Termas – “Secret, hidden or discovered teaching texts and objects”.
Hide the dharma scriptures I taught
As treasures from one mind to another,
Or put them in the womb of the earth.
Why? Because the heretics are strong
And the meaning could be distorted. Beware!
Do not stop the flow of the river.
- Buddha Shakyamuni, from the "Sutra of the Play of the River" (The Ri-Me philosophy of Jamgun Kontrul the Great, p118)
Terma denotes “treasure teachings”, that is, teachings that have been hidden or obscured either by human teachers on the material plane, or by dakinis and other buddhas in mind space. In practical terms to use the Bon as an example, during a time of persecution some practitioners had to hide texts in safe places like caves to prevent them from being destroyed. Similarly Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyel chose to stash various tantric and Dzogchen texts until a time where the awareness of people were better prepared.
These teachings will frighten people with limited outlook. They cannot be understood by the ordinary rational mind. Hide these teachings in the secret place in your mind.
- Taphihritsa to Namgzher Lodpo, (Wonders of the Natural Mind, p63)
At that time, since there was no one who was yet ready to receive the teachings of this first section, the Acharya hid the texts beneath a huge rock to the east of Vajrasana.
- About manjushrimitra, (Cycles of Day and Night, p30)
I, the Lady of Kharchen, then acted as the compiler and gave my blessings that these teachings may be transmitted to the minds of those in the future who are endowed with a karmic link. Thus I entrusted them to the dakinis and concealed them as a precious earth treasure. May they meet with the destined one in the future! Samaya. Seal, seal, seal.
- Lady Tsogyel, (from Quintessential Dzochen, Confusion Dawns as Wisdom, p52)
In many cases they stashed these teachings with a prediction as to who would find it and when it would be found. There is a long history of re-discovered teachings and a long lineage of Tertons ‘treasure revealers’ in Tibet, along with historical evidence to prove this.
In some schools this immediacy of teachings and its relevancy to the people of each time is what can be referred to as ‘warm breath’.
In the age of degeneration …it will be nurtured by the terma teachings.
- Prediction by Padmasambhava, the Lotus-Born Buddha (The Ri-Me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, p120)
The discoveries continue to this day and will continue to do so, and Dzogchen practitioners understand (or should understand) this to be proof that the teachings of Buddha are a living thing, extant not only in many forms but also planes of existence.
There are many secret tantras that the humans do not know about. The dakinis opened the doors to many temples in the sky and showed me many tantras … [These tantras] are limitless; one can never find an end to them.
- Atisha, (The Ri-Me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, p256)
A great and definitive book on the various lineages has a section pertaining to Terma and describes the Types of Terma as Earth Terma, Mind Terma and Pure Vision Terma. Earth Terma we have already discussed briefly above. What is important to note is that Earth Terma does not exclusively denote Buddhist teachings but can include teachings on medicines as well as being actual treasures such as crystals and so on.
The next type of terma is Mind Terma and Buddha Shakyamuni is quoted as saying:
Manjushri, the four elements come from the treasure-house of space. In the same way, all the teachings come from the treasure-house of the mind of the Buddhas. Therefore, learn how to enjoy the meaning of the treasure findings.
- p119, The Ri-Me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great
All and everything emanates from me,
So all and everything, whatever appears,
Is revealed as transmission,
Revelation of the timelessly pure reality-field.
- Vairochana, (Eye of the Storm, p3)
The way this can best be understood is that since all teachings arise from the very centre of cosmic consciousness, those who truly grasp the meaning of things ultimately 'receive' their understanding from primordial knowledge itself. Furthermore, because at any point in time a being is already inherently Buddha, once he/she fully recognise their own mind as emanation of the primordial Buddha, they can receive teachings directly from Samantabhadra which is the essence of understanding pervading from within their own minds. In this way the transmission is said to be from "mind-to-mind". In many cases this type of transmission often focus on instructions of how to practice already existing teachings. Many of these Upadeshas, or 'secret instructions' from the individual consciousness of a living master’s mind may fall into this category because it is an in-depth explanation of already extant texts/tantras.
It is also possible to receive various instructions from other emanations of Samantabhadra through a mind-to-mind connection. A very practical example would be the actual experience of understanding itself. When one reads a book by a famous lama for example, it is possible to receive direct transmission from his mind without ever having personal contact with him.
Of course, just because it is possible does not mean it just happens, as ones ability to experience this depends entirely on whether ones mind has been appropriately prepared so that it is capable of receiving teachings in this way in the first place. To understand the meaning of the teachings is in truth a process of mind-to-mind and therefore the person has to be able to distinguish when their understanding is tainted by grasping, and when it is truly ‘receiving’ transmission. This is quite a complicated process, hard to define and not often discussed but it is something you will find us investigating ongoingly on this site.
For great Bodhisattvas who desire the dharma, who are respectful and have excellent intentions, the Buddhas show their faces to them and cause them to hear the dharma, even if they live in other worlds.
- Buddha Shakyamuni, from the "Sutra of the Samadhi That Gathers All Posivie Deeds" (The Ri-Me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, p120)
The visions are like rays that appear to the practitioner but not to the ordinary organs of sense perceptions.
-p95, Heart Drops of the Dharmakaya (Dzogchen Practice of the Bon Tradition)
The key to experiencing ‘pure visions’ is constantly remaining in the state of Natural Perfection. Once one has conquered the incorrect views of duality and impurity one’s own being opens up into a visionary display of emanations. Not being attached to the form of ones visions, one is perfectly capable of experiencing visions of familiar or unfamiliar, buddhist or non-buddhist deities (all emanations of Samantabhadra and therefore oneself) which can reveal aspects of understanding previously hidden to one. Again this is something available to anyone however in order to recognise and then make use of these visions one has to have definitively renounced all attachment to outcome as well as fully integrated the knowledge that all is self, yet empty and aware and manifesting ceaselessly.
As visions are the externalised manifestation of our natural condition, there are no limits to the types of visions we may have. In fact, the vision itself is not important: what is important is to integrate it and to realize that the source of the vision is our own primordial state.
- p 172, Wonders of the Natural Mind (by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche)
According to the Buddhist tradition one of the ways to determine the authenticity of a teaching or treatise received in this way is to see whether its meaning contradicts or not, the dharma of the Buddha. Of course that means if ones intention is to find, unravel or reveal these mysterious teachings one has to constantly increase ones knowledge of the Teachings to be able to ascertain its quality.
There are many dharma traditions known to be
In the hearing lineage and the word lineage.
If their teachings accord with the tantras,
then it is appropriate to accept them.
If not, then they are false compositions.
If the teachings that come from dreams,
Visions of the deities, and similar sources
are in accord with the sutras and tantras,
then there is no problem in accepting them.
But if teachings do not concur with the sutras and tantras,
Then they should be known as the blessing of the Maras [illusion].
- Sakya Pandita, (The Ri-Me Philosophy of Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, p252)
This is where the real magic of pure and total consciousness lies, the 'cherry and nuts' version of reality for those brave enough to destroy their own egoistic clinging. This is another one of the subjects we will constantly be investigating.