Biography of Pema Lingpa, Bhutan's famous treasure revealer
Once, he uncovered treasure following instructions from a dream. He would go on to uncover thirty-two treasures during his lifetime.
Of the Five Terton (treasure revealer) Kings, one reigned lofty above the rest. He was born on the 15th day of the second month of the male iron-horse year of the eighth sexagenary cycle. In another language, he was born in the year 1450.
He came from the Nyo lineage that originated from Tibet. His great-great-grandfather was Jikten Gonpo, founder of the Drigung Kagyu tradition. Jikten Gonpo had a vision that compelled him to send his son to the south, where the son would establish a monastery. The son was named Ziji Pel, who founded Chalkha Gonpa in Paro.
Ziji Pel then sired Tenpai Nyima, who sired Dondrub Zangpo, who then sired our saint-of-the-hour: Pema Lingpa.
At 9 years old, Pema Lingpa became the apprentice of a blacksmith. Over the years, he made iron millstones and iron pans. He also made swords, chain mails and knives. He buried his craft throughout the Bumthang area.
As he grew older, although he continued as a blacksmith, he developed a penchant for religion.
Pema Lingpa experienced a prophetic dream at twenty-five years old. At that time, he did not understand the dream. Two years later, he fell asleep near Mani Gonpa when a voice told him to wake up. When he did, he saw a monk dressed in rags. The monk handed him a scroll and urged him to read it.
As soon as Pema Lingpa accepted the scroll, the monk disappeared. Pema Lingpa unfurled the parchment in his hand and read the words on it. It was instructions to gather five friends and go to Naring Drak during a full moon. There, the parchment said, he will learn his destiny from under a rock. Included on the scroll was the key to decode terma (treasure).
Termas are wisdom and teachings that Guru Rinpoche and his followers hid all over Tibet and the Himalayas. Only enlightened tertons (treasure revealers) can find the terma. A code is then required to decode the terma.
Pema Lingpa followed the directions on the scroll. He found five friends, and they visited Naring Drak at the instructed time. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Pema Lingpa removed all his clothes and jumped into the small lake at the bottom of a cliff. In the water, he found a cave, and in the cave, he discovered stacks of texts.
Back home, nobody could read the text; not his parents, nor his two masters. Pema Lingpa brought the scroll back to Mani Gonpa where he consulted the code given to him by the monk in the rags. Suddenly, he could read the title of the text: Crystallisation of the Tantra of Luminous Space (klong gsal gsang ba snying bcud).
This was the first terma he uncovered. He would find thirty-two within his lifetime.
Pema Lingpa decoded the entire parchment.
He related the teachings publicly over a time period of three weeks. Every night, a dakini would appear in his dreams to give him instructions and teach him the steps of different sacred dances.
As time progressed, he uncovered more and more terma. While he received much support, he had his doubters. The local governor questioned his authenticity. Confrontation ensued. The governor gathered a large group of people for an extraction with Pema Lingpa at Naring Drak. He told Pema Lingpa that if the latter was successful in uncovering terma, Pema Lingpa would gain his support. On the other hand, if Pema Lingpa failed at the task, he would be punished for disrupting the district.
Hearing this, Pema Lingpa grabbed a burning lamp and declared, “If I am genuine, let me bring back the treasure with this lamp still burning. If I am a fraud, let me die in the waters below.”
Next, he plunged into the lake. Not long after, he resurfaced. He held in his one hand a box made of joint skulls and a small sculpture. And in his other hand was the butter lamp, its flame still burning bright. Hence, Naring Drak was named Mebar Tsho, or Burning Lake.
Later on in 1482, at the age of thirty-three, Pema Lingpa had a dream.
In the dream, the protector deity Shelging Karpo told him to go to Kurje to find terma. He obeyed, and received a small box there from the same deity. This became the Lama Drakpo cycle of teachings.
In 1483, Pema Lingpa uncovered one of his most important treasures, the Lama Norbu Gyatso from Mendo Drak Karpo.
Throughout his life, he would go on to acquire many important revelations.
In 1520, Pema Lingpa went to Tibet and upon his return to the Bumthang area, three Tsilung sculptures and the Tongwa Kundol sculptures were weeping.
Other bad omens began to surface too. Eventually, Pema Lingpa fell ill. His sons had dreams that predicted their father’s death.
The next year, Pema Lingpa passed away. His body was left untouched for nine days, yet it showed no signs of decomposing. Only after that was his body cremated and the remains placed in a stupa at Tamzhing Lhundrub Choling.
Pema Lingpa’s teachings have been transmitted down through three primary lines of incarnation. Today, his influence lives on in idyllic Bhutan, through paintings, statues, and most importantly, the terma he uncovered.