Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche embodied three different paths to enlightenment: Sutra, the renunciation path (Chi Gyu Tsen Nyi Thek Pa); Tantra, the transformation path (Nang San Wa Ngak Kyi Thek Pa); and Dzogchen, the self-liberation path (Sang Wa Sem Chok La Na Me Pei Thek pa).
Tonpa Shenrab, enlightened teacher of this era
In the realm of enlightened gods and goddesses, four were chosen to embody the essential enlightenment energies of the universe (Der Shek Tso Wo Zhi) and go to the “100 years era” universe:
• Yum Chen Sa Trik Er Sang: the aspect of loving mother of the universe
• Lha Chen Shen Lha Woe Kar: the aspect of compassion of the universe
• Si pa Sang Po Bum Tri: the aspect of creator of the universe
• Ton Pa Shen Rab Miwoche: the aspect of teacher of the universe
Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche came into this world to teach Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen, but with specific focus on Tantra and Dzogchen. His teachings, called Yungdrung Bon or ‘Eternal Bon’, are divided into the nine ways of the path to enlightenment.
Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche manifested into normal human life in Khar Barpo Sogye, Tagzig Olmo Lung Ring, in Zhang Zhung, as the prince son of father, Yab Gyal Bon Thoe Kar, and mother, Yum Yo Chi Gyal Zhed Ma.
From early childhood he was deeply moved by witnessing the four miseries of human life: the suffering of birth, the suffering of sickness, the suffering of aging, and the suffering of death, (Duk Ngal Zhi). He came to realize the Four Noble Truths and the need to teach them. He also realized many different teachings of Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen, all based on love, compassion, emptiness and nature of mind.
His teachings as a youth focused on explaining how to understand and relate to impermanence and the phenomenally true or conventional truths of life.
In middle age, his teachings focused more on the details about how people could live in the realization of the union of phenomenal truth and emptiness
His final teachings are mostly a pointing to the culminating stage of the Dzogchen way, the realization of the true nature of Mind.
As a young man, Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche visited Tibet and spent three years in the Kong Po region teaching divination, astrology, rituals for the spirits of the elements, and medicine (Cha Shen Thekpa)
Upon his return to Olmo Lung Ring in Zhang Zhung his teachings focused on delineating the nine steps of Bon. The first four steps are classified as the Cause, or foundational preliminary teachings. The next four steps concern the fruit or Result of teaching, and the final, ninth step is the Highest Essence of teaching for the universe, (Thek Pa Rim Pa Gu).
Preserving and transmitting the teachings of Tonpa Shenrab
After Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche’s enlightenment and attainment of the rainbow body at the age of 81, his main disciple, Dung Tsop Mu Cho Dhem Druk, along with 12 other disciples, formed a group of 13 (Dhu Khor Chu Sum) to collect and organize all of Tonpa Shenrab’s teachings. They divided the teachings into four categories: Dho, Bum, Gyue and Zod.
Dho contains the basic renunciation teachings of Sutra, focusing on guidelines for discipline and moral behavior.
Bum contains the highest Sutra teachings, mostly detailed expositions of the ten great perfections, wisdom and meditation.
Gyue contains the highest tantric teachings about how to transform fears and suffering into wisdom.
Zod contains the Dzogchen teachings on the path of self- knowledge and self-liberation.
Due to the great efforts of these 13 masters, the teachings of Tonpa Shenrab flourished. Six of these masters translated Tonpa’s teachings into their own language and thus helped the teachings to take root in many different countries, benefitting countless students. They were called the “Six Most Intelligent Masters of the Universe” (Zam Ling Khe Pei Gyen Druk):
• Mu Tsa Tra He, reknowned for his intelligence in Tag Zig
• Tri Thok Par Tsa, a master in Zhang Zhung
• Gu Hu Li Par Ya, a master in Sum Pa
• Lha Dak Ngak Drol, a master in India
• Lek Tang Mang Po, a master in China
• Ser Thok Che Gyam, a master in Trom
Four students of these six great masters themselves became great masters from lower Tibet (Med chi khe pa mi zhi), and translated many of Tonpa Shenrab’s teachings into Tibetan.
• Tong gyung Thu Chen, Zhang Zhung Pa
• Sha Ri U Chen, from Se city
• Che Tsa Khar Bhu, from Me Nyak city
• Gyim Tsa Ma Chung, from Dhe city
In 1196 BCE, the well-known Tag Zig Bon master and abbot, Zu Trul Ye She, created the monastic education system in Tibet and Zhang Zhung. He also brought 500 relics of Tonpa Shenrab to Tibet and other Zhang Zhung cities for blessing and as an enduring reminder of the Bon teaching and its success in new regions. From this time until 718 CE, Bon was the only religion of Zhang Zhung and Tibet.
For the next nineteen hundred years, Tibet and Zhang Zhung were overseen and taken care of by the Bon and Tibetan king linage 18 (Jha ru chen gyi Gyal po). During the entire era of rule from the first king, Nya Tri Tsen Po, to the thirty second Tibetan king, Tri Song Deu Tsen, Tibet and Zhang Zhung were at peace and unified under the Bon teaching.
However, in the 7th century, the 32nd King, Tri Song Deu Tsen, encouraged cultural and religious exchange with India. Over time, the Indian masters who came to Tibet gained influence with the Tibetan king and many Tibetan lamas. This was the beginning of the introduction of Indian Buddhism to Tibet. KingTri Song Deu Tsen became a strong supporter of Buddhism, and toward the end of his life he sought to totally transform Tibet into a Buddhist nation. He even decreed that all Bon practitioners should leave Tibet. At this very difficult time, the great master of Zhang Zhung, Drenpa Namkha, was dedicated to preserving the Bon teachings. Because many Bon texts were being destroyed, and many Bon lamas trying to save the texts were being assassinated, Drenpa Namkha and other lamas placed many Bon texts and treasures into secret caves sealed by the protector deity, Yeshe Walmo. There they remained hidden for over 200 years.
In 1017, the great Bon master, Shen Chen Lu Ga, now known as the first “treasure lama”, received a transmission from Khandro Yeshe Walmo. As a result, he discovered the first hidden Bon texts and ritual objects in a sealed cave. He continued to find many hidden Bon treasures, becoming an important Bon master for a new generation. His discoveries helped renew and revitalize Bon teaching in Tibet and Zhang Zhung, after almost two hundred years of being hidden due to fear of persecution.
His teachings flourished in many different cities. His teachings were passed to five lineage holders of the Shen Tsang Ton Pa Shen Rab family lineage: Shen Tsang, Dru Tsang, Zhu Tsang, Pa Tsang, and Meu tsang. In 1072, one of his students, Dru Dak Nyi Chen Po, founded the Yeru Monastery as a Bon study center for all of Tibet. Yeru, housing over 10,000 monks, remained the most important monastery in Tibet until 1388 when, during the time of the 18th abbot, a landslide destroyed the monastery.
In 1405, Gyal Wa Nyamed Sherab Gyaltsen (1356-1415), who had been just a simple monk at Yeru monastery, founded a new monastery in the nearby Tsang Menri Thob Gyal area. Called Menri Monastery, it became the head monastery for all of Tibetan Bon. During the 700 years from its founding until the Cultural Revolution of 1959, there were thirty two abbots of Menri, and thousands of monks studied sutra, tantra and dzogchen there.
After the Cultural Revolution, most Tibetans fled to India. In 1967, Sangye Tenzin became His Holiness of Bon. In Dolanji, India, he rebuilt Menri monastery, ensuring that education for monks and nuns would be continued, especially the twelve year geshe education. For over 40 years he has worked tirelessly to preserve the Bon teaching in this world. There are currently over two hundred geshes, Rinpoches, and Tulkus deeply committed to preserving and sharing the Bon teachings with the world.
We Bon have two high lamas, just like two eyes for a person:
- His Eminence Yongzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche
- His Holiness Gyalwa Menri Trizin Rinpoche
All Bon people pray from the bottom of our hearts for their long lives.