2021: Year of the Metal Elephant

Thangkha depicting the Tibetan astrological symbols and their relationships. Private collection: Raven Cypress Wood

The twelve animals of Tibetan astrology according to the Yungdrung Bön texts are the Rat, Elephant, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Horse, Snake, Sheep, Garuda, Monkey, Dog and Pig.  Each animal has a specific element associated with its life-force and a direction that is determined by that element.  Each year one of these twelve animals is associated with one of the five elements of: metal or iron, wood, fire, water, and earth. In other contexts, metal is referred to as space, and wood is referred to as wind or air. It takes sixty years for all twelve animals to be associated with each of the five elements. This is one complete cycle that repeats again and again.

February 12, 2021 is the Tibetan New Year and begins the year of the Metal Elephant. (Astrological texts outside the Yungdrung Bön tradition use the symbolic animal of the ox or cow.) Therefore, people born on or after February 12th will be a Metal Elephant and will have an emphasis of the specific qualities associated with the Elephant.

Depiction of elephant in the Northeast corner of a Yungdrung Bön astrology thangkha. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

In general, the Elephant is stable, steadfast, and practical.  It can express itself well and is rather independent.  It prefers to approach things logically and without the cloud of emotion.  It is competent and trustworthy, preferring to lead rather than to follow.  It values tradition but can be resistant to change, rigid and authoritarian.  Although it can have a temper, the elephant is generally patient and loyal.

The Elephant’s soul day is Saturday and the life-force day is Wednesday. These are the best days for beginning new projects and activities, signing contracts or making commitments, beginning a pilgrimage or other important travel, and so on.  The obstacle day is Thursday.  This day is best for cleansing, letting go of grievances and discontentment, and practices of purification. It is especially important on this day to not take risks or speak mindlessly, and It is not recommended as a favorable day for beginning new projects such as fundraising, signing contracts, groundbreaking for construction, and so on.

Elephant years include: 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, and 2021

Life-force is one of the five natal constituents that are associated with one of the five elements for each individual. The other four individual constituents are: bodily health, personal power or charisma, lungta or the force of good fortune, and the soul. For individuals born as a Metal Elephant their constituents and associated elements are:

  • Life-force=Earth
  • Bodily Health=Earth
  • Personal Power or Charisma=Metal
  • Lungta=Water
  • Soul=Fire

The element that governs the life-force of the Elephant is earth and its direction is northeast.  So, if an Elephant person wanted to strengthen their life-force, they could focus upon strengthening the element of earth internally and externally. Their positive direction is northeast. Facing this direction while meditating, doing healing rituals or just relaxing and taking deep breaths is beneficial.

Each year it is helpful to calculate the relationship between the elements governing the constituents of the year and an individual’s natal constituents. There are six possible types of relationships. They are: excellent, very good, good, neutral, bad, or very bad. If any of the natal forces have a challenging relationship with the element of the year and need to be strengthened, this can be done by reinforcing the associated element. For example, the life-force element of a Rabbit person has a very bad relationship with the life-force element of the Metal Elephant year of 2021. For this, a simple but effective way of increasing the strength of their life-force would be by raising prayer flags. Bön and Buddhist prayer flags are printed on material representing the colors of each of the five elements and contain prayers and mantra to strengthen and protect the natal constituents.

Prayer flags at Menri Monastery in India. Photo credit: Unknown

If you were born during a previous year of the Elephant, 2021, as well as other Elephant years, is considered an obstacle year and a time when there is a greater possibility of misfortune, missed opportunities, accidents, and so on. This same astrological principal applies for all of the other eleven animal signs during their associated year. Therefore, it is recommended to engage in practices that support good fortune and spiritual merit such as engaging in any kind of virtuous activity, hanging prayer flags, saving or protecting the life of other living beings, repairing any broken spiritual commitments or damaged relationship with one’s spiritual brothers and sisters, and/or performing prayers and rituals to remove obstacles.

Although the associated elements to four of the five natal forces change according to the birth year, the element of the life-force is determined by the animal and remains the same. Therefore, it is possible to calculate the relationship of the year of the Metal Elephant upon the life-force of each of the natal animals without having knowledge of the birth year or the other element of the other four natal forces.

The relationship of the natal animal’s life-force to that of the Metal Elephant of 2021:

Rat: Excellent

Elephant: Neutral

Tiger: Very bad

Rabbit: Very bad

Dragon: Neutral

Snake: Very good

Horse: Very good

Sheep: Neutral

Monkey: Bad

Garuda: bad

Dog: Neutral

Pig: Excellent

For each of these animals, there remains the four other natal constituents to consider in order to have a better idea of the potential influence that 2021 will have upon the individual. For example, although the life-force calculation could be bad, the lungta calculation could be excellent. Because lungta is the natal force that has the power to raise the other forces, it could have the effect of strengthening the life-force. Traditionally, these calculations are done yearly. If the yearly horoscope calculations result in any challenging aspects, preventive measures are taken in order to remove or decrease the potential for any problems to manifest.

According to the words of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché, the practice of developing sincere, unbiased and unlimited compassion is the greatest of all protections, and engaging less with non-virtue and more with virtue supports all the forces of our vitality, health, and good fortune.

A common prayer within the Yungdrung Bön tradition that is used to remove obstacles is the Bar Che Lam Sel, The Spontaneous Wish-fulfillment of Removing Obstacles from the Path. The English, Spanish and Portuguese translations of this prayer are offered by Raven Cypress Wood for the personal use of any sincere practitioner. Click on the Publications tab above and scroll down to the download links for the prayer.

Geshe Yongdong Losar. Photo: Courtesy of Sherab Chamma Ling.

For those interested in a traditional Tibetan astrological horoscope to calculate the influence of 2021 on their natal constituents of life-force, bodily health, personal power, lungta and soul, Geshe Yongdong Losar of Sherab Chamma Ling in Canada offers Tibetan astrological horoscopes through his website. Additionally, he offers life horoscopes, partnership horoscopes and horoscopes for the deceased which are traditionally used in order to determine how to best remove obstacles for the deceased and support conditions for their positive rebirth. Follow this link for more information about Geshe Yongdong and his astrological calculations: https://sherabchammaling.com/product/astrology-reading/

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Happy Zhang Zhung New Year!

Ceremonial dance during Himalayan Losar. Photo credit: Unknown

The 1st day of the 12th lunar month is celebrated as New Year’s Day according to the custom of the ancient land of Zhang Zhung that included a vast geographical area including Tibet and parts of Nepal and the area previously known as Persia. In 2021, this date coincides with January 14th on the Western calendar. More precisely, in 2021 the lunar calendar for the 12th month has no 1st day and begins with the 2nd lunar day. Subtracting a date or doubling a date is not uncommon in the Tibetan lunar calendar and is according to astrological calculations.

This New Year’s Day, Losar in the Tibetan language, is also known as Sonam Losar, Himalayan Losar, or Peasants Losar. It continues to be widely celebrated in Dolpo, Nepal as well as in select other regions of Tibet. Originally, it was celebrated as the beginning of the New Year throughout all of Tibet. However, the modern date that is celebrated by all Tibetans as the beginning of the new year is the 1st day of the 1st lunar month. This is the Royal New Year and in 2021 that date coincides with February 12th.

For those celebrating today as New Year’s Day it is the beginning of the Iron Elephant year.

The 1st king of the ancient land of Zhang Zhung, King Triwer Lajé.

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Protecting the Mind with Mantra

The benefits of reciting mantra [Tibetan: nyén pa] are vast and without measure. Although there are thousands of mantra within the Yungdrung Bön tradition, there is one mantra known as The Great Mantra. It is commonly referred to as the MA TRI mantra. This mantra has eight syllables: OM MA TRI MU YÉ SA LÉ DU. In general, the power of a mantra is in the sound and vibration of each syllable. They are like a vibrational seed of energy that gives birth to a specific energy and power. For this mantra, the first two syllables are the seed syllables of a male and female buddha. The remaining six syllables are the sound of the six buddhas that guide sentient beings out of suffering and misery caused by the five poisons of anger, attachment, jealousy, pride, and ignorance.

From Thirty-three Benefits of the MA TRI Mantra:

“This is the heart mantra of all the buddhas. It is of benefit for sentient beings at the end of the eon when their lifespan has become shorter and there is less morality.”

And,

“The recitation of this mantra is enough. It is the fundamental essence of the entire collection of sacred teachings. It is the ultimate of all recitations. It is the innermost essence of all meditations. It is a sacred connection for sentient beings during a dark time.”

— Words from the mouth of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché

The great mantra has many profound benefits and meanings. However, it is not necessary to be familiar with the thousands of pages of teachings and commentary devoted to the MA TRI mantra. In order to receive benefit from the mantra, it is enough to recite it with openness and trust. A mantra can be recited anytime, anywhere, out loud or silently if necessary. Especially when the mind is disturbed by inner or outer circumstances, focusing on the recitation of mantra has the immediate effect of protecting the mind from negativity and increasing a positive and beneficial state of mind.

“OM MA TRI MU YÉ SA LÉ DU

Alas! Fortunate Ones Listen!

Right here and now, because of our ignorance and delusion we have not attained mastery of the experience of awareness, and we wander throughout cyclic existence. We take on the magical illusion of solid flesh and undergo many kinds of suffering and misery.

There is no final escape. How sad!

Noble Ones who wish to travel the path of liberation in order to escape from that suffering and misery and arrive at a place of bliss, proclaim the melody of the MA TRI MU YÉ!”

And,

“OM MA TRI MU YÉ SA LÉ DU

Alas! Fortunate Ones Listen!

The many troops of mental dullness are the first.

The mighty coat of armor of pride is the second.

The trained army of envy is the third.

The sharp weapons of anger and hatred are the fourth.

These are the four frightening enemies that come from behind.

Noble Ones who wish to be delivered from those enemies, proclaim the melody of the MA TRI MU YÉ!”

— From Inspirational Verses Regarding the MA TRI written by the tertön Tülku Loden Nyingpo

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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Rites of the Fierce Black Wisdom Dagger: Wal Phur Nakpo

HIs Eminence Menri Ponlop Yangtön Thrinley Nyima Rinpoche performs the rites of Wal Phur Nakpo at Menri Monastery. Photo credit: Unknown

Each year during the 23rd – 29th lunar days of the 11th lunar month, the monks at Tashi Menri Monastery undergo a seven-day intensive retreat for the enlightened fierce deity, the tantric yidam Wal Phur Nakpo. On the Western calendar in 2021, these dates coincide with January 6th – 12th. From the Father tantra, there is a group of five yidams that are collectively known as the Sé Khar Chok Nga, the Five Supreme Citadels or the Five Supreme Embodiments. Each of these Dzok ku forms are the manifestation of either enlightened body, speech, mind, quality or activity. The manifestation of enlightened activity is embodied by Walsé Chempa, also known as Phurba. Because he is the yidam of enlightened activity, he is the yidam deity of every Menri Trizin. (For more information about the Sé Khar Chok Nga, see previous article: https://ravencypresswood.com/2016/06/05/the-five-supreme-embodiments/)

The term “phurba” has most often been translated as “dagger” or “sacred dagger.” However, it is more precisely a sacred stake, or peg used to suppress or overpower negative forces and obstacles. From a commentary regarding the meaning of the Wal Phur Nakpo practice:

“Regarding the meaning of being called “phur”: because all impure karma and afflictive emotions are staked within the pure enlightened body and complete non-conceptual wisdom, he is called “phur,” “the stake.”

The yidam Wal Phur Nakpo has three faces and six arms, and each hand holds a phurba.  He and his consort’s body are joined below the waist and form a single phurba adorned with snakes. The top of the phurba has a four-cornered wisdom-knot. Below the knot is a crocodile with a protruding, vicious face for the destruction of all impure karma and afflictive emotions. Below that, the enlightened body, speech and mind of the yidam are inseparably united with the symbolic three edged, pointed blade. The three blades terminating into a sharp point represent the apex of completely fulfilling the four kinds of enlightened activity: peaceful enlightened activity, expansive enlightened activity, powerful enlightened activity, and wrathful enlightened activity.

A Yungdrung Bön monk performs the rites of Wal Phur Nakpo. Photo credit: Unknown

The term “wal” Tibetan: dbal, has multiple meanings. The most relevant here are its meanings of “(1) sharp, bladed, pointed. (2) aggressive, rough. (3) fierce, wrathful, forceful. From the same commentary as mentioned above,

“Regarding the meaning of being called “wal”: externally, he is called “wal” because he is the point from which arises the external, common accomplishment of piercing and incinerating every enemy and obstructer that would interfere with manifesting external activity. Internally, he is called “wal” because of being the point of great wisdom, and performing the uncommon and meaningful activity of incinerating and overcoming all erroneous conceptuality. Therefore, he is called “wal,” “pointed.”

Both the yidam and his consort have wings. The retinue includes many assistants and messengers that are winged or actually manifest as hawks.

Tro Wo Druksé Chempa statue. Ligmincha International private collection. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

“With a magical display of activity and movement that arises from an immovable state,

you subdue misleading enemies and obstructers.

Fierce Wal Phur, you directly manifest the enlightened activity of the Wal deities.

Praise for the Wal deity whose divine appearance self-arises from the vast expanse of space in order to quickly accomplish fierce enlightened activity!”

— From The Concentrated Essence of Wal Phur translated from the Tibetan by Raven Cypress Wood

When performing the rites of Wal Phur Nakpo, the scriptures give specific instructions regarding the many items and substances that are needed, how to use them, measurements for making a phurba, how to establish the mandala of the yidam, the types of offerings that are needed and how to place them, and so forth. The image of the mandala, which is a representation of the sacred architecture of the spontaneously arising palace for the deity, is either laboriously made with colored sand or printed and placed on a table near the shrine. Once all the materials are prepared and properly arranged, everything is ritually purified.

On the first day of the retreat, the yidam Wal Phur Nakpo along with his consort and vast retinue are formally invited to take a seat upon the throne in the center of the mandala. From this moment until the conclusion of the retreat, no one is allowed to interact with the mandala or the offerings placed upon it outside the formal ritual actions during the retreat. The immeasurable blessings and enlightened qualities of the deity are present and the practitioners intensely perform the rites in order to make themselves a proper vessel for the blessings and enlightened qualities. In this way, the Phurba practitioner transforms their ordinary body, speech and mind into the enlightened body, speech and mind of the deity.

Representation of the Mandala palace of Wal Phur Nakpo.

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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Thank You Nine Ways Supporters & Donors: A Message from Raven Cypress Wood

Translator, author, and the creator of the Nine Ways website Raven Cypress Wood. Photo credit: Lee Hartline

As 2020 passes and we begin 2021, I would like to step outside the usual format of the website and personally express the depth of my gratitude to the supporters and donors of Nine Ways throughout the past nine years, especially those people who offered support during the pandemic time of 2020. In spite of the instability and uncertainty, many people sent donations in order to support the continuation of Nine Ways and the related research, translations and publications. From the depth of my heart, thank you. 

Through the years, many of you have also sent personal messages sharing how the website’s articles and publicly available translations have deepened and supported your spiritual practice. It brings me great joy and satisfaction to know that the time and effort devoted to the website is having a meaningful impact in the world. 

In the nine years of Nine Ways:

  • The website has been translated into Spanish and Portuguese
  • Various articles have been translated and published in Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Italian, Russian, and Polish
  • More than 500 posts have been published on the website with an average of 45 posts per year
  • The website continues to offer free, publicly available translations of prayers in multiple languages
  • The website has been visited over 500,000 times

I am committed to keeping Nine Ways freely available with no paywall in order to provide information on the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition and practices to as many sincere practitioners as possible.

May 2021 bring all of us an abundance of positive circumstances, complete fulfillment of our wishes and goals, and a steadfast enthusiasm for meaningful and compassionate activity!

With deep gratitude,

Raven Cypress Wood

Full Moon day of the 11th lunar month

12/29/2020

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