyal-mtshan (1452-1507).  The date of this repair, patronised by King Ratna Malla of Nepal and his minister ’Dza’-drag, is given as 1504, just three years before Sangs-rgyas rgyal-mtshan’s death. [37]

sNgags-’chang Sakya bzang-po bestowed the complete teachings of the Northern Treasures upon the brothers mNga’-ris pan-chen and Legs-ldan rdo-rje, both of whom were his disciples, and was thus a vital link in the Byang-gter transmission.  All the people of mNga’-ris and Gung-thang benefitted greatly from his enlightened activities.

Following a prediction given to him by mChog-ldan mgon-po, Sakya bzang-po returned to Yol-mo where he founded and supported the area’s first monastery of Cuda (Head Crest) at Padma’i-tshal.

Yol-mo-ba sprul-sku II
Nam-mkha’ brgya-byin
(16th century)

All that is known about Nam-mkha’ brgya-byin is that he was born in Lho-brag as the 14th descendent of mNga’-bdag nyang rin-po-che, and that he had a disciple named O-rgyan don-grub of Nyang.

Yol-mo-ba sprul-sku III
bsTan-’dzin nor-bu
aka sTobs-ldan shugs-’chang-rtsal

bsTan-’dzin nor-bu, the third incarnation of sNgags-’chang Sakya bzang-po, was born in Kong-po at kLu-lnga rgyal-grong.  He was the son of Rig-’dzin phrin-las dbang-phyug and lady Kun-bzang dbang-mo.  While very young he recalled his previous incarnations, exhibited remarkable abilities, and had inspired visions.  He was recognized by his former disciple O-rgyan don-grub, who subsequently became his teacher.  Taking lay vows with Zhwa-dmar Karmapa Chos-kyi dbang-phyug, he received the name Karma thub-bstan snying-po rnam-par-rgyal-ba’i-sde.  He relied on masters of the Karma-’brug-pa school and Lo-chen ’Gyur-med bde-chen.  After completing his studies at Nyin-gling, he was invited by the ruler of Yam-bu to come to the kingdom of Nepal.  There he once again consecrated and restored the great stupa of Bya-rung kha-shor, just as he had in a previous life.  He was honoured and revered by the prince of gTsang when he gave Dharma teachings at Ngam-ring.

His main residence was the monastery of gCung ri-bo-che in western gTsang, founded by Thang-ston rgyal-po.  Since then, that monastery has continued to transmit the teaching lineage of bsTan-’dzin nor-bu’s younger brother, Phyag-rdor nor-bu.

It was at sMan-thang that he met Rig-’dzin ngag-gi dbang-po who empowered him as a holder of the Byang-gter tradition and cleared his mind of all mundane theorising.  bsTan-’dzin nor-bu thereafter became the chief disciple (‘heart son’) of Ngag-gi dbang-po.  Proceeding to Mang-yul, he established a retreat centre at Ri-bo dpal-’bar. [38]   Engaging himself in profound meditation he received pure visions and predictions, on the basis of which he was able to take out further treasures from their place of concealment at rGyang yon-po-lung, the site from which the original key to the Byang-gter had been revealed.  Upon his return to the central province, bsTan-’dzin nor-bu was entrusted by his master Ngag-gi dbang-po with the care of rDo-rje-brag monastery.

Later, in the Tara cave at rTa-nag, Yol-mo sprul-sku bsTan-’dzin nor-bu received gter ma teachings from the dakini in pure visions, but he reached the end of his life without the conditions becoming suitable for bringing forth these treasures.  His “collected teachings” (gsung thor bu) fill one volume.

Yol-mo-ba sprul-sku IV
Zil-gnon dbang-rgyal rdo-rje
(1647- ??)

A student of the mNga’-ris gter-ston Zla-ba rgyal-mtshan, [39] also known as Padma gar-dbang-rtsal or Gar-dbang rdo-rje (1640-1685), among whose many gter ma discoveries was the important Vajrakila cycle known as the sPu-gri reg-gcod, Zil-gnon dbang-rgyal rdo-rje was the author of a number of minor works (thor bu) which were subsequently gathered together by his disciples and transmitted as a single-volume collection (gsung thor bu).  A volume of his “autobiographical reminiscences” (rnam thar dang bka’ ’bum) was also kept in the library of the dGon-pa-byan sprul-sku.  This includes five large biographical texts in which he records his various visionary experiences and Dharma activities, from which we may hope to learn more about this master in the future.

Among his disciples was the incumbent throne-holder (zhabs drung) of rDo-dmar, Mi-’gyur rdo-rje of gNya’-lam, born in 1675.  A renowned master of the Northern Treasures, 63 of his texts survive.

Yol-mo-ba sprul-sku V
’Phrin-las bdud-’joms 
aka Karma bdud-’joms

sNgags ’chang Nyi-ma seng-ge (1687-1738), from the area of sKyid-grong in Tibet, founded a temple at Tarkhyeghyang village in Yol-mo at some time around the year 1723 and, ever since then, his family lineage of bsTan-gnyis gling-pa has been the chief father to son line producing the lamas of that temple.  His son ’Phrin-las bdud-’joms accordingly became head lama of Tarkhyeghyang temple upon the death of Nyi-ma seng-ge in 1738/39.

’Phrin-las bdud-’joms was at first taught to read by his mother at the age of eight, she being of a tantric lineage from Brag-dkar rta-so in southern Tibet.  He was also instructed by his father, sngags ’chang Nyi-ma seng-ge.

’Phrin-las bdud-’joms studied under four lamas of the rDo-dmar-pa [40] spiritual lineage, referred to as ‘spiritual brothers’ (sku mchad): Padma rdo-rje (the head lama of the lineage), Padma gsang-sngags bstan-’dzin, ’Gyur-med o-rgyan gsang-sngags bstan-’dzin, and Tshe-dbang nor-bu (1698-1755). [41]   Of these, his main teacher was rDo-dmar-pa rig-’dzin chen-po Padma rdo-rje.  When a child, ’Phrin-las bdud-’joms took lay ordination (dge bsnyen) from this lama at Byams-sprin, northwest of sKyid-grong, and received the name Rig-’dzin ’Phrin-las bdud-’joms.

Like his father, ’Phrin-las bdud-’joms travelled extensively between Yol-mo, southern Tibet and the Kathmandu Valley.  He wrote two commentaries on the practices of the Byang-gter phur-pa, and arranged the order of their rituals. [42]   He was also the head lama of gNas-shar-le’u-dgon, as well as of rDzong-dkar at the northern end of the valley.  He was actually in residence at this latter place when the Nepalese invaded the region in 1788.  Tarkhyeghyang was quite clearly the poorest of the three dgon pa.  He was married to the daughter of the head lama of Brag-dkar rta-so, from where his mother came, and later in his life also became the head lama of that dgon pa.  Among his students was Mi-pham chos-kyi dbang-phyug (b.1775), the sprul sku of Brag-dkar rta-so who composed a biography of Tshe-dbang nor-bu and wrote several texts associated with Northern Treasures practices, and also Tshe-dbang ’chi-med mgon-po (1755-1807), the scribe of ’Phrin-las bdud-’joms’ (mainly auto-)biography.  This biography was later augmented by one of his sons who took up residence in the dgon pa of Brag-dkar rta-so.  Another of ’Phrin-las bdud-’joms’ sons was regarded locally as the reincarnation of his teacher Tshe-dbang nor-bu, referred to above.  On his deathbed he sent two of his sons back to the dgon pa of Brag-dkar rta-so, their mother’s home, and it was there that one of them later finished writing the biography.

From this biography we learn that ’Phrin-las bdud-’joms put a lot of effort into caring for his family temple, the dgon pa of Tarkhyeghyang.  He restored the fabric of the building in 1770 and was obviously much concerned about the moral laxity of its inhabitants, commenting that it had become “the street for all beings” and referring to it as an “empty shell.”  He states that the religious obligations and code of the temple were not being carried out, and that the senior religious notables were taking wives and so on.  He also regrets that he did not know how to set matters aright, because the lifestyle of those around him was neither that of laymen nor that of religious men.  On his deathbed, however, even while instructing his sons not to let the seat of the bsTan-gnyis gling-pa lineage become a ruin, it is clear that he expected two of them to go to Brag-dkar rta-so and gNas-shar-le’u-dgon, in Tibet, rather than to stay on in Yol-mo.

Spiritual succession at the family temple in Yol-mo apparently continued through the son(s) of a second wife of ’Phrin-las bdud-’joms whom he had married at Byams-sprin.  This second wife was of the rDo-dmar-pa lineage.

’Phrin-las bdud-’joms regarded himself as Tibetan and refers to the Nepalese as mon pa.  He was used to conducting relations with the Tibetan, the Newar and then the Gurkha kingdoms.  His is the only biography so far recorded concerning a lama born in Yol-mo.  The succession of Yol-mo sprul-sku ended with ’Phrin-las bdud-’joms and there is no local written account of the continuation of the spiritual lineage after his son.

In 1792, three years after the death of ’Phrin-las bdud-’joms, the Chinese invaded Nepal from sKyid-grong and imposed the terms of a treaty.  From then, up until the successful reinvasion of the sKyid-grong and gNya’-lam areas by the Gurkhas under the Ranas in 1855, all of those outlying districts within the area to the north of the Kathmandu Valley and south of the passes into present day Tibet, were regarded as, if not within an area of Tibetan influence, then outside the immediate control of the Nepalese.


Yol-mo bibliography:

Graham Clarke, “A Helambu History,” Journal of the Nepal Research Centre IV (1980) 7.

For a modern ethnographic account of life in this region see Graham Clarke, “Lama and Tamang in Yolmo.”  In: M.Aris & A.S.Suu Kyi (eds.), Tibetan Studies in Honour of Hugh Richardson, Warminster, 1980, pp.79-86

Graham Clarke, “The Great and Little Traditions in the study of Yolmo, Nepal.” In: Ernst Steinkellner & Helmut Tauscher (eds.), Contributions on Tibetan Language, History and Culture. Proceedings of the Csoma de Koros Symposium held at Velm-Vienna, 1981.  Vol.1 pp.21ff

Yol-mo and its temples are described in C.Jest, Monuments of Northern Nepal (UNESCO, 1981) 80-90.


[1]      An earlier version of this text was published as the first chapter in The Cult of the Deity Vajrakila, Tring, 1993.

[2]      The Fifth Dalai Lama lists the prior incarnations of the Byang-gter gter ston in India and Nepal as: (1) Samantabhadra, the dharmakaya, (2) Vajrasattva, the sambhogakaya, (3) Vajragarbha, the nirmanakaya who gathered together all the doctrines of esoteric Buddhism, (4) Khye'u-chung she-la rog-po, (5) rGyal-sras deva bzang-skyong, (6) Byang-sems ye-shes snying-po, (7) bKa'i-sdud-po Nam-mkha'i mdog-can (also known as Vajragarbha II), (8) sKye-rgu'i bdag-mo, (9) mKha-'gro bde-ldan-ma, (10) mKha-'gro rig-byed bde-ma, (11) Yid-byin (sbyin) dpal, (12) the Dharma minister (chos kyi blon po) Blo-gros-mchog, (13) Byang-sems nam-mkha'i snying-po, (14) Sems-dpa' chen-po nor-bu 'dzin-pa, (15) bDe-ba'i rdo-rje, (16) Drag-po gtum-po, (17) Sakyamitra, (18) the bhiksu Zhi-ba'i snying-po, (19) lha-lcam Mandarava (Yid-'dzin lha-mo), (20) the beer-seller Vinasa, (21) the Dharma minister Ye-shes-gsal, (22) bTsun-mo 'od-'chang-ma, (23) bDe-ba'i 'byung-gnas, (24) the dakini Gar-gyi dbang-phyug (Nartesvari), (25) the dakini Susati (bDe-'byung II), (26) Ded-dpon ka-kha-'dzin, and (27) the Nepalese Jinamitra.

[3]      Las can dag pa'i 'khor lnga, "the fortunate circle of five", consisted of sNa-nam rdo-rje bdud-'joms, king Khri Srong-lde'u-btsan, his son prince Mu-khri btsan-po, Nam-mkha'i snying-po and the lady Ye-shes mtsho-rgyal.

[4]     This place is within the myriarchy (khri skor) of Byang, one of the 13 myriarchies of Central Tibet during the Mongolian period (Yuan dynasty).  It is part of the area called La-stod (western gTsang), the capital of which is Ngam-ring.

[5]     This is one of the 12 temples built by Srong-btsan sgam-po to subjugate and hold down the demoness of Tibet.  It is said to press upon her left hip.

[6]     Other extensive, medium and abbreviated texts bore the titles: sNying byang rgyas pa gnad kyi them bu, ’Bring po thugs rje’i ’od zer, and bsDus pa thugs rje’i lcags kyu.  Together with these were the Phyir zlog ’khor lo ’bar ba, the Zhal chems thugs kyi thig pa, the Kha byang gter gyi bang mdzod, and the Lam byang gsal ba’i sgron me.

[7]      A vinaya master involved in the ordination of Rin-chen 'byung-gnas.  G.Roerich, The Blue Annals 634.

[8]     The kingdom of Gung-thang lies to the southwest of Byang.  Its capital is rDzong-dkar, situated at the end of the Trisul-gandaki river valley.  Between here and lake sPa-gu is the famous Gung-thang pass through which Padmasambhava entered and left Tibet.  bKra-shis-lde ruled from 1352-1365.  His son, Phun-tshogs-lde, ruled from 1365-1370 (see below, note 10).  mChog-grub-lde ruled 1370-1396.

[9]      This auspicious configuration marked the birth of the Buddha.  Buddhacarita I.9, II.36.

[10]    Khri Phun-tshogs-lde, the king of Gung-thang at that time, was not well disposed towards the gter ston Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem and the offerings that he provided were meagre.  Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem therefore took out those scrolls that offered protection to the royal lineage and reconcealed them at Ri-bo dpal-’bar.  They were later restored to the king’s eldest son, mChog-grub-lde, with whom the gter ston had an excellent relationship.  Khri Phun-tshogs-lde was assassinated in 1370.

[11]   The two left outside the door were rDo-rje mgon-po and Sangs-rgyas bstan-pa (see note 15, below).  The cave has since been known by the name Lha’i-skyed-tshal, Pleasure Grove of the Gods.

[12]    Known as "the three roots" of tantric practice.

[13]   In the words of Padmasambhava himself: “Contained within this treasure there is a kila the length of my handspan, forged of iron by the blacksmith dPal-rtsegs of Mon.  It has been consecrated as a karmakila and so, merely by brandishing it in the air, all the mischief of enemies and obstructors will immediately be averted.  The name of that kila is Srid gsum bdud ’dul (Controller of Demons in the Three Worlds) and its activity is such as to quell all demonic interferences.  There is also a kila which has the blessings of Krodha-mañjusri (Yamantaka) which was carved by Chinese experts from black rosewood.  It is eight of my finger-widths in length and is for use in meditation.  The name of this kila is ’Bar ba mchog (Supreme Radiance) and whoever continues to hold it will very quickly see the face of the deity Vajrakumara.  There is yet another kila in that treasure which was made by an Indian expert from five different kinds of iron.  It has the length of five of my finger-widths and goes by the name of Sras mchog nyi ma (Sunshine of the Supreme Son).  Its activity is such that the family lineage of its owner will run for many generations.”  A33, 239-240.

[14]    None of my sources list any Bon-po doctrines among his discoveries unless these are hinted at here by the words "mDos ... and further upadesa".  Both Ramon Prats and Tulku Thondup, however, say that rGod-ldem-can is revered by the Bon-po as a gter ston (Prats naming him dPon-gsas khyung-thog) but neither specifies the revelations attributed to him.  R.Prats, "Some Preliminary Considerations Arising from a Biographical Study of the Early gTer-ston" 259.  T.Thondup, Buddha Mind 110.

[15]   According to Dalai Lama V, Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem bestowed 32 of these teachings upon his son rNam-rgyal mgon-po in the form of instructions and empowerments.  He bestowed 15 of them upon rDo-rje mgon-po and four upon his uncle Sangs-rgyas bstan-pa (aka bLa-ma do-pa-ba), both of whom had been present when the treasures were originally revealed.  He gave another four to his uncle Sangs-rgyas byams-bzang, and seven to his nephew rDo-rje dpal-ba.  Nam-mkha’ grags-pa and bDe-legs rgyal-mtshan each received three.  Other recipients of the original teachings included Nam-mkha’ bsod-nams, Sangs-rgyas dpon-chen, Don-grub dpal-bzang, mGon-po bzang-po, and Ye-shes mkha’-’gro, as well as sGrub-pa-mo (wife of the governor of Lho-’brag), kings Phun-tshogs-lde and mChog-grub-lde (rulers of Gung-thang), Thugs-rje rgyal-mtshan (the teacher from Se, where an important branch of the Byang-gter became established), Nyi-ma bzang-po (the young author of rGod-ldem’s biography who was with the gter ston for the last ten years of his life) and, of course, Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem’s wife, about whom the biography is strangely silent.

       sTag-lung-rtse-sprul rinpoche speaks of “eight sons, eight ladies and three pupils.” 
A Brief History of rDo-rje-brag Monastery
” p.5

[16]    The biography of Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem mentions only two sbas yul: ’Bras-mo-gzhong and sKyid-mo-lung.  Dalai Lama V, however, shows that the gter ston possessed guides to the following seven hidden lands: ’Bras-mo-gzhong, bde-ldan sKyid-mo-lung, sbas-pa Padma’i tshal, rol-pa mKha’-’gro-gling, rgyal-gyi mKhan-pa-lung, Lha’i pho-brang-sdings, and Gro-mo-khud, as well as the keys to Yol-mo-gangs, Bu-le-gangs, ’Bras-mo-khud, and rTag-so gangs-ra.  Johan Reinhard in his article "Khembalung, the hidden valley" lists the seven hidden lands as: Khumbu, Helambu, Rongshar, Lapchi, Dolpo, Nubri and Sikkim.  Unfortunately it is not possible to match these two lists exactly.  With regard to Helambu, see Appendix Yol-mo to the present work.  With regard to Sikkim, see next note.

[17]    See my “Pilgrim’s Guide to the Hidden Land of Sikkim,” Bulletin of Tibetology, 2003.

[18]   See above, note 8.

[19]   See above, note 13.

[20]    Gong khug means either a small pouch worn around the neck or the breast pocket of a shirt, etc.  In either case, the Gong khug ma is that which was always kept by Padmasambhava close to his heart.  Some indication that the item referred to here is indeed a ritual kila is found in the gSol ’debs bar chad lam sel in which Padmasambhava is described as having a kila of bell metal in his right hand (with which the mara and raksasa are subjugated), a kila of khadira wood in his left hand (with which the devoted disciples are protected), and an iron kila worn around his neck which is indivisible from the deity.  C.R.Lama, on the other hand, insists that the Gong khug ma is a condensed ritual text.

[21]   gLo-bo is the kingdom of Mustang in present-day Nepal.  Up until the 18th century, gLo-bo, Dol-po and Gung-thang were all regarded as part of lower mNga’-ris (mNga’-ris-smad).  During the Mongol period (1240-1368), the three districts of mNga’-ris (mNga’-ris-skor-gsum) may have included La-dvags in the west, Zhang-zhung in the central region, and Gu-ge sPu-hrang in the south.

[22]   Concerning Sakya bzang-po, see Appendix on Yol-mo.

[23]    Thugs rje chen po 'khor ba dbyings grol (1 vol.), Tshe sgrub bdud rtsi 'khyil pa (1 vol.), and Drag po dbu dgu (1 small vol.).  These three volumes include teachings on Avalokitesvara, Mañjusri and Vajrapani, as well as the longevity practice which enabled him to live for 113 years.

[24]    For a potted biography of this lama, said to be the incarnation of King Khri Srong-lde'u-btsan and the ninth incarnation of rGyal-sras lha-rje, see: Eva Dargyay, The Rise of Esoteric Buddhism in Tibet 156-160, NSTB I 805-808, and Masters of the Nyingma Lineage 207-208.

[25]    According to bDud-'joms rinpoche; "The entire monastic community of their seminary became a wandering encampment as a result of the depradations of Zhing-Shag-pa (Tshe-brtan rdo-rje), the governor of Tsang." NSTB I 783.  The troubles caused by that governor are said to have came to an end, however, when he was killed by the wrathful magic rites of Byang-bdag bKra-shis stobs-rgyal who earned his title "Byang-bdag" (Protector of the Northern Treasures) as a result of this deed.

[26]    bsGrigs kyi bka' yig rdo rje 'bar ba gzi byin.  He also composed the renowned sDom gsum rnam nges in which he demonstrated the interrelationship of the pratimoksa, bodhisattva and mantra vows.

[27]    Bla ma bka' brgyad yongs 'dus chos skor.

[28]    These are the Tshe sgrub sku gsum rig 'dus, the Karma guru'i chos skor and the Ma rgyud khrag rlung ma (also known as the Ma rgyud snying po don gsum).

[29]    The figure given by Rigzin & Russell is 2,000.  Both E.Gene Smith (Among Tibetan Texts) and Tarthang Tulku (Crystal Mirror V) gives the figure as 200, whilst Wylie (The Geography of Tibet) and Ferrari & Petech (mKhyen-brtse's Guide) give 400.  Gene Smith and Tarthang Tulku also mention that, at this time, the monastery had three incarnate lamas.

[30]    Third incarnation of sngags-'chang Sakya bzang-po.  See Appendix on Yol-mo.

[31]    See Samten Karmay, Secret Visions 66, 74, etc., also 34 where it is said that Padmasambhava himself gives the Fifth Dalai Lama instructions in the Byang-gter.

[32]    Among whom were Zur-chen chos-dbyings rang-grol, bKa'-gyur-ba bsod-nams mchog-ldan, Khra-tshang-ba blo-mchog rdo-rje, gTer-chen 'gyur-med rdo-rje, lHa-btsun nam-mkha' 'jigs-med and Se-ston thugs-mchog 'od-'bar.

[33]   Among his disciples, also, was the siddha bLo-bzang lha-mchog (1672-1747) who came from Lho-brag gro-bo.  He is famed as the revealer of four hidden lands: Seng-ge-ri, mKhan-pa-ljongs, Long-mo lha-steng, and ’Or-mo lha-sa (within which he discovered the palace of Yam-shud dmar-po).  Following the tragic murder of his teacher Rig-’dzin Padma ’phrin-las in 1718, he rejoiced at the discovery of his reincarnation sKal-bzang padma dbang-phyug and, following his re-enthronement at rDo-rje-brag, he visited him there in 1734 and 1735 in order to teach him the rDzogs chen thugs rje chen po ’khor ba dbyings grol.

[34]    See L.Petech, China and Tibet in the Early Eighteenth Century; and Snellgrove & Richardson, A Cultural History of Tibet, for details of this troubled historical period.

[35]   The town of Dar-rtse-mdo lies deep within a gorge at the confluence of the Cheto-chu and the Yakra-chu tributaries which form the Dardo River.  It was formerly the capital of the lCags-la kingdom (one of the five independent kingdoms of Khams) under the hereditary authority of the lCags-la rgyal-po.  Gyurme Dorje, Tibet Handbook (2nd edition), Bath, 1999, p.447

[36]   Photographs of the newly restored monastery of rDo-rje-brag can be seen by clicking on GALLERY at

[37]   Concerning the yogin Sangs-rgyas rgyal-mtshan, see: E.Gene Smith, “The Life of Gtsang smyon Heruka,” Among Tibetan Texts pp.59-79.

[38]   Mang-yul is the huge area which includes the kingdom of Gung-thang and stretches to the west as far as sPu-hrang (mNga’-ris-skor-gsum).  Prior to the 18th century it was also known as lower mNga’-ris (mNga’-ris-smad).  The monastic estate at Ri-bo dpal-’bar had been bequeathed to Rig-’dzin rgod-ldem by Khri mChog-grub-lde (see above).

[39]   See: Crystal Mirror XI pp.265-266 for details of this teacher.

[40]    A dgon pa in the sKyid-grong region.

[41]   For the life of Kah-thog rig-’dzin tshe-dbang nor-bu see: Crystal Mirror XI, pp.304-305

[42]   The Cult of the Deity Vajrakila includes a detailed study of his “History” [B4] in Ch.IV

see also Ngödrup Gyeltsen, or Rikdzin Gödemcen by Dudjom Rinpoche
see also THE TRADITION OF THE BYANG-TER OR NORTHERN TREASURES  by Martin Boord, extracted from The Cult of the Deity Vajrakila, Tring, 1993 ( earlier and smaller as the above version)


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