Organized by Gyalshen Institute [June 16, 2012 Saturday]
Berkeley, CA: Geshe Chapur Rinpoche of Gyalshen Institute gave a one-day teaching at Dondrup Ling center in Berkeley on historical aspect of the Bon teaching, its development, and about the unique status of the doctrine, and the current situation. Following is the summary of the Geshe la's teaching and the clarifications he gave to the questions asked by the participants. Tsewang Gyalpo Arya translated the teachings.
The word Bon is as old as history of Zhangshung and Tibet. It can mean many things. We have Bon, Yungdrung Bon, Bon nyingma, Bon sarma, Bon Buddhist etc. The word or the sound "Bon" is also said to be the origin of word "Tibet". From Bon came Bod; from Bod came Bhote; from Bhote came Tibet.
But generally Bon is understood as the native religion of Tibet. Sometime people say Bon is similar or same as Shamanism, this is wrong. When we say Bon, we have to think of what Bon we are talking about.The Bon teaching that we are talking about and practicing is the Yungdrung Bon, propagated or founded by Tonpa Shenrab Miwo. Before Tonpa Shenrab, there was a native religious practice in Zhangshung and Tibet, which were also known by the name of Bon. It involved the practice of propitiating gods or deities through animal sacrifices. This primitive Bon may have similarity with Shamanism. Tonpa Shenrab later reformed this and instead of actual animal sacrifice, a ritual symbolizing animal sacrifice without having to take the lives of real animals was introduced.
Tonpa Shenrab was born a common man in Olmolungring. The religious doctrine that he taught was Yungdrung Bon. Yung means kyeme, unborn and primordial. It represents "Conventional truth". Drung mean gagme, uninterrupted or no obstruction. It represents "Ultimate truth". It is said that 18,027 years have passed since the birth of Tonpa Shenrab. During Tonpa Shenrab's time, shenlo system is used to count the years. One shenlo was equal to our 100 years. So, when we say that Tonpa Shenrab lived for 82 years, it means he lived for 820 years.It was possible around that time that people lived long, and were very big in size. Our fortune and moral came diminishing since then. Tonpa Shenrab's footprint, which could be seen in Kongpo is the proof of his size.
Tonpa Shenrab has a Yungdrung Chagshing in his hand. Two swastikas at the end of a feet-long wood, swastikas represent the Sutra and Tantra teaching. Chag means breaking or destruction, therefore the destruction of all mental afflictions, and shing, the wood which is straight represent Dzogchen teaching, leading us straight to enlightenment.Tibetans have a word "Nangpa" which literally means insider, and sometime people relate this to Buddhist follower only. Question comes whether Bon follower are nangpa or not. Nangpa is defined as those who believe in realizing the inner self through proper study of Sutra and Tantra to achieve understanding of the Two Truth. As Bon teaching also believe in the same thing, we can very much say that Bonpos are "nangpa".
Since the assassination of Zhangshung king by Trisong Deutsen's army, Bon follower in Tibet fled Tibet. Many Bonpos fled Tibet, many Sutra masters or monks fled to Mongolia, and many Tanra practitioners fled to Nepal and India. The Bonpo master Nangchenlopa, although a highly accomplished Dzogchen master, was very angry that he retaliated with his magical power. His anger was so great at that time that it was pacified only after his meeting with Tapiritsa.Both Bon and Buddhism suffered great downfall since 9th century to early 13th century. This period was termed as dark period of Tibetan history.
The religious situation deteriorated to such an extent that there was no one to give monks' vow, Gelong dhompa. Lachen Gongpa Rabsel, a Buddhist monk from Amdo received the Dhompa from Sogton Trimpar Tsultrim, a Mongolian Bonpo. Sogton advised Gonpa Rabsel that this is a Bonpo Dhompa, so you should use a blue color in your rob. That is why today we see blue lining in Buddhist monks rob.Now, why blue color. Tonpa shenrab has adopted blue as sacred color. It was said that when he came to Tibet, he was in blue dress. Blue represent sky, bodily it symbolizes eternal and unchanging; in speech, it symbolizes uninterrupted; in mind, it symbolizes vastness and emptiness. Generally, in Tibetan society it is said "Bonpo ngonpo togo ngonpo jyon" meaning Bonpo in blue attire came. In this Tibetan sentence there are nine naro [o vowel of Tibetan language]. And this is said to represent the "Nine ways of Bon" taught by Tonpa Shenrab.
Tonpa Shenrab taught the teaching through "Nine ways of Bon", known as thegpa rimgui Bon. He did not teach Sutra, Tantra, and Dzongchen from the beginning. Considering the different intellectual capacity of the people, Tonpa Shenrab adopted this nine ways of Bon to transmit the teaching. First thing that Tonpa Shenrab taught was mo, the art of divination, followed by tsi, astrology; to, ritual; and men, medicine. When a person is sick, divination and astrological readings are done to know the cause of the sickness, accordingly rituals and medicines are prescribed to cure the sick person. This is something understandable to any person, and appreciated by all. What happens when all these fails to cure the person, then comes the importance of mind. How to deal with this sickness, and understanding its cause? This will convince the people and lead them to study and practice Sutra, Tantra, and Dzogchen.In Sutra, we come to see the vision as mind. In Tantra, through chorim, generating stage; and zogrim, completion stage, deities are created by mind. Dzogchen is the amalgamation of Sutra and Tantra. Do-ngag zung drel.
About Guru Padma Sambhawa: Tibetan name for Padmasambava is Pema Jungne, which means lotus born. And the Tibetan says that the Guru was born out of a lotus flower. This may be alright when talking at the level of belief and reverence to ones belief, but scholars or researcher cannot take this as true for someone to be born out of lotus. And the Tunhuang manuscript, the oldest written record found on Tibet does not mention anything about the existence of a great influential teacher like Guru Rinpoche from India.According to Bonpo scholars, Padmasambava is Padmathongdrol. He was one of the twin sons of Drenpa Namkha and Woden Barma of Zahor, other son being Tsewang Rigzin. Padmathongdrol played great role in amalgamating the teaching of Bon and Buddhism. He was revered highly; Bonpos who strictly followed his teaching came to be known as Bon-sarma, the New Bon.
Jerinpoche, [Nyamme Sherab Gyaltsen] was born in Gyarong in 1356. He revived Sutra, Tantra, and Dzogchen teaching of Yungdrung Bon from the verge of extinction. Therefore, he is revered greatly as the second Buddha or the Tonpa.Yeru monastery was a large Bon monastery from where Jerinpoche graduated. This monastery was so big that it is said that there were four gongs in four different directions to call the monks for assembly. Some says, monks come riding horse to attend the assembly. But unfortunately, when Jerinpoche was away to his home town Gyarong, this great monastery was destroyed in a day by a great flood. Sidpai Gyalmo, the protector deity of Bon is said to have visited Jerinpoche, and informed that, the moral and spiritual fortune of the people have fallen so low that she could not save the monastery from this natural calamity. She further advised Jerinpoche to return to Central Tibet and start teaching. This Jerinphoche did and he established Menri monastery, later Yungdrungling monastery came up near Lhasa.
Today, there are some 360 Bonpo monasteries in Tibet. In terms of followers in Tibet, Bonpos are ranked third. First being Geluk; second Nyingma; fourth Kagyu; and fifth Sakyapa.How the Dzogchen teaching spread to Europe and the West. It was first in UK, when Yongzin Rinpoche built a small stupa and taught few Englishmen. Later, in 1987 or 88, Yongzin Rinpoche visited LA, and did the teaching. It is said the Yongzin Rinpoche faced great difficulty initially, it had been a difficult start; people are not aware and not ready for the teaching. Some teachings ended up talking only about Yak and other Tibetan things. But Rinpoche's visit did produced result later on.
In 1991 or 1992, young master like Tenzin Wangyal came and spread the teaching in America. Nyima woser and Chongtrul followed thereafter. Today, we are here discussing the brief history of evolution of Bon, its development and the current situation.