The 1st Yungdrung Bön Chorten in the United States

Yungdrung Kolek Chorten before installation of the Küntu Zangpo statue. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

The first Yungdrung Bön chorten [Sanskrit: stupa] in the United States has been constructed at the Serenity Ridge Retreat Center of Ligmincha International located in Virginia, United States. This chorten is designed according to the specific style of The Elegant Yungdrung Chorten, or Yungdrung Kolek Chorten. It has been sponsored by Vicki Wheaton in memory of her deceased husband and deceased mother. Land for the chorten was donated by Ligmincha International and its spiritual director, Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. The knowledgeable Khedup Gyatso, who directed the construction of both the cremation chorten and the memorial chorten for H.H. 33rd Menri Trizin Rinpoche at Menri Monastery, also directed the construction and installation of sacred items within the chorten at Serenity Ridge.

Left: Khedup Gyatso directing the building, Center: sa tsa and juniper being placed inside, Right: Vicki Wheaton placing Yungdrung Bön texts inside the chorten.

Rising up through the center of the chorten is a sok shing, a pillar of vitality. The sok shing is empowered with the five warrior seed syllables and wrapped in cloth and string of the five colors. Attached to the sok shing is a golden yungdrung, a clear crystal, a variety of five precious gems, five grains, five fruits, white mustard seeds, and black mustard seeds.

Left: A section of the wrapped sok shing. Right: Close-up of the five grains affixed to the sok shing.

Also within the chorten are many Yungdrung Bön texts from the three lineages of sutra, tantra and dzogchen. Each of this texts were checked to ensure that they were complete with no pages missing or damaged. Consecrated clay molds of sacred forms, called sa tsa, were made either in the form of a chorten or Sherab Jamma. Each of them contain the mantras of enlightened body, speech and mind, consecrated rice, as well as powdered medicine and incense from Tibet. There are a total of 110 sa tsa within the chorten.

The Elegant Yungdrung Chorten also contains many sacred images of deities and mandalas including images of H.H. 33rd Menri Trizin Lungtok Tenpé Nyima Rinpoche and H.E. Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche; hair and cremation ash of H.H. 33rd Menri Trizin Lungtok Tenpé Nyima Rinpoche; and many kinds of medicine and excellent substances.

Mold forms for the clay sa tsa. Left: Outside of the chorten-style sa tsa mold. Center: Inside of chorten sa tsa mold. Right: Inside of the Sherap Jamma-style sa tsa mold.

The Tibetan word “chorten” is a compound of two words and literally means “support for offerings.” As part of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap’s teachings regarding The Fifth Way: The Way of Lay Practitioners, he first introduced the construction of chortens as a support for the practice of purification and the accumulation of merit. Each aspect of a chorten is symbolic and its placement, shape, and size are all specific. The first chorten that the Buddha instructed his disciples to build was The Elegant Yungdrung Chorten.

“In order to teach future generations, and because it is necessary to purify defilements and perfect the accumulation of merit, establish a chorten to act as a support for devotional prostrations and circumambulations.”

—Words of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap from his hagiography Radiant Splendor, also known as the Zi Ji.

These exact measurements illustrate the self-nature of the divine. By using the correct measurements to construct a chorten, it becomes a proper dwelling place for enlightened energy. It is said within the texts that if a chorten is built for the buddhas’ relics, even defilements from the five heinous acts will be purified and it is needless to say that lesser acts will be purified. The potency of the exalted good qualities of the relics is inconceivable. Through these limitless exalted qualities and power, whoever makes a request at a chorten containing the buddhas’ relics by prostrating, circumambulating or making offerings can purify the two kinds of defilements and complete the two kinds of accumulations.

“The Teacher, having opened the mandala of the mu tri gods, performed a vast investiture and consecration ceremony from the completely pure tantra The Body of Those Who have Gone Beyond Bliss. Then, he gave it the name “Yungdrung Kolék Chorten, The Elegant Yungdrung Chorten.” At this, all of the gods above, the lu below, and the human beings in-between were joyous and offered praise.”

—From The Fifth Way: The Way of Lay Practitioners within the hagiography of Tönpa Shenrap entitled, Radiant Splendor, also known as the Zi Ji.

The newly constructed Elegant Yungdrung Chorten at Serenity Ridge will be consecrated by H.H. 34th Menri Trizin Lungtok Dawa Dargyal Rinpoche during his visit and teachings at Serenity Ridge during the summer retreat of 2019.

Sa tsa of Sherap Jamma that were placed inside the chorten. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood.

All translations and content by 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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Posted on June 22, 2019, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Wonderful. A MA HO.
    thank you for sharing this wonderous story of the depth of the construction..

  2. Sue, so glad that you enjoyed the article.

  3. Sebastian Stoopen

    Thank you for this invaluable information!

  4. Thank you for sharing this thorough explanation and description. It is an honor to have this at Serenity Ridge in Virginia. Grateful….

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