In places of worship
I will have the signs of the earth raised,
I will put an end to the prediction
of a hidden treasure of discord;
wine and water are signally different from each other.
I will cause keen abilities
to be exercised for the Dharma;
converting by the Doctrine,
I will cause it to be learned,
unmixed by that which is of the gods and genies,
one and the same as what I have explained.
My treasure is hidden under the earth,
but its light soars in the sky.
Tsasum Lingpa was a Nyingmapa treasure discoverer or Terton. He began to discover texts at Samye Chimphu and was responsible for bringing forth the Vajrakilaya sadhana which has been passed on through the teachings of Khenpo Rinpoches. The following biographical material is adapted from notes taken during retreats at Padma Gochen-ling on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee as well as from Khenpo Palden's commentary, The Dark Red Amulet of Unsurpassable Yang-Phur: The Coemergent Union of the Vajra Daka published by Dharma Samudra, 1992, originally translated by Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal. May these stories of the life and visions of Tsasum Lingpa inspire all who read them to awaken to their true nature.
Tsasum Lingpa was a crazy wisdom yogi who lived during the last half of the seventeenth century. He was also a great terton. Born into a lower middle-class family in Kham, a region in eastern Tibet, he was raised as an ordinary boy, although both his parents had auspicious dreams around the time of conception. During pregnancy his mother had many more. But perhaps because of bad counsel, she tended to worry that this might mean trouble. After consulting an oracle in her final weeks, she left her home and gave birth in the wilderness at the foot of a black juniper tree at a juncture of river valleys which is locally likened to a sinuous black scorpion. The spot where he was born was exactly at the belly of this scorpion and was accompanied by many miraculous signs.
I always keep Padma as the crown jewel in my crown chakra.
I have made the long journey through the bardo,
And now I have arrived in samsara, the city of magic.
Consciousness wanders like a child
searching for a house to stay in this world for a while.
So I am renting this form to fulfill my aspirations
inseparable from those of Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyal.
His mother was very happy, but still worried about what all this might really mean, so just to make sure, she asked the midwife to keep quiet about the thunder and rainbows, the snowflakes shaped like lotuses, the celestial music and mantras, and that magical gathering of song birds. As they returned home, Jowo Ze Gyal, a pilgrimage mountain which symbolizes the qualities of the buddhas to Tibetans, loomed on the horizon. When they returned and everyone saw that the mother and child were healthy and happy, they gave thanks by offering a fire puja.
As a boy, Tsasum Lingpa never spent much time in school or in the monastery. One day when Tsasum Lingpa was about six, he followed some hunters into the mountains. They left him in a cave while they went on ahead to pursue their game. The moment they left, a door opened in the cave wall and a man with red skin and a harelip appeared. With delight and obvious respect, the red man bowed his head slightly and said, "Oh Sangye Yeshe Rinpoche, welcome, welcome! Please come in." They entered what appeared to be a great house filled with many attendants. The red man was apparently lord of the house and he arranged cushions Tibetan style, for them both to sit on while the attendants served tea and tsampa. The fellow was beaming with ecstasy to be with Tsasum Lingpa and said, "I am so very happy to see you again! It has been such a long time. Up until now, it has been a real struggle." Tsasum was feeling a little embarrassed that this little red man acted as if they had long been familiars while he himself had no idea of who sat before him.
So he decided to ask as plainly as he could. "Who are you?"
The fellow put down his tea and leaned forward. "When you were Nub Sangye Yeshe, I was your attendant and student. We tripped through India together. I was following you in Nepal near the Tibetan border when I was robbed. I fought with the bandits and they killed me. While I lay dying, I had a lot of negative thoughts and cursed them; this is what has led to my present state."
Still miffed, young Tsasum then asked, "And why do you have that harelip?"
"It is a family trait; I am now part of the tsan, an invisible tribe of mountain spirits."
As the red man was telling him all this, Tsasum Lingpa went into a dream-like state and started to recall his old memories. They talked over tea for hours until the tsan said, "Your friends are coming back; you should get ready to leave." As soon as Tsasum Lingpa stepped out the door, the hunters appeared at the opening of the cave.
Upon arriving home late that afternoon, his mother was very annoyed. "Where have you been?" she shouted. "You want to wander up in the hills all day, you can sleep outside tonight. Following hunters at six years old! They are going off to kill animals; do you know that? You naughty boy! Is that what you want to do? Well, I don't want you to be like that. I simply won't have it." She scolded and lectured him and then hid his boots so that he couldn't go out for a month and a half.
Around that time, he started having wonderful dreams and visions of Padmasambhava, Yeshe Tsogyal, and other dakinis. Young Tsasum was so moved that he naturally began to communicate some of this, as well as his earlier meeting with the tsan, to his parents. Of course, they did not believe him and scolded him for lying. Then he told his mother that he would like to join the monastery. She humored him and suggested he start by asking his uncle to teach him how to read. So he did. As soon as Tsasum's uncle began showing him the letters of the alphabet on a chalkboard, the boy could read them. Amazed by this, the uncle formed the letters into words and words into sentences and the boy could read it all.
The family was surprised he was so smart.
He again requested to be allowed to join a monastery. "Well, you may know how to read, but you certainly need more practice first."
"You think so? I actually know how to read quite well. Shall I read to you?" He began reading a page and then spontaneously composed a beautiful prayer which pays homage to Kuntuzangpo, Vajradhara, Padmasambhava and great masters such as Tilopa, Marpa, and Milarepa. He fooled his family into believing that he was reading the whole thing from the page and they were quite impressed; "Alright then, perhaps we can pay a visit to the monks and see what they say..."
He joined Nyang Chen Gar monastery in eastern Tibet. One night he dreamt of a wrathful black lady. She said, "Tomorrow Tag Sham Tarchin is coming to give teachings in this area. You should go and connect with him. He was your dharma brother during the time of Guru Padmasambhava. If you receive teachings from him it will help reawaken these memories."
The next day he was on his way to the teachings when he was enticed into playing with some of the other young monks who had also decided to stay behind. Tag Sham Tarchin taught the following two days as well, but on both days, Tsasum got distracted and forgot to go. The third night of the teachings, he was again visited by this black woman in his dreams. She appeared even more wrathful now.
" I have already asked you to go, but you still haven't gone.
Tomorrow you have to go -- because the teaching is about me!
You must recieve that teaching."
The next morning Tsasum made sure to attend the teachings. The local king was sponsoring the event, and many officials, as well as a few high lamas, were in attendance. Tsasum was just a young monk, so he stood at the edge of the crowd but kept getting shoved farther back. He spotted Konchog Tsering, a well known meditation master, seated on the edge of the crowd and thought, "Everyone knows that man over there is a very peaceful being. If I go sit by him no one will bother me." But when he tried to settle himself next to the master, Konchog Tsering got annoyed and said, "Oh you spacey young monk, you're disturbing my meditation. Get out of here!" And he actually pushed him away.
By now, Tsasum could not even see Tag Sham, so he went behind the tent housing the teaching throne where he could at least hear everything. Naturally, someone saw him go back there and told him it was improper place to be sitting, and he had to move again. This was just getting to be too much so he started back towards the monastery, sad and frustrated.
The day had left him exhausted, so along the way he decided to take a little nap. Again Yeshe Tsogyal appeared to him quite vividly. " You did well," she told him. "You heard all the teachings. There is no reason to be sad." Her kindness and encouragement filled him with happiness and he woke up joyful and energized.
When Tsasum Lingpa was about 17, his qualities were more evident to his elders. He had become a very important person. He had a recurring dream wherein Guru Padmasambhava and wisdom dakini Yeshe Tsogyal told him that he must leave and go on to fulfill his mission. He was chosen to accompany the head of his monastery on a trip to central Tibet for ceremonial affairs at Ganden monastery. While there, many of the masters and monks tried to get Tsasum to stay and become a geshe. He was considering it when Yeshe Tsogyal again appeared and said, "This is not the time for study. Instead, work on actualizing the instructions you have already received. There is much to be discovered and you have responsibilities to fulfill." He awoke the next morning without any doubt and left central Tibet.
Once on a pilgrimage in southern Tibet, in the region of Lhodrag, Tsasum was walking along when he looked up into the sky and saw a thick white cloud in the southwest. With his heart strong in devotion to Guru Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tsogyal, he began having vivid flashbacks of his past life as Nub Sangye Yeshe. His devotion was mixed with feelings of loneliness and sadness and he began to cry and sing to the cloud,
"You look glorious
like a snow lion standing
in the southwest above that mountain.
If you go further southwest
to the Glorious Copper-Colored Mountain,
please give this message to my father Padmasambhava
and to my mother Yeshe Tsogyal.
Tell them I am alone and wandering through the wilds of Tibet.
Please come and help me."
When he was done singing, it seemed as if the cloud immediately raced off toward the southwest.
That night he had a dream and in the dream a very beautiful young woman appeared. He didn't recognize her and was wondering who she was. Then, she grabbed him and said, 'What is the matter with you? Don't you recognize your own mother? How terrible!' She held him like a small child, took off all his clothes off and put him in a tub. She called and suddenly there were many beautiful women bathing him and pouring water over his head. All night long he dreamed that he was taking a shower. Many dakas and dakinis appeared to Tsasum Lingpa to console and reassure him. He understood that the woman who had held him was Yeshe Tsogyal. Guru Padmasambhava himself explained, "Because of conditional habit patterns acquired in this life, you have become obscured; this is why you do not recollect your past. We will purify all this by bathing you. Afterwards, we will give you initiation and instructions." So they washed him and he absorbed their teachings for the rest of the night. After the bath, the wisdom dakini dressed him and said that he must leave the monastery. In the morning, he awoke with the sun of wisdom, having regained all his memories. The sun was shining in his room and some of his friends had brought him tea. It was sitting there beside a bowl of tsampa. He felt very happy and excited and knew that he had to leave. He drank the tea and started thinking about how to make his exit. Having seen Yeshe Tsogyal in his dream and that he had better take her advice. He knew he had responsibilities and that everyone was depending on him. He was trying to figure out the best way to leave.
This monastery was in eastern Tibet, near Tsasum Lingpa's birthplace. They wanted to saddle him with responsibilities and pressured him to accept their charges. All during this time he was having visions of Padmasambhava and dharmapalas telling him what he really needed to do. He had already attempted to resign from the monastery, but the monks would not hear of it. Now he had to go south toward the area where Khenpo Palden and Khenpo Tsewang were born, in the vicinity of the sacred mountain Jowo Dze. This mountain held the key to the terma texts he was to discover. It was necessary to get this key before he could go on to reveal termas. In acquiring such a key, timing is very important. One must not delay too long or the opportunity is lost. He realized he only had three days. He decided that the best way to be left alone would be to act crazy. So he began to dress strangely. He pulled his long skirt above his knees and put on a fox hat. Although it is forbidden in the monastery, he carried a thigh-bone trumpet and a long sword. He skipped across the courtyard, shouting and blowing the trumpet while the monks looked on in disbelief. Some laughed. Others got angry. The general consensus was that he must have gone crazy. Then he just danced out the gate and never came back.
According to Khenpo Palden, "He later came to the village where we were born and stayed there for a while. He made many prophecies about the area and went to the very place where our monastery is located; of course at that time there was nothing there, it was simply the slope of the great mountain Jowo Zegyal. On that site, he built a little hut of stone. It was a very small hut, more like a dollhouse. He placed a small doll in it and said, 'For now, this will serve as a dharmapala.' That hut was the start of Gochen Monastery and it later grew up right on that spot."
Padmasambhava had told Tsasum Lingpa to go to a place about sixty miles south of the monastery to reveal what was to be a key to all the termas. This actually turned out to be a small locket which makes clacking noises and soft musical sounds when shaken. From here, Tsasum Lingpa went to central Tibet and stayed at Drikung Monastery for over a year. He studied with the teachers there and actualized the ultimate state in meditation. He excelled in the tsa-lung practices and learned wind-walking which allows one to travel over great distances in a very short time. This is when he began to discover termas and ritual objects.
Tsasum Lingpa never stayed in one place for a long time gathering students.
And he almost always traveled alone.
One night he was staying with a family in Lhasa. A red horse appeared and upon it, a red man in armor and a helmet, equipped with sword, shield and spear. "Now is the time," he said. "You should go to Sha'ug Tago to discover the phurba teachings. Do not delay." Sha'ug Tago is hundreds of miles away, near Assam on the Indian border. The red warrior also said, "You will need an assistant. There is a dakini in Lhasa, an emanation of Yeshe Tsogyal who must come with you. In Sha'ug Tago, many concealed teachings were intended for you by Guru Rinpoche and Yeshe Tsogyal. So you must come now. And make sure you bring the woman." Tsasum Lingpa replied, "I don't know any dakinis and certainly not anyone like you are describing." The red man replied, "I will help you." And then he told him to be at a certain place the next morning.
So our man was there on time, as instructed. Looking down the road, he saw five girls walking toward him. He thought one of them must be the dakini. These young ladies were from aristocratic families and dressed elegantly while Tsasum Lingpa appeared rather poor and perhaps a bit strange. Four of them completely ignored him. The fifth barely looked up at first, but soon approached and asked, "Where are you from?"
"I am from Kham," he replied but then he got very nervous and didn't know what to say next. His mind went totally blank. Finally, he said, "Can I see that ring?" The young lady said, "Sure," and pulled it off her finger to let him look at it. The moment she handed him the ring, he became so excited that he used his wind energy to leap far away. In no time at all, he was out of sight. He eventually calmed down and continued walking for the remainder of the day. By evening he was on the shores of a famous turquoise lake.
As he lay down to sleep, the red warrior arrived with seventeen attendants. "Alright," the Red man began, "I see you've made it. But what happened to your assistant?"
"That's right, I was supposed to bring a lady here," Tsasum replied sheepishly. "Well, actually you know, I really couldn't tell which one of them was a dakini,"
"How can you say that? I all but handed her to you!" The warrior, who was actually a dharmapala, got very angry and started yelling at Tsasum Lingpa. "You blew it! I can't believe this... I brought her right to you!" While he was stomping around and cursing, Tsasum pulled out the ring and said, "Here, look at this. This is all I have." The dharmapala said, "You're not very good at this are you? I mean, this ring will help me a little, but I wasn't kidding; you really do need a female assistant in order to discover the terma."
"Well, I don't have a human consort, but I will pray to the wisdom dakinis to help me." The next morning as he prayed, a broad ray of white light stretched from a mountain in the Drikung region, to where he was sitting. It spanned across the sky like a white scarf and there in the midst of that radiance, was Achi Chödrön, a dakini as well as a dharmapala, riding a mule on the ray as if it were a road. She said, "You are calling upon all the dakinis. Is there a problem?" He explained his predicament and she replied, "Don't worry, I can help. Get up here and ride behind me on this mule. Hold on and keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them again." He jumped up on the mule and closed his eyes and since he didn't look, he simply said that it certainly felt like they were riding through the sky. This feeling continued for a stretch of time until Achi Chödrön said, "We are beginning to descend." They came down at Sha'ug Tago which ordinarily takes four days to reach.
Upon arrival they encountered the red dharmapala who said, "Now you must reveal the terma teaching in the center of this rock mountain. The Guru and His Lady charged me with protection of these teachings until you came. I have done my job. They are now your responsibility." Tsasum Lingpa climbed the mountain until he reached a spot that was blazing with fire. There he discovered a locket with insects on it. This was a sign that he was almost too late to retrieve the treasure. Within the locket were small scrolls containing the entire Vajrakilaya sadhana. Along with the locket he found a meteoric iron vajra, a statue of Guru Rinpoche and other holy relics. While removing these things from the rock, he looked around and saw that the sky was filled with rainbow light and a gentle, celestial music was resounding deep into the canyons below. The red dharmapala was overjoyed. With a laugh that roared like thunder, he said to Tsasum Lingpa, "You have done very well after all. For my part, I will continue to protect the teachings and practitioners of your lineage."
Tsasum continued to look around and saw many doors suddenly appear in the rocks which were all opening and closing. Inside were beautiful rupas, termas and other precious things. But as soon as he attempted to remove any of these, the doors would close. The dharmapala saw this and told him, "You see, because you did not get the right dakini, you are unable to access these things. In any case, you've got the main thing, and that's enough for now."
Tsasum Lingpa was very famous for discovering earth terma, involving physical objects. When he revealed the Vajrakilaya teachings, he was alone except for some dharmapalas. But often when he was going to unearth a terma, he would invite many students to come with him. Sometimes three or four hundred people would accompany him. He would announce, "At such-and-such a place and time, I am going to reveal terma teachings. Those who are interested to see how I discover them can come along."
Source for quote used on header for this page:
The Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, Padma bKa'i Thang as recorded by Yeshe Tsogyal, Rediscovered by Terchen Urgyan Lingpa, trs. by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays, Dharma Publishing, 1978
The Dark Red Amulet of Unsurpassable Yang-Phur: The Coemergent Union of the Vajra Daka, Khenpo Palden Sherab Rinpoche, Dharma Samudra, 1992,
Image of Tsasum Lingpa courtesy of Mikel Dunham
Turtle Hill Sangha © 2010