Each of the letters of the Tibetan alphabet are associated with one of the five elements according to their inherent sound. The letters associated with the space element are AH, KA, KHA, GA NGA, and HA.
Within the Yungdrung Bon tradition, there are three primary lineages of Dzogchen teachings. These teachings contain the highest and most advanced view and are found within the Ninth Way among the Nine Ways of Bon. One of these three lineages is called AH Ti, or The Guidance of AH. The founder of this tradition was the lama from the family lineage of Me’u named Gongdzo Ritropa. He is commonly referred to simply as Dampa, The Saint. Born in 1038 in the Shang area of Tibet, he was the oldest of four brothers. Although he was forced to marry at the age of eighteen, he left married life in search of spiritual teachings.
He primarily received teachings from eight different lamas. Deciding that he would be of greater benefit as a monk, he requested ordination. So at the age of 24, he received the full monk’s vows. Following the advice of one of his lamas, he decided to spend his time as a reclusive practitioner rather than as a scholar. In Karpo Drak, he remained in solitary retreat for twelve years. He showed many signs of accomplishment such as flying through the air and leaving his hand and foot prints in stone.
In addition to material that he collected from other sources, he added his own mind treasure to his teachings known as The Guidance of AH. He organized these dzogchen teachings into eighty practice sessions. In the 13th century, the holder of the lineage A Zha Lodro Gyaltsen condensed the number of practice sessions to thirty. Later in the same century, the lama Dru Gyalwa Yungdrung further condensed the practice into fifteen sessions and composed the text The Guidance of AH in Fifteen Sessions. This text is widely used today among dzogchen practitioners.
One of the Four Immeasurable Qualities is ‘Joy‘. In the Tibetan language, it is ‘Gawa‘. Gawa is the practice and aspiration that all beings have the experience of joy and happiness and have the causes for joy and happiness. This includes the practice of feeling joy for the success of others rather than jealousy or competition. The practitioner feels for their success and cultivates the wish that the success and accomplishments of others will continually increase. The practitioner also practices the intention that all actions arising from one’s body, speech and mind will support the joy and happiness of all beings that one encounters either directly or indirectly.
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 lü (sanskrit: naga) of the desire realm.
Therefore, these days are significant in the Yungdrung Bön lunar calendar.
The element of Wind or Air is called lung in Tibetan. It is symbolized by the shape of a rectangle and the color green. The unique vibration of this element is the sound ‘YANG’. It is associated with the direction North. In general, Wind gives the ability to move, change, and transform. Even within popular culture, the phrase ‘Winds of Change’ is commonly used in songs, poems, and even political speeches to express a time of change and transformation.
Historically, Wind has played a large part in affecting the course of events by determining the ability of war ships to attack, or not. By allowing explorers to reach their destinations, or not. And through calm or violent weather, determining the success or failure of many ventures.
Environmentally, Wind has often been seen as an expression of the supernatural or the divine. In many cultures, a gentle Wind that arises at the conclusion of a ceremony is a sign of its success. In Greek mythology, there are twelve different gods associated with each of the winds of the twelve directions. Ecologically, the Wind’s quality of movement is important as a source of seed and pollen dispersal for plants as well as having a profound effect upon weather and climate. It can be beneficial such as being used as a power source for transportation, energy or recreational activities. Or it can be indescribably destructive through the force of tornadoes and hurricanes.
Within our bodies, the element of Wind is associated with our breath and is responsible for providing the ability for things to move. It is specifically associated with the lungs. When the element of Wind is balanced within us, we can be flexible. We move from worry and anxiety to a solution. We are able to let go of our point of view and see the perspective of others. If the Wind element is developed, we easily move from anger to love, fear to peacefulness and from feeling blocked to feeling unblocked. Even in the midst of a problem, we remain aware of all of the things that are going right. Wind is also associated with communication and verbal expression. Well developed Wind can also give the ability to communicate or receive information psychically and to perform acts that are beyond the limitations of the physical world.
In the Yungdrung Bön tradition, it is believed that the mind is effected by the movement of subtle wind. Therefore, if the element of Wind is in excess, one of the effects is that the mind is unable to concentrate because it is constantly moving from one thing to another. We are impatient. There is an almost constant need to talk or ask questions. But this kind of talking has little depth and we are thinking of our next question even before the first one is answered. We are unable to meditate because of the constant movement of the mind which often prompts the body to begin moving. To the extreme, an excess of Wind can cause severe headaches or even madness.
If the Wind element is deficient, we feel blocked. There is an inability to progress in our outward activities or our inner growth and spiritual practice. We are stuck. Things become stagnant and stale. There is no freshness. Our mind is still, but there is no clarity or sharpness to our awareness.
In order to bring the element of Wind back into balance, there are specific yogic exercises within the Yungdrung Bön tradition which use the focus of the mind together with the breath and movement of the physical body to balance and strengthen each of the elements within us. To learn more about these yogic exercises see Healing with Form, Energy and Light by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche.
Also, the simple act of inhaling and exhaling with awareness can be quite helpful. Imagine inhaling pure, fresh Wind or Air and then exhaling all impure, stale Wind. Imagine this Wind traveling throughout the body. Similarly, imagine a ‘Wind of Change’ gently blowing into any area of your life that feels stuck. If the Wind Element feels disturbed and there is too much erratic movement, then focus more on the Element of Earth and imagine the Wind becoming calm and stable.
(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.