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Termas discovered by Chokgyur Lingpa. The golden image at the centre is a kutsab known as Ngödrup Palbar and was discovered from Tsiké Norbu Punsum.[1]

Terma (Wyl. gter ma) — spiritual treasures hidden by Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal in the earth and in the minds of disciples to be revealed at the appropriate time by ‘treasure revealers’ or tertöns. Many of these ter were collected by Jamgön Kongtrul and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo into more than sixty volumes, the Rinchen Terdzö, or Treasury of Precious Termas.

Tulku Thondup writes:

“In order to prevent the deep teachings and sacred objects of tantra from becoming mixed, diluted, or lost in the distant future, and in order to maintain their blessing powers afresh for future followers, Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal concealed them. They are discovered at the appropriate time by realized masters through their enlightened power.”[2]


Termas can be divided into

  • earth termas (Tib. sa ter), which employ physical objects, and
  • mind termas (Tib. gong ter), discovered within the mindstream of the tertön.

Sogyal Rinpoche writes:

‘Terchö’ literature can be in three parts: Lama, Dzogchen & Tukjé Chenpo (Tib. la dzog tuk sum), i.e. the peaceful and wrathful sadhanas on the Guru (Tib. Lama), teachings on Dzogchen and sadhana cycle on Avalokiteshvara (Tib. Tukjé Chenpo). Another division is into Kagyé, Gongdü and Phurba.

The Terma Tradition

Tulku Thondup explains the Terma tradition of Tibet as follows:

In a number of spiritual traditions of the world there are many instances of the discovery of teachings and objects through mystical power. Similarly, in various traditions and lineages of Buddhism, in India as well as Tibet, numerous mystical discoveries of teachings and objects have taken place.
In the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, the tradition of concealment and revelation of teachings and materials of religious value through the mystical power of enlightened beings is most prevalent by far. This tradition of mystical discovery is known in Tibetan as Ter (Treasures) [or] Terma (Treasured Ones)…[3]
The main source of the Terma tradition of the Nyingma school is Guru Padmasambhava. [4]
While transmitting esoteric teachings to his realized disciples in Tibet, Guru Padmasambhava concealed many teachings with the blessings of his enlightened mind stream in the nature of the intrinsic awareness of the minds of his disciples through the power of “mind-mandated transmission” (gtad rgya); thereby the master and disciple became united as one in the teachings and realization. Here, the master has concealed the teachings and blessings, the esoteric attainments, as ter in the pure nature of the minds of his disciples through his enlightened power, and he has made aspirations that the ter may be discovered for the sake of beings when the appropriate time comes.[5]

Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche writes:

In propagating the Buddha’s teachings amid the shamanistic society that dominated Tibet at that time, Padmasambhava saw clearly that some teachings would have to wait for a more appropriate time to take root. He concealed them until certain great practitioners…would reveal them and bring them to fruition.[6]

Regarding the manner of concealment and discovery the termas, there are two categories: earth terma and mind terma. In the discovery of earth termas, earthly materials such as symbolic script written on yellow scroll are used to awaken the terma in the mind of the tertön. In the discovery of mind termas, no external earthly objects are relied on. In many instances of mind terma, seeing or hearing symbolic words or sounds in visions causes the discovery of the terma.


  1. Tulku Thondup Rinpoche, Hidden Teachings of Tibet, central pictures.
  2. Tulku Thondup Rinpoche, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, edited by Harold Talbott (Boston: Shambhala, 1996).
  3. Tulku Thondup, Enlightened Journey: Buddhist Practice as Daily Life, page 93.
  4. Ibid, page 95.
  5. Ibid, page 97.
  6. Chagdud Tulku, Lord of the Dance (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 1992), page 11.

Further Reading

  • Andreas Doctor, Tibetan Treasure Literature: Revelation, Tradition and Accomplishment in Visionary Buddhism (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2005).
  • Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism (Boston: Wisdom, revised edition 2002).
  • Janet B. Gyatso, 'Drawn from the Tibetan Treasury: The gTer ma Literature' in Cabezón and Jackson, ed., Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1996).
  • Michael Aris, Hidden Treasures and Secret Lives, Motilal Banarsidass, 1988.
  • Tulku Thondup, Hidden Teachings of Tibet: An Explanation of the Terma Tradition of the Nyingma School of Buddhism (London & Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1986, reprint edition 1997).

External Links