About Yungdrung Bon
The founder of the ancient Yungdrung Bön spiritual tradition was the Buddha Tonpa Shenrab. Tonpa Shenrab was born at the palace Barpo Sogye of Tagzig Olmo Lung Ring. According to the Bön canon, his birth dates 18,000 years ago. His father was Gyalbon Thodkar of the Mu clan and his mother Yochi Gyalzhedma. His teachings are called ‘Yung Drung Bön’ or ‘Eternal Bön’, and practitioners of Bön are called ‘Bonpo’. The great Shenrab dedicated his whole life to the practice of Eternal Bön for the benefit of all beings. He taught the teaching of Eternal Bön for about five decades, showing the path of compassion to many beings. At the age of 82 he entered into nirvana. His death was a true remainder to many of his followers that we all have to experience the truth of impermanence. Throughout Shenrab’s teaching he tried to communicate with every being, showing them how to recognize their true nature and live with the moment. The essence of his teachings is how to find our home within and abide joyfully with the treasury of contentment that we are all gifted with. His teachings continue to inspire many beings throughout the centuries.
1,800 years later, Mucho Demdrug organized and classified the entire teaching of Tonpa Shenrab into four categories. The prayers, mantras, the teachings on monastic discipline or precepts, and the biography of Tonpa Shenrab were arranged as part of the Sutra collection (mDo). The second category, Prajnaparamita or ‘Bum’, consists of the detailed exposition of the Perfection of Wisdom teachings. The third category, Tantra, or (rGyud) consists of deity visualization, and ritual and esoteric tantric practices. The forth category, ‘mDzod’ consists of the teachings on Dzogchen meditation practices. He also wrote commentaries to these teachings and taught them to many students. Through his teachings and efforts, the teachings of Yungdrung Bön flourished throughout Zhang-zhung and Tibet. Out of his many students, six become great scholars who translated the teachings of Yungdrung Bön into different languages: Mutsa Tahe and Guhuli Paraya translated Yungdrung Bön into the language of Tagzig. Tritok Partsa translated Yungdrung Bön into Zhang Zhung. Letang Mangpo translated Yungdrung Bön into Chinese. Lhadag Ngadro translated Yungdrung Bön into Indian language, and Sertok Chezam translated Yungdrung Bön into the language of Trom. Through the help of these great scholars, the teachings of Yungdrung Bön reached many parts of the world. In the Bön Canon, these six great scholars are known under the name of “Jamling Khepi Gyendrug”. Later, Tongyu Thuchen of Zhang-zhung translated Yungdrung Bön into Tibetan with the help of the three Tibetan scholars Shari Wuchen, GyimTsa Machung and Chetsa Kharbu. After this, the teachings of Yungdrung Bön flourished throughout Tibet.
Around 1196 B.C., Zhutrul Yeshi, a great master from Tagzig established the Bön monastic system and propagated the practice of monastic discipline and philosophical study in the kingdoms of Zhang Zhung and Tibet with energy and devotion. Mutri Tsenpo, the second king of Tibet, was interested in the Bön tantric practice Drakpa Kor Sum and invited many scholars from Zhang Zhung to teach it. Through his efforts, the practice of Tantra, the path of transformation, flourished widely in Tibet.
In the late 7th century, Buddhism came to Tibet from India. During that transition period Bön faced difficulties, yet it survived with the help of great masters who buried and hid many Bön teaching resources. During the reign of Lang Darma, the 40th king of Tibet, Buddhism was entirely terminated. Its first transmission and Tibet went into a spiritual dark age for about a century and a half.
From the 8th to 11th centuries the practice of Bön went mainly underground. The year 1017 C.E. (5) marks the resurgence of Bön, which began with the discovery by Shenchen Luga (gShen-chen klu-dga’, 996-1035) of a number of important concealed texts. With his discoveries Bön re-emerged as a fully systematized religion. Shenchen Luga was born in the Shen clan, descended from Kontsha Wangden (Kong-tsha dbang-ldan), one of Tonpa Shenrab’s sons. The descendants of this important family still live in Tibet.
Shenchen Luga had a large following. To three of his disciples he entrusted the task of continuing three different traditions. To the first, Druchen Namkha Yungdrung (Bru-chen nam-mkha’ g.yung-drung) born in the clan of Dru which migrated to Tibet from Druzha (‘Bru-zha, i.e., Gilgit), he entrusted the studies of cosmology and metaphysics (mDzod-phug and Gab-pa). It was to this end that one of his disciples and relations, Bru-rje g.Yung-drung bla-ma founded the monastery of Yeru Wensakha (gYas-ru dben-sa-kha) in Tsang province in 1072.
This monastery remained a great centre of learning until 1386, when it was badly damaged by floods. Despite the decline of Yeru Wensakha the Dru family continued to sponsor the Bön religion, but the family came to extinction in the 19th century when, for the second time, a reincarnation of the Panchen lama was found in the family.
The second disciple, Zhuye Legpo (Zhu-yas legs-po), was assigned to maintain the Dzogchen teachings and practices. He founded the monastery of Kyikhar Rizhing (sKyid-mkhar ri-zhing). The descendants of the Zhu family now live in India. The third disciple, Paton Palchog (sPa-ston dpal-mchog), took responsibility for upholding the Tantric teachings. The Pa family too still exists. Another important master of that time was Meukhepa Palchen (rMe’u-mkhas-pa Tsul-khrims dpal-chen, b. 1052), of the Meu clan, who founded Zangri (sNye-mo bZang-ri) monastery, which also became a centre for philosophical studies. Thus during this period the Bonpos founded four important monasteries and study centres, all in Tsang province (central Tibet).
In 1405 the great Bonpo teacher, Nyame Sherab Gyaltsen (mNyan-med shes-rab rgyal-mtshan, 1356-1415), founded Menri (sMan-ri) monastery near the site of Yeru Wensakha, which had been destroyed by flood. Yungdrung Ling (gYung-drung gling) monastery was founded in 1834 and, soon afterwards, Kharna (mKhar-sna) monastery, both in the vicinity of Menri. These remained the most important Bön monasteries until the Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1959, and following their inspiration many monasteries were established throughout Tibet, especially in Kham, Amdo, and Utsang, so that by the start of the 20th century there were 330 Bonpo monasteries in Tibet. Nyame Sherab Gyaltsen was especially venerated for his great achievements and realization. He was known as a great reformer and reinvigorated the Bonpo monastic tradition, causing many monasteries to flourish. Nyame Sherab Gyaltsen also was the first master to collect and hold all the transmissions and empowerments of all the Bön lineages. All of these transmissions have continued to be held by each of the successive abbots of Menri, and over time the abbot of Menri came to be regarded as the head of the Bön religion.
Currently in Tibet, Nepal and India many new monasteries have be constructed. Here, Bonpo monks continue to practice and study the teachings of Bon.