In 2020, I joined an unconventional group of pilgrims in Bumthang for a tour to learn about Terton Pema Lingpa. This group was led by none other than Pawo Choyning Dorji. Before this journey, the Terton was just a chapter in a less than memorable history lesson in school. Little did I realize that class was just a doorway to fascinating tales of prophecies, mystical characters, hidden termas, and a birth of a cultural icon that would shape my country’s ancient identity.
As we finally made our way towards Baribrang, we stopped for lunch at our traveling friend Ugyen’s grandaunt’s house in Threl village. Pawo shared that during the construction months of the Baribrang stupa, many local families would invite them for meals. Aum Pema Yangchen was one of them.
Nothing beats a lavish spread of traditional Bumtap food like Khule (buckwheat bread) served with fresh butter and ema datsi. Needlessly to say we all had quite an uncouth portion of our meals.What can I say? Traveling can make you really hungry.
The old temple of Threl
If you ever find yourself in Threl in Tang, Bumthang, you’ll come across a small temple amongst wheat fields. And in this temple you’ll meet an old koenyer with probably the cutest smile in the entire land. Meet memey Tshering. He belongs to a family that was chosen to take care of Threl Lhakhang. This temple also houses one of the most precious termas in Bhutan. How did his ancestors become the sole protectors of the temple? Here’s an interesting tale.
Prajnaparamita Text & the Story of Khikharatoe
Centuries ago, there lived a King in Tibet named Thrisung Ditsuen. After an illicit affair with a dog and a goat, his queen is said to have birthed an unusual child. He had a mouth of a dog and a forehead of a goat. Hence the prince was named Khikharatoe. The prince was soon banished from the land and is said to have arrived in Bhutan. He lived to rule in a place in Lhuntse called Khempajong. After hearing news that the prince was going to wage war against his father, King Thritsung Ditsuen resorted to Guru Rinpochhe’s help. Guru Rinpochhe disguised himself and went to Khikharatoe in Bhutan. Guru Rinpochhe is said to have tricked the prince and sent him away on a flying wooden bird which then landed in the northern part of Bumthang.
The sound of the flying bird made as it crashed landed is believed to be how the valley got its name…Tang! When Khikaratoe left Khempajong with his family, it is believed that he traveled with a very precious terma, the Prajnaparamita ( the perfection of wisdom; a sacred gigantic text written in gold that contained the sutras. “We call this the YUM (the great mother) because it is this text that gives birth to the heart of the Bodhisattvas.” describes Pawo.
After many years, the banished prince is said to have become a student of Guru. When Khikharatoe’s temple in Bumthang caught fire, this sacred terma is set to have flown away from the fire to the northern mountains of Tang where it landed in the forests with the case still burning. Villagers saw a glowing object in the forest and many went to claim it. Memey Tshering’s ancestors are said to have been the ones who finally found the terma and from that day on have been the caretakers of this sacred item for years. Now that’s quite a story.
The Eight Year old Koenyer
Memey Tshering tells us the story of how he had to take up the responsibility of becoming the koenyer of Threl Lhakhang at the age of 8 when there were no male heirs left in the family. “My mother had taken the responsibility once as I was too young but at that time a lot of terrible things started happening in the temple. We even had a bear attack our house one night. After that I became the koenyer of the temple.” says memey Tshering smiling. “Memey Tshering is one of the gems that make Bhutan so special. A person who has dedicated his entire life to the care of this temple” Pawo said to me. “He’s 62 and he carries these stone slabs from the top of the mountain to here, just to lay them here so that his temple has good flooring and he does it all by himself. So everyone in Bhutan, come to Tang, come visit the Threl Lhakhang and come visit the amazing memey Tshering Dorji.”