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Treasure (gter ma)

  • The texts and oral teachings of Buddhism have been handed down in two distinct ways: through a distant oral lineage from one generation to the next (ring brgyud bka' ma) and through a close lineage of revealed teachings which have a more immediate impact (nye brgyud gter ma). The Sanskrit nidhi (Tib. gter ma), translated in English as 'treasure' or 'revealed doctrine' (gter chos), refers to those texts and sacred objects which were concealed in the past in order that they might be protected and revealed in the future for the benefit of posterity.
  • The tradition of concealing texts as treasure is extremely ancient in India and China. Within Indian Buddhism, it is well known that the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras are said to have been revealed when Nāgārjuna received them in the form of treasure from the serpentine water spirits (nāga). A recension of the sādhana class of Mahāyoga tantras is also said to have been revealed to eight great masters, including Nāgārjuna, in the Śītavana charnel ground near Vajrāsana. In Tibet, the tradition of the treasures was introduced by Padmasambhava and his students, who concealed texts and sacred objects at geomantic power places on the landscape, entrusting them to their respective custodians or treasure-lords (gter bdag) or to the ḍākinīs for safe keeping, with the prediction that these would be discovered art some future time by a prophesied treasure-finder (gter ston). Accordingly, it is believed that the students of Padmasambhava have continued to emanate in the forms of treasure-finders in successive centuries in order to reveal these treasure-doctrines. Other kinds of treasure-doctrine revealed directly from the enlightened intention of buddha-mind in a telepathic manner (dgongs gter) or in a pure visionary experience (dag snang) are also recognised. There are many such lineages extant at the present day, including that of the present text, and they are maintained mostly but by no means exclusively, by the rNying-ma school. On the nature, purpose, and kinds of treasure-doctrine, see T. Thondup Rin-po-che, Hidden Teachings of Tibet; and bDud-'joms Rin-po-che, NSTB, pp. 741-880. GD (from the Glossary to Tibetan Elemental Divination Paintings)