The Fifth Way: Committing to the Path of Virtue for Lay Practitioners

Central Figure of the Tibetan Thangkha Painting for the 5th Way

Within the Nine Ways of Bön, the Fifth Way is called The Way of the Virtuous Lay Practitioners and specifies the proper conduct and commitments of a lay person taking vows. This Fifth Way, is the first of the Nine Ways classified as ‘Ways of the Result’, or ‘Bön of the Fruit’. Because the view and understanding of the practitioner needs to be more advanced, these Ways are considered higher than the First through the Fourth Ways.

In Tibetan, a lay practitioner is called ‘gen nyen’ [Tib. dge bsnyen] which literally translates as ‘one who serves virtue’. When asked the meaning of these concepts within this context, the enlightened All-knowing Teacher, Tönpa Shenrap Miwo answered,

“Virtuous means without negative actions. This is one who is committed to serve virtue through their body, speech and mind. Service means serving without contradicting views and properly remaining steadfast in service to virtue.”

In general, the lay practitioner commits to practicing the ten virtuous actions and renounces the ten non-virtuous actions of body, speech and mind.   The Teacher Tönpa Shenrap defines this kind of renouncing as not performing the actions as well not trying to have them performed or taking joy in others having done them.   In the same way, one commits to acting according to the ten virtuous actions as well as encouraging those kinds of activity and taking joy in others who have done them. This is the inner practice.

The Three Virtuous Actions of the Body:

  1. Rather than killing, protecting the life of other beings.
  2. Rather than stealing, practicing generosity.
  3. Rather than engaging in sexual misconduct or causing others to break their vows, keeping one’s own vows and respecting the vows of others.

The Four Virtuous Actions of Speech:

  1. Rather than lying, speaking the truth.
  2. Rather than creating discord, speaking in a way that brings people together.
  3. Rather than using hurtful speech, speaking gently and kindly.
  4. Rather than gossiping or mindlessly talking, speaking in a useful way or reciting prayers.

The Three Virtuous Actions of the Mind:

  1. Rather than coveting the possessions and accomplishments of others, being generous and open.
  2. Rather than wishing harm to others or feeling resentful, cultivating the desire to help others.
  3. Rather than holding wrong views, practicing the teachings of Yungdrung Bön and establishing a true and authentic view.

More specifically, there are fixed vows that are taken by a lay practitioner that are the outer practice.  When asked to teach the outward form of the lay practitioner, The All-knowing Teacher, Tönpa Shenrap first instructed the gathered assembly to erect the first Elegant Chorten of the Yungdrung Bön according to his detailed instructions. Once completed, he consecrated the chorten [Sanskrit: stupa] and then began teaching the outer forms and behavior of a gen nyen, or lay practitioner.

Elegant Yungdrung Bon Chorten edit

The Elegant Chorten of the Yungdrung Bön

The practitioner must go before a pure lama who guides disciples and take the appropriate vows. According to the written commentary of the 23rd abbot of Menri Monastery, HH Nyima Tenzin,

“As for the vows of a gen nyen: There are five kinds of lifetime vows.  To abandon killing, to abandon taking what is not given, to abandon impure, wrong kinds of sexual conduct, and to abandon false speech are four.  Abandoning one of the four kinds of food is the fifth.  Some people have taught abandoning alcohol as a branch vow.

This is the gen nyen of completely renouncing according to the five kinds of established laws.  Because of that, the gen nyen of pure behavior has renounced the basic kinds of impure activity.”

Posted on September 9, 2014, in Tibetan Culture & History, Tonpa Shenrap, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. With regards to sexuality and food, isn’t enough clear…what does that mean “wrong sexual conduct”? It’s about changing partner, not being loyal, or has has something to do with sexual behavior in itself? And what are the “4 kinds of food” ?

  2. Wrong sexual conduct specifically refers to rape, incest and other acts related to violence or are considered unclean. There are details in the different commentaries. The Four types of food are 1) meat 2) garlic 3) food eaten after the midday meal and 4) intoxicants such as drugs and alcohol.

  3. Hello, Raven. These vows seem similar to the ngakpa/ngakma vows of Tibetan Buddhism, particularly in the Nyingma school. What differences are there that you know about?

  4. Hey Jody,

    These vows form the base for many other vows. Ngakpas have many additional vows. Much of these are related to things that will not interfere with the ngakpas ability to develop power and stability in the practice as well as maintaining the proper rules regarding the rituals. Raven

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