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Yungdrung Bön Auspicious Days for Spiritual Practice

The Supreme Shen Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché.

According to the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition, each month there are auspicious days which are determined by the teaching activities of the Supreme Shen Buddha Tönpa Shenrap. These are lunar dates according to the Tibetan lunar calendar.

30th Day of the Month, New Moon: On this day, Buddha 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, it is one of the four monthly auspicious days to perform prayers and virtuous activities, and for those with genyen or monastic vows to avoid eating meat.

1st Day of the Month: On this day, Buddha 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 and engage in acts of generosity.

8th Day of the Month: On this day, Buddha Tönpa Shenrap taught the clear-light gods. This is a good day to purify broken vows and to recite one of the three essence mantras of the Yungdrung Bön tradition. Also, because of its significance in the lunar cycle, it is one of the four monthly auspicious days to perform prayers and virtuous activities, and for those with genyen or monastic vows to avoid eating meat.

14th Day of the Month: On this day, Buddha Tönpa Shenrap taught the Gaden gods of the form realm. This is a good day to purify sexual misconduct and desire.

15th Day of the Month: On this day, Buddha Tönpa Shenrap taught the gods of the desire realm atop Mt. Meru. This is a good day to purify the killing of someone important such as a lama, a family member or another practitioner in either this or a previous life. Also, because of its significance in the lunar cycle, it is one of the four monthly auspicious days to perform prayers and virtuous activities, and for those with genyen or monastic vows to avoid eating meat.

16th Day of the Month: On this day, Buddha 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 either this or a previous life.

19th Day of the Month: On this day, Buddha Tönpa Shenrap taught the Tsang Ri gods of the form realm. This is a good day to purify any accidental killing.

22nd Day of the Month: On this day, Buddha Tönpa Shenrap taught the demi-gods of the desire realm who reside on the sides of Mt. Meru. This is a good day to purify the killing of a human being or lying to the lama. Also, because of its significance in the lunar cycle, it is one of the four monthly auspicious days to perform prayers and virtuous activities, and for those with genyen or monastic vows to avoid eating meat.

29th Day of the Month: On this day, Buddha Tönpa Shenrap taught the lu [Sanskrit: naga] of the desire realm. This is a good day to purify stealing during this or a previous life.

The practice of the admission of wrongdoing and purification is a powerful and effective method to purify non-virtuous activities of body, speech and mind and repair our sacred vows and commitments. The efficacy of the practice relies upon the so-called “four powers.” These are 1) the power of witness, 2) the power of openly admitting without reservation the actions of wrongdoing and non-virtue, 3) the power of heartfelt remorse, and 4) the power of vowing to not repeat the negative activities.

“The infallible fruit of both good and bad actions is certain. May I be watchful to accept or reject situations! Having depended upon the practice of admitting wrongdoing by means of the four powers, may all karmic potentialities and defilements be purified!”

— From The Ocean of Instructions Regarding the A Tri Teachings by Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche

For the power of witness, the practitioner goes before a sacred object of refuge such as a shrine, a real or visualized image of an enlightened being, or a chorten. Then, the practitioner connects with the actual presence of the enlightened beings in the sky before them. For the second power which is the admission of wrongdoing, the practitioner brings into their awareness all of the non-virtuous activities of body, speech and mind that have been committed in this life, as well as any unremembered activities from this or previous lives. This includes activities of direct or indirect involvement, as well as encouraging or celebrating the non-virtuous activities of others. For the third power, the practitioner generates an intense remorse for all of these actions. For the fourth power, the practitioner makes a firm commitment to not repeat these non-virtuous activities in the future and to instead engage in activities of virtue. In this way, the negative actions and their consequences are purified. At the conclusion of the practice, the practitioner imagines and feels the blessings of the enlightened beings completely purifying them in the form of pure, wisdom light.

“I openly admit to the gathering of buddhas all non-virtue that has arisen from the five poisons from beginning-less time until this very moment. I generate intense remorse for these actions of non-virtue and immorality that I have committed in the past.  I vow that from now on, I will not commit those acts again.  Instead, I will delight in accumulating virtue.” 

— From Homage to the Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwo

All translations from the Tibetan 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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Tibetan New Year: Purification & Repaying Debts

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

The Tibetan New Year, called Losar, is February 5, 2019.   This is the 1st day of the 1st month of the Tibetan lunar calendar.  The final month of the lunar calendar is considered a time for purification and cleansing, especially the 26th -29th.  The 29th day of the 12th month is called nyishu gu. In 2019, that date on the Western calendar is February 3rd. On this day, the family gathers together for a special dinner and purification ritual. A special soup of nine ingredients called gutük is made. One of the most important ingredients in the soup is large balls of dough that contain symbolic objects or descriptive characteristics written on paper. Each member of the family must receive one of these balls of dough, and whatever is inside is considered a playful commentary on their character.

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 someone might receive are: a piece of wool meaning “kind-hearted,” a sun meaning ‘”light of goodness,” a chili meaning “sharp-tongued,” or salt meaning “lazy.”  Everyone saves a small amount of the last of their soup to be used as a ransom offering to the negative spirits of the past year. This ritual payment settles any remaining debts with the negative spirits so that they become satisfied and go away happy. Along with the leftover soup, each person also offers a karmic debt torma. This is a small ball of dough that has been passed over the body in order to absorb any illness and negativity, then pressed with the fingers of the hand and placed on the offering plate with the other ransom offerings.  A small candle is placed on the plate and lit before it is carried out by one of the family members.  Once the ransom offering has been left in an appropriate place, this person must not look back while returning home.

On the 1st day of the new year, everyone stays at home or goes to the monastery in order to make offerings and prayers.  On the 2nd and 3rd days of the new year, it is customary to spend the day visiting friends and extended family in order to raise the positive energy for the coming year.

“Because of our confusion due to ignorance, we have been killing, and beating others, and stealing their possessions throughout our lives from beginning-less time.  These negative actions have joined together as an immeasurable karmic debt.  And the result of these negative actions has ripened into an experience similar to the cause.  Because of this, I repay my karmic debts owed from previous, present, and future lifetimes.  Through the blessings of the thousand buddhas together with the power of my meditative stability, whatever karmic debts are owed are instantly brought into this ransom offering.” 

Excerpt from “The Skillful Means of Dedicating the Ransom” written by Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche and contained within his Yangzab Namkha’i Dzö. Tibetan translation by Raven Cypress Wood

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 84,000 Doors of Bön at Your Fingertips

mala

“The mala represents the destined connection with the Enlightened Beings.  The mala string represents the 84,000 doors of Bön.  The head bead represents the principal teacher.  The counting beads represent the Six Subduing Shen, the six enlightened Shen who tame the six realms of cyclic existence.”  ~from The Advice of Lishu Taring

The mala is called treng wa in Tibetan.  It consists of one hundred eight counting beads and one larger main bead, often referred to as the ‘head bead’ or the ‘lama bead’.  Malas can have spacer beads which are not counted during recitation of a mantra but are used for decorative purposes or to lengthen the mala and enable it to fit onto an individual’s wrist.  Various kinds of counters are often added to the mala so that the practitioner can keep count of the mantra recitations. Malas can be made from various materials.  Traditionally, these materials were symbolic because of their energetic qualities.  For example, tantric practitioners would often use malas made of bone to represent impermanence.

Before a mala is used, the practitioner will have it consecrated by a lama.  This blesses it and also removes any contamination that the materials might carry with them that could be an obstacle to obtaining the benefit of the recitations.  Although there are one hundred eight beads, a single round of recitations is counted as one hundred.  In this way, if any beads have accidentally been skipped during the recitation, they are accounted for with the ‘extra’ eight beads.  Many practices require a commitment to recite a minimum of one hundred thousand repetitions of a mantra.  Therefore, these ‘extra’ beads ensure that the commitment has been fulfilled.  In general, during recitation, the practitioner is not allowed to eat, drink, talk, sneeze, spit or cough. These activities expel or diminish the specific power of the mantra that is being cultivated.  Once the session of mantra recitation is complete, the mala is rubbed gently between the hands and blown upon by the practitioner.  In this way, the mala becomes further empowered and blessed by the mantra.

The mala is a sacred object and should not be worn as jewelry. It should be kept clean and not be handled by others.  By wearing the mala on the wrist or carrying it in a pocket on the body, it acts as a form of protection.  The mala is also sometimes used for divination or healing purposes.  Lamas will sometimes give away their mala intact, or one bead at a time.  Because of the power of the lama’s practice and recitation, this gift is a great blessing.

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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

Iconography: Defining Space

Illustration from the book “Tibetan Thangkha Painting, Methods & Materials” by David & Janice Jackson

Before the artist begins sketching out the images that will appear on the thangkha, they must first determine the division of space on the canvas.  First, by using chalk lines and a compass, the true center of the canvas must be found.  Second, both the horizontal and the vertical axis must be established.  In this way, the artist can allocate space to the images according to hierarchy and the number of images that need to be represented.

outline guide for center and 4 directions for thangkha

Diagram 1: Common positions when depicting a central image and 4 retinue

Diagram 2: Common positions when depicting a central image and 8 retinue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These diagrams show the most common designations of space although there are variations.  However, even with variations, the position of the retinue in relation to one another remains the same.  The retinue are positioned according to their association with the directions.  In the text, the detail of the deities position begins with the center and is then listed the Bön way, or counter-clockwise, beginning with the East.  Referencing the diagrams above: 1=Center, 2=East, 3=North, 4=West, 5=South, 6=Southeast, 7=Northeast, 8=Northwest, and 9=Southwest.  Most often, but not always, the deities are the color associated with the direction.  East=yellow, North=green, West=red and South=blue.

The Deities of the Five Buddha Families

Here, the deities of the Five Buddha Families are positioned according to diagram 1 above.  In the center is the Enlightened One, Künang Kyapa and consort.  In the east is the Enlightened One, Salwa Rangjung and consort.  In the north is the Enlightened One, Gélha Garchuk and consort.  In the west is the Enlightened One, Jedrak Ngomé and consort.  And in the south is the Enlightened One, Gawa Döndrup and consort.

Direct Descendants of the Enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché

Over 18, 000 years ago, in the ancient realm of Olmo Lungrik, the founder of the Yungdrung Bön spiritual tradition was born.  The enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche was born into the human realm as a prince.  He later adopted the life as a monastic in order to display the path of renunciation to his followers.  However, prior to this, he was married and had sons and daughters.  The direct descendants of this Shen lineage have continued until this very day.  Currently, there are two sons who are direct descendants of Lord Tönpa Shenrap.

Heir to the Shen Lineage, Tsukpu Namdrol Rinpoche, during a visit to the Yungdrung Bon monastery of Gangru Dargye located in Khyungpo, Tibet

Lamas of the Shen lineage

The two sons of the Shen lineage who are direct descendants of the Lord Tonpa Shenrap.

In November of 2014, His Holiness, the supreme 33rd Menri Trizen Lungtok Tenpé Nyima offered prayers to both descendants.

Shen Tsukpu Namdrol Rinpoche

Shen Tsukpu Namdrol Gyaltsen Rinpoche

prayer to Shen Tsukpu namdrol Gyaltsen written by 33 Menri trizen 2

Prayer of Stability for the Shen Heir, the Supreme Tsukpu Namdrol Gyaltsen

EMAHO!

Highest praise for the best of crown ornaments,

   Storehouse of the ocean of sutra, tantra and unsurpassed division of teachings,

From the proper understanding of the profound meaning of the innermost essence,

May the victory banner of liberation and realization be established!

Murik Shen Yungdrung Nyima

Murik Shen Yungdrung Rangdrol Nyima Rinpoche

Shen prayer to Yungdrung Nyima

Prayer for the Shen Heir, the Supreme Murik Shen Yungdrung Rangdrol Nyima

EMAHO!

Essence of the king of doctrines, the supreme Yungdrung Bön,

Distilled essence of the teachings of renunciation, transformation and liberation,

Having raised a stronghold through the dynamic energy of self-liberated awareness,

May the sun disc of realization and liberation eternally appear!

Composed by 33rd Menri Trizen Luntok Tenpé Namdak Rinpoche on the Western date of 11/26/2014

Translated by Raven Cypress Wood

The original article first appeared on the Tibetan language website Himalayan Bön and can be viewed here: http://www.himalayabon.com/article/poem/2015-01-02/518.html

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 Precious Spiritual Guide

His Eminence Menri Lopon Yangton Thrinley Nyima Rinpoche participating in a Yungdrung Bon offering ritual. Photo credit: Unknown

“The holy lama is the source of everything.  With body, speech and mind one should respectfully cultivate faith and zeal.” Founder of the Yungdrung Bön spiritual tradition, the Enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché

 

The Joyful Holiday Spirit

Monks in xmas hats

Iconography: The Language of Images and Symbols

Lion throne

A throne depicting lions under the main figure

Iconography is the use of images and symbols to convey meaning.  Within the scriptures of the Yungdrung Bön, the many images and symbols that are used in sacred art are described in great detail.  This includes composition, proportions, color, hand objects, clothing, ornamentations, etc.  Very few details are left to the interpretation of the artist.  However, in spite of this great detail, it is not uncommon for an image to be drawn and/or painted incorrectly.  This is due to the fact that not all artist are familiar with the texts even though they can be greatly skilled in painting.

Elephant throne

A throne depicting elephants under the main figure

Many sacred images are in the form of a thangkha, a painting on canvas that is framed in colored cloth and has dowels at the top and bottom to enable the painting to be rolled.  Traditionally, the paintings are rolled from the bottom towards the top.  There are often ties at the top that are used to fasten the rolled painting and allow it to be easily carried without damaging it.  A more common term used in the text is zhalthang, “zhal” being the honorific term for face or countenance.

Horse throne

A throne depicting horses under the main figure

An example of the use of the use of symbolic meaning is demonstrated by the images depicted upon the throne underneath the main figures.  Shown here are the five animals that represent the five poisons.  By being positioned under the main figure, this indicates that the deity tames or transforms this particular poison into its antidote.  For example, although the enlightened deity Sherap Chamma has all of the perfected qualities, emphasis is placed on her teaching sentient beings to transform anger and hatred into love and kindness.  This is represented by lions on the throne below her.  Lions in that context represent the poison of anger and hatred.

Garuda throne

A throne depicting garudas under the main figure

According the oral teachings of the preeminent scholar and master HE Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, the five animals that are depicted underneath the main figures in this way represent: Lion=anger or hatred, elephant=ignorance, garuda=desire, horse=jealousy and dragon=pride.

Throne with all 5 animals

A throne depicting all five of the animals: garuda, lion, elephant, horse and dragon

 

 

The Illustrated Scripture

Illustration of the Supreme Deity Sangpo Bumtri from an old Yungdrung Bon text

Sipa Sangpo Bumtri, Deity of Phenomenal Existence, is one of the Four Transcendent Lords of the Yungdrung Bön.  The other three are The Great Deity Shenlha Ökar, The Great Mother of Space Satrik Ersang and Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche.  These Four Deities are traditionally displayed together in every Yungdrung Bön temple and are often surrounded by the 1,000 Enlightened Beings.

The Fifth Way: Committing to the Path of Virtue for Lay Practitioners

Central Figure of the Tibetan Thangkha Painting for the 5th 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’. Because the view and understanding of the practitioner needs to be more advanced, these Ways are considered higher than the First through the Fourth Ways.

In Tibetan, a lay practitioner is called ‘gen nyen’ [Tib. dge bsnyen] which literally translates as ‘one who serves virtue’. When asked the meaning of these concepts within this context, the enlightened All-knowing Teacher, 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 contradicting 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.   The Teacher Tönpa Shenrap defines this kind of renouncing as not performing the actions as well not trying to have them performed or taking joy in others having done them.   In the same way, one commits to acting according to the ten virtuous actions as well as encouraging those kinds of activity and taking joy in others who have done them. 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.

More specifically, there are fixed vows that are taken by a lay practitioner that are the outer practice.  When asked to teach the outward form of the lay practitioner, The All-knowing Teacher, Tönpa Shenrap first instructed the gathered assembly to erect the first Elegant Chorten of the Yungdrung Bön according to his detailed instructions. Once completed, he consecrated the chorten [Sanskrit: stupa] and then began teaching the outer forms and behavior of a gen nyen, or lay practitioner.

Elegant Yungdrung Bon Chorten edit

The Elegant Chorten of the Yungdrung Bön

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

“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.”

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.

The Four Immeasurable Qualities: Joy

4 Immeasurables dga' ba Joy   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.

Sacred Stones

MA TRI stones in Dolpo

Stones carved with the mantra OM MA TRI MU YE SA LE DU bless the landscape in Dolpo, Nepal.

Learning Tibetan: Lama

Learning Tibetan Lama In the Tibetan language, the word “Lama” is a compound of the words “La” and “Ma”.  The word “La” in Tibetan is spelled bla.  This word refers to something that is higher, in position and/or in virtue and spirituality and generally refers to someone who has taken on the responsibility of guiding others.  This is also the term that is used for the equivalent of “soul” in English, although the meanings are slightly different.  The word “Ma” means mother.  Therefore, “Lama” refers to someone that is higher in spiritual development who guides followers.

The Twelve Animals of Tibetan Astrology: The Elephant

elephantThe twelve animals of Tibetan astrology according to the Yungdrung Bön texts are the Rat, Elephant, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Horse, Snake, Sheep, Garuda, Monkey, Dog and Pig.  Each animal has an associated element for its life-force and a 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.

For example, 2009 was the year of the Elephant.  Therefore, people born during this year would be a Elephant and would have an emphasis of the specific qualities associated with the Elephant.  (It is important to remember that this year corresponds with the Tibetan lunar calendar which begins somewhere between February and mid-March each year.)  2009 was also governed by the element of Earth and was a female year.  So, people born during this year would be Female Earth Elephants.  The element which governs the life-force of the Elephant is Earth and its direction is Northeast.  So, if an Elephant person wanted to strengthen their life-force, they would focus upon strengthening the element of Earth internally and externally.  Their positive direction is Northeast.  So, facing this direction while meditating, doing healing rituals or just relaxing and taking deep breaths is beneficial.

In general, the Elephant is stable, steadfast, and practical.  It can express itself well and is rather independent.  It prefers to approach things logically and without the cloud of emotion.  It is competent and trustworthy, preferring to lead rather than to follow.  It values tradition but can be resistant to change, rigid and authoritarian.  Although it can have a temper, the elephant is generally patient and loyal.

The Elephant’s soul day is Saturday and the life-force day is Wednesday.  These are the best days for beginning new projects and activities that are meant to grow and increase.  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.

Elephant years include: 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, and 2021

Women of Dolpo

Women of Dolpo, Nepal

Young women of Dolpo, Nepal

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.”

Spiritual Discipline

monk in 1936 Gyantse and food opening for strict retreats

1936 Gyantse, Tibet

In order to accomplish the benefits of a spiritual practice, it can be necessary to be removed from the ordinary world.  Here, a monk poses in front of a closed retreat hut.  Inside, the retreatant is in complete isolation except for this small opening through which food is passed each day.  These types of retreats continue for 49 days, 100 days and sometimes for years.

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