Shrine for the Tibetan New Year, or Losar, and other celebrations at the Yungdrung Bon Monastery of Menri in Dolanji, India
The element of Wind or Air is called lung in Tibetan. It is symbolized by the shape of a rectangle and the color green. The unique vibration of this element is the sound ‘YANG’. It is associated with the direction North. In general, Wind gives the ability to move, change, and transform. Even within popular culture, the phrase ‘Winds of Change’ is commonly used in songs, poems, and even political speeches to express a time of change and transformation.
Historically, Wind has played a large part in affecting the course of events by determining the ability of war ships to attack, or not. By allowing explorers to reach their destinations, or not. And through calm or violent weather, determining the success or failure of many ventures.
Environmentally, Wind has often been seen as an expression of the supernatural or the divine. In many cultures, a gentle Wind that arises at the conclusion of a ceremony is a sign of its success. In Greek mythology, there are twelve different gods associated with each of the winds of the twelve directions. Ecologically, the Wind’s quality of movement is important as a source of seed and pollen dispersal for plants as well as having a profound effect upon weather and climate. It can be beneficial such as being used as a power source for transportation, energy or recreational activities. Or it can be indescribably destructive through the force of tornadoes and hurricanes.
Within our bodies, the element of Wind is associated with our breath and is responsible for providing the ability for things to move. It is specifically associated with the lungs. When the element of Wind is balanced within us, we can be flexible. We move from worry and anxiety to a solution. We are able to let go of our point of view and see the perspective of others. If the Wind element is developed, we easily move from anger to love, fear to peacefulness and from feeling blocked to feeling unblocked. Even in the midst of a problem, we remain aware of all of the things that are going right. Wind is also associated with communication and verbal expression. Well developed Wind can also give the ability to communicate or receive information psychically and to perform acts that are beyond the limitations of the physical world.
In the Yungdrung Bön tradition, it is believed that the mind is effected by the movement of subtle wind. Therefore, if the element of Wind is in excess, one of the effects is that the mind is unable to concentrate because it is constantly moving from one thing to another. We are impatient. There is an almost constant need to talk or ask questions. But this kind of talking has little depth and we are thinking of our next question even before the first one is answered. We are unable to meditate because of the constant movement of the mind which often prompts the body to begin moving. To the extreme, an excess of Wind can cause severe headaches or even madness.
If the Wind element is deficient, we feel blocked. There is an inability to progress in our outward activities or our inner growth and spiritual practice. We are stuck. Things become stagnant and stale. There is no freshness. Our mind is still, but there is no clarity or sharpness to our awareness.
In order to bring the element of Wind back into balance, there are specific yogic exercises within the Yungdrung Bön tradition which use the focus of the mind together with the breath and movement of the physical body to balance and strengthen each of the elements within us. To learn more about these yogic exercises see Healing with Form, Energy and Light by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche.
Also, the simple act of inhaling and exhaling with awareness can be quite helpful. Imagine inhaling pure, fresh Wind or Air and then exhaling all impure, stale Wind. Imagine this Wind traveling throughout the body. Similarly, imagine a ‘Wind of Change’ gently blowing into any area of your life that feels stuck. If the Wind Element feels disturbed and there is too much erratic movement, then focus more on the Element of Earth and imagine the Wind becoming calm and stable.
The Full Moon is a time when energies are naturally rising. This is an auspicious time to perform virtue such as spiritual practice, making sacred offerings, visiting sacred places, giving to charity, or protecting the lives of other beings. It is also an ideal time to engage in activities that will strengthen and increase one’s positive qualities and good luck such as raising prayer flags, bringing sacred or precious things into the home, or performing smoke offerings. Here, a group in Tibet uses wind-horse papers which are printed with mantra and prayers for good luck and good health. By tossing them into the sky, it is believed that the energy of the mantras and prayers are activated and will lift one’s energy of luck, vitality, personal power and prosperity.
The Third of the Nine Ways of Bön is called The Way of The Shen of Magical Power and includes practices for venerating a yidam, a meditational deity, or a spiritual master. Then, the practitioner uses mantra together with mudras, symbolic hand gestures, in order to accomplish a goal such as requesting assistance from powerful worldly spirits to remove obstacles or subdue malevolent forces. In general, these practices involve the three stages of:1) praise and service, 2) practice and attainment, and the 3) application of appropriate ritual activities. A yidam is an enlightened being who has manifested in a specific form that embodies specific enlightened qualities that a practitioner can perfect within themselves by meditating upon that yidam deity. For example, the yidam Red Garuda is often practiced to gain influence and power over natural forces in order to avert natural disasters. These practices require an advanced ability to focus and visualize, deep devotion and faith in the yidam as well as the need to undergo a prolonged, solitary retreat of single-pointed practice in order to acquire the power of the yidam. For this kind of practice, the enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap has advised that the practitioner should go to a wrathful place such as a mountain that is known to have wrathful energy or to a cemetery. Wrathful retreat places are described as being desolate, infertile areas with jagged rocks or mountains with rough energy.
It is also necessary for the practitioner to take and strictly keep all of the vows related to such a tantric practice. Then, having properly prepared the necessary ritual items, the practitioner sets both an external boundary and an internal boundary. The external boundary keeps away any disturbance from the external world which might interrupt the retreat. The internal boundary keeps the practitioner’s mind focused and protected from distracting thoughts. For the Praise and Service part of the practice, the practitioner performs the practice while continuously imagining the enthroned deity in the space just in front and above their head. Generating immense trust and devotion to the deity and a steadfast intention to benefit other beings is of utmost importance. From the words of Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwo:
“One should exert one’s self in the three kinds of longing devotion to them. One should seek them out like a child who is unable to bear even a moment of separation from the mother. One should seek them out like a needed guide along a dangerous path which is filled with dangers and peril. One should seek them out like the desire to be with an intimate friend who thinks only of you and no one else.”
For the Practice and Attainment part of the practice, it is important to know how to properly prepare the ritual offerings, the appropriate mandala, and the shrine. One also needs to know which sacred instruments will be needed, how to play them and the specific melody for the practice, as well as how to perform the appropriate mudras. These mudras, or sacred hand gestures, are an important method of communication with the unseen. Everything must be clean and of the best quality that is available according to the practitioner’s circumstances. All of the ritual activities must be properly performed. Otherwise, it is possible to create obstacles because of errors. Therefore, by carrying out these ritual activities properly and with undistracted focus, the practitioner unites his body, speech and mind with that of the deity and becomes inseparable from the deity’s qualities and wisdom. In this way, blessings and both ordinary and extraordinary spiritual abilities are received from the deity.
(There are many types of mudras, or symbolic hand gestures.)
For the Application of Ritual Activity part of the practice, having attained the blessings and power of the deity, the practitioner now has the ability to subdue forces which are harming others or interfering with the practice of virtue or other religious activity. Therefore, acting from a foundation of compassion and with the intent to be of benefit, the practitioner overcomes these malevolent forces. From the words of Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwo:
“If people who enter and practice this Third Way do not have compassion as the base, they are like a seed thrown on infertile ground. If the seed is thrown in a dry place, how can it grow? Thus, one must have faith which will benefit one’s self as well as having compassion which will benefit others.”
These teachings are contained within the external, internal and secret tantras. Their primary goal is to have an immediate result and to bring happiness and help to beings during this very lifetime.
HE Menri Lopon Rinpoche, head teacher of Menri Monastery, is nearing completion of an Encyclopedia of Bon Religion.
Lopon Rinpoche’s new encyclopedia contains more than twelve thousand different entries, which include a comprehensive set of articles and definitions used in the Yungdrung Bon religion and by Bonpo practitioners. Even the largest reference works currently available in Tibetan or English do not include most of the information that will be available in this new work. Entries include:
- Tibetan and Zhang Zhung words and terminology specific to the Bon religion
- Biographies of Bonpo scholars and practitioners, both historical and contemporary
- Descriptions of significant places in Bon history
- Descriptions of Bon religious symbols, images and objects
- Names and descriptions of Bon deities
Scholars of Tibetan culture regularly have problems understanding the language in texts of the Yungdrung Bon religion because such texts use words that are often different, or have different meanings, than the terminology used by Tibetan Buddhists.
A work of this scope on this subject has never been published before. The Encyclopedia is in the Tibetan language, but after initial publication, Lopon Rinpoche hopes to have it translated into English.
We have begun collecting donations to help with translating and publishing this book in English. Any amount would be a great help and greatly appreciated.
Donations can be sent to Khyungdzong Wodsel Ling at the following address or use the PayPal button below (please put “encyclopedia” in the memo box):
1977 N. New Hampshire Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(This article originally appeared at http://kwling.org/projects/encyclopedia-of-bon/)
According to the Yungdrung Bön, the Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche took birth into this world over 18,000 years ago in the land of Olmo Lungrig as a prince in the palace of Barpo Sogyé. He was already and enlightened being and therefore beyond cyclic existence. However, because of his great compassion for sentient beings who experience missery and suffering, he took birth in this realm. Therefore, the act of birth was a great deed of compassion.
He was born just before sunrise on the 15th day of the 12th lunar month to the king, Gyalbon Thökar, and to the queen, Gyal Zhema. He showed all of the major and minor marks of an enlightened being. A gathering of gods from above, a gathering of deities from intermediate space, and a gathering of powerful spirits of the earth, all circumambulated the palace and proclaimed that they had come to be the first disciples of the Teacher.
He was given the name ‘Shenrap’ because he was born into the Shen clan and was the highest, rab. He was named ‘Miwoche’ because he had taken a great human form. His personal name was ‘Künle Namgyal’, Completely Victorious over Everything.
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 enlightened being, Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche, was born into this world over 18,000 years ago. There are three sources for his hagiography, a short, a medium and a long version. The short version is commonly known as the Do Dü. This is a single volume with twenty-four chapters. This is the earliest written source and was translated from the ancient language of Zhang Zhung into Tibetan by the sage and scholar Lishu Taring. The medium length version is commonly known as the Zer mik. This is two volumes with eighteen chapters. This text is focused primarily upon the twelve deeds of the Buddha. The long version is commonly known as the Zi Ji. This text has twelve volumes with sixty-one chapters. Within this text are teachings of the Nine Ways of Bön in the form of a conversation between Buddha Tönpa Shenrap and a disciple.
The Twelve Deeds of Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche:
1. The Deed of Birth
2. The Deed of Spreading the Teachings
3. The Deed of Taming Sentient Beings
4. The Deed of Guiding Sentient Beings
5. The Deed of Marriage
6. The Deed of Manifesting Progeny
7. The Deed of Conquering
8. The Deed of Victory
9. The Deed of Awareness
10. The Deed of Solitude
11. The Deed of Liberation
12. The Deed of Complete Accomplishment