While most of the spiritual masters like Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Thang Thong Gyalpo are from Tibet, the greatest spiritual leader from Bhutan is Terton Pema Lingpa.
Pawo Choyning Dorji who is a photographer, filmmaker and the author revived the invaluable contributions of Terton Pema Lingpa in forming the Bhutanese nation state, culture and unique spiritual identity during his session on ‘The Turquoise Heart, A Bhutanese Remembers Bhutanese’.
To learn the in-depth history of Bhutan’s greatest spiritual leader, Pawo explored every nook and cranny in Bumthang which are said to be the ceremonial places visited by Terton Pema Lingpa. “I spent days visiting these forgotten places, saddened how we have abandoned and forgotten these sites associated with the life of one of our most important forefathers,” he said. “Pema Lingpa is the only Bhutanese to give empowerments to the Dalai Lama, the highest throne holder in Tibetan Buddhism.”
The 5th Dalai Lama, considered the most powerful and influential of the Dalai Lamas, is said to have received numerous Dzogchen empowerments and was particularly known for his fondness for the Pema Lingpa teachings. “Wanting the empowerments directly from the Peling throne holder, he personally requested the 3rd Pema Lingpa, Kuenkhyen Tshetrium Dorji, to come Lhasa to bestow the empowerments to him.”
He narrated that in Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s personal records, he writes about having dreams and visions of Zangdhopelri, the pure land of Guru Rinpoche, and seeing someone new in the midst of all the regular entourage members around Guru Rinpoche. The mysterious new figure, Khyentse Wangpo writes, was wearing a raw silk robe a favorite of the Bhutanese, and sat in the corner endlessly chewing something red in his mouth, which is doma. “Thus Pema Lingpa was even representing Bhutan in the afterlife” Pawo added.
The Pema Lingpa linage was born out of the Tang valley of Bumthang where the Kungri monastery traces its links to Thuksey Dawa Gyaltshen, who was Pema Lingpa’s son and holder of the Pema Lingpa lineage. “The Pema Lingpa lineage has had huge influence in the spiritual traditions of Vajrayana practitioners throughout the Himalayan region,” he said adding that it is something all Bhutanese should be proud of but sadly known by very few.
“The Kungri monastery is an example of how a native Bhutanese spiritual lineage has had lasting influence in lands far from Bhutan,” he said.
Some of the most important Pema Lingpa sites are in the Tang valley of Bumthang, Baribrang where he was born, Mani Gompa where he lived with his grandfather and had the visions and dreams that lead to his first treasure discoveries, and Pema Ling his first seat and one of the reasons why he was named Pema Lingpa, person of the lotus grove. “Though these sites are regularly mentioned in our texts, almost no one is aware of where they are,” Pawo said. “Mani Gompa sits between two waterfalls, and one has to walk through the waterfall to get to it.”
Towards the end of the session Pawo questioned if we even have a date in the calendar to celebrate the special occasion of the greatest son of Bhutan, Terton Pema Lingpa.