The Scriptures

Monday, 13 September 2010 14:45

The scriptures are traditionally divided into two sections: The Kanjur contains the words of the Buddha Tonpa Shenrab, the founder of the Bön-religion. The Katen contains the ”Commentaries” of the succeeding masters.

The Kanjur
: This collection is divided into four sections, and in the catalog by the great scholar Abbot Nyima Tenzin, these sections are presented as follows:

- The Class of Sutra: This section comprises Sutras as well as texts dealing with the monastic discipline. The three versions of biographies of Buddha-Tönpa Shenrab are also found in this section. According to this catalog it consists of 62 volumes.
- The Class of Bum: “The Hundred Thousand” This section contains the Prajana Paramita texts, and it consists of 102 volumes.
- The Class of Tantras: This section contains the basic tantric texts of Bön. There are eighteen volumes in this section.
- The Class of Treasury: The works in this section expound the system of Dzogchen, the “Great Perfection”, which contains the highest philosophical doctrines and meditation practices of Bön. The most important text in this section is the Zhangzhung Nyengyu, the “Oral Transmission of Zhangzhung”. There are four volumes in this section.

The Katen contains the “Commentaries of all kinds that rely on the Buddha’s Words” of the succeeding masters, volumes of texts on meditation, philosophy, rituals and their narratives, and works connected with arts, logic, medicine, astrology and so on. According to the present version of the Katen that was published in 1998 in Lhasa, there are over 300 volumes.

Today several Asian, American and European universities and other institutions have these text collections, and several international academic networks have cooperated to preserve the scriptures of the Tibetan Bön religion by catalogization, digitalization, and translation.


The purpose of the scriptures

H.E. Yongdzin Lopön Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche
, principal teacher and highest spiritual authority of the Bön religion, describes the purpose of the Bön scriptures in The Condensed Meaning of an Explanation of the Teachings of Yungdrung Bön:

As for the essence of the teachings, having relied upon proper conduct and practice, there will arise qualities of a virtuous aspect and these will become the means for exhausting the obscurations which afflict the individual.

Like good medicine, the Bön scriptures offer a cure for all sufferings.

Ignorance and Enlightenment

All sufferings are caused by ignorance which, obscuring the natural state of mind, leads to negative emotions such as hatred, desire, jealousy and so forth.

The central motivation of followers of Bön, known as Bönpos, is the “Pure and Perfect Mind” (changchub Sem), the wish to eliminate the suffering of all living beings. Buddha Tonpa Shenrab taught that Enlightenment is possible for all because the very Buddha-Nature is present within all beings.

Just as darkness fades away when the light of the sun penetrates space, so the obscurations of the mind dissolve when clear “awareness” (rigpa), which dwells in the endless expanse of the natural state of mind, is realized.

The Wheel of Existence: the ways of samsara

The ways of Samsara all lead to obscurations and suffering. As a result of our actions every one of us continuously transmigrates through countless reincarnations experiencing the pain of birth, old age, illness, and death.

Tonpa Shenrab teaches that the apparent “beginning” of every new life is merely a configuration of the karmic traces (bagchag) from preceding lives, and thus it is nothing but the tangible result of the positive and negative imprints which earlier acts have made upon the mind.

An understanding of the “law of karma” (le-dre) – explaining that all acts are causes which will have effects - is therefore the real gateway to all the ways of Bön, which provide effective, positive remedies against suffering.

The Wheel of the Teaching: The Nine Ways of Bön

Tonpa Shenrab gave many teachings on different levels according to the capacity of beings. All these teachings are transmitted in nine successive “Ways of Bön” which are divided into two sections, the Bön of Causality and the Bön of Fruition. Together they encapsulate the full range of secular and spiritual knowledge, the living expression of Tibetan religion and culture.

The Bön of Causality
mainly addresses secular human welfare with teachings on healing, astrology, divination, and rites for the benefit of the deceased. These methods for attaining temporally happiness are divided into four branches: teachings on the field of medicine in the broadest sense; ways to maintain harmony between species; mechanisms which protect the community, and funerary rites. Traditionally they are known as:

- Chashen Thegpa, “The Way of Prediction”. This includes the teachings of divination, astrology, misfortune-adverting rituals, and medical practices. According to Bön, these are transformed into a spiritual path to enlightenment, if practiced on the basis of the compassion towards all beings and the aspiration to attain enlightenment for their sake. Medicine is viewed as being inseparable from the religious path and should also include practices such as veneration of the healing deities.
- Nangshen Thegpa, “The Way of the Visual World”. This expounds the origin and nature of gods and demons living in this world and their inter-species relations as well as various methods of exorcism and offerings of symbolic ransoms. It also includes rituals for element and environment purification and prosperity.
- Trulshen Thegpa, “The Way of Miraculous Transformation”. This teaches mechanisms of community defense, explains rites for disposing of adverse power, use of mantras, mudras (ritual hand gestures) and meditation on wrathful deities to subjugate, repel, or transform malicious forces and negative energies.
- Sishen Tegpa, “The Way of Existence”. Rites for the welfare of the deceased cover practices that are to be performed at death, including an explanation of how to identify which of the eighty-one kinds of deaths has occurred, so that one can perform the appropriate practices and funerary.

The Bon of Fruition
contains profound, essential practices leading to the ultimate liberation, the achievement of Buddhahood. The teachings in this sphere are subdivided into five branches or vehicles: religious observances for lay people; religious observances for monks; Lower Tantra; Higher Tantric wisdom teachings, and teachings on the Supreme Realization, Dzog-chen. These are traditionally known as:

- Genyen Thegpa, “The Way of Virtuous Lay Practitioners”. This teaches the code of the Ten Virtuous Actions of body, speech and mind, such as avoiding killing, stealing and sexual misconduct, and the practice of meritorious activities, such as generosity and loving kindness, helping sick and dying people, prayer and so on.
- Drangsong Thegpa, “The Way of Sages”. Drangsong, “ Sage”, is the Bön term for a fully ordained monk, and so this section deals with monastic discipline. This also includes teachings on emptiness, developing Jangchub Sem, the “Pure and Perfect Mind”, practicing the Ten Perfections, the Five Paths and Ten Spiritual Satges.
- Akar Thegpa, “The Way of the Primordial Letter White A”. This consists of the Mother Tantra, which teaches the techniques for attaining enlightenment. It emphasizes on the teaching of Kye-rim, the Stage of Generation, the practice of visualizing oneself as a tantric deity in the center of a mandala.
- Yeshen Thegpa, “The Primordial Vehicle”. This emphasizes on the teachings of Dzog-rim, the Stage of Completion, practices that are based upon tsa, lung and thig-le, a spiritual anatomy of internal channels, winds and drops. It also expounds the teachings on the master-disciple relationship, and on devotion as the method for attaining enlightenment.
- Lame Thegpa, “The Supreme Way”. This highest level of teachings is known as Dzogchen, The Great Perfection, which neither renounces nor transforms samsara, but lets the obscurations liberate themselves by correct insight into their original nature. This teaching emphasizes exploring and experiencing the natural state of the mind in order to liberate delusions, miseries and suffering. Here the disciple receives the direct introduction to the ultimate nature of the mind. On the basis of that experience there are advanced and esoteric practices known as Trek-choe and Thoe-gal. The Bon tradition is particularly important for research into the historical origins of Dzogchen because it represents a continuous transmission from the earliest time. There are three lineages of Dzogchen within the Bon tradition: the A-Tri, the Dzogchen and the Zhangzhung Nyengyu

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 14 September 2010 09:17 )

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