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Buddhadharma : Summer 2011
buddhadharma| 77 |winter 2005 into a larger collection of terma that is revealed by a particular tertön. However, the treasure tradition, as a whole, was only constructed as a “unity” by later systematizers like Jamgön Kongtrul (1813–1899), who compiled the famous Treasury of Precious Terma and Lives of the One Hundred Tertöns. But even with such codification efforts, today treasure revelation in Tibet remains by and large idiosyncratic, localized, and charismatic. Despite the widespread fame and adoption of particular terma cycles, such as the Longchen Nyingthik, distinct lin- eages often focus on the treasures of a sin- gle tertön, which is passed down through family or incarnation lines. The treasure collection of Chokgyur Lingpa, known as the Chokling Tersar, is a good example of this. It has been propagated by Chokgyur Lingpa’s great-grandson, Tulku Urgyen, and Tulku Urgyen’s three sons, one of whom (Tsikey Chokling Rinpoche) has been recognized as an incarnation of Chokgyur Lingpa. (The recently pub- lished memoirs of Tulku Urgyen, Blazing Splendor, contain numerous stories about Chokgyur Lingpa that have been passed down in the family.) Doctor also argues that the common origin of terma in the abstract realm of timeless buddhas (i.e., the dharmakaya) unifies the seeming diversity of terma and places treasure revelation beyond the grip of historians – Tibetan or Western – who seek to discredit it. Ironically, through this approach, Doctor dislocates terma from the Tibetan landscape and the ves- tiges of the past that Tibetans seek to dis- cover there. The point of terma, it could be argued, is to bring timeless wisdom into the vicissitudes of human history. It is not a process of abstraction but one of crystallization (and later extraction). According to Nyingma schemas, a set of teachings was transmitted from the dharmakaya through mental, symbolic, and linguistic media to nirmanakaya masters, first in India and later in Tibet, before being transcribed and buried in the landscape. In order to legitimize their revelations, tertöns need to demonstrate that treasure cycles have an authoritative source and transmission line. Doctor’s argument for the lack of historical consciousness among tertöns being because of the “lack of intrinsic existence in time and matter” is, I believe, misguided. Tertöns like Nyangral Nyima Öser were among the early writers of history in Tibet, and treasure literature elaborated many of the key narratives concerning the origins of the Tibetan people and the coming of Buddhism to Tibet during the heyday of the Tibetan empire (seventh to ninth centuries). For the most part, individual treasure cycles contain their own particular histories of transmission, and tertön biographies begin with a past-life genealogy tracing the treasure revealer to the eighth century as a direct disciple of Padmasambhava. Indeed, what distinguishes terma from its close cousin, pure vision, is the claim of the tertön to have received the teach- ing directly from Padmasambhava (or a comparable master such as Vimalamitra) as his disciple in a previous life. Doctor’s foray into the debates over the authenticity of terma is the most com- pelling section of this book. The reader will get some taste for the polemics that fill Tibetan texts, and the points made by opponents and defenders of terma reveal much about Tibetan conceptions of reli- gious authority. For example, when an opponent contends that treasure litera- ture consists of nothing but earth teach- ings (implying the lack of an authentic source), the tertön Ratna Lingpa retorts that since the materials to make ink and paper are all extracted from earth, then all texts would similarly be earth teach- ings. Doctor covers many of the points of contention between Nyingma defenders and their opponents from other schools of Tibetan Buddhism, exposing the reader to the views of Guru Chöwang, Sakya Pandita, Jigten Gönpo, Longchenpa, Ratna Lingpa, and Ju Mipham. The views of the latter two are explored in some depth. Chapter 3 consists of an elegant trans- lation of Ju Mipham’s (1846–1912) bit- ing satire and critique of new treasures proliferating in the nineteenth century. Entitled The Gem that Clears the Waters: An Investigation of Treasure Revealers, this short text by the renowned Nyingma scholar explains what is at stake in dis- cerning between genuine and fake terma. He warns that while the blessings of new treasures can indeed be potent, they rely completely on the realization of the tertön. With old treasures, on the other hand, even if the preceptor of an initia- tion has not fully realized the teaching at hand, it can still be fully transmitted to and realized by others if the lineage is pure. With wit, Mipham rebukes tertöns for misusing prophecies to gain patrons and consorts, promoting themselves at the expense of others. In the final analysis, Mipham suggests that only realized masters can discern the signs of accomplishment in another, such that ordinary people should look to established religious authorities for guid- ance concerning who is and is not a gen- uine tertön. Mipham thereby introduces some criteria for quality control. Though Doctor does not make an explicit link between Mipham’s critique and the new treasures by Chokgyur Lingpa, it is clear that Chokgyur Lingpa would have ful- filled Mipham’s criterion since esteemed teachers promoted his revelations. Along these lines, Doctor argues de facto that what determines the authenticity of a terma is the sanction of established reli- gious figures and faith among the tertön’s own followers. In part 2 of Tibetan Treasure Literature, Doctor provides a glimpse into Chokgyur Lingpa’s life and revelations as well as his role in the Rimé movement spearheaded by Jamgön Kongtrul and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. A prolific tertön, Chokgyur Lingpa discovered no fewer than thirty-seven major earth trea- sures, assisted in many cases by Kongtrul and Khyentse. Chokgyur Lingpa’s more famous counterparts served as scribes for many of his treasures, and in some cases Khyentse actually decoded the yellow scrolls discovered by Chokgyur Lingpa in a treasure cache. The collaboration of these nineteenth-century luminaries is surely one of the most fascinating chapters in Tibetan intellectual history, and Doctor leaves the reader eager to learn more. In synoptic form, Doctor reviews the sources for Chokgyur Lingpa’s biography and details his many treasure revelations. Doctor has a number of sources at his disposal, including an autobiography and a handful of biographies – the longest a hefty 600 pages. Given this wealth of information, it is a shame how little we learn about Chokgyur Lingpa’s life, his views on ecumenism, or the specific ways in which he collaborated with Kongtrul and Khyentse. One can only hope that Doctor plans to do a full-length study and/or translation of one of Chokgyur Lingpa’s biographies, so that we can get a fuller picture of the life and times of