Before this journey, Terton Pema Lingpa was just a chapter in a less than memorable history lesson in school. I thought I would hardly have to study him again. Little did I realize that class was just a doorway to fascinating tales of prophecies, mystical characters, hidden termas, and a reincarnation that would shape my country’s ancient identity.

Tracing the history and cultural significance of the legacy of Pema Lingpa

Pawo Chhoyning Dorji (The Filmmaker behind Lunana – A Yak in the Classroom) also behind this project took me on an unforgettable tour narrating the stories, magical history and significance of a holy site in Baribrang. In the midst of it all, I realized I knew nothing of my hometown’s history. I discovered a part of my ancestral past that I had no idea about.

Who is Pema Lingpa?

What do we really know about Pema Lingpa? Who was the Bhutanese terton? I asked myself this question before I began this journey and the only things I could remember were the vague memories of a history lesson from school. I remembered that he was a miracle master who jumped into a lake and retrieved religious treasures hence the name treasure-discover (but I never really knew what that meant and never bothered to ask either)

So on this special series, guided by Pawo. We’ll make a journey to rediscover Terton Pema Lingpa and learn about the mark he left in Bhutan’s history. When I first asked Pawo what makes Pema Lingpa’s mark so significant in Bhutan’s history, Pawo shared that the two most important individuals in Bhutanese history are Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and Pema Lingpa. “The fact that Pema Lingpa and his activities preceded Zhabdrung by 250 years or so and the fact that he was the only master at that time to be born in Bhutan, he really set the foundation upon which Zhabdrung founded the independent nation state known as Drukyul.” 

The mural of Pema Lingpa at Tamzhing Monastery, Bumthang

Pema Lingpa was born at a time when Bhutan looked up to Tibet for political, spiritual and religious guidance. But it wasn’t long until he made Tibet take notice of Bhutan that laid the foundation for Zhabdrung to follow the raven down south to discover the nation known as Drukyul. “It is also because of Pema Lingpa’s lineage that we have our Monarchs which is very significant in our nation’s history,” says Pawo.

I never realized that Pema Lingpa was the only Buddhist master who was born in Bhutan. Pema Lingpa is behind the authentic Bhutanese Buddhist identity that we embrace today. “His teachings, his life, his culture are all synonymous with Bhutan, and you’ll soon find that it wasn’t just in religion that he left a mark on.”

(Read more about the Baribrang Project series on