print this page

Biographies: Terton Chokgyur Lingpa, the Miracle Worker

Spiritual treasure may come in many forms, as sacred objects, relics or medicine, but one of the forms especially valuable, is in that of special teachings. These teachings might appear as visionary revelations from the mind of a great Lama. There is, however, a very startling manifestation, known in Tibet as Sa-Ter, which is that of a fully composed written text, that the so called "Treasure Finder" (Tib: Terton) extracts from a material location. Such phenomena falls into the category of the miraculous.

Lord PadmasambhavaWhen Guru Padmasambhava was in Tibet he saw that the time was not yet ripe to give out the full range of spiritual teachings that he could have made available. He foresaw that down through the centuries, various and different teachings would be of benefit to succeeding generations. He therefore took his leading disciples of the time, and deposited certain teachings and instructions deep within their minds, to be brought forth in future generations. In many cases, when the time came to 'extract' a specific teaching or instruction, the appointed Revealer or "Terton" would intuitively be led to a certain location. At that location, in front of witnesses and during the performance of specific religious rites, the Revealer would then seemingly extract the teaching in the form of a "treasure-text" (Tib: terma) by putting his hand, for example, into a solid rock and carefully drawing the text out. Such an event might be hard to believe, unless one were to see it oneself.

In the following life story of Chokgyur Lingpa (1829-1879) there are many accounts where treasure texts were brought forth in the manner described. What is important to understand is that these materializations occurred before many witnesses, some of whom were highly sceptical. Especially at the beginning of Chokgyur Lingpa's life, he had to prove himself, and this meant that people were watching him very carefully. The existence of fakes and charlatans was not unknown in Tibet, and some young men might be tempted to try and perform a treasure-finding by the use of slight-of-hand. Sceptical Tibetans were as keen in the past to catch someone using magic tricks as any modern scientist or parapsychologist in today's world would be. They watched Chokyur Lingpa very carefully indeed.

There is no real explanation for Chokyur Lingpa's amazing feats, other than the miraculous. When we use the word miracle, however this doesn't mean that Chokyur Lingpa necessarily transcended the natural laws of physics; it simply means that he applied a higher principles, which pertain to the physics of the mind, that in present times remains little known to scientists. In this regard he was no different from the long list of exceptional miracle workers that are recorded in the history of all the religions, the world over.

Chokyur Lingpa did not only bring forth treasure-texts. He also from time to time materialized physical objects. The precipitation of the written word on paper, without application of pen, pencil, crayon or brush, is a rare paranormal feat, but it has been recorded on numbers of occasions before and since Chokyur Lingpa times. The same is also the case for the materialization of objects. It seems that two fundamental conditions for such events to occur are, (1) the presence of an exceptionally person (generally what we call a "saint") and (2) complete belief in the possibility by at least some of those who are present. The latter factor is important, and means that faith, or an open mind, is essential for supernatural events to manifest. We shall find in the following biography that Chokyur Lingpa not only had supreme confidence in his own abilities, but he was supported emotionally and spiritually by two powerful Lamas, Jamgon Khyentse Rinpoche and the renowned Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche.

Chokgyur Lingpa—also known as "Chokling" for short—was born in Nangchen, a province of eastern Tibet. His father was Pema Wangchuk of the Kyasu clan and his mother was named Tsering Yangtso. His parents named him Norbu Tenzin and as a boy he herded cattle. There was nothing special to mark him off as a significant incarnation, nor any indication that he would live an exceptional life. As a youth his uncle taught him how to read and write, but beyond that he was not given any further education.

One day as a young man he was just walking along, when he noticed a small clay "tsa-tsa" lying on the ground. In Tibet these were not exceptional. A "tsa-tsa" is a simple, unbaked clay figure, sometimes containing a little ash from the cremation of a particular Lama or maybe a saint, preserved as a relic and often carried around by a pious person for spiritual "good luck". Chokgyur Lingpa picked up the tsa-tsa and put it in his sash.

Now, since he was passing the estate of a rich person, the dogs of the house rushed out at him. In old Tibet this was a common occurrence and the passer-by had to defend himself with a stick. In this instance, some of the dogs bit Chokling as he tried to drive them off. People rushed forward to help him. When this happened, the belt holding his clothing together came loose, and the little tsa-tsa that he had only just before picked up, fell to the ground and broke open. Out rolled a tiny scroll of yellowed paper.

Those who saw this, immediately examined the tiny scroll and found that it was inscribed with a curious script—llines of writing, seemingly precipitated onto the strange paper. It would later turn out, when the script was decoded, that this was an inventory of all the Termas that Chokgyur Lingpa would eventually reveal throughout his lifetime. This whole event—the finding of the tsa-tsa, its breaking open, and the tiny scroll falling out—was very magical and strange, but it happened in such an innocent manner, that its full meaning was hardly grasped at the time.
From the time of finding the tsa-tsa, Chokgyur Lingpa began to undergo an interior change. He was still a young boy and had the characteristics of boys of his age in Tibet. But some sort of transformation was beginning to manifest within himself. We know little about this change because Tibetan biographies often do not report the subjective experience of individuals; recording only the external history or, at most, the visionary experiences of their subjects. However, there is a report of Chokgyur Lingpa going at this time to Dragkar Dzongchung, where he received an outline of twenty spiritual practices as a Terma. These teachings were only to be performed by himself and were intended to awaken his miraculous powers. Together with this terma he discovered a small mirror, a crystal and tiny vajra (sceptre). This vajra now rests in the reliquary of the Chokling Tulku of Bir.

Now, as Chokgyur Lingpa grew into a young man, he became a Kagyu monk at Parmi Monastery. While there he received novice vows and had the good fortune to receive an empowerment of Lama Gondu from the eighth Pawo Rinpoche. He remained at Parmi Monastery for many years. Later he was taken to Nangchen Gar, a Drugpa Kagyu monastery under the patronage of the local ruler of Nangchen.
At Nangchen Gar he began to learn tantric practices and proved himself so skilled at "Lama-dance" (cham) that he was given the position of dance leader. The rhythmic dance movements and gymnastics involved in Cham have the two-fold purpose of conveying certain kinds of knowledge through body movement, and bringing about a harmonious state of being through psychophysical integration. They form a type of body- meditation that also has the properties of a language. Each monastery usually had its own set of dances. These dances consisted of various precise movements, prayers in motion, involving complex and symbolic choreography. Chokgyur Lingpa discovered that these dances released certain blocks deep within his psyche.
The dance movements of Nangchen Gar had been handed down for many generations. While Chokling was performing them, he discovered that certain portions of the dance were incorrect, or not any longer operating at a peak level. Once, while leading the dances in the open courtyard of the monastery, Chokling's consciousness shifted into a vision of Guru Padmasambhava with 25 disciples performing a more meaningful form of dance movements, which were very complicated. Chokling started following those movements, as if he were Guru Rinpoche himself, and since he was the dance leader, this meant that everyone else performing the dance started to imitate him. The monastic Ge-ko (disciplinarian) was very upset when he saw this.

The Ge-ko was a traditionalist. Thinking that Chokgyur Lingpa was deliberately disobedient, he had him expelled from the monastery. This was a big shock for everyone concerned.

Chokgyur Lingpa then went to Derge, which was the capital of eastern Tibet, and he stayed for some time at Jamgon Kongtrul's monastery. He was still looked upon as an ordinary person, and so, when he boasted amongst some of his friends that he was a Terton, they made fun of him. They nicknamed him Kyasu Terton, not out of respect but as a joke.

Evidently there was a prophecy which someone dug up later, which said that the Chok-ling Terton would not be recognized until he attained the age of 25. Anyway, when Chokgyur Lingpa became 25 some events occurred which caused him to become publicly well-known. In Tibet, in those days, to be a Terton was something like being a pop star. Everyone was fascinated with seeing a Terton, everyone wanted to see miracles, and this made the person very famous. Of course, if the person was a fake, this would lead to enormous public ridicule. But Chokgyur Lingpa was certainly no fake!

In his 25th year, Chokling met Palpung Situ Rinpoche, whose personal name was Pema Nyingche Wangpo, a hugely important and famous Lama at that time. At that meeting he offered Situ Rinpoche a ritual phurba that he had discovered by miraculous means and showed Rinpoche his treasure-texts. He was very humble, and explained to Rinpoche that he believed himself to be an authentic Terton, but the judgement would be up to Rinpoche's decision. Situpa said, "Hmmm, this might be very good." He quite favoured the young Chokling. But he also thought that the case should be put to the test. So, Situ Rinpoche suggested that, since there was a drought occurring, maybe Chokling should produce rain. Chokling immediately went into meditation, and a short while later the clouds gathered and it really began to rain. This convinced Situ Rinpoche that Chokling was an authentic miracle worker.
After that Chokgyur Lingpa returned to Jamgon Kongtrul's monastery. He now had the backing of great Situ Rinpoche, but he asked Jamgon Kongtrul if the latter would write him a letter of recommendation to give to the great Jamgon Khyentse Wangpo. This Jamgon Kongtrul did.

In his letter to Khyentse Wangpo, Kongtrul Rinpoche still expressed some hesitation as to whether Chokling was an authentic Terton or not, but he inclined to believe that something quite wonderful was going on. He suggested that maybe Khyentse Rinpoche could ascertain the truth. The letter says in part, "I sense that he is genuine… He has so far revealed one terma called Pema Tsuktor and I find the words and meaning of this text to be entirely wonderful… and yet he is quite uneducated. Were he to attempt to write such a text himself he would be quite incapable of doing so, given his education level."

Chokyur LingpaNow, it so happened that when Chokgyur Lingpa showed up at Jamgon Khyentse Rinpoche's abode, Rinpoche recognized him immediately. Even before reading Kongtrul Rinpoche's letter, Jamgon Khyentse embraced Chokling and exclaimed, "For thirteen lifetimes you and I have been son and father! What joy to once more be together again." He then read the letter of introduction that Jamgon Kongtrul had sent, and he arranged matters so as to bestow on Chokling the full transmissions of Yangdak Heruka with Nine Lamps and Vajrakilaya. He also imparted the instructions of the Lama Yang-t'ig. At that time Chokling experienced Khyentse Rinpoche as the ancient King, Tri-song Detsan in person, an earthquake shook the ground, there was a great clap of thunder, and other startling events occurred. Thus the "knots" (grantha, psychological blockages or binds) of Chokling's heart were undone, and memories of the past filled his consciousness.

From a critical scientific point of view, a fascinating thing now happened. Chokgyur Lingpa showed Khyentse Rinpoche an important treasure-text that he had discovered. This was the text known as Tukdrub Barchay. Khyentse Rinpoche immediately recognized it as the same text that he had discovered quite independently. When both texts were laid out side by side, it was seen that the wording was identical. Chokyur Lingpa's redaction had been drawn out of a solid material location (sa-ter), while Khyentse Rinpoche had received his entirely within his mind (gong-ter). Comparing the two texts, the one now confirmed the authenticity of the other. This was really a wonderful confirmation.

Jamgon Khyentse Wangpo then told Chokling that he should commit to writing any revelations that he had held in his mind. Up to that point Chokling had not wanted to present his own mind revelations (gong-ter) since he feared, lacking a reputation as a Terton, such revelations would be without the physical proof which Sa-ter possessed. The latter could be seen clearly, as they were drawn out of their physical location—they were solid, apparently real objects, extracted from a rock, the wall of a cave, or sometimes from lakes and rivers. In that sense they afforded physical proof. Gong-ter, on the other hand, simply spilled out of the consciousness, and had no physical support to give them credence. Now that Chokling had been asked to reveal his personal gong-ter, he did so with alacrity. Khyentse Rinpoche became his secretary, and as Chokling spoke (while in trance), he transcribed the words that were spoken.

Jamgon Khyentse Rinpoche and Chokgyur Lingpa did not have the slightest doubt about each other. They were in virtual telepathic rapport together. At one time when performing a particular spiritual practice, they simultaneously experienced the same vision of meeting Guru Rinpoche and his consort Yeshe Tsogyal. It is really quite extraordinary what an amazing pair these two were.

When he was around 27 or 28 years old, Chokgyur Lingpa received Bodhisattva vows from Dzang Rinpoche. After that he became a vegetarian. By the time he was 30 he had become very famous. He went again to see Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche. At that time Kongtrul Rinpoche was suffering from leprosy, for which in Tibet at that time there was no medical cure. Today we treat leprosy with penicillin, but back then this was not available. Chokgyur Lingpa told Kongtrul Rinpoche that there was a terma document which contained a meditation practice specific for him, that would cure his leprosy. Together they went and extracted this brief text. By following the practice that it recommended, Rinpoche's leprosy entirely disappeared.

Chokgyur Lingpa established a monastic seat at Kela, in Nangchen province. At that time he had a vision of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo inseparable from Padmasambhava himself. During this visionary experience he saw a certain rock at Kela with light coming from it. Simultaneously, miles away, Khyentse Rinpoche had a vision in which he saw Guru Padmasambhava pointing toward the same rock at Kela. This seemed to signify something important. Consequently Chokgyur Rinpoche was able to reach in and extract a treasure-text from that rock. The text in question was called Tukdub Sampa Lhundub and along with it was extracted a small statue of Guru Rinpoche made from a special type of stone. It is said that this same statue had once belonged to King Tri-srong Detsan and had been used by the latter as a support for meditation. The statue still exists, and today rests in a box in Sikkim, in His Holiness the Karmapa's treasury.

On another occasion Chokling discovered a famous Kilaya-text. In front of witnesses he went before a particular rock, which he opened up in a miraculous way. Looking inside, people could see 75 shining phurbas (i.e., magic daggers), all emitting electrical sparks like tiny lightning flashes. Chokling then reached in and extracted the main phurba, which was fashioned from a substance not native to this planet. A fairly small little yellow scroll was bound round this phurba which, when unfolded and decoded, revealed a special practice for invoking Vajrakilaya. This phurba remains in the possession of His Holiness the Karmapa to the present day.

Many termas have been deposited in caves occupied by yogis and yoginis. These termas are not ordinary books, just left lying around. They are psychic precipitations deposited in the inter-dimensional spaces of the rock walls of these caves. Only at the set time and according to precise yogic rites is it possible for the proper Terton to extract such teachings. One such cave is the secret Namgyal Cave of Ju Mipham Gyamtso, which is a cave called Karmo Tagtsang Keutsang and holds within it the inter-dimensional door of Go-kar-mo. The walls of this crystal clear Vajra-skull cave vibrate with symbols and glyphs, which appear and disappear continuously, undulating with flashes of colour reflecting all the varied hues of wisdom-fire.

Everywhere shines the radiance of every kind of gem stone. Fresh water is streaming down. Variously hued, lovely Dakinis continuously pass through the walls, coming and going, appearing and re-appearing, rising and descending. Another such cave also on the slope of the white snow-capped mountain of Yegyal Namkha Dza is called Yubar Dra, which means Glowing Turquoise. This cave lies behind a waterfall, so that when one is inside, the sun shining through the water fills the cave with rainbow light. The valley around the cave is full of wild flowers and the whole place is incredibly beautiful. When Chokgyur Lingpa went to the latter, he extracted from the inner wall of the cave the 'treasure-text' called Kunzang Tuk-t'ig, revealing the most profound Highest Yoga (Maha-ati-yoga) teachings ever.

Yet another famous cave was called Pema Shelpuk, the Crystal Lotus Cave. This existed in a valley of flowers, high in the mountains. Streams irrigated the valley. The cave, surrounding valley, and the huge rock in which the cave was set, all are white in colour. In that cave the woman yogini-saint Yeshe Tsogyal once lived when practicing meditation. Over the ages, however, the cave had become haunted and people were frightened to go near. The three great adepts, Jamgon Khyentse, Chokling and Jamgon Kongtrul went together to that cave and found there the Dzogchen Desum treasure texts. When extracting the treasure, Chokling levitated upwards and took the treasure text out of the rock ceiling of the cave. This was witnessed by several hundred people who had gathered to see the event. Afterwards the three adepts went to Jamgon Kongtrul's retreat at Palpung and performed a collective dubchen (grand ritual) at the Tsari Jewel Rock.

Amongst the many disciples who received empowerments from Chokgyur Lingpa was His Holiness the 14th Karmapa, Tekchok Dorje. The great Karmapa invited Chokgyur Lingpa to visit Lhasa. Thus, in Lhasa Chokling became very famous and a vast number of followers gathered around him. He travelled around visiting all the pilgrimage sites, including Samye Monastery and the Karmapa's seat at Tsurphu. Demo, the regent of Tibet at that time, petitioned Chokgyur Lingpa to perform a series of prayer ceremonies for the benefit of the nation.

Chokgyur Lingpa made some rites to protect the Tibetan government and people, but he was also aware of the coming disaster. He composed some prophecies, warning about the Communist invasion. He also wrote a prophecy outlining all the lives of the Karmapa, both past and future, which he said would number twenty-two. With each life, he gave a brief description and the name that the Karmapa would be known by.

After Lhasa, he travelled to Mindrolling, the central Nyingmapa monastery in Tibet, and to Dorje Drak. At each of these places he was given great respect and treated as an important person.

He then returned to his homeland in eastern Tibet. There too he went from place to place, and at each place he visited, the people retain to this day a memory of the countless miracles that he performed. If we were to record these events, the list would go on and on.

At Senge Yutso, the Lake of the Turquoise Lion, he stirred up the lake in such a way that around the shore the beaches became covered in gold. When he arrived at the lake it was frozen over. To break the ice, people threw rocks into the lake. Since Chokling was creating a magical field, the rock throwing was said to disturb the water-spirits (nagas) of the lake. Taking his shirt by one end, Chokgyur Lingpa tossed the other end into the lake and then pulled back, as if using the shirt to draw something out of the water. He kept doing this. Suddenly the water was boiling with scorpions—not exactly real scorpions, but supernatural scorpions, which crossed the dimensional barrier—and for a moment Chokling was actually scared. He leapt back. Jamyang Khyentse slapped Chokling on the face and shouted at him, "How dare you show fear. You are Guru Rinpoche's representative. Toss it in again!" This all happened very quickly. Chokgyur Lingpa tossed the end of the shirt back into the water and pulled, and out came a piece of gold the size of a sheep's belly. The beaches were then strewn with gold and everyone gathered it up. This gold was later used to fund many temples and support the Dharma.

Chokgyur Lingpa also stayed at Dzogchen Monastery for some time. He extracted several termas from a local mountain there and he gave a lot of teachings. It was during that time that Dza Patrul Rinpoche and Chokling met one another. They exchanged teachings and Patrul Rinpoche declared at that time that Chokgyur Lingpa was the reincarnation of Sanggye Lingpa, an earlier very famous Terton.

At Sechen Monastery Chokgyur Lingpa led an important dubchen (grand rite) of Yangdag. He went on to Katok, where the great Kunzang Palden Rinpoche saw him. Chokling performed the Tsechu Dance of Padmasambhava and his eight manifestations at Katok Gonpa.

Traveling from Karmey Monastery to Zurmang, the seat of H.E. Zurmang Gharwang Rinpoche, he proceeded on to Neten Monastery. There he suddenly fell ill. The people quickly gathered and began a prayer vigil, but Chokgyur Lingpa passed away in the morning. At the moment he died, the earth quaked and it is said that flowers rained down from the sky.

Chokgyur Lingpa's body was placed, in the sitting position, in a golden stupa that was erected to contain it. The white shirt that he had used to stir up the Lake of Senge Yutso was placed with the body. Unfortunately, in 1969 the Chinese Communists destroyed this stupa and the body was cremated.

Thus was the astounding life of Chokgyur Lingpa, a life of amazing miracles.

top of page

Dharma Fellowship