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The Great Yangtön: Yangtön Sherap Gyaltsen

Yangton Chenpo Sherap Gyaltsen

Yangton Sherap Gyaltsen on a thankgha comissioned by Geshe Tenzin Yangton. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

Ancient Family: 

The history of the Yangtön lineage is closely interwoven with the history of the Yungdrung Bön tradition itself. It is said that two of Lord Tönpa Shenrap’s disciples were Yangtön lamas. And during the reign of the first Tibetan king, Nyatri Tsenpo in the second century B.C., the official priest for the king and the kingdom was a Yangtön lama.

The name “Yangtön” is an abbreviation of the ancient Zhang Zhung family name “Ya Ngal” and “Tönpa” together meaning “Teacher of the Ya Ngal clan.”  The original seat of the Ya Ngal clan was at Taktse Jari in Upper Tsang, Tibet.  This is where Yangtön Sherap Gyaltsen was born during the Fire Snake year of 1077 AD.  Because it was prophesied that he would be an emanation of the ancient lama Pangla Namshen, he was also called by this name.  In his youth, he studied under many lamas including the first abbot of the famous Yeru Wensaka Yungdrung Bön Monastery, Druchen Yungdrung Lama.  He devoted himself to study and there were no Buddhists who could defeat him in a debate.  He eventually became known as “Yangtön Chenpo”, the Great Yangtön.

At the age of 27, he took two wives although he had no children with either of them.  He intently practiced the Yungdrung Bön tantric teachings and attained great magical power.  He preferred a life of practice and isolation to a worldly life and would often go alone to a mountain and enter into retreat.  In addition to his magical power, he also had many visions and meditative experiences.  Once while he was meditating, a woman appeared and asked,

“How much knowledge do you have?” He replied, “I am completely knowledgeable.” At that, the woman became unhappy, and crying, she left.  He thought, “When I told her that I was knowledgeable, she became unhappy,  If she appears tomorrow, I should tell her that I don’t know anything.”  The next day, the woman appeared and asked the same question as before.  This time, he replied, “I don’t know anything.  Are there any good qualities that you could teach me?”  Happy with the response, she answered, “If you want to learn some good qualities, in a cliff of lu and demons, never seeing the sun or moon, lives Ronggom Tokmé Zhikpo.  Go there and you will have some great things to learn.”  Having said this, she left.   Just hearing this, Yangtön Chenpo’s heart was overcome with joy and he neglected to ask where to find the lama.  He waited for the woman to appear the next day but she did not return.  After a week had passed, he decided that he could wait no longer and that he must go and find this lama.

Tibet to Mustang: Searching for the Lama    

Yangtön Sherap Gyaltsen was the first of his family to leave Taktse Jari.  He first traveled throughout Amdo and Kham for three years looking for Ronggom Tokmé Zhikpo, but did not find him.  After that, he went to Central Tibet and searched for the lama there for three years, but did not find him.  Then, he went to Ngari and search for three more years, but did not find Ronggom Tokmé Zhikpo.  Utterly despondent, he decided to return.  When he reached Mustang, he ran into two men who were playing a game of dice.  One of the gambling mantras went like this, “Never seeing the sun and moon, the yogi Ronggom Tokmé Zhikpo knows!”  Upon merely hearing this, Yangtön Chenpo’s body began to shake.  Thinking that it would now be possible to meet with the lama, he became delighted and began to laugh.  But then he thought that maybe it wasn’t possible because even though he had spent nine years looking, he hadn’t found the lama.  He then began to weep.  He asked the two men where the lama lived and they replied, “Below, near Lowo Montang in a cliff of lu and demons, in the upper part of the valley.  At this, he went to find the lama.  Prior to their meeting, Ronggom Tokmé Zhikpo had a dream in which he was told that an emanation of Pangla Namshen would arrive and that he should give him teachings.  The next day, Yangtön Chenpo finally met with his lama, Ronggom Tokmé Zhikpo and began receiving profound instructions from him.

Teachings and Legacy                                                                                                                                                              

Tokmé Zhikpo gave Yangtön Chenpo the Upper Transmission of the Aural Lineage of Zhang Zhung.  Previously, he had received both the Upper and Lower traditions of the Aural Transmission from Lama Orgom Kundrol, teachings and transmissions from the AH Tri Dzogchen from Me’uton Lhari Nyenpo, as well as many pointing out instructions.  He had the good fortune to meet with and receive teachings from many lamas.  At the Zangri Shar Monastery, he went before the great teacher of the Me’u lineage, Khepa Palchen, for a ritual cutting of his hair and receiving vows.  He was known as a teacher who had received the signs of accomplishment for the full development of training in sutra, tantra and dzogchen.  In modern times, that would be similar to the title of ‘Geshe’, ‘Lopon’ or ‘Khenpo’.

He settled in Gyal Zhug Dong Kar in Mustang, Nepal  where he establish a hermitage called Kyaru Gon. To some of his disciples he taught the Extensive Aural transmission of Zhang Zhung, to others he taught the medium-length text, and to still others he taught the condensed version of the Aural Transmission.  These became three distinct transmission known as the ‘Upper Transmission”, the “Lower Transmission”, and the “Intermediate Transmission”.   He practiced wherever he went and exhibited numerous signs of his realization.  With his third wife, he had a daughter and two sons. His sons were named Bumje Ö and Tashi Gyaltsen.  They became lineage holders of the Southern Lineage of Transmissions which also included the esteemed Druchen Gyalwa Yungdrung who composed the widely used practice text for the Aural Transmission of Zhang Zhung commonly referred to as the Chaktri.  

For many generations, both the transmission of the Experiential teachings of the Aural Transmission of Zhang Zhung, and the practice of Zhang Zhung Meri, had become separated from the transmission of the precepts of the Aural Transmission of Zhang Zhung into two distinct Upper and Lower lineage transmissions. Yangtön Sherab Gyaltsen reunited these two transmission lineages and out of kindness towards future students, he wrote down some of the Aural Transmission of Zhang Zhung teachings along with their commentaries. According to prophecy, his life span was to be 75 years long. However, it is said that writing down these secret teachings created an obstacle that caused him to die at the age of 63.

“Within a palace of great bliss where he resides,

is the all-knowing tulku with braids of hair,

prophesied as a mighty, victorious Lord, a realized Shen,

At the feet of Yangton Chenpo, I pray!”

From A Mala of Pearls, Invocation of the Yangtön Lineage, translated from the Tibetan by Raven Cypress Wood.

Raven Cypress Wood©2017

Special thanks to Menri Lopon Yangtön Trinley Nyima Rinpoche, head teacher at Menri Monastery, for sharing the ‘Yangtön Chenpo’ entry from his forthcoming Tibetan language Encyclopedia of Yungdrung Bön.  For more on this invaluable work, please see previous post:

Sacred Gathering

Monks during a festival at Triten Norbutse Monastery near Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo credit Andrzej Nieckula

In the Language of Zhang Zhung…

Special Announcement from Menri Monastery in India

Bum-Tsok: 100,000 Torma Offerings to Sidpe Gyalmo This Week

May 5, 2017

Dearest Friends

Greetings!  It is my pleasure to write to you today to share some news with you. Today, May 5th is the first day of the Sidpe Gyalmo Bum Tsok at Menri Monastery. This is the first Bum Tsok offering of the year 2017, and it will last one week.  All monks, nuns and lay practitioners (ngakpas) will make a total of 100,000 offerings to Sidpe Gyalmo and all the protector deities of the Yungdrung Bon. We will accumulate 100,000 of each of the offerings of the five senses, namely flowers, butter lamps, water bowls, incense and torma cakes. We will also offer the Nam Gye, which includes zug, dra, dri, ro, reg cha, bon and ter.

The reason for making 100,000 offerings is that the retinue of Sidpe Gyalmo is composed of 100,000 beings, so we should make one offering for each one. The purpose of the Bum Tsok offering is to bring peace, health, prosperity, and happiness to all sentient beings.

There aren’t any specific sponsors for the Bum Tsok. Anyone who wishes to contribute can do so for their own benefit or for the benefit of all sentient beings. The Bum Tsok also cleanses one’s obstacles, both inner and outer.  Outer obstacles are related to the five elements, disasters, and problems caused by harmful spirits.  Inner obstacles are problems such as depression, anxiety, and fear, especially when there are no external causes. The real causes are our karmic traces and tendencies carried over from our previous lives. Offering Bum Tsok to Sidpe Gyalmo is very helpful to clear away such obstacles.

A common saying in Tibetan is “Gyamtso chu tik drel wa.” A literal translation could be “A drop of water connects with the ocean.”  The meaning is that regardless of the size of our donation, our offering connects with and merges with the great ocean of offerings of the collective, and helps to increase its great virtue.

To those of you who would like to make an offering for yourself, for your family, or for all beings, the best way is to do so through Khyungdzong Wodsel Ling.

All offerings received by May 09 will be forwarded to Menri Monastery for this event.  All money received after that date will be held until the next Bum-Tsok.  These special offerings are only done once or twice a year so please send your offerings ASAP.

Offerings can be made at the website here:

With my blessings,

Menri Lopon Trinley Nyima



May the Five Elements Remain Strong & Harmonious!

Prayer Flags at Menri Monastery in Dolanji, India. Photo credit: Unknown

Lord of the Teachings: Shenchen Luga

Shenchen Luga from a mural at the Yungdrung Kundrak Ling Bon Monastery in Sikkim. Kindly photographed for Nine Ways by Sherab Ongdak.


Prayers for Peace and Harmony

Prayer Flags at Tashi Menri Monastery in Dolanji, India. Photo credit: Unknown

The Skillful Means of Offering Torma

Monks at Menri Monastery making torma for a large ritual. Photo credit: Unknown

The one and only time that the enlightened Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché visited the land of Tibet, he taught the use of torma.  Before being introduced to the practice of Yungdrung Bön, Tibetans were sacrificing living creatures as a way to please the powerful spirits of the planets, stars, earth, water and sky.  Lord Shenrap taught them that the basis of all his teachings was compassion and that harming and killing other beings was against his teachings.  He then offered the Tibetans an alternative method for propitiating the spirits through the offering of torma.

The Tibetan word ‘torma’ (Wylie: gtor ma) has as its root the word ‘tor’ which literally means ‘to throw’ or ‘to toss’.  Therefore, in its most literal meaning, a torma is something that is ‘thrown or tossed out’.  There are many kinds of torma.  However, this article will focus upon torma that are made of tsampa, or roasted barley flour, and offered outside.

Various offering torma made of tsampa. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

In general, there are four kinds of recipients for offering torma.  These four are known as the Four Guests: 1) the Guests of Reverence who are the enlightened beings,  2) the Guests of Exalted Qualities who are both the enlightened and the unenlightened but powerful, oath-bound protectors, 3) the Guests of Karmic Debts who are the Eight Classes of Gods and Demons, and 4) the Guests of Compassion or Charity who are the beings of the six realms (excluding the gods).  Depending upon the specific ritual being performed, sometimes the same kind of torma is offered to all of the four guests but sometimes different torma are specified for the different guests.

When making torma, all items including the hands must be clean.  Ideally, the mouth is covered so as to prevent any contamination.  The needed amount of tsampa is placed into an undamaged bowl and a small amount of the powdered six excellent ingredients and five precious things is added.  Then, the warrior seed syllables of AH OM HUNG RAM and DZA are drawn in the tsampa either all at once in each of their associated direction, or one after another.  Clean water is added to the tsampa until the proper consistency is reached.  Then, the mixture is formed into the appropriate shape for the torma being made.  Although there are slight variations of size and ornamentation between the torma of the monastic and the tantric traditions as well as between geographic regions, the essential shape and color of the torma is prescribed in the texts and must be made accordingly.  In general, peaceful torma have a round base and are yellow or white in color, and wrathful torma have a triangular base or ‘base of three corners’ and are painted red.  Most torma offerings terminate in a point at the top which should be ‘as sharp as wisdom’.  Traditionally, butter was used to paint peaceful torma and muk tsi root(Tib. smug rtsi),  was used to create a purplish-red dye that was used to paint the wrathful torma.  Now, yellow and red food coloring are often used for this purpose.  Once painted, the torma are ornamented with butter that has been molded  to resemble the shape of flowers and flaming jewels.

During the process of making torma, the practitioner does not eat or drink, or engage in any kind of non-virtuous talk or thoughts.  Reciting mantras and maintaining either thoughts of virtue or higher meditative states is best.   Once complete, the torma are placed upon the altar and ritually cleansed with the sprinkling of pure water and the smoke of pure incense.  During the ritual liturgy, the torma are placed upon a small plate and offered outside according to their particular specification.

By offering to the Guests of Reverence, we generate merit and develop our quality of generosity.  By offering to the Protectors, we activate their oath bound activity and they intercede on our behalf.  By offering to the Eight Classes of Beings, we repay our karmic debts that have accumulated through countless lifetimes of actions motivated by the five poisons.  By offering to the Guests of Compassion within the six realms, we develop our quality of compassion and offer them needed support.

Raven Cypress Wood© All Rights Reserved


Kind Guidance of the Lama

His Eminence Menri Lopon Thrinley Nyima Rinpoche helps a student during the annual exams at Menri Monastery in India. Photo credit: Unknown

In the Language of Zhang Zhung…

Adding Virtue to Everyday Actions

MA TRI mantra above a doorway. Photo credit: Unknown


From the Dechok Rinchen Dronma’i Phen Yön, The Benefits of the Recitation Practice of the Precious Lamp, also known as The Thirty-two Benefits of the MA TRI Mantra:

“(6) This recitation practice is a precious lamp.  Anyone who has generated the mind of compassion, if they write out the mantra and put it above the doorway of the retreat place or throughout the community, then just by entering these places one will attain liberation.  Entering practice is the benefit of this precious lamp.”

~Translation from Tibetan to English by Raven Cypress Wood ©All Rights Reserved

The MA TRI mantra is one of the three essence mantras of the Yungdrung Bön tradition. The complete mantra is:་OM MA TRI MU YÉ SA LÉ DU.


Sacred Performance

Monks prepare to perform the sacred dances for the Tibetan New Year at Triten Norbutse Monastery in Nepal. Photo credit: Dr. Nyima Samphel Gurung

The Yellow Monk’s Hat

Gathering of monks at Menri Monastery. Photo credit: Unknown

The yellow hat is one of the necessary religious articles of clothing for a monk.   Each detail of the hat is symbolic.  For example, “the clear, deep blue lining of the inside symbolizes the Bönku, the empty aspect of the Bön essence, the source of all phenomena.  The yellow, feathered tassles along the length of the very top symbolize the Enlightened Ones of the good eon continuously being at the top of one’s head.  The countless, yellow threads standing parallel symbolize hearing the limitless collection of the cycle of teachings.

Yungdrung Bon lamas with their yellow hats. Photo credit: Unknown

The four corners beyond the ear symbolize taming those who are not trained through the four qualities which positively influence others.  (These four are 1) Generosity, 2) Gentle speech, 3) Meaningful activity, and 4) Having one’s actions be consistent with one’s words.)  The encircling red cord symbolizes condensing into one the many doors of Bön.”

Translated from Tibetan by Raven Cypress Wood© All Rights Reserved

The Knowledgeable and Compassionate Guide

HE Menri Lopon Thrinley Nyima Rinpoche leads a ceremony at Menri Monastery in India. Photo credit: Unknown

Anniversary of the Birth of the Second Buddha: Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen


The 5th day of the 1st month of the Tibetan calendar is the celebration of the birth and cremation of Lama Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen. In the Western calendar year of 2017, that date falls on March 3rd. Within the Yungdrung Bön tradition, Lama Nyammé Sherap Gyaltsen is often referred to as the Second Buddha. He was a reincarnation of Yikyi Khye’u Chung, one of Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoche’s sons. He was responsible for uniting the three transmissions of sutra, tantra and dzogchen as well as founding one of the largest Yungdrung Bön monasteries in Tibet, Tashi Menri Ling.  For more information, see previous post

Losar Tashi Delek Pün Sum Tsok! Happy Tibetan New Year!

A chemar of offerings for the Tibetan New Year. Photo credit:Unknown

The Twelve Animals of Tibetan Astrology: The Garuda

Tibetan astrological chart and symbols

In Tibetan astrology, there is a twelve year cycle.  Each of these years is characterized by a different animal and associated with one of the five elements.  Therefore, a full cycle of the twelve animals being associated with each of the five elements is sixty years.  The twelve animals according to the Yungdrung Bön texts are the Rat, Elephant, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Horse, Snake, Sheep, Garuda, Monkey, Dog and Pig.  Each animal is associated with a specific element for its life-force as well as a specific direction which is determined by the life-force element.  Not only are these twelve animals associated with a particular year, they are also associated with particular months, days and hours.

A bronze image of a Garuda

Feb 27, 2017 begins the Tibetan New Year and the year of the Fire Garuda.  (For the Yungdrung Bön, it is the year of the Garuda.  Others use the symbol of the rooster.)  The Garuda is a bird both historical and mythical in scope similar to the Thunderbird.  It is intricately associated with Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché and the ancient kingdom of Zhang Zhung and Mount Tisé a.k.a. Mount Kailash. People born during a Garuda year will have an emphasis of the specific qualities associated with Garuda.  (These years correspond with the Tibetan lunar calendar and begin sometime between late January and early April.)   In astrology, the element which governs the life-force of the Garuda is Metal (space) and its direction is West.  So, if a Garuda person wanted to strengthen their life-force, they would focus upon strengthening the element of Metal internally and externally.  Because the positive direction is West, facing this direction while meditating, engaging in healing practices or just relaxing and taking deep breaths is beneficial.

In general as an astrological symbol, the Garuda person has a zest for life and is uncomfortable with the limitations of tradition and convention.  The Garuda has confidence in itself and is ambitious with goals that can often seem unrealistic to others.  However, it is a perfectionist and a master of organization that is able to find a way to accomplish difficult tasks.  The Garuda‘s joy and charisma attracts many friends who benefit from its spontaneous generosity.  Its flair for life and confidence in itself also attracts the attention of powerful people who help the completion of its goals.  In some, this unshakable confidence might lend itself to conceit and self-centeredness.  The Garuda finds the most joy when it remains balanced rather than caught in a cycle of highs and lows.

The Garuda‘s soul day is Friday and its life-force day is Thursday.  These are the best days for beginning new projects and activities that are meant to increase or develop something.  The obstacle day is Tuesday.  This day is best for purification and letting things go.  It is not a favorable day for beginning new activities.

Garuda years include: 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, and 2017

Raven Cypress Wood© All Rights Reserved

Sacred Form

A Collection of Sacred Yungdrung Bon Objects. Photo credit: Unknown

Anniversary of the Birth of Lord Tönpa Shenrap Miwoché

The enlightened Lord and founder of Yungdrung Bon, Tonpa Shenrap Miwoche

On the fifteenth day of the twelfth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, Lord Shenrap was born in the human realm as a prince in the ancient land of Tazik.  His birth has traditionally been celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month of the lunar calendar.  However, research by the esteemed scholar and spiritual master Yongdzin Tendzin Namdak Rinpoche has revealed the actual date to be the fifteenth day of the twelfth month.

“He is the Supreme Teacher, One who has gone beyond bliss, an authentic and completely Enlightened Being, a manifested Buddha, Tönpa Shenrap Miwo. His face is like the sun and moon and he sees throughout the ten directions. His divine Body is so beautiful that one cannot look away. In his right hand, he holds a golden chakshing painted with a turquoise yungdrung which shows that he is Lord of the 3,000-fold universe and Conqueror of this world system. His left hand holds the mudra of equipoise which shows that he has destroyed the door to birth into the lower realms of cyclic existence.”

~From the sacred Yungdrung Bön scriptures

See previous post regarding His birth:

All Rights Reserved ©Raven Cypress Wood

Blessings of the Lama

HE Menri Lopon Thrinley Nyima Rinpoche prepares to perform a consecration ritual. Photo credit: Raven Cypress Wood

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