The First Way: Divination, Astrology, Ritual and Medicine

The First of the Nine Ways of Bön is called The Way of the Shen of Prediction and it contains methods of divination, astrology, healing rituals and medicine which deal directly with the concerns of this present, worldly life.  As in all of the Nine Ways, the base is compassion.  Although the ultimate goal might be enlightenment, the emphasis is on the individual’s immediate circumstances during this lifetime.  The descriptions below are necessarily brief although the knowledge for each one of these methods is vast.  In the words of the enlightened Lord  Tönpa Shenrap Miwo:

“In general, there are 360 different kinds of divination.  There are 360 kinds of astrological calculation.  There are 360 kinds of ritual and 21,000 methods of diagnosis in order to avert the danger of death.”


mo text

(Copy of an old text detailing a method of divination taught directly by Lord Tönpa Shenrap)

Divination, Tibetan mo, is a method through which one can obtain answers to worldly questions such as, “Will my new project be successful?” or “Are there any obstacles for me at this time in my life?”  If the answer is negative, the text often recommends an antidote that will serve to change the projected course of events for the positive.  For instance, if one’s travel is deemed as having the potential for difficulty, the text might advise offering prayers to the deities of the road prior to traveling.  It is quite common within Tibetan culture to ask a lama for a divination for any number of reasons.  Beginning new projects, buying or selling a home, traveling, health, business, legal dealings and marriage are among the most common reasons for asking a lama for a mo.

In the case of illness or disease, divination as well as astrology are essential in determining whether the root cause of the disturbance is either physiologically based or caused by an external force.  For if the illness is caused by an external force, or don, no amount of medicine or medical treatment will result in a cure.  For an energetic cause, there must be an energetic antidote.  Therein lies the need for ritual.  However, if the illness is physiologically based, then divination will advise medicine and can give information regarding the length of recovery time that is to be expected.

As for the method, there are a many ways to perform a divination within the Bön Buddhist tradition.  The method chosen might depend upon it having been handed down through the family, the method given by one’s lama, or a method associated with a deity for which one has a connection.  In general, before performing a divination, one needs to have received the teaching from a lama as well as permission to study the text.  Often, a personal retreat is undergone in order to build a relationship with the respective deity.  Later, when performing the divination for one’s self or another, offerings, mantras and prayers are performed as a means to connect with the deity and to receive accurate information from the deity whose knowledge is beyond time and space.

astrology thangkha

(Astrological deities and symbols)

Astrology, Tibetan tsi, is not only a method to harmonize one’s relationship with the external forces of the universe, but also a calculation of the flow of time.  The Tibetan New year begins somewhere between the first of February and the end of March.  The Tibetan lunar calendar and the Chinese lunar calendar are close but not identical.

Each year is characterized by one of the five elements and by one of the twelve animals which are alternatively male or female.  Every individual possesses the characteristics of the year within which they were born.  The qualities of this element/animal combination can be studied and applied in relationship to other individuals, such as in marriage calculations, and also in order to determine the probable effect of any given year upon an individual.  For example, someone born in the year of the Male Wood Rat (1984) would have the energy of their good luck ruled by the wood element.  The year 2013 of the Western calendar is a Female Water Snake year and during this year the energy of good luck is ruled by the water element.  The wood element and the water element have a naturally positive relationship to one another.  Therefore, the Male Wood Rat person is most likely to have a very positive year as far as their good luck is concerned.  It takes sixty years to complete the cycle of twelve animals and five elements.

Astrological calculations are crucial in order to ascertain the most favorable date and time for important events such as religious festivals, marriages, travel, significant business dealings, healing rituals, funerals, etc.  In this way, the events that take place can act in harmony with the natural energies of the universe and therefore amplify the power and effect of the desired positive outcome.

In addition to consulting the calendar, it is common to have one’s personal horoscope calculated in order to determine one’s strengths and weaknesses, to learn what are one’s most beneficial days to begin new activities, the possibility of illness or obstacles along with their prescribed antidote, as well as the nature of one’s past and future lives, etc.  A horoscope is also done for someone who has died in order to determine the best day for burial or cremation.  This kind of horoscope can also determine the nature of the person’s rebirth.

Tenzin Yangton preparing for lalu chilu edited

(A Yungdrung Bön monk prepares for an elaborate ritual.)

Ritual, Tibetan to, are the ritual methods used to counteract harm coming from unseen, external forces.  In the Tibetan worldview, there exist many types of spirits who inhabit the same environment as humans.  A great deal of attention is given to maintaining a harmonious relationship with these unseen neighbors.  It is said, for instance, that what we perceive as open space is indeed crowded with beings that are invisible to us.  However, much of humanity goes about changing, damaging and polluting the external environment without consideration for these other beings who think of it as their home.  In this way, we harm and offend these spirits who then seek recompense or revenge.  From our perspective however, it can seem as though we suddenly get sick for no reason and can find no effective cure.

Once divination or astrology has established that the source of our disturbance is one or more of these external forces, a specific ritual is advised in order to restore harmony.  Traditionally, a lama is asked to come to the family home and perform the required ritual.  The family then gathers all of the items necessary and hosts the lama and any assistants that accompany him for the duration of the ritual.  Some rituals can be concluded in a single day.  Others may can take many days to complete depending upon the type of ritual that is required as well as the severity of the patient’s illness or disturbance.

medicine tree(Detail from the tree which shows the root and subsequent branches and leaves of both health and illness)

Medicine, Tibetan men, is a method of diagnosing and treating illness of the physical body.  The true root of health is awareness and virtuous behavior and the root of illness is ignorance and non-virtuous behavior.  This idea is expounded at great length in the medical texts.   Good and stable health is reflected by the balance of wind, bile and phlegm within the body.  Illness is seen as the weakness, damage or excess of any or all of these forces.  The hot or cold nature of the imbalance is also taken into consideration.

When diagnosing the root cause of disease or illness, the Tibetan doctor will first observe the general demeanor of the patient, listen to the sound of their voice, study the appearance and shape of their tongue, examine the qualities of their urine, and read the multiple pulses of both wrists.  The doctor may also ask questions about the patients behavior, diet, and the onset of symptoms.

When prescribing medicine, the Tibetan doctor gives herbal medicines that are to be taken at specific times of day.  It is believed that a medicine is most effective when taken at the time that the disease is most active or at the designated time of the affected organ.  Additionally, the doctor will give advice for diet and behavior, sometimes prescribing that a patient be more generous and less greedy, or to spend more time with spiritual practice and less time with mindless distraction.  Prevention of disease includes the discrimination of beneficial and harmful activities as well as an appropriate diet with a proper balance of rest and activity.

Raven Cypress Wood© All Rights Reserved

Posted on March 27, 2013, in Tibetan Astrology, Tibetan Culture & History, Tibetan Medicine, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Great stuff! Thanks, Carol

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: