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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.

Teaching the Next Generation

Bon lama teaching Tib language from The Gatekeeper bookA Yungdrung Bön monk teaches the Tibetan letters to school children

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

Learning Tibetan: Devotion

Learning Tibetan Devotion In the Tibetan language, the word for ‘devotion’ is ‘mo gu‘.

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

Tibetan:Letter ZA

Ltr ZA The Letter ZA is the 22nd letter of the Tibetan alphabet.  There is no equivalent letter in Sanskrit.

writing ZA

Tibetan: The Letter CHA

Ltr CA

The letter CHA is the fifth letter of the Tibetan alphabet.  It has an energy that is masculine.

writing CA

Tibetan: The Letter LA

Ltr LA The letter LA is the 26th letter of the Tibetan Alphabet.  Its energy is said to be like that of a barren woman.  It is also a word commonly used as a particle meaning ‘to, at, for, from’ etc.

writing LA

Tibetan: The Letter JA

Ltr JA

The Letter JA is the seventh letter of the Tibetan alphabet.  It has an energy which is feminine.  It is also a word meaning “tea”.

Writing JA

Tibetan: The Letter AH

Ltr AH The letter AH is the 30th and final letter of the Tibetan alphabet.  It is counted as both a vowel and a consonant.  Its sound is inherent in all of the letters and unless a syllable has a different vowel added to it, the vowel sound is ‘AH’.  Its energy is considered neutral, neither masculine nor feminine.  The sound ‘AH’ has great esoteric significance.  It is considered to be the sound and vibration of an enlightened state of being.

writing AH

Tibetan: The Letter SA


The letter SA is the 28th letter in the Tibetan alphabet.  It’s energy is feminine.  It is also a word meaning “the earth, soil, land.”

In general, there are two kinds of Tibetan script found in print.  One is a cursive script called umé.  The other, shown here, is called uchen.  The uchen letters all have a horizontal line at the top of the letter.  This horizontal line is referred to as ‘the head’ of the letter.  The head is always drawn first.  Then, the letter is drawn from the left to the right, and from the top down.  Letters which contain loops are exceptions.

drawing SA

(Graph of Chris Fynn)


Blue like the Clear, Open Sky

blue text

In the Bön Buddhist tradition, the color blue has great, meaningful significance.  Specifically, the blue of the clear, open, vast expanse of the sky.  Among the five schools of Tibetan Buddhism, only Bönpo monks have blue on their robes.  In ancient times, Bön practitioners wore blue robes.  Bön texts are wrapped in blue cloth, the stiff top and bottom covers which protect the paper are blue, and all page edges are painted with blue ink.  Here, a sacred scripture is written on blue paper.

Tibetan: Da

Ltr Da The letter Da is the 11th letter in the Tibetan alphabet.  It has energy that is considered feminine.  Da is also a word meaning “Now, presently, immediately.”

Teachings as Vast as the Ocean

bon canon

The sacred teachings of the Yungdrung Bön are so immense that they are said to be “vast like an ocean”.  All of these many volumes are divided into two primary classifications.   A scripture is either part of the ‘Ka‘, teachings given by the enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwo, or they are part of the ‘Ka Ten’, teachings and commentaries based upon the words of Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwo.  There are 175 volumes of texts within the Ka and over 300 volumes of texts within the Ka Ten.

KA: First Tibetan Letter

ImageThe letter KA is the first letter of the Tibetan alphabet.  Although each letter has a precise way of being drawn, greater meaning is placed upon the sound and energy of the letters than their form.  The letter KA is said to have an energy that is considered masculine.

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