Bonpo Dzogchen Teachings

A new book by Lopön Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche is now available:

Bonpo Dzogchen Teachings

During 1991, the Bonpo Dzogchen master, Lopon Tenzin Namdak, visited the West twice, coming first to Europe and later to America, where he taught a number of meditation retreats and gave a series of public talks on Bon and Dzogchen. In March and April, Lopon Rinpoche taught a meditation retreat focusing on the practice of Dzogchen at Bischofshofen, south of Salzburg in the Austrian Alps, and several weeks later he gave a series of talks on Dzogchen at the Drigung Kagyu Centre in Vienna. After that he went to Italy where he taught two retreats in Rome, and also briefly visited Merigar in Tuscany, the retreat center of Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche. Coming to England next, the Lopon taught a ten-day Dzogchen retreat in Devon in the west of England, at a locale near Totnes, and after that he gave several talks in London. Proceeding later to Amsterdam, he taught a five-day retreat on Dzogchen in the city at the beginning of June. With the exception of the Italian visit, I was present on all of these occasions and served as a facilitator and sometime translator for the teachings.

Then in October, Lopon Rinpoche visited New York city at the invitation of H.H. the Dalai Lama and Tibet House, to participate in the Kalachakra Initiation and in other activities connected with the Year of Tibet. In particular, the Lopon was the first speaker in the afternoon series called "Nature of the Mind Teachings." During the Devon retreat, the Lopon had prepared a brief paper on the Bonpo teachings for presentation in this series in New York. I translated this into English as "The Condensed Meaning of an Explanation of the Teachings of Yungdrung Bon" and this has been published elsewhere. During his time in New York city, the Lopon gave three further talks, at which I was again the facilitator as I had been in Europe. Towards the end of the month, at the teinvitation of the Dzogchen Community of Conway, known as Tsegyalar, the Lopon gave a weekend seminar at Amherst College in western Massachusetts. In November, I met up with the Lopon in San Francisco where, again at the invitation of the Dzogchen Community, he gave a two-day seminar on Guru Yoga practice. After that he went to Coos Bay, Oregon, where for eight days he held a retreat on the Dzogchen teachings.

On these occasions also I served as facilitator and translator and made detailed notes on the teachings. These notes again served as the basis of the transcripts found herein of the Lopon's teachings in America. Although the Lopon spoke in English, on many occasions he asked me to translate technical terms and help clarify various other technical points. All of this I recorded in my notes. In order to further clarify matters, he requested that after each portion of the teaching I repeat from my notes what he had said. So the transcripts found here result from our collaboration together. Nevertheless, I alone must take responsibility for any errors that might be found. I have done some editing of the transcripts, adding any additional clarifications required as well as any sentences needed to link the various paragraphs or topics. But generally, I have left the language in the style of the Lopon's oral presentation and have not rendered the text into a literary presentation since the present collection of teachings is not envisioned as a commercial publication, but as an aid for practitioners of Dzogchen.

I have included only transcripts directly related to the Lopon's teachings on Dzogchen, and to where the views of Sutra and Tantra are contrasted with that of Dzogchen. The Lopon's teachings on Guru Yoga, the Rite of the Guardians, specific Tantric teachings such as the practice of Zhang-zhung Men, and so on, as well as the Dzogchen teachings from specific texts of the Zhang-zhung Nyan-gyud, are found elsewhere in the publications of the Bonpo Translation Project.

I began working on the translation of Bonpo Dzogchen texts first with Geshe Tenzin Wangyal in Italy some years ago, and continued doing this with Lopon Tenzin Namdak on his three visits to the West. As a consequence of this work, I organized the Bonpo Translation Project in order to make translations of Bonpo texts and prepare transcripts and monographs on the Bonpo tradition available for interested students and practitioners in the West.

Before the arrival of these two learned Bonpo Lamas in the West, my interest in the Bon tradition was stimulated by Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, head of the Dzogchen Community. Rinpoche, although not a Bonpo Lama himself, was for many years interested in the Bonpo tradition because he was researching the historical roots of the pre-Buddhist Tibetan culture known as Bon. He was also very interested in discovering the historical sources of Dzogchen teachings, for which there exist two authentic lineages from at least the eighth century CE, one found among the Nyingmapas and the other found among the Bonpos. More than any other Tibetan teacher, Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche has played a key role in transmitting Dzogchen teachings to the West, and for this he has the profound gratitude of all of us.

For their help and assistance in various ways during the retreats with Lopon Rinpoche and also later while compiling and editing these transcripts, I wish to thank Gerrit Huber, Waltraud Benzing, Dagmar Kratochwill, Dr. Andrea Loseries-Leick, Armin Akermann, Ken Rivad, Tim Walker, Lee Bray, Florens van Canstein, Michael Katz, Des Berry, Dennis Waterman, Bob Kragen, Michael Taylor, Anthony Curtis, and last, bu~ not least, Khenpo Nyima Wangyal and Geshe Tenzin Wangyal. It is also my hope here as translator and editor that this small collection of Lopon Tenzin Namdak's teachings on Dzogchen according to the Bonpo tradition, its view and its practice, will prove of use and benefit to Western students and practitioners of Dzogchen.

Preface to the New Edition

Even though these teachings on Dzogchen were given by Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche some years ago in 1991, and have circulated privately as transcripts, they remained in need of some further editing regarding repetitions and annotations. This has been provided here, as well as a new introduction to Bon in general, and some further material on the education given to young monks and nuns at Lopon Rinpoche's monastery in Kathmandu, Triten Norbutse (Khri-brten nor-bu'i rtse). This further material is found in the appendix. The monastery is primarily an educational institution for monks and nuns, aimed at preserving and perpetuating the ancient culture of Bon, rather than a residential monastery. After finishing their education here, the former students will go elsewhere and serve as teachers or enter lay life. Students are drawn from the Bonpo areas of Nepal, such as Dolpo and Mustang, as well as from Tibet itself, where a traditional Bonpo education is becoming progressively more difficult to obtain.

The educational program at Triten Norbutse includes the thirteen-year course in Geshe studies at the Dialectics School or Lama College (bshad-grwa), at present under the direction of the chief teacher of the Dialectics School (mtshan-nyid bshad-grwa dpon-slob), Lopon Tsangpa Tenzin. The focus is on the philosophical studies (mtshan-nyid) found in the Bonpo tradition, and on cultivating skills in correct thinking and the art of debate (rtsodpa). In addition, a number of traditional secular sciences (riggnas) are studied and mastered. Upon completion of the course and passing several examinations, the student is awarded a Geshe degree (dge-bshes), the equivalent of a Western doctorate. Independent of this program in Geshe studies, there is also a Meditation School (sgrwb-grwa) at the monastery which has a four-year program for the study and practice of the four major systems of Dzogchen found in the Bonpo tradition. Whereas in the Dialectics School, the emphasis is on academic study and learning the skills of debate, here the emphasis is on the actual meditation practices of Dzogchen in a semi-retreat situation. This school is at present under the direction of its Abbot (sgrub-grwa mkhan-po), Kenpo Tsultim Tenzin. During these courses of study and practice, the students are housed and fully supported by the monastery. Frequently young monks and nuns come as refugees from Tibet seeking a Bonpo education and possess no funds of their own at all.

With Lopon Rinpoche now in retirement at the age of 80, the monastery is under the able direction of its present Abbot, Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung. However, Lopon Rinpoche continues to teach on occasion at the monastery, in sessions open to both monks and lay people, and also to Westerners at his new meditation center in France, Shenten Dargye Ling, near Saumur in the Loire region, south-west of Paris. Moreover, Lopon Rinpoche's collected works (gsung `bum) in thirteen volumes were published last year by the monastery. A number of Geshes at the monastery, with the help of modern computer technology provided by Japanese friends, have been digitalizing the basic Bonpo texts which are studied at the monastery, including those of Dzogchen. The texts are then published in India and Nepal for the use of students.

Now that Bon is becoming increasingly recognized in the West as an important spiritual tradition in its own right, and as an original component of the Tibetan culture and civilization which continues and even thrives today both in Tibet and in exile, it was felt that these teachings of Lopon Rinpoche on Dzogchen should be republished for a wider reading audience. My thanks, as the editor of these teachings, go to Vajra Publishing of Kathmandu for undertaking this project, to Elisabeth Egonviebre for providing the photographs included here, and to Dr. Christine Daniels for her editorial and other help while completing this project. I would especially like to thank Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung for supplying additional information on the expanded educational program at Triten Norbutse. It is my prayer that these rare explanations of Lopon Tenzin Namdak Yongdzin Rinpoche, being exceptionally lucid and clear, will help to clarify the relationship between Dzogchen and Madhyamaka, Chittamatra, Tantra and Mahamudra, for interested Western students.

(John Myrdhin Reynolds)

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