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Tibetan Industry

Tibetan Industry

(Photo credit: Unknown)

A Tibetan refugee spins wool at a Tibetan carpet factory in Nepal, 1968

An Ocean of Knowledge and Wisdom

Personal Library of the Yungdrung Bon Sage Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen

Personal Library of the Yungdrung Bon Sage Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen

Touching History

An old text from Dolpo, Nepal written in gold.  Photo credit: Unknown.

Buddha Tonpa Shenrap’s Fourth Deed: The Deed of Guiding

fourth-deed-guiding-w-watermarkAs the Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché was teaching his disciples, a messenger came to him with a request for help from the deity Sangpo Bumtri.  In the land of Öma Jamkya there was an evil minded prince, named Tobu Dödé, that was slaughtering many living beings including humans. The deity Sangpo Bumtri respectfully requested the Buddha’s help to tame the mind of this evil minded prince.

As Buddha Tönpa Shenrap accompanied by some of his disciples arrived to help, Tobu Dödé incited his army to rise up and kill all of them. Remaining in his golden chariot, the Buddha emanated rays of light into the four main directions which manifested as flaming, wrathful deities. Each of these deities was dark blue having nine heads, four legs, and eighteen arms each holding a different weapon. Upon seeing these deities, many fainted and Tobu Dödé feared for his life. Falling upon his knees before Buddha Tönpa Shenrap, he begged for mercy and vowed to stop killing and to practice virtue. However, even though the evil minded prince had made a vow and had received teachings from the Buddha, his mind remained filled with hatred and anger.

Sometime later, Tobu Dödé fell seriously ill and began to have visions of hell. He cried out for the Buddha to help him and then died. Due to his previous actions, he was reborn into the realm of hell and was tortured. His cries of pain were heard by the Buddha and, due to His great compassion, He descended into hell. Calling out with the mantra “A KAR A ME DU TRI SU NAKPO ZHI ZHI MAL MAL!” both the Lord of death and Tobu Dödé recognized him. The Buddha told him that although the realm of hell was only a manifestation of his own mind, it had now taken form due to his previous karma. The Buddha instructed him regarding the nature of karma and the essence of meditation. When Tobu Dödé’s understanding had changed and his mind developed, even though he continued to be in the realm of hell, the heat and cold no longer harmed him.

Meanwhile, the family and companions of Tobu Dödé, fearing for the consequences of their own negative karma after their death, approached the Buddha and asked for his help. In order to teach beings, He invoked the deities and made offerings on behalf of Tobu Dödé. After seven days, he was freed from the realm of hell. However, because his negative karma continued to ripen, he was successively born into each of the realms of cyclic existence. At the same time, Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche continued to supplicate the deities and make offerings. Being released from the hell realm, Tobu Dödé was reborn into the realm of the hungry ghosts. After seven days, he was released and was reborn into the realm of animals. After seven days, he was released and reborn into the realm of human beings among barbarians. After seven days, he was released and reborn into the realm of the demi-gods. After seven days, he was released and reborn into the realm of the gods. Although the realm of the gods is filled with leisure and happiness, it remains within cyclic existence and is impermanent. However, due to the continued offerings and supplications of the Buddha, Tobu Dödé was reborn as a human being in the purest land of Olmo Lungring.  In this way, Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche showed a method for releasing the suffering of negative karma.

 

Monastery Shrine for the New Year

Losar Altar at Menri 2013

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

Sacred Symbols

A young boy holds a wooden chakshing, symbol of Buddha Tonpa Shenrap Miwo

A young boy holds a wooden chakshing, symbol of Buddha Tonpa Shenrap Miwo

Buddha Tonpa Shenrap’s Third Deed: The Deed of Taming

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Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwo Emanating Buddhas into each of the six realms of cyclic existence

In order to guide sentient beings out of their suffering and to realization and liberation, Buddha Tönpa Shenrap emanated countless manifestations of himself throughout all the realms of existence.  Although these emanations appeared in different forms according to sentient being’s understanding, his mind remained unchanged.

In the Yungdrung Bön tradition, it is believed that until a being reaches that state of buddhahood, they are bound to be reborn again and again throughout the six realms of cyclic existence.  These six realms of cyclic existence, or six destinies, are from the lowest to the highest: the hell realm, the hungry ghost realm, the animal realm, the human realm, the demi-god realm and the god realm.  (Here, god refers to beings that can have great power and meditative realization but who are still bound by karma.)  Because of this, the Buddha emanated six enlightened beings from his mind into each of these realms.  These six enlightened beings are of one essence but due to the specific suffering and obstacles of the beings within each realm, they each emphasize a particular quality for the predominant suffering related to that realm.

Because the predominant suffering related to the hell realm arises from hatred, this Buddha emphasizes teachings of love.  Because the predominant suffering related to the hungry ghost realm arises from greed, this Buddha emphasizes teachings of generosity.  Because the predominant suffering related to the animal realm arises from ignorance, this Buddha emphasizes teachings of wisdom and awareness.  Because the predominant suffering related to the human realm arises from jealousy, this Buddha emphasizes teachings related to openness.  Because the predominant suffering related to the demi-god realm arises from pride and envy, this Buddha emphasizes teachings of peacefulness.  Because the predominant suffering related to the god realm arises from contentment and laziness, this Buddha emphasizes teachings of diligence.

In the Language of Zhang Zhung: The Letters

zhang zhung script 1

According to the Yungdrung Bön, sometime before the 2nd Tibetan king, the letters of the Tibetan alphabet were created from the letters of the ancient Zhang Zhung alphabet.  Yung Drung Bön was the state religion of the ancient country of Zhang Zhung and the texts were written in this language.  However, due to great persecution in the 7th century, the texts had to be hidden in order to protect them from being forever destroyed. During this time, the Zhang Zhung language almost became extinct.  However, there were a few Bön lamas who passed on their knowledge of this language.  As the scriptures were being copied into the Tibetan language, many of them preserved their titles and the first few lines of texts in the old language of Zhang Zhung.  This can be seen in the scriptures today.

OM in Zhang Zhung script Geshe Chaphur 2

Calligraphy of the Bön syllable OM in the Zhang Zhung script as drawn by Geshe Chaphur Lhundrup of Gyalshen Institute.  If you would like to purchase a calligraphy of this, or another syllable, contact Gyalshen.org.

Preserving a Culture: Making Tibetan Boots

Tibetan Boots finished

Traditional hand-made Tibetan style boots

Making Tibetan Boots 1

Traditional boots and clothing are made for special occasions and festivals

Making Tibetan Boots 2

 

Men in traditional dress

 

Men wearing traditional dress including Tibetan style boots

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/

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

second-deed
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.

Ancient Printing Method

Woodblocks for printing texts

Woodblocks used for printing the sacred texts

The Third Way: Obtaining Realization and Power from an Enlightened Source

The Third of the Nine Ways of Bön is called The Way of The Shen of Magical Power and includes practices for venerating a yidam, a meditational deity, or a spiritual master.   Then, the practitioner uses mantra together with mudras, symbolic hand gestures, in order to accomplish a goal such as requesting assistance from powerful worldly spirits to remove obstacles or subdue malevolent forces. In general, these practices involve the three stages of:1) praise and service, 2) practice and attainment, and the 3) application of appropriate ritual activities.  A yidam is an enlightened being who has manifested in a specific form that embodies specific enlightened qualities that a practitioner can perfect within themselves by meditating upon that yidam deity.  For example, the yidam Red Garuda is often practiced to gain influence and power over natural forces in order to avert natural disasters.  These practices require an advanced ability to focus and visualize, deep devotion and faith in the yidam as well as the need to undergo a prolonged, solitary retreat of single-pointed practice in order to acquire the power of the yidam.  For this kind of practice, the enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap has advised that the practitioner should go to a wrathful place such as a mountain that is known to have wrathful energy or to a cemetery.  Wrathful retreat places are described as being desolate, infertile areas with jagged rocks or mountains with rough energy.

white caves of mustang(Meditation caves in Mustang, Nepal)

It is also necessary for the practitioner to take and strictly keep all of the vows related to such a tantric practice.  Then, having properly prepared the necessary ritual items,  the practitioner sets both an external boundary and an internal boundary.  The external boundary keeps away any disturbance from the external world which might interrupt the retreat.  The internal boundary keeps the practitioner’s mind focused and protected from distracting thoughts.  For the Praise and Service part of the practice, the practitioner performs the practice while continuously imagining the enthroned deity in the space just in front and above their head.  Generating immense trust and devotion to the deity and a steadfast intention to benefit other beings is of utmost importance.  From the words of Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwo:

“One should exert one’s self in the three kinds of longing devotion to them.  One should seek them out like a child who is unable to bear even a moment of separation from the mother.  One should seek them out like a needed guide along a dangerous path which is filled with dangers and peril.  One should seek them out like the desire to be with an intimate friend who thinks only of you and no one else.”

For the Practice and Attainment part of the practice, it is important to know how to properly prepare the ritual offerings, the appropriate mandala, and the shrine. One also needs to know which sacred instruments will be needed, how to play them and the specific melody for the practice, as well as how to perform the appropriate mudras.  These mudras, or sacred hand gestures, are an important method of communication with the unseen.  Everything must be clean and of the best quality that is available according to the practitioner’s  circumstances.  All of the ritual activities must be properly performed.  Otherwise, it is possible to create obstacles because of  errors.  Therefore, by carrying out these ritual activities properly and with undistracted focus, the practitioner unites his body, speech and mind with that of the deity and becomes inseparable from the deity’s qualities and wisdom.  In this way, blessings and both ordinary and extraordinary spiritual abilities are received from the deity.

3 mudras

(There are many types of mudras, or symbolic hand gestures.)

For the Application of Ritual Activity part of the practice, having attained the blessings and power of the deity, the practitioner now has the ability to subdue forces which are harming others or interfering with the practice of virtue or other religious activity.  Therefore, acting from a foundation of compassion and with the intent to be of benefit, the practitioner overcomes these malevolent forces.  From the words of Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwo:

“If people who enter and practice this Third Way do not have compassion as the base, they are like a seed thrown on infertile ground.  If the seed is thrown in a dry place, how can it grow?  Thus, one must have faith which will benefit one’s self as well as having compassion which will benefit others.”

These teachings are contained within the external, internal and secret tantras.  Their primary goal is to have an immediate result and to bring happiness and help to beings during this very lifetime.

The Mighty Task of Preserving Ancient Knowledge

Menri Lopon Rinpoche working at his laptop profile

HE Menri Lopon Rinpoche, head teacher of Menri Monastery, is nearing completion of an Encyclopedia of Bon Religion.

Lopon Rinpoche’s new encyclopedia contains more than twelve thousand different entries, which include a comprehensive set of articles and definitions used in the Yungdrung Bon religion and by Bonpo practitioners. Even the largest reference works currently available in Tibetan or English do not include most of the information that will be available in this new work. Entries include:

  • Tibetan and Zhang Zhung words and terminology specific to the Bon religion
  • Biographies of Bonpo scholars and practitioners, both historical and contemporary
  • Descriptions of significant places in Bon history
  • Descriptions of Bon religious symbols, images and objects
  • Names and descriptions of Bon deities

Scholars of Tibetan culture regularly have problems understanding the language in texts of the Yungdrung Bon religion because such texts use words that are often different, or have different meanings, than the terminology used by Tibetan Buddhists.

A work of this scope on this subject has never been published before. The Encyclopedia is in the Tibetan language, but after initial publication, Lopon Rinpoche hopes to have it translated into English.

We have begun collecting donations to help with translating and publishing this book in English. Any amount would be a great help and greatly appreciated.

Donations can be sent to Khyungdzong Wodsel Ling at the following address or use the PayPal button below (please put “encyclopedia” in the memo box):

Dika Ryan
1977 N. New Hampshire Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027

(This article originally appeared at http://kwling.org/projects/encyclopedia-of-bon/)

Buddha Tonpa Shenrap’s First Deed: The Deed of Being Born

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(The Buddha, Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche, being received by gods and goddesses at the royal palace)

According to the Yungdrung Bön, the Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche took birth into this world over 18,000 years ago in the land of Olmo Lungrig as a prince in the palace of Barpo Sogyé.  He was already and enlightened being and therefore beyond cyclic existence.  However, because of his great compassion for sentient beings who experience missery and suffering, he took birth in this realm.  Therefore, the act of birth was a great deed of compassion.

He was born just before sunrise on the 15th day of the 12th lunar month to the king, Gyalbon Thökar, and to the queen, Gyal Zhema.  He showed all of the major and minor marks of an enlightened being.  A gathering of gods from above, a gathering of deities from intermediate space, and a gathering of powerful spirits of the earth, all circumambulated the palace and proclaimed that they had come to be the first disciples of the Teacher.

He was given the name ‘Shenrap’ because he was born into the Shen clan and was the highest, rab.  He was named ‘Miwoche’ because he had taken a great human form.  His personal name was ‘Künle Namgyal’, Completely Victorious over Everything.

The Twelve Deeds of the Buddha Tonpa Shenrap Miwoche

Tonpa Shenrap-edited

The enlightened being, Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche, was born into this world over 18,000 years ago.  There are three sources for his hagiography, a short, a medium and a long version.  The short version is commonly known as the Do Dü.  This is a single volume with twenty-four chapters.  This is the earliest written source and was translated from the ancient language of Zhang Zhung into Tibetan by the sage and scholar Lishu Taring.  The medium length version is commonly known as the Zer mik.  This is two volumes with eighteen chapters.  This text is focused primarily upon the twelve deeds of the Buddha.  The long version is commonly known as the Zi Ji.  This text has twelve volumes with sixty-one chapters.   Within this text are teachings of the Nine Ways of Bön in the form of a conversation between Buddha Tönpa Shenrap and a disciple.

The Twelve Deeds of Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche:

1. The Deed of Birth

2. The Deed of Spreading the Teachings

3. The Deed of Taming Sentient Beings

4. The Deed of Guiding Sentient Beings

5. The Deed of Marriage

6.  The Deed of Manifesting Progeny

7.  The Deed of Conquering

8. The Deed of Victory

9. The Deed of Awareness

10. The Deed of Solitude

11. The Deed of Liberation

12. The Deed of Complete Accomplishment

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/

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.

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 track of the mantra recitations. Malas can be made from various materials.  Traditionally, many of these materials were symbolic.  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 performed using the mala.  Although there are one hundred eight beads, one complete 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 ‘additional’ 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 power that is being generated.  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 mantras that have been recited.

The mala is a sacred object and should not be worn as though it is a kind of 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.

What are the Nine Ways of Bon?

Dolpo-Samling

(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.

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