What is a Terma?
Padma Sambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, was a great yogi from the secret land of Oddiyana. This exalted 8th century master was vital in establishing Buddhism in Tibet. One of the unique methods he used during his time was the hiding of teachings called treasures, or termas, to be discovered in future times. They were concealed in a variety of ways by Padma Sambhava and his Tibetan consort Yeshe Tsogyal.
There are many different types of termas but most termas can be condensed into three main categories: earth treasures (sater), pure vision treasures (dagnang), and mind treasures (gongter). Termas were also hidden in water, and stories of their revelation are truly miraculous. The treasure discoverer would have to plunge into a raging river, or walk into a lake bearing a lit butter lamp and emerge after so time with the text in hand and the light still burning. An earth terma may be hidden in the earth and is a physical object such as a text or ritual instrument. A pure vision treasure appears as words in space and is written down. A mind treasure appears directly within the mind stream of the treasure discoverer. Often termas are revealed but kept secret for a certain period of time as was the case with these sublime treasures of the Ösel Nyingtig.
What is a Tertön?
The tertön is the name given to those who reveal termas; in general, they are reincarnations of the twenty-five heart disciples of Padma Sambhava. The prophesied tertöns appear during times of strife to offer practices appropriate for that time. The terma tradition ensures that the teachings remain fresh to aptly address the needs of each time period. For more information on termas and tertons see Hidden Teachings of Tibet by Tulku Thondup published by Wisdom Publications.
Who is Yeshe Tsogyal?
In the 8th century the Tibetan princess of Karchen, Yeshe Tsogyal, who is considered the mother of Tibetan Buddhism, was instrumental in helping her extraordinary teacher and consort Padma Sambhava to conceal the termas. In the 11th century, she would reincarnate as Machig Labdrön, the founder of the Chöd practice. There are several biographies of Yeshe Tsogyal published in English like Lady of the Lotus-Born by Galwa Changchub and Namkhai Nyingpo and The Life and Visions of Yeshe Tsogyal by Terton Drime Kunga.