Lord of the Teachings: Shenchen Luga

Shenchen Luga from a mural at the Yungdrung Kundrak Ling Bon Monastery in Sikkim. Kindly photographed for Nine Ways by Sherab Ongdak.


Prayers for Peace and Harmony

Prayer Flags at Tashi Menri Monastery in Dolanji, India. Photo credit: Unknown

The Skillful Means of Offering Torma

Monks at Menri Monastery making torma for a large ritual. Photo credit: Unknown

The one and only time that the enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché visited the land of Tibet, he taught the use of torma.  Before being introduced to the practice of Yungdrung Bön, Tibetans were sacrificing living creatures as a way to please the powerful spirits of the planets, stars, earth, water and sky.  Lord Shenrap taught them that the basis of all his teachings was compassion and that harming and killing other beings was against his teachings.  He then offered the Tibetans an alternative method for propitiating the spirits through the offering of torma.

The Tibetan word ‘torma’ (Wylie: gtor ma) has as its root the word ‘tor’ which literally means ‘to throw’ or ‘to toss’.  Therefore, in its most literal meaning, a torma is something that is ‘thrown or tossed out’.  There are many kinds of torma.  However, this article will focus upon torma that are made of tsampa, or roasted barley flour, and offered outside.

Various offering torma made of tsampa. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

In general, there are four kinds of recipients for offering torma.  These four are known as the Four Guests: 1) the Guests of Reverence who are the enlightened beings,  2) the Guests of Exalted Qualities who are both the enlightened and the unenlightened but powerful, oath-bound protectors, 3) the Guests of Karmic Debts who are the Eight Classes of Gods and Demons, and 4) the Guests of Compassion or Charity who are the beings of the six realms (excluding the gods).  Depending upon the specific ritual being performed, sometimes the same kind of torma is offered to all of the four guests but sometimes different torma are specified for the different guests.

When making torma, all items including the hands must be clean.  Ideally, the mouth is covered so as to prevent any contamination.  The needed amount of tsampa is placed into an undamaged bowl and a small amount of the powdered six excellent ingredients and five precious things is added.  Then, the warrior seed syllables of AH OM HUNG RAM and DZA are drawn in the tsampa either all at once in each of their associated direction, or one after another.  Clean water is added to the tsampa until the proper consistency is reached.  Then, the mixture is formed into the appropriate shape for the torma being made.  Although there are slight variations of size and ornamentation between the torma of the monastic and the tantric traditions as well as between geographic regions, the essential shape and color of the torma is prescribed in the texts and must be made accordingly.  In general, peaceful torma have a round base and are yellow or white in color, and wrathful torma have a triangular base or ‘base of three corners’ and are painted red.  Most torma offerings terminate in a point at the top which should be ‘as sharp as wisdom’.  Traditionally, butter was used to paint peaceful torma and muk tsi root(Tib. smug rtsi),  was used to create a purplish-red dye that was used to paint the wrathful torma.  Now, yellow and red food coloring are often used for this purpose.  Once painted, the torma are ornamented with butter that has been molded  to resemble the shape of flowers and flaming jewels.

During the process of making torma, the practitioner does not eat or drink, or engage in any kind of non-virtuous talk or thoughts.  Reciting mantras and maintaining either thoughts of virtue or higher meditative states is best.   Once complete, the torma are placed upon the altar and ritually cleansed with the sprinkling of pure water and the smoke of pure incense.  During the ritual liturgy, the torma are placed upon a small plate and offered outside according to their particular specification.

By offering to the Guests of Reverence, we generate merit and develop our quality of generosity.  By offering to the Protectors, we activate their oath bound activity and they intercede on our behalf.  By offering to the Eight Classes of Beings, we repay our karmic debts that have accumulated through countless lifetimes of actions motivated by the five poisons.  By offering to the Guests of Compassion within the six realms, we develop our quality of compassion and offer them needed support.

Raven Cypress Wood© All Rights Reserved


Kind Guidance of the Lama

His Eminence Menri Lopon Thrinley Nyima Rinpoche helps a student during the annual exams at Menri Monastery in India. Photo credit: Unknown

In the Language of Zhang Zhung…

Adding Virtue to Everyday Actions

MA TRI mantra above a doorway. Photo credit: Unknown


From the Dechok Rinchen Dronma’i Phen Yön, The Benefits of the Recitation Practice of the Precious Lamp, also known as The Thirty-two Benefits of the MA TRI Mantra:

“(6) This recitation practice is a precious lamp.  Anyone who has generated the mind of compassion, if they write out the mantra and put it above the doorway of the retreat place or throughout the community, then just by entering these places one will attain liberation.  Entering practice is the benefit of this precious lamp.”

~Translation from Tibetan to English by Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved

The MA TRI mantra is one of the three essence mantras of the Yungdrung Bön tradition. The complete mantra is:་OM MA TRI MU YÉ SA LÉ DU.


Sacred Performance

Monks prepare to perform the sacred dances for the Tibetan New Year at Triten Norbutse Monastery in Nepal. Photo credit: Dr. Nyima Samphel Gurung

The Yellow Monk’s Hat

Gathering of monks at Menri Monastery. Photo credit: Unknown

The yellow hat is one of the necessary religious articles of clothing for a monk.   Each detail of the hat is symbolic.  For example, “the clear, deep blue lining of the inside symbolizes the Bönku, the empty aspect of the Bön essence, the source of all phenomena.  The yellow, feathered tassles along the length of the very top symbolize the Enlightened Ones of the good eon continuously being at the top of one’s head.  The countless, yellow threads standing parallel symbolize hearing the limitless collection of the cycle of teachings.

Yungdrung Bon lamas with their yellow hats. Photo credit: Unknown

The four corners beyond the ear symbolize taming those who are not trained through the four qualities which positively influence others.  (These four are 1) Generosity, 2) Gentle speech, 3) Meaningful activity, and 4) Having one’s actions be consistent with one’s words.)  The encircling red cord symbolizes condensing into one the many doors of Bön.”

Translated from Tibetan by Raven Cypress Wood© All Rights Reserved

The Knowledgeable and Compassionate Guide

HE Menri Lopon Thrinley Nyima Rinpoche leads a ceremony at Menri Monastery in India. Photo credit: Unknown

Anniversary of the Birth of the Second Buddha: Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen


The 5th day of the 1st month of the Tibetan calendar is the celebration of the birth and cremation of Lama Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen. In the Western calendar year of 2017, that date falls on March 3rd. Within the Yungdrung Bön tradition, Lama Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen is often referred to as the Second Buddha. He was a reincarnation of Yikyi Khye’u Chung, one of Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche’s sons. He was responsible for uniting the three transmissions of sutra, tantra and dzogchen as well as founding one of the largest Yungdrung Bön monasteries in Tibet, Tashi Menri Ling.  For more information, see previous post https://ravencypresswood.com/2016/02/13/celebration-of-the-second-buddha-nyamme-sherap-gyaltsen-2/

Losar Tashi Delek Pün Sum Tsok! Happy Tibetan New Year!

A chemar of offerings for the Tibetan New Year. Photo credit:Unknown

The Twelve Animals of Tibetan Astrology: The Garuda

Tibetan astrological chart and symbols

In Tibetan astrology, there is a twelve year cycle.  Each of these years is characterized by a different animal and associated with one of the five elements.  Therefore, a full cycle of the twelve animals being associated with each of the five elements is sixty years.  The twelve animals according to the Yungdrung Bön texts are the Rat, Elephant, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Horse, Snake, Sheep, Garuda, Monkey, Dog and Pig.  Each animal is associated with a specific element for its life-force as well as a specific direction which is determined by the life-force element.  Not only are these twelve animals associated with a particular year, they are also associated with particular months, days and hours.

A bronze image of a Garuda

Feb 27, 2017 begins the Tibetan New Year and the year of the Fire Garuda.  (For the Yungdrung Bön, it is the year of the Garuda.  Others use the symbol of the rooster.)  The Garuda is a bird both historical and mythical in scope similar to the Thunderbird.  It is intricately associated with Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché and the ancient kingdom of Zhang Zhung and Mount Tisé a.k.a. Mount Kailash. People born during a Garuda year will have an emphasis of the specific qualities associated with Garuda.  (These years correspond with the Tibetan lunar calendar and begin sometime between late January and early April.)   In astrology, the element which governs the life-force of the Garuda is Metal (space) and its direction is West.  So, if a Garuda person wanted to strengthen their life-force, they would focus upon strengthening the element of Metal internally and externally.  Because the positive direction is West, facing this direction while meditating, engaging in healing practices or just relaxing and taking deep breaths is beneficial.

In general as an astrological symbol, the Garuda person has a zest for life and is uncomfortable with the limitations of tradition and convention.  The Garuda has confidence in itself and is ambitious with goals that can often seem unrealistic to others.  However, it is a perfectionist and a master of organization that is able to find a way to accomplish difficult tasks.  The Garuda‘s joy and charisma attracts many friends who benefit from its spontaneous generosity.  Its flair for life and confidence in itself also attracts the attention of powerful people who help the completion of its goals.  In some, this unshakable confidence might lend itself to conceit and self-centeredness.  The Garuda finds the most joy when it remains balanced rather than caught in a cycle of highs and lows.

The Garuda‘s soul day is Friday and its life-force day is Thursday.  These are the best days for beginning new projects and activities that are meant to increase or develop something.  The obstacle day is Tuesday.  This day is best for purification and letting things go.  It is not a favorable day for beginning new activities.

Garuda years include: 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, and 2017

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Sacred Form

A Collection of Sacred Yungdrung Bon Objects. Photo credit: Unknown

Anniversary of the Birth of Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché

The enlightened Lord and founder of Yungdrung Bon, Tonpa Shenrap Miwoche

On the fifteenth day of the twelfth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, Lord Shenrap was born in the human realm as a prince in the ancient land of Tazik.  His birth has traditionally been celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month of the lunar calendar.  However, research by the esteemed scholar and spiritual master Yongdzin Tendzin Namdak Rinpoche has revealed the actual date to be the fifteenth day of the twelfth month.

“He is the Supreme Teacher, One who has gone beyond bliss, an authentic and completely Enlightened Being, a manifested Buddha, Tönpa Shenrap Miwo. His face is like the sun and moon and he sees throughout the ten directions. His divine Body is so beautiful that one cannot look away. In his right hand, he holds a golden chakshing painted with a turquoise yungdrung which shows that he is Lord of the 3,000-fold universe and Conqueror of this world system. His left hand holds the mudra of equipoise which shows that he has destroyed the door to birth into the lower realms of cyclic existence.”

~From the sacred Yungdrung Bön scriptures

See previous post regarding His birth: https://ravencypresswood.com/2013/09/19/buddha-tonpa-shenraps-1st-deed-birth/

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Blessings of the Lama

HE Menri Lopon Thrinley Nyima Rinpoche prepares to perform a consecration ritual. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

Victory Over Ignorance

Gyaltsen or Sign of Victory

As one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols, the gyaltsen or sign of victory, symbolizes victory over all obstacles especially the demon of ignorance.

Mandala of the Divine: The Yungdrung Bön Altar


Special ceremony altar at Menri Monastery in Dolanji, India. Photo credit: Unknown.

In the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition, the principal altar is referred to as the ‘Mandala of the Divine’, or the ‘Upper Mandala.’  Once properly established, the altar becomes the sacred place in which to host the majestic presence and blessings of the deities.  In this way, it becomes a powerful support for spiritual practice and the development of the practitioner.  From the Benefits of the Recitation Practice which is a Precious Lamp:

“Whoever goes before a lama, a lopon or one of the three supports (statue, text or chorten) and recites the MA TRI mantra while prostrating or circumambulating, their aspiration will be quickly accomplished.”

Regardless of the size of the altar display, the practitioner imagines the offerings and the presence of the deities as boundless and unlimited.  It is important that the area be clean and be respected as a sacred place even if the altar is a single butter lamp,

Traditionally, the altar is located in a higher place such as the top most floor of a building.  Ideally, the altar faces East and is seen as one enters the room where it is located.  If facing East is not possible, South is second best although sometimes West or North are the only available options.  Ideally, the altar has three, four or five levels.  Whatever is placed upon the altar should be clean, undamaged and have a sacred purpose.  The altar is sometimes painted and sometimes covered with silk.  Although there are specific rituals that specify the use of white or black cloths, in general the colors of white, black and green are not appropriate for the altar.  When the text specifies placement of items to the ‘left’ or ‘right’, the perspective is always that of the deities.  Therefore, ‘left’ becomes the practitioner’s ‘right’ when facing the altar.  For example, according to the text the protectors red offering of tea or rakta is placed on the left and the white offering of alcohol is placed on the right.  However, for the practitioner facing the altar, the red offering of tea or rakta is to their right, and the white offering of alcohol is to their left.  Below, ‘right’ and ‘left’ are from the perspective of the practitioner facing the altar.

HH 33rd Menri Trizen. Behind him and to the left are texts wrapped in red cloth on shelves above the deity statues. Photo Credit: Unknown.

The Higher Levels of the Altar: It is important to have representations of enlightened Body, Speech and Mind on the altar.  Enlightened Body is represented by statues and images such as thangkas, enlightened Speech is represented by texts, and enlightened Mind is represented by the chorten. Yungdrung Bön scriptural texts are always placed in the highest possible position with nothing on a level above them.  They are considered even more important than an image of the Buddha because they contain the actual teachings and guidance that leads sentient beings out of their suffering.  Sometimes they are placed on the same level with the deity statues due to limited space.

The Elegant Yungdrung Bon Chorten

Generally, statues and yidam torma are placed on the level below the texts.  Images of high lamas are placed below the statues.  If there is only a single lama image, it should be placed in the center.  If there is more than one lama image, the image of the highest status lama is placed to the practitioner’s left and the second highest status lama is placed to the right.  The third highest status lama image is placed to the left of the first image, etc.

The Lower Levels of the Altar: Offerings to the deities are placed on the lower levels of the altar.  Most important are the five daily offerings of butter lamps, incense, clean water, food and flowers.  (See previous post The Five External Daily Offerings https://ravencypresswood.com/2017/01/14/the-five-daily-offerings/.)  Mandala rings are ritually filled with dry barley or rice and placed as an offering.  If there is only one mandala, it is placed in the center.  If there are two mandalas, they are placed to the left and right.  Flowers are placed to the side of the altar and burning incense is placed below.

Mandala offering with the unique Yungdrung Bon square top. Photo credit: Unknown.

Once everything has been properly established, the altar is ritually cleansed with the sprinkling of clean water and the smoke of pure incense together with their respective mantra.  Everything is imagined as being completely pure.  The practitioner then performs at least three prostrations of body, speech and mind with a heart of devotion.  At this time, the altar has been ‘opened’.  From this time until it is ‘closed’ in the evening, one must perform prostrations before approaching the altar.  Out of respect, whenever approaching the altar when it is ‘open’, the mouth is covered as a way to keep it completely pure and clean.

According to the texts, the altar is opened in the morning ‘when the birds leave their nest’ and closed in the afternoon when ‘the birds return to their nest.’  This is generally considered to be dawn and late afternoon before sunset.  When acquiring items for the altar, setting it up, and opening and closing it each day, one imagines that by engaging in this virtuous activity, that the five poisons of ignorance, anger, attachment, pride and jealousy are purified.

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100,000 Offerings

Offering torma for the 100,000 offerings to the protectors. Photo credit: Unknown

The Five External Daily Offerings

Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche, Abbott of Triten Norbutse Monastery, offering a khata to an altar containing the five daily offerings. Photo credit: Unknown

In the Yungdrung Bön tradition, there are Five External Daily Offerings that are placed upon the main altar.  These five offerings are butter lamps, pure water, food, incense and flowers.  Each morning, traditionally at dawn, these items are placed on the altar as offerings to the higher beings.  All of them must be clean and pleasing in their presentation. In general, the altar will have three, four, or five levels.  These five offerings are placed on the lower levels with the incense placed below and the flowers to the side. The offerings are placed according to height.  In front are the water offering bowls, behind are the butter lamps, and behind them are the taller food offering torma and the standing incense.  Sometimes, the butter lamps are placed between each of the water bowls.

If one is unable to offer the substantial form of these offerings, one can instead offer the mantra and mudra representative of each of them.  Or, if one is unable to offer the complete seven butter lamps or seven bowls of pure water, one can offer fewer according to the circumstances.  However, limitation of the offerings should not be determined because of feelings of greed.  By offering with feelings of open generosity and devotion, the practitioner generates merit and engages in the practice of virtue.  More specifically, each individual offering has its own benefits related to each of the five realms of rebirth within cyclic existence. (The god realm is not included here.)

Yungdrung Bon altar with yellow, ornamented food offering torma. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

Butter Lamp Offering: In Tibetan, mar mé.   The essence of this offering is the offering of light. Therefore, although the traditional offering is seven butter lamps, one can also offer seven candles.  The butter lamps or candles are placed in a straight line and centered nicely upon the altar.  The butter lamps or candles are lit from left to right.  In the evening if they need to be extinguished, they are put out from right to left.  The specific benefit of offering butter lamps is the elimination of the suffering of the hot and cold hells.  The light offering helps to dispel the darkness of ignorance.  The mantra for the butter lamp offering is: OM NE TENG CHO CHO LAM LAM YÉ SOHA.

Butter lamp mudra. This represents the flame.

Incense: In Tibetan, .  The best incense is made from the three hundred sixty medicinal ingredients. Incense can be offered in two ways: 1) sticks of incense placed standing and elegantly crossed in small bowls of clean rice, and 2) burning incense placed below the altar so that the smoke rises up and passes over it.  The benefit of offering incense is to eliminate the suffering of the hungry ghost realm which is primarily hunger and thirst.  Offering incense helps to eliminate the affliction of desire.  The mantra for the incense offering is: OM ZHIM ZHIM DRAM DRAM BUN NÉ TIM TIM YÉ SOHA.

Incense mudra. This represents two crossed sticks of incense.

Water: In Tibetan, yon chap.  The water that is offered must be clean.  Traditionally, it is offered in seven bowls that are made of precious metal and ornamented with auspicious symbols.  At the least, the bowls should be of good quality, clean and without cracks or defects of any kind.  The bowls are placed in a straight line and centered nicely upon the altar.  The bowls should not touch but not be too far apart.  According to the scriptures, they should be separated by the space measured as the width of a grain of rice.  In the morning, the bowls are filled from left to right. The water is filled near to the top of the bowl but not so full that it spills or overflows.  In the evening, the bowls are emptied from right to left and the water is offered to a clean place outside.  Ideally, the bowls are wiped and leaned upside down one upon the other.  An empty water bowl is never left right side up.  The water offering helps to dispel the suffering of the animal realm which is ignorance as well as being enslaved to work for others.  The mantra for the water offering is: OM SHUDO SHUDO KU SHUDO YA SA LÉ SANG NGÉ YÉ SOHA.

Water offering mudra. This represents two water bowls.

Food Offering: In Tibetan, zhal zé.  Traditionally, this is represented with seven food offering tormas. These torma are made of clean, roasted barley flour, called tsampa.  The size of the torma is determined by the size of the altar, but should not be too small.  Because these are a peaceful type of torma, the base is round and they are painted yellow with butter or food coloring.  They are ornamented with colorful butter sculptures resembling flowers.  If the practitioner has not been taught to make these torma, food items such as special cookies, cake, sweets or fruit are examples of what can be offered instead.  When offering food, the very first portion or piece is considered the best and it is this that is offered to the higher beings.  The offering of food is related to the human realm and helps to eliminate the suffering of being destitute.  The mantra for the food offering is: OM YA YEN RANG ZHI YÉ SOHA.

Food offering mudra. This represents the food offering torma.

Flowers: In Tibetan, metok.  Flowers are placed to the sides of the altar.  Flowers that are either from poisonous plants or that have thorns should not be offered.  The flower offering is related to the demi-god realm and helps to eliminate the suffering of war and conflict.  The mantra for the flower offering is: OM NE RA DE DE CHO CHO YÉ SOHA.

Flower mudra. This represents the open petals of a flower.

Five External Offerings as torma: In other contexts such as offering to yidam deities, the five offerings can be represented as torma made from tsampa.  Although each of the five offerings are individually represented, they are always placed together and offered as a single torma.  Because this is a peaceful offering, the base of each is round, they are yellow in color and ornamented with butter.  The placement is as follows: Center is the flower torma, East (front) is the butter lamp torma, North is the incense torma, West is the water torma, and South is food torma.

The Five External Offerings represented as torma.

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The Everlasting Yungdrung Bön

Special mandala offering with chakshing and flaming jewels presented to HH 33rd Menri Trizen Rinpoche and HE Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche in 2016 by the Worldwide Yungdrung Bon community.


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