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Nangzhig: Largest Yungdrung Bön Monastery in Tibet

Nangzhig Monastery edit

Nangzhig Monastery’s formal name is Nangzhig Gyaltsen Puntsok Ling, Marvelous Land of the Buddha’s Teachings which Destroys Appearances.  It is also known as Nangzhig Tashi Yungdrung Ling, Land of the Auspicious Yungdrung which Destroys Appearances.  It is located in the Amdo Ngawa region and is the largest Yungdrung Bön monastery in Tibet.  The monastery was founded by Yönten Gyaltsen in 1108.  Similar to many other monasteries, Nangzhig Monastery was destroyed during the cultural revolution that began in 1959 and many of its religious articles were hidden away.  In 1980 when the People’s Republic of China began to allow more religious practice, reconstruction and reinstallment of religious artifacts was organized by Gya ‘Ob Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche.

Nangzhig monastery complex cropped

The monastery complex is quite extensive and includes multiple temples, multiple dormitories for monks and living quarters for senior lamas, and three large chortens among other structures.   During large festivals, the monastery has the capacity to house two thousand monks.

Nangzhig students

Nangzhig Monastery has both a dialectic college and a meditation college.  There are approximately a thousand monks living there and more than two hundred new students arrive each year.  Being a major center for learning and educational exchange in Tibet, the monastery has multiple copies of the Bön canon and over two thousand blocks for printing the texts.  Monks attending the dialectic college must attend classes and debate every day except Sunday and during retreats.  Once the students of the dialectic college have completed ten years of study and successfully passed their final examinations, they receive the degree of Geshe, which is similar to a doctorate of philosophy and religion.  Monks attending the meditation college must complete a three-year retreat based upon the A Tri teachings.

For more information or to make a donation to the monastery, http://www.nangzhig.org/

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Pilgrimage: Kongpo Bonri

Kongpo Bonri Photo credit: Unknown

There is one sacred mountain in Tibet that both Buddhists and Bönpo circumambulate counter-clockwise, or the Bön way.  That mountain is Kongpo Bönri, the Bön Mountain.  Located in Southeastern Tibet on the Northern bank of the Yarlung River, Bönri rises to over 14,700 ft.  In general, it is heavily forested. Circumambulation of the mountain takes three to seven days and tourists begin their pilgrimage from the Eastern slope of the mountain.

During his time as a human being, the founder of the Yungdrung Bön tradition made only one trip to Tibet.  The demon Khyap pa was attempting to stop Lord Shenrap from spreading his teachings.  First, he tried tormenting Lord Shenrap’s wife and children.  When that didn’t work, he stole seven of Lord Shenrap’s horses and took them to the Kongpo valley in Southeast Tibet, hiding them beneath the castle of the king of Kongpo.  Seeing this as an opportunity to introduce the Yungdrung Bön teachings into Tibet, Tönpa Shenrap followed him.  Reaching the Kongpo valley, the demon tried to block his approach with a mountain.  Pushing this mountain down with the power of his mind, Lord Tönpa Shenrap manifested another in its place for the future benefit of his followers.  This was Kongpo Bönri.

The supreme place, Kongpo Bonri

Kongpo Bönri contains many holy and blessed sites.  These include self-appearing sacred images and mantra as well as stones that are carved with the life story of Lord Tönpa Shenrap.  At the center of the mountain is what is known as “The Heart of Küntu Zangpo.”  Here, there are five caves that are blessed by the Buddha himself.  Four caves are in each of the four directions with the fifth in the center.  It is said that circumambulating the mountain and praying from the heart can purify negativity and defilements as well as bring a long life.

Circumambulation route of Kongpo Bonri. Photo credit: Thousand Stars Foundation

EMAHO!  The Mountain of Bön is praiseworthy of all gods and humans.  It is exalted in every way like the sun and moon that illuminate the sky.  Lamas, rikdzin and khandro are always  gathered here.  It has profound, sacred treasure and magnificent self-appearing letters and symbols.  I pray to the supreme place, the great Bönri!

By circumambulating with faith and aspiration, compassionate blessings effortlessly come forth.  Emotional afflictions, latent karmic tendencies and the two obscurations are purified.   Meditation practice and any yoga that is focused upon has increased power.  May we become masters of the vast expanse of space!  And ultimately, may we realize the mind of Künzang that abides within!” 

~Excerpt from Prayer to Bönri to Quickly Attain Blessings written by the 19th century holy woman and terton of Bön, Khandro Dechen Chokyi Wangmo.  Translated from the Tibetan by Raven Cypress Wood ©2015.

Sacred Yungdrung Bon Temple in the Himalayas

Shrine inside the Yungdrung Bon temple of Yanggon Thongdrol Puntsok Ling in the village of Tsarka in Dolpo, Nepal

 

Anniversary of Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Attaining the Rainbow Body

New Shardza statue edit

Here, Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen is depicted as a yogi by having long hair and wearing a yogic white shawl

The 13th day of the 4th month on the Tibetan lunar calendar is the anniversary of the rainbow body of Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen.   Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen was a Yungdrung Bön monk, teacher, scholar and realized practitioner of the modern age.  In 1934, he attained the rainbow body, Tibetan jalu, which is a sign of high realization in the practice of Dzogchen.  Essentially, the practitioner has purified their karma and realized the ultimate state of mind such that at the moment of death, the five elements which construct the physical body dissolve into pure light rather than degrading.  In this way, over the course of a few days, the physical body proportionally shrinks and, in some cases, completely disappears leaving only the hair and nails.

Hair and nails of Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen that were recovered after his attainment of the rainbow body

Hair and nails of Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen that were recovered after his attainment of the rainbow body

Throughout his life, Shardza Tashi Gyalstsen was known for stringent adherence to the many hundreds of vows that he had taken throughout his life.  Additionally, he taught a multitude of disciples, organized the reconstruction of temples, went on pilgrimages, and spent a great deal of time in isolated meditational retreats.  A prolific writer, he wrote volumes on the subjects of Bön history, instructions and guidance for the practice of Tibetan yoga, and detailed instructions for the advanced practice of inner heat, known as Tummo, among many other subjects.

 In 1934 at the age of 76 during an offering ceremony, he began to spontaneously sing songs of realization.  A few days later, he sewed himself inside of a tent and forbid any of his disciples to open the tent.  The next day, rainbow lights began appearing above and around the tent.  After 3 days, the ground shook.  By the 4th day, rainbow-colored mist was seen coming through the seams of the tent.  On that 4th day, Shardza’s disciple Tsultrim Wangchuk, afraid that his lama’s body would completely disappear and leave nothing for veneration, opened the tent.  He found Shardza’s body enveloped in rainbow light, levitating in midair, and shrunken to the proportional size of a 1 year old.  The area around the heart was still warm but most of the nails of the hands and feet had fallen onto Shardza’s seat below.  For the next 49 days, disciples paid their respect.  After that, the precious remains were placed into a reliquary chorten.  From time to time, many people have reported seeing clear or rainbow-colored light emanating from this chorten

Gathering of Power

His Eminence Menri Lopon Thrinley Nyima Rinpoche leads the community during a tantric ritual at the Yungdrung Bon monastery of Menri in India

 

Shardza Hermitage

Shardza Ritro

This mountain hermitage was founded by the great master Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen in 1890 at the age of 33.  It is located in the Kham region of Tibet on the Northeast bank of the Dzachu river and is inaccessible by vehicle.  The place where Shardza lived and meditated is located further up the mountain and referred to as the ‘upper hermitage’, or Dechen Ritro, the mountain hermitage of great bliss.  Below, is the ‘lower hermitage’ consisting of the temple where he taught his disciples as well as a small printing house.

Shardza Ritro gompa

(The temple at Shardza Hermitage)

During Shardza’s lifetime, the hermitage only housed a few of his disciples.  Now, however, it is a famous pilgrimage place for both Bönpo and for Buddhist.  It is also a place for personal retreat, especially long-term.  Because it is a hermitage rather than a monastery, retreatants provide for their own food and necessities although laypeople do offer some donations of meat and roasted barley flour, or tsampa, a traditional Tibetan food.

Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen statue with blue background(Statue of the famous yogi, scholar, and lama, Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen)

In 1934 at the age of 76, Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen attained the rainbow body as a sign of his great realization.  Rainbow light was seen coming from the tent where he had retreated, and upon entering the space, his disciples discovered that his body had shrunk to the proportional size of a 1 year old and that it was levitating above his meditation seat.  His remains were placed in a reliquary chorten which has been seen to emit rays of clear or rainbow colored light.

the place of Shardza's rainbow body(The actual holy place at Shardza Hermitage where Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen attained the rainbow body of light.)

Gyaltsab Thutop Namgyal

The current successor of Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen at the hermitage is Gyaltsab Thutop Namgyal.

Yungdrung Bon in Mustang

A Yungdrung Bon temple in Jomson, Mustang

Illuminating the Sacred

Nangzhig-Monastery-at-night

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

A Household in Kham, Tibet

Tibetan household in kham with photo credit

Photo by Marieke ten Wolde

This is a view into a traditional Tibetan household in Kham, Tibet.  This photo was taken by the photographer, Marieke ten Wolde, who documents her travels throughout Tibet with her camera and on her blog.  You can see an example of her work in her new book about changes and modern Tibet, Freeing the Fish.

http://marieketenwolde.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/freeing-the-fish-the-book/

Spiritual Gathering

khyungpo Tibet Tsedrug Bon Monastery's anitation to the Bonpo public people

A crowd gathers for an empowerment ceremony in Khyungpo, Tibet

Pilgrimage: Yanggon Monastery

Yang gon Monastery edited

Location: The full name of this monastery is Yanggon Tongdrol Phuntsok Ling, Temple of the Yangtön Lineage, Land of Complete Fulfillment that Liberates upon Seeing.   However, it is commonly referred to simply as Yanggon Monastery.  At 14,160 ft above sea level, it is located in the highest village within the remote area of Dolpo, Nepal.  This is the village of Charka (Tsarka in Tibetan.  Charka is the common Nepali pronunciation.)  It is located at the junction of two rivers appropriately named The Big River and The Small River.  The monastery complex consists of the first temple which is now in ruins, the second temple which was originally built in the mid-nineteenth century and later moved in the early 90’s and consolidated with the third temple which was built in 1988 by the current head lama, Yangtön Lama Tashi Gyaltsen.

Charka village highest village in NepalThe village of Charka

History: The history of the Yangtön lineage is closely interwoven with the history of the Yungdrung Bön tradition itself.  It is said that two of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap’s disciples were Yangtön lamas.  And during the reign of the first Tibetan king, Nyatri Tsenpo in the second century B.C., the official priest for the king and the kingdom was a Yangtön lama.  The original seat of the family was at Taktsé Jari in Upper Tsang, Western Tibet.  The great lama, Yangtön Sherab Gyaltsen was the first to travel away and eventually settled in Mustang, Nepal where he established a hermitage.    Another lama, known as Lama Ngakpa, settled in Mustang for a time but then made his way to Dolpo.  Because all of his children died at a young age, he brought a boy to Dolpo from the original family seat of Taktsé.  This prompted the rest of the family to follow and settle in Dolpo.  It was this boy, Yangtön Gyaltsen Rinchen, who founded the nearby monastery of Samling.  He was also a teacher to the esteemed Dru Gyalwa Yungdrung who wrote a practice manual for the Oral Transmission of the Zhang Zhung Dzogchen teachings.

Lama Tashi editedYangtön Lama Tashi Gyaltsen

Currently: The head lama of the monastery is Yangtön Lama Tashi Gyaltsen.  He was the first of the Yangtön lamas to receive his Geshe, Doctorate of Religion and Philosophy, from Menri Monastery in Dolanji, India.  His younger brother soon followed and is now the head teacher of the monastery, His Eminence Menri Lopön Thrinley Nyima Rinpoche.  Their nephew, Yangtön Geshe Tenzin, has also received his Geshe degree and, like his uncles, he travels throughout the world teaching as well as spending time in the village of Charka organizing building projects and offering rituals and teachings to the villagers.  In addition to his activities of building and preserving the family temples, monks’ living quarters and building projects, Yangtön Lama Tashi is also responsible for the teaching and spiritual guidance of a small group of young monks.

Yaks carrying wood in DolpoYaks carrying lumber

Because of the remoteness of the village, all supplies for building must be carried in on foot.  This is a slow and arduous process.  Building supplies must be brought by animal from Jomsom, Mustang via a narrow, single-track path.  This can take up to seven days.  Large beams for construction must be carried by humans from Tibet.  The cost of getting the supplies to the remote village can average 4-5 times the actual cost of the supplies themselves.  Rocks for a building’s foundation can only be gathered in Winter because they are located on the opposite side of the river and it is necessary to wait until the river freezes enough to be walked across.  In recent years, in spite of the difficulty, the Yangtön lamas have been able to build and begin to establish a much needed medical clinic in the village that will serve the 500-600 villagers.   The clinic is located on monastery grounds and is supervised by the monastery.  Before the establishment of the clinic, the nearest medical support was over a hundred miles away.  Common medicines were rare and infection from minor cuts and injuries easily became life threatening.  Infant mortality was over 50%.  Construction of the free healthcare clinic began in 2009.  Three people are being trained as doctors who will staff the clinic.  One is learning Western medicine, one is learning traditional Tibetan medicine and a third is specializing in being a midwife.  In addition to medical intervention, the staff will also educate the local population about hygiene and first aid.

Charka clinic 2010Medical Clinic in the village of Charka

For more information about Yanggon Monastery, http://www.yanggon.org/

For more information about the free healthcare clinic and its current needs, http://kwling.org/projects/clinic/

Yungdrung Bon Temple in Mustang, Nepal

Bon gompa in Jomson Mustang Nepal

This Yungdrung Bön temple is located in the village of Jomson in Mustang, Nepal.

For more on Yungdrung Bön in Mustang, see the documentary film Mustang to Menri.

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.

Pilgrimage to the Center of the World: Gang Tise

mt tise landscape view(Southern Face of Mount Tisé, also known as Mount Kailash)

It is the seat of Shiva according to Hindus.  Many Jains believe it to be the holy site where the founder of the Jain religion, Lord Rishabhdev, attained liberation.  It is the place where Milarepa lived and practiced according to Buddhists who call the mountain Gang Rinpoche, Precious Snow Mountain.  And according to the Bönpos, it is Mount Tisé, sacred dwelling place of deities, the place where Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché taught and meditated, and where many sages after him, such as the great lama Drenpa Namkha, Choza Bönmo and Lishu Taring, practiced the teachings of the Yungdrung Bön.  For all of them, to make a pilgrimage to this place and to circumambulate the mountain has great spiritual significance.  “Whoever visits Gang Tisé will achieve liberation after three lifetimes.” And, “If you cleanse with the purification waters of the four directions (of the mountain), you will be reborn in a pure realm.”

In Sanskrit and on most English language maps, it is called Mount Kailash.  It is located in far Western Tibet in the Ngari region which is a remote and arid landscape only spotted with vegetation.  With no source of wood, campfires are fueled with goat and horse dung.  Reaching the area through a pass of over 16,000 feet in altitude, the air is thin and the light intensely reflects upon every object in the landscape.  Until recent history, there were no roads in to this region.  The mountain has a 22,028 foot peak that is topped with snow year round.  Each of the four sides of the mountain are distinctively different. It has never been climbed.   For the devout, that would be an unthinkable desecration.  In 1980, Reinhold Messner was given permission to climb it by the Chinese.  However, he declined.  In 2001, a Spanish team led by Jesus Martinez Novas was given permission to climb the mountain.  However, due to international disapproval, the Chinese reversed their decision and banned all attempts to ever climb the mountain.

Mt Tise map

Mount Tisé was at the center of the ancient kingdom of Zhang Zhung.  Tisé is a Zhang Zhung word referencing the mountain as the source of many waters.  It was the soul mountain of both the Zhang Zhung king and the kingdom and was considered the center of the world.  The Zhang Zhung deity, Walchen Gekho and his 360 emanations,  reside at its summit.   It is described in many historical Yungdrung Bön texts in great detail.  “In the center of the phenomenal world is Mount Tisé, the Nine-storied Yungdrung Mountain.  From it, four rivers flow towards the four directions.”  These four great rivers which originate in the area surrounding the mountain are the Karnali, also known as the Ganges which flows Southward, the Sutlej also known as the Punjabi which flows Westward, the Brahmaputra which generally flows Eastward, and the Indus which generally flows to the Northwest from the area.  The texts say that Mount Tisé will survive the fires that will destroy the world at the end of the current eon.  The texts describe it further:  “It looks like a crystal chorten.  It’s four sides are like four equal squares in the four directions.”  And, “It has the four kinds of qualities: peaceful, expansive, powerful and wrathful.  It is an immeasurable shrine with great blessings”

Tise North side edited(Northern face of Mount Tisé)

Pilgrimage season is generally May-September.  The circumambulation, or korwa, begins at Tarchen, a small settlement on the South-side of the mountain.  Until the Chinese invasion, it was a major center for the region’s trade.  Now, although the summer continues to be the busy trade season, it is much diminished from the past.  By the time a pilgrim reaches this starting point, it is possible that they have spent years getting here, often prostrating the entire journey.  Once here, if a pilgrim is unable to undergo the hardship of the korwa, here at Tarchen someone can be found to be sponsored to go in their place.  In that case, the merit generated by the virtuous activity is shared between the sponsor and the one actually doing the korwa. For the Bönpo and the Jain, the korwa is counter-clockwise.  For Buddhists and Hindus, it is clockwise.  The path is marked by many sacred places of veneration where great sages meditated or where the power and blessings of deities reside.  There are also four places designated for prostrations along the way.  These are areas large enough for the pilgrims to stop and spend time prostrating and paying homage to the sacred mountain.  However, there are those practitioners who choose to perform full prostrations the entire length of the thirty-two mile circuit around the mountain.  Doing this, a single circuit takes about two weeks.  These pilgrims must carry their provisions with them and wear thick, leather aprons and mittens to protect their body from the stoney ground.  For those who walk around the mountain, most choose to finish within three days.  Others choose to begin hours before dawn so that they can complete the journey in a single 13-15 hour day.  The pilgrim’s path rises in the thin air to an altitude of 18,500 feet at the Dolma la Pass, the highest point of the route.


Pilgrims Prostrating Themselves(Pilgrims prostrating around the mountain.)

In general, pilgrims perform three circumabulations of the mountain.  If the pilgrim is completing the circuit in a single day, they will take a day of rest in between the three korwa of the mountain.  Some make a commitment to complete 1o8 circuits.  This takes two pilgrimage seasons.  From the starting point at Tarchen, there is also an inner korwa.   Several miles North of Tarchen past a couple of monasteries, there is a smaller mountain, called Nandi, whose korwa brings the pilgrim close to the very face of Mount Tisé.  This inner korwa is forbidden until one has completed at least thirteen circumambulations of the outer korwa.

Mt Tise outer and inner korwa edited

Just seeing the mountain is a blessing.  And undergoing the arduous task of its korwa is said to purify one’s negativity.  It is vitally important in the history of Yungdrung Bön.  According to the text, “Mount Tisé, the crystal chorten, soul mountain of Yungdrung Bön, is like nine stacked yungdrungs.  Externally, it is like a chorten made of crystal snow.  Internally, it is like the palace of the three tutelary deities.  Secretly, it is the vast and profound gathering place for the mother and sister khandro.”  “Having washed away karmic traces by purifying oneself with the healing waters, you will be reborn in a joyous realm of the gods.  Having reversed obstacles and adverse circumstances by performing the korwa through prostrating, you will be able to live out the full extent of your lifespan.”  Thus it is said.

Mt Tise East face by Rikdzin lama(Eastern Face of Mt. Tisè.  Photo by Rikzin Lama)

To read more about Mount Tisé see Sacred Landscape and Pilgrimage in Tibet by Geshe Gelek Jinpa and Charles Ramble.  The Light of Kailash by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche.  Or The Sacred Mountain of Tibet by Russell Johnson and Kerry Moran. And in Tibetan, Gangs Tise’i sKor by HE Menri Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche.

 

His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Menri Monastery

Dalai Lama on throne at Menri

His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the throne at Menri Monastery, the spiritual seat of the Yungdrung Bön.  Here, he wears a Bön lama’s hat and holds the chakshing which is a symbol of the Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché.

The Monastery of Blissful Meditation: Samling, Pt. 2 A Living Tradition

Samling pics

After the Chinese invasion of Tibet, many religious texts inside of Tibet were destroyed.  Because of Samling’s extensive library, numerous printed texts as well as woodblocks, were used to create copies that can now be found in Bön monasteries worldwide.  The main temple of Samling is commonly referred to as ‘the Yangtön Gonpa’ in reference to the Yangtön family lineage who have historically been in charge of this monastery.  Presently, there are four monks who reside at Samling as well as six monks who have traveled to Bön monasteries in Nepal and India in order to receive further training.  Currently, Lama Sherap Tenzin Rinpoche is the head of the monastery.  He was born in 1953 and has received extensive religious training from the most learned and senior teachers of the tradition.  Additionally, he has been trained in the science of  Tibetan medicine.

Yangton Lama Sherap TenzinYangtön Lama Sherap Tenzin Rinpoche

Samling monastery owns a large tract of land.  In addition to animal husbandry, the land is used for agricultural crops such as barley, wheat, buckwheat, millet, turnips and mustard.  Being near the border, there is also a fair amount of trade with Tibet.  Relatively recently, Lama Sherap Tenzin Rinpoche was instrumental in having the World Wildlife Fund lend its efforts for the study and preservation of the diverse plant life in the region.

Dolpo land

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

The Monastery of Blissful Meditation: Samling, Pt. 1 The Rich History

B&W Samling

The history of Déden Samten Ling, or simply Samling, is quite significant to the preservation of the Bön Buddhist tradition.  Many of the sacred texts that we have today are still in existence because of the library of Samling Monastery.  The main temple was established over 900 years ago by Yangton Gyalshen Rinchen in a remote and mountainous region of Dolpo, Nepal near the Tibetan border.  Traditionally, this monastery, as well as others in Dolpo, has been maintained by a hereditary line of the Yangton family.

map of dolpo copy

Dolpo is a high-altitude, arid region located in North Western Nepal and is bordered to the North by Tibet.  Even now, many areas of Dolpo are only accessible by a combination of helicopter and walking.  Once the snow sets in and blocks the passes, it is best to simply wait until the snow melts before trying to make it out of the mountains.  Although technically a part of Nepal, this area is culturally Tibetan and many of its inhabitants are Bönpo.  It can be roughly divided into four valleys and agriculture consists mostly of barley, wheat, mustard and potatoes.  For a brief time between the 15th and 16th centuries, Dolpo was an independent nation.  However, this changed when the Gorkhas established the kingdom of Nepal in the late 16th century.

According to a text containing the Yangton family lineage, it was some time in the 13th century that Yangton Gyaltsen Rinchen was staying near Mt. Kailash in Western Tibet when he was visited in a dream by the deified Bönpo sage, the great lama Drenpa Namkha.   He was instructed to go to Dolpo and build a temple.  Yangton Gyaltsen Rinchen traveled to Nepal soon thereafter and searched throughout Dolpo.  While staying in the area of Bijer, he had a series of auspicious dreams that convinced him that he had found the proper place.

Although older, Yangton Gyaltsen Rinchen was a contemporary of Drugyal Yungdrung, the lama who compiled the Zhang Zhung Nyen Gyu teachings of Dzogchen into an easy to follow practice manual.  He was also the first of many Yangton lamas at Samling to be a great collector of sacred texts.  Because of their appreciation and preservation of the scriptures, many volumes of texts were saved from being lost forever.  It was during a trip to Samling Monastery in 1961 that Dr. David Snellgrove was to discover a copy of the Zi Ji, the story of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap’s life, from which he later published his Nine Ways of Bön.  The text that he consulted for his translation was estimated to be approximately 400 years old.

(To learn more about David Snellgrove’s first visit to Samling Monastery, see his book Himalayan Pilgrimage published in 1961.)

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