Murig Geshe Nyima Kunchap Rinpoche leads a Sherap Jamma ritual for the Yungdrung Bon community in the Dolpo capital of Dunai, Nepal. Photo credit: Unknown.
Category Archives: Dolpo
A twenty minute walk from the village of Barlé in Dolpo, Nepal is the Barlé gonpa called Yungdrung Shuk Tsal Ling. The main part of the temple located next to the lama residence is said to be over 500 years old. The surrounding area is very green in Summer and the village residents rely heavily upon agriculture. Although the village is a mix of both Bön and Buddhist families, they visit each other’s temples and sacred sites.
The Barlé gonpa was renovated by the father of Barlé Lama Tsukphü Gyaltsen, who assisted in the work. Although most of the Barlé lamas have been ngakpas, or householder lamas, Barlé Lama Tsukphü Gyaltsen did not want to follow this lifestyle and instead received monk’s vows at the age of eighteen. He traveled to Samling and stayed there for three years. He received teachings and initiations from Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche as well as from Sangye Tenzin Rinpoche. Eventually, he returned to the village of Barlé and immediately began to look for a proper place for secluded meditation.
A thirty minutes walk from the gonpa, up a steep cliff, he found the spot that he was looking for. The nearby rock formation naturally resembled a chorten and there was a stone painting of the enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap nearby. Here, he began to construct Drak Gön hermitage, literally “Stone Temple Hermitage.” The first part was completed in 1962. For thirty years, from 1970-2000, he remained in retreat at the hermitage. On the 27th lunar day of the 4th month in the Western year 2000, his outward breath stopped. His body remained in the five-fold meditation posture for three full days.
After the passing of Barlé Rinpoche, his nephew Lama Lhakpa assumed the duties of the main lama of Barlé. He was a householder and lived in the lama residence. He unexpectedly passed away in 2015 and his son took up the duties of being the village lama.
Both a relative and student of Barlé Lama Tsukphü Gyaltsen Rinpoche, Murig Geshe Nyima Kunchap Rinpoche was born in the village of Barlé. At the age of eight, he began learning the Tibetan language and thangkha painting. At the age of fourteen, he learned to make torma and practiced the ngondro, or foundational practices. Strongly wanting to become a monk, he left the village of Barlé and made his way to India where he received renunciate vows from HH 33rd Menri Trizen Rinpoche and HE Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche. Completing his studies in the dialectic program, he received his doctorate of Geshe in 1994. Subsequently, he worked as the Bön department chairmen at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Varanasi. He founded and acted as president of the Dolpo Bon Society and founded the Dolpo Bon School for girls and boys. Although he travels worldwide teaching and performing rituals of the Yungdrung Bön tradition, he regularly returns to the village of Barlé. Most recently, he personally sponsored the construction of a sacred chorten in the village. (See previous post: https://ravencypresswood.com/2018/07/21/a-chorten-for-barle-village/) In these ways, he continues to preserve and expand the rich Yungdrung Bön traditions of his lineage for the benefit of the Barlé residents, and beyond.
The tulku of Barlé Rinpoche was recognized at an early age in the village of Barlé. He naturally showed the signs of being familiar with the life of his previous incarnation, Barlé Lama Tsukphü Gyaltsen Rinpoche.
Although a difficult decision for his mother, she agreed to have him go to Menri Monastery in Dolanji, India in order to receive the proper training.Geshe Nyima Kunchap has taken personal responsibility to ensure his well being and education.
In the village of Barlé located in Dolpo, Nepal and approximately 185 miles from Kathmandu, a new Yungdrung Bön chorten (Sanskrit: stupa) has been erected by Murig Geshe Nyima Künchap as a gift to the village residents. The chorten is located near the Barlé gompa. From July 22nd to July 28th, Geshe Künchap Rinpoche will perform the full consecration of the chorten.
Inside the chorten above the doorways, it is ornately painted with sacred Yungdrung Bön images. In the four directions, are the Four Principal Enlightened Ones: Satrik Érsang, Shenlha Ökar, Sangpo Bumtri, and Tönpa Shenrap. As is traditional, each of these enlightened ones is surrounded by two hundred fifty Buddhas for a total of one thousand Buddhas. (For more information about the Four Principle Enlightened Ones, see previous post: https://ravencypresswood.com/2016/08/20/the-four-principal-enlightened-ones/ ) On the ceiling above are nine mandalas whose purpose is to act as an appropriate dwelling place for the related enlightened qualities. In the center is the mandala of the Sutra of the Indestructible Vast Expanse (Tib. mdo g.yung drung klong rgyas). Then, beginning in the East (middle left) and continuing counter-clockwise, are the mandalas of: The Peaceful AH that Clears (Tib: zhi ba a gsal), Red Garuda (Tib: khyung dmar), The Stages of Walsé (Tib. dbal gsas las rim), the Great Mother Jamma (Tib: rgyal yum byams ma), Complete Space (Tib: Kun dyings), the Precious Lamp of the MA TRI (Tib: ma tri rin chen sgron ma), Shenrap Nampar Gyalwa (Tib: gshen rab rnam rgyal), and The Lamp that Purifies Obscurations and Removes the Darkness (Tib: sgrib sbyong mun sel sgron ma).
Murig Geshe Nyima Künchap Rinpoche was born in the village of Barlé and spent many years as a student of his root lama, Barlé Rinpoche. In 1982, he received ordination as a monk from HH 33rd Menri Trizen and HE Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche. In 1994, after many years of rigorous study, he received his geshe degree from Menri Monastery. He is a master of sutra, tantra, and dzogchen. However, he is considered a ritual specialist. Of the 360 rituals given by the Enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche, it is believed that only 68 remain. Geshe Künchap Rinpoche holds the transmission, empowerment, and teaching for each of these 68 rituals.
Raven Cypress Wood ©2018
The history of the Yangtön lineage is closely interwoven with the history of the Yungdrung Bön tradition itself. It is said that two of Lord Tönpa Shenrap’s disciples were Yangtön lamas. And during the reign of the first Tibetan king, Nyatri Tsenpo in the second century B.C., the official priest for the king and the kingdom was a Yangtön lama.
The name “Yangtön” is an abbreviation of the ancient Zhang Zhung family name “Ya Ngal” and “Tönpa” together meaning “Teacher of the Ya Ngal clan.” The original seat of the Ya Ngal clan was at Taktse Jari in Upper Tsang, Tibet. This is where Yangtön Sherap Gyaltsen was born during the Fire Snake year of 1077 AD. Because it was prophesied that he would be an emanation of the ancient lama Pangla Namshen, he was also called by this name. In his youth, he studied under many lamas including the first abbot of the famous Yeru Wensaka Yungdrung Bön Monastery, Druchen Yungdrung Lama. He devoted himself to study and there were no Buddhists who could defeat him in a debate. He eventually became known as “Yangtön Chenpo”, the Great Yangtön.
At the age of 27, he took two wives although he had no children with either of them. He intently practiced the Yungdrung Bön tantric teachings and attained great magical power. He preferred a life of practice and isolation to a worldly life and would often go alone to a mountain and enter into retreat. In addition to his magical power, he also had many visions and meditative experiences. Once while he was meditating, a woman appeared and asked,
“How much knowledge do you have?” He replied, “I am completely knowledgeable.” At that, the woman became unhappy, and crying, she left. He thought, “When I told her that I was knowledgeable, she became unhappy, If she appears tomorrow, I should tell her that I don’t know anything.” The next day, the woman appeared and asked the same question as before. This time, he replied, “I don’t know anything. Are there any good qualities that you could teach me?” Happy with the response, she answered, “If you want to learn some good qualities, in a cliff of lu and demons, never seeing the sun or moon, lives Ronggom Tokmé Zhikpo. Go there and you will have some great things to learn.” Having said this, she left. Just hearing this, Yangtön Chenpo’s heart was overcome with joy and he neglected to ask where to find the lama. He waited for the woman to appear the next day but she did not return. After a week had passed, he decided that he could wait no longer and that he must go and find this lama.
Tibet to Mustang: Searching for the Lama
Yangtön Sherap Gyaltsen was the first of his family to leave Taktse Jari. He first traveled throughout Amdo and Kham for three years looking for Ronggom Tokmé Zhikpo, but did not find him. After that, he went to Central Tibet and searched for the lama there for three years, but did not find him. Then, he went to Ngari and searched for three more years, but did not find Ronggom Tokmé Zhikpo. Utterly despondent, he decided to return. When he reached Mustang, he ran into two men who were playing a game of dice. One of the gambling mantras went like this, “Never seeing the sun and moon, the yogi Ronggom Tokmé Zhikpo knows!” Upon merely hearing this, Yangtön Chenpo’s body began to shake. Thinking that it would now be possible to meet with the lama, he became delighted and began to laugh. But then he thought that maybe it wasn’t possible because even though he had spent nine years looking, he hadn’t found the lama. He then began to weep. He asked the two men where the lama lived and they replied, “Below, near Lowo Montang in a cliff of lu and demons, in the upper part of the valley. At this, he went to find the lama. Prior to their meeting, Ronggom Tokmé Zhikpo had a dream in which he was told that an emanation of Pangla Namshen would arrive and that he should give him teachings. The next day, Yangtön Chenpo finally met with his lama, Ronggom Tokmé Zhikpo, and began receiving profound instructions from him.
Teachings and Legacy
Tokmé Zhikpo gave Yangtön Chenpo the Upper Transmission of the Aural Lineage of Zhang Zhung. Previously, he had received both the Upper and Lower traditions of the Aural Transmission from Lama Orgom Kundrol, teachings and transmissions from the AH Tri Dzogchen from Me’uton Lhari Nyenpo, as well as many pointing out instructions. He had the good fortune to meet with and receive teachings from many lamas. At the Zangri Shar Monastery, he went before the great teacher of the Me’u lineage, Khepa Palchen, for a ritual cutting of his hair and receiving vows. He was known as a teacher who had received the signs of accomplishment for the full development of training in sutra, tantra and dzogchen. In modern times, that would be similar to the title of ‘Geshe’, ‘Lopon’ or ‘Khenpo’.
He settled in Gyal Zhug Dong Kar in Mustang, Nepal where he established a hermitage called Kyaru Gon. To some of his disciples he taught the Extensive Aural transmission of Zhang Zhung, to others he taught the medium-length text, and to still others he taught the condensed version of the Aural Transmission. These became three distinct transmissions known as the ‘Upper Transmission”, the “Lower Transmission”, and the “Intermediate Transmission”. He practiced wherever he went and exhibited numerous signs of his realization. With his third wife, he had a daughter and two sons. His sons were named Bumje Ö and Tashi Gyaltsen. They became lineage holders of the Southern Lineage of Transmissions which also included the esteemed Druchen Gyalwa Yungdrung who composed the widely used practice text for the Aural Transmission of Zhang Zhung commonly referred to as the Chaktri.
For many generations, both the transmission of the Experiential teachings of the Aural Transmission of Zhang Zhung, and the practice of Zhang Zhung Meri, had become separated from the transmission of the precepts of the Aural Transmission of Zhang Zhung into two distinct Upper and Lower lineage transmissions. Yangtön Sherab Gyaltsen reunited these two transmission lineages and out of kindness towards future students, he wrote down some of the Aural Transmission of Zhang Zhung teachings along with their commentaries. According to prophecy, his life span was to be 75 years long. However, it is said that writing down these secret teachings created an obstacle that caused him to die at the age of 63.
“Within a palace of great bliss where he resides,
is the all-knowing tulku with braids of hair,
prophesied as a mighty, victorious Lord, a realized Shen,
At the feet of Yangton Chenpo, I pray!”
From A Mala of Pearls, Invocation of the Yangtön Lineage, translated from the Tibetan by Raven Cypress Wood.
Raven Cypress Wood©2017
Special thanks to Menri Lopon Yangtön Trinley Nyima Rinpoche, head teacher at Menri Monastery, for sharing the ‘Yangtön Chenpo’ entry from his forthcoming Tibetan language Encyclopedia of Yungdrung Bön. For more on this invaluable work, please see previous post:https://ravencypresswood.com/2013/09/20/the-mighty-task-of-preserving-ancient-knowledge/
On March 8, 2016, the Yungdrung Bön temple of Deden Püntsok Ling, located in Dolpo, Nepal was completely destroyed by fire. This temple complex is located in the Sip Chok area of Dho Tarap and is commonly referred to as the Sip Chok Gompa or the Bön Tarap Gompa. The temple is run by the Yangton family and is headed by a Yangton lama. He is a householder and tantric practitioner. Responsibilities for the temple are traditionally handed down to sons, nephews or grandsons.
Because the head lama’s house is located some distance from the temple, the fire was not noticed until the flames were visibly engulfing the structure. Everything was destroyed. In addition to the many ritual items such as sacred masks and drums, the temple contained many old, handwritten scriptures. Some of these old scriptures had been written with ink of gold.
This village is a mix of Nyingma and Yungdrung Bön families. Although the Bön families are greatly outnumbered, there is a good relationship between the two religions. However, the Bön families have fewer resources to draw upon. One young member of this Yangton family received his geshe degree last year and is doing his best to organize reconstruction of the temple and restoration of the many sacred texts and ritual items.
In addition to the long range goal of building a new temple and replacing statues and thangkhas, the immediate urgency is to acquire enough basic ritual items and texts so that needed rituals and religious services can be performed for the villagers. The Sip Chok Bönpo community is very saddened by this great loss and are open to any support from the worldwide Bönpo sangha. If you are interested in aiding this recovery process in any way, please email Raven at RCW108@gmail.com and you will be given direct contact information for those organizing the restoration.