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The Twelve Animals of Tibetan Astrology: The Garuda

Tibetan astrological chart and symbols

In Tibetan astrology, there is a twelve year cycle.  Each of these years is characterized by a different animal and associated with one of the five elements.  Therefore, a full cycle of the twelve animals being associated with each of the five elements is sixty years.  The twelve animals according to the Yungdrung Bön texts are the Rat, Elephant, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Horse, Snake, Sheep, Garuda, Monkey, Dog and Pig.  Each animal is associated with a specific element for its life-force as well as a specific direction which is determined by the life-force element.  Not only are these twelve animals associated with a particular year, they are also associated with particular months, days and hours.

A bronze image of a Garuda

Feb 27, 2017 begins the Tibetan New Year and the year of the Fire Garuda.  (For the Yungdrung Bön, it is the year of the Garuda.  Others use the symbol of the rooster.)  The Garuda is a bird both historical and mythical in scope similar to the Thunderbird.  It is intricately associated with Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché and the ancient kingdom of Zhang Zhung and Mount Tisé a.k.a. Mount Kailash. People born during a Garuda year will have an emphasis of the specific qualities associated with Garuda.  (These years correspond with the Tibetan lunar calendar and begin sometime between late January and early April.)   In astrology, the element which governs the life-force of the Garuda is Metal (space) and its direction is West.  So, if a Garuda person wanted to strengthen their life-force, they would focus upon strengthening the element of Metal internally and externally.  Because the positive direction is West, facing this direction while meditating, engaging in healing practices or just relaxing and taking deep breaths is beneficial.

In general as an astrological symbol, the Garuda person has a zest for life and is uncomfortable with the limitations of tradition and convention.  The Garuda has confidence in itself and is ambitious with goals that can often seem unrealistic to others.  However, it is a perfectionist and a master of organization that is able to find a way to accomplish difficult tasks.  The Garuda‘s joy and charisma attracts many friends who benefit from its spontaneous generosity.  Its flair for life and confidence in itself also attracts the attention of powerful people who help the completion of its goals.  In some, this unshakable confidence might lend itself to conceit and self-centeredness.  The Garuda finds the most joy when it remains balanced rather than caught in a cycle of highs and lows.

The Garuda‘s soul day is Friday and its life-force day is Thursday.  These are the best days for beginning new projects and activities that are meant to increase or develop something.  The obstacle day is Tuesday.  This day is best for purification and letting things go.  It is not a favorable day for beginning new activities.

Garuda years include: 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, and 2017

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The Twelve Animals of Tibetan Astrology: The Snake

Tibetan astrological chart and symbols

In Tibetan astrology, there is a twelve year cycle.  Each of these years is characterized by a different animal and associated with one of the five elements.  Therefore, a full cycle of the twelve animals being associated with each of the five elements takes sixty years.  The twelve animals according to the Yungdrung Bön texts are the Rat, Elephant, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Horse, Snake, Sheep, Garuda, Monkey, Dog and Pig.  Each animal is associated with a specific element for its life-force as well as a specific direction which is determined by the life-force element.  Not only are these twelve animals associated with a particular year, they are also associated with particular months, days and hours.

snake image

People born during the year of the Snake  will have an emphasis of the specific qualities associated with Snake.  (These years correspond with the Tibetan lunar calendar and begin sometime between late January and early April.)  The element which governs the life-force of the Snake is Fire and its direction is South.  So, if a Snake person wanted to strengthen their life-force, they would focus upon strengthening the element of Fire internally and externally.  The positive direction is South.  Therefore, facing this direction while meditating, doing healing rituals or just relaxing and taking deep breaths is beneficial.

In general, the Snake is can see the depth of things and spends a lot of time thinking and processing.  The Snake can recognize the underlying motivation of others even if they do not recognize it within themselves.  The Snake can use this to their advantage and can be underhanded at times.  The Snake enjoys the good things of life and loves to be in elegant and beautiful surroundings.  The Snake can have an intolerance for hardship or discomfort.  The Snake can be magnetic and charming but can also be vengeful when angered.  The Snake has a good sense of humor, is socially graceful and often surrounded by admirers.  The Snake could benefit from the practice of tolerance and openness.

The Snake‘s soul day is Tuesday and its life-force day is Friday.  These are the best days for beginning new projects and activities that are meant to increase or develop something.  The obstacle day is Wednesday.  This day is best for purification and letting things go.  It is not a favorable day for beginning new activities.

Snake years include: 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, & 2013

Raven Cypress Wood© All Rights Reserved

Practice of The Great Lama, Drenpa Namkha

drenpa namkha flying(Mural in Bhutan depicting the Great Lama, Drenpa Namkha)

According to the lunar calendar of the Yungdrung Bön, the 10th day of each month is the day set aside for the practice of the three sages: Drenpa Namkha and his two twin sons, Tséwang Rikdzin and Pema Tongdrul.   On this day, it is appropriate to pay homage and make offerings to these lamas as well as to recite the mantras associated with their respective practices.

The practices of Drenpa Namkha and Tséwang Rikdzin, are widespread in the Yungdrung Bön tradition.   In general, there have been three separate manifestations of Drenpa Namkha.  Each was a reincarnation of the previous manifestation.  There was the Drenpa Namkha of Tazik, Drenpa Namkha of Zhang Zhung, and Drenpa Namkha of Tibet.  Drenpa Namkha of the ancient kingdom of Zhang Zhung was a prince who lived during 914 BC.  He married an Indian Brahman girl and had twin sons, Tséwang Rikdzin and Pema Tongdrul, who were born in the year 888 BC.  Some New Bön texts say that Pema Tongdrul is the same person as Padmasambhava.   This manifestation of Drenpa Namkha wrote many Dzogchen texts and is often referred to simply as La Chen, or The Great Lama.

Drenpa Namkha edited(As a meditational deity, Drenpa Namkha is most often depicted in a semi-wrathful form, blue in color and holding a yungdrung in his right hand.)

Drenpa Namkha of Tibet was born in the year 753 AD in Southern Tibet.  He was an accomplished practitioner and renowned scholar.  During this time, the kingdom of Tibet was ruled by King Trisong Detsen.  This king had many Bön priest in his court, including Drenpa Namkha.  When the king decided to convert the kingdom to the  new Indian religion of Buddhism, he began to drive out the Bön priests and to destroy their texts.  The Bön lamas were given the choice of exile from the kingdom, suicide, or conversion to the new religion.   Many lamas chose to escape with texts and to try and preserve the teachings elsewhere.  Drenpa Namkha chose to stay and protect the teachings and the texts from within Tibet.  So, at the age of 31, he cut his own hair with a blade of gold and ordained himself a Buddhist with these words,

“A person who has attained realization would not make a distinction between his son and his enemy.  I have no partiality for anything.  Therefore, I shall be ordained.” (Translation by Samten Karmay from the Treasury of Good Sayings written by Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen.)

 After his conversion, he had many texts hidden within chortens, statues and columns at the monastery of Samye.  He continued to compose texts and to teach.  Among his many students was the king, Trisong Detsen himself.  Years later, the king allowed him to openly return to his practice of the Yungdrung Bön teachings.

“Look upon me with your unbiased compassion morning and night during the past, present and future.  Turn back both seen and unseen enemies! My present and future Refuge and Protector, bless me to accomplish my intentions!”

~From the Prayer to Drenpa Namkha, translated by Raven Cypress Wood

Happy Tibetan New Year

Losar shrine table copy

Shrine offerings for the Tibetan New Year, or Losar (Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood)

The Tibetan New Year, or Losar, is celebrated according to the lunar calendar.  In 2016, Losar is February 9th.  The night before Losar, the many offerings are beautifully arranged before the shrine.  In the morning in monasteries and households alike, everyone will awake early, dress in new clothes and begin the day with special ritual offerings and prayers for a year of good fortune including raising prayer flags.  Losar always begins with the New Moon and the offerings remain upon the shrine until after the night of the Full Moon.

monkey astrology

This begins the year of the Fire Monkey.  See previous post about the Monkey in Tibetan astrology: https://ravencypresswood.com/2015/10/11/the-twelve-animals-of-tibetan-astrology-the-snake/

Tibetan New Year: Preparation & Purification

A ransom offering with hand print dough offerings. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

This year, the Tibetan New Year, called Losar, is February 9th.   This is the 1st day of the 1st month in the Tibetan lunar calendar.  The month leading up to Losar is considered a time of purification and cleansing.  Especially today, the 29th day of the 12th month, or nyishu gu, the family gathers together for a special dinner and purification ritual. This one night of the year, a soup called gutük is made.  This soup has 9 ingredients.  One of the most important is the large balls of dough that each person of the family must receive.  Inside these balls of dough are symbolic objects, or their name written on paper, which are a playful commentary upon the one who receives them.  For example, whoever receives the ball of dough containing a piece of coal is said to have a ‘black heart.’  Some of the other possible items that one might receive are: wool meaning ‘kind-hearted, a sun meaning ‘light of goodness’, a chili meaning ‘sharp-tongued’, or salt meaning ‘lazy’.  Everyone saves a little of the soup to be offered as a ransom, or offering, to the negative spirits of the past year so that they are satisfied and go away. Along with the leftover soup, each person also offers a small ball of dough that has been passed over the body to absorb illness and negativity and then pressed with the fingers of the hand before being placed in the offering plate.  A small, lit candle is placed in the plate before it is carried out by a family member.  This person must not look back while taking out the offering.  Ideally, it is left at a three-way crossroads so that the spirits can continue leaving.

khapsey seq

Khapsey before, during and after cooking, including the spiral and scorpion shapes of the khapsey that are offered to prevent accidents with the hot oil used in frying (photos by Kim Carey)

 A great deal of time and effort is spent in making the traditional fried cookie, called khapsey.  Hundreds of these cookies must be made.   The various designs are arranged beautifully and offered upon the shrine in households and monasteries alike.   In the days following Losar, everyone who comes to visit receives tea and khapsey.The dough for the khapsey is kneaded, rolled out, and then cut and folded into the desired shape.  Some of the dough is mixed with food coloring for the more ornamental designs.  Some khapsey designs are associated with certain areas of Tibet.  Once a large quantity has been prepared, the frying process begins.  The first items to be fried are the khapsey that will be given as offerings to the spirits to ensure that there are no accidents during the cooking.  This offering resembles long, thin twists of khapsey and one khapsey whose shape closely resembles that of a scorpion.  The first piece of khapsey fried after the offerings is presented to the shrine and the offered to the deities.  Then, the remaining  khapsey are fried and set aside.

On the first day of the new year, everyone stays at home or only goes to the monastery to make offerings and prayers.  On the 2nd and 3rd days of the new year, there are many visitors who will come and enjoy the khapsey  and raise the energy for the coming year.

Anniversary of the Birth of Lord Tonpa Shenrap Miwoche

The Enlightened One, Founder of the Yungdrung Bon Tradition, Lord Tonpa Shenrap Miwoche

Today (January 23rd 2016), the 15th day of the 12th lunar month, is the 18,033rd birth anniversary of the founder of the Yungdrung Bön tradition, the Enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche.  Traditionally, the anniversary of his birth has been celebrated on the 15th day of the 1st month of the lunar calendar.  However, based upon research by the renowned Yungdrung Bön scholar and supreme lama, Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, the actual date is believed to be the Full Moon day of the last month in the Tibetan lunar calendar.  Today is a powerful and auspicious day for performing activity or spiritual practice.  The benefit of these activities are greatly multiplied.

Already an enlightened being, Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche chose to be born into this world in order to guide beings from suffering to liberation.  He was born into the royal Mu lineage in the kingdom of Tazig Olmo Lungring.

“He is the Supreme Teacher, One who has gone beyond bliss, an authentic and completely Enlightened Being, a manifested Buddha, Tönpa Shenrap Miwo.  His face is like the sun and moon and he sees throughout the ten directions.  His divine Body is so beautiful that one cannot look away.  In his right hand, he holds a golden chakshing painted with a turquoise yungdrung which shows that he is Lord of the 3,000-fold universe and Conqueror of this world system.  His left hand holds the mudra of equipoise which shows that he has destroyed the door to birth into the lower realms of cyclic existence.”

~From the sacred Yungdrung Bön scriptures

All Rights Reserved ©Raven Cypress Wood

 

The Twelve Animals of Tibetan Astrology: The Monkey

Tibetan astrological chart and symbols

In Tibetan astrology, there is a twelve year cycle.  Each of these years is characterized by a different animal and associated with one of the five elements.  Therefore, a full cycle of the twelve animals being associated with each of the five elements takes sixty years.  The twelve animals according to the Yungdrung Bön texts are the Rat, Elephant, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Horse, Snake, Sheep, Garuda, Monkey, Dog and Pig.  Each animal is associated with a specific element for its life-force as well as a specific direction which is determined by the life-force element.  Not only are these twelve animals associated with a particular year, they are also associated with particular months, days and hours.

monkey astrology

2016 will be the year of the Monkey. Therefore, people born during this year will be a Monkey and will have an emphasis of the specific qualities associated with Monkey.  (This year corresponds with the Tibetan lunar calendar and begins February 08, 2016.)  The element which governs the life-force of the Monkey is Metal (space) and its direction is West.  So, if a Monkey person wanted to strengthen their life-force, they would focus upon strengthening the element of Metal internally and externally.  The positive direction West.  Therefore, facing this direction while meditating, doing healing rituals or just relaxing and taking deep breaths is beneficial.

In general, the Monkey is friendly, adaptable, playful and thinks outside of the box.  The Monkey does not like to be trapped in any way and can use its ingenuity and keen sense of strategy to keep itself free.  Although the Monkey has a good sense of humor and a sharp mind, too often it is tempted to use these qualities to elevate itself while lowering others.  The Monkey is skilled at finding ways to benefit from an opportunity.  Even when faced with difficulty, the Monkey most often lands on its feet.  The Monkey has an insatiable desire for knowledge and study, but can grow bored once it has reached a level of mastery.

The Monkey‘s soul day is Friday and its life-force day is Thursday.  These are the best days for beginning new projects and activities that are meant to increase or develop something.  The obstacle day is Tuesday.  This day is best for cleansing and letting things go.  It is not a favorable day for beginning new things.

Monkey years include: 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016

The Twelve Animals of Tibetan Astrology: The Dragon

Tibetan astrological chart and symbols

In Tibetan astrology, there is a twelve year cycle.  Each of these years is characterized by a different animal and associated with one of the five elements.  Therefore, a full cycle of the twelve animals being associated with each of the five elements takes sixty years.  The twelve animals according to the Yungdrung Bön texts are the Rat, Elephant, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Horse, Snake, Sheep, Garuda, Monkey, Dog and Pig.  Each animal is associated with a specific element for its life-force as well as a specific direction which is determined by the life-force element.  Not only are these twelve animals associated with a particular year, they are also associated with particular months, days and hours.

dragon

2012 was the year of the DragonTherefore, people born during this year would be a Dragon and would have an emphasis of the specific qualities associated with Dragon.  (This year corresponds with the Tibetan lunar calendar and began February 22, 2012.)  The element which governs the life-force of the Dragon is Earth and its direction is Southeast.  So, if a Dragon person wanted to strengthen their life-force, they would focus upon strengthening the element of Earth internally and externally.  The positive direction Southeast.  Therefore, facing this direction while meditating, doing healing rituals or just relaxing and taking deep breaths is beneficial.

In general, the Dragon is flamboyant and impulsive.  It has a fiery disposition whose energy and drive seem unending.  Convinced of its superiority of destiny and vision, it wants to live life to its fullest and is often frustrated and impatient with the perceived limitations of others and circumstances.  The Dragon always wants more.  The Dragon has much charisma, wit, and enthusiasm which is admired by others and they are often placed in leadership positions.  The Dragon can also be unrealistic in its demands and become angry to the point of deeply wounding others due to its lack of tact.  However, the Dragon easily forgives, and is sincere and generous in its relationships.  Whatever it is feeling is difficult to conceal.

The Dragon’s soul day is Sunday and its life-force day is Wednesday.  These are the best days for beginning new projects and activities that are meant to increase or develop something.  The obstacle day is Thursday.  This day is best for cleansing and letting things go.  It is not a favorable day for beginning new things.

Dragon years include: 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, & 2024

The Twelve Animals of Tibetan Astrology: The Sheep

 astrology sheep green

 

 

In Tibetan astrology, there is a twelve year cycle.  Each of these years is characterized by a different animal and associated with one of the five elements.  Therefore, a full cycle of the twelve animals being associated with each of the five elements takes sixty years.  The twelve animals according to the Yungdrung Bön texts are the Rat, Elephant, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Horse, Snake, Sheep, Garuda, Monkey, Dog and Pig.  Each animal is associated with a specific element for its life-force as well as a specific direction which is determined by the life-force element.  Not only are these twelve animals associated with a particular year, they are also associated with particular months, days and hours.

2015 is the year of the SheepTherefore, people born during this year would be a Sheep and would have an emphasis of the specific qualities associated with Sheep.  (This year corresponds with the Tibetan lunar calendar and began February 19, 2015.)  2015 is also governed by the element of Wood and is a female year.  So, people born during this year would be a Female Wood Sheep.  The element which governs the life-force of the Sheep is Earth and its direction is Southwest.  So, if a Sheep person wanted to strengthen their life-force, they would focus upon strengthening the element of Earth internally and externally.  The positive direction Southwest.  So, facing this direction while meditating, doing healing rituals or just relaxing and taking deep breaths is beneficial.

In general, the Sheep is considered to be a friendly and kind-hearted person who is gentle and easy-going.  Although they have a strong sense of fairness and right behavior, they are quick to forgive.  They prefer an uncomplicated life that is harmonious.  However, in the face of danger, they can be ferocious in their attempt to protect themselves or others.  They are independent thinkers but often work best as part of a team.  Sheep are often religious and can be interested in the supernatural.  Although they tend to be very creative, the creativity must have a practical purpose.  They thrive within a stable and loving relationship.

The Sheep’s soul day is Friday and the life-force day is Monday.  These are the best days for beginning new projects and activities that are meant to increase or develop something.  The obstacle day is Thursday.  This day is best for cleansing and letting things go.  It is not a favorable day for beginning new things.

Sheep years include: 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, & 2003

Sacred Dance for the Tibetan New Year

cham at Menri Losar 2015

Yungdrung Bon monks of Menri Monastery in Dolanji, India perform sacred dances of the deities during Tibetan New Year celebrations.  Photo credit: Unknown

In the Yungdrung Bön tradition, during the 1st month of the New Year sometime between the 5th & 15th according to the lunar calendar, the one day event of cham dance is held.  Cham dance is the sacred dance of the deities.  Through dance, the protectors and other divine beings are invoked.

Ma gyud cham dance 2013

Dancers perform the sacred dance of the deities of the Mother Tantra. Photo credit: Unknown

In order to perform the dance, a qualified monk will practice once or twice each day in the month prior.  On the day of the performance, protectors and deities such as Sipe Gyalmo, Mi Dü, Blue Dzambhala, and certain deities of the Mother Tantra, are invoked.  Lay people and villagers make a special effort to attend these dance performances in order to receive the blessing and healing of the deities.

yeshe Walmo Dancer at Menri 2

A monk invokes the enlightened protector Yeshe Walmo through dance. Photo credit: Unknown

 

snow lion dance at Menri 2013

Monks performing the snow lion dance. Photo credit: Unknown

Later in the day, more playful and entertaining dances are performed for the audience such as the Snow Lion Dance and the Deer Dance.

Happy Tibetan New Year

Losar shrine table copy

Shrine offerings for the Tibetan New Year, or Losar (Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood)

The Tibetan New Year, or Losar, is celebrated according to the lunar calendar.  In 2015, Losar is February 19th.  The night before Losar, the many offerings are beautifully arranged before the shrine.  In the morning in monasteries and households alike, everyone will awake early, dress in new clothes and begin the day with special ritual offerings and prayers for a year of good fortune including raising prayer flags.  Losar always begins with the New Moon and the offerings remain upon the shrine until after the night of the Full Moon.

astrology sheep green

This begins the year of the Wood Sheep.  The Yungdrung Bön sage and scholar, Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen, was born during a Sheep year in 1859.

The Twelve Animals of Tibetan Astrology: The Rabbit

rabbit

 

 

 

In Tibetan astrology, there is a twelve year cycle.  Each of these years is characterized by a different animal and associated with one of the five elements.  Therefore, a full cycle of the twelve animals being associated with each of the five elements takes sixty years.  The twelve animals according to the Yungdrung Bön texts are the Rat, Elephant, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Horse, Snake, Sheep, Garuda, Monkey, Dog and Pig.  Each animal is associated with a specific element for its life-force as well as a specific direction which is determined by the life-force element.  Not only are these twelve animals associated with a particular year, they are also associated with particular months, days and hours.

2011 was the year of the RabbitTherefore, people born during this year would be a Rabbit and would have an emphasis of the specific qualities associated with Rabbit.  (It is important to remember that this year corresponds with the Tibetan lunar calendar which begins somewhere between February and mid-March each year.)  2011 was also governed by the element of Metal and was a female year.  So, people born during this year would be a Female Metal Rabbit.  The element which governs the life-force of the Rabbit is Wood and its direction is East.  So, if a Rabbit person wanted to strengthen their life-force, they would focus upon strengthening the element of Wood internally and externally.  Although called ‘Wood’ in the astrological context, the element of Wood corresponds to the element Wind.  The positive direction is East.  So, facing this direction while meditating, doing healing rituals or just relaxing and taking deep breaths is beneficial.

In general, the Rabbit is considered to be peaceful and calm, virtuous and sensible.  The Rabbit has a natural skill for diplomacy and is kind and polite in its interactions.  The Rabbit enjoys elegance and comfort and will protect its peaceful environment from disruption.   Preferring harmony, it will make an effort to avoid conflict and confusion perhaps giving the impression of indifference and aloofness. However, if the Rabbit feels directly threatened, its anger is expressed through subtlety and cleverness rather than outbursts.

The Rabbit’s soul day is Thursday and the life-force day is Saturday.  These are the best days for beginning new projects and activities that are meant to increase or develop something.  The obstacle day is Friday.  This day is best for cleansing and letting things go.  It is not a favorable day for beginning new things.

Rabbit years include: 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, and 2011

Illuminating the Sacred

Nangzhig-Monastery-at-night

The Yungdrung Bön Monastery of Nangzhig during one of the New Year celebrations

Monastery Shrine for the New Year

Losar Altar at Menri 2013

Shrine for the Tibetan New Year, or Losar, and other celebrations at the Yungdrung Bon Monastery of Menri in Dolanji, India

A Time for Increasing Luck

raising lungta with flags and paper

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 First Way: Divination, Astrology, Ritual and Medicine

The First of the Nine Ways of Bön is called The Way of the Shen of Prediction and it contains methods of divination, astrology, healing rituals and medicine which deal directly with the concerns of this present, worldly life.  As in all of the Nine Ways, the base is compassion.  Although the ultimate goal might be enlightenment, the emphasis is on the individual’s immediate circumstances during this lifetime.  The descriptions below are necessarily brief although the knowledge for each one of these methods is vast.  In the words of the enlightened Lord  Tönpa Shenrap Miwo:

“In general, there are 360 different kinds of divination.  There are 360 kinds of astrological calculation.  There are 360 kinds of ritual and 21,000 methods of diagnosis in order to avert the danger of death.”

 

mo text

(Copy of an old text detailing a method of divination taught directly by Lord Tönpa Shenrap)

Divination, Tibetan mo, is a method through which one can obtain answers to worldly questions such as, “Will my new project be successful?” or “Are there any obstacles for me at this time in my life?”  If the answer is negative, the text often recommends an antidote that will serve to change the projected course of events for the positive.  For instance, if one’s travel is deemed as having the potential for difficulty, the text might advise offering prayers to the deities of the road prior to traveling.  It is quite common within Tibetan culture to ask a lama for a divination for any number of reasons.  Beginning new projects, buying or selling a home, traveling, health, business, legal dealings and marriage are among the most common reasons for asking a lama for a mo.

In the case of illness or disease, divination as well as astrology are essential in determining whether the root cause of the disturbance is either physiologically based or caused by an external force.  For if the illness is caused by an external force, or don, no amount of medicine or medical treatment will result in a cure.  For an energetic cause, there must be an energetic antidote.  Therein lies the need for ritual.  However, if the illness is physiologically based, then divination will advise medicine and can give information regarding the length of recovery time that is to be expected.

As for the method, there are a many ways to perform a divination within the Bön Buddhist tradition.  The method chosen might depend upon it having been handed down through the family, the method given by one’s lama, or a method associated with a deity for which one has a connection.  In general, before performing a divination, one needs to have received the teaching from a lama as well as permission to study the text.  Often, a personal retreat is undergone in order to build a relationship with the respective deity.  Later, when performing the divination for one’s self or another, offerings, mantras and prayers are performed as a means to connect with the deity and to receive accurate information from the deity whose knowledge is beyond time and space.

astrology thangkha

(Astrological deities and symbols)

Astrology, Tibetan tsi, is not only a method to harmonize one’s relationship with the external forces of the universe, but also a calculation of the flow of time.  The Tibetan New year begins somewhere between the first of February and the end of March.  The Tibetan lunar calendar and the Chinese lunar calendar are close but not identical.

Each year is characterized by one of the five elements and by one of the twelve animals which are alternatively male or female.  Every individual possesses the characteristics of the year within which they were born.  The qualities of this element/animal combination can be studied and applied in relationship to other individuals, such as in marriage calculations, and also in order to determine the probable effect of any given year upon an individual.  For example, someone born in the year of the Male Wood Rat (1984) would have the energy of their good luck ruled by the wood element.  The year 2013 of the Western calendar is a Female Water Snake year and during this year the energy of good luck is ruled by the water element.  The wood element and the water element have a naturally positive relationship to one another.  Therefore, the Male Wood Rat person is most likely to have a very positive year as far as their good luck is concerned.  It takes sixty years to complete the cycle of twelve animals and five elements.

Astrological calculations are crucial in order to ascertain the most favorable date and time for important events such as religious festivals, marriages, travel, significant business dealings, healing rituals, funerals, etc.  In this way, the events that take place can act in harmony with the natural energies of the universe and therefore amplify the power and effect of the desired positive outcome.

In addition to consulting the calendar, it is common to have one’s personal horoscope calculated in order to determine one’s strengths and weaknesses, to learn what are one’s most beneficial days to begin new activities, the possibility of illness or obstacles along with their prescribed antidote, as well as the nature of one’s past and future lives, etc.  A horoscope is also done for someone who has died in order to determine the best day for burial or cremation.  This kind of horoscope can also determine the nature of the person’s rebirth.

Tenzin Yangton preparing for lalu chilu edited

(A Yungdrung Bön monk prepares for an elaborate ritual.)

Ritual, Tibetan to, are the ritual methods used to counteract harm coming from unseen, external forces.  In the Tibetan worldview, there exist many types of spirits who inhabit the same environment as humans.  A great deal of attention is given to maintaining a harmonious relationship with these unseen neighbors.  It is said, for instance, that what we perceive as open space is indeed crowded with beings that are invisible to us.  However, much of humanity goes about changing, damaging and polluting the external environment without consideration for these other beings who think of it as their home.  In this way, we harm and offend these spirits who then seek recompense or revenge.  From our perspective however, it can seem as though we suddenly get sick for no reason and can find no effective cure.

Once divination or astrology has established that the source of our disturbance is one or more of these external forces, a specific ritual is advised in order to restore harmony.  Traditionally, a lama is asked to come to the family home and perform the required ritual.  The family then gathers all of the items necessary and hosts the lama and any assistants that accompany him for the duration of the ritual.  Some rituals can be concluded in a single day.  Others may can take many days to complete depending upon the type of ritual that is required as well as the severity of the patient’s illness or disturbance.

medicine tree(Detail from the tree which shows the root and subsequent branches and leaves of both health and illness)

Medicine, Tibetan men, is a method of diagnosing and treating illness of the physical body.  The true root of health is awareness and virtuous behavior and the root of illness is ignorance and non-virtuous behavior.  This idea is expounded at great length in the medical texts.   Good and stable health is reflected by the balance of wind, bile and phlegm within the body.  Illness is seen as the weakness, damage or excess of any or all of these forces.  The hot or cold nature of the imbalance is also taken into consideration.

When diagnosing the root cause of disease or illness, the Tibetan doctor will first observe the general demeanor of the patient, listen to the sound of their voice, study the appearance and shape of their tongue, examine the qualities of their urine, and read the multiple pulses of both wrists.  The doctor may also ask questions about the patients behavior, diet, and the onset of symptoms.

When prescribing medicine, the Tibetan doctor gives herbal medicines that are to be taken at specific times of day.  It is believed that a medicine is most effective when taken at the time that the disease is most active or at the designated time of the affected organ.  Additionally, the doctor will give advice for diet and behavior, sometimes prescribing that a patient be more generous and less greedy, or to spend more time with spiritual practice and less time with mindless distraction.  Prevention of disease includes the discrimination of beneficial and harmful activities as well as an appropriate diet with a proper balance of rest and activity.

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Auspicious Days for Spiritual Practice

Tonpa Miwoche statue smaller(Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché)

There are many auspicious days throughout the year in the Bönpo calendar.  Each month, there are auspicious days which are determined by the teaching activities of the Supreme Shen Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché.  These dates are based upon the lunar calendar.

  • 30th Day of the Month: On this day, the Supreme Shen Tönpa Shenrap taught the beings in the formless realm.  This is a good day to purify wrong views.  The power of any virtuous activity or meditation performed on this day is doubled.  Also, because of its significance in the lunar cycle, no meat or alcohol are consumed on this day and special prayers and mantras are performed.
  • 1st Day of the New Moon: On this day, the Supreme Shen Tönpa Shenrap taught the space gods in the highest and purest of places in the formless realm.  This is a good day to purify greed and attachment.
  • 8th Day: On this day, the Supreme Shen Tönpa Shenrap taught the clear light gods.  This is a good day to purify broken vows and to recite one of the three heart mantras of Yungdrung Bön.  Also, because of its significance in the lunar cycle, no meat or alcohol are consumed on this day and special prayers and mantras are performed.
  • 14th Day: On this day, the Supreme Shen Tönpa Shenrap taught the Gaden gods of the form realm.  This is a good day to purify sexual misconduct and desire.
  • 15th Day/Full Moon: On this day, the Supreme Shen Tönpa Shenrap taught the gods of the desire realm atop Mt. Meru.  This is a good day to purify the killing someone important such as a lama, a family member or another practitioner either in this or a previous life.  Also, because of its significance in the lunar calendar, no meat or alcohol is consumed on this day and special prayers and mantras are performed.
  • 16th Day: On this day, the Supreme Shen Tönpa Shenrap taught the four great gods of the desire realm and the four great kings.   This is a good day to purify disagreements or misunderstandings with parents, a lama, or another practitioner from this or a past life.
  • 19th Day: On this day, the Supreme Shen Tönpa Shenrap taught the Tsangri gods of the form realm.  This is a good day to purify any accidental killing.
  • 22nd Day: On this day, the Supreme Shen Tönpa Shenrap taught the demi-gods of the desire realm who reside on the slopes of Mt. Meru.  This is a good day to purify the killing of a human being or the telling of lies to your lama.  Also, because of its significance in the lunar calendar, no meat or alcohol is consumed on this day and special prayers and mantras are performed.
  • 29th Day: On this day, the Supreme Shen Tönpa Shenrap taught the lu, or the water beings also known as nagas, of the desire realm.  This is a good day to purify stealing from this or a past life.
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