Terton Pema Lingpa

The Great Treasure Discoverer and Heart son of Guru Rinpoche (1450–1521)

Bhutan Best Inbound Tour
5 min readDec 16, 2021

About Terton Pema Lingpa

Pema Lingpa

Terton Pema Lingpa of Chel Baribrang, Bumthang was the fourth of the five destined sovereign tertons or treasure discoverers, all of whom were considered a reincarnation of the important disciples of Guru Rinpoche. Pema Lingpa was further revered as an immediate reincarnation of the great Nyingma master, Kyuenkhen Longchen Rabjam who was, in turn, the reincarnation of princess Lhachen Pema Sel, a child disciple of Guru Rinpoche. As such he is considered an important lineage saint in the Nyingma tradition, whose birth and enlightened activities in propagating the faith, particularly through revealing various hidden termas or religious treasures which were foretold a few centuries earlier by Guru Rinpoche.

Early Life of Pema Lingpa

Pema Lingpa was born to Dondrup Zangpo and Pema Drondrup in the small hamlet of Chel Baribrang in the Tang valley in 1450, the year of the Iron Horse amidst great auspicious omens. Brought up by his maternal grandfather, Yonten Jangchub, a blacksmith by profession, he soon became adept at the craft. Pema Lingpa’s crafted metal works such as pots and pans, swords, and a coat of mail still exist today. The iron mail coat kept at the Tamzhing Monastery is a sacred relic that pilgrims often wear and circumambulate the sanctuary three times in order to purify their downfalls and negative karma.

The swords and knives particularly were reputed to be truly exceptional beauty in their design and craftsmanship. Pema Lingpa is however believed to have later given up the crafts of blacksmithing and as a symbolic gesture of commitment, imprinted his anvil with a foot mark. The remarkable relic can be seen at the Kunzangdrak Monastery, where many of Pema Lingpa’s other sacred relics are also maintained. Pema Lingpa was also highly adept at stone masonry and made many millstones around Bumthang, and an unusual stone megalith pillar outside the Konchogsum Lhakhang.

Treasure Discovery Mebartsho

When the great treasure discoverer was in his mid-twenties, he felt the call of religion through visionary experiences was to lead him to discover the spiritual treasures that were destined to uncover. Among the first of these many discoveries was the extraction of terma from a narrow gorge on the Tang River, which later came to be known as Mebartsho, the burning lake, following events that transpired there. Accounts of Pema Lingpa at Mebartsho the first time around and his subsequent visit to extract more termas and prove himself to others as a genuine terton are indelibly etched in local folklore and the site has since always been an important place of pilgrimage.

Kurje Lhakhang

Pema Lingpa was to reveal many other terms all over the valleys of Bumthang, such as Tang Rimmochen, Kurje, Kunzangdrak, and elsewhere. Not all termas that he uncovered were physical objects, but many were that are known as Mind Termas that encompassed instructions on religious dances, rituals, or scriptures that he received through Guru Rinpoche and other wisdom begins in visions and trances. For instance, the Peling Terchams were special mask dances choreographed by Pema Lingpa, as he witnessed the dances in his vision where he was magically born to Guru Rinpoche’s celestial copper palace. By some accounts, Pema Lingpa revealed successfully 32 termas in all though his destiny was to extract many more.

Tamzhing Monastery

Though the Terton had many detractors and disbelieves in his lifetime, several of them were won over and became important patrons who were to support his activities including founding and rebuilding of the various monasteries of Kunzangdrak, Tamzhing, Patshaling, and Konchogsum. His reputation and fame as a terton also soon spread beyond Bhutan’s borders and he traveled to Tibet (where he had his monastery at Lhalung in Lhodrak) on invitations to give initiations, blessings, and preach. He is also said to have gone to Rinpung on the invitation of no less than the great seventh Karmapa; even impresses the irrepressible and unusually irreverent wandering saint, Drukpa Kuenley, on the two occasions they met. The terton’s lineage transmission was also apparently passed on to the fifth Dalai Lama through Terdak Lingpa, as cited in the biography of the terton by Bhutanese scholar, the Venerable Lopen Padma Tshewang.

After Pema Lingpa’s death in 1521 at Tamzhing, where he had to spend a great part of his life, his remains were embalmed and enshrined in a chorten (stupa) there. At a later time, on the instructions of Zhabdrung, the vase containing the remains was removed from Tamzhing and taken to Punakha Dzong. The great terton’s spiritual lineage was carried on through the various mind, body, and speech reincarnation lineages. Pema Lingpa’s descendants also established religious nobility in central and eastern Bhutan, who was to have a significant impact on the history of the kingdom. the present Royal family of Bhutan is the noble descendent of the terton from the Dungkar Choje line.

The treasure-revealing saint was known to have a small built, though this is not readily discernible from any of his portraits in paintings or statues. The Tamzhing monastery, however, has low doors and ceiling and this is attributed to the story that Pema Lingpa built the monastery to his own dimensions.

Among the best-known statues of Pema Lingpa is the Nga Drama or Just Like Me statue crafted by the Terton himself and this is kept on the top floor of Kungzangdrak monastery. The sacred life-sized statue shows the terton wearing a similar cap to the Ugyen Pesha, the unique hat worn by Guru Rinpoche with its half-vajra (diamond thunderbolt) top. Vulture’s feather at the tip and sun-moon emblem at the forefront. one of the small stylistic differences in the caps though is the insignia of crossed vajra on Pema Lingpa’s hat at the forefront between the two upturned lapels. Pema Lingpa holds a tse-bum (Longlife vase) in his hands, which are held in the dhyana mudra or meditation gesture, but unlike the Guru, he does not hold a skullcup. Seated serenely on a lotus throne in the vajra posture, the statue perhaps served as a typical model for most of Pema Lingpa’s images that may be seen elsewhere. If you take a Central Bhutan Tour, Or Bhutan Spiritual Tour ,you will encounter all the magic and myths of Pema Lingpa ans is also one of the best place to visit in Bhutan.



Bhutan Best Inbound Tour

We are a licensed Tour Operator in Bhutan. We are recognized by Tourism Council of Bhutan, TripAdvisor, TourRadar and other corporate world.