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The Practice of the Bonpo Deity Walchen Gekhod, also known as Zhang-Zhung Meri
Article Index
The Practice of the Bonpo Deity Walchen Gekhod, also known as Zhang-Zhung Meri
Four Classes of Bönpo Tantras
Gekhöd and Meri
Iconography of Zhang-zhung Meri
Iconography of Zhang-zhung Meri 2
The Mantra Recitation for Meri
The Texts for Zhang-zhung Meri
Outline of the Sadhana Text
The Practice of Sadhana
All Pages

The Zhang-zhung Nyän-gyüd is one the four principal transmissions of Dzogchen in the Bönpo tradition of Tibet. The precepts of these teachings are said to derive ultimately from the Primordial Buddha himself, Kuntu Zangpo. These precepts were transmitted in a higher dimension of existence to eight enlightened beings known as Sugatas, this being an alternative title for a Buddha.
This process is known as the Direct Mind-to-Mind Transmission of the Sugatas (bder-gshegs dgongs brgyud), where the precepts were communicated directly by way of telepathy with few or no words. From the last of these illustrious figures, Sangwa Düpa (gsang-ba ‘dus-pa), it was transmitted through a line of Twenty-Four Masters in Tazik (Central Asia) and Zhang-zhung (Northern Tibet) in what is known as the Oral Transmission of the Siddhas (grub-thob snyan-brgyud), using only a few words. All of these masters are said to have attained the Rainbow Body of Light (’ja’-lus) at the end of their lives. [1]
Then, in the 7th centrury of our era, these Dzogchen precepts were transmitted to the youth Tapihritsa by his master Tsepung Dawa Gyaltsän (tshe-spungs zla-ba rgyal-mtshan), the last in the above line of Twenty-Four Masters. Tapihritsa practiced these Dzogchen instructions for nine years in a rock cave to the east of Mount Kailas in Northern Tibet, then known as Zhang-zhung, whereupon he realized liberation and enlightenment and also attained the Rainbow Body of Light. [2] In the next century, he re-appeared to the yogi practitioner Gyerpung Nangzher Lödpo (gyer-spungs snang-bzher lod-po), who was engaged in a solitary retreat in a cave near the Darok Lake. The latter was a Tantric adept and Mahasiddha, who had previously served as the personal priest to Ligmincha, the last native king of Zhang-zhung. Appearing to Gyerpung in the guise of a wise child, Tapihritsa conferred upon him these Dzogchen precepts by way of a direct introduction to the Nature of Mind. Previously these precepts had always been transmitted orally and only committed to memory, but perceiving how conditions would change in the future, Tapihritsa now gave permission to set down these precepts in writing in the Zhang-zhung language (smar-yig). He also gave permission to transmit the precepts to more than a single disciple (gcig brgyud), as had not been the custom previously. Gyerpung was followed by a line of masters known as the Six Mahasiddhas of Zhang-zhung, the last of whom, Pön-gyal Tsänpo (dpon-rgyal btsan-po), translated the precepts into the Tibetan language for his two Tibetan disciples, Lhundrub Muthur and Shen-gyal Lhatse, in the 10th century. Due to the activities of Gyerpung, the Zhang-zhung Nyän-gyüd was never persecuted or suppressed, thus it never became a Terma, or hidden treasure text, and remained as a continuous transmission until the present day. [3]

The Meditation Deity Zhang-zhung Meri

Because the Zhang-zhung Nyän-gyüd is a Dzogchen transmission, unlike Tantric practices, there is no empowerment ceremony for entering into it. Rather, in terms of Dzogchen, the individual enters into the practice by way of receiving a direct introduction (rig-pa ngo-sprod) from a qualified master of the tradition. However, there is a Tantric practice of transformation that is associated with it and the transmission of this latter lineage more or less exactly parallels that of the Zhang-zhung Nyän-gyüd. This is the practice for the meditation deity known as Zhang-zhung Meri,

In fact, Zhang-zhung Meri was the first empowerment bestowed by Yongdzin Lopon Tenzing Namdak Rinpoche on his second visit to the West and his first visit to the United States. This occured in Coos Bay, Oregon, in 1989. It was at this time that I personally first received this empowerment. Although previously in 1978, Yongdzin Rinpoche bestowed it for the first time at Menri monastery at Dolanji in India upon a group of Western students from Italy at the requrest of their master Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche.

Although the principal function of Zhang-zhung Meri for the Dzogchen practitioner is that of protection, according Yongdzin Rinpoche, nevertheless, Zhang-zhung Meri is not a protective Guardian (srung-ma) spirit, but a Yidam Lha, or meditation deity. Moreover, his sadhana may also be practiced independently as a purely Tantric method, apart from any connection with Dzogchen. A Yidam is a visible manifestation of the compassion and enlightened awareness of the Buddha, particularly in wrathful form in order transform negative energies and subdue evil spirits. Every Tantra  cycle has such a principal deity known as a Yidam, and by practicing the sadhana, or process of transformation and realization of that deity, the practitioner establishes a special bond or connection with it which is known as samaya (dam-tshig). Through visualization and meditation upon the archetypal form of the Yidam, the practitioner is able to invoke and realize within oneself the powers, capacities, and wisdoms traditionally associated with that particular Yidam. This overwhelming numinous presence, both benign and protective, is transcendent; it is not a worldly god or deity which is still part of conditioned existence, the cycle of death and rebirth known as Samsara. It is an emanation of enlightened awareness and compassion from a higher spiritual dimension beyond Samsara. The visualization of the Yidam serves to invoke and call down into oneself the blessings, or spiritual energies of this deity, and serves to focus and cencentrate this energy like a lens focusing sunlight..

According to the Lower Tantras (phyi rgyud), the source of these spiritual energies that are invoked is a higher spiritual dimension of being, which is the collective enlightened awareness of all the Buddhas of the past, present, and future. However, according to the Higher Tantras (nang rgyud), these energies are invoked out of the potential for Buddha enlightenment of one’s own Nature of Mind. By meditating on the Yidam, one takes the goal, the visible manifestion of enlightenment, and transforms that into the actual path of practice in terms of deification or visualizing oneself as the Yidam. This process vastly accelerates the process of realizing liberation and enlightenment when compared to the methods of the Sutra system. The initial visualization of the Yidam emerges out the the state of pure potentiality, Shunyata,, which is paradoxically beyond the dualism of existence and non-existence. At the conclusion of sadhana practice, the visualization is again dissolved back into this state of emptiness. Although the ultimate aim of meditating upon the Yidam is to realize those enlightened qualities associated with it, that is to say, to realize Buddha enlightenment and liberation from suffering in Samsara, by invoking the Yidam and engaging in the ritual activities associated with it, one may also realize various desirable worldly benefits. These two goals, the spiritual and the worldly, do not exclude or contradict each other. One must have at hand the actual means, including long life, in order to practice sufficiently in this present life.

On the other hand, Guardians (srung-ma) were in origin usually worldly gods and spirits who were in the past subdued by enlightened beings such as Tönpa Shenrab and placed under oaths to henceforth protect the teachings of Bön and its practitioners. Such was also the case when Gyerpung Nangzher Lödpo who subdued the Deva king Nyipangse and his consort Mänmo, placing them under oaths to henceforth protect the teachings of Zhang-zhung Nyän-gyüd. In meditation practice, one may transform oneself into a Yidam, identiying oneself totally with it, whereas Guardians are evoked into visible appearance in front of oneself. They are then presented with puja offerings and charged to remember their vows made previously to protect Bön and its practitioners. Therefore, this is a process of reciprocity or exchange of energies between our human dimension of existence and some other realm of being. These spirits are given energy in the form of puja offerings and then the practitioners can expect something in return in terms of the activites of these spirits.