Category Archives: Tibetan Culture & History

The Power of Knowledge

A Yungdrung Bon monk challenges candidates for the geshe degree during a debate in the final days before the new geshes graduate. Photo Credit: Unknown

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.

All Rights Reserved ©Raven Cypress Wood

 

Yungdrung Bon Chorten

The Elegant Yungdrung Bon Chorten or Kolek Chorten. Photo credit: Unknown

For more information, see the previous post https://ravencypresswood.com/2014/10/08/the-elegant-chorten-of-the-yungdrung-bon/

Buddha Tonpa Shenrap’s Sixth Deed: The Deed of Emanating

sixth-deedAlthough Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche was already a fully enlightened being and therefore has no worldly lineage, in order to continue the royal lineage into which he was born and in order to benefit sentient beings, he had ten children.  The first born was his son, Tobu Bumsang.  Auspicious signs occurred during each of the births and all of the children possessed the major and minor marks of an extraordinary being.

His eight sons were:

  • Tobu Bumsang
  • Chebu Trishe
  • Lungdren Salwa
  • Gyüdren Dronma
  • Kongtsa Wangden
  • Kongtsa Trulbu
  • Oldruk Tangpa
  • Dungtsop Mucho Demdruk

His two daughters were:

  • Shensa Nechen
  • Shensa Nechung

His children were also his disciples and some were given the responsibility of being lineage holders.  Lord Tönpa Shenrap’s son Chebu Trishe was given the knowledge and responsibility for holding the lineage of medicine.  In that capacity, he is known as Menlha, Deity of Medicine.  His body is radiantly blue and he lifts a chakshing, or symbol of a double Yungdrung, to his heart level with his right hand and with his left hand he holds a healing plant.  As the source of the lineage of medicine, Lord Tönpa Shenrap is depicted as the Medicine Buddha with a similar body color and hand objects.  However, he holds the chakshing towards the earth.

Chebu Trishe in his aspect as Menlha, the Deity of Medicine

 

Spiritual Leaders

33 Menri Trizen with Karmapa

His Holiness 33rd Menri Trizen Lungtok Tenpe Nyima Rinpoche with the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje

Pilgrimage: Kongpo Bonri

Kongpo Bonri Photo credit: Unknown

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.

The supreme place, Kongpo Bonri

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.

Circumambulation route of Kongpo Bonri. Photo credit: Thousand Stars Foundation

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.

Ritual of Healing for the Community

Yungdrung Bon monks carry ritual torma offerings during a tantric ritual in Tibet

 

Future Scholars

Children reading texts at the Yungdrung Bon Monastery School in Sikkim

Increasing the Positive Forces

Raising prayer flags and tossing lungta papers into the air at the Yungdrung Bon Monastery of Nangzhig in Tibet. Photo credit: Unknown

The Eight Auspicious Symbols

The Eight Auspicious Symbols displayed on a shrine before an image of Lord Tonpa Shenrap at Triten Norbutse Monastery. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

In the Yungdrung Bön tradition, the Eight Auspicious Symbols are displayed in order to bring good luck and increase positive circumstances.  In the Tibetan language, they are called Tashi Dze Gye.  Each symbol has a specific meaning and energy.

endless knot 2 largerThe Glorious Endless Knot, Tibetan: Pal Be’u, symbolizes the interdependence of all things.  It also represents activities and knowledge.

Conch shellThe White Conch Shell, Tibetan: Düng Kar, symbolizes the far-reaching sound of the Buddha’s teachings as well as melodious sound in general.

wheelThe Wheel, Tibetan: Khorlo, sometimes referred to as The Wheel of Dharma, symbolizes the Buddha’s teachings.  Each aspect of the wheel such as the rim, the hub and the spokes all have meaning according to the context within which the wheel appears.

Golden fishThe Golden Fish, Tibetan: Ser Nya, symbolize freedom and liberation, as well as skill with handicrafts and power in the hands for healers.

LotusThe Lotus, Tibetan: Pema, symbolizes purification.

Victory BannerThe Victory Banner, Tibetan: Gyaltsen, symbolizes victory over all obstacles, as well as gaining happiness.

VaseThe Vase, Tibetan: Bumpa, symbolizes wealth and virtues.

paraso 2lThe Parasol, Tibetan: Duk, symbolizes being protected from suffering as well as prosperity and good luck for the head.

Spiritual Community

Yungdrung Bon monks gathered inside the temple of Menri Monastery in Dholanji, India.  Photo credit: Unknown

 

Discovery from an Ancient Kingdom

gzi found in Ngari region of Western Tibet

Zi bead found in Western Tibet. Photo credit: Unknown

Recently, an archaeology professor working in the Ngari region of Western Tibet, South of the Ganges River, discovered an ancient zi from a gravesite. This was the area of the ancient kingdom of Zhang Zhung.

The original article can be read in full at the Himalaya Bon Tibetan language website: http://himalayabon.com/news/2015-04-10/574.html

Iconography: Defining Space

Illustration from the book “Tibetan Thangkha Painting, Methods & Materials” by David & Janice Jackson

Before the artist begins sketching out the images that will appear on the thangkha, they must first determine the division of space on the canvas.  First, by using chalk lines and a compass, the true center of the canvas must be found.  Second, both the horizontal and the vertical axis must be established.  In this way, the artist can allocate space to the images according to hierarchy and the number of images that need to be represented.

outline guide for center and 4 directions for thangkha

Diagram 1: Common positions when depicting a central image and 4 retinue

Diagram 2: Common positions when depicting a central image and 8 retinue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These diagrams show the most common designations of space although there are variations.  However, even with variations, the position of the retinue in relation to one another remains the same.  The retinue are positioned according to their association with the directions.  In the text, the detail of the deities position begins with the center and is then listed the Bön way, or counter-clockwise, beginning with the East.  Referencing the diagrams above: 1=Center, 2=East, 3=North, 4=West, 5=South, 6=Southeast, 7=Northeast, 8=Northwest, and 9=Southwest.  Most often, but not always, the deities are the color associated with the direction.  East=yellow, North=green, West=red and South=blue.

The Deities of the Five Buddha Families

Here, the deities of the Five Buddha Families are positioned according to diagram 1 above.  In the center is the Enlightened One, Künang Kyapa and consort.  In the east is the Enlightened One, Salwa Rangjung and consort.  In the north is the Enlightened One, Gélha Garchuk and consort.  In the west is the Enlightened One, Jedrak Ngomé and consort.  And in the south is the Enlightened One, Gawa Döndrup and consort.

Direct Descendants of the Enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché

Over 18, 000 years ago, in the ancient realm of Olmo Lungrik, the founder of the Yungdrung Bön spiritual tradition was born.  The enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche was born into the human realm as a prince.  He later adopted the life as a monastic in order to display the path of renunciation to his followers.  However, prior to this, he was married and had sons and daughters.  The direct descendants of this Shen lineage have continued until this very day.  Currently, there are two sons who are direct descendants of Lord Tönpa Shenrap.

Heir to the Shen Lineage, Tsukpu Namdrol Rinpoche, during a visit to the Yungdrung Bon monastery of Gangru Dargye located in Khyungpo, Tibet

Lamas of the Shen lineage

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

In November of 2014, His Holiness, the supreme 33rd Menri Trizen Lungtok Tenpé Nyima offered prayers to both descendants.

Shen Tsukpu Namdrol Rinpoche

Shen Tsukpu Namdrol Gyaltsen Rinpoche

prayer to Shen Tsukpu namdrol Gyaltsen written by 33 Menri trizen 2

Prayer of Stability for the Shen Heir, the Supreme Tsukpu Namdrol Gyaltsen

EMAHO!

Highest praise for the best of crown ornaments,

   Storehouse of the ocean of sutra, tantra and unsurpassed division of teachings,

From the proper understanding of the profound meaning of the innermost essence,

May the victory banner of liberation and realization be established!

Murik Shen Yungdrung Nyima

Murik Shen Yungdrung Rangdrol Nyima Rinpoche

Shen prayer to Yungdrung Nyima

Prayer for the Shen Heir, the Supreme Murik Shen Yungdrung Rangdrol Nyima

EMAHO!

Essence of the king of doctrines, the supreme Yungdrung Bön,

Distilled essence of the teachings of renunciation, transformation and liberation,

Having raised a stronghold through the dynamic energy of self-liberated awareness,

May the sun disc of realization and liberation eternally appear!

Composed by 33rd Menri Trizen Luntok Tenpé Namdak Rinpoche on the Western date of 11/26/2014

Translated by Raven Cypress Wood

The original article first appeared on the Tibetan language website Himalayan Bön and can be viewed here: http://www.himalayabon.com/article/poem/2015-01-02/518.html

Prayers for Good Luck

Yungdrung Bon Monks performing the lha sang, or offering of purifying smoke ritual.  This ritual is traditionally performed during the Tibetan New Year’s celebrations.  In 2015, that will be February 19th.  Photo credit: Unknown

 

Accumulating Virtue

A Yungdrung Bon nun in Tibet circumambulates the temple. Photo credit: ©2007 Mary Ellen McCourt

 

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.”

Raven Cypress Wood© All Rights Reserved

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The Precious Spiritual Guide

His Eminence Menri Lopon Yangton Thrinley Nyima Rinpoche participating in a Yungdrung Bon offering ritual. Photo credit: Unknown

“The holy lama is the source of everything.  With body, speech and mind one should respectfully cultivate faith and zeal.” Founder of the Yungdrung Bön spiritual tradition, the Enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché

 

The Joyful Holiday Spirit

Monks in xmas hats

Spiritual Leaders of Our Time

HH 33rd Menri Trizen and HH 17th Gyalwang Karmapa at Menri Monastery in Dolanji, India 2013

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