RTZ Outline

Contents and Structure of the Rinchen Terdzö Chenmo
རིན་ཆེན་གཏེར་མཛོད་ཆེན་མོ་

While it is outwardly a collection of revelations, the material included within the Rinchen Terdzö Chenmo is primarily associated with formal liturgical practice and ritual performance. It is not, nor was it apparently intended to be, an all encompassing vehicle for the preservation of the treasure tradition as a whole. Therefore, the overarching structure of the Terdzö is based around the function of these various methods organized in terms of the standard Nyingma tradition’s triumvirate of Mahayoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga. Whether aimed at liberation or more mundane ends, the Terdzö is essentially a massive collection of activity manuals replete with all of the necessary auxiliary and instruction literature needed for their proper implementation. Nevertheless, though the Terdzö is not a complete collection of the treasure tradition, it does represent a strikingly accurate cross section of the history of this tradition. Thus, the Terdzö embodies the vitality of the treasure tradition and the ongoing processes of revelation and renewal that this represents.


Like most substantial Tibetan collections that were put together with the primary purpose of preserving large amounts of literature in one place, the Rinchen Terdzö is generally structured in keeping with a well-established doxography. In this case, the main body of the collection is divided along the lines of the three inner tantras of the Nyingma tradition, namely Mahayoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga. However, aside from the inherent hierarchy associated with those headings, the Terdzö is essentially a collection of stand-alone practices and thus it is structured around the functionality of these practice materials. In fact, given the predominance of liturgical literature and activity manuals (phrin las kyi byang bu or, simply, las byang), one could argue that it is a Mahayoga collection with sections for Maha-Anu and Maha-Ati practices.

Therein lies one of the key features of the Terdzö: while it is outwardly a collection of revelations, whether they were brought forth through the processes of treasure concealment and rediscovery or through more direct visionary encounters, the contents of the Terdzö are primarily associated with formal liturgical practice and ritual performance. It is not, nor was it apparently intended to be, an all encompassing vehicle for the preservation of the treasure tradition as a whole, but rather a collection of revealed methods. Therefore, the overarching structure of the Terdzö is based around the function of these various methods, beginning with the means to accomplish various enlightened attributes, to the propitiation of protective forces, and the performance of activities ranging from enlightened to mundane, in terms of Mahayoga, and on up until the completion stage practices of Anuyoga, and the advanced stages of ritualized practices that are fully embraced by the view of Atiyoga. Furthermore, each of these practices are accompanied by the means to transmit them, i.e. their corresponding empowerment rites (dbang chog), and their associated instructions on how to put them into practice, often in the form of guidance manuals (khrid yig), as well as supplemental liturgical materials, such as lineage supplications (brgyud 'debs) and so on, the overwhelming majority of which were penned by Jamgön Kongtrul himself.


To understand this structure, it is helpful to consider the origins and development of the Terdzö. While much has been said of the role of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Chogyur Lingpa in the creation of the Terdzö, it is perhaps its relation to the work of Minling Terchen that is most pertinent in this regard. The Döjo Bumzang is often referred to as the “seed” of the Terdzö and while the latter certainly grew into a much more extensive and inclusive collection, it is framed within much of the same structure as this previous work. The Döjo Bumzang is a compilation of treasure practices, primarily sadhanas, from prominent revealers put together by Minling Terchen and his brother, Dharmaśrī, which is organized according to their relation to specific deities and/or the purpose of undertaking their practice. Furthermore, like Kongtrul in his stead, Minling Terchen wrote most of the works in the Döjo Bumzang, fashioning the revealed material into liturgical arrangements for practice and creating updated empowerment rites for their transmission. The Terdzö, thus, mirrors this framework and style, while greatly expanding upon it in both the amount of content and the categories into which it is structured. Though, it also should be noted that Minling Terchen was one of the first Nyingma masters to begin collecting the tantras associated with the early translation period into the preservationist compilation that we know as the Nyingma Gyubum (rnying ma rgyud ‘bum). And this facet of Minling Terchen’s scholarly activities seems to have had a profound influence on Kongtrul’s development of the Terdzö, which in many ways draws inspiration from both of these collections. The Terdzö emulates the Döjo Bumzang in content and function, while incorporating the grander purpose and scope of the Nyingma Gyubum.


One of the features that sets the Terdzö apart from these earlier works is that much of the material contained in this collection was freshly revealed either shortly before or during the course of its development. This brings us back to the role of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Chogyur Lingpa, who together contributed roughly a hundred treasure cycles and, along with Kongtrul, make up for about half the overall works in the Terdzö. So, though the preservation of major treasure practices, in general, and those deemed to be rare and endangered, in particular, was certainly one of the primary goals of the collection, it undoubtedly became a vessel for the ongoing revelations of Kongtrul and his close associates. In fact, some of the treasure cycles found in the supplementary volumes were not included until later because they had been revealed so recently that the seals of secrecy had not yet expired during Kongtrul’s lifetime. This adds yet another layer of significance through which we might better understand the Terdzö, in the sense that it embodies the vitality of the treasure tradition and the ongoing processes of revelation and renewal that this represents.


The Terdzö is first and foremost concerned with the transmission and application of the revealed practices contained within its volumes. For a collection of this size it is remarkably streamlined to this end. Not only does it ensure the survival of all the revelations contained within it, but also that anybody with the requisite education and training who receives the full transmission of the Terdzö will have all the tools at hand to engage in the individual practices. This functionality underlines the Terdzö’s place within the greater framework of Kongtrul’s Five Great Treasuries (mdzod lnga chen mo) in that it is primarily a vessel for practice materials that support the ritual performance of various types of Tantric activities. Whether aimed at liberation or more mundane ends, the Terdzö is essentially a massive collection of activity manuals replete with all of the necessary auxiliary and instruction literature needed for their proper implementation. The range of these provides the structure of the Terdzö making it a remarkably inclusive manual of these types of ritual activities, rather than simply being a compilation of all things treasure. This distinction is highlighted by a comparison with the Damngak Dzö, which also touches upon a diverse series of practice lineages and is equally concerned with transmission, but is less focused on liturgical performance than it is on instructional material. And while these types of practices are detailed in some of the other of the Five Treasuries, those works are much more lineage or source specific.


On a final note, while the Terdzö is not a complete collection of the treasure tradition, it does actually represent a strikingly accurate cross section of the history of this tradition in general. The Terdzö touches upon most of the major treasure movements up until the time of Kongtrul and the works included therein outline their spread through subsequent generations of masters who upheld these revelations. So, not only do we see many of the major cycles of the most prominent and influential revealers, we also see the nurturing of these treasures through further compositions and transmission. For instance, the Terdzö features the considerable contributions of Minling Terchen’s personal treasures, as well as his extensive literary treatments of the treasures of early figures like Nyangral Nyima Oser and Guru Chöwang. Another notable example is Karma Chakme, who was a major conduit of Mingyur Dorje’s Namchö cycle as well as a prolific commentator and recorder of instructions on all manner of ritual performance. Furthermore, when looking at major cycles such as Rigdzin Godem’s Jangter, one can easily observe how these were furthered by the successive generations of masters at Dorje Drak Monastery and their associates. Likewise, when looking at the relationships between contributors to the Terdzö, certain periods of prolific revelation activities come to light. For instance, the activities of Jatsön Nyingpo and his immediate students mark a major watershed in the history of the treasure revelation, after which we see treasures spreading widely without requisite support of localized institutions. Therefore, the collection itself provides an historical overview of the development and spread of the treasure tradition up until the time of Kongtrul and beyond, as the Shechen Edition also features the contributions and additions of more contemporary masters culminating with Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, along with the extensive editorial contributions of Dagpo Tulku, who spent an astounding thirteen years meticulously poring over each word, text, and volume as he painstakingly prepared the present Edition for publication.

Morten Ostensen, Digital Curator, Tsadra Foundation, 2017



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