Pema Lingpa

Through the power of those to be tamed I have been to many countries,
Made many empowerments and Dharma connections,
Placed men and women with karma on the path of ripening and liberation,
And prayed that even the skeptical become converted.
Pema Lingpa


Amongst the five Tertön Kings, prophesied by the second Buddha Guru Rinpoche, one was Tertön Ugyen Pema Lingpa, the incarnation of princess Pemasal.

According to the prophecy of Padmasambhava it was foretold:

At Phari in Gos, when homes fall under the fortress 
At Tagur in Lato, when the streets become a poison bazaar 

Warned by these signs not to fail to bring to light 

The treasures hidden in the Burning Lake (Me Bar Tsho) 

Ugyen Pema Lingpa will appear 

Pema Lingpa, the great Bhutanese saint, was born in Bhutan in Bumthang, in Baridrang in the Iron Horse year (1450), on the fifteenth day of tiger month. At the time of his birth, three suns shone in the sky, flowers fell like rain, and rainbows clustered all around. For a long time after the birth, both mother and son were surrounded by rainbows day and night. Many heroes and dakinis offered ablution water and danced, sang, and sported with him, and other unimaginable, marvelous sights such as these manifested as well. He was given the name Paljor.

Even playing around in his youth, he would sit on a throne and act as if he were giving empowerments and instructions, sing incantations, perform sacred dances, gather together a following, enter into meditative absorption, and generally engage in activities beyond the scope of most children. At those times, his hands and feet would leave many imprints in hard stone as if it were mud. These can now be seen by everyone. He never listened to the advice of his mother or father or anyone else, but rather practiced the tantric deportment of immediately acting on whatever occurred to him.

As the true incarnation of omniscient Longchenpa, Tertön Pema Lingpa learnt effortlessly the art of reading and writing as well as ironwork and carpentry.

On the tenth day of the first month of autumn in the Fire Monkey year (1476), he fell asleep at the foot of the chapel room in front of the monastery. Hearing “Get up and work!” he looked around. Standing close by was a monk in ragged robes. After much questioning, the monk handed him a paper scroll and said, “Look well, and give me some food.” After preparing the food inside, Pema Lingpa again went outside to call the monk, but he had disappeared without a trace. Looking at the paper scroll, he read, “On the night of the full moon of this month, at the bottom of your valley there is a place called Naring Drak. There lies your destined wealth. Take five friends and go there to retrieve it.”

Following the instructions, Pema Lingpa went to Senge Naring Drak, or Mebartso (Burning Lake). When Pema Lingpa arrived at its edge, immediately an intense experience of having lost all bearings welled up in him, and he took off his clothes and jumped in the water. Beneath the water, in a place called Palgyi Phukring there was a life-size figure of the Teacher. To the left side of this was a stack of many rhinoceros-skin chests. A woman with one eye, wearing maroon clothes, handed him a treasure box from among these containing the text of The Quintessence of the Mysteries of the Luminous Space of Samantabhadri. After somehow being propelled back onto the cliff, he returned with his friends at midnight. He blessed his mother, father, and others with the treasure.

When he opened the door of the empowerment and instruction of this sacred teaching for the first time, myriad good signs appeared, such as a rain of flowers and a canopy of rainbows. Every night he experienced the Great Orgyen and Tsogyal explaining the exact details of how to confer the empowerment and give the instructions, how to perform the dances, the musical notation for the ritual activity, and so on, and he would precisely implement these instructions on the following day.

On the fourteenth day of the eighth month of that year, in the midst of a large crowd who were gathered at the edge of Mebartso, Pema Lingpa held up a butter lamp in his hand and declared, “If I am a demonic emanation, then may I die in these waters. If I am a son of Orgyen, then may I find the necessary treasure and may this butter lamp not be extinguished.”

Saying that, he jumped. The people had all kinds of reactions and a great clamor arose, but immediately thereupon the figure of Pema Lingpa shot glistening out of the water, holding a buddha statue and with a joined skull box filled with sacred substances held under his armpit. What is more, the butter lamp was still burning. All the skeptics were inspired then with trusting faith and were placed in a state of liberated awakening.

On the full moon of the first month of spring of the Bird year (1477), Pema Lingpa and three students extracted a rhinoceros-skin box containing The Great Compassionate One, the Lamp That Illuminates the Darkness.

On the tenth day of the victory month, before a crowd of over a hundred, he took out the box containing a copied yellow scroll and a statue of Padma Guru from the Senge Drawa Cliff in Lower Bumthang. A rain of stones fell and other great violent eruptions and then the sky filled with rainbows. On the tenth day of the dog month, he revealed the text box of The Wrathful RedGuru, the Fire Twister. At Pemaling, the five kinds of dakinis implored him, so he extracted a bronze statue of the Teacher one cubit high and the treasure box of Single Wrathful Guru from Senge Kyichok in Lower Bumthang. In the Dragon year(1484), at Kuré Valley he flew like a bird vibrating with the sound of mani from the Rimochen Cliff and extracted a crystal vase filled with long-life water, topped with peacocks intertwined at the neck.

Then he stayed in meditation in Serzhong. Within one month there dawned in him a great realization experience, such as had never occurred before, of the ways of all cyclic existence and its transcendence, and in particular the knowledge of the thoughts and activities of all beings in the six realms.

At the age of thirty-two, during the full moon, he had a pure vision at dawn. Three girls brought him to the palace on the Copper-Colored Mountain. In the center of an extraordinarily elegant palace was seated the glorious Orgyen Vajradhara, surrounded by many of the awareness-holding saints of India and Tibet, and with inconceivable numbers of heroes and dakinis.

Pema Lingpa beheld the mandala of The Compendium of the Lama’s Most Secret Precepts and for seven days engaged in its practice. He received the four empowerments in their entirety, as well as the empowerment of abundant precepts of the vajra master. The Dharma protectors displayed each of their forms and deferred to him with strict promises of obedience.

At this time he received the secret name Orgyen Pema Lingpa. After requesting the guidance of many practices, prophecies, and profound teachings, he returned with the three girls to his own country and woke up.

Because of the dakini’s entreaty, on the tenth day of the first fall month of the Earth Hare year, he went to Lhodrak in Tibet. There, amid a crowd of many monks and layfolk, he extracted from a lion-faced rock on the northeast side of Mendo Cliff the text box of the mind practice Lama Jewel Ocean, along with sacred substances and images. He blessed all those gathered there and established them in the stages of total purification.

On the tenth day of the tiger month, after the mantra protector had twice entreated him, he found four volumes wrapped in silk on the window ledge in the room at Tharpaling where he had hidden them in his previous life as Longchenpa. As soon as his hand touched them, some of them completely disintegrated. But the texts of The Union of the Intentions remained undamaged, and he left with these.

At Samye Chimphu, he revealed the treasure of the Great Completion Union of Samantabhadra’s Intentions (Dzogchen Kunzang Gongdu). From various other sacred places he revealed: the cycle of the Small Child Tantra belonging to the non-dual Great Completion; the Eight Transmitted Teachings, Mirror of the MindKilaya, Most Secret Blade of Vitality (Phurba Yangsang Soki Pudri)the Elixir Medicine Sadhana (Dutsi Mendrup); Vajrapani as the Haughty Tamer, and as the Fierce Youth, the Greater, Extensive and Abbreviated Sadhanas of Wrathful Guru; the Adamantine Necklace of Instructions on Longevity, the Longetivity Practice, Applying Jewels on the Path; the Three Black Cycles; and numerous other teachings. Likewise, he discovered countless precious substances such as sacred pills, liberating upon taste, garments of Guru Rinpoche etc.

Generally it was taught in the secret treasure prophecies that Pema Lingpa would be the master of one hundred eight treasures, but for the time being, through the force of necessity, only thirty-two were actually discovered. Most of them were public treasures. Furthermore, some lesser treasures were taken from indefinite treasure sites.


At the time of his discoveries, Pema Lingpa’s realization had reached the stage of the exhaustion of the four visions, and the expanse of his perspective was like the sky, the exhaustion of phenomena and of conceptual mind. He had made the leap into recognizing whatever appears as the play of reality itself, and so was freed of accepting or rejecting cyclic existence and its transcendence. Soaring through space like a bird, he could pass unobstructed through mountain cliffs. He left his handprints and footprints in hard stones as if it were mud.

Whether in actuality or in vision, he met many great ones, such as the Great Master (Padmasambhava) and Yeshe Tsogyal, and had immeasurable visions of receiving precepts, prophecies and assurances. Whenever he was giving empowerments and instructions, the nectar would boil up, flowers would rain down, rainbows would cluster around, and many other marvelous sights would occur; not just one time but continuously. Just a portion of the nectar of his speech could liberate upon hearing, such as when he would sing the “vajra melody that inspires realization.” It would captivate the minds of all in attendance. His unimpeded clairvoyance would reveal whatever was hidden in the three times, causing those with doubts to be convinced and become interested. Even the kind of unfortunate ones with wrong view were near the end of cyclic existence, being taken under his protection through his aspiration prayers that in future lives they would become disciples. These infinite qualities of the great bliss of the sublime body, speech, and mind of Pema Lingpa are all beyond the capabilities of the ordinary rational mind to fathom.

Regarding the retinue of his followers and lineage holders, it is mentioned in the Treasure (Terlung) prophesies as follows:

Ten thousand disciples connected through Karma 
Eleven disciples connected through profound methods 

One thousand and two disciples connected through aspiration 

Seven mandala holder sons 

And three heart-sons will come 

Accordingly, countless followers and disciples were connected through good fortune and all their minds introduced to the treasure teachings, ripening their beings with the profound practices.

In addition, he performed many miraculous deeds and prophesied that in future, in the Pureland of Pema Ködpa, he would become the Buddha Dorji Nyingpo and that sentient beings who had the good fortune to associate with him would also be born in that Pureland. Having said thus, in the Iron Male Snake Year (1521), on the 3rd day of the first lunar month, with his body in the vajra position, uttering the syllables “A, Ā” ( ཨ་) many times, placing his right hand in the hands of Thugsé Dawa Gyaltsen, he entered into Dharmadhatu, at Lhundrup Chöling in Tamshing, Bumthang.

At the time he passed away, people in Dechenchöling and Kunzang Drak heard auspicious sounds and saw lights turning to five–colored rainbows, space filled with the scent of incense accompanied by auspicious rains of flowers. His bodily remains when looked at in parts seemed intact and unchanged whereas when viewed as a whole looked to be only a little over a foot in size. It was later preserved in a reliquary stupa and kept at Lhundrup Chöling in Tamshing, Bumthang.

Pema Lingpa’s spiritual tradition is preserved till the present day thanks to the three
lineages of incarnations, identified with his Body, Speech and Mind. Gangteng, Sungtrul and Tukse Rinpoche keep the tradition through the centuries and transmit teachings of Pema Lingpa to new generations.