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Biographies: Terdag Lingpa

Terdag LingpaSaint Terdag Lingpa, also known as Padma Garwang Gyurme Dorje or Minling Terchen, was born in the year 1646. Even as a child he was exceptionally spiritual. He began his religious training at the age of four under the guidance of his father, Sangdag Tinley Lhundup, who initiated the child into the practice of bKa brgyad gSang-rdzogs. At the age of nine he received dGe-bsnyen vows and further training in meditation, philosophy and ritual according to the discipline of the Nyingma Order.

At the age of twenty-three, Terdag Lingpa met the great fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Tenzin Gyatso, at Deprung Monastery, from whom he received full monk's ordination. Following an auspicious omen, the Dalai Lama bestowed a special lotus crown made of fine brocade on his disciple, while giving him the full transmission of gSang-ba rGya-can, a cycle of instruction comprising His Holiness the Dalai Lama's visions, treasure texts and supplementary notes on the great sealed secrets of spiritual practice.

After some years of intensive study (he had three primary teachers and eleven secondary instructors), he went into solitary retreat for one year and ten days. At sometime during this retreat he experienced himself as actually one with the Vajra Logos (Vajrasattva), and also received visions of divine archetypes such as Vajrakilaya, or of innumerable Indian and Tibetan saints such as Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra, Yeshe Tsogyal, Nyima Ozer and Kunkhyen Chos-je. In these visions he was bestowed pronouncements where he would find hidden treasure texts, objects and special revelations in the future. Consequently he was to reveal the text Rig-'dzin Thug-tig at Yama Lung, the text gShin-rje-gshed gregs-'joms at Shel Drag, the cycle of Thugs-rje chen-po bde-gshegs kun-'dus, and most importantly of all, his greatest revelation, the rDor-sems-ati-'skor at Okar Rock when he was 33 years of age.

Some ten years later in 1676, the Dalai Lama (his teacher, friend, and also with time, his student) handsomely repaid the family of Terdag Lingpa for their support in his battle against the Rinpung prince Karma Tan-kyong Wangpo by authorizing and funding Terdag Lingpa's new monastery of Min-drol-ling in the Gva Valley.

Given the very close relationship, both political, religious and personal, between Terdag Lingpa and the fifth Dalai Lama, it is not surprising to find the textual compositions of Terdag Lingpa closely aligned with the scholarly advancements and more refined mysticism of the Sarma tradition of the Dalai Lama and Karmapa schools. Indeed, by taking the very best of both the old Nyingma and the new Sarma schools, Terdag Lingpa introduced his newly revealed liturgy very much as a reform movement. The revealed treatises which we use, therefore, represents the chief high point in liturgical development and orthodoxy in Tibet, and should be viewed as a pure reformation of the scattered, heterodox, or even corrupt, rituals of prior traditions disseminated throughout the land. As said in The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: "Gyurme Dorje and Ngawang Chorpel [his brother]... united all the disparate streams of instruction throughout Tibet... and thereby raised anew the infallible Great Banner [of the Dharma]."

The Min-drol-ling Dor-sem cycle of spiritual practice is presented as a revelation (gter-ma) hidden by Lord Padmasambhava and discovered by Saint Gyurme Dorje, with extensive commentary given by his younger brother Dharma-sri (1654-1718). After carrying out his grand reform, Terdag Lingpa at the age of sixty-eight, fell ill. After leaving final instructions with his leading disciples, and prophecies concerning future events, he passed away on the second day of the second Tibetan month, in 1714 AD.

The great value of St. Terdag Lingpa is that he truly was an ecumenical master of spirituality. Roughly 300 years has passed since his death, and still the lineage and practice of meditation inspired by his guidance remains amongst us today. Both a teacher and disciple of the great fifth Dalai Lama, he was able to enact a significant reform in Tibetan mysticism. Terdag Lingpa's revealed texts amount to nine volumes, with commentaries considered to consist of more than 25 volumes. In all, the liturgy and meditation of the Dor-sem Cycle is the finest creation of all these works.

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