Category Archives: Sacred Scriptures

Now is the Time

“Just like interested bees circle around lotuses that contain nectar, the faithful who have clear understanding circle around a genuine person who has good qualities.

Just like the nature of foul smells cannot remain near a sweet-smelling medicinal tree, conditions of harm and injury cannot remain near a person of good character.

Wise and excellent persons, now is the time to engage with virtue. If you do not plant in time, you will feel regret when the harvest is scarce.

If you practice according to the instructions now, then it will be impossible to have a disappointing result. Just like planting barley seeds, it is impossible for them to arise as any other grain.”

— Extracted verses from Good Sayings for the Stages of the Path written by His Holiness 8th Menri Trizin Sonam Yungdrung Rinpoche. He became leader of the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition in 1575.

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 Three Essence Mantras of Yungdrung Bön

3 Essence mantra on pecha edit

In the Yungdrung Bön tradition, there are three mantras that collectively embody the entirety of the teachings of the enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché.  They are commonly known as the Nyingpo Namsum, the Three Essence Mantras.  The Yungdrung Bön teachings are like an ocean.  There are 84,000 teachings.  These can be condensed into the Nine Ways of Bön.  These Nine Ways can be further condensed into the three views of sutra, tantra and dzogchen.  These three views can be condensed into the Three Essence Mantras.  That is why they are called ‘Essence’ mantras.  Practicing these Three Essence Mantras can bring the result of practicing the Nine Ways of Bön.  Even simply reciting these mantras with faith and devotion without understanding their meaning or individual practices can bring blessing and power to the practitioner.  During the preliminary practices which prepare the spiritual practitioner for further development and advanced practices, each of these Three Essence Mantras are recited 100,000 times.  It is common for even Bönpo laypeople to recite each of these mantra a minimum of 108 times every day.  During recitation of any mantra, it is proper to not engage in any other kinds of speech and to refrain from eating, drinking, coughing, sneezing, spitting or any strong expulsion of breath.  In this way, the power of the mantra is not lost or diminished.  Once the recitation is complete, it is traditional to blow onto the mala and therefore bless it with the energy of the mantra.  the practitioner can also blow the energy of the mantra recitation onto any areas of pain on the body, to the heart area, or onto food and drink.  To fully receive the benefit and blessings of reciting any of these Three Essence Mantras, it is essential to receive transmission for them from an authentic and qualified Yungdrung Bön lama.

Each of these mantras have their own practice and visualization.  They are also directly related to the three Enlightened Bodies: Bön ku-the Enlightened Body of the Ultimate Nature, Dzok ku-the Enlightened Body which displays all of the Perfected Qualities, and the Tul ku-the Enlightened Body which actually manifests as form.  Traditionally, the mantras are recited in this order:

SA LE O mantra carved into stone. Photo credit: Unknown

The Essence Mantra of the Bön ku:

AH OM HUNG A AH KAR SA LÉ Ö AH YANG OM DU

Because this is the Essence Mantra of the Bön ku, it is related to the dzogchen view.  This mantra is commonly called the SA LÉ Ö mantra.  According to the dzogchen teachings, it is said that if a practitioner is having trouble recognizing the true nature of their mind, it is suggested that they recite this mantra.  Although mantras are not like language in having a direct conceptual meaning, each syllable of each of these mantras has an exact energetic purpose and meaning.  This Essence Mantra of the Bön ku can be summarized as “May I recognize my own natural mind!”

The MA TRI mantra carved into a mountain in the Himalayas. photo credit: Unknown

The Essence Mantra of the Dzok ku:

OM MA TRI MU YÉ SA LÉ DU

Because this is the Essence Mantra of the Dzok ku, it is related to the tantric view.  This mantra is commonly called the MA TRI mantra and is also known as The Great Mantra.  This essence mantra embodies the energy of Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché and Sherap Chamma, the Wise Loving Mother as well as Buddha’s six enlightened manifestation in each of the Six Realms: hell, hungry ghosts, animal, human, demi-gods, and god.  These six manifestations of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap are known as the Six Subduing Shen.  Each year around the time of the Tibetan New year in Dolpo, this mantra is recited continuously, without any interruption, for 15 days.

The DU TRI SU mantra placed into a rock wall. Photo credit: Unknown

The Essence Mantra of the Tul ku:

AH KAR AH MÉ DU TRI SU NAK PO ZHI ZHI MAL MAL SO HA

Because this is the Essence Mantra of the Tul ku, it is related to the sutric view.  This mantra is commonly called the DU TRI SU mantra.  The first four syllables represent the Dershek Tsozhi, the Four Principal Enlightened Ones of Yungdrung Bön who are Satrik Érsang, Shenlha Ökar, Sangpo Bumtri and Lord Tönpa Shenrap.  The following syllables represent purification of the lower realms and protection from inner and outer negative forces.  According to the Great Lama Drenpa Namkha, if this mantra is recited and blown to the sole of the feet of a sentient being that is dying, it is pushing the being’s conscious towards the crown of the head and that being will not be born into the lower realms.  Also, if one experiences nightmares, reciting this mantra in the morning will dispel the negative energy.

In the Himalayan region, it is traditional for a Bönpo family to have one or all of these Three Essence Mantras carved into wood or stone and hung above the entrance to the home.  Carving these mantras into stone, printing them on prayer flags or wearing amulets containing these mantras brings immeasurable blessings and protection.

Raven Cypress Wood© All Rights Reserved

The Eight Freedoms & The Ten Endowments

monks seat with name

In the Yungdrung Bön tradition, when one is born into existence as a human being, it is believed to be a great opportunity to practice and develop spiritually.  Additionally, it is important to recognize and take advantage of having The Eight Freedoms and The Ten Endowments.

The Eight Freedoms

  1. Free from being born into a hell realm
  2. Free from being born into the hungry ghost realm
  3. Free from being born into the animal realm
  4. Free from being born a barbarian
  5. Free from being born as a long-lived god
  6. Free from being born with wrong views
  7. Free from being born in a time without enlightened beings
  8. Free from being born deaf or mute

The Ten Endowments

The Five Endowments Found within Oneself:

  1. Having been born a human being
  2. Having been born in a central region
  3. Having been born with all of one’s faculties
  4. Being engaged with a proper lifestyle that does not conflict with spiritual practice
  5. Having faith in the sacred teachings

The Five Endowments Found with External Circumstances:

  1. An Enlightened Being has appeared
  2. The Enlightened Being has shared the teachings
  3. The teachings still exist
  4. The teachings are practiced
  5. There are those who are kind-hearted towards others and share the teachings

The Five Buddha Families of the Yungdrung Bon

Salwa Rangjung and consort

Within the Yungdrung Bön tradition, there are the Five Buddha Families.  Each deity is associated with specific colors, hand objects, wisdoms, elements. organs, impure aspects that are purified, etc.  Here are listed a few of these characteristics along with a line of scripture from the prayer known to Western students as The Precious Garland, an aspirational prayer to support those who have recently died.

Salwa Rangjung is associated with the Eastern direction. This deity is yellow in color, associated with the pure dimension of the element of earth and the consort is the khandro of the earth element.  This deity is associated with Mirror-like Wisdom and the Yungdrung Family.

“When the energy of the earth element dissolves into the water…and the yellow light of one’s own self appears, may I recognize it as the enlightened dimension of Salwa Rangjung.”

Gawa Dondrup and consort

Gawa Döndrup is associated with the Southern direction. This deity is blue in color, associated with the pure dimension of the element of water and the consort is the khandro of the water element.  This deity is associated with All-accomplishing Wisdom and the Precious Jewel Family.

“When the energy of the water element dissolves into the fire…and the pure essence of the water arises as a blue light, may I recognize it as the enlightened dimension of Gawa Döndrup.”

Jetak Ngome and consort

Jetak Ngomé is associated with the Western direction. This deity is red in color, associated with the pure dimension of the element of fire and the consort is the khandro of the fire element.  This deity is associated with Discriminating Wisdom and the Lotus Family.

“When the energy of the fire element dissolves into the wind…and the red light of one’s own self appears, may I recognize it as the enlightened dimension of Jetak Ngomé.”

Gelha Garchuk and consort

Gelha Garchuk is associated with the Northern direction. This deity is green in color, associated with the pure dimension of the element of wind and the consort is the khandro of the wind element.  This deity is associated with the Wisdom of Equanimity and the Dharma Wheel Family.

“When the energy of the wind element dissolves into the consciousness…and the green light of one’s own self appears, may I recognize it as the enlightened dimension of Gelha Garchuk.”

Kunnang Khyappa and consort

Kunnang Khyappa is the central deity of the Five Buddha Families. This deity is white in color, associated with the pure dimension of the element of space, and the consort is the khandro of space. This deity is associated with the Wisdom of Emptiness and the Suchness Family.

“When consciousness dissolves into the base-of-all…and the intermediate state of clear light arises, may I recognize it as the enlightened dimension of Kunnang Khyappa.  Having recognized these experiences as illusory, may I awaken into the self-aware absolute reality!”

Translated from the Tibetan by Raven Cypress Wood

The Sixth Way: The Way of the Fully Ordained

Yungdrung Bon nuns in Tibet. Photo credit: Mary Ellen McCourt

Within the Nine Ways of Bön, the Sixth Way is the Way of the Fully Ordained.  Or, literally translated, the Way of the Straight and Righteous.  This involves accepting the renunciation vows of a monk or nun and living accordingly.  A novice receives 25 vows that form the basis of taking the further vows of the fully ordained.  For monks, there are 250 vows for full ordination.  For nuns, there are 360 vows.  According to the words of the enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap:

“In front of the abbot, the teacher and the witness, accept the vows with joy, faith and devotion.  Abandon the karmic tendencies of the three poisons.”

During Lord Tönpa Shenrap’s time in the human realm, he demonstrated the path of monastic discipline by becoming a monk.  At that time, he was known as Tritsuk Gyalwa.

Lord Tonpa Shenrap demonstrating the path of monastic discipline. In this form, he is known as Tritsuk Gyalwa.

“Don’t hate enemies or turn and go the other way.  Don’t be attached to friends and relatives.  Don’t cherish wordliness.  Body and mind should be single-pointed and at ease.  In your outer conduct, don’t act in an agitated manner.  In your inner ethics, don’t wander in to laziness.”

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Sacred Scripture

This old, illustrated scripture begins with the phrase, “In the language of the sacred Yungdrung…”

The Illustrated Scripture

Illustration of the Supreme Deity Sangpo Bumtri from an old Yungdrung Bon text

Sipa Sangpo Bumtri, Deity of Phenomenal Existence, is one of the Four Transcendent Lords of the Yungdrung Bön.  The other three are The Great Deity Shenlha Ökar, The Great Mother of Space Satrik Ersang and Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche.  These Four Deities are traditionally displayed together in every Yungdrung Bön temple and are often surrounded by the 1,000 Enlightened Beings.

The Forty Magical Letters of Zhang Zhung

 Over 18,000 years ago, the founder of the Yungdrung Bon tradition was born into a human body and was known as the Supreme Shen, the Enlightened Teacher, Buddha Tonpa Shenrap Miwoche.  He had many students and his teachings flourished in the ancient kingdom called Zhang Zhung.

This ancient kingdom included what is now Western Tibet and the sacred Mount Tise, also known as Mount Kailash.  The Zhang Zhung language includes forty letters, and  according to Yungdrung Bön texts, these ‘Forty Magical Letters’ were taught by Tonpa Shenrap Miwo. The two standard scripts were called Zhang Zhung mar chen and Zhang Zhung mar chung, ‘excellent capital letters of Zhang Zhung’ and ‘excellent lesser letters of Zhang Zhung.’ 

Zhang Zhung mar chen and mar chung samples

Above, a sample of Zhang Zhung mar chen. Below, a sample of Zhang Zhung mar chung. Both have the corresponding Tibetan script underneath. (Zhang Zhung fonts from the website: himalayabon.com)

The divine words of the Buddha Tonpa Shenrap were written down using this script.  Due to the murder of King Ligmincha of Zhang Zhung by king Trisong Detsen of Tibet in the 8th century, the Zhang Zhung kingdom fell and the power and influence of Tibet increased.  Therefore, the Zhang Zhung script was transformed and called ‘Tibetan’.  According to the ‘Far-reaching Lamp of Clarity’:

“Mar chen was changed into [the formal Tibetan] u chen script, and mar chung was changed into informal script.”

A Yungdrung Bon ritual text begins a section with “According to the language of Zhang Zhung Mar…”

Today, the titles of many Yungdrung Bön texts are written in both the Zhang Zhung mar chen script as well as in the Tibetan script.  Additionally, many Zhang Zhung words are found within the texts and even significant section headings are given in both the Zhang Zhung and Tibetan language.

The title page from a Yundgrung Bon text with the title written in Zhang Zhung script above and Tibetan script underneath.

For more information regarding the Zhang Zhung language: (all English language sources)

  • The Light of Kailash Vol 1 and 2 by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche
  • A Lexicon of ZhangZhung and Bonpo Terms edited by Yasuhiko Nagano & Samten Karmay
  • Zhang Zhung-Tibetan-English Contextual Dictionary by Namgyal Nyima

An Ocean of Knowledge and Wisdom

Personal Library of the Yungdrung Bon Sage Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen

Personal Library of the Yungdrung Bon Sage Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen

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