The Ancients
The Search for the Zhangzhung Empire

Oral Tradition from Zhang Zhung
An Introduction to the Bonpo Dzogchen Teachings
of the Oral Tradition from Zhang Zhung

Extract : Preface

I began the study of the Zhang-zhung Nyan-gyud Cycle of Bonpo Dzogchen teachings in 1987 under the inspiration of Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche. Although not a Bonpo Lama himself, being a Drugpa Kagyudpa Tulku and educated in the Sakyapa traditions of Derge Gomchen in Eastern Tibet, nevertheless, he was greatly interested in the ancient pre-Buddhist religious culture of Tibet known as Bon. Earlier, while in New Delhi, India, in 1971, I had purchased a copy of this collection of Tibetan texts from Dr. Lokesh Chandra at his International Academy of Indian Culture. The original block-prints had been brought out of his homeland by Lopon Tenzin Namdak, at present the most knowledgeable Bonpo Lama living outside of Tibet. He had obtained them from his own monastery of Tashi Menri in Tsang Province, the foremost Bonpo monastery and academic center in Central Tibet. In collaboration with Dr. Chandra, the collection was published as History and Doctrine of Bon-po Nispanna-Yoga.

Although I had this copy in my possession for some years, it was not until 1987, at the urging of Martin Bugter of Deventer, the Netherlands, who also provided some sorely needed financial sponsorship at the time, that I began to undertake the translations of these texts. The following year, a young Bonpo Geshe and scholar, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, came to visit and teach at Merigar in Italy. With his help I translated a number of key texts in the collection. In 1989, I finally met Lopon Tenzin Namdak in person when he came to visit the Tsegyalgar community at Conway, Massachusetts. We began working on the translations of other texts in the cycle, together with those from the Phyag-khrid or Practice Manual, including the preliminary and principal practices. The result of this collaboration with the Lopon in San Francisco and Los Angeles that same year, and later in Bischofshofen, Austria, and South Devon, UK, was a series of edited transcripts of the Lopon’s teachings privately published as the Bonpo Translation Project (1992). In 1994, I was able to return to Nepal and visit the Lopon at his new monastery of Tridan Norbutse near Swayambhu Hill. Although our work together now mainly focused on the Bonpo Mother Tantra cycle, the Ma rgyud thugs-ne nyi-ma, I also managed to translate the remainder of the texts in the collection, some of which are included here.

Historically speaking, Dzogchen appears to have originated somewhere in Central Asia outside of both India and Tibet as Upadesha (man-ngag), or secret oral instructions, communicated privately from a realized master to a disciple. At least, that is the Tibetan tradition. In the Buddhist tradition, this mysterious region was designated as Uddiyana (Orgyan), which appears to be identifiable as Eastern Afghanistan before the Muslim era. In my previous book, The Golden Letters, I have dealt with the question of the origins of Dzogchen as presented in the Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism. In this present work, I shall consider the Bonpo account of the origin of these same teachings. According to the Bonpos, their own Dzogchen tradition, known as the Zhang-zhung snyan-rgyud, “The Oral Transmission from Zhang-zhung,” comes from two masters, Tapihritsa and Gyerpung Nangzher Lodpo, who lived in the then independent kingdom of Zhang-zhung in Western and Northern Tibet in the seventh and eighth centuries of our era. These Dzogchen precepts, exceedingly brief in form, were originally oral, but Tapihritsa gave permission for his disciple to write them down in Zhang-zhung smar-yig, the writing and language of Zhang-zhung. Later, in the following century, these same precepts were said to have been translated from the Zhang-zhung language into Tibetan by Ponchen Tsanpo for his Tibetan disciples. Like the famous Tibetan Yogin Milarepa, these early masters of the Zhang-zhung tradition were not educated monks residing in monasteries, but solitary hermits and ascetics living in remote mountain caves in the wilds of Northern Tibet. Thus, this tradition, like the early Nyingmapas before the eleventh century, gives us much insight into the evolution of Dzogchen as a mystical and spiritual transmission existing outside the more familiar monastic context.

In both traditions, the Nyingmapa and the Bonpo, Dzogchen (rdzogs-pa chen-po), “the Great Perfection,” focuses on the Nature of Mind. This Nature of Mind (sems-nyid) must be distinguished from the mind (sems) that represents the ordinary thought process. This Nature of Mind is identified with the Bodhichitta or Natural State (gnas-lugs), a state of total primordial purity (ka-dag chen-po) discovered by way of contemplation (khregs-chod), and this contemplation is then developed through the practice of vision (thodrgal), also known as the practice of the Clear Light (‘od-gsal).

The core of the material in this book was originally presented as a paper entitled “The Concepts of Kun-gzhi, Rig-pa, and rTsal in the Bonpo Dzogchen Teachings of the Zhang-zhung snyan-rgyud,” at the Sixth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, in Fagemess, Norway, in August of 1992. That paper focused on the concept in Dzogchen of “Space,” which is both the state of Shunyata (stong-pa nyid) and the basis of everything (kun-gzhi), on the concept of “Awareness” (rig-pa), which is clear luminosity (gsal-ba), and on the concept of “Energy” (rtsal), which is creative and unceasing (ma ‘gag-pa), and how their inseparability (dbyer-med) characterizes the Natural State of the Nature of Mind (sems-nyid gnas-lugs) or the Primordial Base (ye gzhi) of the individual. That state is both primordially pure (ka-dag) in terms of its own nature and spontaneously perfected (lhun-grub) in terms of the manifestations that emerge or unfold out of it. Also, in that paper comparisons were made of the Dzogchen approach with the understanding of these concepts in the Madhyamaka and Chittamatra philosophies as they are explicated in the Bonpo sources. The textual material translated in this book has been is drawn from the Zhang-zhung snyan-ngyud collection in the New Delhi edition, originally compiled and printed at Menri Monastery in Tibet, and from a commentary on the practice of Dzogchen in the same Thang-zhung tradition, namely, the sNyanrgyud ngyal-ba phyag-khnid, by the thirteenth century Bonpo Dzogchen master, Druchen Gyalwa Yungdrung.

Here I have arranged the material from the Zhang-zhung tradition into a series of translations. This present volume provides a general introduction to the different Dzogchen traditions found within Bon and their relationship to Tibetan Buddhism. This includes a survey of the lineages for the Zhang-zhung tradition and the hagiographies of the various masters of this tradition in the early period. A future volume will focus on the philosophical aspects of the view of Dzogchen from the Bonpo perspective, while another future volume will focus on some of the associated practices, especially the practice of contemplation. A further prospective volume would contain certain additional translations from the tradition known as the Experiential Transmission (nyams rgyud). Each of these volumes may be read independently of the others. The first book in the series presented here, entitled The Oral Tradition from Zhang-zhung: An Introduction to the Bonpo Dzogchen Teaching, is divided into two parts as follows:

Within Part One, “The History and Lineages,” the Introduction compares the Bonpo and Nyingmapa Buddhist traditions of Dzogchen and suggests their common origin in the country of Uddiyana in Central Asia, which can probably be identified with Eastern Afghanistan. The traditional Bonpo account of the Zhang-zhung lineages, namely, the Mind Transmission of the Buddhas (rgyal-ba’i dgongs brgyud) and the Oral Transmission of the Siddhas (grub-thob snyan-brgyud), is briefly examined, as well as the careers of the first two unquestionably historical figures in the the lineage of transmission, Tapihritsa and Gyerpungpa, who both appear to have flourished in the lake region to the west of Mt. Kailas in the country of Zhang-zhung in Northern Tibet in the early and middle eighth century of our era. In this context, here we present the translations of two texts relating to the history of the lineages and the origin of the Dzogchen teachings:

I. The Small Text concerning the Nine-fold Transmission of the Mind (dGongs rgyud dgu’i yig-chung) and
2. The Hagiographies of the Masters of the Lineages (brGyudpa’i bla-ma’i rnam-thar).
Thereafter are presented translations of two further texts recounting the face-to-face encounters of the Dzogchen master Tapihritsa with his chief disciple Gyerpung Nangzher Lodpo:
3. The Prophetic Sayings of the Lord Tapihnitsa (ne ta-pi-hritsa’i lung-bstan) and
4. The Intermediate Advent and Encounter (mJal thebs bar-ma). The final translation in this section recounts the legendary conflict between the Mahasiddha Gyerpeungpa and the great Buddhist king of Tibet Trisong Detsan, which occurred after the assassination of the last native king of Zhang-zhung in the mid eighth century, namely,
5. The Reasons why the Bon did not Decline (Bon ma nub-pa’ i gtan-tshigs).

This is followed by a survey of the lineages of transmission after the time of Gyerpungpa in both Zhang-zhung and Tibet until the end of the thirteenth century.

In Part Two, “The Literature of the Zhang-zhung Nyan-gyud Cycle,” the contents of the Zhang-zhung Nyan-gyud cycle in general and particularly the collection or anthology used here are outlined, as well as that of the associated practice manual for this collection, known as the rGyal-ba phyag-khrid

These two sections are followed by the three Appendices. Appendix One discusses the Guru Yoga, the practice of which is essential for Dzogchen. This meditation is then placed in relationship to the principal practice of Dzogchen, namely, contemplation. Appendix Two provides an introduction to and a translation of the basic Ngondro or preliminary practices text found in the practice manual. Before one can be properly introduced, in terms of Dzogchen, to the Natural State of the Nature of Mind by a qualified master, the individual mind-stream must be purified by way of these nine preliminary practices. Appendix Three presents the two guardian deities of this tradition, Nyipangse and Menmo, and provides a translation of the ritual texts used for their propitiation. The former figure has been incorporated into the Buddhist tradition as the guardian deity Tsangpa Karpo. Appendix Four provides the biography of Lopon Tenzin Namdak, the greatest living Bonpo Dzogchen master outside of Tibet and the foremost Bonpo scholar alive today, to whom this volume is dedicated.

Source:  - by John M Reynolds

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