History of the Rin chen gter mdzod
The project seems to have initially been intended by Jamgon Kongtrul ('jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha' yas, 1813-1899) as a collection of terma teachings and instructions that he had himself received and would thus compile for use with his own transmission of those termas. However, once he broached this subject with his friend and teacher Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo ('jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang po, 1820-1892), the latter ended up writing a four volume compilation of minor termas, which he presented to Kongtrul and suggested that he might use it as the basis for his collection. At that point Khyentse suggested that Kongtrul's collection should include all the Guru, Dzogchen, and Avalokiteśvara (bla rdzogs thugs gsum) texts of the major tertons. (Generally speaking, for one to be considered a major terton in the Nyingma tradition one must reveal texts related to each of these three categories.) However, Kongtrul also requested Khyentse to write a preliminary table of contents for the terma collection that would eventually become the Rinchen Terdzo, which is something that Khyentse actually did for all of Kongtrul's Treasuries. According to Kongtrul's bio the initial conversation related to this occurred after he came out of a weeklong retreat undertaken during the spring equinox of the wood rabbit year (1856) when he was 43 and Khyentse was 36. (For Kongtrul's version of this exchange see Gem, pgs 102-103). Following these events, Kongtrul enters into retreat in order to ensure the completion of the project as well as to gain permission to do so, which lasted until the eighth day of the first month of the following fire dragon year (1856).
One year later, on the first day of losar of the fire snake year (1857), the famed terton Chogyur Dechen Lingpa (mchog 'gyur bde chen gling pa, 1829-1870) came to visit Kongtrul. While perusing Chogling's recently revealed terma on the 25 holy sites (gnas chen nyer lnga'i gsung gi gnas mchog 'og min kar+ma'i gnas yig), Kongtrul finds verses that indicate to him that he has permission from Guru Rinpoche to put together his terma collection in whatever way he sees fit. (See Gem, pg 111)
Furthermore, Kongtrul's auto-bio states that around the third month of the iron bird year (1861) Khyentse had a pure vision in which he enters a stupa in which he sees piles of texts, which he is told are the Five Great Treasuries and they are described to him at length. Based on this vision, he tells Kongtrul that he should name the terma collection the Rinchen Terdzö. (Gem, pg 130) However, he also states that in the fifth month of the following water dog year (1862) that it was "around this time" that he had decided to name the collection the Rinchen Terdzö and began to organize the various components. (Gem, pg 133)
In the first part of the earth bird year (1864) Kongtrul wrote some of the ritual texts for the RTZ. (Gem, pg 138)
In the earth dragon year (1868-1869) Kongtrul gave the empowerments and reading transmissions for the Rinchen Terdzö for the first time. Initially this was done at the request of Khyentse, but he was not able to attend due to health reasons. Therefore, though Kongtrul did actually give the empowerments and the reading transmissions, starting from the 10th day of the 4th month and concluding on the 15th day of the 7th month, the way in which they were given was somewhat truncated due to attempts to delay the event for Khyentse's arrival, which unfortunately never occurred.
In the third month of the fire snake year (1869) Kongtrul continued to write arrangements for ritual for the RTZ. (Gem, pg 153)
The empowerments and the reading transmissions for the RTZ were given for the second time in the water monkey year (1872-1873) from the 10th day of the 7th month to the 15th day of the 9th month at Kongtrul's hermitage (presumably Tsadra Rinchen Drak). Also, at this time Ontrul (presumably Palpung Ontrul whom died in 1873 according to TBRC P2JM292, though this page might need to be merged with P2457) "promised to look into" publishing the RTZ, i.e. carving blocks, as by that time he was so old that he wouldn't be able to practice them to much extent, let alone pass them on via transmission. (Gem, pg 168)
In the same year, Kongtrul gives (or merely begins to give) the transmission of the RTZ, for a 3rd time, in Dzong-go in Ling, where the recipients included Shechen Rabjam and Jedrung Jampa Jungne. (Gem, pgs 168-169)
In the wood dog year (1874-1875) Ontrul dies (or they merely hear about it, if the TBRC dates are correct) and leaves Kongtrul the funds he had collected for the printing of the RTZ. (Gem, pg 173) In the 8th month of this same year he petitions the government of Derge for the remaining funds he needs for the publication.
In the wood pig year (1875-1876) the publication of the RTZ begins under the direction of Ontrul's steward, Pelek. (Gem, pg 176)
In the fire rat year (1876-77), during the second half of the 6th month he goes to Dzongsar where he is told by Khyentse that he needs to give RTZ at Dzongsar that year. (Gem, pg 181) The RTZ empowerment began in the 8th month and finished in the 11th, while the lungs finished in the 12th month, as there seems to have been several long breaks taken during this event. Recipients included Gyatrul from Palyul, Moktsa from Kathok, Gyaltsab and Rabjam from Shechen, and Jedrung from Ling (Riwoche?), the two Lhatrul, and Khenpo Akon from Dzogchen. (Gem, pg,182)
In the fire Ox year (1877-78) Kongtrul gave the instructions included in the RTZ in their proper order in Khyentse's chambers. Has a dream about Gyatrul and Moktsa in which entrusts them with the RTZ, and mentions that Gyatrul gave RTZ 3 times during Kongtrul's lifetime.
In the earth Tiger year (1878-79) Kongrul continues work on editing the RTZ
In the iron dragon year (1880-81)block prints for 40 volumes of RTZ completed, (Gem, pg 200) Worked on completing sections of RTZ while in retreat at the end of this year.
In the water horse year (1882-83) Kongtrul gives RTZ for the 4th time to many tulkus and lamas, including Adzom Drukpa, Kuchap, i.e. Tai Situ, Gemang, Lingtrul, Dzogchen Rinpoche, Kuchen of Palyul, Gyarong Yatrul, Terton Mingyur Tulku. This event lasts from 19th day of 4th month to 1st day of 8th month. (pg 207)
In the fire dog year (1886-87) Kongtrul wrote the Terton Gyatsa collection of bios (pg 223) and meets Karmapa 15 for the first time in the 12th month.
In the earth rat year (1888-89) he gives RTZ for the 5th, and final, time, with the main recipient being 15th Karmapa, (pgs 228-9). There is an interesting list of wangs given on pgs 228-229 and then again 229-230.
In the earth ox year (1889-90) He begins writing karchag for RTZ and lineage accounts. Gyatrul comes for the 3rd time to get empowerments and lungs for texts that have been added to the RTZ.
Publications of the RTZ
dPal spungs edition in 60 volumes. This was the first of the woodblock-printing versions. The carving of the blocks began in 1875 with the money collected by Palpung Ontrul before he died and was supervised by his steward Pelek. Apparently this process continued until 1895, but I can't seem to find a proper source for this info.Of the various early editions, the Palpung edition has the greatest reputation for accuracy.
stod lung mtshur phu edition in 63 volumes. The blocks were carved over the course of the years 1909-1912, and the entire project was done under the guidance of the 15th Karmapa Khakhyap Dorje (mkha' khyab rdo rje, 1870-1921). He added three volumes to the original edition, which included Terdag Lingpa and Lochen Dharma Shri's sadhana compilation known as the sgrub thabs 'dod 'jo'i 'bum bzang (a collection which Kongtrul had given the empowerments for eight times, see Gem, pg 275), a biography of Kongtrul, as well as Chogyur Lingpa's Lam rim ye shes snying po along with Kongrul's extensive commentary to that. The inclusion of this seems to be suggested in Kongtrul's bio (see Gem, pg 269).
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche published an edition in 111 volumes (or 70 volumes depending on the printing) put together over the years 1976-1980, which was based on the Tsurpu edition as supplemented with blockprints from Palpung and other great monasteries of Kham. DKR appended the following terma cycles to the Tsurpu edition: rtsa gsum 'od gsal snying thig (re)discovered by Khyentse Wangpo, the Padma gsang thig revealed by Jedrung Thrinle Jampa Jungne, Jigme Lingpa's Longchen Nyingthig, and Chogyur Lingpa's rdzogs chen sde gsum. He also seems to have added the 15th Karmapa's manual for giving the RTZ empowerments.
There was a printing done in Chengdu during the 1990's, which was a reproduction of the Palpung block printing in 63 volumes.
2007 - 2008 - 2016? A new Tsadra edition is being created in 70 volumes, 50 volumes of which were already published by Shechen Publications, 2007-2008. This will be a new edition based on all previous editions with multiple levels of editing based on all existing editions of individual texts and research of rare manuscripts done by Dakpo Tulku. The final volumes should be available by 2016. In the following years two supplemental volumes of practice materials will also be produced.