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The Lost Sadhanas Project
Continuing Revelation and the Vajrayana Path

Some religions have developed a theology of revelations which continue over time. In the West, many charismatic groups accept ongoing inspiration by the Holy Spirit. These include Pentecostal Groups like the Assembly of God and the Church of God. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) groups have prophetic leaders who are still able to receive new teachings; they claim that God never intended for revelation to come to an end. The rabbinical tradition of Judaism allows for new understandings of Torah and commentaries, and its rabbis can answer such thorny modern questions as whether dishes serving meat and milk can go into the same dishwasher load.

Many ancient Western religious texts, such as those of the Gnostic schools, remained lost for centuries until they were found by archaeologists. Their esoteric understandings of Judaism and Christianity were largely unknown until these texts were found. Christianity had a similar process to Buddhism of determining acceptance, with councils determining the dominant religion and unacceptable books burned and otherwise destroyed.

Sacred texts have been lost over time in Asia as well. In the Indian tantric tradition, there are thousands of lost texts and practices. According to S. C. Banerji, the Paramananda Tantra mentions the number of historical tantric texts as 6,000 for Vaishnava tantras, 10,000 for Shaiva, 1,000 for Shakta, 1,000 for Ganapatya, 2,000 for Saura, 7,000 for Bhairava, and 2,000 for Yaksha-bhutadi-sadhana (practices that involve such lower spirits as yakshas and bhutas). Even accounting for typical tantric exaggeration (every reader of tantras is a 'bull among yogis'), we do not have anywhere near this number of Hindu tantric texts available for scholars today.

Certain schools of Buddhism developed their own way of dealing with texts that were lost accidentally due to invasions, natural disasters, mold, and insects, and texts that were destroyed deliberately by rival sects. After the chaos and civil war in ninth and early tenth century Tibet, we see a new idea being developed to deal with the loss of sacred texts and the practices they describe, as well as the disruption of lineages. The Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism developed the idea of termas or 'hidden treasures'. A terma may be a physical object such as a scroll or object that is buried in the ground, hidden inside a rock or crystal or tree, located deep in water, or hidden in the sky or some other locale. It is found or revealed by a terton, an inspired person. Sometimes terma refers to objects that are hidden away, and at other times the terma is an idea or teaching may appear spontaneously in the revealer's (or Teuton's) mind. If the concealed object is a text, it is often said to be written in dakini writing, which only a terton can decipher. Termas may also be found in the Bon and Kagyu traditions.

As a result of the rediscovery of some of these termas, special terma lineages arose and were established throughout Tibet. It became an alternative justification for lineage within the Nyingma tradition, and two ways of dharma transmission were developed. These were the "long oral transmission" from teacher to student in unbroken lineages of gurus and disciples, and the "short transmission" of terma. Fremantle states that according to tradition,

Termas are of two main kinds: earth treasures and intention, or mind, treasures. A teaching concealed as an intention treasure appears directly within the mind of the terton in the form of sounds or letters... Earth treasures include not only texts, but also sacred images, ritual instruments, and medicinal substances, and are found in many places: temples, monuments, statues, mountains, rocks, trees, lakes, and even the sky. In the case of texts, they are not, as one might imagine, ordinary books that can be read straightaway. Occasionally, full-length texts are found, but they are usually fragmentary, sometimes consisting of only a word or two, and they are encoded in symbolic script, which may change mysteriously and often disappears completely once it has been transcribed. (Fremantle, Luminous Emptiness, p. 17)

All termas may be considered "mind-termas", as the teaching associated is believed to be inserted into or revealed to the mind of the practitioner. But there are several subcategories. Some termas are considered to be direct transmissions from the mind of the guru towards the mind of the terton. The terma may also be held in the mind of the terton and realized later in the future when it is triggered by a sound or image. There are also revelations which are categorized as "pure visions," and these are teachings received directly from visions of deities or Buddhas. The esoteric teachings resulting from such pure vision are considered to be based on the tantras, and are sometimes called termas due to their merit.

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Introduction | Methodology - Participant/Observer | The Bodhi Tree Sadhanas | Vajra Dakini Discussion | Vajra Dakini Commentary | Vajra Dakini Sadhanas | Vajra Yogini Commentary | Maitreya Sadhanas | Vajradhara Speaks About Yidams | Lost Sadhanas Conclusion


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