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Pema Lingpa, the Treasure Hunter

Pema Lingpa (1450-1521), a Bhutanese cleric, was one of the well-known chosen »treasure hunters«. He was born into a line of descendants of the tantric priests from the Nyingmapa school, which belonged to the most respected of the eastern Himalayas. He was to become one of the most famous holy men of Bhutan whose religious legacy, up until today, shapes the spritual life of the kingdom.

His line of reincarnations leads back to the great Lamas of the Nyingmapa* school up to the Guru Rinpoche himself. Pema Lingpa never accepted Lamas nor learned men as spiritual teachers. All his knowledge was given to him through the dreams and visions of Guru Rinpoche himself. Therefore, Pema Lingpa represented the purest form of the Guru's teachings.

The Legacy of Guru Rinpoche

Through dreams Guru Rinpoche led Pema Lingpa to many of his »treasures« (terma*). Next to statues and ritual objects, these consisted especially of sacred scriptures. While the master was still alive, mankind was not advanced enough to understand all of his religious insights. When the time was ripe the Guru, through visions and dreams, led suitable men to these »treasures«. The »treasure hunter« (tertön*) bore these treasures and translated these out of the secret »treasure language« into the language of their time.

Conveyed in this manner those texts, Pema Lingpa's legacy, filled more than twenty volumes. Until today, many of his rituals are performed for the good of the state.

One of the treasures, which Pema Lingpa discovered, contained a list of deities from pre-Buddhist religions. Pema Lingpa could subjugate them all by magic. Since he also learned from the texts the correct way to perform the rites for these deities, in many regions he obtained an overly important status.


Pema Lingpa, the Vanquisher of Demons

As all great Lamas, before and after his time, Pema Lingpa also was often travelling. Great teachers had to be visited, Buddhism had to be spread, students had to be instructed, temples had to be built and alms had to be collected. On these long expeditions through the land, Pema Lingpa was repeatedly confronted with the ancient, established mountain gods. A few deities also wanted to fight the spread of Buddhism or the political influence of the Lamas and blocked the way of the holy Buddhist man. However, they could not long withstand the magical powers of their opponent.

The Promise of Reincarnation

In the year of 1521, after a long and eventful life, his time had come to leave this world. Convinced of his ability to release many souls from the cycle of rebirths, Pema Lingpa already on his deathbed, promised to relinquish his right to enter into Nirvana. Instead he would continue to reincarnate himself.

His natural sons and other descendants were much sought after as son-in-laws by the local aristrocrats. Out of these connections with the ancient, established heriditary nobility, together with the elite of the spiritual life, a new quality of nobility was established whose members soon began to play an important role in the central government.

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Pema Lingpa, the great treasure hunter of Nyingmapa, on a mural in the monastery Tamshing in Bumthang, which he himself had built. He wears a hat that traditionally is attributed to Guru Rinpoche.


Through dreams and visions Guru Rinpoche led the way for his reincarnation, Pema Lingpa, to the hidden treasures. He was one of the few who had progressed far enough on his way to enlightenment to be able to understand these treasures and to use them in way his teacher and master had intended.

A cave painting - admittedly hard to decipher - which portrays Pema Lingpa.