For the Nyingma, scripture is not only recorded in the past. It is also added to in the present through revelations known as terma or treasures.
"While one might expect ongoing scriptural revelation to be innovative, Nyingma Treasure is in fact strikingly conservative. Despite the colourful personalities of individual treasure revealers, and the sometimes dramatic public displays accompanying revelation, finished Treasure works are faithful to age-old tradition. They are also typically long and complex, filling many volumes with dense technical writing seamlessly harmonised with existing learning." (Prof. Cantwell with Robert Meyer)
Exploring the Mechanics of Revelations
"Despite the colourful personalities of individual treasure revealers, and the sometimes dramatic public displays accompanying revelation, finished Treasure works are...typically long and complex, filling many volumes with dense technical writing seamlessly harmonised with existing learning." (Cantwell with Robert Mayer)
Questions of authorship, originality and innovation arise in the Treasure Tradition.
Since 2010, Prof. Cathy Cantwell has studied the works of the famous twentieth century scholar and treasure revealer, the late Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-1987) who had his own Vajrakīlaya revelation and contributed to the treasures of his predecessor, Dudjom Lingpa and those of other famous masters.
"Our findings so far indicate that while remarkable individual feats of memory and intellect can play a significant part in Treasure revelation, they do not have to.
Treasure discovery is not necessarily an act of individual virtuosity...
...it can equally involve traditionally sanctioned processes of communal authorship. While some treasure revealers were indeed celebrated scholars endowed with the huge repertoire of memorised texts that Tibetans consider the hallmark of learning, others were not, and depended on others to bring to literary fruition the texts of their revelations. The individual treasure revealer's contribution is embedded within a discreet but clearly defined cultural framework enabling the required intellectual effort to be dispersed over time and between different persons. This has not been researched so far, and understanding it is important to our project." (Cantwell with Rob Mayer)
"In some cases, re-presentation of a previous generation's tantric practice may be more a matter of bringing the textual tradition fresh blessings or consecrations from the tantric deities, while in other cases, significant modifications and re-workings of the visionary imagery are involved. Sometimes changes in and expansions of earlier work may involve systematizing and bringing consistency to them, or creating versions more amenable to convenient meditative and ritual practice. Other cases demonstrate an interest in universalizing a rather idiosyncratic revelation, by bringing its practice into line with more widely familiar ritual conventions, or perhaps more radically, integrating material from previous revelations or the transmitted tradition. In other cases again, there may be no obvious rationale behind innovations, apart from the spiritual vision of the new lama." (Cantwell with Rob Mayer)
Project participants: Dr. Cathy Cantwell, Dr. Robert Mayer, Prof. Vesna Wallace
Consultants: Lopon P. Ogyan Tanzin, Prof. Janet Gyatso, and Prof. Matthew Kapstein