Category Archives: Five Elements

Happy Tibetan New Year

raising lungta at Nangzhik monastery

Tibetan New Year fumigation offering at Nangzhik Yungdrung Bön Monastery Eastern Tibet. Photo credit: Unknown

The first day of the first lunar month is the royal Tibetan New Year’s Day. In 2022, this date coincides with March 3rd. This is an auspicious day to arise early, put on new clothes, place new offerings on the shrine, visit temples and holy places, and to make offerings and pay respect to one’s spiritual master. It is a day for making aspirations and strengthening positive qualities. This year, due to the passing of Shensé Norbu Wangyal Rinpoche, the Yungdrung Bön community will observe but not celebrate the New Year. Rather, more time will be spent with spiritual practice and recitations.

New Year’s day begins with the ritual of fumigation and offering through smoke known as the sang, sang sol, or lha sang. This practice removes defilements and obstacles, delights the enlightened ones, and satisfies the worldly spirits. In this way, a foundation for harmony, positive conditions, and prosperity is created. For more information about this important ancient ritual within the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition, see previous post: https://wordpress.com/post/ravencypresswood.com/7924

“Having engaged in this sacred activity and prayer,

for us practitioners as well as our friends and companions,

please pacify obstacles related to our present circumstances and act to bring about supportive and harmonious conditions!

Support the success of our goals and intentions!

Eliminate harm and obstacles from bitter enemies!

Support the spread of the buddhas’ teachings!

Act on behalf of the happiness and perfect satisfaction of every sentient being!”

— From Sacred Smoke: The Ritual Practice of Fumigation and Offering in the Yungdrung Bön Religious Tradition by Raven Cypress Wood

Traditionally on the 2nd and 3rd days of the New Year, it is traditional to not work and instead to spend the days visiting friends, sharing food, and being joyful together. The 4th and 5th days are the celebration of the birth of His Holiness Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoche who is know as the second buddha. At this time in the monasteries, the main prayer flag for the year is raised and there is a return to strict monastic discipline after the relaxed celebratory atmosphere of the previous few days.

2022: Year of the Water Tiger

Thangkha depicting the Tibetan astrological symbols and their relationships. Private collection: Raven Cypress Wood

The twelve animals of Tibetan astrology according to the Yungdrung Bön texts are the Rat, Elephant, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Horse, Snake, Sheep, Garuda, Monkey, Dog and Pig.  Each animal has a specific element associated with its life-force and a position direction determined by that element. Each year one of these twelve animals is associated with one of the five elements of: metal, wood, fire, water, or earth. In other contexts, metal is referred to as space, and wood is referred to as wind or air. It takes sixty years for all twelve animals to be associated with each of the five elements. When this happens, it is considered one complete cycle that repeats again and again.

March 3, 2022 begins the Tibetan New Year and the Year of the Water Tiger. Therefore, people born on or after March 3rd will be a Water Tiger and will have an emphasis of the specific qualities associated with the Tiger.

The element which governs the life-force of the Tiger is Wood and its positive direction is East.  So, if a Tiger person wanted to strengthen their life-force, they would focus upon strengthening the element of Wood internally and externally. Their positive direction is East. So, facing this direction while meditating, doing healing rituals or just relaxing and taking deep breaths is beneficial.

In general, the Tiger is considered to be courageous, independent, unpredictable, artistic and passionate.  The Tiger tends to go after life with passion and daring.  Making its own path, it tends to gravitate towards unconventional lifestyles and avoids following traditions or social conventions.  The Tiger is a fierce and determined leader that can be quick-tempered and protective of its ego.  The Tiger wants to live life to the fullest in its own way, and without being told what to do.

The Tiger’s soul day is Thursday and the life-force day is Saturday.  These are the best days for beginning new projects and activities that are meant to increase or develop something.  The obstacle day is Friday.  This day is best for cleansing and letting things go.  It is not a favorable day for beginning new things.

Tiger years include: 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, and 2010

If you were born during a previous year of the Tiger, this year as well as other Tiger years are considered a time of vulnerability to obstacles. This same astrological principal applies for all of the other eleven animal signs during their associated year. Therefore, it is recommended to engage in practices that support vitality, good fortune and spiritual merit such as hanging prayer flags, having a soul and life-force retrieval ritual performed, restoring any deterioration or violation of one’s spiritual commitments or any damaged relationship with one’s spiritual brothers and sisters, and/or performing prayers and rituals to remove obstacles. In general, making an effort to engage more with virtuous activities of body, speech and mind and committing to engage less with non-virtuous activities is supportive. According to the words of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché, the practice of developing sincere unbiased and unlimited compassion is the greatest of all protections.

Although the associated elements to four of the five natal forces change according to the birth year, the element of the life-force is determined by the animal sign and remains the same regardless of the birth year. Therefore, it is possible to calculate the relationship of the year of the Water Tiger in regards to the life-force of each of the other natal animals without having knowledge of the specific birth year.

The influence of the Water Tiger year on the life-force of each of the Tibetan astrological signs:

  • Rat: Neutral
  • Elephant: Very bad
  • Tiger: Bad
  • Rabbit: Bad
  • Dragon: Very bad
  • Snake: Excellent
  • Horse: Excellent
  • Sheep: Very bad
  • Monkey: Very good
  • Garuda: Very good
  • Dog: Very bad
  • Pig: Neutral

For each of these animal signs, there remains the four other natal constituents to consider in order to have a better idea of the influence that 2022 will have upon the individual. For example, although the life-force calculation could be bad, the calculations for health, personal power, lungta, and soul could be excellent. Traditionally, these calculations are done yearly.

If the yearly horoscope calculations result in any challenging aspects, preventive measures can be taken in order to remove or at least decrease the potential for any problems to manifest. Common methods used to eliminate these obstacles are hanging prayer flags, rituals to reverse negativity, making or renewing spiritual commitments, pilgrimage, making charitable donations, and so on.

According to the words of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché, the practice of developing sincere, unbiased and unlimited compassion is the greatest of all protections, and avoiding non-virtue and engaging more with virtue supports all of the natal forces to be strong and balanced.

A common prayer within the Yungdrung Bön tradition that is used to remove obstacles is the Bar Che Lam Sel, The Spontaneous Wish-fulfillment of Removing Obstacles from the Path. The English, Spanish and Portuguese translations of this prayer are offered free for personal use on the Nine Ways Publications page. Click on the Publications tab above and scroll down to find the download link for the prayer.

Geshe Yongdong Losar. Photo: Courtesy of Sherab Chamma Ling

For those interested in a traditional Tibetan astrological horoscope to calculate the influence of 2022 on each of their natal constituents of life-force, health, personal power, lungta and soul, Geshe Yongdong Losar of Sherab Chamma Ling in British Columbia, Canada offers Tibetan astrological horoscopes through his website. Follow this link for more information about Geshe Yongdong and his astrological calculations: https://sherabchammaling.com/product/astrology-reading/

Raven Cypress Wood© All Rights Reserved

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The Sadak Nye Lam Dé Zhi Ritual: Restoring Environmental Peace & Harmony

Mandala palace for the Sadak Nye Lam Dé Zhi ritual.

At Triten Norbutse Monastery each year during fourth lunar month from the 12th – 16th lunar days the Sadak Nye Lam Dé Zhi ritual is performed. In 2020, these dates coincide with June 3rd-6th. This ritual is performed in both monasteries and households throughout Tibet and His Eminence Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoché has established this ritual as part of the yearly religious calendar at Triten Norbutsé Monastery. It is more commonly referred to by its shortened name “Nye Lam Dé Zhi” and monks often refer to it simply as “the Summer ritual.” The literal English translation of “Sadak Nye Lam Dé Zhi” could be rendered as “the four kinds of shortcut to the sadak.” The term “sadak” means rulers of the earth and the ritual primarily addresses four specific groups of sadak within this broad category: 1) the lu [Sanskrit: naga] who are associated with bodies of water, 2: a subgroup of sadak that are associated with the earth and soil 3) nyen who are associated with open fields and the sky, and 4) tö who are associated with boulders and cliffs especially red boulders and rocks. The purpose of the ritual is to appease, restore and cleanse all the worldly spirits due to disturbances caused by humanity. Thereby, it restores harmony between us and heals the natural environment and its elements of earth, water, fire, and wind. The Nye Lam Dé Zhi text that is used for the ritual was discovered as a terma, or hidden treasure, by Pönsé Khyunggö Tsal in the 12th or 13th century at Mt. Tisé [a.k.a Mt. Kailash.]

The Nye Lam Dé Zhi ritual includes prayers of apology to the four groups of worldly spirits for disturbing them by cutting trees, interfering with the natural course of waterways, digging into the earth, destroying or moving rocks, and generally causing the destruction of the natural environment. Our manipulation and control of these natural systems causes imbalances and disharmony between the elements and becomes a source of disruption, illness and upset for these worldly spirits. Therefore, we are subjected to epidemics, droughts, failing crops, increasing violence and military conflicts, as well as natural disasters from the elements such as floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and landslides.

Namkha and offerings for the Sadak Nye Lam Dé Zhi. Photo credit: Unknown

Through their acceptance of our offerings and our heartfelt words of apology during the Nye Lam Dé Zhi ritual, we request that they stop causing or supporting the occurrence of epidemics, natural disasters, droughts, military conflicts, accidents, and misfortune etc. This ritual action combined with meditative focus has the power to pacify the vengeful and aggrieved minds of these spirits and therefore avert any further harm or injury caused by them. Additionally, these spirits will act to support and increase our prosperity, protect and increase crops and domestic animals, protect us from danger and accidents, and generally act on our behalf.

In general, it takes many monks for four full days to complete the preparations for the size of the ritual performed at the monastery. The construction of the dö, which represents the entire universe, begins with the creation of a sand mandala which is an architectural representation of the immeasurable palace within which the enlightened deities and worldly deities will be ritually invited to reside and stay during the ritual presentation of the offerings.

Yungdrung Bön monks creating the sadak nyelam sand mandala at Gyalshen Institute. Photo credit: Unknown.

In the center of the mandala upon four petals are the four seed syllables of the four principal enlightened lords of the Yungdrung Bön tradition: 1) Satrik Érsang, 2) Tönpa Shenrap, 3) Sangpo Bumtri, and 4) Shenlha Ökar. (For more information, see previous article: https://ravencypresswood.com/2016/08/20/the-four-principal-enlightened-ones/ ) Just beyond that is the four seed syllables of the four principal ones that subdue the four kinds of worldly spirits and the seed syllables for the four subduing garudas. Beyond that in the outer corners of the mandala are the seed syllables for the four kinds of worldly spirits which are the primary focus of the offerings and recitations. Beyond that are the four gateways in each of the four directions which are the entrances into the mandala palace. This palace is then filled with thread-crosses and torma that act as a support for the presence of the deities and worldly guests. It is then ornamented with greenery, grains, and other precious substances. Surrounding it are the various offerings that will be presented.

The actual ritual begins with the usual preliminaries which purify and consecrate all of the offerings, ritual implements and participants. Then, a brief ritual is performed in order to ask the earth goddess, Sayi Lhamo, for her permission and blessing to perform the Sadak Nye Lam Dé Zhi. Then, a ritual boundary is established that will remain until the conclusion of the ritual. These preliminaries are only necessary at the beginning and will not be performed again in the following days. After the preliminaries, the enlightened deities are invited to take their seats within the mandala palace, their respective mantras are recited and offerings are presented to them. Similarly, the subduers and the worldly spirits are invited. This too only needs to be performed once. Now that the presence of the deities is within the mandala palace, no one is allowed to come near the ritual dö unless it is to present offerings or pay homage. Much of the rest of the ritual recitations such as praising the qualities of the deities and the respective prayers for presenting each type of offering are repeated throughout the course of each of the days of the ritual. In conclusion, the four groups of spirits having become completely satisfied and happy with the ritual are asked to return to their respective homes. Then, prayers of aspiration for health, happiness, prosperity and good fortune are recited with the final prayer being that of dedicating the merit of the virtuous ritual activity for the benefit of all suffering beings. During this multi-day ritual performance, the specific texts associated with the lu, sadak, nyen and tö [Lu Bum, Sadak Bum, Nyen Bum, and Tö Bum] are continually recited by groups of monks in ancillary rooms.

In addition to the elaborate ritual of the Sadak Nye Lam Dé Zhi, there is much guidance and skillful methods for our interactions with the worldly spirits within the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition. Following these instructions prevents us from disturbing the spirits within the environment or creating an imbalance of the natural elements while still providing for ourselves from the earth’s resources. For example, before beginning the construction of a building, it is important to examine the characteristics of the land in order to locate the appropriate place to dig into the earth. Traditionally, areas of land are seen in the form of a turtle. If you build upon the turtle’s ‘head’, then the spirit of the land will die and the soil will become barren and empty. The best is to build within the area of the turtle’s ‘stomach’ because there is more empty space in this area and no ‘major organs’ will be disturbed. Once the appropriate location has been determined, it is then important to communicate with the spirits residing at that location and to assure them that you mean no harm to them and that you apologize in advance for any disturbance created by the construction. In this way, we maintain a harmonious relationship with the environment and its inhabitants while also mindfully providing for our needs as human beings.

A ritual often used for groundbreaking is entitled Nang Sa Nang Gyé Düs Pa and referred to simply as Nang Sa, Permission for the Land. 

“AH OM HUNG

To the gods above, the lu below, and the nyen in-between, 

to the thirty nyenpo above, the nine kinds of yen töpo in-between and the eleven greater yen upon the earth,

to the local spirit owners of this mountainous area and to the eight classes of gods and demons of this isolated place,

accept this torma made of the essence of grain together with this golden drink.

Now, because of my melody and offering this precious torma, whatever my activities upon this land or wherever I travel in any direction upon this land, don’t become jealous or upset.”  

— Condensed extract from Permission for Using Land from the Eight Classes of Gods and Demons

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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The Immeasurable Benefit of Raising Prayer Flags

Yungdrung Bön lungta prayer flags available for a limited time from Nine Ways. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

Prayer flags originated with the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition and the teachings of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché.  According to the eminent scholar Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoché, in ancient times the Bönpo would blow mantras and prayers onto strips of colored wool. These strips of wool were then draped over the branches of bushes and trees. This practice eventually evolved into the kind of prayer flags that we are familiar with today. According to the modern-day saint Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoché, the very best size for a prayer flag is five arm spans,  the next best is three arm spans, and other sizes are acceptable as long as they are larger than the palm of the hand. Writing the prayers and mantras in gold or silver is the very best, using cinnabar is next best and writing with ink mixed with various medicines and the six excellent ingredients, or other blessed substances is the minimum.

Before being raised, prayer flags must be consecrated and blessed. Then, in the early morning or at least before noon, one must perform the practices of going for refuge, generating the mind of enlightenment and admitting wrongdoing and receiving purification. Then, the flags are hung outside where they will be exposed to the wind.  Preferably, in a high and clean place where they can be left undisturbed. Afterwards, prayers of aspiration and dedicating the merit of the virtuous activity are performed.  When prayer flags are raised in this proper way, the benefit is unimaginable. Some of the best days for raising prayer flags are during the 1st month of the lunar New Year especially on the 3rd day, on the auspicious lunar days of full moon, new moon, 8th, or 22nd, on the anniversary of the birth or paranirvana of a buddha, or whenever the sacred teachings of Yungdrung Bön are being bestowed.

As for the extensive benefit of raising prayer flags, it is said if they are raised atop a high mountain, whoever eats food or drinks water from that mountain or whoever sees the flags with their eyes, they will attain buddhahood. If they are raised at a sacred place, that person will definitely be reborn into a buddha land. In general, prayer flags support the fulfillment of the wishes and intentions of this lifetime and the attainment of buddhahood in a future lifetime. Raising prayer flags purifies negative actions of body, speech and mind. Even the most vile of actions can be purified when prayer flags are established in the proper way and with sincerity. Additionally, they can remove obstacles for the recently deceased. According to Shardza Rinpoché:

“After someone has died during the 49 days of the intermediate state, if 49 prayer flags are established, the deceased will certainly not fall into lower rebirths.”

As for the power of raising prayer flags,

“Raising 1,008 prayer flags is better than a shen of magical power erecting a buddha statue made of gold.”

Also from Shardza Rinpoché:

“It is said that if prayer flags are raised at the riverbank of a large city, the sentient beings of that area will attain buddhahood. In those places, harm from epidemics and poison will never strike. If they are raised at the riverbank of a retreat place or gompa, the virtuous practice and vows of any spiritual friend or advisor of that place will be renewed.”

And from Drupthop Atang Tsazen Rinpoché:

“Having written these secret yungdrung mantra such as the mantras of the buddhas, the 100-syllable mantra, the three essence mantras, or the six syllables upon cotton or tree bark; when it is exposed to the wind whoever among sentient beings sees it with their eyes will obtain a state of happiness.”

A windhorse carrying a flaming jewel.

There are many kinds of prayers and mantras that are appropriate to be written on prayer flags, By far, the most common type of prayer flags are raised to increase lungta. Lungta is sometimes translated as the force of good luck. It is the force that has the ability to uplift the other individual forces of health, vitality, charisma, and the soul. When the lungta is weak however, the other individual forces will become diminished. Lungta [Tib. rlung rta] means “windhorse” and it is this image that is depicted at the very center of the prayer flag. This symbolizes the incredible speed with which prayer flags can raise the lungta. Each of the four corners display one of the four guardian animals of the four directions: a lion, tiger, garuda, and dragon. Most often, prayer flags are grouped together as a set of five with each flag being one of the colors of the five elements. The elements and their corresponding colors are: earth=yellow, water=blue, fire=red, air=green, and space=white.

Lungta-type flags are not raised for the deceased since their primary activity is to strengthen and protect the health, lifespan etc. However, when raising lungta prayer flags, the merit of that virtuous activity can be dedicated to those who are deceased along with all other sentient beings..

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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The Twelve Animals of Tibetan Astrology: 2020 Year of the Metal Rat

According to Tibetan astrology, there is a repeating twelve-year cycle.  Each year is characterized by a different animal and associated with one of the five elements.  Therefore, a full cycle of the twelve animals being associated with each of the five elements is sixty years.  The twelve animals according to the Yungdrung Bön texts are the Rat, Elephant, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Horse, Snake, Sheep, Garuda, Monkey, Dog and Pig.  Each animal is associated with a specific element for its life-force as well as a specific direction which is determined by the life-force element.  Not only are these twelve animals associated with specific years, they are also associated with specific months, days and hours that attributed the characteristics of that particular animal.

Monday February 24, 2020 is the Tibetan New Year and begins the year of the Metal Rat.  Therefore, people born during this year would be a Metal Rat and would have an emphasis of the specific qualities associated with the Rat.  (It is important to remember that this year corresponds with the Tibetan lunar calendar which begins somewhere between February and mid-March each year.) In both the Tibetan and Chinese languages, the words for ‘rat’ and ‘mouse’ are the same. Similarly, the words for ‘iron’ and ‘metal’ are the same. So, it could also be referred to as the year of the iron mouse. However, because of the inference of meaning in the English language for these terms compared with the specific characteristic qualities they are meant to convey, it will be referred to as the year of the metal rat in this article.

People born during a Rat year will have an emphasis of the specific qualities associated with the symbol of the Rat.  According to Tibetan astrology, the element which governs the life-force of the Rat is Water and its positive direction is North.  So, if a Rat person wanted to strengthen their life-force, they would focus upon strengthening the element of Water internally and externally.  Because the positive direction is North, facing this direction while meditating, engaging in healing practices or just relaxing and taking deep breaths is beneficial.

In general, the Rat symbolizes prosperity because of their propensity to accumulate wealth and enjoy success. They can be generous with their wealth but they can also become overly attached to their luxury which can manifest as selfishness. The Rat is adaptable and flexible and can use most circumstances to their advantage. Because of this, they are successful with many of their objectives.

The Rat is colorful, charismatic and enjoys being around others. They can be generous and engaging, although these interactions can be motivated by a need to reinforce the ego and pride. Once they trust someone, they are sentimental and generous within the relationship and can be a trusted intimate. They appear smart and relaxed. However, when a Rat feels frustrated or betrayed it is important for them to rely upon their calm due to the possible reflex of aggression and revenge.

The Rat‘s soul day is Wednesday and its life-force day is Tuesday.  These are the best days for beginning new projects and activities that are meant to increase or develop something.  The obstacle day is Saturday.  This day is best for purification and letting things go.  It is not a favorable day for beginning new activities or risky activities.

Rat years include: 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, and 2020

If you were born during a previous year of the Rat, this year as well as other Rat years are considered a time of vulnerability to obstacles. This same astrological principal applies for all of the other eleven animal signs during their associated year. Therefore, it is recommended to engage in practices that support vitality, good fortune and spiritual merit such as hanging prayer flags, having a soul and life-force retrieval ritual performed, restoring any deterioration or violation of one’s spiritual commitments or any damaged relationship with one’s spiritual brothers and sisters, and/or performing prayers and rituals to remove obstacles. In general, making an effort to engage more with virtuous activities of body, speech and mind and committing to engage less with non-virtuous activities is supportive. According to the words of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché, the practice of developing sincere unbiased and unlimited compassion is the greatest of all protections.

A common prayer within the Yungdrung Bön tradition that is used to remove obstacles is the Bar Che Lam Sel, The Spontaneous Wish-fulfillment of Removing Obstacles from the Path. The English, Spanish and Portuguese translations of this prayer are offered free for personal use on the Nine Ways Publications page. Click on the Publications tab above and scroll down to the download links for the prayer.

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.

Don’t want to miss a post? Scroll to the bottom and click “Follow this blog.”

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