Tertön Sogyal Biography

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The great tertön Lerab Lingpa Trinlé Thayé Tsal, or Tertön Sogyal, was the body emanation of Nanam Dorje Dudjom, the speech emanation of Vajravarahi and the mind emanation of Guru Padmasambhava.

In his previous incarnations he had appeared as numerous great bodhisattvas and vidyadharas, including the bodhisattva Vajragarbha who compiled the Dzogchen teachings given by the Buddha Samantabhadra in Akanishtha. Later he appeared as Buddha Shakyamuni’s aunt and stepmother, Prajapati Gotami, the founder of the order of nuns, and in Tibet he appeared as Nanam Dorje Dudjom, Trophu Lotsawa[1] and the great Rigdzin Gödemchen (1337-1408),[2] founder of the Northern Treasures (Changter) tradition.

He was born in the year of the Fire Dragon of the fourteenth calendrical cycle (1856) in Upper Nyarong in Kham. His father was Dargye from the Shyipa family and his mother was Orgyen Drolma.

He quickly learned to read and write, and because he felt revulsion for the ways of the world, he sought teachings from Nyala Pema Dündul and from Patrul Rinpoche and Khenpo Pema Vajra at Dzogchen Monastery. When he first went to see Nyala Pema Dündul, while he was still very young, the great master showed him some writing in the Lantsa script and he recognized the letter ‘sa’ straightaway. Nyala Pema Dündul interpreted this as a sign that there would be no one greater than him on Earth.[3] These masters recognized the child as an incarnation of exceptional ability and requested that he be sent to a monastery, but his father would not allow his only son to leave home and insisted that he take up worldly pursuits instead. Shortly thereafter, while he was out hunting one day, he saw dakini script through the sights of his rifle, and quickly fell ill. When he was cured of his sickness, he felt overwhelmed by a weariness for all worldly activity. His father again instructed him to go hunting again, but he had a dream in which the mantra protectress Ekazati appeared to him and pierced his heart with her single white fang. After he had fallen sick once more, a divination was performed indicating that he should practise the Dharma, so his father finally relented.

He went to a remote hermitage where he discovered a mind treasure (gong ter) for the practice of the lion-faced dakini Senge Dongma and wrote it down. He received instruction from Lama Sönam Thayé and undertook the preliminary practices of Longsal Dorje Nyingpo under his guidance, practising with great diligence.

From the age of 13 to 18, he stayed in retreat. During this time he saw many things directly through the power of his clairvoyance. For example, on one occasion he clearly saw a traveller on horseback at a great distance from his hermitage who was riding towards him. At one point the traveller stopped in order to relieve himself and, as he dismounted, his cup fell from his pocket. Much later, when the traveller arrived at Tertön Sogyal’s place and went to take out his cup for tea he realized it was missing. Tertön Sogyal told him how and where he had lost it and the man later found it in exactly that place. Whilst in retreat, he deciphered a terma in the coded script of Yeshe Tsogyal.

After the retreat, he travelled to Kathok with Lama Sonam Thayé and others and received empowerments from Tenpé Gyaltsen and other transmissions from Kathok Getsé Tulku (the reincarnation of Gyurme Tsewang Chokdrup). When he received instructions on the Guhyagarbha Tantra the whole of appearance and existence arose as the display of pure primordial wisdom.

He revealed and decoded the Vajrakilaya ter of Yang Sang Tröpa and then spent five years practising it as indicated in the prophetic guide (khajang). Finally, he offered the terma to Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo on the 21st day of the eighth month of the Wood Monkey Year (1884) as prophesied in the terma text. Jamyang Khyentse declared Tertön Sogyal to be an authentic tertön and gave him empowerments. When they performed tsok practice together a treasure casket appeared in the centre of the mandala. Later Tertön Sogyal received many teachings from Jamyang Khyentse, including instructions on the practice of Chetsun Nyingtik which he wrote down.

Later he went to Dzahka Sangak Rabten Ling and received instructions on the preliminaries and main practice of Longsal Nyingpo from Choktrul Rinpoche Kunzang Namgyal.[4] Whilst there he deciphered a cycle of termas related to Yangdak Heruka.

He then went to receive instruction on the Longchen Nyingtik from Patrul Rinpoche’s disciple, Nyoshul Lungtok Tenpé Nyima. After receiving instruction on the ngöndro practice he memorized the texts of retreat instructions and put them into practice. He gradually received all the instructions of the Dzogchen Nyingtik and took them all to heart. He achieved such success in the Dzogchen preliminary practice of purifying the environment through the syllable HUNG that he was able to shatter pots simply through the power of his visualization. Throughout this time, he had no possessions except for the white robes of a yogi and lived alone in the forest, practising day and night.

After his stay with Nyoshul Lungtok, he returned to Dzahka and deciphered a Hayagriva sadhana. One day he travelled to the treasure site of White Rock (Drakkar) knowing that there was a ter to be found there. At sunrise he saw a door in the opposite side of the rock, but he was unable to open it using a stone or a phurba, so he found a suitable resting place and went to sleep. He was awoken some time later by a loud noise and found that the rock had split open by itself, leaving a hole just large enough for his hand to fit inside. By putting his hand through and pulling, he was able to open the door and reveal a vast inner cave within which lay a large iron casket. Inside the casket he discovered Nanam Dorje Dudjom’s hat, black cloak, vajra and bell, a yabdar with golden writing on it, phurba, and two diagrams (dpe ris).

Following this, he received detailed teachings on the Guhyagarbha Tantra from Mipham Rinpoche for a period of several months.

In the Iron Dragon Year (1880) he deciphered a text called Yangjang Nekyi Demik and travelled to Dzogchen. Upon his arrival he told Khenpo Pema Vajra that he was there to reveal the Tsa Sum Pema Nyingtik and related to him the history of the teachings which Guru Rinpoche had entrusted to Nanam Dorje Dudjom at Samye on the tenth day of the Male Water Monkey year. Khenpo was very pleased and said, ‘You must reveal this terma. And you must take me with you when you do it.’ The tertön and the khenpo travelled together to Rudam Pema Thang where they performed a Rigdzin Düpa tsok together and then went to a cave in front of Mount Palchen Drubpa. They arrived at the treasure site but found there was a serpent coiled around the entrance. Tertön Sogyal recognized the serpent as the terma protector Lutsen Yutrapchen and forced him to unravel himself, allowing them access to the site. There were three caskets inside, but Tertön Sogyal took only the one containing the Tsa Sum Pema Nyingtik.

On account of their past aspirations Khenpo Pema Vajra and Tertön Sogyal became united in their wisdom minds. On one occasion, Khenpo suggested they perform a medicine puja (mendrup) together. They lacked a particular type of medicine called arura (i.e., myrobalan), so Tertön Sogyal said that he would go and find some. Khenpo went with him. They came to some bushes near Shri Singha and found a serpent with yellow stripes and noticed a strong scent of arura. They unearthed the medicine as a treasure and then sealed the treasure door once again by covering it with the thorny bushes. Khenpo said to Tertön Sogyal, ‘That you are able to accomplish whatever you wish like this is amazing. It is surely an indication that you have attained complete mastery over all that appears and exists.’

Later Rashar Khenpo Kunzang Sonam praised Tertön Sogyal’s understanding of Madhyamika after giving him teachings on the ninth chapter of the Bodhicharyavatara.

On one occasion, Tertön Sogyal became very sick. Tertön Rangrik Dorje and Dzahka Choktrul visited him and performed long life empowerments and offered medicines. Due to their kindness and the long life empowerments which were given by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo at Dzongsar in the year of the Dog (1886) he recovered and remained in Garjé Hermitage for several months.

At the age of thirty-three, he travelled to Konjo with Atrin Demchok and there, on the twenty-fifth day of the second month of the Male Earth Mouse year (1888), he revealed several termas including a cycle of Avalokiteshvara teachings and a small statue (kutsab) of Avalokiteshvara in the form known as Khasarpani.

That same year, His Holiness Gyalwa Thubten Gyatso, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, issued several requests for Tertön Sogyal to come to Lhasa for the benefit of Tibet in general, and the teachings in particular; and predicted that if he came and made copies of the terma scrolls of his recently discovered Avalokiteshvara terma cycle in Lhasa’s great Temple and in the Potala, it would bring great benefit to the teachings and to living beings everywhere. Added to this, Tertön Sogyal knew that the time had come to reveal several new termas in the treasure sites along the way to Lhasa and in Central Tibet; and so, he set off for Lhasa together with Tharchin and a few others. As predicted, he discovered several termas in the course of the journey.

After arriving in Lhasa during the ninth month, he performed numerous tsok feast offerings in conjunction with the festival of Buddha’s descent from heaven (Lha Bab Düchen). Then he took up residence in the Rasa Trulnang Temple, and deciphered part of the Avalokiteshvara cycle taken from Konjo and the termas he took from the Secret Dakini lake on his way to Lhasa. Parts of the inner and secret sections of the Avalokiteshvara cycle were deciphered in the Potala.

From their first meeting, during which Tertön Sogyal gave the Dalai Lama all the teachings and empowerments related to these termas, the wisdom minds of these two great masters merged as one.

Travelling to Yarlung Sheldrak, Tertön Sogyal discovered the terma scrolls of Lama Kundü Ngödrup Gyatso, which were in the handwriting of Yeshe Tsogyal. When he offered these to His Holiness at Norbulingka, His Holiness himself deciphered the Kusum Rigdü Tukdrup Yishyin Terdzö and instructed Sakya Dakchen Dorje Chang to decipher the remaining scrolls. Once this was done, Tertön Sogyal gave the empowerments and instructions to both His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Sakya Dakchen.

He also took the scrolls for the terma cycle of Tukdrub Trinlé Yangnying Yishyin Norbu from beneath the Hayagriva statue in the great temple of Rasa Trulnang, and performed numerous tsok feasts and offerings at the major pilgrimage sites in Central Tibet and benefitted many fortunate disciples.

Following his return from Lhasa, he stayed at Trom Chögar where he received the empowerments and transmissions for the Nyingma Kama from Lama Lungtok.

In the Iron Hare year (1891), His Holiness learned through the Nechung Oracle that Tertön Sogyal had revealed a small image (kutsab) of Guru Rinpoche called ‘The Wish-fulfilling Jewel which liberates upon Sight’ (Thongdrol Yishyin Norbu) and that there was a prophecy stating that it should be kept in Lhasa. Tertön Sogyal was requested to take it to Lhasa and the Nechung Oracle met him en route at a place called Gashok. There they performed tsok feast offerings and consecration practices (rabné) together.

They arrived in Lhasa during the ninth month. Then, on the twenty second, on the day of the festival commemorating the Buddha’s descent from the heaven of Tushita, the kutsab was brought to the main temple where it was greeted by many fortunate men and women amidst clouds of incense. The consecration ceremonies of rabné and trüsöl were performed and a tsok offering was made in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Nechung Oracle, Minling Trichen, Dzogchen Rinpoche and a great assembly of monks.

On the first day of the first month of the Water Dragon Year (1892) Tertön Sogyal took the scrolls of Khandro Sangwa Yeshe Zabtik from a cave called the “Secret Cave of the Great Compassionate Dakini” in Dzongrong.

The Vajrakilaya terma of The Razor of the Innermost Essence (Yang Nying Pudri), consisting of a cycle of terma teachings and material ter, was entrusted to five of Guru Rinpoche’s disciples: Kharchen Palgyi Wangchuk, Langchen Palgyi Senge, Nubchen Sangye Yeshe, Dorje Dudjom and Shübu Palgyi Senge, but circumstances decreed that Tertön Sogyal Lerab Lingpa, the emanation of Nanam Dorje Dudjom, would be the one to actually reveal the terma.

In the autumn of 1895 Tertön Sogyal travelled with Jamgön Kongtrul (then aged 82) to the “Cave that Delights the Awesome Heruka” in the hills above Tsadra Rinchen Drak. As Tertön Sogyal approached the cave, the outline of the terma door stood out clearly in the rock face. When he saw this, he appeared excited and threw at stone at it. Immediately the earth shook with a great crashing sound as if the whole mountain was subsiding. An opening appeared in the rock, and an exquisite fragrance filled the air. Tertön Sogyal plunged his hand into the rock and withdrew a kutsab image in a striding posture and gripping a vajra and phurba, and along with it, the casket containing Yang Nying Pudri. Wrapping them carefully in silk so that no one might see, he placed them in the terma chest held by his consort. The terma trove in the rock was also full of amrita, but he said it was not his to take and he would not remove it. However, his consort pleaded with him insistently, and to avoid disappointing her, he took some of this amrita, which liberates when tasted, and left the remaining treasure just as he had found it. He offered a substitute for the terma, and closed the door and sealed it well. Then Jamgön Kongtrul joined them and they performed torma offerings to the terma protectors and recited verses of dedication and prayers of auspiciousness.

In the Fire Monkey year (1896) it was time for Tertön Sogyal to travel to Lhasa and pass on more of his terma teachings to His Holiness the Dalai Lama as prophesied by the Nechung Oracle. So together with Pema Sherab and Shayul Tulku he set out on his third visit to Lhasa.

He offered His Holiness the scroll for the ter of Phurba Yang Zab Nyingpo. The Nechung oracle prophesied that before deciphering it Tertön Sogyal would need to perform vast offerings before the Jowo Rinpoche statue and offer tsok in the presence of the Orgyen Thongdrol (“Liberation Upon Seeing”) statue. After deciphering the Phurba Yang Zab Nyingpo cycle, Tertön Sogyal offered His Holiness the related empowerments and instructions as indicated in the Themyik Dön Sal.

That year, Tertön Sogyal took the terma of Tamdrin Dorje Tröpa Dechen Barwa from the Rasa Trulnang temple and deciphered it at Sangwé Drupkyil near the Palace of Norbulingka. As indicated in the Nejang Zabmo of the Phurba Yang Zab Nyingpo, he spent one month in retreat in Yamalung doing the outer long life practice of Tsedrup Sangdü and then a further month in Chuwori doing the inner practice. He then offered a long life empowerment to His Holiness. He also revealed two Tara practices, one at Yarlung Sheldrak and one at Chakpori, before returning to Kham.

He arrived back in Kham at the end of the Fire Monkey year, and then in the year of the Fire Bird (1897) he offered Kongtrul Rinpoche the empowerments and instructions related to Phurba Yang Zab Nyingpo.

Shortly afterwards he discovered the Chögyal Laphur of Trisong Deutsen. Then, recognizing the need to return to Lhasa, he set out once again as soon as he had revealed another kutsab of Guru Rinpoche. He deciphered the Ngöntok and some other texts of the Yang Nying Pudri cycle at Thadul in the Kongpo region with Jamgön Kongtrul’s attendant Losal Sangak Tendzin acting as his scribe.

When he arrived back in Lhasa, he offered the Guru Rinpoche kutsab, the Chögyal Laphur, and instructions on Yang Nying Pudri to His Holiness, who experienced a very vivid dream the next morning, which is recorded in his biography. The Dalai Lama dreamt that he found himself before the palace of Guru Rinpoche, where two celestial beings met him, singing prophetic verses referring to the Yang Nying Pudri practice. In one verse they promised:

Within the charnel ground of the vast display of wrath,
By entering the mandala of the supreme secret of
The great awesome Kilaya, and by keeping the samaya and vows,
Siddhis will be swiftly attained: this is guaranteed!

In time, this Vajrakilaya practice became one of the regular practices of the Dalai Lama’s own monastery, Namgyal , and His Holiness composed a manual for practising it as a drupchen.

Tertön Sogyal undertook various terma practices (terdrup) at Yerpa, Chimphu and Sheldrak. On the fourteenth day of the first month of the Earth Pig (1899) he began a recitation retreat of Vajrakilaya at the Potala. On the first night he dreamt of a woman who looked just like his actual mother and who gave him a knotted silk thread. The next day in the early morning session he saw Ekazati directly and she gave him a prophetic message and disappeared.

He travelled to Tsari with Atrin and Adzin Rinpoche and took a casket from a lake. He took several scrolls and a lock of Yeshe Tsogyal’s hair from Nering Senge Dzongphuk. He then spent one month in retreat in Thangyal practising for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

At this time, a medicine puja (mendrup) of Vajrakilaya was performed in conjunction with the Great Prayer festival, or Mönlam Chenmo, in Lhasa and wood-blocks were made for the Yang Nying Pudri. Tertön Sogyal went to Kongpo and revealed a Wangchen terma from the Vajravarahi cave at Nyangpo Drakkar Lhachu and then returned to Lhasa. He stayed for one month in retreat at Yerpa.

He deciphered the Phurba Marnag Rakta with the Vajrakilaya yogi Trinley as scribe and then went to Samye where he remained for a while with a camp of followers and revealed a kutsab of Orgyen Heruka and another of Four-Armed Avalokiteshvara. He completed a one month retreat at Chimphu and then undertook another retreat at Yarlung Sheldrak. At Tsang Silma Thang he revealed some long-life pills as ter. He went to Sakya where he exchanged empowerments and instructions with the great Sakya throne-holder. He took a Manjushri kutsab from a cave near the Sakya monastery, which he was later to offer to Mipham Rinpoche, and he visited sacred places in Tsang and took the Laglen Rinchen Demik from Yardok Yutso. He met the fifteenth Karmapa Khakhyap Dorje (1871-1922) at Tsurphu and offered him some of his termas for the sake of tendrel. He went to Ushü Jowo, Gangri Thökar and other places and returned to Lhasa where he deciphered the Wangchen terma in the Potala.

When he had returned to Kham, he deciphered two of the practices taken from the Vajravarahi cave at the Jotön Lhakhang in Chamdo. He then went to Dzahka where, in the Iron Mouse year (1900), he deciphered more of the ter from the Vajravarahi cave before travelling to receive retreat instructions from Lungtok Rinpoche.[5]

He travelled to Dzahka and received the transmission for the one hundred and eight volumes of the Kangyur from Choktrul Rinpoche, together with the empowerments and transmission of Sangye Lingpa’s Lama Gongdü. He also deciphered a Vajrapani terma.

On the tenth day of the seventh month, Guru Rinpoche appeared to Tertön Sogyal in a dream, surrounded by dakinis of the five families and gave him the complete empowerments and instructions of Dispelling Flaws in Interdependence (Tendrel Nyesel) before dissolving into light. Each of the dakinis then took turns to deliver their own prophecies. On the twenty-fifth, during a tsok feast of Khandro Sangwa Kundü, Tertön Sogyal became clear as to the site of Tendrel Nyesel. He didn’t say anything, but wrote a note which he showed to Dzahka Choktrul who was very pleased. For the sake of auspiciousness , they offered a tsok together according to Rigdzin Longsal’s terma arranged by Vajravarahi herself. Tertön Sogyal made aspiration prayers that there be no obstacles to the discovery of Tendrel Nyesel and for its revelation to bring a great wave of benefit. When he was actually given the terma casket by the protector on the twenty-seventh, Tertön Sogyal said he felt happier than when revealing any of his other termas.

On the evening of the twenty-eighth, Guru Rinpoche appeared to Tertön Sogyal riding a tiger and made a prophecy concerning the deciphering of Tendrel Nyesel. On the third day of the eighth month, Tertön Sogyal revealed a casket containing amrita. From the tenth until the twelfth, in just two days, he deciphered the entire practice text of Tendrel Nyesel and then made vast aspiration prayers with one-pointed concentration. He felt very joyful.

In the Iron Ox year (1901) Tertön Sogyal returned to Lhasa with a few students and monks and deciphered the Padmé Trengwa from the root ter of Wangchen at the red palace. He met Gönpo Mahakala in a vision and then deciphered a Mahakala sadhana and tsok offering. He offered the empowerments and transmissions of Tendrel Nyesel to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who composed a prayer of offering to the protectors of the teaching.

In the Water Tiger year (1902) he took a Black Hayagriva sadhana and sadhana of Mengak Nyingpo from Samye.

On the twenty-fifth of the first month of the Water Hare (1903) year he deciphered the Thukdrup Zabdön Nyingpo which had been taken from the Vajravarahi cave at Drakkar Lhachu four years earlier.

Later during the same year, Lerab Lingpa travelled to a treasure site accompanied by His Holiness and revealed a terma. He took out three termas, but kept only one of them and reconcealed the other two together with prayers of aspiration. Later, when he came to copy out the terma, the coded script could not be fully deciphered, so he saw that it was not yet the time for its revelation.

He revealed the terma practice of Guru Raksha Tötreng Tsal at Bhendhe Chakkar Dongring. On the twenty-first of the third month of the Wood Dragon Year (1904) he saw Dorje Me Öbar Tsal in a dream vision and received a prophecy. He then deciphered the Black Hayagriva ter.

In the year of the Fire Horse (1906) Tertön Sogyal turned fifty-one. Although his own termas and statements made by Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and others had indicated that he would live for only fifty years, his lifespan had been extended because of positive circumstances and would now exceed all predictions.

During that year he took a treasure casket from Marong as indicated in the Sengdongma Themyik and prophetic guide. On the twenty-fourth of the third month he experienced eight remarkable visions in succession. He discovered the Tsedrup Yishyin Norbu and twenty-one long life pills. He also revealed Tsogyal’s Heart Advice and Guru Dechen Gyalpo Shyidrak in secret. By practising the terdrup ,the long life pills multiplied to four hundred. He revealed the medium length Kagyé Sangwa Düpa cycle on the twentieth of the eleventh month and deciphered it at Tsabtsa Monastery.

In the Fire Sheep year (1907) he went to Dzogchen Monastery and requested the empowerments of Rinchen Terdzö from the Fifth Dzogchen Rinpoche Thubten Chökyi Dorje and the associated transmissions and instructions from Gemang Choktrul. He received them together with his son, his consort and many monks. During the empowerments he had a series of visions.

On the fifteenth day of the tenth month he met Ekazati in a dream and transcribed a ter. He revealed the scroll for the medium length cycle of Gongdü Zabdön Nyingpo. On the twenty-ninth day of the tenth month of the Earth Bird year (1909), the dakini Pal Dökham Dakmo appeared to him and gave him some advice. On the twenty-fifth day of the sixth month of the Iron Dog year (1910) Ekazati appeared and entrusted him with the Secret Words of Advice from the Dakinis entitled The Three Nails. From the seventh to the ninth days of the seventh month, Tertön Sogyal took many kutsab made by Tsogyal’s own hand from Lhachu Drak. He then revealed the themyik of Yongdzok Düpa and went to see the Third Dodrupchen Rinpoche, Jikmé Tenpé Nyima, before going to Magyal Pomra and revealing several termas.

In the year of the Water Mouse (1912) he took out more termas from Magyal Pomra, decoded them and then spent several months there in retreat doing the terdrup, while monks performed tsok offerings and so on. He returned to Dodrupchen Rinpoche and on the fifteenth day of the tenth month he deciphered the sadhana of Deshek Chegye, Zungchok, the profound empowerment of Guru Menla, and the supreme accomplishment of Guru Menla, with Dodrup Rinpoche acting as his scribe. Whilst he was staying at Dodrupchen’s, on the twenty-eighth day of the tenth month, a dakini appeared to him in a dream and prophesied more terma revelations. On the eighth day of the eleventh month in the late afternoon session his ordinary perception ceased and Guru Rinpoche Nangsi Zilnön appeared to him and delivered a ‘Wondrous Three-fold Prophecy.’

On the first of the second month of the year of the Water Ox (1913) Tertön Sogyal, his son Rigdzin Namgyal, Atrin and a guide called Aba went to Latsedrung in order to reveal termas. The same year, Tertön Sogyal recognized Amdo Gurung’s son as a tulku of Mipham Rinpoche. During the fifth month he went to Zilingkhar with a few students. [6]

He revealed the khabjang of Jampal Shinje Dongdruk and the profound practice of the peaceful and wrathful deities of the five families. The terma protector Tipatsa appeared to him on the first of the eighth month at Mount Megyal. On the twentieth of the second month of the Wood Tiger year (1914), a dakini prophesied the discovery of Raksha Thötreng Tsal Ubum.

It was at this time that he moved to Golok in order to be close to Dodrupchen Rinpoche for the rest of his life. He started to build a monastery at Khemar in upper Do valley, but eventually left it for others to finish.

In the Wood Hare year (1915), he went to Shukjung Gonpa and gave the empowerments of Shinjé Tsedak and Rigdzin Dungdrup from the Northern Treasures tradition as well as those of the outer practice of Thukchen and Jikpa Gyekyob from his own revelations. In the second month he offered the empowerments and transmissions for all his profound terma teachings to Dodrupchen Rinpoche. In the third month, he gave his student Tsultrim Zangpo all the empowerments for his termas at Dodrup Monastery. In the fourth month he granted several empowerments at Raktrom Jampa Ling and then also at Shyichen Monastery. He deciphered some more termas at Dodrup Monastery, and Phadampa Sangye appeared to him in a vision and gave advice. During the tenth month, whilst staying in his residence near Dodrupchen’s, he had a dream in which he met a lama whom he didn’t recognize seated on a high throne inside a magnificent house on the top of a great mountain. He felt great devotion for the lama, who then transformed into Guru Rinpoche Nangsi Zilnön.

In the Fire Dragon year (1916), at the age of sixty-one, he gave teachings on the Words of My Perfect Teacher (Kunzang Lama’i Shyalung) based on Nyoshul Lungtok’s teachings and other extensive teachings to his various Dharma heirs. Also that year he deciphered the scrolls for the Wisdom Mind Phurba of the Guru cycle, which he had had for twenty-one years. In the summer, he went to Dodrup Rinpoche and requested him to compose his famous commentary on the Guhyagarbha Tantra, The Key to the Precious Treasury, and he himself acted as the scribe. At the time of the drupchen of Ratling Phurba at Domé Monastery he had a dream which led to the composition of a tsok offering to the Karmapa.

In the Earth Horse year (1918) he went to Setong to oversee the printing of the collection of his termas (terchö). When Dodrup Rinpoche fell sick Tertön Sogyal travelled to perform practices for his long life.

In the Earth Sheep (1919) he completed the deciphering of the Yongdzok Düpa cycle. On the eleventh of the eighth month he revealed the terma of The Twenty-Seven White Long-life Dakinis. On the fifteenth he deciphered several long-life practices connected with Mandarava, White Tara and Vajravarahi. In the summer, Amdo Geshe came to Tertön Sogyal to receive the empowerment of Vajrakilaya. Also at this time, Tertön Sogyal gave Tsultrim Zangpo teachings on Dodrupchen’s Guhyagarbha commentary.

On the eighth day of the third month of the Iron Monkey year (1920), the Names of the Thousand and Two Buddhas appeared to him as a mind terma whilst he was staying at the treasure site of Marong.

In the following year of the Iron Bird (1921), he took a casket from Lake Karma. He also took a sacred ‘life stone’ (Wyl. bla rdo) from the Black Lake near Tsangme Senge Gonpa. While staying at Tsangme Senge, he was requested by dakinis to decipher two termas and did so by lamplight. Later he received a prophecy in a dream concerning the three different versions of Tendrel Nyesel: the long, medium and short-length versions.

In the Water Dog year (1922) he went to Dzogchen Monastery and deciphered the empowerment text of the Vajrakilaya practice known as Phurba Gyachen Rolpa at Gemang Rinpoche’s residence in Shri Singha hermitage. He first gave the empowerment of Gyachen Rolpa to Gemang Rinpoche and then gave it to Dzogchen Rinpoche and many monks at the main temple of Dzogchen Monastery. As prophesied the previous year, he also deciphered the intermediate and brief versions of Tendrel Nyesel as well as a tsok practice. He also deciphered some mind treasures related to the great warrior Gesar. Soon afterwards he granted the empowerments and transmissions of Yongdzok Düpa, Phurba Gyachen Rolpa, and the brief and medium versions of Tendrel Nyesel to Tsultrim Zangpo, Atrin, his consort and his son.

It was around this time that Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö met Tertön Sogyal and received teachings from him. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s biography of Jamyang Khyentse states:

On the way, he went to visit the great Tertön Lerab Lingpa. Even before he met the great treasure revealer merely hearing his name caused him to feel deep and uncontrived devotion. In the course of many meetings which followed, he received empowerments, instructions and reading transmissions for the Vajrakilaya cycle of Yang Nying Pudri, which was to have been a profound terma revelation of the great Jamgön Lodrö Thaye but by necessity was transmitted to the great tertön himself, and, of Lerab Lingpa’s own terma teachings, he received the Vajrakilaya practices of Dorje Köpa and Gyacher Rolpa, the long and medium-length versions of Tendrel Nyesel, and the mind terma cycle of Gesar practices. He also received permission to transmit the entire collection of Tertön Sogyal’s terma revelations. He received many other profound transmissions from him too, such as the empowerments and textual transmission for the Drolthik Gongpa Rangdrol, the empowerment for The Great Chetsün’s Profound Essence of Vimala, and its annotated commentary, the peerless words of the all-seeing Khyentse Wangpo himself. He said that it was because even hearing the name of the great tertön Lerab Lingpa caused him to feel such intense and natural devotion that he requested the deciphering of the short version of Tendrel Nyesel from the yellow scrolls.[7]

He would say that [Tertön Sogyal] was truly amazing in terms of both his learning[8] and his accomplishment.

In the year of the Wood Mouse (1924) he deciphered some Hayagriva and Dorje Trollö termas. He then offered the remainder of his termas to Dodrup Rinpoche. At the end of their meeting the two masters exchanged white scarves, something they had never done before, and then each said, “I will see you again in the pure land.” That same year Tertön Sogyal also gave more empowerments to Amdo Geshe.

During the Wood Ox (1925), he re-concealed all those termas which remained incomplete and made aspirations to meet with them again in future. Finally, the great tertön displayed the signs of passing into nirvana on the tenth day of the first month of the year of the Fire Tiger (1926).

He was one of the most prolific tertöns in history, his collected terma revelations filling almost twenty volumes. Several of his original written works, most notably his commentary on the Chetsun Nyingtik, have also survived.[9]

His Disciples

His numerous lineage holders, many of whom were also his own teachers, included the Thirteenth Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso, Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche, the Fifth Dzogchen Rinpoche, Dzogchen Khenpo Pema Vajra, Mipham Rinpoche, Nyoshul Lungtok, Dzahka Choktrul Rinpoche, Tertön Trimé, Kathok Situ Chökyi Gyatso, Minyak Khenpo Kunzang Sonam, Dodrupchen Jikmé Tenpé Nyima, Demo Rinpoche, Dorje Drak Rigdzin Nyamnyi Dorje (1886-1932/5), Minling Trichen Rinpoche, Sakya Trichen, the Fifteenth Karmapa Khakhyap Dorje and Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö.

His main consort, known simply as Pumo (meaning ‘girl’), from the noble Khangsar family in Konjo, lived to a very old age, spending her later years in caves and hermitages high up in the mountains of Nyarong. She became famous for her clairvoyance and her ability to avert frost or bring rain. Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche, who met her in his youth, remembers that whenever anyone fell sick, they would go to her and she would recommend a particular prayer or practice to be done. As well as this, she would also give them a protection cord. It was noticed that if she gave one of these, it meant the person would live, but if she gave them amrita nectar, it meant that their illness was fatal. She would never admit that she had the power of knowing whether a person was going to live or die, but when people examined the statistics and checked, they found that this was actually the pattern. This was a sign that she had attained an omniscient or clairvoyant state of realization, and she was held to be the same as Dorje Pakmo (Vajravarahi). She was also a great practitioner of Vajrakilaya and recited his mantra three hundred million times; through the practice of Vajrakilaya, she attained full realization.

His Incarnations

He had several incarnations as indicated in the texts of his terma discoveries and in predictions made to his disciples, including Sogyal Rinpoche, who was recognized by Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, and the late Khenpo Jikmé Phuntsok (1932-2004), who received all the transmissions of Tertön Sogyal from Lama Gendun Dargye, a direct disciple of the tertön. The lineage also continued with his sons[10] and passed on to his grandson, Tromgé Tulku Dechen Dorje, who lives at the Tromgé encampment in eastern Tibet.


  1. Trophu Lotsawa Jampa Pal born in the 12th century.
  2. Both Rigdzin Gödem and Tertön Sogyal lived into their seventies. It is unusual for a tertön to live so long.
  3. The Tibetan letter ‘sa’ is also the word for Earth. The Lantsa script is often used to write Sanskrit, especially on the covers of books and in temple inscriptions.
  4. Kunzang Namgyal, also known as Dzahka Choktrul, was one of Tertön Sogyal’s main teachers. He was a student of Jamgön Kongtrul, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, Nyala Pema Dündul and many other great nineteenth century teachers.
  5. The biography of Khenpo Ngakchung mentions that Nyoshul Lungtok gave detailed teachings on the preliminaries to Tertön Sogyal at around this time. Khenpo Ngakchung himself was present and took the notes which were to become his famous Zindri. See Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang, A Guide to the Words of My Perfect Teacher, Shambhala Publications, 2004.
  6. Some say it was at this time that the only known photograph of Tertön Sogyal was taken.
  7. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche also refers to this episode in his guide to the empowerment ritual of Tendrel Nyesel written for HH the Dalai Lama. Jamyang Khyentse initially received the transmissions for only the long and intermediate versions, because at that time the shorter version had not yet been deciphered from the terma yellow scrolls. But Jamyang Khyentse requested Tertön Sogyal to decipher it in order that he might receive it. Tertön Sogyal did so and then asked Jamyang Khyentse to spread it widely since he had received all three versions. Jamyang Khyentse passed the transmission to Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, who passed it on to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
  8. Khenpo Ngakchung mentions in his autobiography how Mipham Rinpoche told him that after Nyoshul Lungtok the most learned masters of the Nyingma tradition were Tertön Sogyal and Dodrupchen Jikmé Tenpé Nyima.
  9. This biography is based primarily on the secret biography of Lerab Lingpa composed in 1942 by Tulku Tsultrim Zangpo. This biography is an initial attempt to compile some of the available material on Tertön Sogyal. It is hoped that this will help open the door to further research in the future. There is no shortage of material: the biography by Tsultrim Zangpo alone is more than 700 pages long, and there are also several lengthy passages in the official biography of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama which refer to Tertön Sogyal, as well as numerous other written sources, including the colophons to his termas and the biographies of his contemporaries. There are also the oral accounts of lamas such as Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Khenpo Jikme Phuntsok Rinpoche, Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche and Garje Khamtrul Rinpoche, many of which have fortunately been preserved.
  10. Among his sons, the two main holders of his terma lineage were Rigdzin Namgyal and Chöpel Gyatso.