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A Skillful Method to Purify Negative Karma: Gift Translation

Buddha Tönpa Shenrap in his form of Tritsuk Gyalwa, a completely pure ascetic surrounded by his retinue.

Every full moon the monks of Menri Monastery gather together to perform the shakpa practice. The next full moon corresponds with January 17, 2022 on the Western calendar. The practice of shakpa is one of the skillful methods to purify negative karma and is of great importance within the Yungdrung Bön religious tradition. The Tibetan term “shakpa” is often translated as confession. However, this only describes one part of the practice. It does indeed involve an admission of wrongdoing, but the reason for performing this practice is for the subsequent purification of negative karma.

The doubtless result of our positive and negative actions of body, speech, and mind is taught as one of the four foundational practices that prepare the mind-stream for further spiritual development. (For more about these four foundational practices, follow this link to a previous article: ) Our actions are like the seed of a plant that naturally ripens into the corresponding fruit when it meets with the proper secondary conditions. Similarly, negative actions bring future negative results and positive actions bring future positive results. As stated by the modern-day saint Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche:

“In general, whatever happiness or suffering is experienced, all of it is according to previous actions. For example, when a plant emerges from the ground, the fruit will ripen into whatever was planted in the autumn. Whatever actions you have done previously, will ripen into the correct result. Whatever wrongdoing that has been done, will arise as a ripened future result. Suffering and misery from unpurified karma will arise even though it is unwanted.”

— Excerpt from an untitled poem composed by Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche and included in his volume of works entitled Advice and Hagiographies of the A Tri Lineage Lamas

Throughout our countless previous lifetimes we have accumulated an unimaginable amount of karma. This will ripen into its corresponding result whenever secondary conditions arise. Therefore, when problems and suffering occur, rather than looking outside for a cause upon which to place blame, the Bönpo practitioner understands that suffering arises as a result of one’s own previous negative actions. The result of negative karma is not only suffering, but also the obstruction of wisdom and realization. Again from Shardza Rinpoche from his advice regarding the practice of confession,

“If the dirt on a mirror is not cleaned, you will be unable to see your own face. In the same way, the natural state will not appear due obscurations and wrongdoing.

When not produced within the mental continuum of the natural state of emptiness, cyclic existence and karma are utterly liberated and do not exist. Therefore, the realization reflected from the mirror of the base-of-all appears. Because of that, it is necessary to strive to purify the previously accumulated defilements and obscurations. It is of great importance.”

Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen Rinpoche

Regardless of whether someone practices sutra, tantra, or dzogchen, or is a renunciant, a lay practitioner, or a householder, the practice of shakpa is important in order to develop spiritually and to experience wisdom and realization. The practice of shakpa involves four powers. When each of these powers are present, the practice is profound and effective. The four powers are: (1) the power of the exalted witness, (2) the power of openly admitting wrongdoing, (3) the power of feeling strong, heartfelt remorse, and (4) the power of promising to not repeat the actions of wrongdoing.

For the power of witness, the practitioner goes before a sacred object of refuge such as a shrine, a real or visualized image of an enlightened being, or a chorten. Then, the practitioner connects with the actual presence of the enlightened beings in the sky before them. For the second power which is the admission of wrongdoing, the practitioner brings into their awareness all wrongdoing and non-virtue of body, speech and mind that have been committed in this life, as well as any unremembered activities from this and previous lifetimes. This includes activities of direct or indirect involvement, and encouraging or celebrating the wrongdoing of others. For the third power, the practitioner generates an intense remorse for all of these actions understanding that they have brought harm to others and can only harm one’s self. For the fourth power, the practitioner makes a firm commitment to not repeat these activities in the future and to instead engage in positive activities of virtue and loving kindness. In this way, the negative karma is purified and can no longer ripen into a negative result. At the conclusion of the practice, the practitioner imagines and feels the blessings of the enlightened beings completely purifying them in the form of pure, wisdom light.

There are many prayers of confession. Below is an excerpt from Purifying Remorse and Confession which is attributed to Metön Sherap Özer and uses the visualization of Tritsuk Gyalwa as the central deity who is surrounded by his retinue that fills all of space. As a gift to the worldwide Yungdrung Bön sangha, the complete version of the translated prayer can be viewed and downloaded by clicking the Publications tab at the top of this page and scrolling to the bottom of the page.

“Venerable lama, before your eyes, I openly admit and confess to having had only a small amount of devotion and respect.

Gathering of yidam deities, before your eyes, I confess to accepting and rejecting incorrect things. 

Mother and sister khandro, before your eyes, I confess to not properly guarding my commitments. 

Bön religious guardians, before your eyes, I confess to not making regular monthly and yearly offerings in the past.

Spiritual brothers and sisters, before your eyes, I confess to having only a small amount of respect and pure vision.”

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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Anniversary of the Passing Away of Nangtön Dawa Gyaltsen Rinpoche

Nangtön Dawa Gyaltsen. Photo credit: Unknown

The anniversary of the passing away of Nangtön Dawa Gyaltsen Rinpoche is the 7th and 8th lunar days of the 11th month. In 2022, these dates coincide with January 9th-10th on the Western calendar. He was born during the Fire Dragon year of 1796 and founded Ralak Yungdrung Ling Monastery on the bank of the Yarlung Tsangpo River in 1834. This monastery developed into one of the largest and most prestigious centers for learning within the Yungdrung Bön tradition. It was renowned for its extensive library and the fact that it had its own woodblocks to print texts. The monastery contained many golden statues including a gilt-copper image of Nampar Gyalwa that was two-stories high.  It also contained reliquary stupas enshrining the remains of previous abbots. In 1965 during the cultural revolution, the monastery was burned to the ground. In 1982, two monks who had been in residence at the monastery prior to its destruction began the process of reconstruction.

Ralak Yungdrung Ling Monastery in Tibet. Photo credit: Unknown.

Supplication Prayer to the Lord of Refuge Dawa Gyaltsen

“You, a teacher born into the Amdo family lineage of Nangzhik, you spread the unrivaled Bön teachings of the White AH throughout your homeland.

You embody the essence of all buddhas by having having perfected the exalted qualities of the major and minor characteristics.

I pay homage to the Buddha who manifested in human form!”

— Translated from the Tibetan by Raven Cypress Wood

Reliquary containing the sacred relics of Nangtön Dawa Gyaltsen. Photo credit: Unknown

At the age of sixty-seven during the water dog year of 1863 on the auspicious 8th lunar day of the middle winter month at mid-day, the warmth of his body and his consciousness concentrated at the center of his heart. His eyes looked straight ahead, unmoving. After the third sounding of the syllable “Pé!” related to the transference of consciousness practice, he left the shell of his physical body for the great bliss space of absolute reality.

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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9838th Anniversary of the Buddha’s Twelfth Deed: Demonstrating How to Pass Beyond Suffering

Lord Buddha lying in the sleeping lion posture and obtaining parinirvana in the presence of gods, humans and lu.

On the new moon day of the first Winter month (10th lunar month), Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché demonstrated the truth of impermanence by leaving behind the container of his physical body. This date coincides with January 2, 2022 on the Western calendar. This is a powerfully auspicious day. Any virtuous activity that is performed through the body, speech or mind is greatly multiplied.

“Although the body of a Victorious One is without birth and death,

in order to show an example of the impermanent character of phenomena,

you demonstrated the way of passing beyond suffering into the space of the essence of Bön, and manifested within the vast expanse of the true nature which is like the sky.

I prostrate to you, Fully Accomplished One!”

At the age of eighty-two shen years (8,200 human years), the enlightened Lord Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché began to illustrate the truth of impermanence for sentient beings by allowing the constituents of his physical body to become weak and manifest an illness. Alarmed, his disciples performed rituals and administered medicine. In order to demonstrate the effectiveness of these methods according to relative truth, the Buddha temporarily recovered.

However, after a little time had passed, he caused his physical condition to again weaken. This provided an opportunity for the Buddha to give teachings to his disciples regarding the process of death. At dusk on the new moon day of the first Winter month at the nine-leveled yungdrung mountain, Lord Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché adopted the posture of the sleeping lion and demonstrated the accomplishment of passing beyond suffering. After cremation of his physical body, the relics from the ash were distributed among the gods, the humans and the lu [Sanskrit: naga] as objects of faith and devotion.

The parinirvana of Lord Buddha Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché is observed each year by monks, nuns. and lay practitioners worldwide. Photo credit: Unknown

One year later, an assembly of thirteen yungdrung sempa [Sanskrit:bodhisattva] compiled the teachings of Lord Buddha. Time passed, and the era of being able to rely upon the physical presence of the Buddha drew to  a close. Thus began the era of relying upon the Buddha’s speech. Lord Tönpa Shenrap’s successor, Mucho Demdruk, descended from the sky into Olmo Lungring and began to turn the wheel of Yungdrung Bön for gods and humans. Among his disciples were “the six intellectual ornaments of the world.” These six scholars translated the teachings of Lord Buddha into their respective native languages of Tazik, India, China, and Trom and therefore were able to spread the teachings of enlightenment in every direction.

“You are the king of the teachings and the glorious guide through cyclic existence.

You are the illuminating light that overcomes all darkness.

You are the primary medicine that dispels the torment of ignorance and disease.

You are a King of the Mu clan, an extraordinary being who took human form.

With an army of great fire that dries up the ocean and mire of the five poisons,

You are a luminous, holy man who possesses the marks and characteristics of an enlightened being.

Having undertaken a multitude of hardships, You completed a multitude of enlightened activities.

Through both the four valid means of cognition and the six valid thoughts, and with great loving kindness, you liberate the beings within cyclic existence.

I prostrate to the manifested enlightened Body of Tönpa Shenrap!”

—From Praise and Homage for the Compassionate Teacher 

Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved. All translations by the author. No content, in part or in whole, is allowed to be used without direct permission from the author.

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May Everyone’s Wishes Be Fulfilled!

Bönpo lungta prayer flag

Translations from Tibetan 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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A Brief Introduction to the Mother Tantras of Yungdrung Bön

The yidam Sangchok Tartuk and Khandro Chema Otso. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

Within the Nine Ways of Bon, the so-called Mother Tantra is found within the seventh way, The Way of the White A. As with the other tantras within this category, the practices are based upon visualization as part of the generation and perfection stages. The Father Tantras emphasize the generation stage, the Mother Tantras emphasize the perfection stage, also referred to as the completion stage, and the Son tantras emphasize the unification. Today, when most people speak of the Mother Tantra within the Yungdrung Bön tradition, they are referring to the Secret Mother Tantra whose main title is Ma Gyu Tukje Nyima, The Sun of Compassion Mother Tantra. “Sun of Compassion” is a reference to the yidam deity of the tantric cycle, Sangchok Tartuk Gyal, or Sangchok Gyalpo, Supremely Secret King. His consort is Khandro Chema Ötso. The Mother Tantra is unique in that the male yidam represents the emptiness aspect and the female khandro represents the clarity aspect.

In addition to the secret cycle of the Mother Tantra, there are also cycles of the Outer Mother Tantra, and the Inner Mother Tantra. The source of these three cycles of teachings is the primordial buddha Küntu Zangpo. Zangza Ringtsun, an emanation of the buddha Sherap Jamma who had a miraculous virgin birth of Chimé Tsukpü, received the divine transmission of the Mother Tantras and passed it to Milu Samlek. He was born as a prince and was known for his intelligence. As he was practicing the Mother Tantra, the six guardian khandros appeared and asked him if he throughly understood the precepts of the Mother Tantra. He replied that he understood them very well. In response, the khandros brought a skull full of water from the ocean and dipped a reed into it. They then said to him,

The Bön of the Mother Tantras is like the ocean,

the lama’s knowledge of it is like the water in the skull,

your knowledge of it is like the water droplets remaining on the reed.

At this, Milu Samlek became quite despondent. He asked the khandros how he could completely learn the Mother Tantra and they told him that he must go and receive it from Zangza Ringtsun. He did so, and later wrote a commentary for each of the Outer, Inner, and Secret cycles.

Ma Gyu torma which represents the lama, the yidam, and the khandro. Picture credit: Raven Cypress Wood

The root texts and their commentaries were handed down through the lineage until reaching Sené Gau. He translated the teachings from Zhang Zhung to Tibetan. However, it was also during this time in the 7th century that the first persecution of Yungdrung Bön began. Therefore, in order to protect the teachings for future generations, he returned the texts to the khandros who acted as guardians of the terma. Later in the time of the 11th century, the outer and inner cycles were rediscovered. The secret cycle was discovered by accident in the 12th century.

Guru Nontsé, born in 1136, was a hunter who struck a rock that then split apart to reveal a white silk wrapped around a stick and written on both sides. This was the Mother Tantra root texts along with their condensed, medium-length, and extensively detailed commentaries. He began the arduous task of copying the texts, but before he was able to finish he had a vision that the khandros wanted the white silk text to be returned to them. In that way, some of the Mother Tantra texts and commentaries remain lost to us.

During the 1st lunar month on the 21st and 22nd day, Menri Monastery performs an extensive tsok offering to the deities of the Mother Tantra according to the Shen tradition. This offering invites the deities to be present and to bestow their magnificent blessings. In this way, the practitioners’ sacred vows are renewed and they are empowered with the enlightened qualities of the Mother Tantra deities.

Translations from Tibetan 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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