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Buddhadharma : Summer 2011
buddhadharma| 75 |winter 2005 Treasure revelation is one of the more fantastic and intriguing facets of Tibetan Buddhism. Treasures, or terma, are sacred texts and relics said to be buried throughout the Tibetan and Himalayan landscape by the eighth-cen- tury tantric master Padmasambhava. During times of strife or decline, these treasures are reportedly drawn out of rock, lakes, and even the sky, often in a dramatic spectacle before a crowd of onlookers. Their revelation is thought to bring potent blessings to the area and to anyone who encounters the treasures, either as objects or teachings. Those who revealed the treasures, called tertöns, were sometimes contro- versial in Tibet, since their literary pro- ductions claimed the status of scripture. As charismatic figures, they often gained large followings, introduced new ritual cycles, and established their own religious communities outside of existing monastic institutions. As such, terma, which is asso- ciated primarily (though not exclusively) with the Nyingma school, has functioned as an important mechanism for innova- tion in Tibet since the eleventh century. Due to terma’s miraculous and vision- ary dimensions, it might be tempting for the skeptic to dismiss it as “priestly arti- fice,” or for the apologist to downplay the aspects of treasure revelation that seem the least “rational.” However, our challenge is to understand terma within its own social, cultural, and historical contexts. The best way to do this is to study the lives and writings of individual tertöns to find out what made them so compelling, and some- times controversial, in Tibet. For this reason, Tibetan Treasure Literature: Revelation, Tradition, and Accomplishment in Visionary Buddhism is a welcome addition to published works on terma. Andreas Doctor presents the life and revelations of Chokgyur Lingpa (1829–1870), one of the visionaries behind the nineteenth-century Rimé, or nonsec- tarian, movement in eastern Tibet. Inside Tibetan Treasure Literature, readers will find a valuable introduction to terma (part 1), a digest of Chokgyur Lingpa’s life and revelations (part 2), and translations of two texts within his corpus (part 3). In part 1, Doctor presents an overview of the categories of terma and the debates over their authenticity, which provides a framework for his study of Chokgyur Lingpa. The taxonomies devised by ter- töns show that terma are much more than sacred texts. They can be relics, ritual implements, medicinal substances, hidden valleys, and more. Doctor is mostly con- cerned with tracing the evolution of par- ticular categories of terma, such as mind treasures. Mind treasures are discovered in the mindstream of the tertön, while the more common form of terma, called earth treasures, are embedded in the land- scape. Though Doctor seems drawn to the more abstract notion of mind treasure, he readily admits that most of Chokgyur Linpga’s revelations are considered earth treasures. Doctor suggests that for all the “multiplicity and variety” of terma, the Nyingma school was “capable of incor- porating a host of idiosyncratic Treasure systems into a relatively homogenous and well-functioning unity.” Typically, texts belonging to a single discovery site or particular ritual system are grouped as a treasure cycle and initially circulated as a unit. Afterward they might be gathered tiBetan treasure Literature: revelation, tradition, and accomplishment in visionary Buddhism By andreas Doctor snow Lion Publications, 2005 246 pages; $24.95 (paperback) reviewed by holly Gayley holly gayley is a ph.d. candidaTe in TibeTan and himalayan sTudies aT harvard universiTy. she has wriTTen several arTicles on Treasure revelaTion, including The inTroducTion To The liFe and revelaTions oF pema lingpa. hiDDen treasures Line drawing of Chokgyur Lingpa (1829–1870)