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Jul 03
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Dharma Teachings
Shambhala as a Terma Lineage
Dharmaraja Dawa Zangpo at the Shambhala Phodrang in Golok

Dharmaraja Dawa Zangpo at the Shambhala Phodrang in Golok

By Acharya Judith Simmer-Brown

This article is based on an address to the Shambhala Teachers’ Academy held at Dechen Choling in September, 2009. Originally released on the Shambhala Times last December, it is now being republished in conjunction with the release of The Great River of Blessings, the eBook version of the Rinchen Terdzo blog by Walker Blaine.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has asked us all to learn more about the terma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Earlier this year, the Sakyong received numerous empowerments and was immersed in the Rinchen Terdzo, or “precious treasury of terma,” collected by Jamgon Kongtrul the Great. He came away from that experience saying that we need to know much more about terma lineages, because Shambhala itself is a terma lineage.

Tibetan Buddhism has both kama and terma lineages. The teachings of the kama lineage, the long lineage, have been passed down orally across many centuries from the original teachers to the present. Beginning in the 11th century in Tibet there dawned a new phenomenon, known as terma: hidden or discovered treasures. Termas are shorter, fresher lineages that have revitalized Tibetan Buddhism at key historical moments, giving it flexibility and immediacy so that the tradition as a whole is able to adapt and change with the times. Traditionally, the two–kama and terma–have been woven together to create a vital spiritual tradition.

Padmasambhava, known to Tibetans as Guru Rinpoche ("the precious guru")

Padmasambhava, known to Tibetans as Guru Rinpoche (the precious guru)

Terma Lineages

The Tibetan terma traditions trace back to Padmasambhava, who prophesied that there would be future times where new challenges would arise that the kama lineage would not be able to address. Guru Rinpoche and his consort, Yeshe Tsogyal, together provided for that time by recording and hiding treasures that were direct lineage gifts for troubled times. These treasures have been discovered at different times and places in earth and rocks, and in the minds of tertons–those exceptional beings who reveal terma.

Those lineages where treasures really took hold made that terma the centerpiece of practice. Studying and practicing the terma became the highest responsibility of the successors of the terton and the community of practitioners. Other practices and transmissions were studied, understood and practiced through the lens of the central terma. Thus, the terma became the powerful, fresh skillful means that opened the power of other dharma teachings.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Flower Arranging

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Flower Arranging

Shambhala and the Terma Tradition

Understanding the terma tradition helps us to know who we are as Shambhalians. We uniquely hold the Shambhala terma, which has a special potency and role in the history of terma. They come from the warrior line of Gesar, the kingly warrior manifestation of Guru Rinpoche, and of course from the Rigdens. They are practices that present a social vision for how to develop enlightened society.

The specific terma that we received from the Druk Sakyong (Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche) holds the key to this dark age. We live in an era characterized by a particular kind of loss of life force, loss of heart, and loss of connection with basic goodness, all of which limit the potential of ourselves and our time. People may have been able to indulge in a great deal from a material point of view, but the inner poverty is terrible. Now we are experiencing the rise of outer poverty as well.

The Shambhala terma are all about restoring our connection with the life force that brings about a genuine sense of wealth and basic goodness, and restores the capacity to be in community with each other. As successors of the Druk Sakyong, everything that we practice and do needs to be oriented around this unique terma. We are the only ones who hold these teachings. We need to preserve them and apply their skillful means.

The more we understand the preciousness of terma, the more we can relax into the path Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche has laid out for us. The Sakyong could do many others things, but his commitment right now is to open up this particular terma of our lineage. Personally I feel incredibly joyful that he has made this commitment–to the lineage, to his father and to us.

Read more about terma on the Rinchen Terdzo blog.

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1 response to “ Shambhala as a Terma Lineage ”
  1. Charles Gillard
    Dec 29, 2009
    Reply

    The need to learn to live within the means of our planet…


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