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88th Anniversary of the Parinirvana of Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche

Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche

The lunar 13th day of the 4th month is the anniversary of the parinirvana and the attainment of the rainbow body of Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche. In 2022, this date coincides with June 12th. Shardza Rinpoche was a Yungdrung Bön monk, teacher, scholar, and realized practitioner of the modern age. Born in 1859 in Kham, Tibet, at the age of nine an esteemed lama told his parents that he should become a monk. Being their only son, the parents refused. Shardza soon became quite ill. Seeing that their son was not recovering, the parents agreed to allow him to take ordination. At this, Shardza quickly recovered. He was the attendant for his root lama, Tenzin Wangyal, for many years. At the age of eighteen, he took the full vows of a Yungdrung Bön monk from the abbot of Yungdrung Ling Monastery.

Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche depicted as a yogi with long hair and a white robe

Throughout his life, Shardza Rinpoche was known for a disciplined adherence to every vow that he had taken throughout his life. Although his view and practice were vast and high, he maintained diligence in performing virtue and avoiding the smallest non-virtue. He continually performed the preliminary practices and recited many millions of mantra, especially the SA LÉ Ö mantra. He composed many concise practices for purifying negativity and accumulating merit and wisdom, such as his Aspiration Prayer of Giving and Receiving. (For the publicly available English translation and explanation of the prayer, see previous article: https://ravencypresswood.com/2020/01/31/an-aspiration-prayer-of-giving-and-receiving-gift-translation/ )

“For those with a great deal of negative actions in this lifetime, having requested a remedy because they will certainly ripen during future lifetimes, the remedy of performing virtue is very powerful. Having ripened negative actions, the mere exhaustion of that karma (through pain and/or illness), enlightenment is certain. Therefore, this pain and illness of yours is very amazing when it is voluntarily accepted!

Even now, whenever more pain or illness arises, continuing to persevere with your religious practices, venerations, and acts of pure virtue would be incredibly amazing!

When you imagine that there will be no unhappiness in the future (due to this negative karma being exhausted), supremely praise the emptiness of that particular pain or illness.

Be inspired by the power of this antidote, even when what you don’t want arises.

Take the suffering and misery of others onto yourself by adopting others’ happiness and suffering through the practice of giving and receiving.” 

Shardza Rinpoche’s advice to the female practitioner Khandro Wangi Dronma. 
Hair and nails of Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen that were recovered after his attainment of the rainbow body
Hair and nails of Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche that were recovered after his attainment of the rainbow body

He taught a multitude of disciples, organized the reconstruction of temples, went on pilgrimages, and spent a great deal of time in isolated retreat. A prolific writer, he wrote at length on subjects such as Bön history, instructions for the practice of Tibetan yoga, preliminary practices for Dzogchen, condensed summaries of each of the None Ways of Bön, and detailed instructions for the advanced practice of inner heat, known as Tummo. When Shardza Rinpoche was 75 years old, his disciples noticed that his behavior changed. He seemed more casual and became delighted when playing with children. He was seen doing miraculous things such as walking without his feet touching the ground or setting his bowl down in space.

In 1934 at the age of 76 during an offering ceremony, he began to spontaneously sing songs of realization.  A few days later, he sewed himself inside a tent and forbid any of his disciples to open it.  The next day, rainbow lights began appearing above and around the tent. After three days, the ground shook. By the 4th day, rainbow-colored mist was seen coming through the seams of the tent. On that 4th day, Shardza’s disciple Tsultrim Wangchuk, afraid that his lama’s body would completely disappear and leave nothing as an object of veneration and inspiration, opened the tent. He found Shardza’s body enveloped in rainbow light, levitating in midair, and shrunken to the proportional size of a one year old child. The area around his heart was still warm but most of the nails of the hands and feet had fallen onto the seat below. For the next forty-nine days, a multitude of disciples came to pay their respect and receive blessings. After that, the precious remains were placed into a reliquary chorten. From time to time, many people have reported seeing clear or rainbow-colored light emanating from this reliquary chorten.

Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen’s reliquary chorten at his retreat center in Amdo, Tibet

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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666th Birth Celebration of the Second Buddha: H.H. the 1st Menri Trizin Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoché

Shrine display at Menri Monastery honoring HH 1st Menri Trizin Rinpoche. Photo credit: Unknown

The 5th day of the 1st lunar month is the birth celebration of His Holiness the 1st Menri Trizin Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoché who is known as the second buddha in the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition. In 2022, this date coincides with  March 7th on the Western calendar. His Holiness Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoché was a reincarnation of Yikyi Khye’u Chung, one of Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche’s sons. He united the three transmission lineages of sutra, tantra and dzogchen that had become widely dispersed, and he founded one of the largest Yungdrung Bön monasteries in Tibet, Tashi Menri Ling.

Born in 1356 in the region of Gyalrong into the esteemed Dru lineage, as a child, he could recite mantra and read scripture without having studied. At the age of ten, he decided to become a monk. In 1387 at the age of 31, he entered the prestigious Yeru Wensaka monastery and eventually became its abbot.   While he was traveling in Eastern Tibet, Yeru Wensaka was destroyed by flooding and mudslides. Upon returning, he searched the ruins of the monastery for any salvageable artifacts. With these precious objects, he established Tashi Menri Monastery on higher ground within the same valley. It was 1405 and he was 50 years old.

nyamme sol dep framed

His Holiness 1st Menri Trizin was known throughout Tibet as a great scholar and prolific writer on the many varied subjects within the Bön scriptures. He also exhibited many miracles and signs of his spiritual realization. Twice, he flew up into the sky.  During one of these flights, he burned his hat with the rays of the sun.

Nyamme Sherap Gyaltsen handprint
Nyamme Sherap Gyaltsen’s hand print in stone

In 1415 at the age of 60, he left the shell of his physical body. His body levitated high into the air, but due to the fervent prayers of his disciples, the body returned to the earth. During the cremation, rainbows appeared and a large bird circled three times around the cremation area before disappearing into the West.

Today,  Bönpos will spend the day with their eyes looking skyward. If they are lucky enough to be visited by a vulture on this day, it is said to be an auspicious sign of having directly received the blessings of the lama known as the Second Buddha, the Unequaled One, H.H. Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen Rinpoché.

Among his numerous writings, is the commonly recited Eight-branched Aspiration Prayer, Mönlam Yenlak Gyepa. When offering aspiration prayers, we imagine that every sentient being is offering the prayers in unison with us. This limitless group of beings includes humans, nonhumans, unseen spirits, and those we consider “enemies.” All sound is perceived as the sound of the prayer being recited and the vastness of space is imagined as filled with buddhas and bodhisattvas that are delighted by the virtuous activity that spontaneously activates their immeasurable compassion. By offering the prayers in this way, and then dedicating the merit of the practice for the welfare of all sentient beings, the power of the practice is inconceivable and the benefit is sealed and can never be destroyed. 

The English language translation of the Eight-branched Aspiration Prayer, Mönlam Yenlak Gyepa is publicly available for personal use and can be downloaded from the Publications page of this website. Click on the Publications tab above and then scroll down the page to the download link.

Tibetan translations by Raven Cypress Wood

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The Fifth Way: In the Service of Virtue

Central Figure of the Tibetan Thangkha Painting Related to The Fifth 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.’ In the Tibetan language, a lay practitioner is called ‘gen nyen’ [Tib. dge bsnyen] which literally translates as ‘one who serves virtue’ or ‘one who draws near to virtue.’ When asked the meaning of these concepts, the enlightened all-knowing teacher, Buddha 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 holding contradictory 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.  Buddha Tönpa Shenrap defines this kind of renunciation as 1) not performing the actions, 2) not requesting or encouraging others to perform them and 3) not feeling pleased that others have performed the negative actions. Similarly, one commits to 1) acting according to the ten virtuous actions, 2) encouraging others to participate in these activities and 3) feeling joy that others have performed virtuous actions. 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.

When asked to teach the outward form of the lay practitioner, The All-knowing Teacher, Tönpa Shenrap first instructed the gathered assembly to construct the first Elegant Yungdrung Chorten [Sanskrit: stupa] according to his detailed instructions. Once completed, he consecrated the chorten and then began teaching the outer forms and behavior of a gen nyen or lay practitioner.

Elegant Yungdrung Bon Chorten edit

The Elegant Yungdrung Chorten which represents the stages of enlightenment

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

“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.”

As for killing, one must abandon killing in anger especially another human being. One must abandon stealing, especially when it is driven by desire. One must avoid sexual contact that is damaging or abusive, one must avoid harmful speech especially if it creates a division within the spiritual community, and one must avoid lying especially about one’s spiritual experiences and attainments. As for the fifth which is a branch vow, one renounces either one of the four kinds of food. In this context, the four kinds of food are 1) meat, 2) garlic, 3) solid food after the mid-day meal, and 4) intoxicants such as drugs and alcohol. Regarding drugs and alcohol, the deeper meaning is the renunciation of intoxication which is an obstacle to mindfulness and incites negative behavior.

According to Buddha Tönpa Shenrap in The Nine Ways of Bön,

“As for the lifelong inner rules, one must abandon killing due to the influence of anger, abandon taking what is not given due to the influence of desire or attachment, abandon acting secretly to get what one wants without consideration of cause and effect due to the influence of ignorance, abandon performing unclean work due to the influence of pride, and abandon rough and abusive speech, meaningless talk, and telling lies. One must apply one’s self to their opposites.”

The Buddha goes on to describe the outer practices.

“As for the five intermediate principles, one should perform pure water-cleansing rites, perform prostrations and circumambulations with devotion and aspiration, create and place tsa tsa, and offer torma. Presenting offerings is a branch of gathering the [two] accumulations.”

All translations and content 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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Iconography: Animals Under a Throne

Sherap Jamma with lions underneath her seat as painted by Lama Kalsang Nyima. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

Iconography is the use of images and symbols to convey meaning or concepts especially in a spiritual context. The iconography within the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition is detailed within many volumes of scriptures. Symbolic meanings are specific and often complex depending upon the context. Meaning is attributed to includes composition, proportions, color, hand objects, clothing, ornamentation, etc.  Sometimes, a few of these details are left to the interpretation of the artist but they are most often prescribed within the sacred text.

Elephant throne

A throne depicting elephants under the main figure

The Tibetan thangkha is a painting on canvas that is framed in brocade and has dowels at the top and bottom to enable the painting to be hung and also rolled like a scroll.  These 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.

Horse throne

A throne depicting horses under the main figure

An example of the use of iconography within the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition is demonstrated by the images of animals depicted underneath the throne of enlightened deities. This position symbolizes that the deity tames or transforms the quality associated with the animal. According the oral teachings of the preeminent scholar and spiritual master His Eminence Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, the five common animals depicted in this way symbolize the following:  the lion symbolizes anger, the elephant symbolized ignorance, the garuda symbolizes desire, the horse symbolizes jealousy, and the dragon symbolizes pride.

Garuda throne

A throne depicting garudas under the main figure

For example, although the buddha Sherap Jamma 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 symbolized by lions being depicted on the throne underneath her as she sits peacefully.

Throne with all 5 animals

A throne depicting each of the five animals.All translations and content 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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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.

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