Creating A Foundation for Spiritual Development: The Eight Freedoms that are Difficult to Obtain

Statue of Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche in Amdo, Tibet

In order to have a stable foundation upon which to further develop spiritual practice, it is necessary to begin with the sincere practice of the preliminary practices. Among the external preliminary practices is the single-pointed reflection upon the Eight Freedoms and the Ten Fortunes that are difficult to obtain. In his An Ocean of Instructions for the Preliminary Practices of the A Tri, Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche explains the eight freedoms in his section on the external preliminary practices. Without these conditions of freedom, it is not possible to practice the Bön teachings. By deeply reflecting upon the truth of each of these freedoms, the practitioner realizes the importance of not wasting the opportunity to practice.

The Eight Freedoms that are Difficult to Obtain:

  1. Freedom from Being Born a Hell-being

The cause of being born as a hell being is the negative karma of hatred and anger. The result is having to undergo the suffering and misery of heat and cold. The torment of heat and cold for the hell-beings is continuously unbearable and there is no freedom to act on the intention to practice Bön. 

2. Freedom from Being Born a Hungry Ghost

The cause of being born as a hungry ghost is the negative karma of desire and greed. The result is having to undergo the suffering and misery of hunger and thirst. The torment of hunger and thirst for the hungry ghosts is never-ending and there is no freedom to ever act on the intention to practice Bön.

3. Freedom from Being Born as an Animal or Beast of Burden

The cause of being born as an animal or a beast of burden is the negative karma of mental dullness. The result is having to undergo the suffering and misery of being stupid, mute, and being exploited for work.

From Shardza Rinpoche,

“When born as an animal, there is no opportunity to practice even a little bit of virtue. Even among the highest of the animals in the human world, such as horses and mules etc., even if you explain to them from a hundred different texts, apart from a little benefit from hearing, there isn’t the opportunity to understand even a single word. If they could recite the MA TRI a single time, they could have the opportunity to become enlightened. Because of having to experience the suffering and misery of stupidity and muteness, and never having an opportunity for any recitation, there is no freedom to ever act on the intention to practice Bön.”

From The Sutra of True Sincerity,

“Because there is no opportunity for study or listening during the time of having the body of a hell-being, hungry ghost, or animal along with their suffering and misery, there is no understanding. Because there is no understanding, there is no accomplishment. If there is no accomplishment, how can they attain enlightenment?” 

Woodblocks of Shardza Rinpoche’s compositions

4. Freedom from Being Born as a Long-lived God

Again from Shardza Rinpoche,

“Being a so-called “long-lived god” is one part of the result of the gods that are in a state of sustained concentration. However, there is no concept of good or bad. From the time that they are born, except for the moment of their death, conceptual thought has stopped. They remain for many great eons until this karma has been exhausted and they are reborn in the lower realms.  Because there isn’t any teaching, listening, or meditation practice regarding Bön, there is no opportunity to progress towards enlightenment.

5. Freedom from Being Born as a Savage or in a Remote Place

“When one is born as a savage, such as those who believe that killing is a good activity, they will never experience even the mere sound of the word “Bön.” When killing, they experience intense negative emotions. Afterward, they see the act of killing human beings and taking life as good. They inherit this negative activity from their parents and all of this becomes a non-virtuous way of life. Because of that, there is no freedom to practice Bön. When one is born in a remote or outlying area where the teachings of Tönpa Shenrap have not spread, there is no opportunity to practice Bön.” 

6. Freedom from Being Born without the Five Senses or with Profound Mental Impairment

“If someone is born mute, even though they encounter the Buddha’s teachings, they are unable to perform mantra recitations. A blind person cannot see the images and objects of enlightenment that support faith and devotion. The deaf cannot hear the sound of Bön speech. Those with profound mental impairments can’t understand what to cultivate and what to abandon. Therefore, there is no freedom to practice Bön.”

7. Freedom from Having Wrong Views

When someone has mistaken concepts that are incompatible with Bön, such as having the view that actions have no result or believing that the teachings of enlightenment are not valid etc., this contaminates the mind-stream. Having contaminated the mind-stream, they are unable to generate devotion towards the completely pure teachings of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap. Therefore there is no freedom to practice Bön.

8. Freedom from Being Born During a Time When a Buddha has not Appeared

For those who will be born during a dark era devoid of the presence of a buddha, there will be no freedom to practice Bön. 

Reflecting again and again upon these freedoms brings the recognition of being in possession of a precious opportunity. By deeply appreciating the positive circumstances that support the opportunity to practice Bön, a lasting foundation for spiritual development and motivation is established.

Tibetan translation 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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Developing Knowledge & Wisdom with the Lion of Speech

Mawé Sengé, Lion of Speech, with a sword of knowledge and a scripture.

After the Tibetan New Year celebrations, students at Menri Monastery enter into an intensive retreat to cultivate the qualities of the wisdom deity Mawé Sengé, Lion of Speech. This retreat begins on the 24th lunar day of the 1st month and concludes on the 30th lunar day. In 2022, these dates coincide with March 26th – April 1st on the Western calendar. The purpose of this retreat is to receive the blessings and empowerment of the wisdom deity Mawé Sengé in order to develop and sharpen the students’ intellect to support their upcoming studies in the new school year. The practice of Mawé Sengé is performed many times each day and the mantra of the deity is recited as much as possible throughout the retreat with a minimum accumulation of 100,000 mantra recitations.

Mawé Sengé is the manifestation of the Dzok ku, the Enlightened Body, or state, of Perfected Qualities. If practiced regularly as a yidam deity, he clears the darkness of confusion, develops the intellect, and gives a quick and steadfast memory without forgetfulness. If his practice is properly applied and accomplished, there are seven specific signs that arise. These are called The Seven Signs of Attaining Wisdom that Blazes Like Fire. These seven signs are:

  1. The sign of having removed the darkness of lack of knowledge from the intellect. Specifically, this refers to removing a weak or unclear intellectual understanding. 
  2. The sign of having the eye of wisdom. This is the attainment of clairvoyance, expansive knowledge and wisdom.
  3. The sign of being like a lion of glorious poetry. This refers to the ability to write expert discourses, specifically scholastic poems and compositions.
  4. The sign of the sun of superior knowledge arising. This refers to the capability of having clear knowledge, without any confusion, regarding the qualities of any knowable object. 
  5. The sign of attaining the recollection of intelligence that is never forgotten. This refers to a steadfast capability of remembering what has been learned without forgetfulness.
  6. The sign of being like a thunderbolt when debating. This refers to the capability to brilliantly overcome all others, without defeat or fear, when debating any subject whatsoever.
  7. The sign of the intellectual memory being fast like lightening. This refers to an extraordinary ability of having a clear and quick memory.

“I go for refuge to the wisdom deity for the intellect.

I generate the supreme mind of enlightenment for the benefit of vigorous training in the highest wisdom.

Having compassionately purified all karmic obscurations without any exception,

please bestow the attainments of an increased intellect, useful knowledge, and a divine voice!”  

— From The Short Practice of Mawé Sengé. Tibetan translation: Raven Cypress Wood

Mawé Sengé holding a sword and a butter lamp

In the Yungdrung Bön tradition, there are two principal forms of the wisdom deity Mawé Sengé. Both of these forms share most characteristics. However, one form holds a sword and a scripture as the hand objects. The other form holds a sword and a butter lamp. This second principal form of Mawé Sengé is according to the prayer, An Offering of Praise for the Supreme Wisdom Deity Sherab Mawé Sengé, A Garland of Utpala Flowers composed by the highly revered Nyammé Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche.

“With a sword of wisdom held in your right hand, you cut the root of deluded thoughts and self-grasping.

With a butter lamp of clarity held in your left hand, you dispel the dark intellect and ignorance of migrating beings.

In the space to your right and left, the sun and moon blaze with the splendor of the inseparability of method and knowledge.”

— Extract from An Offering of Praise for the Supreme Wisdom Deity Sherab Mawé Sengé, A Garland of Utpala Flowers

In order to support his Dolpo Bön School for Girls and Boys in Dunai, Nepal, Khenpo Nyima Künchap Rinpoche has commissioned a limited number of thangkas depicting this particular principal form of Mawé Sengé. As the North American coordinator for the Dolpo Bön Society which supports the Dolpo Bön School, Raven Cypress Wood is selling some of these thangkas on behalf of Khenpo Rinpoche. The images are high quality prints framed in beautiful brocade and include the traditional silk covering. The deity image measures 23″ x 16″ and the full thangka measures 50″ x 39.” Anyone within the continental U.S. who is interested in purchasing one of these thangkas for $190.00 can email Raven directly at

About The Dolpo Bön Society and the Dolpo Bön School for Girls and Boys

The Dolpo Bön Society was formed in 2001 in response to the great degeneration of the Bön culture and religion in the Dolpo region due to poverty, illiteracy, and a desire to send the children to the places like Kathmandu and India for their studies. When that happens, the children rarely return to their villages. As a result, the culture and traditions of the villages were being destroyed. Recognizing this, all the great lamas and representatives of monasteries within the region held several conferences and came to the conclusion that a welfare society needed to be formed. Therefore, the non-profit Dolpo Bön Society was formed in 2001.

Although there has been a government school available, many parents cannot afford the cost and the school does not teach the Tibetan language. Therefore, as part of the Society’s mission to maintain and develop the Tibetan, and specifically Bön, culture and traditions throughout the Dolpo region, the Dolpo Bön School for Girls and Boys was established by Khenpo Nyima Künchap Rinpoche. In addition to a well-rounded modern education within the framework of the Tibetan Bön culture, the school also provides food and lodging, supplies for daily living, clothing, and even medical care when needed. All this, plus staff salaries and building and maintenance costs are primarily provided for from Rinpoche’s personal funds acquired through his worldwide teaching and rituals. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, he has not been able to travel outside of Nepal and India for the past two years. However, he has enjoyed being able to spend much more time with his students and teachers.

Khenpo Künchap Rinpoche distributes clothing to the Dolpo Bön School children

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


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!”



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:

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!


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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