Wonders of the Natural Mind: The Essence of Gzogchen in the Native Bon Tradition of Tibet


Although the Dzogchen teachings are principally familiar to Westerners through the teachings of the Nyingma school, they also survive in the ancient B?n Religion of Tibet. Wonders of the Natural Mind presents Dzogchen as taught in the Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyud, the fundamental B?n text. The book summarizes the main points of Dzogchen and its relation to the various systems of B?n teaching. In offering these teachings, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche provides the reader with a vivid and engaging portrait of B?n culture as he ...
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Although the Dzogchen teachings are principally familiar to Westerners through the teachings of the Nyingma school, they also survive in the ancient Bön Religion of Tibet. Wonders of the Natural Mind presents Dzogchen as taught in the Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyud, the fundamental Bön text. The book summarizes the main points of Dzogchen and its relation to the various systems of Bön teaching. In offering these teachings, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche provides the reader with a vivid and engaging portrait of Bön culture as he interweaves the teachings with his personal story and reflections on the practice of Dzogchen in the West.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This book will be of great help to readers wishing to find a clear explanation of the Bön tradition, especially with regard to its presentation of the teachings of Dzogchen."—H.H. the Dalai Lama

"It is Tenzin's own experiences, both cultural and personal, that are the gem of this book, adding authority to his textual commentary."—John W. Tigue, PhD, Castleton State College

"Should be helpful to beginners and advanced practitioners alike. . . . A succinct summary of the essential points of Dzogchen, giving a synoptic overview of the tradition and its structure."—Indian International Journal of Buddhist Studies

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781559391429
  • Publisher: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/28/2000
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 540,370
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.02 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, a lama in the Bön tradition of Tibet, presently resides in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the founder and director of Ligmincha Institute, an organization dedicated to the study and practice of the teachings of the Bön tradition. He was born in Amritsar, India, after his parents fled the Chinese invasion of Tibet and received training from both Buddhist and Bön teachers, attaining the degree of Geshe, the highest academic degree of traditional Tibetan culture. He has been in the United States since 1991 and has taught widely in Europe and America.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

My Life and Experiences of
the Teaching

* * *

My Parents and Early Childhood

When the Chinese overran Tibet in 1959, both my parents, whocame from different parts of Tibet, fled through Nepal to India,where they met and married. My father was a Nyingmapa "DungluLama" (of a lineage that is transmitted through family) and hisname was Shampa Tentar. My mother's name was Yeshe Lhamo;she was a Bonpo and came from an important family in the Bonarea of Hor. I am their only son and was born in Amritsar in northwestIndia. I spent my early years in the Tibetan Treling Kasangkindergarten in Simla in north India. When it closed, all the childrenwere sent to different schools, and I went to a Christian school,which I attended until I was ten years old.

    After my father died, my mother remarried and my stepfatherwas a Bon Lama. He and my mother decided I should not stay onin the Christian school. First I received some education from theKagyupas, from whom I received the name Jigme Dorje; then myparents sent me to Dolanji in north India, where there is a TibetanBon village. Coming to live in a Tibetan community was a completelynew experience for me.

Life at Dolanji

After one week I became a novice monk in the monastery. Becausemy stepfather was an influential Lama, I had two personal tutors.One, Lungkhar Gelong, taught me reading and writing and basiceducation, while the other taught me "worldly knowledge." Healso took care of my clothes, cooked my food, and so forth. He wasone ofthe respected elder monks and his name was Gen Singtruk.

    I spent a couple of years with them living in the same house,and at that time I started to read the ritual texts, to write differentTibetan scripts, and to learn the prayers and invocations of themonastic practices. In those days my teacher Lungkhar Gelongused to study logic and philosophy together with a small group ofpeople under Geshe Yungdrung Langyel. He was a "Geshe Lharampa"(the highest level of Geshe) in both the Bon and Gelugpaorders. Later Geshe Yungdrung Langyel was my main master inphilosophy when I studied for my geshe degree.

    The years with these two teachers were some of the hardest periodsin my education, because I never had time to play with friendsof my own age. All my time was spent in intensive study, and Iwas even happy when I could cook and clean the house because itwas a break from studying. I saw that other young boys studied ina group, and my situation seemed much harder.

Receiving the Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyud Teachings

One of the elder monks at Dolanji asked the master Lopon SangyeTenzin Rinpoche to give the Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyud teachings ofBon Dzogchen, and, when he agreed, my stepfather went to askhim if I could also receive these teachings. He gave his consent,saying that at the same time I should also start doing the ngondro(preliminary practices), powa, and zhiné meditation.

    In order to be admitted to the teachings, before starting we wereasked to recount our dreams to the master. These dreams servedas signs, and as some practitioners did not dream, which was abad sign, the master waited until everybody had dreams. Accordingto the various dreams, he advised practices for purification, toremove obstacles, and to have contact with the Guardians in orderto get their permission to receive the teachings. In my dream I wasa bus ticket inspector, checking tickets that were like white A'sprinted at the center of pieces of cloth or paper of five colors likefive-colored tiglés. The master said this was an auspicious sign. Agroup of us, including Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, startedto receive the Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyud teachings. The group consistedof about fifteen monks and one layman, and all were overforty years old. I was the only young boy with all these adults.

    After finishing the nine cycles of ngondro, I practiced powa withtwo other persons. We practiced individually, and I used to do thepowa practice by myself in the storeroom of Lopon TenzinNamdak's house. (The powa involves the transference of the consciousnessprinciple in the form of a tiglé through a hole at the topof the head.) I also did my dark retreat in the same room. Since Iwas not practicing intensively, it took me about a week to get theresult, which consisted of the fontanelle's softening and eventuallyforming an actual opening. On a couple of mornings, I wentto Lopon Sangye Tenzin before the other students arrived and helooked at the top of my head but saw that the fontanelle had notyet softened. My friends teased me, saying my head was like stone,and Lopon Sangye Tenzin suggested I do some group powa practice,with me at the center and the older monks around me. Nextmorning when Lopon looked, he was at last able to insert a bladeof kusha grass, which must stand upright in the hole in the fontanelleto demonstrate that the practice has been successful. Theblade of grass was about twelve inches long and remained uprightfor three days. Sometimes I forgot I had it in my head andfelt a painful sensation when I pulled my robe over my head, yankingthe blade of grass. Also, if I walked in the street when it waswindy, I felt as if an electric current were being channelled into thecenter of my body through the grass.

    After powa I did zhiné meditation on A with Lopon Sangye Tenzinfor quite a long time, and through this meditation I received thedirect introduction to Dzogchen.

    The Dzogchen teachings lasted three years. The only interruptionswere for ganapujas and personal retreats. In fact, these werevery sacred kanye teachings (teachings about which the Guardiansare very sensitive). Often, even though a master may have theGuardians' permission to give a teaching, if there are any samaya(commitment) breakages or if respect for the teachings is lacking,the master will receive indications about this in dreams from theGuardians manifesting their displeasure. When this happened,Lopon Sangye Tenzin would interrupt the teaching for one or twodays so we could do the Zhang Zhung Meri ganapuja to purify ourintentions.

    Lopon Sangye Tenzin used to teach at his big retreat house inDolanji village. Nearby I could see a group of about five monksstudying logic and debating during the intermissions in the monasticrituals. I watched them excitedly. Not being able to participatewith them, I was fascinated by all their gestures andmovements. When I told them what I was learning about Dzogchen,they couldn't understand me, and when they told me whatthey were debating, I couldn't understand them. These were thepeople who became geshes at the same time as I did, just like theteacher who taught me reading and writing.

    Lopon Sangye Tenzin was not only very knowledgeable aboutDzogchen, he had studied for many years in Drepung Monasteryof the Gelugpa order and had also studied under masters of theother Tibetan Buddhist schools. He was very strict and taught in away that was very direct and clear, making things understandablewithout needing to use a lot of words. Often, just being in the groupmade it easy to understand the teachings.

    After we finished this cycle of teachings, we discussed what weshould do next. By then Lopon Sangye Tenzin was not in goodphysical health, so we students decided to ask to receive the ZhangZhung Nyan Gyud again. As the traditional instructions require,Lopon started again with the biographies of the lineage masters(which instruct by explaining the meaning and results of practice inmasters' lives); then, as he couldn't continue, he said we should stopat that point, adding that it was a good sign that we had started andthat now we should continue to receive the teachings from LoponTenzin Namdak. He told Lopon Tenzin Namdak that he should takeover this great responsibility and told him very precisely that heshould consider each aspect of the teaching, such as drawing themandalas, etc., as equally important. Lopon Sangye Tenzin died afew months later, in 1977.

Life with Lopon Tenzin Namdak

I remember seeing Lopon Tenzin Namdak when he first arrivedfrom Delhi. I went to greet him with a number of people, and Iimmediately felt a close connection with him. After some time hecalled me and told me that since one of his close disciples, SherabTsultrim, was ill and needed help, I should come and stay in hishouse to help him. Then one morning Lopon Tenzin Namdak calledme and told me about a dream he had had. In the form of a blackman, the deity Midu Gyampa Trangpo had come into his room,opened a partition curtain and, pointing at me, had told him, "Youshould take care of this young boy; he will be of future benefit."Lopon said this was an important dream and added that, as thisdeity was connected with Walse Ngampa, one of the five mainBon tantric deities, and as I was connected with these two deities,I should do the practices of these deities more assiduously.

    When I lived in his house, Lopon Tenzin Namdak looked afterme like a son; we slept in the same room, he cooked for me, andeven sewed my clothes. At first I was the only person living there,then an old monk called Abo Tashi Tsering came to live with usand cook for us; eventually three other young boys came to livewith us, and Lopon often jokingly referred to us as his "four sonswithout a mother." One of these boys was a fellow student at theDialectic School, and we became close friends. He is Geshe NyimaWangyal, who accompanied Lopon to the West in 1991.

    When I first went to live with Tenzin Namdak he was already alopon. He went to Lopon Sangye Tenzin's teachings because hewanted to refresh and improve his understanding of Dzogchen.We used to go together to receive the teachings and initiations.While I received the formal Dzogchen teachings of the Zhang ZhungNyan Gyud from my first (in time) master, Lopon Sangye Tenzin,most of my personal growth came about in the period I spent withmy second master, Lopon Tenzin Namdak.

    From my early adolescence until I was a young man, my wholelife took place in the presence of the Lopon. He was my father,mother, friend, teacher, and caretaker. It was an extraordinary andbeautiful way to grow up, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.Apart from formal class sessions, every moment of being with himwas Teaching.

    It was while I was living with Lopon Tenzin Namdak that I metNamkhai Norbu Rinpoche, when he came to receive the initiationof Zhang Zhung Meri from the Lopon while travelling in Indiawith a group of Italians who had come to make a film about Tibetanmedicine. The initiation of this deity is necessary in order tostudy and practice the Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyud teachings. I wasattracted by Norbu Rinpoche's general openness, his efforts topresent the practice of Dzogchen in the West, and particularly hisfreedom from cultural bias against the Bon religion.

The Dialectics School

Lopon Sangye Tenzin had asked that after his death the money heleft be spent to found a dialectics school leading to a geshe degree(equivalent to a Ph.D. in philosophy and metaphysical studies froma Western University). As soon as the school was founded, LoponTenzin Namdak was the first master to teach there, together withLharampa Geshe Yungdrung Langyel, who taught philosophy andlogic. I was among the first students, twelve in number, and wefollowed a very precise program of study of dialectics, philosophy,logic, poetry (I won top marks in a poetry competition), grammar,Tibetan astrology, and medicine. There was also a course indebating, which fascinated me very much, so much so that I becamevery skilled in debate.

    In this school I was elected president among the six studentrepresentatives (there were also a vice-president, a secretary, vice-secretary,treasurer, and a gekhod, who was responsible for discipline).We met every ten days and held general meetings with theother students once a month. We became responsible for the administrationof the school, planning courses and timetables; themonastery was responsible for providing two meals and tea everyday, while the masters were responsible for the teaching. As president,I brought in some innovations, such as a course in creativewriting and debates between classes.

    The schedule at the dialectics school was very intense. We neverhad a fixed day off; we always had to attend six days in a row ofclasses and six evenings of debates; on the sixth night there wasdebating until three o'clock in the morning. This was followed bya holiday; but if a day of special practice interrupted the six days,then we lost the day of holiday. Every day we attended classes foreleven hours, with very short breaks. In the morning, Lopon TenzinNamdak would teach from eight until twelve, and after lunch hewould dedicate half an hour to giving transmissions from the ZhangZhung Nyan Gyud, so that in nine years he was able to complete thetransmission of the entire teachings. In the afternoon, he taught untilaround four or five, when he would retire to his room to meditatein the dark while we continued with our evening debating session.As soon as I finished, I would run home and switch on the light inhis room, and he would immediately cover his eyes with his arms.Then he would teach me and Abo Tashi Tsering, or we three wouldpractice together, or sometimes simply sit and talk.

    Sometimes after school I would go to visit my mother, who livednearby in Dolanji. To get there, I had to walk along a road that wassupposedly haunted by demons. Lopon Tenzin Namdak wouldstand outside his house and talk to me continuously as I walkeddown the road, so I would not be afraid. When I could no longerhear his voice, I would run the rest of the way down to my mother'shouse in the village. As I did not sleep at her house, when I left,my mother would talk to me as I walked up the hill. As soon as Icould no longer hear her voice, I would run the rest of the wayback to Lopon's house.

    In the morning Lopon would wake me up early (although sometimesI woke up before him) to repeat the texts I had memorizedthe previous evening and to write poems.

    After a few years, the number of students at the dialectics schoolincreased to over sixty and two teachers were no longer sufficient,so I started to teach. One of my first students was the current temporaryLopon at Dolanji, Yangal Tsewang, who is descended froma famous family of jalupas.

My Dark Retreat

Before he died Lopon Sangye Tenzin did something quite special.One day he called me and told me he had done some practice andwritten the names of some deities on pieces of paper and thrownthem onto his altar He asked me to pick up one of the pieces ofpaper; the name on the paper was the deity I was to practice. Thedeity I chose was Sherab Gyammo, a kind of Tara who is especiallyeffective for developing the intellectual faculties. He also toldme to do a dark retreat. I was very happy. Two years later, I askedfor permission from Lopon Tenzin Namdak and my mother to doa dark retreat. They agreed, although my mother said she wasworried because it was very unusual for such a young person todo a dark retreat. Some people in the monastery, who were probablyenvious, even said that I would probably go mad. Anyway, Iarranged to do it in Lopon Tenzin Namdak's storeroom, whichhad been converted into a toilet for visiting guests. It was verysmall, around two by four meters, with cement walls, so the aircirculation was very bad. My mother brought me food three timesevery day. During the dark retreat, I never spoke to her. Loponand my mother became worried because I was not eating much atlunch or dinner during the retreat, perhaps because of the bad air,and thought that perhaps I should come out of the retreat early,but I completed the full forty-nine days.

    Every day Lopon would come and sit outside the retreat hutand talk with me for half an hour. It was very important for me tobe close to the master during this time. I could not remember allthe teachings in advance, and as I had to change practices andvisualizations every week, he would instruct me on these as appropriate.My mind was very void, empty, and without conceptsduring the times of practice; my experience was that it was goodnot to receive external information such as news. News creates adisturbance, giving rise to whole successions of thoughts that distractthe mind from the practice. It was better to concentrate entirelyon remaining present and developing clarity of mind. It wasalso very pleasant to think about the constructive way in which Iwas passing my time.

    My dark retreat was very successful and brought about a greatchange in my personality. During the first few days it was noteasy for me as a young boy with a lot of dynamic energy to stayconfined and still in such a small, dark room. The first day I sleptquite a lot; but already the second day was much better, and everyday there was an improvement in my experience of the practiceand my capacity to remain in the dark. It was a great experience interms of being in contact with myself. Losing touch with influentialexternal stimuli, such as eye sense-consciousness objects, becamea way of totally entering into myself. I had heard stories and jokesabout the problems people encountered while doing dark retreat,in which practitioners had visions they were sure were real, but Iunderstood the way these could arise. In everyday life externalappearances deflect us from our thoughts, but in the dark retreatthere are no diversions of this kind, so that it becomes much easierto be disturbed, even to the point of madness, by our ownmind-created visions. In the dark retreat, there is a situation of"sensory deprivation," so that when thoughts or visions arise inthe absence of external reality-testing devices, we take them to betrue and follow them, basing entire chains of thoughts on them. Inthis case it is very easy to become "submerged" in our ownmind-created fantasies, entirely convinced of their "reality."

    After the first week, my subjective sensation of time changed,so that seven days felt like two. In this way the last six weeks ofthe forty-nine day retreat felt like twelve days. Starting from thesecond week, I started to have many visions of rays of light, flashesof tiglés, rainbows, and different symbols. After the second week,the first forms resembling concrete reality started to appear.

    The first of these visions came during the second morning sessionof the second week. While I was in the state of contemplation,I saw the huge, bodiless head of Abo Tashi Tsering before me inspace. The head was enormous. The first few seconds I was afraid,and then I resumed my practice. The head remained in front of mefor over half an hour; the vision was as clear as that of normaleveryday external reality, and at times even clearer.

    Gradually I had more experiences. For example, I saw a manwith his hair in a topknot like a mahasiddha. The feeling was verystrong and positive and empowering. Perhaps the most impressivevision was one that was accompanied by a lot of movement.Not all visions have movement; some are like watching a film; insome, you can find yourself inside the vision; in some, the visionis above you in space, or at the same level, or below. In this caseI found myself in a big valley with hills covered with red flowerson both sides. The wind was blowing through beautiful trees,and there was a long, winding path along which five people werewalking towards me. At the start they were so far away I couldnot distinguish their features, but after half an hour they had comeso close I recognized them as Indians. Two were wearing Sikh turbans.They came up to me and then turned around and walkedback, without saying anything.

    Another time, I saw a long-lasting vision of a nude woman withlong hair sitting straight ahead of me but turned away so that Icouldn't see her face. When I saw these visions, they were not somethingappearing externally; they were the manifestations of myown mind in the form of light. Even when I closed my eyes I sawthe visions in the same way but somehow sensed they were indifferent directions and locations.

    Sometimes the visions changed from one form to another; forexample, one vision of a plate of food with potatoes, tomatoes,and beans appeared and then transformed into a beautiful riverwith fish and stones. I could see fish swimming around in the limpidwater very clearly. These were not the only visions I had butwere simply the most remarkable ones.

    Almost at the end of my retreat, my clarity increased greatly, sothat I seemed to see what was going on outside the retreat hut.Once, with my mind's eye, I was aware of my mother bringing mefood, "seeing" every step she took coming towards the house untilshe reached the door and knocked to tell me she had arrived. Atthe same time, I heard a knock on the door as my "real" mothertold me she had come with my meal, so that the movements of mymother in my vision and the movements of my real mother hadbeen synchronous.

    There was no sound accompanying any of these visions, nordid I have any idea of trying to talk with the visions. Only afterfinishing the retreat did my intellectual mind start to think it wouldhave been good to talk to them.

    Through the retreat I purified many things in myself and developedmy practice and clarity. One of my dreams after the retreat,which Lopon said was a sign of having achieved purification, wasthat I cut a vein in my left ankle with a knife and insects and bloodcame out. After my retreat, I became so calm and quiet that mymother said that all my sisters should do a dark retreat!

My Experiences in the West

Since my youth I have always felt a strong attraction for Westernscientific methodology and the academic approach to religiousstudies, and after completing my studies in India, when I obtainedmy geshe degree, I wanted to continue my studies in the West. InDolanji I met a number of Western scholars who were studyingBon, such as Professor Snellgrove, Professor Kvaerne, and ProfessorBlondeau. Per Kvaerne invited me to Norway to do a Ph.D. onthe Bon Tantric deities at Oslo University, and Anton Geels, Professorof Psychology of Religion, invited me to Lund University inSweden to work on research with his wife, who was translatingthe Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyud. At the same time Namkhai NorbuRinpoche invited me to Merigar, the center of the Dzogchen Communityin Italy. I waited two months to get an Italian visa andthen finally with great difficulty managed to go to Italy. This wasin January 1988. It was my second visit to Europe; I had alreadyvisited France, Belgium, and Germany in 1983 with the first tourof Bonpo Sacred Masked Dancers as group leader and performer.

    When I arrived in Italy, I already had a number of Italian friendsamong the people who had visited Dolanji over the years. I stayedwith Andrea dell'Angelo and Giacomella Orofino in Rome, and,since my residence permit was very short, after one week I wentto extend it. At the same time I went with Enrico dell'Angelo tothe IsMEO Institute in Rome where I was immediately offered ajob, and since then I have worked there in the Library. Then I wentup to Merigar: this was the first spiritual community I visited inthe West.


Excerpted from Wonders of the Natural Mind by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. Copyright © 2000 by Tenzin Wangyal. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Letter from H. H. Lungtog Tenpai Nyima
My Life and Experiences of the Teachings 1
Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche and the History of Bon 27
The Bon Doctrine 33
Bonpo Dzogchen 39
How and Why to Practice 53
Zhine: Calm Abiding in Tranquility 69
Nyamshag: Contemplation 81
Integration 91
Kunzhi: The Base of Everything 109
Ma: The Mother 115
Bu: The Son 123
Tsal: Energy 131
'Od lNga: The Five Pure Lights 141
Trikaya: The Three Dimensions 155
Trekchod and Thogal 165
Sutra and Dzogchen 177
Bardo: Death and Other Intermediate States 183
Appendices 201
Appendix I The First Cycle: The Nine Ways 203
Appendix II The Second Cycle: The Four Portals and the Fifth, the Treasury 208
Appendix III Concerning the Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyud 209
Glossary of Names 213
Glossary of Terms 215
Sources of Quotations 219
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