New Book Release – Sacred Smoke: The Ritual Practice of Fumigation and Offering in the Yungdrung Bön Religious Tradition

Sacred Sky Press has just released the publication of Sacred Smoke: The Ritual Practice of Fumigation and Offering in the Yungdrung Bön Religious Tradition by Raven Cypress Wood. This book is both an in-depth overview and a practice manual for the ritual commonly known as sang [Tibetan: bsang]. Performed as a daily practice as well as on special occasions, the sang ritual of fumigation and offering is pervasive throughout both the Yungdrung Bön and Buddhist traditions because of its important relevance to ordinary people, lay practitioners, and monastics. The practice of sang is categorized within the Second Way of the Nine Ways of Bön and uses fragrant smoke to clear defilements from both the environment and its inhabitants.

The author and Murig Khenpo Nyima Künchap Rinpoche prepare to perform the sang ritual for the lu.

The first part of Sacred Smoke introduces the reader to the sang ritual and provides a deeper understanding of the source, meaning, and purpose of the ritual. This includes descriptions of the kinds of defilements beings purified, the recipients of the offerings, and the benefits of performing the ritual.

It is called removal because it removes the negative from the positive. It is called removal because it removes the defiled from the pure. It is called removal because it removes poverty. It is called removal because it removes obstructions.

—Lord Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche describing the category of rituals containing the sang practice in Sacred Smoke: The Ritual Practice of Fumigation and Offering in the Yungdrung Bön Religious Tradition

And,

For ordinary people, performing the sang ritual and receiving its benefits can increase their faith in the truth of the teachings of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap. For them, the sang ritual can be an entrance to the higher teachings of enlightenment by creating a basis of faith in the practices.

—Excerpt from Sacred Smoke: The Ritual Practice of Fumigation and Offering in the Yungdrung Bön Religious Tradition

The second part of Sacred Smoke provides the liturgical texts needed for the ritual including the original Tibetan with phonetics and the corresponding English translations. In addition to the sang ritual prayers according to the Menri tradition, Sacred Smoke includes texts for performing the sang ritual composed by the esteemed 23rd Menri Trizin, the sang ritual for the lu, and invocations to Blue Dzmbhala and Chammo Lamlha, the goddess of travel. Detailed instructions are given for how to perform the the ritual in either an extensive and more elaborate way, or a condensed version.

You who have incredible magical power, lords of intermediate space, lords of the earth and lords of the rivers and lakes who judge between right and wrong;

You are living here alongside human beings in this wonderful land.

You, great rulers of this area, when invited by this practitioner, please come to this place of offerings.

—Excerpt from Fumigation Offering for Any Area, included within Sacred Smoke: The Ritual Practice of Fumigation and Offering in the Yungdrung Bön Religious Tradition

Sacred Smoke: The Ritual Practice of Fumigation and Offering in the Yungdrung Bön Religious Tradition by Raven Cypress Wood is a 175 page hardcover with black and white images. It can be purchased from the distributor from this link: https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/raven-cypress-wood/sacred-smoke/hardcover/product-977vd8.html?page=1&pageSize=4

Raven Cypress Wood is also the author of other Sacred Sky Press publications including:

Indestructible: The Longevity Practice of Tséwang Rikdzin https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/raven-cypress-wood/indestructible-the-longevity-practice-of-tsewang-rikdzin/hardcover/product-1g2pdvkp.html?page=1&pageSize=4

The Heartdrop of Jamma, the Loving Mother https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/raven-cypress-wood/jamma-nying-tik-color/paperback/product-1g274888.html?page=1&pageSize=4

The Time to Engage with the Practices of the Great Lama and his Twin Sons

The Great Lama Drenpa Namkha

Within the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition, the 10th lunar day of each month is dedicated to the practice of the great lama Drenpa Namkha and his two sons, Tséwang Rikdzin and Pema Tongdrol. From now until the Tibetan New Year on March 3rd 2022, these lunar days coincide with the Western dates:

  • November 14th 2021
  • December 13th 2021
  • January 12th 2022
  • February 11th 2022

Namo!

With the yearning, single-pointed devotion of my body, speech, and mind, I and the group of mothers, the other sentient beings who are equal to the far reaches of the sky, go for refuge to the Bönku Küntu Zangpo.

We go for refuge to the Great Lama Drenpa Namkha.

We go for refuge to Nyima Öden Barma.

We go for refuge to the protector of migrating beings, Tséwang Rikdzin.

We go for refuge to the Great Mother Tukjé Kündrol.

We go for refuge to Trogyal Yungdrung Tongdrol.

We go for refuge to the tertön Khyung Gö Tsal.

We for refuge to Patön Gyalwa Shérab.

We go for refuge to Patön Döndrup Bum.

We go for refuge to Nyammé Palden Zangpo.

We go for refuge to Patön Namkha Zangpo.

We go for refuge to Chang Chup Semden Palchok Zangpo.

We go for refuge to Tenzin Rikdzin Namgyal.

We go for refuge to Rikdzin Lhundrup Palzang.

We go for refuge to Drendral Tenpa Özer.

We go for refuge to the protector of migrating beings, Namkha Gyalpo.

We go for refuge to the kind root lama.

We go for refuge to the compassionate guide lama, who has the blessings of the lamas of the lineage.

We go for refuge to the knowledge holders and yungdrung sempa of the male lineage.

We go for refuge to the group of khandro of the female lineage.

We go for refuge to the holy lamas of the lineage of the accomplishment of longevity.

Through your compassion radiating as light from unmanifested space, please bestow the accomplishment of indestructible longevity to me!

— From The Longevity Practice of Drenpa Namkha

Tibetan translation 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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The 23rd Annual Debate According to the Yeru Tradition

Monks at Menri Monastery debate during the 22nd annual Yeru tradition debate

From the 1st-30th of the 9th lunar month, Western calendar dates October 7th – November 4th 2021, Pal Shenten Menri Ling Monastery in India held its 23rd Annual Debate According to the Yeru Tradition for the benefit of educating the dialectic school students. These debate sessions are held according to the tradition of the renowned Yeru Wensaka tradition and are based upon a text of logic written by Azha Drogön Lodro Gyaltsen Rinpoche (1198-1263). He was the 8th abbot of Yeru Wensaka Monastery and many of his writings form a major part of the dialectic school curriculum. His text of logic, A Summary of the Valid Cognition of Suchness, A Treasury of Knowledge, is considered the foundation of philosophy. Because it is very old and unique, it is quite difficult to understand. He is considered to have been an emanation of the wisdom deity Mawé Sengé, and had visions of the Great Lama Drenpa Namkha who bestowed upon him instructions and transmissions, as well as secret instructions regarding the practice of the wisdom protector Yeshé Walmo.

The Yungdrung Bön monastic center of Yeru Wensaka in Tsang, Tibet was founded in 1072 by the esteemed Dru family lineage in order to promote the study of philosophy. It was the main Yungdrung Bön study center until it was destroyed by flood in 1386 and replaced with the construction of Menri Monastery in 1405.

Menri monks engaging in debate

During this month-long training, students in the dialectic school will rise early and continue their study, memorization, and recitation practice late into the night. Subjects that are studied and debated include the two truths, the three valid means of cognition, the way of establishing an object of valid cognition, and so forth. Students practice together as a group and also invite His Holiness 34th Menri Trizin Rinpoche and His Eminence Menri Pönlop Rinpoche to witness performances of formal debate, and to give their commentary regarding the difficult points of the philosophical text.

The cycle of debate within the Yungdrung Bön is used as a means to cut the three obscurations to knowledge of (1) not understanding, (2) misunderstanding, and (3) doubt, especially as it relates to the nature of ultimate reality. This is done by applying systematic logical reasoning to a particular view or position in order to ascertain if the view can be established as either true or untrue. This is done through using syllogisms. Syllogism is a type of argument that applies deductive reasoning to form a conclusion regarding the validity or lack of validity of a given thesis. In Tibetan philosophical debate, the syllogism takes the form of a thesis and a proof stated together in a single sentence. This is presented by one or two monks who are seated. They are the defenders of the thesis. One or more monks stand before the defenders and, using only scriptural quotations and proceeding from one logical step to the next, try to prove that the thesis cannot be established as valid. They are the opponents. The opponents are restricted in their response to either state that the major premise of the thesis is not true, the minor premise of the thesis is not true, or to accept the thesis as true. The defenders must give consistent responses without contradicting their original statement. In this way, wrong views are clarified through logical reasoning.

two sitting monks defend their posited statement

A video of the special debate retreat at Menri Monastery has been created by Menri Media and can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAR8oDPQ2ag Monastic debates can appear quite aggressive. However, it is important to remember that the energy of defending and attacking is not toward each other but towards the statement, or idea, that has been presented. The choreography of those attacking a statement as a wrong view is an outward expression of the power of wisdom. Even the particular spot on the hands that is strongly clapped together is considered to be the area of a channel through which wisdom flows.

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A Spiritual Master’s Advice for Those Suffering from Pain and Illness

Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche

The sage, Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen was born in 1859 in the region of Kham, Tibet. He received monk’s vows at the age of 18 and had a total of 24 spiritual masters during his lifetime. He became renowned for both his intellect and his realization of sutra, tantra and dzogchen. At the time of his passing in 1935, he displayed his supreme realization by attaining the rainbow body of light. During his lifetime, he was a prolific writer and these compositions have been collected into a five volume treasury. (For more information about this modern-day saint, see previous article: https://ravencypresswood.com/2015/05/31/anniversary-of-shardza-tashi-gyaltsen-attaining-the-rainbow-body-2/ )

Among his writings, is a poetic verse of advice written upon a request from the female practitioner Khandro Wangi Dronma. In the first half of the verse, he reminds the practitioner of the truth of good and bad actions which result in either happiness or suffering. (This part of the verse can be read in its English translation here: https://ravencypresswood.com/2021/03/27/a-saints-advice-regarding-actions-their-certain-results/ ) He then gives advice for how a practitioner can use the suffering of pain and illness as a skillful means to deepen the realization of emptiness, and ultimately, to attain enlightenment. However, to avoid confusion it must be noted that nowhere does he advise to cease medical treatment to cure or diminish the pain. Essentially, he advises that for a practitioner, when illness and pain arise, it is important to be aware of the view and to look with wisdom at the experience rather than have the pain and illness cloud the awareness or become a distraction from practice. The extent to which someone is able to do this depends upon their capacity and stability as a practitioner. But he advises to try again and again to use the experience as a support for realization. The practitioner begins with the view of the illness and pain as a result of their own previous negative actions being exhausted through the experience, and ultimately looking nakedly at the experience to realize its emptiness. His advice begins with the extraordinarily profound essence mantra that purifies negativity and shakes the very foundation of cyclic existence.

A KAR A MÉ DU TRI SU NAKPO ZHI ZHI MAL MAL

May the negative karmic debts of sentient beings within the three realms of cyclic existence be purified!

Engaging in harm towards others again and again, the negative karma accumulates. Later on during our future lives, we are tormented because of those actions.

And,

Whatever unwanted thing that descends upon you, look upon everything as karma.

And,

It is necessary to have a supreme view and master the remedy which is emptiness in order to proceed with the important practice of virtue.

For those with a great deal of negative actions in this lifetime, having requested a remedy because they will certainly ripen during future lifetimes, the remedy of performing virtue is very powerful. Having ripened negative actions, the mere exhaustion of that karma (through pain and/or illness), enlightenment is certain. Therefore, this pain and illness of yours is very amazing when it is voluntarily accepted!

Even now, whenever more pain or illness arises, continuing to persevere with your religious practices, venerations, and acts of pure virtue would be incredibly amazing!

When you imagine that there will be no unhappiness in the future (due to this negative karma being exhausted), supremely praise the emptiness of that particular pain or illness.

Be inspired by the power of this antidote, even when what you don’t want arises.

Take the suffering and misery of others onto yourself by adopting others’ happiness and suffering through the practice of tonglen. (For more information about the practice of tonglen and the english translation of a tonglen prayer written by Shardza Rinpoche, see the previous article: https://ravencypresswood.com/2020/01/31/an-aspiration-prayer-of-giving-and-receiving-gift-translation/ )

Practice this day and night. Remember to do this again and again, without being distracted even for a second. These are thoughts from my heart. This is my conviction. Considering the result of actions and teaching a method to repay the karmic debts is very rare advice. It is completely profound.

— Excerpt of untitled poem composed by Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche and included in his volume of works entitled Advice and Hagiographies of the A Tri LIneage Lamas

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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Introduction to Prayer Wheels

Yungdrung Bön prayers wheels in Mustang. Photo credit: Unknown

Prayer wheels are prevalent in both the Yungdrung Bön and Buddhist religious traditions. In general, they consist of prayers and mantra rolled around a central pillar that is enabled to rotate freely in order to activate the prayers and mantra. Among his prolific writings, the modern-day scholar and saint, Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche, provides us with a general description of prayer wheels and their benefits. He begins by establishing that there are five kinds of wheels with prayer wheels falling into the category of wheels that are turned.

“In general there are five kinds of wheels: (1) the wheel of cyclic existence, (2) the wheel of a buddha’s words [commonly called the wheel of dharma], (3) the wheel of meditation, (4) the wheel of protection that is fastened (a.k.a. a sung khor or protection amulet that contains a deity mandala which is folded, attached to a string, and worn around the neck), (5) and wheels that are turned.”

– Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche

And,

“There are five kinds of wheels that are turned: (1) wheels turned by fire, (2) wheels turned by water, (3) wheels turned by air, (4) wheels turned by the earth, and (5) wheels turned with the hand.”

Prayer wheels that are turned by fire are quite common. Rolls of prayers and mantra are properly prepared and placed inside a cylinder that is positioned above a butter lamp or candle. The rising heat from the flame provides the energy needed to turn the cylinder. By necessity, these prayer wheels are often small and light. In modern times, small prayer wheels have been created that are turned by energy generated from a solar panel. Prayer wheels that are turned by water are also common. They are placed above rivers and streams with the central pillar extending below the roll of prayers and into the moving water. Attached to the bottom of the central pillar are rotating blades or wheels of various designs that turn with the force of the water. Depending upon the strength of the water, these type of prayer wheels can be quite large. They are always placed within a so-called “prayer wheel house” that provides protection for the printed prayers and mantra from the natural elements. Wheels that are turned by the air are another common type of prayer wheel. Families will often place many of these types of prayer wheels around the home for blessing and protection. These wheels are relatively small, and lightweight blades are placed at the top or bottom of the prayer wheel in order to catch the wind and cause the prayer wheel to rotate. Although Shardza Rinpoche mentions prayer wheels that are turned by the earth in his essay, I have been unable to find an example of this, and the Tibetans that I spoke with had never seen or heard of them.

Left: A prayer wheel turned by water. Right: a prayer wheel turned by fire.

Prayer wheels that are turned with the hand are generally of three types: (1) those that are carried in the hand and turned, (2) those that are fixed in placed, often in a row of multiple prayer wheels on a circumambulation circuit, which are turned by small handles at the bottom of the wheel, and (3) single prayer wheels that are fixed in place that are quite large and heavy which are turned by ropes or large handles attached at the bottom. Prayer wheels are never turned by touching the actual cylinder or cloth containing the prayers and mantra as this would be improper. Therefore, all prayer wheels have a means of rotating the cylinder that avoids the necessity of having to touch the roll of sacred text.

Nuns at the large prayer wheel at Triten Norbutse Monastery. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

Important Points When Creating a Prayer Wheel

Shardza Rinpoche mentions a few important points when creating prayer wheels of any kind. In general, the size and type of prayer wheel determines the size and amount of paper needed for writing the prayers and mantra. Once that is determined, the prayers and mantra are written according to the wish of the sponsor such as prayers of longevity and auspiciousness, prayers in praise of enlightened beings such as Sherab Jamma or Tönpa Shenrap, and/or mantra such as the three essence mantra, and so on. Shardza Rinpoche advises writing these prayers and mantra with ink made from the red-colored mineral tsal. However, they can also be written with regular red, blue, or black ink. In modern times, these prayers and mantra are often typed into a computer and printed onto paper. Regardless of the ink used, every prayer and mantra must be complete with nothing omitted or added. They are written as many times as possible within the given space of the paper. However, everything is written in its proper order such as beginning with preliminary prayers, then the main prayers, and concluding with prayers of auspiciousness and dedication of the generated merit. Mantra are written without the tseg, or dot, between the syllables as this is believed to make the written form more powerful as well as providing space to increase the total number written. Mantra is also written or printed onto the outer mantric cloth that will cover the paper. Everything is wrapped around a sok shing [Tibetan: srog shing]. This is like the central channel of the prayer wheel and it is empowered with the mantric syllables of enlightened body, speech, mind, quality, and action. In that way, it becomes a proper vessel for enlightened energy and blessings.

The mantric cloth is laid out. Because a Yungdrung Bön prayer wheel is rotated counter-clockwise, all of the prayers and mantra face inward towards the sok shing and rolling begins from the end and moves toward the beginning of the mantric cloth. Buddhists prayer wheels are rotated clockwise and so the prayers and mantra face outward. Therefore, the sok shing is placed at the end of the cloth and/or roll of paper and mendrup is added. Shardza Rinpoche also suggests adding the powder of precious jewels. While being sure to keep track of the top of the prayers, the rolling begins. Everything is rolled tightly so that it is very secure. Once the rolling is complete, it is tied or taped in place. Shardza Rinpoche advises writing a head letter with the syllable OM on the outside of the mantric cloth in order to know the correct orientation of the roll. Then, according to Shardza Rinpoche,

“Then, it wears a dress of brocade. After that, perform the consecration and blessings of outer, inner, and secret praise and make the aspiration,  ‘Having turned this wheel for the benefit of all sentient beings, may I obtain perfect Buddhahood within a single body of a single lifetime!’  Turn the wheel with the determination of considering the welfare of all sentient beings.”

Once the prayer wheel is dressed with brocade or cloth of the five elements, it is ready to be installed according to its particular type. If they are installed in the environment, they should be protected. If they are used as a handwheel, the handle is generally held with the right hand because the tengwa, or prayer mala, has to be held with the left hand. (For more information about using a tengwa, see previous post: https://ravencypresswood.com/2021/07/24/tengwa-meaning-origin-and-proper-use-of-the-prayer-beads-of-the-yungdrung-bon/) In this way, a practitioner can turn the prayer wheel and recite mantra simultaneously. A handheld prayer wheel should always be kept clean, not placed directly on the ground, or put onto shelves or tables along with other ordinary objects. In the words of Shardza Rinpoche:

“Don’t put it on a table with other implements or ruin it with incense smoke. In the evening at bedtime, having put it in an elevated place, perform prostrations. Again in the the morning, prostrate, go for refuge, and grasp the handle like it is a precious wish-fulfilling jewel.”

Yangtön Lama Tashi turning a handheld prayer wheel. Photo credit: Unknown

Benefits of Turning a Prayer Wheel

Turn a prayer wheel with faith and trust in the objects of refuge, generate the mind of enlightenment and a pure view, make aspiration prayers for oneself and other sentient beings, and dedicate the merit of the virtuous activity. In this way, turning a prayer wheel even a single time has great benefit. According to the scriptures, if a prayer wheel is turned with pure intentions, it is like reading the entire Kangyur simultaneously. Again, from the words of Shardza Rinpoche:

“As it is said in the chapter on benefits, by generating the mind (of enlightenment) and having the pure view and intention of benefiting others while turning a prayer wheel, there is no way to measure that merit, just like there is no way to count the grains of soil in a field.”

If a prayer wheel is turned from the state of compassion, all defilements from the five heinous acts that have immediate result ,* etc. will be purified and the degeneration of commitments regarding secret mantra vows, and vows of individual liberation will be purified. According to the sacred texts, if a prayer wheel is turned 108 times daily without decreasing, it will purify all defilements and negativities from the body in a single day. Similarly, if it is turned 1,008 times, it will purify the defilements and negativities of both body and speech. If it is turned 10,000 times, all the defilements and negativities of body, speech, and mind will be purified. If it is turned continually, Buddhahood will be attained within a single lifetime, and in the future the individual will turn the wheel of the enlightened ones’ teachings.

Turning a prayer wheel delights the buddhas and their spiritual heirs, the bodhisattvas, and it inspires the virtuous gods to act as advocates. When any kind of spirits that tend toward negativity are encountered, the spirits are powerless to cause harm. And when seen by others, having produced virtuous aspirations, the one who practices turning a prayer wheel will complete the accumulation of merit even in the mindstream of others. In the future, they will hold the teachings of the enlightened ones. If a someone regularly turns a prayer wheel, they will reach the ultimate years of their lifespan. In this way, the virtue and benefits of creating and turning prayers wheels is immeasurable.

*The five heinous acts that have an immediate result (1) killing one’s mother, (2) killing one’s father, (3) killing a saint, (4) purposefully damaging an image of an enlightened being, and (5) causing division within the spiritual community. The ten non-virtuous activities are: (1) killing,(2) taking what is not given,(3) impure and/or harmful sexual behavior, (4) lying, (5) slander, (6) harsh words, (7) idle, meaningless talk, (8) envy, (9) malicious thoughts, and (10) wrong views.

Tibetan translation 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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