A Brief Introduction to the Mother Tantras of Yungdrung Bön

The yidam Sangchok Tartuk and Khandro Chema Otso. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

Within the Nine Ways of Bon, the so-called Mother Tantra is found within the seventh way, The Way of the White A. As with the other tantras within this category, the practices are based upon visualization as part of the generation and perfection stages. The Father Tantras emphasize the generation stage, the Mother Tantras emphasize the perfection stage, also referred to as the completion stage, and the Son tantras emphasize the unification. Today, when most people speak of the Mother Tantra within the Yungdrung Bön tradition, they are referring to the Secret Mother Tantra whose main title is Ma Gyu Tukje Nyima, The Sun of Compassion Mother Tantra. “Sun of Compassion” is a reference to the yidam deity of the tantric cycle, Sangchok Tartuk Gyal, or Sangchok Gyalpo, Supremely Secret King. His consort is Khandro Chema Ötso. The Mother Tantra is unique in that the male yidam represents the emptiness aspect and the female khandro represents the clarity aspect.

In addition to the secret cycle of the Mother Tantra, there are also cycles of the Outer Mother Tantra, and the Inner Mother Tantra. The source of these three cycles of teachings is the primordial buddha Küntu Zangpo. Zangza Ringtsun, an emanation of the buddha Sherap Jamma who had a miraculous virgin birth of Chimé Tsukpü, received the divine transmission of the Mother Tantras and passed it to Milu Samlek. He was born as a prince and was known for his intelligence. As he was practicing the Mother Tantra, the six guardian khandros appeared and asked him if he throughly understood the precepts of the Mother Tantra. He replied that he understood them very well. In response, the khandros brought a skull full of water from the ocean and dipped a reed into it. They then said to him,

The Bön of the Mother Tantras is like the ocean,

the lama’s knowledge of it is like the water in the skull,

your knowledge of it is like the water droplets remaining on the reed.

At this, Milu Samlek became quite despondent. He asked the khandros how he could completely learn the Mother Tantra and they told him that he must go and receive it from Zangza Ringtsun. He did so, and later wrote a commentary for each of the Outer, Inner, and Secret cycles.

Ma Gyu torma which represents the lama, the yidam, and the khandro. Picture credit: Raven Cypress Wood

The root texts and their commentaries were handed down through the lineage until reaching Sené Gau. He translated the teachings from Zhang Zhung to Tibetan. However, it was also during this time in the 7th century that the first persecution of Yungdrung Bön began. Therefore, in order to protect the teachings for future generations, he returned the texts to the khandros who acted as guardians of the terma. Later in the time of the 11th century, the outer and inner cycles were rediscovered. The secret cycle was discovered by accident in the 12th century.

Guru Nontsé, born in 1136, was a hunter who struck a rock that then split apart to reveal a white silk wrapped around a stick and written on both sides. This was the Mother Tantra root texts along with their condensed, medium-length, and extensively detailed commentaries. He began the arduous task of copying the texts, but before he was able to finish he had a vision that the khandros wanted the white silk text to be returned to them. In that way, some of the Mother Tantra texts and commentaries remain lost to us.

During the 1st lunar month on the 21st and 22nd day, Menri Monastery performs an extensive tsok offering to the deities of the Mother Tantra according to the Shen tradition. This offering invites the deities to be present and to bestow their magnificent blessings. In this way, the practitioners’ sacred vows are renewed and they are empowered with the enlightened qualities of the Mother Tantra deities.

Translations from Tibetan 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 December 18, 2021, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Sandy Schoenholtz

    Thank you for this beautiful and fascinating history and explanation, Raven. I hope you are well.
    Sending good wishes for health and happiness in the new year.

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