Category Archives: Tibetan Lunar & Religious Calendar

88th Anniversary of the Parinirvana of Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche

Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche

The lunar 13th day of the 4th month is the anniversary of the parinirvana and the attainment of the rainbow body of Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche. In 2022, this date coincides with June 12th. Shardza Rinpoche was a Yungdrung Bön monk, teacher, scholar, and realized practitioner of the modern age. Born in 1859 in Kham, Tibet, at the age of nine an esteemed lama told his parents that he should become a monk. Being their only son, the parents refused. Shardza soon became quite ill. Seeing that their son was not recovering, the parents agreed to allow him to take ordination. At this, Shardza quickly recovered. He was the attendant for his root lama, Tenzin Wangyal, for many years. At the age of eighteen, he took the full vows of a Yungdrung Bön monk from the abbot of Yungdrung Ling Monastery.

Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche depicted as a yogi with long hair and a white robe

Throughout his life, Shardza Rinpoche was known for a disciplined adherence to every vow that he had taken throughout his life. Although his view and practice were vast and high, he maintained diligence in performing virtue and avoiding the smallest non-virtue. He continually performed the preliminary practices and recited many millions of mantra, especially the SA LÉ Ö mantra. He composed many concise practices for purifying negativity and accumulating merit and wisdom, such as his Aspiration Prayer of Giving and Receiving. (For the publicly available English translation and explanation of the prayer, see previous article: https://ravencypresswood.com/2020/01/31/an-aspiration-prayer-of-giving-and-receiving-gift-translation/ )

“For those with a great deal of negative actions in this lifetime, having requested a remedy because they will certainly ripen during future lifetimes, the remedy of performing virtue is very powerful. Having ripened negative actions, the mere exhaustion of that karma (through pain and/or illness), enlightenment is certain. Therefore, this pain and illness of yours is very amazing when it is voluntarily accepted!

Even now, whenever more pain or illness arises, continuing to persevere with your religious practices, venerations, and acts of pure virtue would be incredibly amazing!

When you imagine that there will be no unhappiness in the future (due to this negative karma being exhausted), supremely praise the emptiness of that particular pain or illness.

Be inspired by the power of this antidote, even when what you don’t want arises.

Take the suffering and misery of others onto yourself by adopting others’ happiness and suffering through the practice of giving and receiving.” 

Shardza Rinpoche’s advice to the female practitioner Khandro Wangi Dronma. 
Hair and nails of Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen that were recovered after his attainment of the rainbow body
Hair and nails of Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche that were recovered after his attainment of the rainbow body

He taught a multitude of disciples, organized the reconstruction of temples, went on pilgrimages, and spent a great deal of time in isolated retreat. A prolific writer, he wrote at length on subjects such as Bön history, instructions for the practice of Tibetan yoga, preliminary practices for Dzogchen, condensed summaries of each of the None Ways of Bön, and detailed instructions for the advanced practice of inner heat, known as Tummo. When Shardza Rinpoche was 75 years old, his disciples noticed that his behavior changed. He seemed more casual and became delighted when playing with children. He was seen doing miraculous things such as walking without his feet touching the ground or setting his bowl down in space.

In 1934 at the age of 76 during an offering ceremony, he began to spontaneously sing songs of realization.  A few days later, he sewed himself inside a tent and forbid any of his disciples to open it.  The next day, rainbow lights began appearing above and around the tent. After three days, the ground shook. By the 4th day, rainbow-colored mist was seen coming through the seams of the tent. On that 4th day, Shardza’s disciple Tsultrim Wangchuk, afraid that his lama’s body would completely disappear and leave nothing as an object of veneration and inspiration, opened the tent. He found Shardza’s body enveloped in rainbow light, levitating in midair, and shrunken to the proportional size of a one year old child. The area around his heart was still warm but most of the nails of the hands and feet had fallen onto the seat below. For the next forty-nine days, a multitude of disciples came to pay their respect and receive blessings. After that, the precious remains were placed into a reliquary chorten. From time to time, many people have reported seeing clear or rainbow-colored light emanating from this reliquary chorten.

Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen’s reliquary chorten at his retreat center in Amdo, Tibet

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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Feast Offering to the Deities of the Mother Tantra

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Mother Tantra deities as painted by Lama Kalsang Nyima. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

On the 21st and 22nd lunar days of the 1st month, Menri Monastery in Dolanji, India will perform a feast offering to the deities of the Mother Tantra according to the Shen tradition. These dates are March 23rd and 24th, 2022 on the Western calendar. This kind of feast offering, known as tsok [Tibetan: tshogs] literally means “collection, accumulation, assembly.”

The source of the Mother Tantra within the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition is the primordial Buddha Küntu Zangpo. It has three cycles: external, internal and secret. Each cycle has a root text and a commentary that was written by the sage Milu Samlek. The main yidam of the Mother tantra is Sangchok Tartuk and his consort Khandro Chema Ötso. Of the two types of either peaceful or wrathful, the tsok of the Mother Tantra is categorized as wrathful.

menri ma gyud tsok 2021

Tsok offerings for the principal deities and retinue of the Mother Tantra. Photo credit: Unknown

For those who have vows with a yidam deity, performing a tsok is an opportunity to repair broken vows or commitments related to the yidam practice and increase merit and wisdom. Having offered to the enlightened beings, we gain more power and energy. Additionally, past negative actions and the obstacles and imbalances of daily life are purified. Qualities such as health, longevity, prosperity, confidence, stability are enhanced. When undergoing a deity retreat, a tsok is performed during the final session of practice each day.

When performing a tsok, the ritual can be done in its condensed, medium-length, or extensive forms. This is determined by the purpose of the tsok, the sponsor, the circumstance, and the umdzé or ritual director of the feast offering. However, every tsok has a similar structure consisting of preparation, preliminaries, prayers related to the specific deity together with their retinue, and the concluding prayers.  In general, once the length of the tsok is determined the necessary sacred substances, offering torma, and food offerings are prepared. Everything must be clean, prepared according to the text, and placed in its proper position in the shrine area. The preliminary practices consist of the usual foundation of setting an boundary in order to keep out obstacles and to keep in the blessings, going for refuge, generating the mind of enlightenment for self and others and admission of wrongdoing and purification.

The tsok offerings are then ritually cleansed with water and incense. The tsok is then empowered through visualization and mantra and becomes delicious, containing the eight qualities of nutrition, as well as limitless auspiciousness and positive qualities. The principal deity are retinue are formally invited to tsok and asked to reside in the objects of support such as the yidam torma or image that has been centrally placed on uppermost level of the shrine. Now that the enlightened deity is present, prostrations are offered. One can also take this opportunity to confess any broken vows or commitments to the deity and receive purification and renewal of those vows.

wrathful tsok

A wrathful tsok offering. Photo credit: Unknown

The eight offering goddesses are imagined to present the eight external offerings to the assembly of deities. Then, rakta mixed with tea is offered and is symbolic of a blood offering. This represents offering the liberation of our desire and attachment. Next, the ritually prepared medicinal alcohol is empowered and presented to the yidam deities which represents offering our wisdom. The tsok is then liberated by being cut. The top-most portion is offered to the deities, and the next portion is offered to the lineage lamas of the practice being performed. The linga torma represents outer enemies and obstacles as well as the inner five poisons, wrong views etc. This torma is now presented to the yidam, liberated by cutting, and then offered while requesting the ordinary and supreme attainments of the practice. The Yungdrung Bön protectors are presented with offerings, the prayer of delighting the deities and the lineage with the tsok is performed, and the prayer of attainment is performed.

“Within this mandala where marvelous things arise,

there is a collection of enjoyable things such as sights, sounds, smells, tastes, things to touch, ornaments, Bön treasures, etc.

Through this unsurpassed cloud of offerings, both actually set out and imagined,

may our sacred commitments be fulfilled!

Through the blessings of having fulfilled our sacred commitments to you,

may the enlightened teachings of the Yungdrung Bön spread!

Dispel into space all external, internal, and secret obstacles!”

And,

“Emaho!

This sacred food is the essence of spiritual attainment.

I will partake of it and receive both the ordinary and the supreme spiritual attainments!”

Then, by eating the tsok, we renew our vows with the yidam deities and receive their blessing and empowerment. We then share the leftovers of the tsok offerings as a charitable gift to those lower beings who are powerless to take part in the tsok and depend upon our generosity to receive its blessings.

The concluding practices include prayers of aspiration and auspicious followed by dedicating all of the virtuous activity performed during the tsok for the benefit of every sentient being within cyclic existence.

For more information about the cycle of Mother Tantra texts, see previous article: https://ravencypresswood.com/2021/12/18/a-brief-introduction-to-the-mother-tantras-of-yungdrung-bon/

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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Traditional Anniversary of the Human Birth of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché

Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

Although in recent times the historical date of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap’s human birth has been stated to be the 15th day of the 12th month by the scholar His Eminence Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoché, it continues to be a tradition to also celebrate the Buddha’s birth on the 15th lunar day of the 1st month which is the date that has been celebrated through countless generations. In 2022, this date coincides with March 18th on the Western calendar.

The following is an excerpt from one of the prayers traditionally chanted on this auspicious day.

Homage to the enlightened dimension of the All Knowing Tülku!

Namo!

You are a supreme teacher, one who has gone beyond bliss, an authentic and completely enlightened being, a manifested buddha and teacher, Tönpa Shenrap Miwo.

You have the wisdom of omniscience and possesses both great compassion and skillful means. You are without emotional afflictions and have cut all defilements. You possess power and clear self awareness. A marvelous emanation, You have cleared all obstructions and destroyed the door to birth into cyclic existence. You clearly know the path to release. You have gone beyond suffering and cleansed all karmic potentialities. An ordained person who guides the way, you have the 32 major marks and the 81 minor characteristics. You have the 108 exalted qualities of excellence, and knowledge of the 40 letters and the 61 radiating lights. You possess the 80 good qualities of meditative stability, and are the source of the 61 wisdoms of knowledge and other qualities. These attributes are fully perfected and inexhaustible.

Your face is like the sun and moon, and you see throughout the ten directions. 100,000 light rays emanate from your divine body. You are adorned with ornaments which are like rainbows, and your divine body is so beautiful that one does not know how to look away. In your right hand, you hold a golden chakshing painted with a turquoise yungdrung which shows that you are lord of the three thousand-fold universe and conqueror of this world system. Your left hand holds the mudra of equipoise which shows that you have destroyed the door to birth into cyclic existence.”

butter lamps close at angle

Prayer of Auspiciousness

“Throughout the countless universes and infinite realms, may the age of enemies, poison, weapons, and disease be pacified! May the blazing fire of rage and warfare not arise!

May happiness and goodness pervade everywhere!
May all auspicious circumstances of time and place constantly fall like a beautiful shower of rain!

May the four elements remain balanced throughout the four times!
May peace and happiness together with auspicious goodness pervade the entire phenomenal universe!

From the potency of blissful and harmonious conditions, may all goals which are in harmony with Bön be accomplished !

Through the wisdom light of the Bön teachings of enlightenment, which strongly blaze and never decline like the light of the sun and moon, may we reach the ultimate destination without hindrance!

Having engaged in all kinds of pure teachings, abandoned impure activities, purified karmic potentialities, and engaged in pure discipline, may we maintain the wisdom and purity of the three trainings!

Having completed the purpose of the three trainings and accomplished benefit for both myself and others, may I and others be inseparable from the state of the single sphere!

May our experience be the same as the expansive space of the Bön essence which is just like the vast, open sky!”

All translations and content by Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved.

No content in part or in whole is allowed to be used in any way without direct permission.

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666th 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 lunar month is the birth celebration of His Holiness the 1st Menri Trizin Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoché who is known as the second buddha in the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition. In 2022, this date coincides with  March 7th on the Western calendar. His Holiness Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoché was a reincarnation of Yikyi Khye’u Chung, one of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche’s sons. He united the three transmission lineages of sutra, tantra and dzogchen that had become widely dispersed, and he founded one of the largest Yungdrung Bön monasteries in Tibet, Tashi Menri Ling.

Born in 1356 in the region of Gyalrong into the esteemed 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.   While he was traveling in Eastern Tibet, Yeru Wensaka was destroyed by flooding and mudslides. Upon returning, he searched the ruins of the monastery for any salvageable artifacts. With these precious objects, he established Tashi Menri Monastery on higher ground within the same valley. It was 1405 and he was 50 years old.

nyamme sol dep framed

His Holiness 1st Menri Trizin 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 left the shell of his physical body. His body levitated high into the air, but due to the fervent prayers of his disciples, the body returned to the earth. During the cremation, rainbows appeared and a large bird circled three times around the cremation area before disappearing into the West.

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

Among his numerous writings, is the commonly recited Eight-branched Aspiration Prayer, Mönlam Yenlak Gyepa. When offering aspiration prayers, we imagine that every sentient being is offering the prayers in unison with us. This limitless group of beings includes humans, nonhumans, unseen spirits, and those we consider “enemies.” All sound is perceived as the sound of the prayer being recited and the vastness of space is imagined as filled with buddhas and bodhisattvas that are delighted by the virtuous activity that spontaneously activates their immeasurable compassion. By offering the prayers in this way, and then dedicating the merit of the practice for the welfare of all sentient beings, the power of the practice is inconceivable and the benefit is sealed and can never be destroyed. 

The English language translation of the Eight-branched Aspiration Prayer, Mönlam Yenlak Gyepa is publicly available for personal use and can be downloaded from the Publications page of this website. Click on the Publications tab above and then scroll down the page to the download link.

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

raising lungta at Nangzhik monastery

Tibetan New Year fumigation offering at Nangzhik Yungdrung Bön Monastery Eastern Tibet. Photo credit: Unknown

The first day of the first lunar month is the royal Tibetan New Year’s Day. In 2022, this date coincides with March 3rd. This is an auspicious day to arise early, put on new clothes, place new offerings on the shrine, visit temples and holy places, and to make offerings and pay respect to one’s spiritual master. It is a day for making aspirations and strengthening positive qualities. This year, due to the passing of Shensé Norbu Wangyal Rinpoche, the Yungdrung Bön community will observe but not celebrate the New Year. Rather, more time will be spent with spiritual practice and recitations.

New Year’s day begins with the ritual of fumigation and offering through smoke known as the sang, sang sol, or lha sang. This practice removes defilements and obstacles, delights the enlightened ones, and satisfies the worldly spirits. In this way, a foundation for harmony, positive conditions, and prosperity is created. For more information about this important ancient ritual within the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition, see previous post: https://wordpress.com/post/ravencypresswood.com/7924

“Having engaged in this sacred activity and prayer,

for us practitioners as well as our friends and companions,

please pacify obstacles related to our present circumstances and act to bring about supportive and harmonious conditions!

Support the success of our goals and intentions!

Eliminate harm and obstacles from bitter enemies!

Support the spread of the buddhas’ teachings!

Act on behalf of the happiness and perfect satisfaction of every sentient being!”

— From Sacred Smoke: The Ritual Practice of Fumigation and Offering in the Yungdrung Bön Religious Tradition by Raven Cypress Wood

Traditionally on the 2nd and 3rd days of the New Year, it is traditional to not work and instead to spend the days visiting friends, sharing food, and being joyful together. The 4th and 5th days are the celebration of the birth of His Holiness Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoche who is know as the second buddha. At this time in the monasteries, the main prayer flag for the year is raised and there is a return to strict monastic discipline after the relaxed celebratory atmosphere of the previous few days.

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