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Preserving a Culture: Tibetan Women’s Dress

Tibetan women in traditional dress in Tibet

Tibetan Women dressed in traditional attire for a festival

The Second Way: Rituals of Protection and Healing


Ritual Sang, or fumigation offering.  Photo by Chamma Ling Colorado

The second of the Nine Ways of Bön is called The Way of the Shen of the Phenomenal World and includes rituals for communicating with external forces such as rituals of protection, ransom of the soul and life-force, and expelling negative or harmful forces.  It is called ‘Phenomenal’ because it deals with phenomena that are visible and real for us.  As in all of the Nine Ways, the basis for everything is compassion.

The texts of the Yungdrung Bön tradition include many details about the categories of unseen spirits and the specific kinds of harm and illness that they can cause for humans.  In order to reverse these kinds of interferences and obstacles, the corresponding ritual needs to be performed to appease or turn back the unseen, external force. In general, there are four categories of rituals in the Second Way: rituals for exorcism or turning back negativity, rituals for the spirits known as dré and si, rituals for ransoming the soul, and rituals of the masters.

Rituals of Exorcism: These rituals have the immediate effect of reversing the direction of whatever harmful energy or force that is directed towards us.  In some instances, it is more accurately a cleansing rather than an exorcism because it directly involves the removal of the pollution or defilement created by negative actions or circumstances.  Because humans engage in activities which are impure, they create a basis for negativity.  This leads to a disturbance of both the positive external spirits as well as lower kinds of spirits who become angry and seek revenge in response to harmful, human activity.  In general, there are twelve different kinds of exorcism.  One of the most commonly practiced rituals within this Second Way is the Sang, also called Lha Sang.  This ritual uses fumigation with smoke to cleanse the impurities caused by humanity.  This ritual is commonly performed in the early morning on hilltops on auspicious days.   From the Offering of Sang to Local Spirits and Guardians:

“Having satisfied you with these offerings, do not send contagious illnesses, shortages of food, fighting or arguments, frost or hail to our crops, lightning or loss of property, human illness or illness to our animals.   Act as a friend and give us the strength and power of your support.”

Rituals for the Dré and Si: The dré and si are two different classes of negative spirits who delight in causing harm to others.  It is said that these negative spirits came into being at the first moment of phenomenal existence and that they reside at the center of the Earth.    Among other things, they have the power to cause sudden accidents, create wars between nations and spread epidemics.  These rituals are primarily concerned with offering gifts of appeasement and ways of subduing them.

Rituals of Ransom:  The enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché defined ‘ransom’ as the exchange of two things.  In these rituals, elaborate offerings are given to the offending spirits as a ransom for the soul, life-span or vital life-force of an individual.  There are many kinds of ransom rituals, but in general they fall into one of three categories: 1) ransom for men, 2) ransom for women, and 3) ransom for children.  The ritual preparation, offerings and performance are quite specific and elaborate and can take many days.

soul deer

During the ransom ritual, the effigy of a deer holding a long-life arrow is most often used to represent the soul of the patient.

Rituals of the Masters: In general, these rituals are of four types: 1) making offerings to the powerful but worldly gods, 2) offering to the powerful spirits who live in the atmosphere, 3) offering to the guardians, and 4) pacifying the spirits of the land, trees, water and rocks.  These rituals specify appropriate offerings for each type of spirit and the proper method for giving the offering.  In this way, a harmonious relationship with the spirits is maintained and suffering and obstacles towards humans are averted or resolved.

Raven Cypress Wood ©2013

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.

The Five Elements: Earth

kham-earth-w-watermark The element of Earth is called sa in Tibetan.  It is symbolized by the shape of a square and its color is yellow, or golden.  The unique vibration of this element is the sound ‘KHAM’.  It is associated with the direction East.  From the Yungdrung Bön point of view, East is one of the cardinal directions but it is also associated with ‘the front’.  For instance, when looking at the image of a deity, East is always considered the front of the deity.  Earth provides solidity and stability.

Environmentally, our dependence upon the element of Earth is obvious since this is the name of the very planet that we live upon.  Additionally, it is the soil in which we grow our food and the foundation upon which we build our homes.  In the Yungdrung Bön tradition, one’s relationship with the environmental element of Earth is not only with the form.  It includes the spirits of the element itself as well as seeing the land as a living being.  Before beginning construction of a building, it is important to examine the characteristics of the land.  Traditionally, it is seen as a turtle.  If you build upon the turtle’s ‘head’, then the spirit of the land will ‘die’ and the soil will become barren and empty.  It is best to build in the ‘stomach’ of the turtle because here, there is more empty space and no ‘major organs’ will be disturbed.  Once the proper location has been determined, it is important to communicate with the spirits of the land that are already in residence at that location and to assure them that you mean no harm and that you apologize for any disturbance that the building causes them.  To simply begin digging holes, cutting down trees and erecting buildings would be similar to someone barging into your house and rearranging furniture and knocking down walls without even acknowledging your existence.  Therefore, these things are considered important for maintaining harmony.

Within our bodies, the element of Earth rules our flesh.  More specifically, it is associated with the spleen.  The element Earth, along with the other elements, also exist within us in a more subtle form as a kind of wind that ideally moves upwards in our bodies and brings nourishment to our five senses and to our brain.  The balance or imbalance of this subtle Earth wind affects our internal experience.  When the element of Earth is balanced within us, we feel stable, secure, confident and able to handle whatever comes our way.  We are steady and consistent in our relations, our commitments, and our routines.  We feel that we have enough support for our life.  And we have sustained concentration and diligence in our meditation practice.  If Earth is in excess, then we feel lazy, weighed down, and heavy.  Our bodies and minds literally plod along.  Our thinking is dull and lacks creativity or inspiration.  To the extreme, we become depressed and only want to sleep.  If Earth has become weakened, we are literally ungrounded.  It is difficult to maintain focus on anything long enough to finish it or follow through.  We are filled with doubt and find it difficult to make decisions.  We feel insecure and dissatisfied.

In order to bring the element of Earth back into balance, there are methods such as Tibetan medicine, ritual and meditation practices.  There are specific yogic exercises within the Yungdrung Bön tradition which use the focus of the mind together with the breath and movement of the physical body to balance and strengthen the subtle elements within us.  To learn more about these yogic exercises see Healing with Form, Energy and Light by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche.  Additionally, there are other methods available to us.  For example, if the Earth element is weakened, spend time feeling the pull of gravity upon your physical body.  Sit and meditate upon the image of a mountain.  Eat heavier foods and avoid caffeine and being overly busy.  Sit still.  If the element of Earth is in excess, then get up and move the body.  Go for a walk or do other kinds of exercise.  Eat lighter more easily digested foods.  Avoid the temptation to sleep too much.  Spend time with people who are active and creative.  Pay more attention to the wind and the movement of things around you.  When the element of Earth is balanced within us, we can remain grounded and focused in any situation without getting stuck or losing the ability to change and be flexible.

The 84,000 Doors of Bön at Your Fingertips


“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.

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