Category Archives: Tibetan Culture & History

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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How to Restore the Lifespan by Saving the Life of Other Beings

Azyl, a horse that was designated for slaughter, wearing the symbol of his protection in his mane after Geshe Gyatso performed the Tsé Thar ritual dedicated for the long life of H.E. Menri Pönlop Thrinley Nyima Rinpoché. Photo credit: Drenpa Namkha Foundation

In both the Yungdrung Bön and the Buddhist religious traditions, the ritual known as “Life Release” is widely practiced. In Tibetan, the short name is “Tsé Thar” which means “to save or free life.” The full name of the ritual is “Tsé Thar Tang Tap, The Skillful Method of Saving the Life of Beings and Setting Them Free.” Animals that are destined to be slaughtered for food or slaughtered for other purposes are rescued and then set free to live out the full length of their natural lifespan. A sponsor purchases the animals, has the appropriate rituals performed, and then releases the animals back into their natural environment. In the Himalayas, this practice is commonly performed for domestic herding animals or for fish. Herding animals are marked with a special tag or sign that indicates their protected status.

H.H. 34th Menri Trizin, Latri Kenpo Nyima Dakpa Rinpoché, and Khenpo Nyima Künchap Rinpoché performing the Tsé Thar ritual for a fish release. Photo credit: Angel R. Torres

The human lifespan can be weakened or cut unnaturally short due to the seeds of our negative karma meeting with secondary conditions and resulting in accidents, ill health and disease. In the same way, the seeds of our positive karma meeting with secondary conditions such as participating in the life release ritual brings results such as restoring our natural lifespan and removing obstacles that could cause accidents, illness or disease.

The Tsé Thar ritual is specifically used to restore and protect the lifespan. Traditionally, it is performed during the obstacle years during the ages of 1, 9, 13, 25, 37, 49, 61, 73 and 81, when someone is seriously ill in order to reverse any negative circumstances contributing to the illness, and it is performed in order to protect and extend the longevity of loved ones, spiritual teachers, etc.

In this way, the life release ritual not only benefits the animals that are rescued, it also benefits the sponsors, those performing the ritual, and those for whom the ritual is dedicated. Additionally, the ritual is a practice of the two accumulations of merit and wisdom, it develops our compassion and loving kindness, and it develops generosity and purifies greed through the act of giving safety and protection.

Azyl at his sanctuary. Photo credit: Drenpa Namkha Foundation

In 2018, a group of H.E. Menri Pönlop Thrinley Nyima Rinpoché’s students raised funds in order to rescue Azyl, a beautiful older horse that was destined to be slaughtered. He was moved to an animal sanctuary, the Tsé Thar ritual was performed and Azyl was given a symbolic badge of protection. Later, the Tsé Thar ritual was performed for all of the other animals living at the sanctuary. Azyl continues to live out his life at the sanctuary while being fed and cared for with funds donated by the worldwide Yungdrung Bön community. Some of these students have formed the Drenpa Namkha Foundation which funds Azyl’s care. Anyone can either be a one-time sponsor or ongoing sponsor of Azyl’s life release and dedicate that sponsorship for the longevity of one’s self, a loved one, or a spiritual teacher. Donations can easily be made through this link: http://drenpa-namkha.org/en/423/  You can contact the Drenpa Namkha Foundation here: e-mail kontakt@drenpa-namkha.org

“Through the blessings of saving the lives of these beings and setting them free, may the lifespan be undiminished!
May the lifespan be long!
May joy and happiness be accumulated!
May power and riches spread and flourish!
You, animals whose lives have been saved, having attained a precious human body in the future,
May you have the good fortune to practice the Yungdrung Bön!”

— Extract from The Skillful Method of Saving the Life of Beings and Setting Them Free

The ritual itself begins with the preliminary practices of cleansing with water and smoke, setting a boundary, going for refuge, generating compassion and the intention of enlightenment, as well as the admission of wrongdoing and purification. The main part of the Tsé Thar ritual begins with specific mantras to generate the power of longevity and then a blessing and consecration. After that, the animals receive the empowerment of the sacred syllable ‘A.’ In conclusion, prayers of aspiration, good fortune, and dedication are recited. To indicate that the animals are forever protected, a sacred badge containing the mantric syllables of the wisdom deity is affixed to the animals. In this way, animals destined for slaughter are forever protected and allowed to live out their natural lifespan while also having received sacred blessings and a connection to the teachings so that their future rebirth with be positive and they will have the opportunity to engage in spiritual practice.

Azyl after his life release ritual. Photo credit: Drenpa Namkha Foundation

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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Losar Tashi Delek Pün Sum Tsok! Happy Tibetan New Year!

Today begins the year of the Metal Rat.  For more information, see previous post: https://ravencypresswood.com/2020/02/01/the-twelve-animals-of-tibetan-astrology-the-rat/

Traditionally, today is spent either at home or visiting monasteries to make offerings or perform religious practice. Tomorrow begins a time of visiting friends and sharing with them all of the special food for the holiday. The 1st month of the new year is especially good for activities that strengthen and develop the positive forces that support health, success and harmony. Hanging prayer flags is one such activity.

Nine Ways is offering special Yungdrung Bön prayer flags. For more information about the benefit of prayer flags or to place an order, see previous post: https://ravencypresswood.com/2020/02/15/the-immeasurable-benefit-of-raising-prayer-flags/

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The Lotus Hat of the Yungdrung Bön

Religious festival at Menri Monastery 2015. Photo credit: Unknown

Within the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition, the lotus hat is worn by those who have received the full ordination of a renunciant. The shape of the hat resembles a full, blue lotus. In general, it represents the purity of perfecting the rules of completely pure discipline. It is surrounded by either four, six or eight lotus petals that represent purification throughout the four directions. The thread which holds the lotus petals to the hat represents the activity of subduing throughout the intermediate directions. The twenty-five pleats represent the enlightened state of the five buddha families. At the crown of the head, there is an opening to attach the crown ornament which extends from the hat towards the sky.

Tönpa Tritsuk Gyalwa.

The founder of the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition, Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche showed the path of renunciation by becoming a monk at the age of 31. This was his ninth deed. (For more information about the Buddha’s ninth deed, see previous article: https://ravencypresswood.com/2017/06/24/buddha-tonpa-shenraps-ninth-deed/ ) At his ordination, the six kinds of garments for a Yungdrung Bön renunciant fell from the sky. One of these garments was the lotus hat.

HE Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche wearing a lotus hat with the strips of cloth hidden underneath. Photo credit: Unknown

The long, thin strips of cloth that hang from the base of the hat near the ears are not mentioned within the texts. Therefore, the esteemed Yungdrung Bön spiritual master and scholar His Eminence Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche has stated that although it has become traditional to add them to the hat, they are not needed. Because of this, he sometimes takes these strips of cloth and places them inside the hat before putting it on.

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 Fifth Way: In the Service of Virtue

Central Figure of the Tibetan Thangkha Painting Related to The Fifth Way

Within the Nine Ways of Bön, the Fifth Way is called The Way of the Virtuous Lay Practitioners and specifies the proper conduct and commitments of a lay person taking vows. This Fifth Way is the first of the Nine Ways classified as ‘Ways of the Result’ or ‘Bön of the Fruit.’ In the Tibetan language, a lay practitioner is called ‘gen nyen’ [Tib. dge bsnyen] which literally translates as ‘one who serves virtue’ or ‘one who draws near to virtue.’ When asked the meaning of these concepts, the enlightened all-knowing teacher, Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwo answered,

“Virtuous means without negative actions. This is one who is committed to serve virtue through their body, speech and mind. Service means serving without holding contradictory views and properly remaining steadfast in service to virtue.”

In general, the lay practitioner commits to practicing the ten virtuous actions and renounces the ten non-virtuous actions of body, speech and mind.  Buddha Tönpa Shenrap defines this kind of renunciation as 1) not performing the actions, 2) not requesting or encouraging others to perform them and 3) not feeling pleased that others have performed the negative actions. Similarly, one commits to 1) acting according to the ten virtuous actions, 2) encouraging others to participate in these activities and 3) feeling joy that others have performed virtuous actions. This is the inner practice.

The Three Virtuous Actions of the Body:

  1. Rather than killing, protecting the life of other beings.
  2. Rather than stealing, practicing generosity.
  3. Rather than engaging in sexual misconduct or causing others to break their vows, keeping one’s own vows and respecting the vows of others.

The Four Virtuous Actions of Speech:

  1. Rather than lying, speaking the truth.
  2. Rather than creating discord, speaking in a way that brings people together.
  3. Rather than using hurtful speech, speaking gently and kindly.
  4. Rather than gossiping or mindlessly talking, speaking in a useful way or reciting prayers.

The Three Virtuous Actions of the Mind:

  1. Rather than coveting the possessions and accomplishments of others, being generous and open.
  2. Rather than wishing harm to others or feeling resentful, cultivating the desire to help others.
  3. Rather than holding wrong views, practicing the teachings of Yungdrung Bön and establishing a true and authentic view.

When asked to teach the outward form of the lay practitioner, The All-knowing Teacher, Tönpa Shenrap first instructed the gathered assembly to construct the first Elegant Yungdrung Chorten [Sanskrit: stupa] according to his detailed instructions. Once completed, he consecrated the chorten and then began teaching the outer forms and behavior of a gen nyen or lay practitioner.

Elegant Yungdrung Bon Chorten edit

The Elegant Yungdrung Chorten which represents the stages of enlightenment

The practitioner must go before a pure lama who guides disciples and take the appropriate vows. According to a commentary written by the 23rd abbot of Menri Monastery, His Holiness Nyima Tenzin Rinpoché:

“As for the vows of a gen nyen: There are five kinds of lifetime vows.  To abandon killing, to abandon taking what is not given, to abandon impure, wrong kinds of sexual conduct, and to abandon false speech are four.  Abandoning one of the four kinds of food is the fifth.  Some people have taught abandoning alcohol as a branch vow.

This is the gen nyen of completely renouncing according to the five kinds of established laws.  Because of that, the gen nyen of pure behavior has renounced the basic kinds of impure activity.”

As for killing, one must abandon killing in anger especially another human being. One must abandon stealing, especially when it is driven by desire. One must avoid sexual contact that is damaging or abusive, one must avoid harmful speech especially if it creates a division within the spiritual community, and one must avoid lying especially about one’s spiritual experiences and attainments. As for the fifth which is a branch vow, one renounces either one of the four kinds of food. In this context, the four kinds of food are 1) meat, 2) garlic, 3) solid food after the mid-day meal, and 4) intoxicants such as drugs and alcohol. Regarding drugs and alcohol, the deeper meaning is the renunciation of intoxication which is an obstacle to mindfulness and incites negative behavior.

According to Buddha Tönpa Shenrap in The Nine Ways of Bön,

“As for the lifelong inner rules, one must abandon killing due to the influence of anger, abandon taking what is not given due to the influence of desire or attachment, abandon acting secretly to get what one wants without consideration of cause and effect due to the influence of ignorance, abandon performing unclean work due to the influence of pride, and abandon rough and abusive speech, meaningless talk, and telling lies. One must apply one’s self to their opposites.”

The Buddha goes on to describe the outer practices.

“As for the five intermediate principles, one should perform pure water-cleansing rites, perform prostrations and circumambulations with devotion and aspiration, create and place tsa tsa, and offer torma. Presenting offerings is a branch of gathering the [two] accumulations.”

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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Offering Everything that is Good

Women of Lubrak, Mustang symbolically offering the entire internal and external universe to the places of refuge. Photo credit: Unknown.

“EMAHO!

To the great, unmatched lama possessing characteristics,

I present unequaled external, internal, and secret offerings.

Externally, I offer the environment and the beings within it.

Furthermore, I offer my own body and its vitality as an ornament.

I present these offerings with non-attachment.

Internally, I offer the arising of my mental and physical aggregates.

I offer my accumulated realization that whatever arises as subject and object is illusory.

Furthermore, I present these offerings within the vast space of self-liberation.

Secretly, I offer the natural radiance of my unborn mind, which is

unceasing and understands whatever arises as enlightened manifestation and wisdom.

Furthermore, I present these offerings within a completely vast and all-pervasive space.”

— Extract from Offerings for the Lama

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 Monastery of Blissful Meditation: Déden Samten Ling

Samling Temple complex. Photo credit: Unknown

The high altitude temple of Déden Samten Ling, or simply Samling, has been significant in the preservation of the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition.  The main temple was established more than 900 years ago by Yangtön Gyaltsen Rinchen in a remote and mountainous region of Dolpo, Nepal near the Tibetan border.  Since that time, this monastery, as well as others in Dolpo, has been maintained by a hereditary line of lamas within the Yangtön family. (For more information about the prestigious Yangtön family lineage, see previous post: https://ravencypresswood.com/2017/05/27/yangton-sherap-gyaltsen/)

map of dolpo copy

According to a text of the Yangton family lineage, some time during the 13th century Yangtön Gyaltsen Rinchen was staying near Mt. Tisé in Western Tibet (a.k.a. MT. Kailash) when he was visited in a dream by the Bönpo sage and great lama Drenpa Namkha.   The Yangtön lama was instructed to travel to Dolpo and build a temple.  Traveled the distance to Dolpo and having searched throughout its rugged terrain, Yangtön Gyaltsen Rinchen had a series of auspicious dreams while staying in the area of Bijer that convinced him that he had finally found the proper place to construct a Yungdrung Bön temple.

Chortens of Samling. Photo credit: Unknown.

Yangtön Gyaltsen Rinchen was the first of many Yangtön lamas at Samling who collected and preserved sacred texts.  Because of this, many volumes of texts have been throughout the course of many centuries. It was during a trip to Samling Monastery in 1961 that Dr. David Snellgrove discovered a copy of the Zi Ji, a hagiography of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap. He subsequently wrote and published one of the first English language translations of a Yungdrung Bön text, The Nine Ways of Bön.  The Zi Ji text that he consulted for his translation was estimated to be approximately 400 years old.

Left: H.E. Menri Ponlop Yangtön Thrinley Nyima Rinpoche, Center: H.H. 33rd Menri Trizin Rinpoche, Right: Yangtön Lama Sherap Tenzin Rinpoche. Photo credit: Unknown.

Currently, Lama Sherap Tenzin Rinpoche is the head of the monastery.  He was born in 1953 and has received extensive religious training and has been trained in the science of Tibetan medicine.

The Sharp Point of Wisdom

Monks debating at Nangzhig Monastery. Photo credit: Unknown

Fire Offering for the Holy Physical Remains of a Realized Being

Some of the many Fire Offering Ritual items to be burned with the holy remains. Photo credit: Menri Monastery

During the early morning hours of October 2, 2017, the holy physical remains of His Holiness 33rd Menri Trizen Lungtok Tenpé Nyima Rinpoche will be cremated during an elaborate fire offering ritual at Menri Monastery in Dolanji, India. For the past five days, concluding at 3:30 a.m. prior to the beginning of the actual cremation ceremony, the monks have been performing the Kün Rik Le Zhi Gyü Nga, The Full Cycle of the Four Activities and the Five Tantras with cycles for each of the four kinds of enlightened activity which are classified as peaceful, expansive, powerful and wrathful.

Cremation chorten for HH 33rd Menri Trizen Rinpoche at Menri Monastery. Photo credit: Lee Hartline

In preparation for the cremation, a special cremation chorten has been constructed near the gompa and the butter lamp house. This cremation chorten (Sanskrit: stupa), built under the guidance of Khedup Gyatso who is a treasure of knowledge in the Yungdrung Bön community and a relative of His Holiness 33rd Menri Trizen Rinpoche, will be where the holy remains will be taken for cremation. This chorten has been constructed exactly to the dimensions of the sand mandalas of the Kün Rik cycle that will be burned with the holy remains. After the cremation ash has been collected, this chorten will be torn down.

Extensive offerings for the fire offering ritual for HH 33 Menri Trizen Rinpoche. Photo credit: Menri Monastery

The Kü Dung, or holy physical remains, will take up to three hours to burn. After that, it will take an additional day to offer and burn the vast array of offerings that are housed inside the gompa at Menri Monastery. Everything is made clean through prayer, and cleansing with pure water and incense. Among the many offerings are prayers of aspiration that have been written in pure gold and silver and placed upon tall wooden boards that will be read aloud and then offered to the sacred fire. This vast array of offerings are not given as a support for His Holiness 33rd Menri Trizen Rinpoche.  Rather, his sacred activity of having attained realization is taken as an auspicious opportunity to generate great benefit for all sentient beings.

Prayers of aspiration written in precious gold and silver.

During the time of the Fire Offering Ritual, lay people continuously circumambulate the sacred site. It will take many days for the cremation ashes to cool. At that time, the monks will collect the sacred ash and also look for kü dung ringsel. These kü dung ringsel, or relics of the holy physical remains, can appear in the cremation ash of realized beings and take many forms including the appearance of sacred images on small bone fragments or small, pearl-like spheres. The cremation ash will be made into tsa tsa and placed within a special memorial chorten dedicated to His Holiness 33rd Menri Trizen Rinpoche.

Some of the many offerings for the Fire Offering Ritual dedicated to His Holiness 33rd Menri Trizen Rinpoche. Photo credit: Menri Monastery

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