Eight-branched Aspiration Prayer: Publicly Offered Translation

Yungdrung Bön nun circumambulating and turning prayer wheels. Photo credit: Mary Ellen McCourt

Within the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition there are many aspiration prayers. These kinds of prayers are called mönlam [Tibetan: smon lam]. Monlam literally translates as “path of aspiration” or “path of intention.” In this way, the purpose of aspiration prayers is to plant seeds that will mature and ripen into positive results. Once these seeds of aspiration encounter supportive secondary causes, they naturally ripen into the result. These supportive secondary conditions include cultivating faith and devotion along with the four immeasurable qualities, developing the ten perfections which include patience, generosity, and skillful means among others, offering the prayers without attachment to the result, and offering them for the benefit of all migrating beings that experience suffering and misery, and so on.

When offering the prayers, we imagine that all the countless other sentient beings are offering the prayers in unison with us. This limitless group of beings includes humans, nonhumans, unseen spirits, those we consider “enemies” or “demons,” with no exception whatsoever. All sound is the sound of the prayer being recited. The aspirations are without limit and inconceivable. And the vastness of space is filled with buddhas and bodhisattvas that are delighted and whose compassion is spontaneously activated by the virtuous activity of these countless sentient beings. By offering the prayers in this way, they have great power. By offering the prayers on auspicious days such as the four auspicious lunar days each month: 8th, 15th, 22nd, and 30th, multiplies this power exponentially. Then, by dedicating the virtue of the practice for the welfare and benefit of all sentient beings, the benefit is sealed and can never be destroyed.

This Eight-branched Aspiration Prayer, Mönlam Yenlak Gyepa, was written by the 1st Menri Trizin His Holiness Nyammé Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche and is commonly recited. The English language translation of the complete prayer is being made publicly available for personal use and can be downloaded at the link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ZwQt1udCby_Ifjt9zzxMPSF8dhTtybBM/view?usp=sharing

The Branch of Aspiration Prayers

Having purified all negative actions and pacified all obstacles, through whatever power I have accumulated through this virtue, may I have harmonious circumstances that support the attainment of leisure and fortune!

Having the quality of skillful means and having relied upon the highest lamas, may I continuously train the mind-stream of knowledge through study, reflection, and meditation together with the practice of completely pure virtue!

Never being separate from the divine places of refuge and having brought together the causes and conditions of faith and compassion, may I generate the mind of enlightenment for the benefit of all migrating beings!

With the establishment of mindfulness as well as a vast and pure renunciation, and through the four kinds of miraculous abilities along the path of accumulation, and because of these roots of virtue in accord with the path of liberation, may my mind-stream become ripened!

Through the force of the sense powers, and having meditated upon the five kinds of contemplation,
may I fully travel the path to meditative heat, the supreme blaze! And instantly having perceived the clearly manifest meaning of the essential nature, which is nondual clarity and emptiness,
may I be free from the activities of this world and obtain the ground beyond a mere taste!

Unwavering from the state of pure space and having accomplished benefit for others through the unsurpassed ten perfections, may I proceed along the path of meditation and fulfill the two accumulations!

Having fully attained the three Bodies upon the final ground, may I have the eye of knowledge towards whatever is perceived and exists! And may I accomplish everything for the benefit of migrating beings through the four kinds of activity!

Having fully held to these aspirations just like the compassionate and praiseworthy ones,
I pray that I might quickly accomplish, without exception, these intentions according to this aspiration prayer!

The Branch of Dedicating

Through this virtue, for however many migrating beings exist, having fully completed purification of the two obscurations and the collection of the two accumulations,
may they all attain a state of goodness, complete perfection, and total knowledge!”

— Excerpt from the Eight-branched Aspiration Prayer

Tibetan translations by Raven Cypress Wood

Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved. No content, in part or in whole, is allowed to be used without direct permission from the author.

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Greatly Kind Lama, Think of Me!

His Eminence Menri Pönlop Yangtön Thrinley Nyima Rinpoche during the Tibetan New Year celebrations. Photo credit: Unknown

“The Three Jewels are the infallible, constant place of refuge.

The Mother and Son are the single refuge from the prevalence of the five degenerations.*

Sidpé Gyalmo is the supreme mother, protector of the teachings.

Greatly kind Lama, embodiment of all of the Victorious Ones, think of me!

I pray single-pointedly that my wish for all obstacles to be removed will be perfectly accomplished!”

~Composed by the 20th century saint and Yungdrung Bön lama, Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche

* The Five Degenerations: (1) Degeneration of time due to strife, (2) Degeneration of the life-span, (3) Degeneration of the body, mind and speech of sentient beings, (4) Degeneration of the afflictive emotions due to the five poisons, and (5) Degeneration of the view due to erroneous views and misconceptions.

Tibetan translations by Raven Cypress Wood

Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved. No content, in part or in whole, is allowed to be used without direct permission from the author.

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665th Birth Celebration of the Second Buddha: H.H. the 1st Menri Trizin Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoché

Shrine display at Menri Monastery honoring HH 1st Menri Trizin Rinpoche. Photo credit: Unknown

The 5th day of the 1st month of the Tibetan lunar calendar is the birth celebration of His Holiness the 1st Menri Trizin Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoché also known as the second buddha. In 2021, this date coincides with  February 16th on the Western calendar and is the 665th year. H.H. Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoché was a reincarnation of Yikyi Khye’u Chung, one of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche’s sons. He was responsible for uniting the three transmission lineages of sutra, tantra and dzogchen as well as founding one of the largest Yungdrung Bön monasteries in Tibet, Tashi Menri Ling.

Born in 1356 in the region of Gyalrong into the Dru lineage, as a child, he could recite mantra and read scripture without having studied.  At the age of ten, he decided to become a monk.  In 1387 at the age of 31, he entered the prestigious Yeru Wensaka monastery and eventually became its abbot.   During a journey to Eastern Tibet, Yeru Wensaka was destroyed by flooding and mudslides.  After returning, he searched the ruins of the monastery for artifacts.  He took these and established Tashi Menri Monastery further up the same valley.  It was now 1405 and he was 50 years old.

H.H. Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoché was known throughout Tibet as a great scholar and prolific writer on the many varied subjects within the Bön scriptures.  He also exhibited many miracles and signs of his spiritual realization.  Twice, he flew up into the sky.  During one of these flights, he burned his hat with the rays of the sun.

Nyamme Sherap Gyaltsen handprint

Nyamme Sherap Gyaltsen’s hand print in stone

In 1415 at the age of 60, he passed away.  His body levitated high into the air, but due to the many heartfelt prayers of his disciples, the body came back down.   During the cremation, rainbows appeared and an eagle circled three times around the cremation area before disappearing into the West.

Today,  Bönpos will spend the day with their eyes looking skyward.  If you are lucky enough to be visited by a vulture on this day, it is said to be an auspicious sign of having received the blessings of the lama known as the Second Buddha, the Unequaled One, H.H. Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoché.

Tibetan translations by Raven Cypress Wood

Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved. No content, in part or in whole, is allowed to be used without direct permission from the author.

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Sacred Dance of the Yungdrung Bön Tradition

Cham dance at Menri Monastery on the 29th day of the 12th month. Photo credit: Unknown

As part of the Tibetan New Year monastic rituals and celebrations, sacred dances are performed and public viewing is allowed. Sacred dance exist in both Buddhist and Yungdrung Bön religious traditions as a means of conveying wisdom related to the path of enlightenment as well as the mundane world. Sacred dances, Tibetan: cham, are performed by both monks and laypeople. Each cham has its specific characteristics such as the particular costume, if there is a mask or no mask, the specific dance steps and body movements, which instruments are to be played as an accompaniment, and so on. When an ordained person wears the dress and ornaments of a deity and performs the dance, they dissolve attachment to their own identity and merge with the body, speech, and mind of the enlightened deity. In this way, the dances are meant to be viewed not as entertainment but with devotion and a pure view that one is witnessing the actual deity. Thus, illness, obstacles and negative influences are pacified and health, longevity and prosperity are strengthened and a multitude of inconceivable blessings are received.

Among the variety of cham within the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition, there are three cycles of sacred dance that are commonly performed: (1) Sacred dance of the Mother Tantra, (2) Sacred Dance of the NIne Zema Sisters, and (3) Sacred Dance of the Nine Indestructible Shenraps. 

His Holiness the 33rd Menri Trizin Lungtok Tenpa Nyima Rinpoche is widely credited with personally rescuing the Bön traditional sacred dances from obscurity. He was a student in Amdo and had responsibility for the dances for six years. During three of those years, he performed at the end of the line of dancers. After those three years, he performed as the dance master at the beginning of the line. He trained both monks and nuns to perform the traditional dances. Having danced as both a novice at the end of the line as well as the dance master at the head of the line, he was able to preserve the complete performance instructions for the dances.

His Holiness 33rd Menri Trizin demonstrates sacred dance steps at Menri Monastery. Photo credit: Unknown

The Sacred Dance of the Mother Tantra was not commonly performed for the public until after the 15th century. It is similar to Buddhist Mother tantra cham dances in that it demonstrates the path of liberation. It also shares the characteristic of the dancers wearing black hats with black coverings hanging in front of the eyes. This cham is performed after creating the mandala of the Mother Tantra and performing the feast offering for the collective Mother Tantra deities. The steps of the dance can be divided into three categories that are named according to the first three syllables of the Tibetan syllabary: KA, KHA, and GA. During the KA steps, all of the deities are invited with the sound of the large drum. With the KHA steps, the six emanations of Sipé Gyalmo, the forty peaceful and wrathful deities, the forty-five female guardians, and the thirty-five supreme deities of space are presented with offerings. With the GA steps, the four kinds of enlightened activity are accomplished and blessings are bestowed. This dance has been greatly supported by the Shen family, who are the descendants of the the Lord Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché.

Mother Tantra cham with its characteristic black hats. Photo credit; Unknown

The Sacred Dance of the Nine Zema Sisters depicts the beginning of our world system according to Yungdrung Bön cosmology. According to one account, the goddess  Lhamo Chucham Gyalmo and Lha Gö Tokpa produced twenty-seven eggs. From the first nine eggs emerged the Zema Gu, or the nine Zema sisters who have animal heads and human bodies. These nine sisters were appointed as protectors by Takla Mebar. It is said that this dance began with the tertön Shenchen Luga who discovered the text in 1017 AD.

During the dance, the dancers wear animal masks that represent each of these nine sisters. From all twenty-seven eggs emerged one of twenty-seven sisters. In the early days of Tibet, all twenty-seven sisters were depicted in the dance. This cosmology is deeply rooted in Tibetan history such that the country of Tibet was once referred to as “born from an egg.” The nine zema sisters are:

  1. Blue Dragon-headed
  2. Dark-green Snake-headed
  3. Black Garuda-headed
  4. White Lion-headed
  5. Red Bear-headed
  6. Dark-red Wolf-headed
  7. Dark-brown Tiger-headed
  8. Yellow-green Garuda-headed
  9. Female Lu with a hungry mouth

This dance has fifteen different kinds of steps:

  1. Guiding along the Path steps
  2. Tiger Steps
  3. Gait of a lion steps
  4. Peaceful and Wrathful steps
  5. Meri steps
  6. Mother Tantra steps
  7. Wrathful manner steps 
  8. Welcome steps
  9. Energy moving steps 
  10. Drawing the Arrow
  11. Taming the Sky
  12. Taming the Earth
  13. Shooting Four
  14. Sipé Gyalmo steps
  15. Cycle of Bön Lamas steps

Monk dancers dressed as the six emanations of the protector Sipé Gyalmo. Photo credit: Unknown

Sacred Dance of the Indestructible Shenraps is different from other dances in that there are many lead dancers. It has been performed since the 15th century every year on the 29th day of the 12th lunar month as instructed by the founder of Menri Monastery, His Holiness the 1st Menri Trizin Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoche. This sacred dance depicts nine religious protectors of the Yungdrung Bön tradition that have all taken vows to protect the religion and its followers. The dance has nine distinct types of steps that each have a precise meaning.  The nine protectors depicted in the dance are:

  1. Sipé Gyalmo who is the principal of the dance

  2. Mudü who is the chief of the fierce dré and srin spirits

  3. Tsen who is chief of the powerful tsen dré spirits

  4. Absé Gyalwa who is another chief of the powerful tsen spirits

  5. Nyipangsé who is a gyalpo or king spirit of Zhang Zhung

  6. Dzam Ngon who is also known as Blue Dzambhala or Kubera and is a wealth deity

  7. Sheltrap Chen

  8. Drakpa Sengé

  9. Tago

Monk dancers emerge from the meditation hall to perform before the crowd at Menri Monastery. Photo credit: Unknown

Tibetan translations by Raven Cypress Wood

Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved. No content, in part or in whole, is allowed to be used without direct permission from the author.

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

Tibetan prayer flags at Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

“May the life force and vitality increase!

May the body’s strength increase!

May personal power and influence increase!

May the force of good luck be well developed!

May the soul and prosperity increase!

May the life force, vitality, health, personal power, soul, and lungta be well developed!

May all lungta, soul, and prosperity that have been diminished become well developed!

Essence of the three jewels and a supreme rarity, kind root lama, please think of me!

May external, internal, and secret obstacles be cleared!

May these wishes bring the accomplishment of all goals and intentions!”

— Prayers from a Yungdrung Bön lungta prayer flag

Tibetan translations by Raven Cypress Wood

Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved. No content, in part or in whole, is allowed to be used without direct permission from the author.

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