The history of Tibet remains obscure in many of its parts, despite the research already accumulated during the past decades. Yet, the amount of literature that is still unexploited is beyond compare. To engage in the exploration of this material, the preparatory part of the project will be carried out by specialists whose skills include: philology (a strong knowledge of the classical Tibetan language), a solid training in the Tibetan religious field, and a real familiarity with Tibetan hagiographies.

In order to engage in such a preliminary work, one should ideally pick up, among the many Tibetan religious lineages:

  • one that kept a well-defined sense of its singular identity over the centuries;
  • one that played an important role in many aspects of the Tibetan religious life, and whose study is likely to cast light on many unknown aspects of the Tibetan cultural and political history;
  • one that is sufficiently documented through a well-preserved literature.

The researchers associated in this project have chosen one branch of the “Ancient Order” of Tibetan Buddhism: the Byang gter or “Northern Treasures.” Its origin dates back to the year 1366 when a “treasure discoverer” named Rig ‘dzin rGod ldem (1337–1408) is said to have discovered a collection of works initiating the tradition of the Northern Treasures. Since then, this tradition has spread in different parts of Tibet and a recent publication of a 63-volume collection belonging to this system has been made available to the researchers, with numerous texts and cycles that where hitherto unknown or thought to have been lost. Despite its terminus ad quo being the 14th century, much of the material contained in these texts is supposed to go back to the 8th or 9th century but this new collection also contains works belonging to the 20th and 21st centuries. In the course of history, the Northern Treasures became an independent sub-school within the Ancient Order of Tibetan Buddhism, still alive today with all its specific, inner traditions. Its climax was reached with the foundation of rDo rje brag monastery (in the early 17th century) and then under the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama (1617–1682), with the activity of the famed master Rig ‘dzin Padma phrin las (1641–1717). It is also quite widespread in the Himalayas today, among local populations whose religion is Tibetan Buddhism.

Some of the contents of the original sets of revelations have acquired an exceptional reputation that is still maintained today among the followers of the Ancient Order, e.g. Tantric cycles linked to the deity Vajrakīla or connected to the “Great Perfection” (rDzogs chen), in particular with one of the most important collection of this system, known as The Transparent Contemplation of Samantabhadra (Kun bzang dgongs pa zang thal). The lineage of the Northern Treasures has also benefited from royal support in Tibet (with the king of Gung thang) but also more recently with the King of Bhutan and other rulers before him.

A unique feature of the Northern Treasures compared to similar literature, is that the original collection was supplemented over the centuries (14-18th century) by the discovery of other treasures (gter ma), either by successive reincarnations of Rig ‘dzin rGod ldem or by other closely related masters.

One of the central source of this project is a recent history of the Byang gter, filling nearly 900 pages. Large sections of this text will be translated and edited, while adding critical notes and opinions, and so forth. Although quite voluminous, this text is merely a compendium of facts on which we have, in many cases, other more detailed sources (such as extensive biographies and autobiographies of lineage masters). We will thus have to include in the field documents prior to the 14th century concerning the corpus that historically merged with the Northern Treasures as an independent branch of the Ancient Order, as well as provide descriptions of the cycles included in this system and discuss the tradition of Northern Treasures in the Bönpo tradition itself.



history revealed literature (gter ma) tibetology

Links/Academic Blogs




Stéphane Arguillère (Ifrae)
Jay Valentine (Troy Univ.)
Jean-Luc Achard (CNRS)

CRCAO members

Full members
Jean-Luc Achard (CNRS)

Research support
Tenpa Tsering Batsang (Collège de France)

Outside Participants

Stéphane Arguillère (Ifrae)
Jay Valentine (Troy Univ.)
Cécile Ducher