Bonpo and Nyingmapa Traditions of Dzogchen Meditation

Here is a preliminary survey of the Bonpo tradition of Dzogchen meditation known as the Zhang-zhung Nyan-gyud. This Bonpo tradition is especially important for research into the historical origins of Dzogchen meditation.

In general, the Dzogchen teachings are found only in the old unreformed Tibetan schools of the Buddhist Nyingmapas and the non-Buddhist Bonpos. In both cases, these teachings are substantially the same in meaning and terminology, and both traditions claim to have an unbroken lineage coming down to the present time from the eighth century and even before. Both of these schools assert that Dzo gchen did not originate in Tibet itself, but had a Central Asian origin and was subsequently brought to Central Tibet by certain masters known as Mahasiddhas or great adepts.

There thus would appear to exist two ancient and authentic lineages for the Dzogchen teachings, the Buddhist and the Bonpo. As I have previously discussed the Nyingmapa Buddhist tradition of the origin of Dzogchen in my book The Golden Letters, here I shall present a preliminary survey of the Bonpo tradition of Dzogchen known as the Zhang-zhung Nyan-gyud. This Bonpo tradition is especially important for research into the historical origins of Dzogchen because it claims to represent a continuous oral tradition (snyan-rgyud) from the earliest times coming from Zhang-zhung in Western Tibet. [1]

Although some medieval and modern Tibetan histories written by cloistered Buddhist monks portray the ancient pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet called Bon as a nefarious mixture of sorcery, black magic, shamanism, and bloody sacrifices, this appears to be just so much anti-Bonpo propaganda providing a melodramatic effect. The principal aim of these Buddhist historians was to glorify the role of Indian Mahayana Buddhism in Tibetan history, suggesting that there was no culture nor civilization in Tibet before the coming of Indian Buddhism to Central Tibet in the seventh century of our era. India, the birthplace of the Lord Shakyamuni Buddha, was looked upon, not only as the source of all genuine religion and spirituality, but as the source of civilized culture generally, and even the lineage of Tibetan kings was traced back to an Indian origin by such native Tibetan historians as Go Lotsawa, Buton, and others. [2]

Another problem is that the Tibetan term bon, probably deriving from the old verb form ‘bond-pa, meaning “to invoke the gods,” [3] has two different cultural referants. In the first usage, Bon does indeed refer to the indiginous pre-Buddhist shamanistic and animistic culture of Tibet, a culture that possessed many characteristics in common with other shamanistic tribal cultures of Central Asia and Siberia. Although these cultures involved various types of religious practice and belief, the central role was occupied by a practitioner known as a shaman. The activity of the shaman was definitively characterized as entering into an altered state of consciousness by way of chanting, drumming, dancing, and so on, whether this altered state of consciousness or “ecstasy” was understood to be soul-travel, as an out-of-the-body experience, or a form of spirit possession. [4] The principal social function of such a practitioner was healing. A traditional form of Central Asian shamanism involving spirit possession continues to be practiced widely in Tibet even today among both Buddhist and Bonpo populations, as well as among Tibetan refugees living elsewhere in Ladakh, Nepal, and Bhutan. Such a practitioner is known as a lha-pa or dpa’-bo. [5] Elsewhere on the borders of Tibet in the Himalayas and along the Sino-Tibetan frontiers, among certain Tibetan speaking and related peoples, there exist shamanic practitioners known as Bonpos, as for example among the Na-khi in China [6] and among the Tamangs in Nepal. [7]

But there exists a second type of religious culture also known as “Bon” whose adherents claim to represent the pre-Buddhist civilization of Tibet. These practitioners of Bon assert that at least part of their religious tradition was not native to Tibet, but was brought to Central Tibet sometime before the seventh century from the previously independent country of Zhang-zhung, west of Tibet, and more remotely from Tazik (stag-gzig) or Iranian speaking Central Asia to the northwest. [8] This form of Bon is known also as Yungdrung Bon (g.yung-drung bon), “the Eternal Teaching,” a term which could be reconstructed into Sanskrit as “Svastika-dharma,” where the swastika or sun-cross is the symbol of the eternal and the indestructable, corresponding in most every respect to the Buddhist term vajra or diamond (rdo-rje). In addition to ritual texts relating to shamanic and animistic practices, this ancient tradition possesses a large corpus of texts, also claiming to be pre-Buddhist in origin, relating to the higher teachings of Sutra, Tantra, and Dzogchen (mdo rgyud man-ngag gsum). The Bonpo Lamas, instead of looking back to the North Indian prince, Siddhartha Gautama, as their Buddha and as the source of their higher teachings of Sutra, Tantra, and Dzogchen, look back even further in time to another prince, Shenrab Miwoche (gShen-rab mi-bo-che), born in Olmo Lungring (‘Ol-mo lung-ring) in remote Central Asia, as their Buddha (sangs-rgyas) and as the source of their teachings. Hence, the latter is given the title of Tonpa or Teacher (ston-pa), literally “the one who reveals”. Modern scholars may question the historicity of this figure and Tonpa Shenrab is indeed given a rather fabulous date by the Bonpo tradition, asserting that he flourished some eighteen thousand years ago. [9] Futhermore, he is given a hagiography in Bonpo sources in no way inferior to that of Shakyamuni Buddha, as found, for example, in the Lalitavistara. [10] Along with the fabulous hagiographies of Padmasambhava found in the extensive literature of the Nyingmapa school, such as the Padma bka’-thang and the bKa’-thang gser-phreng, the career of Tonpa Shenrab represents one of the great epic cycles of Tibetan literature. [11]

To the outsider this Yungdrung Bon nowadays appears little different from the other schools of Tibetan Buddhism in terms of their higher doctrines and monastic practices. Contemporary Bon possesses a monastic system much like the Buddhist one and a Madhyamaka philosophy fully comparable with the other Tibetan Buddhist schools. According to the Bonpo Lamas themselves, the main difference between Bon and the Buddhist schools is one of lineage rather than of teaching or doctrine, since the Bonpos look to Tonpa Shenrab as their founder and the Buddhists look to Shakyamuni. Indeed, both of these numenous figures are manifestations of Buddha enlightenment in our world, an epiphany that is technically known as a Nirmanakaya (sprul-sku). H.H. the Dalai Lama has now recognized Bon as the fifth Tibetan religious school, along side the Nyingmapas, the Sakyapas, the Kagyudpas, and the Gelugpas, and has given the Bonpos representation on the Council of Religious Affairs at Dharamsala. [12]

The Historical Development of Bon

Some Tibetan historians and scholars, on the other hand, were aware of this distinction between the two kinds of Bon referred to above [13], and certainly the Bonpo Lamas themselves were aware of it. According to one leading native-born Bonpo scholar, Lopon Tenzin Namdak [14], the history of the development of Bon may be divided into three phases:

  1. Primitive Bon was the indiginous shamanism and animism of Tibet and adjacent regions in ancient times. Indeed, according to Bonpo tradition, some of these practices such as invoking the gods (lha gsol-ba) and rites for exorcising evil spirits (sel-ba) were actually taught by Tonpa Shenrab himself when he briefly visited Kongpo in Southeastern Tibet in prehistoric times. [15] Such rites were later incorporated into the classification of the teachings and practices of Bon known as the nine successive ways or vehicles (theg-pa rim dgu). These shamanistic types of practices are now known as “the Causal Ways of Bon” (rgyu’i theg-pa). Teaching and practice found in the Causal Ways are considered to be dualistic in their philosophical view, that is, the gods (lha) representing the forces of light and order called Ye and the demons (bdud) representing the forces of darkness and chaos called Ngam have an independent existence, and the concern of the practitioner is principally with the performing of rituals that invoke the positive energies of the gods and repel the negative influences of the demons and evil spirits (gdon). [16] An examination of the ritual texts in question reveals them to be largely of non-Indian origin. [17] However, like Buddhism generally, Yungdrung Bon is totally opposed to the practice of blood sacrifice (dmar mchod), for the origin of such practices are attributed to the cannibalistic Sinpo (srin-po) demons and not to Tonpa Shenrab. Thus, Bonpo Lamas are loath to identify even the Causal Ways of Bon with the shamanism of the Jhangkris or shamans still flourishing in the mountains of Nepal who continue even today to perform blood sacrifices. [18]
  2. Old Bon (bon rnying-ma), or Yundrung Bon (g.yung-drung bon) as such, consists of the teachings and the practices attributed to Shenrab Miwoche himself in his role as the Teacher or the source of revelation (ston-pa), and, in particular, this means the higher teachings of Sutra, Tantra, and Dzogchen. He revealed these teachings to his disciples in Olmo Lungring on earth and elsewhere in a celestial realm in his previous incarnation as Chimed Tsugphud (‘Chi-med gtsug-phud). [19] These teachings of Tonpa Shenrab, already set down in writing in his own time or in the subsequent period, are said to have been brought at a later time from Olmo Lungring in Tazik to the country of Zhang-zhung in Western and Northern Tibet where they were translated into the Zhang-zhung language. Zhang-zhung appears to have been an actual language, distinct from Tibetan, and appearantly related to the West Himalayan Tibeto-Burman dialect of Kinauri. Thus, it was not some artificial creation fabricated by the Bonpos in order to have an ancient source language corresponding to the Indian Sanskrit of the Buddhist scriptures. [20]

Beginning with the reign of the second king of Tibet, Mutri Tsanpo, it is said that certain Bonpo texts, in particular the Father Tantras (pha rgyud), were brought from Zhang-zhung to Central Tibet and translated into the Tibetan language. [21] Thus the Bonpos assert that Tibetan acquired a system of writing at this time, based on the sMar-yig script used in Zhang-zhung which would, therefore, have been ancestral to the dbus-med script now often used for composing Tibetan manuscripts, especially among the Bonpos. [22] The Bonpos subsequently experienced two persecutions in Central Tibet, the first under the eighth king of Tibet, Drigum Tsanpo, and later the second under the great Buddhist king of Tibet, Trisong Detsan in the eighth century of our era. According to the tradition, on both occasions, the persecuted Bonpo sages concealed their books in various places in Tibet and adjacent regions such as Bhutan. These caches of texts were rediscovered beginning in the tenth century. Thus they are known as rediscovered texts or as “hidden treasures” (gter-ma). [23] Certain other texts were never concealed, but remained in circulation and were passed down from the time of the eighth century in a continuous lineage. These are known as snyan-rgyud, literally “oral transmission”, even though they are usually said to have existed as written texts even from the early period. One example of such an “oral tradition” is the Zhang-zhung snyan-rgyud, which, in the eighth century, the master Tapihritsa gave permission to his disciple Gyerpungpa to write down in the form of his pithy secret oral instructions (man-ngag, Skt. upadesha). Or else, the texts were dictated during the course of ecstatic visions or altered states of consciousness by certain ancient sages or certain deities to Lamas who lived in later centuries. One such example of this was the famous lengthy hagiography of Tonpa Shenrab known as the gZi-brjid, dictated to Lodan Nyingpo (bLo-ldan snying-po, b.1360) by certain mountain spirits. This classification is rather similar to the Nyingmapa classification of its scriptures into bka’-ma and gter-ma. [24] This form of Old Bon flourished in Western and Central Tibet down to our own day.

The teachings of Bon revealed by Tonpa Shenrab are classified differently in the three traditional hagiographical accounts of his life. In general, Tonpa Shenrab was said to have expounded Bon in three cycles of teachings:

I. The Nine Successive Vehicles to Enlightenment (theg-pa rim dgu);
II. The Four Portals of Bon and the fifth which is the Treasury (sgo bzhi mdzod lnga); and
III. The Three Cycles of Precepts that are Outer, Inner, and Secret (bka’ phyi nang gsang skor gsum).

These Nine Ways or Nine Successive Vehicles to Enlightenemnt are delineated according to three different systems of hidden treasure texts (gter-ma) that were put into concealment during the earlier persecutions of Bon and were rediscovered in later centuries. These treasure systems are designated according to the locations where the hidden treasure texts were discovered.

  1. The System of the Southern Treasures (lho gter lugs): These were the treasure texts rediscovered at Drigtsam Thakar (‘brig-mtsham mtha’ dkar) in Southern Tibet and at Paro (spa-gro) in Bhutan. Here the Nine Ways are first divided in to the Four Causal Ways, which contain many myths and magical shamanistic rituals, and which are principally concerned with working with energies for worldly benefits. Then there are the five higher spiritual ways known as the Fruitional Ways. Here the purpose is not gaining power or insuring health and prosperity in the present world, but realization of the ultimate spiritual goal of liberation from the suffering experienced in the cycles of rebirth within Samsara. The final and ultimate vehicle found here in this nine-fold classification is that of Dzogchen. [25]
  2. The System of the Central Trasures (dbus gter lugs): These treasure texts were rediscovered at various sites in Central Tibet, including the great Buddhist monastery of Samye. In general, this classification of the Bonpo teachings is rather similar to the system of the Nine Vehicles found in the traditions of the Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism. Some of these Bonpo texts are said to have been introduced from India into Tibet by the great native-born Tibetan translator Vairochana of Pagor, who translated works from both the Buddhist and the Bonpo traditions. [26]
  3. The System of the Northern Treasures (byang gter lugs): These treasure texts were rediscovered at various locations north of Central Tibet. However, according to Lopon Tenzin Namdak, not much is currently known regarding this system. [27]

The Four Portals of Bon and the Treasury which is the fifth (bon sgo bzhi mdzod lnga) represent another and probably independent system for the classification of the Bonpo teachings into four groups known as the Four Portals (sgo bzhi), together with an appendix known as the Treasury (mdzod). These groups or classes of teachings are as follows:

  1. The Bon of “the White Waters” containing the Fierce Mantras (chab dkar drag-po sngags kyi bon): This collection consists of esoteric Tantric practices focusing the recitation wrathful or fierce mantras (drag sngags) associated with various meditation deities. Within this class are included the Chyipung cycle or “General Collection” (spyi-spungs skor), that is to say, the practices associated with the Father Tantras (pha rgyud). [28]
  2. The Bon of “the Black Waters” for the continuity of existence (chab nag srid-pa rgyud kyi bon): This collection consists of various magical rituals, funeral rites, ransom rites, divination practices, and so on, necessary for the process of purifying and counteracting negative energies. This collection would seem to correspond, by and large, to the Four Causal Ways described above. Here the term “black” refers not to the practitioner’s intention, but to the expelling of negativities, which are black in color symbolically. 3. The Bon of the Extensive Prajnaparamita from the country of Phanyul (‘phan-yul rgyas-pa ‘bum gyi bon): This collection consists of the moral precepts, vows, rules, and ethical teachings for both monks and ordained lay people. In particular, the focus is on the philosophical and ethical system of the Prajnaparamita Sutras which are preserved in the Bonpo version in sixteen volumes known as the Khams-chen. This collection basically represents the Sutra system, whereas the Chab dkar represents the Tantra system. [29]
  3. The Bon of the Scriptures and the Secret Oral Instructions of the Masters (dpon-gsas man-ngag lung gi bon): This collection consists of the oral instructions (man-ngag) and the written scriptures (lung) of the various masters (dpon-gsas) belonging to the lineages of transmission for Dzogchen. 5. The Bon of the Treasury which is of the highest purity and is all-inclusive (gtsang mtho-thog spyi-rgyug mdzod kyi bon): This collection contains essential material from all Four Portals of Bon. The Treasury which is the fifth (mdzod lnga) is decribed in the gZer-myig, “As for the highest purity (gtsang mtho-thog), it extends everywhere. As insight, it belongs to the Bon that is universal (spyi-gcod). It purifies the stream of consciousness in terms of all four Portals.” [30}

The Three Cycles of Precepts that are Outer, Inner, and Secret (bka’ phyi nang gsang skor gsum) are as follows:

  1. The Outer Cycle (phyi skor) contains the Sutra system of teachings (mdo-lugs) relating to the Path of Renunciation (spong lam).
  2. The Inner Cycle (nang skor) contains the Tantra system of teachings (rgyud-lugs) relating to the Path of Transformation (sgyur lam), otherwise known as the Secret Mantras (gsang sngags).
  3. The Secret Cycle (gsang skor) contains the Upadesha teachings (man-ngag) relating to the Path of Self-Liberation (grol lam), otherwise known as Dzogchen, the Great Perfection.
  4. New Bon (bon gsar-ma) arose since the fourteenth century, relying upon the discoveries of a different Terma system than the above. As a whole, this system is quite similar to the Nyingmapa one and here Padmasambhava is also regarded as an important figure. Indeed, some Tertons, such as Dorje Lingpa, discovered both Nyingmapa and Bonpo Termas. In a text such as the Bon-khrid, rediscovered by Tsewang Gyalpo, it is asserted that Padmasambhava went to Uddiyana and received the Dzogchen teachings directly from the Sambhogakaya Shenlha Odkar (gShen-lha ‘od-dkar) himself. Later he transmitted these teachings in Tibet, concealing many of them as Termas meant for the use of the future generations of Bonpos. According to Shardza Rinpoche also, the New Bon Movement began in the fourteenth century and continues until today. The Termas revealed to such masters as Lodan Nyingpo, Mizhik Dorje (otherwise known as Dorje Lingpa), Kundrol Dragpa, Dechen Lingpa, Sang-ngag Lingpa, Khandro Dechen Wangmo, and so on, are all considered Tersar (gter-gsar) or recent treasure text discoveries. The New Bon has flourished mainly in Eastern Tibet. [31]

The Origin of Dzogchen

Just as in the case of the Nyingmapas among the Tibetan Buddhists, the Bonpo tradition possesses as its highest teaching the system of contemplation known as Dzogchen, “the Great Perfection,” (rdogs-pa chen-po). These teachings reveal in one’s immediate experience the Primordial State (ye gzhi) of the individual, that is to say, the individual’s inherent Buddha-nature or Bodhichitta, which is beyond all time and conditioning and conceptual limitations. This Natural State (gnas-lugs) is spoken of in terms of its intrinsic primordial purity (ka-dag) and its spontaneous perfection in manifestation (lhun-grub). Both the Buddhist Nyingmapas and the Bonpos assert that their respective Dzogchen traditions were brought to Central Tibet in the eighth century, the Nyingmapa transmission from the Mahasiddha Shrisimha in living in Northern India and the Bonpo transmission from a line of Mahasiddhas dwelling around Mount Kailas and the lake country of Zhang-zhung to the west and north of Tibet. Thus there appear to exist two different historically authentic lineages for the transmission of these teachings.

Subsequently, the Nyingmapa transmission of the Dzogchen precepts was brought to Central Tibet principally due to the activities of three teachers: the great Tantric master Padmasambhava from the country of Uddiyana, the Mahasiddha and Mahapandita Vimalamitra from India, and the native-born Tibetan translator Vairochana of Pagor. According to tradition, the latter came originally from a Bonpo family. [32] It is said that he and Vimalamitra were responsible for the first translations of the texts belonging to the Semde (sems-sde) or “Mind Series” and the Longde (klong-sde) or “Space Series” of Dzogchen teachings. However, some scholars, both Tibetan and Western, dispute that Vairochana actually made the many translations attributed to him. [33] Moreover, some contemporary scholars assert that the Dzogchen Tantras, which represent the literary sources for the Dzogchen teachings, were actually fabricated in the tenth century by certain unnamed unscrupulous Bonpo and Nyingmapa Lamas who then anachronistically attributed them to earlier numinous figures like Padmasambhava and Tapihritsa in order to win their acceptance as authentic scriptures. They therefore represent a kind of Buddhist and Bonpo Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. Modern critics cite the fact that, with the exception of two short Dzogchen texts, the Rig-pa’i khu-byug and the sBas-pa’i sgum-chung, the texts of the Dzogchen Tantras have not been found in the Tun Huang library on the borders of Western China, which was sealed in the tenth century. But simply noting that these texts were not discovered at Tun Huang does not prove that they did not exist elsewhere at the time or that they must have been composed after the closing of that library. On the basis of the extant evidence and in view of the lack of a thorough analysis of all the texts in question, it would appear that this conclusion unwarranted. [34]

It has also been asserted by some scholars that Padmasambhava, although he may have been an actual historical figure, certainly did not teach Dzogchen, but only the Tantric system of the sGrub-pa bka’ brgyad, the practices of the eight Herukas or wrathful meditation deities. This system forms the Sadhana Section (sgrub-sde) of Mahayoga Tantra. [35] However, eminent Nyingmapa Lama-scholars, such as the late Dudjom Rinpoche, reply that although Padmasambhava may not have taught Dzogchen as an independent vehicle to enlightenment, he did indeed teach it as an Upadesha (man-ngag), or secret oral instruction, to his immediate circle of Tibetan disciples. This private instruction concerned the practice of Dzogchen and the interpretation of the experiences arising from this practice of contemplation. In the context of the system of Mahayoga Tantra, Dzogchen is the name for the culminating phase of the Tantric process of transformation, transcending both the Generation Process (bskyed-rim) and the Perfection Process (rdzogs-rim). In this context, Dzogchen would correspond in some ways to the practice of Mahamudra in the New Tantra system (rgyud gsar-ma) of the other Tibetan schools. An old text, the Man-ngag lta-ba’i phreng-ba, traditionally attributed to Padmasambhava himself, does not treat Dzogchen as an independent vehicle (theg-pa, Skt. yana), but only as part of the system of the Higher Tantras. [36] When taught as an independent vehicle, Dzogchen practice does not require any antecedent process of Tantric transformation of the practitioner into a deity, and so on, before entering into the state of even contemplation (mnyam-bzhag). [37] So it would appear that, according to the Nyingmapa tradition at least, Dzogchen originated as an Upadesha that elucidated a state of contemplation or intrinsic Awareness (rig-pa) that transcedended the Tantric process of transformation alone, both in terms of generation and of perfection. Therefore, it became known as the “great perfection,” that is to say, the state of total perfection and completion where nothing is lacking.

According to Nyingmapa tradition, the Dzogchen precepts were first expounded in our human world by the Nirmanakaya Garab Dorje (dGa’-rab rdo-rje, Skt. *Prahevajra) in the country of Uddiyana and were later propagated in India by his disciple Manjushrimitra. The latter transmitted them to his diciple Shrisimha who, in turn, conferred them upon Padmasambhava, Vimalamitra, and Vairochana the translator. These three brought the precepts to Tibet in the middle part of the eighth century. Thus, this teaching was originally a secret oral instruction restricted to a small group of Tantric initiates. The tradition claims that it originally came from the mysterious country of Uddiyana to the northwest of India. Therefore, it appears most likely that it is to the Indo-Tibetan borderlands of the northwest that we should look for the origins of Dzogchen. [38]

This seems equally true for the historical origins of Bonpo Dzogchen, for this second authentic lineage of the Dzogchen teachings also did not originate in India proper, but was brought to Central Tibet in the ninth and tenth centuries from Zhang-zhung in Northern Tibet by the disciples decending from Gyerpung Nangzher Lodpo. [39] Until the eighth century, the country of Zhang-zhung had been an independent kingdom with its own language and culture. It lay in what is now Western and Northern Tibet and the center of the country was dominated by the majestic presence of the sacred mountain of Gangchen Tise or Mount Kailas. Examining the available evidence, it now appears likely that before Indian Buddhism came to Central Tibet in the seventh and eighth centuries, Zhang-zhung had extensive contacts with the Buddhist cultures that flourished around it in Central Asia and in the Indo-Tibetan borderlands. Just to the west of Zhang-zhung there once existed the vast Kushana empire which was Buddhist in its religious culture. It was an area in which Indian Buddhism interacted with various strands of Iranian religion– Zoroastrian, Zurvanist, Mithraist, Manichean, as well as Indian Shaivism and Nestorian Christianity. This was also true of the oasis cities of the Silk Route to the northeast of Zhang-zhung such as Kashgar. Some scholars have seen this region beyond India as playing a key role in the development of certain aspects of Mahayana Buddhism, and later also in the development of Tantric form of Buddhism known as Vajrayana. [40] For example, the revelation of the Guhyasamaja Tantra is said to have occurred to king Indrabhuti in Uddiyana and was later brought to India proper by the Mahasiddhas Saraha and Nagarjuna. [41] Moreover, the Kalachakra Tantra is said to have been brought from Shambhala in Central Asia to Nalanda in India in the tenth century by the Mahasiddha Tsilupa. [42] The Bonpos came to identify this Shambhala with Olmo Lungring itself. [43] All this suggests that certain trends within Yungdrung Bon, rather than being later plagiarisms and imitations of Indian Buddhism concocted in the tenth century, actually do go back to a kind of syncretistic Indo-Iranian Buddhism that once flourished in the independent kingdom of Zhang-zhung before it was forcibly incorporated into the expanding Tibetan empire in the eighth century. This “Buddhism”, known as gyer in the Zhang-zhung language and as bon in the Tibetan, was not particularly monastic, but more Tantric in nature and its diffusion was stimulated by the presence of various Mahasiddhas in the region such as the illustrious Tapihritsa and his predecessors dwelling in caves about Mount Kailas and about the lakes to the east in Northern Tibet. Even into this century, Kailas remained an important site of pilgrimage drawing Hindu sadhus and yogis from India. [44]

Such a mixed “Buddhist” culture, being both Tantric and shamanic, was suppressed in the eighth century when, at the instigation of the Tibetan king Trisong Detsan, the last king of independent Zhang-zhung, Ligmigya, was ambushed and assassinated when he left his castle of Khyung-dzong on the Dang-ra lake in Northern Tibet. Zhang-zhung and its people were absorbed into the Tibetan empire and disappeared as an independent entity. The Zhang-zhung-pas were pressed into the service of the Tibetan army as it expanded westward into Ladakh and Baltistan. [45] Today the Zhang-zhung-pas survive as the nomad people of Western and Northern Tibet, often possessing the same ancient clan names. But having been converted to the Drigung Kagyudpa school of Buddhism, they have forgotten their ancient heritage. The old caves, once the dwelling places of the Bonpo Mahasiddhas, are now thought to be the domain of ghosts, places to be shunned and avoided. Yet ancient ruins, believed to antedate the Tibetan empire, are still to be seen at Khyung-lung (Khyung-lung dngul-mkhar) west of Kailas and on the shores of the Dang-ra lake to the east in Northern Tibet. [46]

In response to the urgings of the Indian Buddhist monk-scholar Bodhisattva, who thoroughly rejected these Bonpo heretics, [47] and failing to recognize the ties of doctrine and practice between the “Buddhism” of Zhang-zhung known as Gyer or Bon, with the monastic Buddhism recently imported from India into Central Tibet, the Tibetan government actively suppressed the indiginous religious culture of Zhang-zhung. Moreover, the persecution of the Bonpos by the Tibetan king Trisong Detsan may have had a political motive and not just a religious one. At that time, the Bonpos in Tibet were certainly not organized into a rival church or sect that could effectively oppose the Indian monks financially supported by the Tibetan government. This picture was a later anachronism created in the accounts of the medieval Buddhist historians. Rather than a conflict of rival religious doctrines, a parallel might be the suppression and subsequent annihilation of the Druids by the Romans in Gaul and Britain, where the Druids represented an ever-present source for Celtic nationalism and rallying point for resistance against Roman rule. In the same way, the Bonpos may also have been suppressed because they represented a possible source of Zhang-zhung-pa rebellion against the rule of the Yarlung dynasty of Tibet. Just as the Druids were accused of making human sacrifices and the Romans used this accusation as an excuse to exterminate them, so the Bonpos were accused of making blood sacrifices and this represented another excuse for expelling them from Tibet.

The Three Traditions of Bonpo Dzogchen

In general, within the Bon tradition, there exist different lines of transmission for the Dzogchen teachings which are collectively known as A rdzogs snyan gsum. The first two of them represent Terma traditions based on rediscovered treasure texts, whereas the third is an oral tradition (snyan brgyud) based on a continuous transmission through an uninterrupted line of realized masters. These three transmissions of Dzogchen are as follows:

  1. A-khrid
    The first cycle here of Dzogchen teachings is called A-khrid (pronounced A-tri), that is, the teachings that guide one (khrid) to the Primordial State (A). The white Tibetan letter A is the symbol of Shunyata and of primordial wisdom. The founder of this tradition was Meuton Gongdzad Ritrod Chenpo, who was frequently just known as Dampa, “the holy man.” [48] He extracted these Dzogchen precepts from the Khro rgyud cycle of texts. Together with the Zhi-ba don gyi skor, these texts formed part of the sPyi-spungs yan-lag gi skor cycle of teachings that belong to the Father Tantras (pha rgyud) originally attributed to Tonpa Shenrab in the guise of Chimed Tsugphud (‘Chi-med gtsug-phud). To this collected material, Meuton added his own mind treasure (dgongs gter) and organized the practice of the cycle into eighty meditation sessions extending over several weeks. This was known as the A-khrid thun mtsham brgyad-cu-pa. The instructions were divided into three sections dealing with the view (lta-ba), the meditation (sgom-pa), and the conduct (spyod-pa). Upon a successful completion of the eighty session course, one received the title of Togdan (rtogs-ldan), that is, “one who possesses understanding.”

The system was later condensed by his successors. In the thirteenth century Aza Lodo Gyaltsan [49] reduced the number of sessions to thirty and subsequently in the same century Druchen Gyalwa Yungdrung wrote a practice manual in which the number of sessions in retreat (thun mtsham) was further reduced to fifteen. This popular practice manual is known as the A-khrid thun mtsham bco-lnga-pa. [50] And in the present century, the great Bonpo master Shardza Rinpoche wrote extensive commentaries on the A-khrid system, together with the associated dark retreat (mun mtshams). [51] The A-khrid tradition, where the practice is very systematically laid out in a specific number of sessions, in many ways corresponds to the rDzogs-chen sems-sde of the Nyingmapa tradition. [52]

  1. rDzogs-chen
    Here the term rDzogs-chen does not mean Dzogchen in general, but the reference is to a specific transmission of Dzogchen whose root text is the rDzogs-chen yang-rtse’i klong-chen, “the Great Vast Expanse of the Highest Peak which is the Great Perfection,” rediscovered by the great Terton Zhodton Ngodrub Dragpa in the year 1080. This discovery was part of a famous cycle of treasure texts hidden behind a statue of Vairochana at the Khumthing temple at Lhodrak. This root text is said to have been composed in the eighth century by the Bonpo master known as Lishu Tagring. [53]
  2. sNyan-rgyud
    The third cycle of transmission of the Dzogchen teachings within the Bon tradition is the uninterrupted lineage of the oral transmission from the country of Zhang-zhung (Zhang-zhung snyan-rgyud), which is the subject of the present study. Because this tradition has a continuous lineage extending back to at least the eighth century of our era, and so does not represent Terma texts rediscovered at a later time, it is of particular importance for research into the question of the historical origins of Dzogchen. [Excerpted from Space, Awareness, and Energy: An Introduction to the Bonpo Dzogchen Teachings of the Oral Tradition from Zhang-zhung, by John Myrdhin Reynolds, Snow Lion Publications forthcoming in 2001.]

(1) See John Myrdhin Reynolds, The Golden Letters, Snow Lion, Ithaca 1996, pp. 199-286.
(2) For example, see the Deb-ther sngon-po of ‘Gos lo-tswa-ba gZhon-nu dpal (1392-1481), translated in The Blue Annals by George Roerich, Part I, Book I, Motilal Banarsidass, New Delhi reprint 1979; pp. 35-37. See also Tarthang Tulku, Ancient Tibet, Dharma Publishing, Berkeley 1986; pp.102-106, 140-148.
(3) See Geza Uray, “The Old Tibetan Verb Bon,” in Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientarium Hungaricae, 1964, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 323-34.
(4) Shamanism, now recognized to be a world-wide religious and cultural activity of great antiquity, has been extensively described by Russian and other anthropologists, as well as by scholars of the History of Religions such as Mircea Eliade and others. See especially Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, Pantheon Books, New York 1964.
(5) On Tibetan shamanism generally, see Rene de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, Oracles and Demons of Tibet, Mouton, The Hague 1956, pp. 538-553, as well as Per-Arne Berglie, “Preliminary Remarks on Some Tibetan Spirit Mediums in Nepal,” in Kailash 4 (1), Kathmandu 1976, pp. 85-108. For an account of a contemporary Tibetan shaman from Ladakh and practicing in Kathmandu, see Larry G. Peters, “The Tibetan Healing Rituals of Dorje Yudronma: A Fierce Manifestation of the Feminine Cosmic Force,” in Shaman’s Drum 45, Ashland OR 1997, pp. 36-47.
(6) See Joseph Rock, “Contributions to the Shamanism of the Tibetan-Chinese Borderland”, Anthropos LIV (1959), pp. 796-818
(7) See Larry Peters, Ecstasy and Healing in Nepal, Udena Publications, Malibu 1981. See also Stan Royal Mumford, Himalayan Dialogue, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison 1989.
(8) On the relations of the old Tibetan kingdom with Central Asia generally, see Christopher Beckwith, The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1987. In view of this connection, as suggested by Beckwith, the term bon might possibly be a borrowing from the Central Asian Iranian language of Sogdian, where the word bwn means “dharma.” This word also occurs as the first element in the title of the Zoroastrian book dealing with the process of creation, the Bundahishn. Beckwith has also pointed to a possible Indo-Iranian substratum in the Zhang-zhung language. See Beckwith, The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia, op. cit., pp. 3-36. The Sogdians were a major trading people along the Silk Route to the northwest of Tibet and many Buddhist texts in the Sogdian language have been recovered from Central Asia. On Zhang-zhung in particular, see Tsering Thar, “The Ancient Zhang Zhung Civilization,” in Tibet Studies, Lhasa 1989, pp. 90-104.
(9) According to the bsTan-rtsis of Nyima Tenzin, translated by Per Kvaerne in “A Chronological Table of the Bon-po: The bsTan rcsis of Nyi-ma bstan-‘jin,” in Acta Orientalia XXXIII, Copenhagen 1971, pp. 205-282.
(10) There exist three principal biographies or hagiographies of Tonpa Shenrab in the Bon tradition: 1. mDo ‘dus or Dus gsum sangs-rgyas byung-khungs kyi mdo, 2. gZer-myig or ‘Dus-pa rin-po-che’i rgyud gzer-myig, and 3. gZi-brjid or ‘Dus-pa rin-po-che dri-ma med-pa gzi-brjid rab tu ‘bar-ba’i mdo.
A summery of the hagiography of Tonpa Shenrab, drawn from the gZer-myig, will be found in Helmut Hoffman, The Religions of Tibet, George Allen and Unwin, London 1961, pp. 84-98. A brief version of the hagiography may be found in Richard Gard and Sangye Tandar, The Twelve Deeds: A Brief Life Story of Tonpa Shenrab, the Founder of the Bon Religion, LTWA, New Delhi 1995. Although the monastic career of Tonpa Shenrab in his later life bares many resemblences to the account of Shakyamuni Buddha’s Great Renunciation and subsequent teaching activities, as found, for example, in the Lalitavistara, his life story is otherwise of an origin quite independent of anything remotely Indian Buddhist. Indeed, the noted Russian scholar Kuznetsov sees Tonpa Shenrab as being of Central Asian or Iranian origin. See B.I. Kuznetsov, “Who was the Founder of the Bon Religion,” in Tibet Journal, Vol. I, No. 1, Dharamsala 1975. Certain contemporary Tibetan scholars see Tonpa Shenrab as being a native-born Tibetan, rather than a prince or priest coming from Central Asian origin. See Namkhai Norbu, The Necklace of gZi: A Cultural History of Tibet, LTWA, Dharamsala 1981. Karmay also appears to suggest this. See Samten G. Karmay, “A General Introduction to the History and Doctrines of Bon,” in The Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko, No. 33, Tokyo 1975, pp. 171-218. Lopon Tenzin Namdak, following Bonpo tradition, is adament in asserting that Tonpa Shenrab was not a Tibetan, but originated in ‘Ol-mo lung-ring, which he identifies with Shambhala. In that case, ‘Ol-mo lung-ring was a mystical domain and not a precise geographical location somewhere northwest of Tibet in historical times. On the significance of ‘Ol-mo lung-ring and Shambhala, see Edwin Birnbaum,The Way to Shambhala: A Search for the Mythical Kingdom beyond the Himalayas, Anchor Press/ Doubleday, New York 1980, pp. 12-13, 44, 79-81, 102. On the signicance of mystical geography in general, see Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, Harcourt Brice & World, New York 1957, and also Henry Corbin, Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1977.
(11) On the bard and the epic generally in the Tibetan tradition, see R.A. Stein, Tibetan Civilization, Faber and Faber, London 1972, pp. 272-281. Also see his more detailed study, Recherches sur l’epopee et le barde au Tibet, Annales du Musee Guimet, Paris 1959.
(12) This does not mean that the Dalai Lama considers the Bonpos to be Buddhists. According to most Tibetan Lamas, the Buddhists follow chos and the Bonpos follow bon. Nevertheless, both Buddhists (chos-pa) and Bonpos are considered “Insiders” (nang-pa), as opposed to “Outsiders” or Non-Buddhists (phyi-pa), such as Hindus, Jains, Muslims, and Christians.
(13) For example, see the Grub-mtha’ legs bshad shel kyi me-long by Chos kyi nyi-ma dpal bzang-po (1674-1740). The section of this text dealing with Bon has been translated by Sarit Chandra Das in Contributions on the Religion and History of Tibet, Manjusri Publishing House, New Delhi 1970, pp. 1-19; reprinted from Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1881. The author, a Gelugpa scholar, distinguished three phases in the historical development of Bon: ‘jol bon, ‘khyar bon, and bsgyur bon. Although this is not how the Bonpos see their own history, the text is useful in indicating how the other Buddhist schools saw them. The account found here may be summarized as follows:

  1. Revealed Bon (‘jol bon): During the reign of the sixth king of Tibet, Tride Tsanpo (Khri-lde btsan-po), a demon or evil spirit (‘dre) kidnapped a boy of thirteen who belonged to the Shen (gshen) clan and took him to different wild places in the mountains of Tibet and Kham. Other accounts add the detail that this thirteen year old boy was discovered to have had the ears of a donkey, apparently from birth, whereupon the evil spirits absconded with him. For thirteen more years thereafter, this boy wandered in the wilderness and came to be fully instructed in the magical arts of the non-human spirits (mi ma yin). At the age of twenty-six he was permitted to return to his native village. Because of his Otherworld journeys and the knowledge he acquired thereby, he knew the names and the haunts of all the spirits and demons. He knew which spirits caused troubles among mankind and which spirits brought good luck and prosperity. And he knew how to appease hostile spirits with rituals and offerings. Thus this young man was the first to introduce Bon among the Tibetans and from his time onward, the kings of Tibet followed Bon and no other religion. It is said, moreover, that when he returned to his village from the wilderness, he hid his donkey’s ears by wearing a white woollen turban, for which reason the white turban became the distinctive head-gear of the ancient Bonpos. It was said of these early Bonpos that below (‘og) they tamed the evil spirits, above (steng) they invoked the gods of their ancestors, and in the middle (bar) they purified the hearth when it became polluted and thereby offended the hearth god (thab lha) and other household spirits. This account is an obvious scenario of shamanic initiation and thereby it would appear to account for the origin of shamanism in Tibet.
  2. Deviant Bon (‘khyar bon): This represented innovations made due to foreign influences coming into Tibet from the outside. When the king of Tibet, Drigum Tsanpo (Gri-gum btsan-po), was killed because of his persecution of the Bonpos, it became necessary to prevent the restless spirit of the murdered king, which had become a gshin or restless ghost, from doing mischief among the people. Therefore, three Bonpo practitioners were invited from Kashmir (Kha-che), Gilgit (Bru-sha), and Zhang-zhung, respectively, in order to perform the appropriate funeral rites to set the spirit to rest. This was because the local priests did not know how to do this. Such rites are known as ‘Dur. All three of these Bonpos were foreigners from countries which lay to the west of Tibet. One of these Bonpos, presumably the one from Zhang-zhung, propitiated the deities Ge-khod (the patron deity of Zhang-zhung), Khyung (Garuda), and Me-lha (the god of fire). Thereby he was able to fly through the sky on his drum and divine mineral and metal deposits hidden beneath the earth. The second Bonpo, presumably the one from Gilgit, was skilled in divination and could foretell the future by means of the knots and threads, a practice known as ju-thig, and the use of scapula (sog dmar). Moreover, he made inspired oracular utterances (lha bka’). This would appear to locate the origin of this method of divination in Gilgit. The third Bonpo from Kashmir, a land famous for its Sanskrit learning among both Buddhists and Shaivites, was an expert in conducting the funeral ceremonies. Previously there had existed no philosophy of Bon in Tibet, but now Bon became mixed up with the Shaivite doctrines of the Tirthikas, that is, the Hindus of Kashmir, and therefore this became known as Deviant Bon (mu-stegs dbang-phyug-pa’i grub-mtha’ ‘khyar-ba bon).
  3. Transformed Bon (bsgyur bon): This occured in three phases. First, an Indian Pandita, having slandered a famous Buddhist teacher and being charged with immoral acts, was expelled from the Sangha or monastic community. He went to the north of Kashmir and dressing himself in blue robes (sham-thabs sngon-po-can), he proclimed himself a great teacher. There he wrote several heretical books and hid them underground. After a few years, he invited the public to witness the discovery of these texts that he had hidden previously. He proclaimed them to be the sacred scriptures of Bon and thereby he brought about a transformation in the Bon religion.
    Second, during the reign of the great Buddhist king of Tibet, Trisong Detsan, an edict was issued requiring that all Bonpos to renounce Bon and to embrace the Buddhist faith of India. A Bonpo named Rinchenchok (Rin-chen mchog) refused to do so and was punished by the king for his obstinancy. He became very angry at this and thereupon he and some other Bonpo priests composed Bonpo scriptures by whole-sale plagiarizing of the Buddhist ones. When the king heard of this activity, he was outraged and had these priests beheaded. However, some conspirators survived and hid copies of these plagiarized texts under rocks in various places. Later these priests rediscovered these texts and they became the Bonpo Termas.
    Third, after the overthrow and death of the Tibetan king Langdarma in the ninth century, some Bonpo priests continued to alter other Buddhist texts using different orthography and terminology. In Upper Tsang, two of them, Shengur Luga (gSen rgur klu-dga’) and Daryul Drolag (Dar-yul sgro-lag), composed more texts and hid them under rocks. Thereby they converted many Buddhist scriptures into Bon texts, such as transforming the extensive Prajnaparamita (Yum rgyas) into the Khams-chen, the Bonpo version of the Prajnaparamita. Later they brought them out as apparently accidental discoveries. These caches of texts were known as “the White Water” (Chab dkar) and the Fruitional Bon (‘bras-bu’i bon).
    The tone of the account here is rather anti-Bon and this may be contrasted with the Bonpos’ own account of the origin and development of their tradition such as found in the Legs-bshad mdzod of Shardza Rinpoche. See the translation of this work in Samten G. Karmay, The Treasury of Good Sayings: A Tibetan History of Bon, Oxford University Press, London 1972.
    (14) Oral communication from Lopon Tenzin Namdak. See also his history of Bon, g.Yung-drung bon gyi bstan-pa’i ‘byung khungs nyung bsdus, Kalimpong 1962.
    (15) According to the traditional accounts found in the gZer-myig and the gZi-brjid, the demon prince and sorcerer Khyabpa Lagring (bDud-rgyal Khyab-pa lag-ring) stole the seven horses of Tonpa from their stable in ‘Ol-mo lung-ring, and after spiriting them away, he concealed them in Kongpo, a country in Southeastern Tibet. Tonpa Shenrab took this as an opportunity to travel to Tibet in order to subdue the fierce demons (srin-po) who at that time dwelt in the country and oppressed primitive humanity. See H. Hoffman, The Religions of Tibet, op. cit. Also see Tarthang Tulku, Ancient Tibet, op. cit., pp. 107-108.
    (16) See David Snellgrove, The Nine Ways of Bon, Oxford University Press, London 1967. Also see Namkhai Norbu, Drung, Dreu and Bon, LTWA, Dharamsala 1995.
    (17) See Snellgrove, The Nine Ways of Bon, op. cit. Also on Bonpo ritual, see John Myrdhin Reynolds, The Cult and Practice of Zhang-zhung Meri, Bonpo Translation Project (privately printed), San Diego 1996.
    (18) Oral communication from Lopon Tenzin Namdak. On the conflict between Buddhist Lamas and indigenous shamans regarding the question of blood sacrifice, see Mumford, Himalayan Dialogue, op. cit. On a parallel situation in seventeenth century Mongolia, see Walther Heissig, The Religions of Mongolia, University of California Press, Berkeley 1980 and Walther Heissig, “A Mongolian Source to the Lamaist Suppression of Shamanism in the 17th Century,” in Anthropos 48, pp. 493-533.
    (19) On ‘Chi-med gtsug-phud and the lineages for the Bonpo Dzogchen teachings, see Chapter Two below and also the translations of the Yig-chung and the rNam-thar in Part Two.
    (20) On the Zhang-zhung language, see Erik Haarh, “The Zhang-zhung Language: A Grammar and Dictionary of the Unexplored Language of the Tibetan Bonpos,” in Acta Jutlandica XL: 1, Copenhagen 1968, pp. 7-43.
    (21) Samten G. Karmay, The Treasury of Good Sayings: A Tibetan History of Bon, Oxford University Press, London 1972.
    (22) On the sMar-yig script of Zhang-zhung, see Tshe-ring Thar, “The Ancient Zhang Zhung Civilization,” op. cit. Also see Namkhai Norbu, The Necklace of gZi, op. cit..
    (23) On the Bonpo Terma tradition, see Samten Karmay, The Treasury of Good Sayings, op. cit. All of the early Terma discoveries of the Bonpos were sa-gter, that is, the actual physical texts written in previous times and concealed in various places of Tibet and Bhutan. Most of the actual discovers of these collections of Terma texts were not learned Lamas, but simple farmers and hunters, who could not have possibly forged these texts. Among the most famous of these early “Tertons” were three Nepali thieves known as the three Atsaras, who in the year 961 CE stole a heavy locked chest from the Cha-ti dmar-po temple at Samye monastery. Escaping into the mountains with their loot, thinking that it contained gold they broke into the chest, but when they opened it, they found only some old texts. Greatly disappointed, they sold these old books to some local village Bonpo Lamas for some gold and a horse.
    (24) On the Nyingmapa Terma tradition, see Eva Dargyay, The Rise of Esoteric Buddhism in Tibet, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1977. Also see Tulku Thondup, Hidden Teachings of Tibet: An Explanation of the Terma Tradition of the Nyingmapa School of Buddhism, Wisdom Publications, London 1986, and Tulku Thondup, The Tantric Tradition of the Nyingmapas, Buddhayana, Marion MA 1984.
    (25) The Nine Ways of Bon, or rather, the nine successive vehicles of Bon (bon theg-pa rim dgu), as classified in the System of the Southern Treasures (lho gter lugs), is expounded in as many chapters in the gZi-brjid, the most extensive hagiography of Tonpa Shenrab. These chapters have been translated by Snellgrove in consultation with Lopon Tenzin Namdak. See David Snellgrove,The Nine Ways of Bon, Oxford University Press, London 1967. Here the Nine Ways are listed as follows:
  4. The Way of the Practice of Prediction (phywa gshen theg-pa): Literally theg-pa means a vehicle or conveyance, rather than a road or a way. gShen, a word of obscure origin and meaning, can here be translated as “practice” or “practitioner” according to the Lopon. And the term phywa means prediction or prognostication. This way or vehicle is principally concerned with divination (mo), astrological and geomantic calculations (rtsis), medical diagnosis (dpyad), and the performing of healing rituals (gto).
  5. The Way of the Practice of Visible Manifestations (snang gshen theg-pa): This way is principally concerned with visible manifestations (snang-ba) perceived as positive manifestations of the activities of the gods (lha) who come to the aid of humanity. Therefore, the emphasis is placed on invoking the gods (lha gsol-ba) for their aid. This includes such classes of deities as the Thugs-dkar, the sGra-bla, the Wer-ma, and so on.
  6. The Way of the Practice of Magical Power (‘phrul gshen theg-pa): This way is principally concerned with magical rituals to ensure prosperity and control over the spirits evoked, especially the rites of exorcism (sel-ba) to eliminate negative energy and the negative provocations of evil spirits (gdon) who come to disturb human existence. The practitioner works with these energies in terms of evocation, conjuration, and application (bsnyen sgrub las gsum).
  7. The Way of the Practice of Existence (srid gshen theg-pa): Here “existence” (srid-pa) properly means the processes of death and rebirth. This way is also known as ‘Dur gshen, the practice of ceremonies for exorcising (‘dur) the spirits of the dead who are disturbing the living. It is, therefore, principally concerned with the three hundred and sixty kinds of rites for accomplishing this, as well as methods for ensuring the good fortune and the long life of the living. These four represent the Four Causal Ways of Bon (bon rgyu’i theg-pa bzhi). These are followed by the higher ways of a more spiritual nature, whose goal is liberation and enlightenement, which are collectively known as the Fruitional Ways (‘bras-bu’i theg-pa).
  8. The Way of the Virtuous Lay Practitioners (dge-bsnyen theg-pa): This way is principally concerned with morality and ethics, such as the ten virtuous deeds (dge-ba bcu), the ten Perfections or Paramitas, and so on, as well as pious activities such as erecting stupas, and so on.
  9. The Way of the Ascetic Sages (drang-srong theg-pa): The term drang-srong (Skt. rishi), meaning a sage, has here the technical significance of a fully ordained monk who has taken the full complement of vows, corresponding to the Buddhist bhikshu (dge-slong). The principal concern is with the vows of the monk and the rules of the monastic discipline (‘dul-ba).
  10. The Way of the White A (A-dkar theg-pa): This way is principally concerned with the Tantric practice of transformation by way of visualizing oneself as the meditation deity and the practices associated with the mandala. Here are included both the Lower Tantras and the Higher Tantras.
  11. The Way of the Primordial Shen (ye gshen theg-pa): This way is concerned with certain secret Tantric practices includung the proper relationship with the Guru and with the Tantric consort, as well as with the methodologies of the Generation Process (bskyed-rim) and the Perfection Process (rdzogs-rim) and the conduct connected with them.
  12. The Ultimate Way (bla-med theg-pa): This ultimate and unsurpassed (bla na med-pa) way is comprised of the teachings and practices of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, which describes the process of enlightenment in terms of the Base, the Path, and the Fruit, as well as the practice of contemplation in terms of the view, the meditations, and the conduct.
    (26) The Nine Ways according to the System of the Central Treasures (dbus gter lugs) are also divided into the Causal Vehicles (rgyu’i theg-pa) and the Fruitional Vehicles (‘bras-bu’i theg-pa). These are as follows:
  13. The Vehicle of Gods and Men where one relies upon another (lha mi gzhan rten gyi theg-pa): that is to say, this is the vehicle of those disciples who must first hear the teachings from another. This vehicle correspons to the Shravakayana in the Buddhist system and the philosophical view is that of the Vaibhashikas.
  14. The Vehicle of the Shenrabpas who understand by themselves alone (rang-rtogs gshen-rab kyi theg-pa): These practitioners do not need to hear the teachings first from another, but they discover it for themselves. This vehicle corresponds to the Pratyekabuddhayana of the Buddhists and the philosophical view is that of the Sautrantikas.
  15. The Vehicle of the Compassionate Bodhisattvas (thugs-rje sems-pa’i theg-pa): This vehicle corresponds to the Mahayana Sutra system or Bodhisattvayana vehicle in the Buddhist system. In particular, the reference is to the Bodhisattvas who practice the ten Paramitas of generosity, morality, patience, vigor, meditation, strength, compassion, commitment, skillful means, and wisdom. The philosophical view is that of the Yogacharins or Chittamatrins (sems-tsam-pa) who discern the absence of any inherent existence in terms of the internal self, as well as external phenomena.
  16. The Vehicle of the Bodhisattvas that are without conceptual elaborations (g.yung-drung sems-pa’i spros med-pa’i theg-pa): This vehicle also corresponds to the Bodhisattvayana in the Buddhist system. The Bonpo term g.yung-drung sems-dpa’, literally Svastikasattva or “Swastika being,” has the same meaning as the Buddhist term Bodhisattva (byang-chub sems-dpa’). Here one finds the same practice of the ten Pramitas. However, the philosophical view of emptiness and the absence of any inherent existence in the internal self and the external phenomena is understood by way the Madhyamaka (dbu-ma-pa), rather than the Chittamatra. These four lower ways represent the Causal Vehicles (rgyu’i theg-pa), while those which follow are known as the Fruitional Vehicles.
  17. The Vehicle of the Primordial Bon of Pure Conduct and Ritual Activity (bya-ba gtsang-spyod ye bon gyi theg-pa): Focusing on ritual activity (bya-ba, Skt. kriya) and purity of conduct, this vehicle corresponds to the Kriyatantrayana in the Nyingmapa system. In terms of method, the Wisdom Being (ye-shes-pa) is invoked into one’s range of vision and treated as a great lord being petitioned by a humble servent, and thereby the practitioner receives the knowledge (ye-shes) and the blessings (byin-rlabs) of the deity.
  18. The Vehicle of the Clairvoyant Knowledge that possesses all of the aspects (rnam-par kun-ldan mngon-shes kyi theg-pa): The focus is equally on external ritual action and internal yoga practice. This vehicle corresponds to the Charyatantrayana in the Nyingmapa system. Together with the practice of the ten Paramitas and the four Recollections, the presence of the Wisdom being is invoked, but this time the deity is regarded as an intimate friend rather than as a superior lord. These two vehicles represent the Outer or Lower Tantras (phyi rgyud), while the vehicles that follow represent the Inner or Higher Tantras (nang rgyud).
  19. The Vehicle of Visibly Manifestating Compassion in terms of the Actual Generation Process (dngos bskyed thugs-rje rol-pa’i theg-pa): This vehicle corresponds to the Yoga Tantra and to a certain extent to the Mahayoga Tantra and the Anuttara Tantra in the Buddhist system of classification for both the Nyingmapas and the Newer Schools. Establishing oneself in the higher view of the Ultimate Truth and remaining in the original condition of the Natural State, one engages in the Generation Process (bskyed-rim) and transforms oneself into the meditation deity, thereby realizing the qualities attributed to that manifestation of enlightened awareness.
  20. The Vehicle wherein Everything is Completely Perfect and Exceedingly Meaningful (shin tu don-ldan kun rdzogs kyi theg-pa): Becoming established in the Ultimate Truth and the original condition of the Natural State as was the case above, here one places the emphasis on the Perfection Process (rdzogs-rim) rather than the Generation Process (bskyed-rim), so that Space and Awareness are realized to be inseparable (dbyings rig dbyer-med). And particularly in terms of the meditation deity, the practitioner comes to realize the gnosis or pristine awareness of the inseparability of bliss and emptiness (bde stong ye-shes). This vehicle corresponds to the Mahayoga Tantra and especially the Anuyoga Tantra classifications of the Nyingmapas.
  21. The Unsurpassed Vehicle of the Highest Peak of the Primordial Great Perfection (ye nas rdzogs-chen yang-rtse bla-med kyi theg-pa): This vehicle comprises the Dzogchen teachings in terms of the Mind Series (sems-sde) which emphasize the awareness side of the Natural State and the Space Series (klong-sde) which emphasize the emptiness side, as well as the Secret Instruction Series (man-ngag sde) which emphasize their inseparability.
    On the Central Treasures, see John Myrdhin Reynolds, Yungdrung Bon: The Eternal Tradition, Tibetan Translation Project (privately printed), New York 1994. And also Lopon Tenzin Namdak and John Reynolds (tr), The Condensed Meaning of an Explanation of the Teachings of Yungdrung Bon, Bonpo Foundation, Kathmandu n.d. Also see Tenzin Wangyal, Wonders of the Natural Mind, Station Hill Press, Barrytown NY 1993, pp. 35-37, 203-208.
    (27) Oral Communication.
    (28) According to Lopon Tenzin Namdak, the translations of these technical terms chab dkar as “white water” and chab nag as “black water” are problematical. Indeed, chab does mean “water” in Tibetan, but the word may originally have been a Zhang-zhung term and had a different and now forgotten meaning. In the old Bonpo usage, the terms “white” (dkar) and “black” (nag) did not have the moral connotations that they have in English, such as “white magic” done for good purposes and “black magic” done for evil purposes. In this context, white refers to invoking the aid of the gods and spirits, drawing positive energy to oneself, while black refers to the exorcizing and expelling of negative energies, perceived as a process of purification. The exorcised negative energies are felt to appear black in color, but the intention here is positive, namely, that of purification.
    (29) According to Karmay, the name ‘Phan-yul designates the district of ‘Phan-yul to the north of Lhasa. This may have been the location where the Bonpo translation of the Prajnaparamita was made in the early period, then later concealed in a different region and rediscovered at a later time by gShen-chen klu-dga’ in the 11th century. However, the Lopon disputes this theory and holds that ‘phan-yul was probably a Zhang-zhung word whose meaning has been forgotten. The Tibetan term ‘bum, literally meaning “one hundred thousand,” is the usual designation in the Buddhist tradition for the entire collection of the Prajnaparamita Sutras, the largest of which consists of one hundred-thousand verses.
    (30) See Snellgrove, The Nine Ways of Bon, ibid.
    (31) The Termas revealed to bLo-ldan snying-po (b.(1360), Mi-zhig rDo-je, otherwise known as rDo-rje gling-pa (1346-1405), Kun-grol grags-pa (b. 1700), bDe-chen gling-pa (b.1833), gSang-sngags gling-pa (b. 1864), mKha’-‘gro bDe-chen dbang-mo (b.1868), etc., are considered recent treasure text discoveries (gter gsar). Among those listed here, rDo-rje gling-pa is also well known as a Nyingmapa Terton. On him, see Eva Dargyay, The Rise of Esoteric Buddhism in Tibet, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1977. On the New Bon Termas in general, see Karmay, Treasury, ibid., pp.182-190.
    (32) On the Tibetan translator Vairochana as a Bonpo, see Samten Karmay, The Great Perfection, Brill, Leiden 1988, pp. 17-37, 216-223.
    (33) See Samten G. Karmay, The Great Perfection: A Philosophical and Meditative Teaching of Tibetan Buddhism, Brill, Leiden 1988. Also see Eva Dargyay, The Rise of Esoteric Buddhism in Tibet, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1977.
    (34) See the discussion in Reynolds, The Golden Letters, op. cit., pp. 199-286.
    (35) Eva Dargyay, The Rise of Esoteric Buddhism in Tibet, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1977. The Nyingmapa class of the Mahayoga Tantras is divided into the Tantra Section (rgyud-sde), consisting of eighteen Tantras headed by the Guhyagarbha Tantra (rgyud gsang-ba snying-po), and the Sadhana Section (grub-sde) consisting of the texts for the practices of these eight Herukas.
    (36) See the translation of the Man-ngag lta-ba’i phreng-ba in Samten Karmay, The Great Perfection, op. cit., pp. 137-174.
    (37) The state of even contemplation (mnyam-bzhag, Skt. samahita) represents the culmination of the Tantric process of transformation known as sadhana (grub-thabs). Just as the visualization process begins from the state of emptiness or Shunyata, generating the pure forms of the deity and the mandala out of this primordial condition of pure potentiality, so at the conclusion of the practice of the transformation, the visualization of the deity and its sacred space is dissolved once more back into its source, the state of Shunyata. The dissolving of all the pure forms generated in the creation process (bskyed-rim) of the sadhana back into emptiness does not, however, represent a true destruction or annihilation in any absolute sense. To assert that this is the case would represent the erroneous philosophical position of nihilism (chad-lta). Rather, it represents a re-enfolding of manifest forms back into their source, where they remain in their full potentiality. Having dissolved the visualization once more, the meditator rests for a period of time in Shunyata or pure unmanifest potentiality, in what is called a condition of even contemplation (mnyam-bzhag), out of which, subsequently, the sights and sounds of normal everyday life re-emerge as the post-meditation condition (rjes-thob). The Sanskrit term samahita is cognate with the more familiar term samadhi, both of which I translate into English as “contemplation,” in order to distinguish them from “meditation” (sgom-pa, Skt. bhavana). In terms of Dzogchen, this remaining in the state of contemplation is equated with being in the Natural State (gnas-lugs). However, within the practice of Tantra, it is necessary to first go through this elaborate process of visualization and transformation in order to find oneself in the condition of contemplation once the visualization is dissolved back again into Shunyata. This visualization process recapitulates the creation, the evolution, and the dissolution of the entire manifest universe. But in the context of Dzogchen practice, it is not necessary to first transform something into something else in order to find oneself in the condition of contemplation. Rather, one simply relaxes and just finds oneself in contemplation at the very beginning of practice and remains thereafter in it, by whatever means. This represents the principal practice of Dzogchen, in relation to which all Tantric transformation practices are considered secondary. On this question, also see David Jackson, Enlightenment by a Single Means: The Tibetan Controversies on the “Self-Sufficient White Remedy” (dkar po chig thub), Der Ostereichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna 1994.
    (38) There has been much discussion among scholars about the location of Uddiyana (o-rgyan). Tucci located it in the Swat valley in Pakistan on the basis of two medieval Tibetan texts. See Giuseppe Tucci, Travels of Tibetan Pilgrimes in the Swat Valley, The Greater India Society, Calcutta 1940. However, there is much evidence to indicate that Uddiyana was a far larger region embracing much of Eastern Afghanistan. See C.S. Upasak, History of Buddhism in Afghanistan, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Varanasi 1990.
    (39) On Gyer-spungs sNang-bzher Lod-po and his disciples, see Chapters Three and Four below.
    (40) On the origin of the Mahayana in the Northwest of India, see Etienne Lamotte, History of Indian Buddhism, Louvain 1988. And on the origin of Dzogchen in the same region, see Samten G. Karmay, “A Discussion of the Doctrinal Position of the rDzogs-chen from the 10th to the 11th Centuries, in Journal Asiatique 1-2, Paris 1975, pp. 147-155; as well as his The Great Perfection: A Philosophical and Meditative Teaching of Tibetan Buddhism, Brill, Leiden 1988.
    (41) On the Guyasamaja Tantra, see Alex Wayman, The Buddhist Tantras: Light on Indo-Tibetan Esotericism, Samual Weiser, New York 1973, and also his The Yoga of the Guhyasamajatantra, Motilal Banarsidass, New Delhi 1977.
    (42) On the origin of the Kalachakra Tantra and of Shambhala, see Edwin Bernbaum, The Way to Shambhala, Anchor/ Doubleday, New York 1980.
    (43) Lopon Tenzin Namdak and other Bonpo Lamas I have spoken to have identified ‘Ol-mo lung-ring with Shambhala. For a discussion of Shambhala in the Tibetan tradition in general, both Buddhist and Bonpo, see Bernbaum, The Way to Shambhala, op. cit.
    (44) This has already been suggested by Snellgrove in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, ibid.
    (45) See C. Beckwith, The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia, ibid.
    (46) Oral communication from Lopon Tenzin Namdak. The Lopon spent two years in that region hiding from the Chinese Communists. On this region and its archeaological remains, see John Vincent Bellezza, Divine Dyads: Ancent Civilization in Tibet, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala 1997. Also see his article, John Vincent Bellezza, “High Country Culture: A Civilization Flourished in the Himalayas before Buddhism Reached Tibet,” Discovering Archaeology v.1 n.3, May-June 1999, pp. 78-83.
    (47) Snellgrove and Richardson, A Cultural History of Tibet, ibid. Lopon Tenzin Namdak asserts that this monk Bodhisattva was not the famous Indian Buddhist scholar Shantirakshita who later became the first abbot of Samye monastery. But see the translation of the Bon ma nub-pa’i gtan-tshigs in Chapter Six of Part Two.
    (48) On the A-khrid system and rMe’u-ston dGongs-mdzod ri-khrod chen-po, see Per Kvaerne, “Bonpo Studies: The A-khrid System of Meditation,” Part One: “The Transmission of the A-khrid System,” in Kailash v. I, n. 1, pp. 19-50, Kathmandu 1973.
    (49) A-za bLo-gros rgyal-mtshan, 1198-1263.
    (50) Bru-chen rGyal-ba g.yung-drung, 1242-1209, composed the practice manual entitled the A-khrid thun mtshams bco-lnga-pa, “the Fifteen Sessions of Practice for A-khrid.” For the translation of most of this text, see Per Kvaerne and Thubten Rikey, The Stages of A-khrid Meditation: Dzogchen Practice of the Bon Tradition, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala 1996. And on the A-khrid system generally, see Per Kvaerne, “Bonpo Studies: The A-khrid System of Meditation,” Part One: “The Transmission of the A-khrid System,” in Kailash v. I, n. 1, pp. 19-50, Part Two: “The Essential Teachings of the A-khrid System, in Kailash v. I, n. 4, pp. 248-332, Kathmandu 1973. For a translation of the hagiography of this master, see Chapter Eight below.
    (51) Shar-rdza bKra-shis rgyal-mtshan, 1859-1934. Shardza Rinpoche was a realized practitioner of Dzogchen who, at the end of his life, manifested the Rainbow Body. On the dark retreat according to Shardza Rinpoche, see the monograph, John Myrdhin Reynolds, The Instructions of Shardza Rinpoche for the Practice of Vision and the Dark Retreat, Bonpo Translation Project (privately printed), New York 1992.
    (52) On the rDzogs-chen sems-sde, see Reynolds, The Golden Letters, ibid. and also Namkhai Norbu, The Crystal and the Way of Light: Sutra, Tantra, and Dzogchen, Arkana Penguin Books, London 1993.
    (53) sNya-chen Li-shu stag-rings was said to a contemporary of the Tibetan king Khri-srong lde’u-btsan and was actively involved in the concealing of Terma texts. See Karmay, Treasury, ibid. On Li-shu stag-rings, see also Chapter Four below. The text of the rDzogs-chen yang-rtse’i klong-chen was reprinted in India in 1973.