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The Five Elements: Fire

ram-w-watermarkThe element of Fire is called mé in Tibetan.  It is symbolized by the shape of a triangle and the color red.  The unique vibration of this element is the sound ‘RAM’.  It is associated with the direction West.  In general, Fire provides enthusiasm, creativity and intuition.

Environmentally, our dependence upon the element of Fire is clear by the importance of the sun for life on the planet.  The inner core of the earth is dominated by the element of Fire and it is believed to be about the same temperature as that of the surface of the sun.  Fire has enabled us to cook, which greatly increases the amount of food available to us.  And it has also allowed us to live in climates which would ordinarily be too cold.

In the Yungdrung Bön tradition, spiritual realization and the perfection of wisdom are associated with inner heat.  There is a spiritual practice, called Tummo, which is specifically develops and increases this inner heat which naturally ripens our positive qualities and burns away our negative qualities. This practice involves a very detailed visualization of Fire.

Within our bodies, the element of Fire rules the warmth of our bodies and the heat of digestion.  More specifically, it is associated with the liver.  When the element of Fire is balanced within us, we are engaged with activities that inspire us and bring us the joy of accomplishment.  We are enthusiastic about life and feel joy.  A balanced Fire element gives us the energy and drive to accomplish our goals and find creative solutions for any obstacles that might arise.

If the Fire element is in excess, we can be quick to become agitated, frustrated and angry.  We can overreact with our actions or words.  We find many things intolerable and can view others as our opponents.  There is constant movement and instability.  Our thoughts are incessant.  Physiologically, we can experience fevers and skin symptoms.

If the Fire element is deficient, we lack energy and inspiration.  Nothing excites us.  We don’t feel motivated or feel that we lack the energy necessary to manifest our goals.  We lack curiosity and life can feel like a boring routine.  Physiologically, our metabolism can slow and we have difficulty digesting our food.

In order to bring the element of Fire back into balance, there are methods such as Tibetan medicine, ritual and meditation practices such as Tummo.  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 the elements within us.  To learn more about these yogic exercises see Healing with Form, Energy and Light by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche.

Additionally, if the Fire element has become weakened, spend more time being active with things that bring you joy.  Spend time with extroverted, enthusiastic people.  Go to an unfamiliar environment and learn about it.  Greet strangers with a smile or begin a conversation with someone about a subject that interests you.  You can also spend time near an open fire such as in a fireplace or with a candle and meditate upon the energy and quality of the fire existing inside of you.  If the Fire element is in excess, spend more time with earthy people who have a grounding effect upon you.  Slow down.  Be mindful of rising agitation and take deep breaths to release or practice patience with yourself and others.  Take time to finish and enjoy the accomplishment of one project before beginning another.  Spiritually, balanced Fire gives us the motivation and joyful effort needed to be diligent with our practice.  It also gives the ability to progress more quickly in our development.

Tibetan:Letter ZA

Ltr ZA The Letter ZA is the 22nd letter of the Tibetan alphabet.  There is no equivalent letter in Sanskrit.

writing ZA

Sacred Architecture

sadak Nyelam sand mandala by Tenzin Yangton & Chaphur 2012

Yungdrung Bon monks create a sand mandala at the Gyalshen Institute in California.  A mandala, or kyil khor in Tibetan, is an architectural representation of a sacred palace in which the related deity and retinue reside.  Each symbol and color within the mandala has a meaning.  This mandala is being created with colored sand.

The Five Elements: Water

mang-w-watermarkThe element of Water is called chu in Tibetan.  It is symbolized by the shape of a circle and its color is blue.  The unique vibration of this element is the sound ‘MANG’.  It is associated with the direction South.  In general, Water provides joy and comfort.

Environmentally, our dependence upon the element of Water is evidenced by the value placed upon its ‘ownership’ by principalities and governments.  Civilizations have been founded upon the availability of water for agriculture, travel, trade and fishing.  Dependent upon this resource for the health of their citizens as well as their commerce, civilizations have also fallen when access to water became restricted for various reasons.  In the Yungdrung Bön tradition, it is believed that one of the spirits who live in water is called lu, also referred to as naga.  These lu also live in trees and rocks, but are primarily associated with water.  Frogs and many other water inhabitants are thought to be used by the lu as their domestic animals.  The lu realm and the human realm are thought to be in continuous relationship with one another.   In ancient times, accomplished lamas, as well as the Buddha himself, taught the sacred teachings to the lu.  Therefore, among this group of beings, there are followers of the Buddha who act to protect the teachings.  However,  just like any group of beings, there are those among the lu who have less compassion and patience with the actions of humanity that cause damage and destruction to their environment.  Because of this, there are rituals and prayers specifically for apologizing to the lu, purifying the damage that we have caused, and thereby pacifying their grievances against us.

Within our bodies, the element of Water rules our blood.  More specifically, it is associated with the kidneys.  When the element of Water is balanced within us, we feel comfort with ourselves, happy and contented with our life.  Our emotions are balanced and there is joy in our spiritual practice rather than it being a dry, intellectual exercise.  If Water is in excess, we can be lost in our comfort and lack the energy to be productive.  We can become too fixated on pleasure and enjoyment.   Or we can be lost in our emotions, making our decisions based solely upon the ebb and flow of our moods.  To the extreme, we spend the day either weeping or laughing.  If the Water element has become weakened, we are uncomfortable with ourselves and others.  We do not feel content or happy with whatever is happening around us.  We constantly feel unsatisfied.

In order to bring the element of Water back into balance, there are methods such as Tibetan medicine, ritual and meditation practices.  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 the elements within us.  To learn more about these yogic exercises see Healing with Form, Energy and Light by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche.  Additionally, if the Water element has become weakened, we can spend time near a river, stream or ocean and focus upon experiencing the feeling of the water in the body and energy.   Literally, drink more water.  But do so with the awareness that this is restoring strength to your Water element.  Practice being more generous with your time and with your possessions.  Take advantage of opportunities in which you can offer even a little kindness to those with whom you come into contact.  If the Water element is in excess, focus less on your own comfort and focus more upon improving the comfort of others who are less fortunate or who have less capacity to do this for themselves.  When the element of Water is balanced within us, we can maintain joyful effort in our daily activities and feel happiness, satisfaction and gratitude in our lives.

Tibetan: The Letter CHA

Ltr CA

The letter CHA is the fifth letter of the Tibetan alphabet.  It has an energy that is masculine.

writing CA

The First Temple in Exile: Dorpatan Monastery

Dhorpatan Bon Monastery

The official name of this monastery is Tashi Gégye Thaten Ling.  However, it is commonly referred to as the Dorpatan Monastery.  This was the first Yungdrung Bön temple in exile. It is located in Nepal, south of Dolpo, in the village of Dorpatan.  In addition to the monastery, there is also a medical clinic which serves the local population.  The settlement is now roughly divided into an area inhabited by the Bönpo and an area inhabited by the Buddhists, mostly Kagyu.  However, the religious practices and festivals are predominantly Yungdrung Bön.

map of dhorpata

In the early 1960’s after the Chinese invasion, a refugee camp for the Bönpo was established in Dorpatan by The Red Cross.  At that time, the spiritual head of the Bönpo and 32nd Abbot of Menri Monastery, Kündun Sherap Lodro, was staying in Kathmandu after having fled Tibet.  He traveled to Dorpatan and initiated the construction of a temple.  Kündun Sherap Lodro later went to India and management of the temple was taken over by Tsultrim Nyima.  He was the father of the current abbot of Triten Norbutse monastery in Kathmandu, Khenpo Tempa Yungdrung Rinpoche.  Tsultrim Nyima was strongly devoted to his work with the temple but was unfortunately killed at a relatively young age.  At that time, management of Dorpatan Monastery was taken over by Sonam Gyaltsen.  After his death, Geshe Tenzin Dargye was appointed as the abbot and continues in this position until today.

Khenpo Tamdin smaller(Khenpo Tenzin Dargye, also called Khenpo Tamdin, is the current abbot of Dorpatan Monastery.)

Khenpo Ratsa Geshe Tenzin Dargye was born in 1966 in Jomsom Mustang, Nepal.  His father, Yungdrung Gyal, is the 36th in the Phong la Ratsa lineage of East Amdo.  His mother, Konchok Dolmo, is of the Amchi lineage, a Tibetan doctor.   Khenpo Tenzin Dargye was tutored at home by his father until the age of nine and then sent to study in India.  At the age of sixteen, he decided to become a monk.  In 1996, he received his Doctorate of Religion and Philosophy, or Geshe Degree,  from the Dialectic School of Menri Monastery. After this, he worked as the organizer of the Bön Children’s Welfare Center and the medical dispensary for seven years. In 1996, he was asked by the 33rd Menri Trizen to transfer and to become the abbot of Dorpatan Monastery.  Over the years, Khenpo Tenzin Dargye has worked to improve the monastery.  Together with Dr. Tsultrim Sangye, they established a medical clinic in order to provide much needed medical services to the local and surrounding area.  Khenpo regularly travels and teaches throughout Asia, the United States, Mexico and Europe.

In the region surrounding Dorpatan Monastery, the main agriculture consists mostly of potatoes although there has been an effort to establish apple trees.  During the summer, there is also a great deal of animal husbandry.  During the Winter, many people migrate south and trade potatoes for salt, rice and wheat.

White Hats of the Yungdrung Bon


Yungdrung Bön monks gather for a ritual outside of the meditation hall at Triten Norbutse Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal.

These white hats are worn by the monks during all tantric rituals.

Tibetan: The Letter LA

Ltr LA The letter LA is the 26th letter of the Tibetan Alphabet.  Its energy is said to be like that of a barren woman.  It is also a word commonly used as a particle meaning ‘to, at, for, from’ etc.

writing LA

The Second Way: Rituals of Protection and Healing


Ritual Sang, or fumigation offering.  Photo by Chamma Ling Colorado

The second of the Nine Ways of Bön is called The Way of the Shen of the Phenomenal World and includes rituals for communicating with external forces such as rituals of protection, ransom of the soul and life-force, and expelling negative or harmful forces.  It is called ‘Phenomenal’ because it deals with phenomena that are visible and real for us.  As in all of the Nine Ways, the basis for everything is compassion.

The texts of the Yungdrung Bön tradition include many details about the categories of unseen spirits and the specific kinds of harm and illness that they can cause for humans.  In order to reverse these kinds of interferences and obstacles, the corresponding ritual needs to be performed to appease or turn back the unseen, external force. In general, there are four categories of rituals in the Second Way: rituals for exorcism or turning back negativity, rituals for the spirits known as dré and si, rituals for ransoming the soul, and rituals of the masters.

Rituals of Exorcism: These rituals have the immediate effect of reversing the direction of whatever harmful energy or force that is directed towards us.  In some instances, it is more accurately a cleansing rather than an exorcism because it directly involves the removal of the pollution or defilement created by negative actions or circumstances.  Because humans engage in activities which are impure, they create a basis for negativity.  This leads to a disturbance of both the positive external spirits as well as lower kinds of spirits who become angry and seek revenge in response to harmful, human activity.  In general, there are twelve different kinds of exorcism.  One of the most commonly practiced rituals within this Second Way is the Sang, also called Lha Sang.  This ritual uses fumigation with smoke to cleanse the impurities caused by humanity.  This ritual is commonly performed in the early morning on hilltops on auspicious days.   From the Offering of Sang to Local Spirits and Guardians:

“Having satisfied you with these offerings, do not send contagious illnesses, shortages of food, fighting or arguments, frost or hail to our crops, lightning or loss of property, human illness or illness to our animals.   Act as a friend and give us the strength and power of your support.”

Rituals for the Dré and Si: The dré and si are two different classes of negative spirits who delight in causing harm to others.  It is said that these negative spirits came into being at the first moment of phenomenal existence and that they reside at the center of the Earth.    Among other things, they have the power to cause sudden accidents, create wars between nations and spread epidemics.  These rituals are primarily concerned with offering gifts of appeasement and ways of subduing them.

Rituals of Ransom:  The enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché defined ‘ransom’ as the exchange of two things.  In these rituals, elaborate offerings are given to the offending spirits as a ransom for the soul, life-span or vital life-force of an individual.  There are many kinds of ransom rituals, but in general they fall into one of three categories: 1) ransom for men, 2) ransom for women, and 3) ransom for children.  The ritual preparation, offerings and performance are quite specific and elaborate and can take many days.

soul deer

During the ransom ritual, the effigy of a deer holding a long-life arrow is most often used to represent the soul of the patient.

Rituals of the Masters: In general, these rituals are of four types: 1) making offerings to the powerful but worldly gods, 2) offering to the powerful spirits who live in the atmosphere, 3) offering to the guardians, and 4) pacifying the spirits of the land, trees, water and rocks.  These rituals specify appropriate offerings for each type of spirit and the proper method for giving the offering.  In this way, a harmonious relationship with the spirits is maintained and suffering and obstacles towards humans are averted or resolved.

Raven Cypress Wood ©2013

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