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The Fifth Way: In the Service of Virtue

Central Figure of the Tibetan Thangkha Painting Related to The Fifth Way

Within the Nine Ways of Bön, the Fifth Way is called The Way of the Virtuous Lay Practitioners and specifies the proper conduct and commitments of a lay person taking vows. This Fifth Way is the first of the Nine Ways classified as ‘Ways of the Result’ or ‘Bön of the Fruit.’ In the Tibetan language, a lay practitioner is called ‘gen nyen’ [Tib. dge bsnyen] which literally translates as ‘one who serves virtue’ or ‘one who draws near to virtue.’ When asked the meaning of these concepts, the enlightened all-knowing teacher, Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwo answered,

“Virtuous means without negative actions. This is one who is committed to serve virtue through their body, speech and mind. Service means serving without holding contradictory views and properly remaining steadfast in service to virtue.”

In general, the lay practitioner commits to practicing the ten virtuous actions and renounces the ten non-virtuous actions of body, speech and mind.  Buddha Tönpa Shenrap defines this kind of renunciation as 1) not performing the actions, 2) not requesting or encouraging others to perform them and 3) not feeling pleased that others have performed the negative actions. Similarly, one commits to 1) acting according to the ten virtuous actions, 2) encouraging others to participate in these activities and 3) feeling joy that others have performed virtuous actions. This is the inner practice.

The Three Virtuous Actions of the Body:

  1. Rather than killing, protecting the life of other beings.
  2. Rather than stealing, practicing generosity.
  3. Rather than engaging in sexual misconduct or causing others to break their vows, keeping one’s own vows and respecting the vows of others.

The Four Virtuous Actions of Speech:

  1. Rather than lying, speaking the truth.
  2. Rather than creating discord, speaking in a way that brings people together.
  3. Rather than using hurtful speech, speaking gently and kindly.
  4. Rather than gossiping or mindlessly talking, speaking in a useful way or reciting prayers.

The Three Virtuous Actions of the Mind:

  1. Rather than coveting the possessions and accomplishments of others, being generous and open.
  2. Rather than wishing harm to others or feeling resentful, cultivating the desire to help others.
  3. Rather than holding wrong views, practicing the teachings of Yungdrung Bön and establishing a true and authentic view.

When asked to teach the outward form of the lay practitioner, The All-knowing Teacher, Tönpa Shenrap first instructed the gathered assembly to construct the first Elegant Yungdrung Chorten [Sanskrit: stupa] according to his detailed instructions. Once completed, he consecrated the chorten and then began teaching the outer forms and behavior of a gen nyen or lay practitioner.

Elegant Yungdrung Bon Chorten edit

The Elegant Yungdrung Chorten which represents the stages of enlightenment

The practitioner must go before a pure lama who guides disciples and take the appropriate vows. According to a commentary written by the 23rd abbot of Menri Monastery, His Holiness Nyima Tenzin Rinpoché:

“As for the vows of a gen nyen: There are five kinds of lifetime vows.  To abandon killing, to abandon taking what is not given, to abandon impure, wrong kinds of sexual conduct, and to abandon false speech are four.  Abandoning one of the four kinds of food is the fifth.  Some people have taught abandoning alcohol as a branch vow.

This is the gen nyen of completely renouncing according to the five kinds of established laws.  Because of that, the gen nyen of pure behavior has renounced the basic kinds of impure activity.”

As for killing, one must abandon killing in anger especially another human being. One must abandon stealing, especially when it is driven by desire. One must avoid sexual contact that is damaging or abusive, one must avoid harmful speech especially if it creates a division within the spiritual community, and one must avoid lying especially about one’s spiritual experiences and attainments. As for the fifth which is a branch vow, one renounces either one of the four kinds of food. In this context, the four kinds of food are 1) meat, 2) garlic, 3) solid food after the mid-day meal, and 4) intoxicants such as drugs and alcohol. Regarding drugs and alcohol, the deeper meaning is the renunciation of intoxication which is an obstacle to mindfulness and incites negative behavior.

According to Buddha Tönpa Shenrap in The Nine Ways of Bön,

“As for the lifelong inner rules, one must abandon killing due to the influence of anger, abandon taking what is not given due to the influence of desire or attachment, abandon acting secretly to get what one wants without consideration of cause and effect due to the influence of ignorance, abandon performing unclean work due to the influence of pride, and abandon rough and abusive speech, meaningless talk, and telling lies. One must apply one’s self to their opposites.”

The Buddha goes on to describe the outer practices.

“As for the five intermediate principles, one should perform pure water-cleansing rites, perform prostrations and circumambulations with devotion and aspiration, create and place tsa tsa, and offer torma. Presenting offerings is a branch of gathering the [two] accumulations.”

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 Seventh Way: The Way of the White AH

The enlightened wrathful deity, Walse Ngampa

Among the Nine Ways of Bön, The Seventh Way is The Way of the White AH.  This Seventh Way is the first of the Nine Ways of Bön whose view is transformation rather than renunciation or avoidance.  Rather than avoiding the five poisons, they taken upon the path and transformed into the five positive qualities.  Hatred and anger are transformed into love, confusion and mental dullness are transformed into wisdom, pride is transformed into peacefulness, desire and attachment are transformed into generosity, and envy and jealousy are transformed into openness.  To support this practice, the vessel of the external environment is transformed into a divine palace and the beings within are transformed into gods and goddesses.

The Seventh Way has many requirements of ritual items, ritual activity, deity visualization, mandala construction and rules of conduct.  In general there are three primary categories of: support, accomplishment, and activity.  Within the category of support, there are three outer, three inner, and three ritual preparations.  Within the category of accomplishment, there are eighteen branches: six regarding the base, six regarding the path, and six regarding the result.  Within the category of activity, there are nine divisions that can be directly correlated to each of the Nine Ways.

The Sixth Way: The Way of the Fully Ordained

Yungdrung Bon nuns in Tibet. Photo credit: Mary Ellen McCourt

Within the Nine Ways of Bön, the Sixth Way is the Way of the Fully Ordained.  Or, literally translated, the Way of the Straight and Righteous.  This involves accepting the renunciation vows of a monk or nun and living accordingly.  A novice receives 25 vows that form the basis of taking the further vows of the fully ordained.  For monks, there are 250 vows for full ordination.  For nuns, there are 360 vows.  According to the words of the enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap:

“In front of the abbot, the teacher and the witness, accept the vows with joy, faith and devotion.  Abandon the karmic tendencies of the three poisons.”

During Lord Tönpa Shenrap’s time in the human realm, he demonstrated the path of monastic discipline by becoming a monk.  At that time, he was known as Tritsuk Gyalwa.

Lord Tonpa Shenrap demonstrating the path of monastic discipline. In this form, he is known as Tritsuk Gyalwa.

“Don’t hate enemies or turn and go the other way.  Don’t be attached to friends and relatives.  Don’t cherish wordliness.  Body and mind should be single-pointed and at ease.  In your outer conduct, don’t act in an agitated manner.  In your inner ethics, don’t wander in to laziness.”

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The Fourth Way: Rituals for the Dead

candles at ceremony smaller with credit

It is traditional to make many offerings of light for those who have died

The Fourth Way within the Nine Ways of Bön is called The Way of the Shen of Existence  and is primarily focused upon rituals for the dead.  From the perspective of Yungdrung Bön, the moment that the consciousness leaves the container of the physical body is a time of great potential.  If someone has received the proper instructions and practiced, it is possible for them to achieve liberation from cyclic existence at that time.  If not, there are methods to lead the deceased’s consciousness to liberation or at the very least, to guide them to the circumstances of a positive rebirth.

In general, once an ordinary person dies, they experience a kind of unconsciousness like falling into a deep sleep.  “Awakening” from this state, it is possible for them to not realize that they have in fact died and therefore to continue to be attached to their family and life situation.  Generally lasting three days, but possibly longer, this is the time when the lama tells the individual that they have died and instructs them to not be afraid and to release their attachment to family and friends.  The fourth day after death begins a 49 day period of transition referred to as the “bardo” and literally translates as “in-between”.  During these seven weeks, the individual both becomes less attached to the previous life and is drawn by the force of karma to the next life.  While this is happening, each week the deceased is having experiences of each of the six possible destinies of rebirth.  These six destinies of rebirth from lowest to highest are: the hell realm, the hungry ghost realm, the animal realm, the human realm, the demi-god realm, and the god realm.  For example, during the first week, the person would have experiences related to the hell ream.  During the second week, they would have experiences related to the hungry ghost realm, and so on.  Therefore,  prayers and rituals are done each week that emphasize antidotes and guidance for the particular obstacles and experiences that the deceased might be having.  Additionally, offerings of light, prayers of aspiration and recitation of mantra for the benefit of the deceased are performed each day.  On the 49th day, special rituals and prayers are performed in order to strongly influence the path of rebirth.

Buddha Drajin Donpung, Buddha of the human realm

Drajin Donpung, Buddha of the human realm

This is a general description.  Whether someone spends a greater or lesser time in the bardo, or doesn’t experience it at all, is dependent upon many factors including their virtue or non-virtue and the strength of their awareness and spiritual development.

The lama performing the rituals must have both proper knowledge of the rituals as well as have developed great compassion for other beings.  According to the words of the Enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwo,

“The best of shen who is expert in meditation and who has aroused feelings of immeasurable compassion towards feeble living beings, and who possesses the four immeasurable qualities and who puts the good of others before himself..”

Preceding the preparations for the rituals, the lama will ascertain the details of the death such as the time and circumstances involved.  Then, a divination and astrological calculations are performed in order to determine the proper day and place to perform the ritual and burial as well as any additional rituals that could be of benefit for the family.  In this way, the natural process of death and rebirth is supported by the spiritual guidance and the ritual expertise of the lama.  From the Bardo Thodal, “Liberation Upon Hearing”:

“Lama, from your compassion, bless me.  Bless me to stop the deluded visions of the bardo.  Bless me that I may prevent the possibility of rebirth in the lower destinies of rebirth.  Bless me that I may achieve the five wisdoms.”

Buddha Tonpa Shenrap’s 2nd Deed: Spreading the Teachings

Buddha Tönpa Shenrab teaching subjects such as medicine, divination, astrology, and ritual

Tönpa Shenrap began the spread of the Yungdrung Bön by first giving teachings related to cosmogony and cosmology to two of his primary disciples, Malo and Yalo, to bodhisattvas who had descended from heaven to receive the teachings, and to many other powerful, worldly deities.  Then to the gods of Mt. Meru and other deities, he taught powerful methods for subduing negative forces.  Traveling to the city of Langling, he taught from the 100,000 verses of Perfecting.  In Olmo Lungring, countless human and non-human beings gathered including those who were to be lineage holders.  To this assembly, he taught the Nine Ways of Bön.

More specifically, it is said that on the 30th day of the lunar month, that Buddha Tönpa Shenrab taught the beings of the formless realm.

On the 1st of the lunar month, He taught the gods who reside in space in the highest realm.

On the 8th of the lunar month, He taught the clear-light gods.

On the 13th of the lunar month, He taught the tsangri gods.

On the 14th of the lunar month, He taught the gods of the form realm.

On the 15th of the lunar month, He taught on Mt. Meru to the gods of the desire realm.

On the 16th of the month, He taught the gods of Gyalchen Rikshe.

On the 22nd of the lunar month, He taught the demi-gods.

On the 29th of the lunar month, He taught the (sanskrit: naga) of the desire realm.

Therefore, these days are significant in the Yungdrung Bön lunar calendar.

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