Category Archives: Preservation

A Wheel of Sound

Dra Khor at the entrance to the temple of Triten Norbutsé Monastery near Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

Within the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition there is a style of poetry that is considered an advanced art and is often used to praise spiritual masters or states of realization. The poetic verse is written in a kind of graph in which each syllable is written within its own geometric space often in contrasting colors that form patterns or images. These syllables then intersect with other lines of poetry or verse. The arrangement of syllables must be made in such a way that they must make sense with each intersecting syllable.

There are easier and more difficult versions of this poetic style. The easier style can be read left to right and top to bottom. The more difficult styles can be read left to right, top to bottom, diagonally, and from bottom to top. This style of poetry is called Künzang Khorlo་or the short form Kün Khor, Wheel of All Goodness. However, it is also often referred to simply as dra khor, a wheel of sound.

Examples of dra khor styles created by graduates of the Gyalrong Dialectic School. Originally published at: https://www.himalayabon.com/news/2018-04-16/1250.html

The top image of a dra khor in this article hangs in the entrance way of Triten Norbutsé Monastery located near Kathmandu, Nepal. This dra khor praises the founder of Menri Monastery and the realized master who is considered the second buddha, His Holiness Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoché. The well-known “De Chen Gyalpo” prayer in his honor is featured within the yellow, diagonal squares.

“De chen gyal po kün zang gyal wa du,

mi jé zung den sherap ma wé seng,

dzam ling bön gyi tsuk gyen nyam mé pa,

shé rap gyal tsen zhap la sol wa deb.

 

King of great bliss, embodiment of Küntu Zangpo and Gyalwa Düpa,

You are like the wisdom deity Mawé Sengé,

Never forgetting what you have perceived,

You are the unequaled crown ornament of the Bönpo world.

At the feet of Sherap Gyaltsen, I pray!”

The first line begins with the syllable “de” inside the yellow square located in the top left corner and reads diagonally downward to the center. Moving the Bön way, counter-clockwise, the second line begins with the syllable “mi” inside the yellow square in the bottom left corner and reads diagonally upward to the center. The third line begins with the syllable “dzam” inside the yellow square in the bottom right corner and reads diagonally upward to the center. The fourth and final line begins with the syllable “shé” inside the yellow square in the top right corner and reads diagonally downward to the center.

When the top line is read straight across, the first syllable “de” in the top left corner now becomes part of the word “dewar” “blissfully” and the line praises the realization of Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoché.

“You are the very essence of the three bodies of those who have blissfully gone; with unobscured, exalted knowledge, you embody the entirety of Bön.”

Examples of dra khor styles created by graduates of the Gyalrong Dialectic School. Originally published at: https://www.himalayabon.com/news/2018-04-16/1250.html

To begin a dra khor, the number of boxes needed is determined by the number of syllables in the poem. Once a design is determined and the boxes are drawn, a single syllable is drawn inside each box. Each dra khor can contain either a single poem or multiple poems or verse relating to a single subject or theme. These dra khor are often placed in the entrances of temples as they are considered to be objects of auspiciousness and blessing.

Examples of dra khor from the collected works of Mawang Kunga Rangdrol Rinpoche.

Beginning with the first establishment of a Yungdrung Bön dialectic school in exile in 1978 at Tashi Menri Ling, His Eminence Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoché reformed the curriculum to include subjects originally taught in the renowned dialectic school of Yeru Wensaka and to also include subjects that were previously taught individually rather than as an organized part of the studies. In this way, he aimed to preserve traditional knowledge that was in danger of being lost. One of the subjects added to the mandatory curriculum was poetry. The current dialectic school teaches poetry according to three aspects: 1) style and meaning, 2) rhyming and meter and 3) symbolic meaning.

The complete Dra Khor inside the temple of Triten Norbutsé Monastery near Kathmandu, Nepal. 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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Yungdrung Bön in Mongolia

His Eminence Menri Ponlop Yangtön Thrinley Nyima Rinpoche officiates the opening of Thegchen Zhidé Dargyé LIng. Photo credit: Unknown

On December 19, 2019 a new Yungdrung Bön temple was officially inaugurated by His Eminence Menri Ponlop Yangtön Thrinley Nyima Rinpoche upon the request of its founder, Khenpo Menri Geshe Zöpa Gyatso Rinpoche. The temple is named Thekchen Zhidé Dargyé Ling, Land of the Great Vehicle where Peace and Happiness Flourish. On December 15th, His Eminence performed the rituals for consecrating and opening the eye for the new deity statues for the temple. On December 16th, His Eminence met with special guests and those who helped to establish the new temple.

The public looks on as HE Menri Ponlop Rinpoche officially opens the new temple in Mongolia. Photo credit: Unknown

Beginning on December 17th, HE Menri Ponlop Rinpoche gave the oral transmission for the practice of Sherab Jamma and Laughter of the Khandro to a gathering of monks and laypeople. On December 19th, His Eminence officially opened the new Yungdrung Bön temple, Thekchen Zhidé Dargyé Ling. In attendance were representatives of the Jonang Religious tradition, the Nepal Zhang Zhung organization, the Nepal Bönpo organization, and the Dolpo Tapihritsa School. After His Eminence cut the ribbon, the guests entered the new temple. Representations of enlightened body, speech and mind were presented which was followed by the ritual of the great lama Drenpa Namkha. After the ritual had concluded, each of the representatives had an opportunity to give a short speech.

Afterwards, HE Menri Ponlop Rinpoche spoke about the spread of Yungdrung Bön into Mongolia in the distant past. In 888 A.D., the Mongolian slave Sokpo Trel Lakchen received full ordination as a Yungdrung Bön monk from Muzi Salzang. At that time, he received the ordination name Tribar Tsultrim. Afterwards, Bön declined in Mongolia. Therefore, this is not the first spread of Bön into the country. However, through Khenpo Menri Geshe Zöpa Gyatso Rinpoche the Bön teachings are being restored in Mongolia.

He also relayed a message from His Holiness 34th Menri Trizin Rinpoche that he offered his full support and blessings and gifted the temple a golden statue of Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen. From Yongdzin Mawé Wangpo Rinpoche, the temple was gifted both scriptures and a large thangkha. HE Menri Ponlop Rinpoche gifted the temple a golden statue of the great lama Drenpa Namkha.

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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In the Language of Zhang Zhung: Gyer


The ancient land of Zhang Zhung had a written language with multiple scripts and practiced the Yungdrung Bön teachings.  Many Yungdrung Bön texts were originally written in the Zhang Zhung language and later translated into Tibetan, Sanskrit, Chinese, etc. as the teachings dispersed to other countries due to political circumstances. Each Zhang Zhung king had a personal Yungdrung Bön lama that would perform the necessary prayers and rituals as well as act as a spiritual guide.

In the Zhang Zhung language, “gyer” literally means “to recite or to chant with a melody” and it is equivalent to the Tibetan word “bön.” “Gyer ro” means “priest” or more literally “the one who recites” and is the equivalent to the Tibetan word “bönpo.” “Gyer pung” means “lopön” and refers to an educated lama who teaches the scriptures. “Gyer ngor” means “shenrap.”

Gyer Pungs Nangzher Lopo

The great 8th century scholar, Yungdrung Bön lama, and royal priest to the Zhang Zhung king was Gyer Pung Nanghzer Lopo. He is an important lineage holder of the Zhang Zhung Nyen Gyü, the Aural Transmission of Zhang Zhung. Among Yungdrung Bön texts, this scripture was protected by Gyer Pung Nanghzer Lopo and therefore never needed to be hidden due to the political persecution of the Yungdrung Bön religion. Because of that unique circumstance, there was never a gap in these teachings being handed down directly from teacher to student.

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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A Rich Tradition: Barlé Gompa

Murig Geshe Nyima Kunchap bestowing an empowerment of longevity at Barle Gompa 2018. Photo credit: Unknown.

A twenty minute walk from the village of Barlé in Dolpo, Nepal is the Barlé gompa 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.

Left: Barle Rinpoche Right: Barle Rinpoche with Geshe Künchap Rinpoche

The Barlé gompa 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.

The cave hermitage of Barle Rinpoche. Photo credit: Geshe Nyima Kunchap

A thirty minutes walk from the gompa, 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.

Recently erected chorten overlooking Barle village. Photo credit: Geshe Nyima Kunchap.

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.

Murig Geshe Nyima Kunchap Rinpoche with the residents of Barle at the newly erected chorten. Photo credit: Unknown

Both a relative and student of Barlé Lama Tsukphü Gyaltsen Rinpoche, Murig Geshe Nyima Künchap 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 Bön Society and founded the Dolpo Bön 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.

Geshe Kunchap Rinpoche leading the consecration ritual for the newly erected chorten in Barle village. Photo credit: Unknown

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.

Barle Tulku, Tsewang Rigdzin Gyaltsen. Photo credit: Unknown

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 Künchap has taken personal responsibility to ensure his well being and education.

Geshe Nyima Künchap Rinpoche and Tulku Tsewang Rigdzin Gyaltsen. Photo credit: Unknown.

 

A Chorten for Barlé Village

Chorten in Barle Village Dolpo, Nepal. Photo credit: Geshe Nyima Kunchap Rinpoche.

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 Barle stupa. Photo credit: Geshe Nyima Kunchap Rinpoche

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).

Geshe Kunchap preparing a ritual palace for the lu spirits. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

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.

Murig Geshe Nyima Kunchap Rinpoche. Photo credit: Unknown

Raven Cypress Wood ©2018

In the Language of Zhang Zhung: MU RA TA HEN

The Zhang Zhung language was a written and spoken language which predates the Tibetan language. In ancient times, the Yungdrung Bön scriptures were translated from Zhang Zhung into Tibetan, as well as many other language such as Chinese and Sanskrit.

There remains examples of the Zhang Zhung language throughout the texts. This Zhang Zhung language reference to Tönpa Shenrap Miwo, Buddha and founder of the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition, occurs twice within the commonly practiced one hundred syllable mantra.

The Five Divine Families of Bon

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.

The two sons of the Shen lineage who are direct descendants of the Lord Tonpa Shenrap

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/

Menri Monastery in Dolanji, India. The original monastery of Yeru Wensaka was founded by the Dru family lineage.

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.

Yungdrung Bon monks during a festival at Pa Tsang Monastery

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.

Teacher of the Me'u Lineage, The Saint, The Supreme Gongdzo Ritropa

Teacher of the Me’u Lineage, The Saint, The Supreme Gongdzo Ritropa

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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Future Scholars

Children reading texts at the Yungdrung Bon Monastery School in Sikkim

The Language of Zhang Zhung

Fire puja offerings photo Geshe Kunchap 2014 11These boards with mantras written in gold were created in order to be offered during the fire ritual of the Yungdrung Bön tradition,   These mantras are written using the ancient Zhang Zhung script.

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