Category Archives: Pilgrimage
The Yungdrung Bön monastery of Tarde Miyo Samten Bön Ling is located in Derge County near the Yangtze River in the Kham region of Tibet. The Land of Blissful Liberation and Unshakeable Bön Meditation was founded by Kunga Namgyal and, although the founding date is uncertain, the history of the monastery records seventeen subsequent generations to the present. Although the monastery was destroyed during the cultural revolution that began in 1959, beginning in the 1980’s it was rebuilt by the senior monks. The mountain directly behind the monastery is called Tsang Chen and is believed to be the home of the local deity.
In 2016, the monastery hosted the 5th Conference on Upholding and Preserving the Teachings of the Yungdrung Bön. A number of prominent Yungdrung Bön scholars gave presentations at the conference and there were also rituals and ceremonies to mark the special occasion.
In 1918 at the age of fifty one, Khandro (Sanskrit: dakini) Dechen Chokyi Wangmo revealed a terma, or hidden religious treasure, that contained the hagiographies of sixteen female realized practitioners. This was only one of many treasures that she revealed during her lifetime. Born in Nyarong Tibet in 1868, Dechen Wangmo began having clear revelatory dreams by the young age of seven. These dreams continued throughout her lifetime and often contained the location as well as the key to revealing many terma. A non-sectarian practitioner, she was a disciple of both Bön and Buddhist lamas including the greatly esteemed and realized Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen. Her main practice was Dzogchen accompanied by long life practices. She compiled a chöd text and composed spiritual songs, including a song of revelation while she was practicing at the sacred site of Kongpo Bönri. (See previous article https://ravencypresswood.com/2015/08/29/pilgrimage-kongpo-bonri/ )
Consort and spiritual companion to the terton Sang Ngak Lingpa, it was Dechen Wangmo’s dreams that alerted him to the location of many terma as well as giving the key for opening them. Traveling to Hor, the couple stopped by a lake whereby Khandro Dechen Wangmo retrieves the terma of a statue of Ludrup Yeshe Nyingpo as well as a sacred text from the water spirits guarding the lake. Having arrived in Hor, she is asked by the king of Hor to give teachings in addition to the teachings and empowerments given by Terton Lingpa.
She had her own disciples, some of whom compiled a hagiography of her which details her many pilgrimages, terma revelations and dreams and sacred visions. Her importance and realization was recognized by many lamas who wrote long life invocations for her. She and Terton Lingpa traveled extensively but their activities were mainly focused in the Amdo area of Tibet.
Khandro Khachö Wangmo (1940-1987) was considered an incarnation of Khandro Dechen Wangmo. She was the daughter of Kundrol Drakpa who was also known as Kundrol Humchen Drodul Lingpa and was a lineage lama and terton of Sar Bön, or New Bön. She was a realized practitioner and tertön who in 1986 discovered a small statue of Amitayus, a nine-pointed dorje and blessed khandro dust from the sacred mountain Kongpo Bönri in south-eastern Tibet. Her discovery was witnessed by the public and documented in an essay by Span Hanna entitled Vast as the Sky, the Terma Tradition in Modern Tibet which is included in the book Tantra and Popular Religion in Tibet by Geoffrey Samuel and Hamish Gregor, edited by Elisabeth Stutchbury.
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Within the Yungdrung Bön tradition, there are five ancient family lineages that are said to have originated with the gods and whose descendants have made profound contributions to the preservation and continuation of the Yungdrung Bön tradition throughout history. These Five Divine Families of Bön are the lineages of Mu-Shen, Dru, Pa, Zhu, and Me’u.
Foremost among these is the lineage of Mu-Shen, the lineage of Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche founder of the Yungdrung Bön tradition. His father was Mugyal Gyalbön Tökar, King of the Mu clan. Because Lord Shenrap introduced the Yungdrung Bön tradition, he was the first and the most high Shenrap or lama. Therefore, this began the Lineage of Shen. Much later in history, the descendants relocated to the area of Tsang in Tibet and became known as Shen-Tsang. These direct descendants of Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche continue to this very day. See previous post: https://ravencypresswood.com/2015/03/19/direct-descendants-of-the-enlightened-lord-tonpa-shenrap-miwoche/
The lineage of the royal Dru has two main branches: Sa Dru and Nam Dru. From the branch of the Nam Dru, the essence of all Enlightened Beings in the form of Özer Dangden descended from the celestial realm of Ogmin in order to benefit sentient beings. Perceiving that a demon was causing great harm to human beings in the area of Tibet, he magically rode upon his drum and was guided by a priest of the Yangton lineage. The king of Togar felt great faith in him and asked that he be given a meaningful name. Therefore, he was given the name Drusha Namse Chitol. He was called ‘Dru’ because he descended from the celestial realms. Drusha Namse Chitol went on to subdue the demon and convert all of his companions to the practice of virtue. One of the esteemed descendants of this lineage was Dru Gyalwa Yungdrung (1242-1290 A.D.) who composed the practice manual for the Dzogchen teachings of the Zhang Zhung Nyen Gyü. The Dru family founded many monasteries including the first organized monk college of Yeru Wensaka in 1012. It was destroyed by a massive flood in 1386, but rebuilt in 1402 by Nyamme Sherap Gyaltsen and renamed Menri Monastery. After the Chinese destruction of this monastery in modern times, Menri Monastery was rebuilt in Dolanji, India.
However, the Dru family’s influence and contribution in the Bön tradition have all but disappeared due to the recognition of two Panchen lamas in the family. The first, Pachen Lozang Yeshe 1663-1737, was recognized by the Fifth Dalai Lama as a way to establish the reincarnation lineage of Panchen lamas. At the same time, the Fifth Dalai Lama encouraged the family to continue to practice their own religion. When the second reincarnation, Panchen Tenpa’i Wangchuk, was recognized within the same family lineage, the Dru family seat was incorporated into the estate of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, the traditional monastery of the Panchen lamas.
The lineage of the holy Pa began with Lha Bu Pa Wa who was the son of Sangpo Bumtri, one of the Four Transcendent Lords of Yungdrung Bön. He descended to the god realm and turned the wheel of Bön. From there, he descended into the land of Zhang Zhung and went to a crystal cave on Mt. Tisé (Mt. Kailash) where he meditated upon the yidam Zhang Zhung Meri for three years. There are many esteemed lamas in this lineage including the Thirteen Excellent Pa Lamas who were located in Western Tibet. Later, their descendants migrated to the Amdo area of Eastern Tibet in the region of the Hor Ye Tha clan. Here, the Pa Tsang Monastery, formally known as Pa Tsang Gön Yungdrung Rabten Ling, was established in 1847 by Patön Yungdrung Namzang. The monastery contains many murals of Yungdrung Bön deities and protectors. Presently, the monks of Pa Tsang Gön are known for their expertise in their twice annual sacred cham dances.
One of the most renowned descendants of the Zhu family lineage is the holy lama Zhu Ye Lekpo. Born into the divine Zhu family, he heard of the Great Shen who had discovered Bön texts and who was the catalyst for a resurgence of the Yungdrung Bön tradition. This Great Shen was Shenchen Luga. Zhu Ye Lekpo went to Shenchen Luga and requested teachings. Shenchen Luga tested his faith by having him act as an attendant for eight years before giving him any teachings or transmissions. However, Zhu Ye Lekpo became Shenchen Luga’s main disciple and responsible for the dzogchen teachings and practice. He founded Ri Zhing Monastery in the eleventh century. This monastery became very famous. At one time, the Tibetan government donated to it more than a dozen estates and it housed over three hundred monks. It was completely destroyed during the Chinese cultural revolution. In the 1980’s, members of the Zhu family began restoring one of the hermitages connected with the monastery. The descendants of the Zhu family now live in India.
The lineage of the Me’u family began with another descendant of Sangpo Bumtri who descended from the god realm and had two sons: the first was called Ma and the second was called Me’u. Me’u had a son who exhibited many miraculous signs and among his descendants in the divine Me’u lineage is The Saint, Gongdzo Ritropa 1038-1096, founder of the dzogchen lineage of A Tri. Although he was married at a young age, he was able to leave married life and devote himself completely to spiritual practice. See previous post: https://ravencypresswood.com/2014/06/27/the-saint-founder-of-the-lineage-the-guidance-of-ah/
Throughout history, these Five Families of Bön have had a profound impact on the continuation of the Yungdrung Bön tradition in countless ways including ensuring the continuation of teaching and lama lineages, building monasteries and hermitages, and in the commission of creating statues, murals, thangkhas and the printing of texts.
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In the Yungdrung Bön tradition, there are many practices that incorporate the use of a drum and sil nyen, or Bönpo flat bell. The drum symbolizes method. The sil nyen symbolizes wisdom. Using these two sacred instruments together symbolizes the unification of method and wisdom.
For more information, see the previous post https://ravencypresswood.com/2014/10/08/the-elegant-chorten-of-the-yungdrung-bon/
There is one sacred mountain in Tibet that both Buddhists and Bönpo circumambulate counter-clockwise, or the Bön way. That mountain is Kongpo Bönri, the Bön Mountain. Located in Southeastern Tibet on the Northern bank of the Yarlung River, Bönri rises to over 14,700 ft. In general, it is heavily forested. Circumambulation of the mountain takes three to seven days and tourists begin their pilgrimage from the Eastern slope of the mountain.
During his time as a human being, the founder of the Yungdrung Bön tradition made only one trip to Tibet. The demon Khyap pa was attempting to stop Lord Shenrap from spreading his teachings. First, he tried tormenting Lord Shenrap’s wife and children. When that didn’t work, he stole seven of Lord Shenrap’s horses and took them to the Kongpo valley in Southeast Tibet, hiding them beneath the castle of the king of Kongpo. Seeing this as an opportunity to introduce the Yungdrung Bön teachings into Tibet, Tönpa Shenrap followed him. Reaching the Kongpo valley, the demon tried to block his approach with a mountain. Pushing this mountain down with the power of his mind, Lord Tönpa Shenrap manifested another in its place for the future benefit of his followers. This was Kongpo Bönri.
Kongpo Bönri contains many holy and blessed sites. These include self-appearing sacred images and mantra as well as stones that are carved with the life story of Lord Tönpa Shenrap. At the center of the mountain is what is known as “The Heart of Küntu Zangpo.” Here, there are five caves that are blessed by the Buddha himself. Four caves are in each of the four directions with the fifth in the center. It is said that circumambulating the mountain and praying from the heart can purify negativity and defilements as well as bring a long life.
“EMAHO! The Mountain of Bön is praiseworthy of all gods and humans. It is exalted in every way like the sun and moon that illuminate the sky. Lamas, rikdzin and khandro are always gathered here. It has profound, sacred treasure and magnificent self-appearing letters and symbols. I pray to the supreme place, the great Bönri!
By circumambulating with faith and aspiration, compassionate blessings effortlessly come forth. Emotional afflictions, latent karmic tendencies and the two obscurations are purified. Meditation practice and any yoga that is focused upon has increased power. May we become masters of the vast expanse of space! And ultimately, may we realize the mind of Künzang that abides within!”
~Excerpt from Prayer to Bönri to Quickly Attain Blessings written by the 19th century holy woman and terton of Bön, Khandro Dechen Chokyi Wangmo. Translated from the Tibetan by Raven Cypress Wood ©2015.
Greatly kind lama, embodiment of all of the Victorious Ones, think of me!
I pray single-pointedly that my wish for the removal of all obstacles will be perfectly accomplished!
Extracted from the writings of Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche
Translated by Raven Cypress Wood