WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO: Lungten generally refers to some thing predetermined or definite, and thus by extension to prediction or prophecy. When an action has a definite value such as being right or wrong, it is considered as lungtenpa (ལུང་བསྟན་པ་). In the same way, if a question has definite answer, it is considered lungtenpa. The Buddha is said to have kept some questions unanswered either positively or negatively. These questions are thus considered lungmaten (ལུང་མ་བསྟན་) or undecided. Words which are purported to foretell a definite future occurrence are known as lungten. In this capacity, lungten is similar to the prophecies and predictions known in other religious traditions and cultures.



The enlightened beings such as the Buddha or Guru Rinpoche are said to have attained the power of the mind to foresee the future. Through the development of insight and concentration, they are believed to have obtained extraordinary faculties which can discern all things and events in existence without obstructions. Thus, they are considered all knowing (ཀུན་མཁྱེན་) and to have the knowledge of the three times (དུས་གསུམ་མཁྱེན་པ་). Using their transcendental knowledge, they predict persons, events and things, which are to occur in the future.

The earliest cases of Buddhist prophecies were perhaps the predictions attributed to the Buddha in sutras, which show when, where and what kind of Buddhas some of his disciples would become. Obtaining such prediction of when and where one becomes a Buddha is considered a milestone for a Bodhisattva on the journey to enlightenment because one is irreversibly set on the path to enlightenment once such a prophecy is made. However, these prophecies rarely concern a historical person. Some later Buddhist scriptures such as the Mañjuśrīmūlatantra contain prophecies giving some historical information although it cannot be verified if the prophecies were written before the actual events or are contemporary or later reconstructions.

Yet, in other cases, the words and sentences from texts such as the Mañjuśrīnāmasagiti are interpreted to fit historical occurrences. Eminent personages adopted themselves or are given by their followers, names, titles and descriptions, which coincide with earlier prophetic declarations. Thus, one finds allusions and loose references to the great Buddhist masters and major historical events in literatures created long before their existence. The prophecies are generally vague in nature and can be interpreted in different ways.

The culture of lungten in the Himalayan world was heightened through the culture of ter (གཏེར་) or rediscovered teachings. Many treasure discoverers revealed prophecies which are attributed mostly to Guru Rinpoche. Some came as part of larger textual corpuses while others are accounts of the terton’s visionary experiences and dreams. Among this wide range of terma prophecies, one can find prophecies for major figures and events of Tibetan Buddhism. Some subjects are explicitly mentioned; others are indicated through obscure metaphors. The prophecies of different tertons are not always consistent. While some prophecies described figures such as Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Tsongkhapa as divine personalities, others put them in negative light. Druk Rabgay, the 8th Desi and first lay ruler of unified Bhutan was subject of prophecies of two contemporary tertons, Dorji Drolod and Drukdra Dorji. While the first supported him through prophecies, the latter condemned him as an incarnation of an anti-Buddhist minister. The 5th Dalai Lama claims that one spurious terton Dudul Dorji even changed his prophecies based on political climate. He praised Zhabdrung and condemned Tsongkhapa when the Gelukpas were weak and then put Zhabdrung in negative terms and praised the Gelukpas after Gelukpas became powerful in Tibet.

Due to their excessive dependency on lungten for their legitimacy, the tertons are said to be often ruined by prophecies (གཏེར་སྟོན་ལུང་གིས་ཕུང་). However, the prophetic words of tertons play a great role in swaying popular sentiments in a pious society like Bhutan. Yet, prophecies are not always straightforward cases of ancient predictions. In many cases, it suggests the author’s take on his contemporary situation and many prophecies are very vague and open to multiple interpretations.

As the future is indefinite and not fixed in Buddhist existential theory, even genuine prophecies are a rough forecast however great the supernatural power to see future may be. The Buddhist system believes in the impermanence and fluid nature of existential experience, which is shaped by one’s intention and actions. It would be wrong and unBuddhist to rely on prophecies and condone moral and existential determinism, and not make individual efforts for improvements. Thus, prophecies must be understood as general guidelines and forecasts, and not as showing fixed truths.

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes.

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