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The Monastery of Blissful Meditation: Déden Samten Ling

Samling Temple complex. Photo credit: Unknown

The high altitude temple of Déden Samten Ling, or simply Samling, has been significant in the preservation of the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition.  The main temple was established more than 900 years ago by Yangtön Gyaltsen Rinchen in a remote and mountainous region of Dolpo, Nepal near the Tibetan border.  Since that time, this monastery, as well as others in Dolpo, has been maintained by a hereditary line of lamas within the Yangtön family. (For more information about the prestigious Yangtön family lineage, see previous post: https://ravencypresswood.com/2017/05/27/yangton-sherap-gyaltsen/)

map of dolpo copy

According to a text of the Yangton family lineage, some time during the 13th century Yangtön Gyaltsen Rinchen was staying near Mt. Tisé in Western Tibet (a.k.a. MT. Kailash) when he was visited in a dream by the Bönpo sage and great lama Drenpa Namkha.   The Yangtön lama was instructed to travel to Dolpo and build a temple.  Traveled the distance to Dolpo and having searched throughout its rugged terrain, Yangtön Gyaltsen Rinchen had a series of auspicious dreams while staying in the area of Bijer that convinced him that he had finally found the proper place to construct a Yungdrung Bön temple.

Chortens of Samling. Photo credit: Unknown.

Yangtön Gyaltsen Rinchen was the first of many Yangtön lamas at Samling who collected and preserved sacred texts.  Because of this, many volumes of texts have been throughout the course of many centuries. It was during a trip to Samling Monastery in 1961 that Dr. David Snellgrove discovered a copy of the Zi Ji, a hagiography of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap. He subsequently wrote and published one of the first English language translations of a Yungdrung Bön text, The Nine Ways of Bön.  The Zi Ji text that he consulted for his translation was estimated to be approximately 400 years old.

Left: H.E. Menri Ponlop Yangtön Thrinley Nyima Rinpoche, Center: H.H. 33rd Menri Trizin Rinpoche, Right: Yangtön Lama Sherap Tenzin Rinpoche. Photo credit: Unknown.

Currently, Lama Sherap Tenzin Rinpoche is the head of the monastery.  He was born in 1953 and has received extensive religious training and has been trained in the science of Tibetan medicine.

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.

Learning Zhang Zhung: Mutsuk Marro!

The phrase “Mutsuk Marro!” is from the Zhang Zhung language and means ‘Auspiciousness and good health’.  Here, it is written using the Tibetan script.  In the Yungdrung Bön tradition, this phrase often occurs at the conclusion of a text as an aspirational ending.

Birthday of the Head of the Yungdrung Bon

(Photo credit: Unknown)

July 12th is the celebrated birthday of His Holiness the 33rd Throne holder of Menri Monastery and Leader of all Yungdrung Bon, Lungtok Tenpe Nyima Rinpoche.  He was born in Amdo, Tibet in 1929.  At the age of 25, he received his Geshe degree.  The next year, he underwent the arduous task of traveling and collecting Yungdrung Bon scriptures in order to print copies and therefore preserve the ancient knowledge.  After that, he studied at the renowned Tibetan monasteries of Menri and Yungdrung Ling.  In 1959, he fled Tibet for Nepal.  Arriving at the ancient Bon monastery of Samling, he collected many of their rare texts and woodblocks in order to again print texts for the preservation of knowledge.  Eventually traveling to New Delhi, he worked with E. Gene Smith for the copying, printing and preserving of numerous Bon texts.  In 1962, he traveled to the University of London after having received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. During his time in London, a permanent camp for Bon refugees was established in Dolanji, India on land chosen by Yongdzin Tendzin Namdak Rinpoche.

In the mid 1960’s, he was living in Norway and working with the Tibetan scholar Per Kvaerne and teaching Tibetan history and religion at the University of Oslo.  It was while he was in Norway, that he learned that he had been chosen to become the 33rd Menri Trizen, or throne holder, of all Yungdrung Bon.  In 1969, he assumed his duties as Menri Trizen and began his tireless effort to rebuild the destroyed Menri Monastery of Tibet at the location in Dolanji. 

Currently, Menri Monastery has many temples, a library, a medical center, dormitories, and a nunnery.  In addition to the monks and nuns in residence, there are over 350 children living at the Bon Children’s Center who gives them an education as well as providing for all of their needs.  In all of these activities, His Holiness Lungtok Tenpe Nyima Rinpoche has worked with great effort and kindness in order to protect and strengthen the culture, knowledge and spiritual activities of the ancient tradition of the Yungdrung Bon.

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 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.

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.

Prayers for Wealth and Harmonious Circumstances

ser od norbu

Beautifully illustrated, this text is for the generation and increase of wealth, good luck and supportive circumstances.  This, and various other texts, can be found in the home of laypeople.  On a chosen auspicious day each year, one or more monks are requested to come and read these texts out loud in the family home so that the family may receive the blessings of the prosperity practice as well as the virtuous activity of hosting the monks during the recitation.

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