Category Archives: Tibetan Lunar & Religious Calendar

665th Birth Celebration of the Second Buddha: H.H. the 1st Menri Trizin Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoché

Shrine display at Menri Monastery honoring HH 1st Menri Trizin Rinpoche. Photo credit: Unknown

The 5th day of the 1st month of the Tibetan lunar calendar is the birth celebration of His Holiness the 1st Menri Trizin Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoché also known as the second buddha. In 2021, this date coincides with  February 16th on the Western calendar and is the 665th year. H.H. Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoché was a reincarnation of Yikyi Khye’u Chung, one of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche’s sons. He was responsible for uniting the three transmission lineages of sutra, tantra and dzogchen as well as founding one of the largest Yungdrung Bön monasteries in Tibet, Tashi Menri Ling.

Born in 1356 in the region of Gyalrong into the Dru lineage, as a child, he could recite mantra and read scripture without having studied.  At the age of ten, he decided to become a monk.  In 1387 at the age of 31, he entered the prestigious Yeru Wensaka monastery and eventually became its abbot.   During a journey to Eastern Tibet, Yeru Wensaka was destroyed by flooding and mudslides.  After returning, he searched the ruins of the monastery for artifacts.  He took these and established Tashi Menri Monastery further up the same valley.  It was now 1405 and he was 50 years old.

H.H. Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoché was known throughout Tibet as a great scholar and prolific writer on the many varied subjects within the Bön scriptures.  He also exhibited many miracles and signs of his spiritual realization.  Twice, he flew up into the sky.  During one of these flights, he burned his hat with the rays of the sun.

Nyamme Sherap Gyaltsen handprint

Nyamme Sherap Gyaltsen’s hand print in stone

In 1415 at the age of 60, he passed away.  His body levitated high into the air, but due to the many heartfelt prayers of his disciples, the body came back down.   During the cremation, rainbows appeared and an eagle circled three times around the cremation area before disappearing into the West.

Today,  Bönpos will spend the day with their eyes looking skyward.  If you are lucky enough to be visited by a vulture on this day, it is said to be an auspicious sign of having received the blessings of the lama known as the Second Buddha, the Unequaled One, H.H. Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoché.

Tibetan translations by Raven Cypress Wood

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

Tibetan prayer flags at Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

“May the life force and vitality increase!

May the body’s strength increase!

May personal power and influence increase!

May the force of good luck be well developed!

May the soul and prosperity increase!

May the life force, vitality, health, personal power, soul, and lungta be well developed!

May all lungta, soul, and prosperity that have been diminished become well developed!

Essence of the three jewels and a supreme rarity, kind root lama, please think of me!

May external, internal, and secret obstacles be cleared!

May these wishes bring the accomplishment of all goals and intentions!”

— Prayers from a Yungdrung Bön lungta prayer flag

Tibetan translations by Raven Cypress Wood

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 Tibetan New Year: Removing Obstacles & Making Aspirations

Ransom effigy. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

The Tibetan New Year, known as Losar, falls upon the 1st lunar day of the 1st lunar month each year. In 2021, this day coincides with February 12, 2021 on the Western calendar. In the weeks leading up to Losar both the monasteries and households are busy with preparations. It is customary to make many fried Tibetan cookies known as khapsé. These khapsé are offered to the shrine and also to guests during and after the Losar celebration. Wheat grass seeds are planted in small pots and the young green shoots are placed with the other offerings as a symbol of a good harvest in the coming year. Monasteries and nunneries prepare for the traditional sacred dances as well as the end-of-year prayers and rituals.

Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche with New Year khapsé. Photo credit: Unknown

In the monasteries, the extensive ritual of the wrathful yidam Phurba known as the Tro Phur gutor chenmo begins the ceremonial conclusion of the previous year. This ritual lasts for three days and includes many sacred dances called cham as well as elaborate rituals for removing any obstacles or negativity from the previous year. This important gutor ritual begins on the 27th lunar day and concludes on the 29th lunar day of the 12th month. The monastic gutor ritual concludes on the evening of the 29th with the removal of the main prayer flag from the courtyard. In 2021, these days coincide with February 8th-10th.

On the 29th lunar day, which is called nyi shu gu, all Tibetans clean their homes and clear their debts from the previous year. In 2021, this day coincides with February 10th. That evening, a dokpa ritual of turning back negativity is performed in each household. The family shares a special stew of nine ingredients called gu thuk. Although there can be regional variations, according to HE Menri Pönlop Rinpoche, these nine ingredients are meat, wheat, barley, rice, cheese, corn, troma (a himalayan root vegetable), salt, and water. Cooked with the stew are balls of dough which contain items that are meant as a playful divination that reveals the character of the family members who receive them in their bowl of stew. Rather than the actual items, the name of the symbols can also be written on a small piece of paper and placed inside the balls of dough. There is some variation of the items used but for example, whoever receives cotton in their ball of dough will have good health all year. Whoever receives chili is said to be sharp-tongued, and whoever receives the white stone is said to be a good-hearted person, but the recipient of charcoal is a black-hearted person, etc.

Everyone saves a small amount of the last of their stew to be used as a ransom offering for the negative spirits of the previous year. This ritual payment settles any remaining karmic debts with negative spirits so that they become satisfied and go away happy. An effigy is made which must include representations of each of the five senses. Along with the leftover stew, each person also makes a karmic debt torma. This is a small ball of dough that has been rubbed over the body from head to toe in order to absorb any illness or negativity. Then, the ball of dough is squeezed inside the hand so that each of the fingers make an impression. This karmic debt torma is placed on the offering plate with the effigy along with a piece of hair and a string from the clothing of each family member. A small candle is placed on the plate in front of the effigy and it is lit before the ransom is carried out by one of the family members.  Once it has been left in an appropriate place, the person leaving it must not look back as they rush back home.

After the offerings have been collected and before the effigy is carried out, a prayer is recited to formally present the offerings to the spirits and request that in exchange for the ransom, they not create any trouble. The following prayer is from the dokpa ritual of the enlightened fierce deity Nampar Jompa.

The fierce enlightened deity Nampar Jompa.

“OM

Come here, all you spirits who have a commitment to the teachings of the Buddha!

Come all gods, humans, and demi-gods, all spirits that cause harm or disease, all male and female demons. Without excluding anyone, all you spirits, come!

Accept this ransom torma which repays my karmic debts. Do not cause harm to this family or community and don’t create any obstacles to our spiritual practice!

Now, each of you happily return to your homes and listen to the noble teachings of the Buddha.

SO OM BA DZRA TRO TA SUM TRI GHA TSA YA GHA TSA YA 

NÖ JÉ JUNG PO A MU KHA RA YA HUNG PÉ

On the 30th, New Year’s Eve, the houses are decorated, the shrines are cleaned, and fresh offerings are placed on them. It is common for people to be up most of the night preparing for the next day. Even so, they get up early the next morning to perform a ritual fumigation offering and to make aspirations for the new year. The first spring water of the new year is considered very auspicious and it is common for people to go directly to the community well after midnight and try to be the first to collect water to offer on their shrine. Generally, on New Year’s Day everyone stays at home or only leaves home to go to the monastery in order to pray and make offerings.  However, on the 2nd and 3rd days of the new year, it is customary to spend the day visiting friends and extended family in order to strengthen the positive energy and harmonious bonds for the coming year.

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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Advice for Spiritual Practitioners from the Renowned 8th Century Master, Drenpa Namkha

20th Century mural in Bhutan depicting Drenpa Namkha.

“There are three things that a spiritual practitioner must have in order to attain the state of the Three Enlightened Bodies.

  1. The Seven Things to Meditate Upon 
  2. The Three Applications 
  3. The Three Detachments 

The Seven Things to Meditate Upon:

  • Impermanence
  • The difficulty of acquiring a precious human birth
  • The faults of cyclic existence
  • The truth of cause and effect
  • Compassion
  • Refuge and Generating the Mind of Enlightenment
  • Emptiness

The Three Applications:

  • Having understood the faults of cyclic existence, one must apply the practice of refuge.

    “Wherever one is born within cyclic existence, there remains suffering and misery. From that realization, may I gain renunciation!”                                                                                                                                                                                 

    — From An Ocean of Instructions Regarding the Teachings of AH by Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche

  • Having understood the truth of cause and effect, one must apply the avoidance of non-virtuous actions.

    “The infallible result of both good and bad actions is certain. May I be watchful about what to accept or reject!”                         

    — From An Ocean of Instructions Regarding the Teachings of AH by Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche

  • Having practiced loving kindness and compassion, one must act to benefit other sentient beings.

    “Without exception, suffering and misery arise from wanting happiness for only myself. However, a perfect buddha arises from the mind that focuses on benefiting others.”                                                                                                                                    

    —From Forty-three Trainings for an Enlightened Mind by H.H. the 22nd Menri Trizin Sonam Lodro Rinpoche, also known as Sherap Gongyal

The Three Detachments:

  • Having understood impermanence and the faults of cyclic existence, one should detach from this life.

    “When thinking of death, I am instantly without distraction, but then I become lazy and procrastinate. 

    How sad! Bless me that the realization of impermanence will arise in my mind-stream!

    Bless me to be mindful of death!

    Bless me to overcome deep attachment!

    Bless me that renunciation will arise in my mind-stream!

    Bless me to recognize everything as illusion!”                                                                                                                         

    — The Truth of Impermanence from the Aural Transmission of Zhang Zhung

  • Having experienced great compassion, one should detach from self benefit.

    “The sentient beings of the three worlds have the same nature as my mother and father. What benefit is my own happiness when they are suffering? Because of that and in order to liberate the limitless sentient beings from the ocean of suffering and misery, I generate the mind of enlightenment.”                                                                                                                                

    —From Forty-three Trainings for an Enlightened Mind by H.H. the 22nd Menri Trizin Sonam Lodro Rinpoche, also known as Sherap Gongyal

  • Having meditated on emptiness, one should detach from grasping things as inherently existing.

    “From this day forward, having recognized everything as self-energy and self-appearance, may I have no attachment to cyclic existence!”                                                                                                                                                                                       

    — From Aspiration Prayer of Giving and Receiving by Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche

Free, publicly available English translations of The Truth of Impermanence prayer and Aspiration Prayer of Giving and Receiving have been made available for personal use. For the links to download these prayers, go to the Publications page of this website: https://ravencypresswood.com/publications/

For more information about the great spiritual master Drenpa Namkha, go to this previous article: https://ravencypresswood.com/2016/05/06/practice-of-the-great-lama-drenpa-namkha/

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 Sadak Nye Lam Dé Zhi Ritual: Restoring Environmental Peace & Harmony

Mandala palace for the Sadak Nye Lam Dé Zhi ritual.

At Triten Norbutse Monastery each year during fourth lunar month from the 12th – 16th lunar days the Sadak Nye Lam Dé Zhi ritual is performed. In 2020, these dates coincide with June 3rd-6th. This ritual is performed in both monasteries and households throughout Tibet and His Eminence Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoché has established this ritual as part of the yearly religious calendar at Triten Norbutsé Monastery. It is more commonly referred to by its shortened name “Nye Lam Dé Zhi” and monks often refer to it simply as “the Summer ritual.” The literal English translation of “Sadak Nye Lam Dé Zhi” could be rendered as “the four kinds of shortcut to the sadak.” The term “sadak” means rulers of the earth and the ritual primarily addresses four specific groups of sadak within this broad category: 1) the lu [Sanskrit: naga] who are associated with bodies of water, 2: a subgroup of sadak that are associated with the earth and soil 3) nyen who are associated with open fields and the sky, and 4) tö who are associated with boulders and cliffs especially red boulders and rocks. The purpose of the ritual is to appease, restore and cleanse all the worldly spirits due to disturbances caused by humanity. Thereby, it restores harmony between us and heals the natural environment and its elements of earth, water, fire, and wind. The Nye Lam Dé Zhi text that is used for the ritual was discovered as a terma, or hidden treasure, by Pönsé Khyunggö Tsal in the 12th or 13th century at Mt. Tisé [a.k.a Mt. Kailash.]

The Nye Lam Dé Zhi ritual includes prayers of apology to the four groups of worldly spirits for disturbing them by cutting trees, interfering with the natural course of waterways, digging into the earth, destroying or moving rocks, and generally causing the destruction of the natural environment. Our manipulation and control of these natural systems causes imbalances and disharmony between the elements and becomes a source of disruption, illness and upset for these worldly spirits. Therefore, we are subjected to epidemics, droughts, failing crops, increasing violence and military conflicts, as well as natural disasters from the elements such as floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and landslides.

Namkha and offerings for the Sadak Nye Lam Dé Zhi. Photo credit: Unknown

Through their acceptance of our offerings and our heartfelt words of apology during the Nye Lam Dé Zhi ritual, we request that they stop causing or supporting the occurrence of epidemics, natural disasters, droughts, military conflicts, accidents, and misfortune etc. This ritual action combined with meditative focus has the power to pacify the vengeful and aggrieved minds of these spirits and therefore avert any further harm or injury caused by them. Additionally, these spirits will act to support and increase our prosperity, protect and increase crops and domestic animals, protect us from danger and accidents, and generally act on our behalf.

In general, it takes many monks for four full days to complete the preparations for the size of the ritual performed at the monastery. The construction of the dö, which represents the entire universe, begins with the creation of a sand mandala which is an architectural representation of the immeasurable palace within which the enlightened deities and worldly deities will be ritually invited to reside and stay during the ritual presentation of the offerings.

Yungdrung Bön monks creating the sadak nyelam sand mandala at Gyalshen Institute. Photo credit: Unknown.

In the center of the mandala upon four petals are the four seed syllables of the four principal enlightened lords of the Yungdrung Bön tradition: 1) Satrik Érsang, 2) Tönpa Shenrap, 3) Sangpo Bumtri, and 4) Shenlha Ökar. (For more information, see previous article: https://ravencypresswood.com/2016/08/20/the-four-principal-enlightened-ones/ ) Just beyond that is the four seed syllables of the four principal ones that subdue the four kinds of worldly spirits and the seed syllables for the four subduing garudas. Beyond that in the outer corners of the mandala are the seed syllables for the four kinds of worldly spirits which are the primary focus of the offerings and recitations. Beyond that are the four gateways in each of the four directions which are the entrances into the mandala palace. This palace is then filled with thread-crosses and torma that act as a support for the presence of the deities and worldly guests. It is then ornamented with greenery, grains, and other precious substances. Surrounding it are the various offerings that will be presented.

The actual ritual begins with the usual preliminaries which purify and consecrate all of the offerings, ritual implements and participants. Then, a brief ritual is performed in order to ask the earth goddess, Sayi Lhamo, for her permission and blessing to perform the Sadak Nye Lam Dé Zhi. Then, a ritual boundary is established that will remain until the conclusion of the ritual. These preliminaries are only necessary at the beginning and will not be performed again in the following days. After the preliminaries, the enlightened deities are invited to take their seats within the mandala palace, their respective mantras are recited and offerings are presented to them. Similarly, the subduers and the worldly spirits are invited. This too only needs to be performed once. Now that the presence of the deities is within the mandala palace, no one is allowed to come near the ritual dö unless it is to present offerings or pay homage. Much of the rest of the ritual recitations such as praising the qualities of the deities and the respective prayers for presenting each type of offering are repeated throughout the course of each of the days of the ritual. In conclusion, the four groups of spirits having become completely satisfied and happy with the ritual are asked to return to their respective homes. Then, prayers of aspiration for health, happiness, prosperity and good fortune are recited with the final prayer being that of dedicating the merit of the virtuous ritual activity for the benefit of all suffering beings. During this multi-day ritual performance, the specific texts associated with the lu, sadak, nyen and tö [Lu Bum, Sadak Bum, Nyen Bum, and Tö Bum] are continually recited by groups of monks in ancillary rooms.

In addition to the elaborate ritual of the Sadak Nye Lam Dé Zhi, there is much guidance and skillful methods for our interactions with the worldly spirits within the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition. Following these instructions prevents us from disturbing the spirits within the environment or creating an imbalance of the natural elements while still providing for ourselves from the earth’s resources. For example, before beginning the construction of a building, it is important to examine the characteristics of the land in order to locate the appropriate place to dig into the earth. Traditionally, areas of land are seen in the form of a turtle. If you build upon the turtle’s ‘head’, then the spirit of the land will die and the soil will become barren and empty. The best is to build within the area of the turtle’s ‘stomach’ because there is more empty space in this area and no ‘major organs’ will be disturbed. Once the appropriate location has been determined, it is then important to communicate with the spirits residing at that location and to assure them that you mean no harm to them and that you apologize in advance for any disturbance created by the construction. In this way, we maintain a harmonious relationship with the environment and its inhabitants while also mindfully providing for our needs as human beings.

A ritual often used for groundbreaking is entitled Nang Sa Nang Gyé Düs Pa and referred to simply as Nang Sa, Permission for the Land. 

“AH OM HUNG

To the gods above, the lu below, and the nyen in-between, 

to the thirty nyenpo above, the nine kinds of yen töpo in-between and the eleven greater yen upon the earth,

to the local spirit owners of this mountainous area and to the eight classes of gods and demons of this isolated place,

accept this torma made of the essence of grain together with this golden drink.

Now, because of my melody and offering this precious torma, whatever my activities upon this land or wherever I travel in any direction upon this land, don’t become jealous or upset.”  

— Condensed extract from Permission for Using Land from the Eight Classes of Gods and Demons

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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