A ‘Kagyu Treasure’ Tradition? Marpa’s Fifteen ‘Hidden Scrolls’ from Sekhar

Marpa the Translator. Statue said to be made by 10th Karmapa. (Source: Asianart.com)

Recently, I have been delving into the history and works of the Karmapas and their connection to the great treasure-revealers of the Treasure tradition, such as Chogyur Lingpa and Zilnon Namkhe Dorje. It is often incorrectly assumed that treasures and their revelation are only a part of the Nyingma lineage, yet as has been shown from the 14th Karmapa onwards, they also held distinct treasure lineages bestowed by treasure-revealers.

However, the question as to whether there are specific Kagyu treasures, concealed and/or revealed by Kagyu lineage teachers was recently considered in an academic paper (2016) by one of the most eminent scholars in the field, Dr. Cecile Ducher in bKa’ brgyud Treasure and rNying ma Revealer: The Sras mkhar ma of Mar pa Lo tsā ba[1]. In this article, Ducher  writes about fifteen scrolls said to have been composed and then concealed by Marpa the Translator (1012-1097), in the walls of his house, Sekhar (Sras mkhar)[2], later said to be revealed by the renowned treasure revealer, Guru Chowang (Guru Chos dbang (1212–1270)[3] after five generations. In the non-Tibetan world, these scrolls are still largely unknown, although they are present in several famous Tibetan collections.

Nāropā in thangkha painted by the 8th Kenting Tai Situpa Chokyi Jungne.
(See http://www.palpung.org)

According to Marpa’s account, he was told to seal the teachings by Nāropā and let the ‘heart-transmission’ appear later:

Thus, you too, Lo tsā ba,

Should not spread this now!

Get it sealed into three caches.

Teach the empowerment to your lineage

And let the heart-transmission’s blessing appear later.[4]




དབང་ནི་རྒྱུད པ་ལ་ལུང་སྟོན་མ་ལུས་ཏོན།


My post here aims to consider this interesting question of ‘Kagyu Treasures’ by summarising some of the information and findings of Ducher’s paper. In addition, I pull together some research by Andreas Doctor (2005) on the question as to what makes something a ‘treasure’ within the Tibetan tradition.

First, I will give an overview of the Marpa scrolls, then consider the definition of a ‘Treasure’ (as advocated by several revealers over the centuries), then try and answer the question as to whether the Marpa Sekhar Scrolls (and some other Kagyu texts), can be considered Treasures or not.   I hope this will render some of the fascinating research in the academic field more accessible to a general audience who may not have the time (or inclination) to read them in full.

Marpa’s Fifteen Scrolls – Origin and Contents

Marpa’s Sekhar tower from a distance (Source Asianart.com)

Ducher (2016) identifies four clear Tibetan sources of the Marpa scrolls, that contain inventories by both Marpa and Guru Chowang (said to be the revealer):

  1. An autobiographical account by Marpa in the Indian Mahamudra works[5]
  2. A Drepung monastery edition of the Collected Works of Marpa.[6]
  3.  An edition in Jamgon Kongtrul’s Rinchen Terdzo[7] 
  4. In Nāropā’s Collected Works in the Drigung Kagyu, Chodzo Chenmo[8].

According to Ducher, in the autobiographical account, Marpa describes the circumstances of his journeys to India, the offerings made to receive the fifteen scrolls from Nāropā, Maitripa and the woman named Endowed with Human Bone Ornaments (mi rus rgyan can), and how he was instructed by Nāropā to make several copies and conceal them. He gives the titles of the fifteen scrolls and describes their content:

The scrolls (shog dril) make up the core of the treasure and most are present in all editions. They are held to be small scrolls of paper hidden in tsatsa within a wall of Mar pa’s house and contain short texts dealing with the most important traditions brought by Mar pa from India to Tibet, especially means of practice associated with the creation phase (sādhanas) and the perfection phase (the Six Doctrines). All scrolls are said to be translations made by Mar pa while he was in Tibet and some have a colophon with a transmission lineage. The scrolls are not found in the same order in all versions. It is only in the Rin chen gter mdzod that the sequence of the scrolls and their titles correspond exactly with Mar pa’s inventory, which may be a mark of Kong sprul’s editing. Each scroll contains at least one transmission (sometimes an additional one is given) and is given a vajra title, for instance Vajra Greed for the sādhana of Vajravārāhī. In the conclusion of his edition of the collection, Kong sprul presents the content of the fifteen scrolls[9].

In Marpa’s inventory it states it was copied several times by his close disciple, Marpa Goyag (Mar pa mGo yags), and concealed at several places within his home[10].

Guru Chowang

These were later said to be revealed by Chowang, who claims in his inventory that Marpa’s inventory was shown to him by the owner of Marpa’s home, Sedro Gyangsarpa (Se bro Gyang gsar pa):  

”In the inventory, Guru Chos dbang states that he studied at Sras mkhar with Se bro Gyang gsar pa. During one teaching, Se bro opened his library, which revealed a mysterious scroll wrapped in three layers of silk. It was three years since his father, Se bro rJe btsun, had died, but Gyang gsar pa had not unsealed the scroll. His father told him about it, but he “had never heard of the existence of treasures in the New The Sras mkhar ma of Mar pa Lo tsā ba Traditions,” so thought it could only be a fraud. When the scroll was unsealed in Chos dbang’s presence, the two found out that it was an inventory (kha byang) composed by Mar pa indicating that a collection of fifteen translations of his most secret instructions was concealed somewhere in the house. The treasure revealer kept thinking about it. Eventually, he felt the time had come for the revelation, so he went to Drowolung (Gro bo lung). He did not dare intrude into Sras mkhar, waited for two weeks, and finally found the treasure. He placed another volume of text in its place and made a hundred gaṇacakras. At this point, the following question may occur to readers: as Se bro Gyang gsar pa remarked, can there be a bKa’ brgyud treasure?’

What is a ‘Treasure’?

Before considering whether Marpa’s scrolls are a treasure or not, first we must decide what is meant by ‘treasure’ within that tradition. The definition of a ’treasure’ was considered by both Ducher (2016) and by Andreas Doctor (Chapter1: 2005). Doctor’s analysis is the most extensive of the two (and is worthy of reading in full) but here is my summary of some of his central points.

Padmasambhava as the main concealer of Treasures?

First, Doctor (2005) explains that the role of Padmasambhava in Treasure concealment is of central importance in the Nyingma tradition:

Although the Nyingma School developed numerous systems of Treasure classification according to their content, nature, manner of concealment, etc., all Tibetan Treasures share the claim that they were concealed during the golden age of the Yarlung dynasty (seventh to ninth centuries C.E.) by enlightened Buddhist masters who considered the needs and inclinations of future followers…..Later legends, revealed as Treasure from the twelfth century onwards, recount this part of Tibet’s history by focusing on the Indian esoteric master Padmasambhava (eighth/ninth century) and his role in the conversion process. In these texts we are told that, having been invited to Tibet in order to pacify demonic obstacles to the construction of Samye, Tibet’s first monastery, Padmasambhava stayed on and assumed the leading role in transmitting the tantric tradition to Tibet. Although these later Tibetan accounts accredit Padmasambhava with this central and all-important role in the conversion of Tibet, little historical data exist to verify these claims. At any rate, over time the followers of the Nyingma School continued to reveal a vast number of Treasure texts centering on Padmasambhava’s religious feats in Tibet whereby his status and importance retroactively became embedded in a legendary narrative that came to play a pivotal role in the self-conception of the Nyingma School. In this literature Padmasambhava is described as the main author and concealer of the Treasures.

Doctor further explains that there are six stages of treasure transmission by which Padmasambhava first teaches the student, then prophesises it and then conceals it:

The transmission of the Treasures is traditionally described in terms of six events, or stages, whereby the teaching moves from its original formulator in a dharmakāya realm to the devotee in the present. Among these six stages, the first three are the well-known transmissions of tantric material according to the teachings of the Nyingma School: the realization lineage of the conquerors, the symbolic lineage of the vidyādharas, and the hearing lineage of ordinary people. The remaining three transmissions, specific to Treasure revelation, are: empowerment by aspiration, prediction of the transmission, and entrustment to the çākinīs.  According to Longchenpa (1308-1363), these three events unfold within the symbolic lineage of the vidyādharas.  During these latter stages Padmasambhava first teaches a suitable student and ensures that his or her understanding is authentic and genuine. Once the student has properly received the teaching, Padmasambhava prophesizes the circumstances of the future revelation and finally conceals the teaching and entrusts the çākinīs to guard it until the time has come for revelation.

Categories of Treasures

During the history of visionary revelation in Tibet various systems of Treasure taxonomy developed. Doctor considers these classifications of earlier people such as Nyangral Nyima Ozer (1124-1192), Guru Chökyi Wangchuk (1212-1270), Urgyen Lingpa (1323-?), Longchenpa Drime Özer, and Ratna Lingpa Pal Zangpo (1403-78) and compares these to the later position formulated by members of the nineteenth century non-sectarian tradition (ris med) as represented by Jamgon Kongtrul, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820- 1892) and Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa (1829-1870). Below are the general categories that developed:

Nyangral Nyima Özer and ‘Dharma’ and ‘Wealth’ Treasures
Nyangral Nyima Ozer

Doctor explains that although the Nyingma School traditionally traces the beginnings of Treasure revelation in Tibet to the master Sangye Lama (eleventh century); Nyangral Nyima Özer’s writings a century later are ‘the first to show a self-conscious movement with actual descriptions of the tradition including taxonomical features’:

‘’The primary source is the seminal hagiography of Padmasambhava known as the Copper Temple Life Story after its place of discovery at the Samye monastic complex south of Lhasa. As part of Nyangral’s account of Padmasambhava’s feats in Tibet, two short chapters discuss his concealment of the Treasures. They divide the Treasures into two major rubrics of “religious Treasures” (chos gter) and “wealth Treasures” (nor gter).  In this way, during Nyangral’s time, we can see that the Treasures were classified based on their content and general nature which is much different from the later taxonomies of the ecumenical tradition where, as we shall see below, the Treasures instead were arranged according to their various modes of revelation. As for religious Treasures and wealth Treasures, neither of these two terms was created by Nyangral as both commonly appear throughout translations of Indian Mahāyāna sūtras but in Nyangral’s writings they refer specifically to Treasures concealed by Padmasambhava in Tibet and as such both terms become enduring categories in the Treasure tradition.’’

In this way, during Nyangral’s time, it seems the Treasures were classified based on their content and general nature rather than later taxonomies arranged according to their various modes of revelation[11].

Guru Chowang’s ‘Great Treasure Chronicle
Guru Chowang

Then there is a consideration of Guru Chowang who, a century after Nyangral, ‘was the second major contributor to Treasure taxonomy and one of the most influential Treasure hermeneutists in the entire history of the Nyingma School’. Doctor explains that:

The interpretation of spiritual Treasure as referring simply to a precious teaching rather than a specific Treasure is supported by Guru Chöwang’s ‘Great Treasure Chronicle’ which likewise speaks of spiritual Treasures as physical entities. The Great Treasure Chronicle, composed in the thirteenth century, is the earliest known detailed treatise on the Treasure tradition. In this text, Chöwang uses four main categories to define the Treasures[12]. Contextual awareness is therefore required when relating to this term and, in any case, its semantic equivalence to later understandings of mind Treasure must be doubted[13]…..In presenting these categories, Chöwang argues that Treasures are not only religious texts and artifacts hidden by Padmasambhava and his students but should be understood in broader terms as the complete Buddhist textual corpus and, on an even larger scale, indeed the entire world.

Ratna Lingpa – The process of concealment and revelation
Ratna Lingpa

Next there is a consideration of Ratna Lingpa (1403-1479) and his classifications (the sixth Karmapa, Thongwa Donden was one of his students). Doctor says that:

While Chöwang devotes the majority of his treatise to defining the Treasures, Ratna Lingpa focuses primarily on the process of concealment and revelation, leaving the explanation of Treasure identity as a secondary theme that only occasionally surfaces throughout his larger account. Ratna Lingpa adheres Treasure Revelation predominantly to the categories defined by Chöwang centuries earlier, such as those of body, speech, and mind (statues, teachings, and stūpas), as well as Treasures of astrology, medicine, and handicraft (notably, no mention of Bön). However, he also renames Chöwang’s four primary Treasure divisions with terminology of his own[14].

Jamgon Kongtrul – Earth, Rediscovered and Mind Treasures

Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo with Chogyur Lingpa and Jamgon Kongtrul

Kongtrul and his colleagues developed a four-fold sub-classification constructed around the visionary activity of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa. Doctor (2005) claims that the system is based on the following prophecy revealed by Chokgyur Lingpa:

The river of seven descents— The unbroken spoken lineage,

Profound actual earth Treasures as well as mind Treasures,

Rediscovered Treasures and recollected Treasures,

Pure vision and the hearing lineage—

Will flow into the fortune of the father and son.

It will enrich the teachings of the degenerate age

And spread the sunshine of the profound and vast.



ཡང་གཏེར་རྗེས་སུ དྲན་པའི་གཏེར།






A three-fold division of ‘earth’, ‘re-discovered’ and ‘mind’ Treasures form the primary structure for Kongtrul’s work while the remaining sub-categories are encountered throughout the text as he discusses the revelations of individual figures, in particular, those of Khyentse and Chokling.  Doctor says:

Following Kongtrul, this system was adopted by subsequent scholars in their treatment of the Treasure literature. According to this presentation, earth Treasures are revealed in dependency on a physical locality and constitute the only kind of Treasure that is not exclusively transmitted in and revealed from the mental realm. As the name indicates, this kind of Treasure is hidden in the ground, a rock, or another physical location. It may be actual texts but can also consist of religious objects such as vajras, kīlas, or buddha statues, sub-classified as material Treasure, as well as jewels and precious metals, designated wealth Treasures. Rediscovered Treasures are teachings that previously were revealed but, as the conditions for successful revelation were not met, were re-concealed and now discovered anew. Mind Treasures are revealed purely from the mind of the Treasure revealer where Padmasambhava is claimed to have originally concealed them. Recollected Treasures are remembrances from a former life. The Treasure revealers recollect their past existences as spiritual teachers and propagate their earlier teachings once again.

Marpa’s Scrolls and other Kagyu ‘treasures’: Gampopa, Rechungpa and Mingyur Dorje

In my opinion, following Doctor’s extensive analysis, Marpa’s hidden scrolls fit best with Guru Chowang’s category of a ‘spiritual treasure’ and/or that of Jamgon Kongtrul’s ‘Earth/Re-discovered’ Treasure’. Ducher, who provisionally takes a much narrower view [and sources][15] of what makes something a treasure, initially shares a similar view:

There are at least three ways in which treasures lay claim to authenticity: the exalted status of their original expounder, the similarity of their doctrines or practices to the orthodox tradition, and the special powers of the treasure revealer (gter ston). An additional feature of the rNying ma treasure tradition is that the original concealer is usually Padmasambhava or one of his disciples, and that the revealer was present at the time of the treasure’s concealment or placement in his/her mind. If one sets these last features aside, the Sras mkhar ma could be considered a treasure: it is a text that was revealed from a cache, the content is in line with the rest of Mar pa’s teaching, and it was found by Guru Chos dbang, who was recognised as an authentic treasure revealer.

If we conclude that the Marpa scrolls can be considered a ‘treasure’, are there other Kagyu Treasures too? Ducher considers this question and briefly mentions two texts that came through Naropa, one concealed by Gampopa (in a lake above his monastery of Dwags lha sgam po) retrieved by Dungtsho Repa (Dung mtsho Ras pa (c. 1329)) the Wish Granting Instruction on Mind (sems khrid yid bzhin nor bu), which became an important part of the Zurmang Whispered Oral tradition, another that was hidden by Rechungpa, which became an important part of the Drugpa Kagyu lineage. There is also a treasure of the Chod (gCod) tradition concealed by Ma gcig lab sgron and retrieved by distant disciples, also found in the gDams ngag mdzod. Ducher explains:

Although the new traditions that developed from the 11th century onward generally rely on direct transmission from a master, there exist several examples of texts considered to have been concealed and revealed at a later point. The dGe lugs pa master Thu’u bkwan Blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma (1737– 1802) mentions several such treasures in his Cleansing of the Purificatory Gem.  Although Mar pa’s Sras mkhar ma does not figure in the list, Thu’u bkwan mentions a number of other famous bKa’ brgyud treasures. One was concealed by sGam po pa (1079–1153) in a lake above his monastery of Dwags lha sgam po. This collection of two teachings came from Nāropā through Mar pa and Mi la ras pa; it was retrieved two centuries later by Dung mtsho Ras pa (1267–c. 1329) and became an important part of the Zur mang snyan brgyud tradition. Another was hidden by Ras chung pa (1085–1161) in mKhar chu, namely the Six Cycles on the Equal Taste (Ro snyoms skor drug), a teaching he received from Ti pu pa and that came from Nāropā. It was retrieved by gTsang pa rGya ras (1161–1211), disciple of gLing ras pa, and became an important feature of the ’Brug pa lineage.

Like the Sras mkhar ma, these two treasures have inventories that were passed on in a lineage down to the treasure revealer and that led to their discovery. In both cases, a material text was concealed that needed no specific elaboration or translation, unlike later rNying ma treasures written in “ḍākinī language.” A significant difference between the Sras mkhar ma and these two collections is that the former was included by Kong sprul in his RT while the other two are found in his gDams ngag mdzod. The reason could be that the Sras mkhar ma was discovered by a famous treasure revealer while the other two were found by bKa’ brgyud masters.

Thus, Ducher concludes, after more analysis, that perhaps Marpa’s scrolls are more in line with a secret ‘aural transmission’:

It seems therefore likely that the Sras mkhar ma was not initially hidden by Mar pa with the overt aspiration of safeguarding it for future generations while hiding it from present disciples. It was, which is more common for a bKa’ brgyud master, a written testimony of a very secret oral teaching, not designed to be spread in writing to his disciples, at least for several generations (as other aural transmissions). Guru Chos dbang’s role as the revealer of the scrolls to the world, and his active legitimation of the collection as a treasure by way of his inventory and the expansion of Mar pa’s inventory made it appear as if it was a bKa’ brgyud treasure,  a status further reinforced by its inclusion in the Rinchen Terdzo. It might be more straightforward, however, to consider this collection as a written testimony of an aural transmission.

Although I am no expert, I would tentatively disagree with this conclusion though, and think that the revelation by Guru Chowang and its inclusion in the Rinchen Terdzo are extremely significant as both authors were significantly involved in and extremely knowledgeable about treasure revelation to mistake or exaggerate an aural transmission for a treasure.

Serdingpa Zhonu and the discovery of the scrolls?

Ducher (2016: 116-117) also considers the possibility that Guru Chowang was not the first person to ‘discover’ the scrolls in relation to a note that appears in the end of the introduction and before the start of the fifteen scrolls, in a note featured in two of the sources:

”The Rinchen Terdzo version reads as follows:

In Drowolung (Gro bo lung), a lord of Serding (gSer sding), Sangye Gon (Sangs rgyas mgon), cleaved open a rock in the castle’s wall and found [Mar pa’s] quintessential intention from a tsha tsha wrapped with cloth and yak fabric. It then fell in the hands of the great accomplished one, gSer sding pa gZhon nu ’od.

gSer sding pa gZhon nu ’od (lived 12th to 13th century) was a famous bKa’ bgryud master who received Mar pa’s transmission of the Guhyasamāja from a lineage descended from Mar pa’s disciple, mTshur ston dbang nge (dates uncertain). He met with the Kashmiri paṇḍita Śākyaśribhadra (1127–1225), who arrived in Tibet in 1204, and therefore lived before Guru Chos dbang’s revelation of the Sras mkhar ma. According to the Blue Annals, gSer sding pa came to Gro bo lung if we are to believe this note, he may have been given Mar pa’s fifteen scrolls in the early 13th century, before Chos dbang found them. The DK-DZO version reads as follows:

These key-instructions coming from Lord Mar pa’s heart were inserted into a big tsha tsha, wrapped with cloth and yak fabric, and then concealed in-between the slabs of Gro bo lung. Later, a sinful shepherd found them when he cleaved open a rock of the house’s wall. Not knowing what it was, he passed them on and they fell into my hands. The shepherd’s name was Sangs rgyas mgon.
According to this narrative, the key-instructions were found in a wall by someone called Sangs rgyas mgon. He was not a lord (rje bo) from gSer sding, but a shepherd (rdzi bo), and he gave the scroll to gSer sding pa gZhon nu ’od, who compiled a version of the text. Thus we may conceive that at some time in the late 12th or early 13th century, someone found scrolls in Sras mkhar’s wall. Not knowing what the were, he gave them to gSer sding pa during his visit to Gro bo lung. This may be the sense of a note at the end of Mar pa’s introduction in Indian Mahāmudrā Works version, which states that “the verses up to that point are known to have been composed by gSer sding pa”

1st Mingyur Rinpoche

Another example of a Kagyu Treasure, was given recently by HE 7th Mingyur Rinpoche in a live broadcast of a teaching (see here) on the treasure text the ‘Pema Vajra’ mandala practice (yongs dge mi ‘gyur rdo rje drag po nus ldan rtsal) [16], that was concealed by Padmasambhava and Yeshe Tshogyel and later revealed by the Terton 1st Mingyur Rinpoche (1645-1667)[17], whose teacher was Karma Chagme, (ka+rma chags med 1610/1613-1678). In the teaching, the 7th Mingyur speaks about how it is good to teach about this treasure in degenerate times and that it was written in the dakini script.

Texts from the ‘Sixteen Arhats’ Temple in Drepung?

It is a subject of further research as to whether or not there are other Kagyu texts that could be considered treasures. Ducher (2020) recently wrote another fascinating paper on the recent publication of texts from the Sixteen Arhats Temple (Gnas bcu lha khang) within Drepung (’Bras spungs) Monastery, that include many Kagyu and Jonang texts confiscated during the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama government and their closing of Kagyu and Jonang monasteries and libraries during that time. Many of these texts were revealed in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. According to Karma Geleg (Karma bde legs), 60% of the 400 volumes of Kagyu material published recently come from the Sixteen Arhats Temple, including works of Marpa, Milarepa, Rechungpa, Gampopa and the Karmapas.[i]Ducher explains that the ‘Sixteen Arhats Temple’:

..was named after the sandalwood statues of the 16 disciples of Buddha Śākyamuni that were initially housed in the Karma Kagyu monastery Tselhagang (Rtse lha sgang) in Kong po and brought to Drepung when their initial home was taken over by Gelug -led forces after 1642. Although information about the statues had been black on white since 1744 in Phurbu Chog Ngawang Jampa (Phur bu lcog Ngag dbang byams pa)’s (1682–1762) survey of the main Gelug monasteries, what became public with the publication of the Drepung Catalogue in 2004 is that it was not only statues and a few books that were housed in the temple but a complete library of non-orthodox literature that was kept secret for centuries.

The Karma Bka’ brgyud Library of Tselhagang in Kong po housed a renowned library established by the 1st Karma pa (1110– 1193). In it there was a treasure room called the “Black Treasury” (Mdzod nag ma), containing inter alia a large biography of Mi la ras

Although there is clearly a lot more research and translation to be done on this topic, I hope this short survey is of benefit in the preservation and dissemination of knowledge about the ‘treasure’ tradition in Tibet and its connection to Kagyu lineage masters.

For those inspired by the life of Marpa the Translator, there is a short guru yoga practice on him (composed by Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro while he was at Sekhar), see here. The 1st Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye also wrote a guru yoga for Marpa (which is published in the Gyachen Kadzod), this has yet to be translated into English.

Written and compiled by Adele Tomlin, 31st August 2020. Copyright.

Further Reading

Tibetan sources

A mgon rin po che. 2004. Rje btsun mar pa’i rnam thar. In ‘Bri gung bka’ brgyud chos mdzod chen mo, vol. 46, pp. 117-193. Lhasa. TBRC W00JW501203.

Anon. 1970 (1771). Sgra bsgyur chen po mar pa’i rnam par thar pa. In ‘Ba’ ra bka’ brgyud gser ‘phreng chen mo, vol. 1, pp. 149-202. Dehra Dun: Ngawang gyeltsen and ngawang lungtok. TBRC W19231.

Anon. 1975-1978 (1771). Sgra bsgyur mar pa lo ts+tsha’i rnam par thar pa. In Rwa lung dkar brgyud gser ‘phreng, vol. 1, pp. 137-166. Sansal: Pelpung sungrab nyamso khang.

Bacot, Jacques. 1937. La vie de Marpa le traducteur: suivie d’un chapitre de l’Avandana de l’oiseau Nilakantha. Paris: Paul Geuthner.

Bde chen rdo rje. 1973. Skyes mchog mar pa lo tsA’i thar. In Dkar brgyud gser ‘phreng, pp. 137-188. Sansal: Pelpung sungrab nyamso khang. TBRC W23436.

Bsod nams rgya mtsho. N.d. Mnga’ bdag mar pa lo tsA’i rnam thar. In Bka’ brgyud chos ‘byung nor bu’i phreng ba, vol. 1, pp. 15-17. TBRC W1KG4232.

Bsod nams rin chen. 1976. Rje mar pa dang rje btsun mi la’i rnam thar. In Gsung ‘bum / sgam po pa, vol. 1, pp. 16-26. Delhi: Shashin. TBRC W23444. See also TBRC W23439

Chos grags ye shes. 2009. Mnga’ bdag lo tsA ba chen po’i bstod pa dad pa’i ‘brug sgra sogs. In Gsung ‘bum / chos grags ye shes, vol. 4, 161-165. Beijing: Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang. TBRC W1KG4876.

Chos kyi ‘byung gnas. 1990. Lho brag mar pa lo tsA ba chos kyi blo bros. In Gsung ‘bum / chos kyi ‘byung gnas, vol. 11, pp. 55-63. Sansal: Pelpung sungrab nyamso khang. TBRC W26630.

Dpa’ bo gtsug lag phreng ba. 2010 (1563). Rje btsun mar pa’i rnam par thar pa grub pa’i ngo mtshar brjod pa. Varanasi: Bi dyA dpe mdzod khang.

Gtsang smyon he ru ka. 1970. Sgra bsgyur mar pa lo tsA’i rnam par thar pa mthong ba don yod. Varanasi: E. Kalsang.

Gtsang smyon he ru ka rus pa’i rgyan can. 2004. Mar pa’i rnam thar mthong ba don yod. In ‘Bri gung bka’ brgyud chos mdzod chen mo, vol. 6, pp. 291-526. Lhasa. TBRC W00JW501203.

‘Jam dbyangs chos kyi blo gros. 1981. Mnga’ bdag mar pa lo tsA’i bla ma’i rnal ‘byor. In Gsung ‘bum / ‘jam dbyangs chos kyi blo gros, vol. 1, pp. 431-433. Gangtok: Dzongsar khyentse labrang. TBRC W21813.

English Language Sources

Doctor, Andreas. 2005. Tibetan Treasure Revelation: Revelation, Tradition, and Accomplishment in Visionary Buddhism (Snow Lion Publications)

Decleer, Hubert. 2004. “Mar pa.” In Lindsay Jones, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion. Second edition. New York: Macmillan Reference, pp. 5715-5716.

Ducher, Cecile—–

2016. bKa’ brgyud Treasure and rNying ma Revealer: The Sras mkhar ma of Mar pa Lo tsā ba,Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines, no. 37, December 2016, pp. 98–126. 

2017. Building a Tradition: The Lives of Mar-pa the Translator. Munich: Indus Verlag.

2020. Goldmine of Knowledge – The Collections of the Gnas bcu lha khang, Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines, no. 55, Juillet 2020, pp 121–139.

Karma chags med. 2008. The All Pervading Melodious Sound of Thunder: The Outer Liberation Story of Terton Migyur Dorje by Karma Chagme. Lobpon Sonam Tsewang and Judith Amtzis, trans. Nepal: Nyingma Pelyul Retreat Center.

Gyatso, Janet—-

1993. “The Logic of Legitimation in the Tibetan Treasure Tradition.” History of Religions, 33(2): 97–134.

1994. “Guru Chos-dbang’s Gter ’byung chen mo: An Early Survey of the Treasure Tradition and its Strategies in Discussing Bon Treasure.” In Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 6th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetans Studies, edited by Per Kvaerne, vol. 1, 275–87. Oslo: Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture.

1996. “Drawn from the Tibetan Treasury: The gTer ma Literature.” In Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre, edited by José Ignacio Cabezón and Roger Jackson, 147–169. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro, Guru Yoga on Marpa the Translator composed while at Serkhar Gutok. Translated by Adam Pearcey, Lotsawa House, 2019.


Nālandā Translation Committee, tr. 1986. The Life of Marpa the Translator. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Quintman, Andrew. “Marpa Chokyi Lodro,” Treasury of Lives, http://treasuryoflives.org/biographies/view/Marpa-Chokyi-Lodro/4354.

Tsangnyön Heruka (Nālandā Translation Committee transl.). 1982. The Life of Marpa the Translator: Seeing Accomplishes All. Boston: Shambhala Publications.


[1] Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines, no. 37, December 2016, pp. 98–126.

[2] Sekhar Gutok is a small monastery in Lhodrak built around a nine-story tower in that Milarepa is said to have built as an act of penance for his teacher Marpa. Once the seat of the Pawo incarnation line, it was converted to the Geluk tradition in the seventeenth century (from Treasury of Lives,see https://treasuryoflives.org/institution/Sekhar-Gutok).

[3] According to Guru Chowang’s Treasury of Lives bio:

Chokyi Wangchuk was an early chronicler of the treasure tradition, and was critical in fashioning standards – loosely adhered to, but widely known – that enabled the practice of treasure revelation to become popularly accepted. Among these was the assertion that complete treasure cycles include three elements: guru yoga, Dzogchen, and Avalokiteśvara (bla rdzogs thugs gsum). Perhaps more importantly, he was an early apologist for the tradition, willing to assert the existence of “false” treasure in defense of the practice as a whole, even naming names. Both the notion of norms for complete revelations and the willingness to admit that some practitioners were inauthentic became common elements in later Tibetan presentations.

Chokyi Wangchuk was also instrumental in establishing the notion that treasure revelation requires the practice of sexual yoga. He claimed that he could not understand one of his own revelations, the Kabgye Sangwa Yongdzok (bka’ brgyad gsang ba yongs rdzogs) until after he had opened his yogic central channel via sexual yoga. His consort was Jomo Menmo (jo mo sman mo), an established treasure revealer herself.

He is said to have revealed eighteen troves of earth treasure (sa gter – that is, texts and objects physically concealed in the earth) and one trove of mind treasure (dgong gter – a scripture concealed in his own mind stream in a prior incarnation). Among the most influential are the Lama Sangdu (bla ma gsang ‘dus), a sadhana and practice on Padmasambhava that includes the widely used prayer known as the Seven Line Supplication; the Sangdu Lamai Tukdrub (gsang ‘dus bla ma’i thugs sgrub); the Kabgye Sangwa Yongdzok (bka’ brgyad gsang ba yongs rdzogs), one of the three treasure cycles on the Kabgye, or Eight Commands, central to the Mahāyoga section of Nyingma tantra. The Lama Sangdu cycle is also the core of an extensive sacred dance ceremony performed yearly at most Nyingma monasteries, usually on the anniversary of Padmasambhava , the tenth day of the fifth (or sometimes sixth) month of the lunar calendar, known as the Eight Aspects of Guru Rinpoche (gu ru mtshan brgyad).

[4] de phyir lo tstsha khyod kyis kyang/ /da lta spel bar ma byed par/ /gter kha gsum du phyag rgyas (RT: rgya yis) thob/ dbang ni rgyud

[5] Chos drug mkhar kha ma’i shog dril bco lnga pa, found in Phyag chen rgya gzhung: 105–215 ( “Indian Mahāmudrā Works”)

[6] Drepung: 2011. “Chos drug mkhar khang ma’i gter gyi kha byang.” In lHo brag mar pa lo tsā’i gsung ’bum (MPSB), vol. 6, 1–102.  Ducher (2016) states that:

”As often with their publications, it contained a large amount of texts recently dug out from the gNas bcu Temple in ’Bras spungs Monastery, where it had laid dormant since the Fifth Dalai Lama’s (1617–1682) time, as well as everything related to Mar pa that the editors collected from various sources. Of particular interest, the sixth volume contains a Chos drug mkhar khang ma, as well as a Chos drug sras mkhar ma.”

[7] rJe btsun mar pa lo tsā’i gdams pa chos drug sras mkhar ma’i skor rnams. Found in the Rin chen gter mdzod, vol. 85: 51–201. See here: https://rtz.tsadra.org/index.php/Mar_pa%27i_chos_drug_sras_mkhar_ma

[8] rJe na ro dang mar pa’i thugs kyi nying khu chos drug rdo rje’i tshig ’grol chen mo ’am chos drug sras mkhar ma (henceforth DK-DZO). Found in ’Bri gung bka’ brgyud chos mdzod chen mo, vol. 4: 373–511.

[9] Ducher (2016) explains that:

”The collection opens with the empowerment of Vajradhara, who epitomises the guru. Mar pa states in the introduction to that scroll that there exists elsewhere elaborate empowerments from scholarly traditions, but that this transmission is the unelaborated tradition of kusulu yogis. It is designed for those of highest capacity, he continues, and so he will reserve it for future practitioners, to whom he will miraculously appear, and for the time being hide it in Sras mkhar. The definition of the view follows this, which is the method to introduce the practitioner to his mind’s true nature, presented in nine seals. Next come several sādhanas, methods for practicing the phase of creation of three deities in particular: Hevajra, Mar pa’s main practice, as well as Cakrasaṃvara and Vajravārāhī, which are key deities of the sNyan brgyud tradition. Then follow eight scrolls detailing practices of the phase of completion, the so-called “Six Doctrines of Nāropā” (nā ro chos drug).  These scrolls make up the main part of the collection, generally titled for that reason the Six Doctrines from Sras mkhar (chos drug sras mkhar ma).”

The scrolls are listed as follows:

 The maturing empowerment is the great empowerment, the Scroll of Vajradhara (1). The liberating path has three aspects: The view: this is the view [described] in the Scroll of Vajra Space (2) The phase of creation: The sādhana of the glorious Cakrasaṃvara–the Indian text of the Scroll of the Vajra Destroyer (3), together with its supplement. The sādhana of the glorious Hevajra as a Single Hero–the Indian text of the Scroll of the Unshakeable Vajra (4), composed by Master Padmavajra, together with the condensed sādhana. The sādhana of the glorious Vajravārāhī, the Scroll of Vajra Greed (5), together with the related zodiac period calculations and the homaḥ of the four activities, to complete the ancillary activities. The phase of completion: The upperdoor inner heat Scroll of Vajra Desire (6) The lower door path of methods, Scroll of Vajra Activity (7) The illusion body, Scroll of Vajra Illusion (8) The luminosity, Scroll of Vajra Dullness (9) The dream, Scroll of Vajra Jealousy (10) The ejection, Scroll of Vajra Aversion (11) The intermediate state, Scroll of Vajra Pride (12) Entering another’s body, Scroll of Vajra Illusion (13) Scroll of Vajra Bhaga (14). The scroll of the practice of the yakśa Khol po Dar thod can to accomplish the common activity (15).”

[10] Ducher (2016) explains that: ‘’That too, is open to doubt, but it is possible that there were several versions, and that one of them was found in the early 13th century and transmitted by gSer sding pa gZhon nu ’od, while another was brought to light by Guru Chos dbang.’’

[11] Doctor (2005) says:

”As for religious Treasures and wealth Treasures, neither of these two terms was created by Nyangral as both commonly appear throughout translations of Indian Mahāyāna sūtras but in Nyangral’s writings they refer specifically to Treasures concealed by Padmasambhava in Tibet and as such both terms become enduring categories in the Treasure tradition. Besides these two important terms, the Copper Temple introduces several Treasure subcategories that were elaborated upon in the works of subsequent commentators. In addition to the categories of religious Treasures and wealth Treasures, Nyangral speaks of “life force Treasures” (bla gter), “black magic Treasures” (mthu gter), “handicraft Treasures” (bzo gter), “medicinal Treasures” (sman gyi gter), and “spiritual Treasures” (thugs gter). However, the Copper Temple does not describe most of these beyond merely mentioning their names so any conclusive interpretation of these terms is rendered problematic. Nevertheless, the category of spiritual Treasure is particularly important. The Copper Temple seems to understand it simply as a precious teaching originally formulated in the spirit (thugs) of a buddha or a realized master. Passages stating that Padmasambhava concealed his spiritual Treasures in physical locations such as the hermitage of Chimpu and a cave at Namke clearly refer to a physical substance rather than a mental event. In the fourteenth century, however, this notion of spiritual Treasure appears to function as the etymological inspiration for the concept of “mind Treasure” (dgongs gter), which, although at first a semantic synonym for spiritual Treasure, is developed by later writers such as Jamgön Kongtrul and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo into a prominent Treasure category by denoting a Treasure that is concealed in and revealed from the Treasure revealer’s mind.”

[12] Doctor (2005) says:

First is “ordinary material Treasures” (thun mong rdzas kyi gter). This grouping contains the subdivisions of “supreme material Treasures” (mchog gi rdzas gter), which refers to Buddhist ritual substances such as skull cups and the flesh of humans who have had seven consecutive Brahmin births; “special material Treasures” (khyad par gyi rdzas gter), referring to jewels; and “ordinary material Treasures” (thun mong gi rdzas gter), such as valleys, water, building materials, and magic tricks.33 The second is “especially purposeful Treasures” (khyad par yon tan gter), again subdivided into the categories of “Treasures of truthful speech of emanated Bön” (bon ‘phrul ngag bden pa’i gter), “astrological Treasures” (rtsis kyi gter), “medicinal Treasures” (sman gyi gter), “handicraft Treasures” (gzo’i gter), and “magic Treasures” (‘phrul gyi gter). Third is the category of “supreme Treasures of body, speech, and mind” (mchog gyur sku gsung thugs kyi gter). “Body” refers to the physical appearance (revelation) of a buddha manifesting in the world, self-manifested representations of enlightened form, and representations made by humans. “Speech” refers essentially to the entire Buddhist teaching, while “mind” includes physical representations of buddha mind such as stūpas and vajras.  The last main category is the “definitive Treasure of suchness” (de kho na nyid nges pa’i gter), which represents the realization of all the buddhas. This realization is said to be self-secret and is considered a Treasure because it is concealed from the general perception of sentient beings.

[13] Doctor explains:

The earliest occurrences of the term “mind Treasure” appear to stem from the fourteenth century works of Longchenpa (in particular his Innermost Essence of the ïākinī) and Urgyen Lingpa (in his famous Chronicle of Padmasambhava), although in the latter the term occurs only twice among a plethora of other general Treasure categories. The Chronicle of Padmasambhava presents four main Treasure categories: “ancestral Treasures” (mes gter), “filial Treasures” (sras gter), “magistral Treasures” (dpon gter), and “essential Treasures” (yang gter), each containing  different kinds of Treasure (each one again subdivided 18 times!). Unfortunately, these terms are not further defined in the Chronicle of Padmasambhava and their meaning is elusive. The term translated here as “essential Treasure” is the same designation later used by Kongtrul, where it is probably best rendered “rediscovered Treasure.” However, in the early sources the meaning of “rediscovered” appears absent and the term seems instead to refer to an “essential” or “particular” Treasure. Mind Treasure, however, is not a prominent category in Urgyen Lingpa’s writings.

[14] Doctor explains:

Thus, Ratna Lingpa presents a Treasure category termed “outer variegated Treasures” (phyi sna tshogs pa’i gter) referring to the elements, valleys, wealth, etc. Next are the “inner Treasures bestowing eminence” (nang mchog stsol ba’i gter) comprising the specifically Buddhist Treasures of body, speech, and mind. Third are the “secret, naturally appearing, naturally concealed, and naturally realized Treasures” (gsang ba rang byung rang gab rang rtogs pa’i gter). This category is not further defined by Ratna Lingpa but we may reasonably assume that it refers to the realization of the buddhas classified by Chöwang as “the definitive Treasure of suchness.” Last in the group of four is the category of “indefinite variegated Treasures” (ma nges sna tshogs pa’i gter), which refers to the arts of medicine, astrology, magic, and handicrafts. In this way Ratna Lingpa provides yet another demonstration of the innovative spirit that continuously shaped and developed the Nyingma School during the first centuries of revelatory activity where, even as commentators increasingly saw themselves as belonging to a textually institutionalized tradition (and so must have felt inclined to adopt already established taxonomies), the creative urge of these writers gained the upper hand, and the taxonomy of the Treasures was reinvented with almost every new commentarial scripture.

[15] Ducher (2016) explains that:

The subject of treasures and their revelation is very broad and cannot be the covered in the present article, but I shall shortly summarise how they are generally defined in order to contextualise the Sras mkhar ma. Janet Gyatso explains in Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre that the term “treasure” refers to something drawn from a treasure cache (gter kha). It can be a text or a material object, a statue for instance. The two primary modes of treasure discovery are unearthing an object buried in the ground (sa gter) and finding a teaching buried in one’s mind (dgongs gter). In both cases, the discoverer claims that the item was hidden there at some point in the past. This claim concerning the past distinguishes the treasure tradition from other visionary modes of text revelation in Tibet, such as pure vision (dag snang) and aural transmission (snyan brgyud).

[16] I found three editions of this treasure text online: 1) Palpung edition yongs dge mi ‘gyur rdo rje drag po nus ldan rtsal gyi zab gter khro rgyal rdo rje gro lod rtsal gyi dkyil ‘khor chen po’i zhal phye’i skabs bca’ thabs dang ‘don ‘grogs kyi rim pa mthong bas don rtogs rab gsal phan bde’i me long / pad+ma nyin byed dbang po; gsung ‘bum/_pad+ma nyin byed dbang po/) W1KG4280, 20 ff. (pp. 316-354). dpal spungs gsung rab nyams gso khang /, upper bhattu, distt. kangra, h.p.. 2006. Block Print. 2. Jamgon Kongtrul’s Biographies of Tertons (yongs dge gter ston mi ‘gyur rdo rje drag po nus ldan rtsal/ blo gros mtha’ yas; gter ston brgya rtsa’i rnam thar/; W1KG9281, ff. 70r-71r. 3. Lhasa edition (yongs dge gter ston mi ‘gyur rdo rje/ (drag po nus ldan rtsal) ‘jam mgon kong sprul blo gros mtha’ yas; gter ston brgya rtsa’i rnam thar; W1PD83972, p. 180. bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, lha sa. 2007. par gzhi 1.. kong sprul karma ngag dbang yon tan rgya mtsho. yongs dge gter ston mi ‘gyur rdo rje/ (drag po nus ldan rtsal). 4. Rinchen Terdzo edition (yongs dge gter ston mi ‘gyur rdo rje drag po nus ldan rtsal/ rin chen gter mdzod chen mo/) W1KG14. shechen publications, new delhi. 2007-2008. Computer Input.

[17] In the 1st Mingyur Rinpoche’s Treasury of Lives bio:

He was said to have experienced vision of many deities including Padmasambhava, Amitāyus and Tārā; dharma protectors including Damchen Garwa Nakpo (dam chen gar ba nag po); and past saints such as Milarepa (mi la ras pa, 1040-1123). He is said to have had the ability to bring rain and curing illnesses, and earned the name Terton Sherab Mebar (gter ston shes rab me ‘bar) meaning Treasure Revealer with Blazing Wisdom.

The biographies of Mingyur Dorje are somewhat explicit in their description of his erratic behavior around his treasure revelations — most of which are classified as “mind treasure” (dgongs gter), meaning that he received them through visions rather than as physical objects. Leading up to the revelation of his most important cycle, the Namcho (gnam chos), he is said to have run and jumped about, thrown objects off of shrines, fainted and stiffened — episodes that he would not remember upon coming out of his trance. He also suffered from skin diseases, arthritis, dyspepsia, paralysis, phlegm and other conditions that occasionally brought tears of pain.

[18] Ducher (2020): These are: 2011: Lho brag mar pa lo tsā’i gsung ’bum (7 vols). 2011: Ras chung snyan brgyud skor (19 vols). 2011: Rje btsun mi la ras pa’i gsung ’bum (5 vols). 2013: Sgam po’i gdan rabs rim byon gyi gsung ’bum (19 vols). 2013: Dpal rgyal dbang karma pa sku phreng rim byon gyi gsung ’bum (108 vols), etc.

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