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.)
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.
Incense: In Tibetan, pö. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Copyright Raven Cypress Wood© All Rights Reserved
The reincarnation of a great king was born a prince by the name of Gya Kongtse Trulgyi Gyalpo. At a young age, this prince had great faith in the teachings of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap and performed many acts of devotion. At the age of twenty-five, he decided to build an exquisite temple in the ocean surrounding Olmo Lungring in order to accumulate merit for his next life. Because human beings were unable to work in this condition, he subdued one hundred demons who each vowed to complete the construction of the foundation within fifteen days as long as the prince kept their involvement a secret. And so, after fifteen days, the solid stone foundation of the temple rose above the surface of the ocean.
Before leaving, Prince Kongtse Trulgyal had told his mother that he would be away at the ocean for a month and that she must keep it a secret. However, as the days passed, the prince’s wife began to worry about him and tried to get information from his mother. Unable to withstand the constant questioning any longer, his mother finally told the prince’s wife the truth. Stunned and angry that she had been kept in the dark, she took the children and went in search of her husband, Prince Kongtse Trulgyal. Arriving at the ocean and crossing a small bridge to the newly constructed temple foundation, the family saw a large group of workers who all looked like the prince. Having been discovered, the demons, all of whom had taken on the likeness of the prince, immediately fled and construction of the temple came to a halt. In despair, Prince Kongtse Trulgyal enlisted the help of a bodhisattva who recruited the assistance of a group of water spirits in order to complete the temple’s construction.
Upon completion, the temple was truly majestic. However, the demons who had built the foundation for the temple became jealous and began attacking the temple intent upon destroying it. Prince Kongtse Trulgyal cried out for help from Buddha Tönpa Shenrap. Knowing of all of these events through his perfect omniscience, the enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap instantly manifested in the sky in his wrathful form as the Completely Victorious One, and together with five thousand five hundred bodhisattvas, he completely subdued the group of jealous demons. Descending from the sky to the temple, he then spoke according to the Yungdrung Bön teachings and installed representations of his enlightened Body, Speech and Mind in the temple in the tangible aspects of statues, scriptures and chortens.
Raven Cypress Wood ©2016 All Rights Reserved.
At the time when the first ruler of Tibet was established, the empire of Zhang Zhung was vast, the practice of Yungdrung Bön was flourishing and the Buddhism of India founded by Shakyamuni had not yet entered the territory of Tibet. The principality of Tibet consisted of minor kingdoms but was not yet unified under the rule of a single monarch. In order to consolidate power, the leaders of central and eastern Tibet decided to appoint a sole ruler of the entire realm.
During this time, it is said that Nyatri Tsenpo, the first king of Tibet, appeared and was chosen to rule over the Tibetans. His ancestry is of other-worldy origins and has been variously detailed as descending from either the gods or the powerful theurang spirits. In either case, it is believed that his power and magnificence were greater than that of a normal human being. It was believed that he had a supernatural connection to heaven known as a mu cord, which resulted in his being able to ascend the cord and return to heaven upon his death. Therefore, he did not leave a corpse behind. This was true of all of the first seven Tibetan kings.
The Thirty-Four Tibetan Kings of the Yarlung Dynasty*
1-7 The Seven Tri of the Sky, During their reign, the teachings of Yungdrung Bön flourished. Connected with the celestial sphere by a mu cord, these kings are said to have ascended to heaven by this cord at the time when their sons were old enough to rule, thereby not leaving a corpse behind.
12-17 The Six Good Ones Upon the Earth, During their reign, lamas of the Zhang Zhung empire acted as the Royal Bön Shen
18-25 The Eight Dé of the Water, During their reign, the teachings of Dzogchen were spread
26-30 The Five Tsen of the Middle
31-34 The Four Bönpo Kings of Prosperity, During their reign, the Yungdrung Bön teachings and practices flourished under the guidance of many knowledgeable lamas.
- NyatriTsenpo: He was anointed the first king of Tibet in the Wood Mouse year of 1136 BC
- Mutri Tsenpo, son of Nyatri Tsenpo: During his reign, thirty-seven Yungdrung Bön practice centers were established. During their reign, the Yungdrung Bön teachings and practices flourished under the guidance of many knowledgeable lamas.
- Dingtri Tsenpo, son of Mutri Tsenpo
- Sotri Tsenpo, son of Tingtri Tsenpo
- Dingtri Tsenpo, son of Sotri Tsenpo
- Daktri Tsenpo, son of Dingtri Tsenpo
- Siptri Tsenpo (aka Tride Yakpo), son of Daktri Tsenpo who was enthroned at the age of thirteen.
- Drigum Tsenpo, son of Siptri Tsenpo. Although he practiced Yungdrung Bön in his youth, he feared the power of the Bön Shen and therefore began the first suppression of Yungdrung Bön. (See previous post: The Second Spread of the Yungdrung Bön in Tibet. https://ravencypresswood.com/2016/10/16/the-second-spread-of-the-yungdrung-bon-in-tibet/) Because his mu cord with heaven was severed during his battle with Lo Ngam Ta Dzi, he was the first Tibetan King to leave a corpse behind after his death.
- Lo Ngam Ta Dzi: He ruled Tibet for thirteen years after having killed the eighth Tibetan King Drigum Tsenpo, marrying the king’s daughter, and sending the rest of his family into exile.
- Pude Gung Gyal, aka Tolek Tsenpo: He was the son of the eighth Tibetan King Drigum Tsenpo who returned from exile in order to claim his right to the throne, and who invited the yogi Tong Gyung Tuchen to Tibet in order to reestablish the Yungdrung Bön teachings
- (Unnamed by most historical sources including the Dar rGyas gSal Ba’i sGron Ma. It is theorized that there was no appropriate heir immediately after the death of Pude Gung Gyal and that power was wielded for a time by a minister.)
- Ah Sholek Tsenpo, son of Tolek Tsenpo
- De Sholek, son of Ah Sholek Tsenpo
- Te Sholek, son of De Sholek
- Guru Lek, son of Te Sholek
- Drong Zherlek, son of Guru Lek
- Sho lek, son of Drong Zherlek
- Zanam Zindé, son of Sho lek
- Dé Namtrul Zhungtsen, son of Za Nam Zin Dé
- Se Nol Nam Dé, son of Dé Nam Trulzhung Tsen
- Se Nol Dé, son of Se Nol Nam Dé
- Dé Nol Nam, son of Se Nol Dé
- Dé Nolpo, son of Dé Nol Nam
- Dé Gyalpo, son of Dé Nolpo
- Dé Srintsen, son of Dé Gyalpo
- Gyal Toro Lobtsen, son of Dé Srintsen
- Tri Tsen Nam
- Tri Dra Pungtsen
- Tri Tokje Toktsen: He invited many Bön Shen to Tibet from Zhang Zhung and therefore strengthened ties between to the two countries.
- To To Ri Nyentsen: He led an army into India and claimed many small Indian territories. During his reign, the first contact was made with Indian Buddhism. However, it did not have a large impact.
- Trinyen Zungtsen
- Drong Nyen Déru
- Takri Nyenzik: He was born blind but his eyesight was restored by the royal Bön Shen of the court, Khu Bön Mangjé Lopo.
- Namri Songtsen: During his reign, Chinese influenced medicine and astrology were introduced into the country of Tibet.
*Due to political reasons, historical lists of the Tibetan Kings differ among Buddhist and Bön accounts as well as differing among texts within the same tradition. I have relied upon the Yungdrung Bön text: Dar rGyas gSal Ba’i sGron Ma written by Pa Ton Tengyal Zangpo in 1345.
Raven Cypress Wood© All Rights Reserved
“The mala represents the destined connection with the Enlightened Beings. The mala string represents the 84,000 doors of Bön. The head bead represents the principal teacher. The counting beads represent the Six Subduing Shen, the six enlightened Shen who tame the six realms of cyclic existence.” ~from The Advice of Lishu Taring
The mala is called treng wa in Tibetan. It consists of one hundred eight counting beads and one larger main bead, often referred to as the ‘head bead’ or the ‘lama bead’. Malas can have spacer beads which are not counted during recitation of a mantra but are used for decorative purposes or to lengthen the mala and enable it to fit onto an individual’s wrist. Various kinds of counters are often added to the mala so that the practitioner can keep count of the mantra recitations. Malas can be made from various materials. Traditionally, these materials were symbolic because of their energetic qulaities. For example, tantric practitioners would often use malas made of bone to represent impermanence.
Before a mala is used, the practitioner will have it consecrated by a lama. This blesses it and also removes any contamination that the materials might carry with them that could be an obstacle to obtaining the benefit of the recitations. Although there are one hundred eight beads, a single round of recitations is counted as one hundred. In this way, if any beads have accidentally been skipped during the recitation, they are accounted for with the ‘extra’ eight beads. Many practices require a commitment to recite a minimum of one hundred thousand repetitions of a mantra. Therefore, these ‘extra’ beads ensure that the commitment has been fulfilled. In general, during recitation, the practitioner is not allowed to eat, drink, talk, sneeze, spit or cough. These activities expel or diminish the specific power of the mantra that is being cultivated. Once the session of mantra recitation is complete, the mala is rubbed gently between the hands and blown upon by the practitioner. In this way, the mala becomes further empowered and blessed by the mantra.
The mala is a sacred object and should not be worn as jewelry. It should be kept clean and not be handled by others. By wearing the mala on the wrist or carrying it in a pocket on the body, it acts as a form of protection. The mala is also sometimes used for divination or healing purposes. Lamas will sometimes give away their mala intact, or one bead at a time. Because of the power of the lama’s practice and recitation, this gift is a great blessing.
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 takes 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.
People born during the year of the Snake will have an emphasis of the specific qualities associated with Snake. (These years correspond with the Tibetan lunar calendar and begin sometime between late January and early April.) The element which governs the life-force of the Snake is Fire and its direction is South. So, if a Snake person wanted to strengthen their life-force, they would focus upon strengthening the element of Fire internally and externally. The positive direction is South. Therefore, facing this direction while meditating, doing healing rituals or just relaxing and taking deep breaths is beneficial.
In general, the Snake is can see the depth of things and spends a lot of time thinking and processing. The Snake can recognize the underlying motivation of others even if they do not recognize it within themselves. The Snake can use this to their advantage and can be underhanded at times. The Snake enjoys the good things of life and loves to be in elegant and beautiful surroundings. The Snake can have an intolerance for hardship or discomfort. The Snake can be magnetic and charming but can also be vengeful when angered. The Snake has a good sense of humor, is socially graceful and often surrounded by admirers. The Snake could benefit from the practice of tolerance and openness.
The Snake‘s soul day is Tuesday and its life-force day is Friday. These are the best days for beginning new projects and activities that are meant to increase or develop something. The obstacle day is Wednesday. This day is best for purification and letting things go. It is not a favorable day for beginning new activities.
Snake years include: 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, & 2013
The eighth king of Tibet, Drigum Tsenpo, fearing the power and influence of the Bön Shen priests, banished them along with the Yungdrung Bön teachings from the kingdom. This was first persecution of Yungdrung Bön which resulted in the hiding of Yungdrung Bön texts as terma, or hidden treasure. (See previous post, https://ravencypresswood.com/2016/10/01/the-first-spread-of-the-yungdrung-bon-teachings-within-the-human-realm/). After the king had banished the priests, there remained no one powerful enough for him to fight. Therefore, he sent a message to the minor ruler of the Tibetan region of Lho Drak, Lo Ngam Ta Dzi, and commanded him to a challenge with his army. Although Lo Ngam was not inclined to fight, the king insisted and Lo Ngam had no choice but to agree. Soon thereafter, Lo Ngam had a dream in which he was given specific instructions on how to defeat King Drigum Tsenpo. Having followed the advice given in his dream, Lo Ngam was victorious and the king was killed. He put King Drigum Tsenpo’s corpse into a copper coffin and threw it into the Tsangpo River. He then banished the king’s sons, made the queen a shepherdess, and ruled the land of Tibet for thirteen years.
The queen had a son who, after discovering his royal lineage from a minister loyal to the queen, killed Lo Ngam Ta Dzi. Receiving news of his death, Drigum Tsenpo’s son Pude Gung Gyal, returned to Tibet from exile. Recognizing that the suppression of Bön had caused the death of his father and the downfall of both his family and the entire realm of Tibet, Pude Gung Gyal made the decision to reinstate Yungdrung Bön along with its priests, the Bön Shen. He sent an urgent message to the accomplished Yungdrung Bön yogi, Tong Gyung Tüchen, who was practicing in isolation on an island in the Lake of Nam. He pleaded with the yogi to help him revive Yungdrung Bön. Tong Gyung Tuchen agreed and instructed Pude Gung Gyal to invite one hundred knowledge holders to Tibet in order to begin its revitalization. These one hundred Bön Shen performed a rite of purification for the murdered king, Drigum Tsenpo, offered blessings to all of those present, and offered their support as Pude Gung Gyal ascended the throne and assumed the title of King of Tibet. He became known as Tolek Tsenpo, King of the Highest Good. Thus, the teachings and practice of Yungdrung Bön flourished and spread again in the land of Tibet.
All Rights Reserved ©Raven Cypress Wood 2016
*All dates from Gal Che’i bsTan rTsis Phyogs bsDus, A Summary of Essential Chronology, published by Triten Norbutse Monastery.
The Yungdrung Bön monastery of Tarde Miyo Samten Bön Ling is located in Derge County near the Yangtze River in the Kham region of Tibet. The Land of Blissful Liberation and Unshakeable Bön Meditation was founded by Kunga Namgyal and, although the founding date is uncertain, the history of the monastery records seventeen subsequent generations to the present. Although the monastery was destroyed during the cultural revolution that began in 1959, beginning in the 1980’s it was rebuilt by the senior monks. The mountain directly behind the monastery is called Tsang Chen and is believed to be the home of the local deity.
In 2016, the monastery hosted the 5th Conference on Upholding and Preserving the Teachings of the Yungdrung Bön. A number of prominent Yungdrung Bön scholars gave presentations at the conference and there were also rituals and ceremonies to mark the special occasion.
The founder of the Yungdrung Bon religious tradition, Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche, was born into human form as a prince in the ancient land of Olmo Lungring within the ancient country of Tazik in the Wood Mouse year of 16,017 BC*. Having taught the Yungdrung Bön to numerous disciples within Tazik, the teachings were eventually translated into three hundred sixty languages. It is said that one hundred ninety-four of these languages pertained to realms beyond the borders of Olmo Lungring. Although Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche made one journey into Tibet and taught the offering of torma as a substitute for harming living beings, the Yungdrung Bön teachings were not widespread at that time.
And so, having been translated and entrusted to various knowledge holders, the teachings were spread first into Zhang Zhung before spreading to India and China, and on into countries such as Kashmir, Nepal, Togar, Gilgit, Phrom, Zahor and Sumpa. From Zhang Zhung, India and China, the teachings spread into the realm of Tibet. Because of this, many of the Yungdrung Bön texts today retain some of the original Zhang Zhung words, as well as words of other languages, which predate their translation into the Tibetan language.
During the reign of the first seven kings of Tibet, the teachings of Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche flourished and each of these Tibetan kings had one or more Royal Bön Shen, or personal Yungdrung Bön priests, who acted as a kind of spiritual bodyguard to the king by protecting his lifespan, power and wealth as well as giving spiritual guidance.
The first person appointed to rule as king over the entirety of Tibet, Nyatri Tsenpo, is said to have been of a supernatural lineage and was anointed king in the Wood Mouse year of 1136 BC. During his reign, the Twelve Kinds of Knowledge of the Causal Vehicles of the Yungdrung Bön doctrine were widely spread and practiced. His son, Mutri Tsenpo, invited one hundred eight Zhang Zhung scholars to Tibet and established forty-five centers for Yungdrung Bön practice and study. During the reign of the next five Tibetan kings, the Yungdrung Bön had royal support and flourished.
1st Tibetan king: NyatriTsenpo
2nd Tibetan king: Mutri Tsenpo
3rd Tibetan king: Tingtri Tsenpo
4th Tibetan king: Sotri Tsenpo
5th Tibetan king: Daktri Tsenpo
6th Tibetan king: Jangtri Tsenpo
7th Tibetan king: Tride Yakpo
King Tride Yakpo had a son by the name of Drigum Tsenpo who was enthroned at the age of thirteen. The Royal Bön Shen continued to be very powerful and influential in the royal court due to their deep connections with the kings of the Zhang Zhung empire. King Drigum Tsenpo’s ministers began telling him that the words of the Bön Shen were more powerful than that of the king and that they posed a great and immediate threat. Although he had practiced Bön in his youth, King Drigum Tsenpo called the Bön Shen together and told them that there was not enough room for both his authority and theirs in Tibet. Therefore, he ordered them into exile. With the exception of specific causal vehicle practices which were used to protect the king’s power and wealth, Drigum Tsenpo began the suppression and persecution of all of Lord Tönpa Shenrap’s teachings. This was 683 AD, the first persecution of Yungdrung Bön which resulted in the hiding of texts as terma, or hidden treasure.
The Bön Shen loaded their texts upon domestic animals and traveled to the borderland of Zhang Zhung where they held a conference. It was decided that in order to preserve the teachings, they would divide the texts among them. Some of them traveled to the borderlands or other countries in order to spread the teachings. Others hid the precious scriptures of the Yungdrung Bön and performed prayers of aspiration that the teachings would reemerge in a more favorable time and that the teachings of Lord Tönpa Shenrap would again spread for the benefit of sentient beings.
*All dates from Gal Che’i bsTan rTsis Phyogs bsDus, A Summary of Essential Chronology, published by Triten Norbutse Monastery.