Archivist's Introduction

Archivist’s Introduction


Welcome to Tsadra Foundation’s digital catalog of the Shechen Publications 2007-2018 edition of the Rinchen Terdzö Chenmo, The Great Treasury of Rediscovered Teachings, a massive trove of precious gter ma teachings, practices, and supplemental literature initially compiled by the incomparable Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye and expanded upon by subsequent generations into the seventy-one volume collection that we have the great honor to present here for the benefit of the community of Buddhist practitioners and scholars, the world over. This project grew out of the Foundation’s sponsorship of the monumental task of creating the new Shechen Edition of the Rinchen Terdzö, as well as their commitment to the works of Kongtrul, in general, and his Five Great Treasuries, in particular. This project on the Terdzö, the most voluminous of the five, is representative of Tsadra Foundation’s ongoing efforts to ensure that these masterworks are not only preserved for, but utilized by coming generations and is thus emblematic of the Foundation’s mission to advance the combined study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism.

I was initially brought onto this project in the summer of 2015, primarily for the purpose of data input, as at that point the website was still in its earliest stage of development, in which the first sixty volumes of the digital Tibetan texts had been uploaded onto the site without any documentation. It was, therefore, my task to perform the basic input of details, such as title, author, revealer, colophons and so on for the roughly three thousand individual works which make up the Shechen Edition of the Rinchen Terdzö and, thereby, begin to build up a store of metadata related to these works that would become the basis for the online catalog. A rather daunting assignment, which I must admit involved a rather steep learning curve on my part, as consistency, which is crucial for a project of this magnitude, necessitates an overarching familiarity with material at hand. Fortunately, the path ahead was not completely uncharted, and I am heavily indebted to the meticulous notes of E. Gene Smith and, especially, the remarkably thorough German language catalog of the Tsurphu edition of the Rinchen Terdzö created by Peter Schwieger, and his associates, which fills an astonishing five volumes and is the culmination of more than two decades of work. In fact, I am so in awe of this latter work that I am almost embarrassed to admit that due to working with the Unicode version of the Tibetan texts, along with the guidance of explanatory annotations embedded into many of the tables of contents and colophons of the Shechen Edition, it only took a me about a year to complete the input of basic details and record the colophons. Though, being a digital catalog built on a wiki platform, there is an open ended aspect to this process that leaves room for conceivably endless refinement. So while I can certainly claim a modicum of familiarity with the material contained within the Terdzö on the whole, after being immersed in it over the course of the last couple years, I wouldn’t dare to assume that I have gained the type of in-depth knowledge of each individual aspect of this collection. Therefore, it is my hope that in the coming years those scholars that specialize in the various treasure cycles, and so forth, found in the Terdzö will contribute their expertise toward the goal of improving the catalog and rooting out any possible mistakes and oversights on my part.

In terms of the basic input, there were certain challenges involved in cataloging this particular collection that one might not encounter in other types of archives, due primarily to the nature of the treasure genre. Authorship, in particular, can be tricky issue and so I have tried to rely on a series of guiding principles in an attempt to convey the various aspects this may entail within the processes of treasure revelation. The revealers of treasure (gter ston), the tertöns themselves, have been recorded as the ‘source revealer,’ in all of the works related to their specific treasure cycles. In other words, if somebody else were to compose a lineage supplication for a particular treasure cycle, then that individual would be recorded as the author, while the tertön would still be recorded as the source revealer, even though they might have nothing to do with that particular composition and it may not contain any of their revealed material. Therefore, the inclusion of a source revealer is often recorded to simply show the work’s affiliation with a particular cycle. On the other hand, when a work has clearly been produced by the tertön, him or herself, then that same individual is recorded as the author, as well. Authorship in this case, is generally assigned to the tertön as they are the one who is responsible for the text to be set down in writing. Even if this was done via dictation to a scribe, it is still their intellectual property, so to speak. However, in cases where an individual has decoded another person’s treasure, then that person would be recorded as the author, while the tertön would be recorded as the source revealer, based on the same principle. However, in cases of rediscovered treasures (yang gter) or close lineages (nye brgyud) then both individuals involved in the revelation are recorded as source revealers, with the former followed by the latter, while the latter is also commonly recorded as the author. In the context of the Terdzö situations like these often involve the work of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. Though, there are also works which include combinations or compilations of various cycles, in which several tertöns are recorded, so the appearance of multiple source revealers does not always denote collaboration, thus I have tended to leave archivists notes whenever appropriate to clarify issues such as these.

One of the main reasons that it’s important to keep all of this in mind is because traditionally the role of the tertön differs considerably from what we might normally associate with authorship. Treasures are not composed, they are revealed, which is a distinction that has semantic significance in the Tibetan Buddhist world, in general, and even more so in the treasure milieu. This being the case, there is often an additional layer of narrative concerning the source of these teachings, which likewise needs to be accounted for. Therefore, I have used the further category of ‘source author,’ to record the individuals stated to have been responsible for the production of a particular work prior to concealment. Generally speaking, this field is used for early figures that either composed, arranged or recorded the material contained in the treasure, which is later accessed by a tertön and revealed as a treasure. Thus, this can denote either the author of the source material, in line with the usage outlined above, or it can denote the scribe and, or, concealer of that material. Alternatively, when other individuals are mentioned as being recipients of a teaching, but aren’t directly tied to the production of the actual text, they are usually recorded as ‘associated people.’ Furthermore, the field of ‘source author’ is also used to record the source of pure vision revelations (dag snang), of which there are numerous examples in the Terdzö. In these instances, the source author denotes the individual from whom the source revealer received the teachings, which usually entails some sort of visionary encounter. Moreover, in the case of hearing lineages (snyan brgyud), this field connotes the source of the lineage. Hence, this category is generally used to record information on the purported origins of the source material. However, one glaring exception to this rule is the omission of Guru Rinpoche as a source author in all but the works that specifically designate him as the actual composer. The reason for this being that he is such a perennial figure that it would render the search function essentially useless, in that he would link to the vast majority of works in the collection and thus obscure from view the works in which he is directly attributed as the author. Therefore, I have restricted my mention of this figure to the bare minimum due to the ubiquitous nature of his involvement with the vast majority of the treasure cycles preserved in the Terdzö. Though, apart from the above fields, which necessitate a certain amount of fluidity to encompass the various peculiarities associated with the material contained in this collection, there are, of course, numerous categories, such as scribes and so on, which are much more straightforward and require no added explanation on my part.

While all of this metadata has been collected and recorded within each of the texts, they can also be accessed via search functions and through the various pages in which such information is aggregated in relation to specific tertöns, treasure cycles, and so on. In terms of the people pages, and especially those whom are featured heavily in the Terdzö, I have included short Tibetan biographies parsed out from Kongtrul’s compilation commonly known as the Biographies of the Hundred Treasure Revealers (gter ston rgya rtsa'i rnam thar), along with citations of where these can be found in the Shechen Edition. And, while I have at times included biographical data, such as standardized dates, from other sources, I have tried to stick to Kongtrul’s work as much as possible and make note of divergences whenever need be. Therefore, the information found on these pages, especially those related to rebirths, emanations, and the like, are for the most part indicative of Kongtrul’s own assessment. Furthermore, these pages have been designed specifically to highlight contributions to the Terdzö, though I have included links to prominent sites, such as the Buddhist Digital Resource Center and Treasury of Lives, where one might find more detailed information on these figures. But, here, I have attempted to treat the Terdzö as a closed system, uncluttered by superfluous details, in hopes that it might help us better understand the collection as it is.

In terms of treasure cycles, these pages are designed to include their associated texts as well as their relationship to other cycles. The terms ‘parent cycle’ and ‘sub-cycle’ are utilized to highlight the source of smaller cycles and the contents of larger cycles, respectively, often traditionally referred to as the "root" (rtsa) and the "branches" (yan lag). Though, in terms of sub-cycles that also contain further cycles, then those cycles then become the parent cycle to their corresponding sub-cycles. In such cases, the cycle page itself will list both its parent and sub-cycles. For the most part, these relationships are based on either the nature of the revelation or the way that the revealer has chosen to present a specific set of revelations in the form of cycles. The one obvious exception being Minling Terchen’s Döjo Bumzang, which is a compilation rather than the source of the revealed material contained within it. Though, in all other instances in which a few cycles have been compiled into a single work, then these cycles are all given equal footing. However, the cataloging of treasure cycles along these lines is an ongoing process, which requires specialist knowledge of the individual revelations, so this is one area of the Terdzö project that may see considerable refinement in the coming years.

In addition to the literary aspect, this site also features an immense collection of associated visual aids, such as initiation cards, or tsagli, (tsa ka li) and mandalas, which are an integral part of the transmission of Terdzö. These images come from two collections, an older one originally created under the auspices of Dudjom Rinpoche that was photographed and cataloged by the Shechen Archives and an updated and greatly expanded version of that collection produced at Dzongsar Monastery, which was created for use by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche in his transmission of the Terdzö, mostly recently in Takila, Bhutan in 2016. Both the initiation cards and the mandala images are stored together with their associated empowerment rites (dbang chog), where they can be accessed via the ‘tsagli’ and ‘mandala’ tabs found on their respective pages, while the mandala images are also found on their associated cycle pages. For use of these images we are deeply grateful to Matthieu Ricard and all those at the Shechen Archives, as well as Lodrö Phuntsok of Dzongsar Monastery, for their countless hours of work on these impressive collections. For my part, I have tried to improve upon the labeling of the digital files of these images in hopes of creating a more easily searchable archive of these sacred images.

In closing, I would like to acknowledge all those who have contributed to this project. This website features material that is representative of more than a decade of work by scholars at Shechen Monastery and its affiliated centers, foremost being the chief editor Dakpo Tulku, to whom the lion’s share of the credit is due and I refer readers to Matthieu Ricard’s preface to the Shechen Edition for the details on all those involved. Among those affiliated with Tsadra Foundation, I must first of all thank Eric Colombel for his generous support of this project from beginning to end, and for giving me the opportunity to spend so much time among these precious texts, as well as Sean Price for his tireless work on behalf of the Foundation in making the treasures of Tibetan literary heritage, such as the Terdzö, available in modern formats. Though, none of my work would have been possible without technical expertise and guidance of Marcus Perman and Jeremi Plazas, the true architects of this site. I thank them wholeheartedly for their endless patience with me and my constant questions and requests throughout this long process. Also, I am deeply grateful to the preeminent artists Pema Namdol Thaye and Robert Beer for use of their artwork that adorns and beautifies the site, as well as Alex Gardner at the Treasury of Lives, Jeff Watt at Himalayan Art Resources, and all those working to further E. Gene Smith’s vision at the Buddhist Digital Resource Center for providing such a wealth of informative content. Finally, I wish to extend a preemptive thank you to all those future contributors that will help improve upon the site in the coming years. I welcome your suggestions, comments, and corrections, and hope that with your participation Tsadra Foundation’s catalog of The Great Treasury of Rediscovered Teachings will continue to be a valuable resource for generations to come.

Morten Ostensen, Digital Curator, Tsadra Foundation, 2017