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Sacred Dance of the Deities

mask dance at Triten Norbutse 2013 sm

Monks perform sacred dance at the Triten Norbutse Monastery in Kathmandu as part of the New Year celebrations

What are the Nine Ways of Bon?

Dolpo-Samling

(Samling Monastery in Dolpo, Nepal)

There are three hagiographies of Buddha Tönpa Shénrap Miwoché’s life.  They are commonly known as the Do Düs, the short version which has only one volume.  The Zer Mik is the medium length version with 2 volumes.  The Zi Ji is the long version and has 12 volumes containing a total of 61 chapters.  All of these texts are classified within the Kangyur.  It is within the longer version, the Zi Ji, that the teachings of Yundgrung Bön are explained by the Buddha within the context of nine different ways, or vehicles.  The 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Ways are classified as The Causal Ways, or the Bön of Causes.  The 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Ways are classified as the Ways of the Result, or the Bön of the Fruit.   The 9th Way contains the teachings of the Great Perfection, or Dzogchen.  From the 1st to the 9th Way, the view, or perspective, of the methods and teachings becomes increasingly higher.  However, even though one is a practitioner of a higher ‘Way’, this does not exclude the practice of one or more of the lower ‘Ways’ should the need arise.   Although the methods differ, all of the Nine Ways have compassion as their base.

In centuries past, during times of persecution, the Bönpo would hide their texts rather than have them destroyed.  Later, after the political environment had changed and they were no longer in danger, the texts would be searched for and brought out from their hiding places.  In this way, there came to be three different classifications of the Nine Ways of Bön according to the region in which the texts were found after being hidden.  These three are referred to as The Southern Treasures, The Northern Treasures, and The Central Treasures.

In 1961, the Rockefeller Foundation gave funds to various universities who had established Tibetan studies programs in order to allow them to invite Tibetan scholars for a 3 year period.  Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, Geshe Lungtok Tenpa’i Nyima Rinpoche, the future abbot of Menri Monastery, and Geshe Samten Karmey were invited to England by David Snellgrove.  During this time, Yongdzin Rinpoche suggested the translation of excerpts of the Nine Ways based upon the Southern Treasures.  Yongdzin Rinpoche personally selected the passages that David Snellgrove translated.  In 1967, these excerpts were published as The Nine Ways of Bön.  At that time, very little was known about the Yungdrung Bön tradition among Western scholars.  There was a great deal of theorizing and conjecture.  So, although Snellgrove’s translation of the text is quite accurate, his own personal conclusions as to the origins and influences of the Yungdrung Bön should be taken within the context of the time in which he was writing.  However, to-date, his translation remains the only extended translation of the Nine Ways that is available.

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The Nine Ways of Bön according to the Southern Treasures:

1. The Way of the Shen of Prediction: This Way includes divination, astrology, various rituals, and medical diagnosis.

2. The Way of the Shen of the Phenomenal World: This Way includes rituals dealing with communication with external forces such as rituals of protection, invocation, ransom of the soul and life-force, and  of repelling negative or harmful energies.

3. The Way of the Shen of Manifestation: This Way includes venerating a deity or master and then applying mantra and mudras in order to accomplish a goal such as requesting assistance from natural energies.

4. The Way of the Shen of Existence: This Way is primarily focused upon rituals for the dead and methods to promote longevity for the living.

5. The Way of the Virtuous Lay Practitioners: This Way specifies the proper conduct of lay person taking vows.

6.  The Way of the Fully Ordained: This Way specifies the proper conduct for those who are fully ordained practitioners.

7. The Way of the White AH: This Way is primarily focused upon tantric practice using visualization.

8. The Way of the Primordial Shen: This Way is primarily focused upon higher tantric practice.

9. The Unsurpassed Way: This Way is primarily focused upon the practice of Dzogchen, or The Great Perfection.  This Way does not rely upon antidotes of any kind, ritual or practice with a meditational deity.  It is concerned with the realization of the true nature of one’s own mind.

Tibetan: The Letter SA

SA

The letter SA is the 28th letter in the Tibetan alphabet.  It’s energy is feminine.  It is also a word meaning “the earth, soil, land.”

In general, there are two kinds of Tibetan script found in print.  One is a cursive script called umé.  The other, shown here, is called uchen.  The uchen letters all have a horizontal line at the top of the letter.  This horizontal line is referred to as ‘the head’ of the letter.  The head is always drawn first.  Then, the letter is drawn from the left to the right, and from the top down.  Letters which contain loops are exceptions.

drawing SA

(Graph of Chris Fynn)

 

Blue like the Clear, Open Sky

blue text

In the Bön Buddhist tradition, the color blue has great, meaningful significance.  Specifically, the blue of the clear, open, vast expanse of the sky.  Among the five schools of Tibetan Buddhism, only Bönpo monks have blue on their robes.  In ancient times, Bön practitioners wore blue robes.  Bön texts are wrapped in blue cloth, the stiff top and bottom covers which protect the paper are blue, and all page edges are painted with blue ink.  Here, a sacred scripture is written on blue paper.

Tibetan: Da

Ltr Da The letter Da is the 11th letter in the Tibetan alphabet.  It has energy that is considered feminine.  Da is also a word meaning “Now, presently, immediately.”

Teachings as Vast as the Ocean

bon canon

The sacred teachings of the Yungdrung Bön are so immense that they are said to be “vast like an ocean”.  All of these many volumes are divided into two primary classifications.   A scripture is either part of the ‘Ka‘, teachings given by the enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwo, or they are part of the ‘Ka Ten’, teachings and commentaries based upon the words of Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwo.  There are 175 volumes of texts within the Ka and over 300 volumes of texts within the Ka Ten.

Tibetan: MA

ImageThe Tibetan letter MA is the 16th letter in the Tibetan alphabet.  It is said to have an energy that is very feminine.  It is also a word meaning ‘mother’.

KA: First Tibetan Letter

ImageThe letter KA is the first letter of the Tibetan alphabet.  Although each letter has a precise way of being drawn, greater meaning is placed upon the sound and energy of the letters than their form.  The letter KA is said to have an energy that is considered masculine.

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