Who is Buddha Tonpa?
According to the Bön religion, about 18,000 years ago Lord Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche (Teacher and Great Man of the Shen Clan/Tribe) was born in the land of Olmo Lungring, a part of a larger country called Tagzig in Central Asia. “Öl” symbolizes the unborn, “mo” the undiminishing; “Lung” denotes the prophetic words of Tonpa Shenrab, the founder of Bon, and “ring”, his everlasting compassion. Olmo Lungring constitutes one-third of the existing world, and is situated to the west of Tibet. Olmo Lungring is also known as “Shambhala” in Sanskrit and it continues to be known by this name among Tibetan Buddhists even today. Moreover, it is said that in ancient times it encompassed fully one-third of the known world a statement which could apply to the historical Persian empire.*
Lord Tonpa Shenrab was born a prince, married while young and had children. At the age of thirty-one he renounced the world and lived in austerity, teaching the dharma. Once while pursuing a demon to recover his stolen horses the Lord arrived in present-day western Tibet. This was his only visit to Tibet. On this occasion he imparted some instructions on the performance of rituals, but on the whole he found the people unprepared to receive more teachings. Before leaving Tibet he prophesied that all his teachings would flourish in Tibet when the time was appropriate. Buddha Tonpa shed his human shell at the age of eighty-two. Admittedly 82 years in Olmo Lungring corresponds to some 8,200 years of human time.
There are three biographies of Lord Tonpa Shenrab. The earliest and shortest one is known as “Epitome of Aphorisms”; the second is in two volumes and is called “Piercing Eye”. These two accounts were rediscovered as terma in the 10th and 11th centuries respectively. The third and largest is the twelve volume work entitled “The Glorious”. This last book belongs to the category of Bon scriptures known as “oral transmission”, and was dictated to Loden Nyingpo who lived in the 14th century.
The doctrine taught by Buddha Tonpa and recorded in these three accounts was spread by his disciples to adjacent countries such as Zhang-Zhung, India, Kashmir, China, and finally reached Tibet. Its transmission was secured by siddhas and scholars who translated texts from the language of Zhang-Zhung into Tibetan. The works contained in the Bonpo canon as we know it today are written in Tibetan, but a number of them, especially the older ones, retain the titles and at times whole passages in the language of Zhang-Zhung. 1
“Eighteen hundred years after the passing of Tönpa Shenrab, Mucho Demdug came from heaven to Olmo Lung Ring as the speech emanation of Tönpa Shenrab. Mucho Demdug turned the wheel of Bön so that all the teachings of Tönpa Shenrab would be organized and classified. He taught many students, the best known of which are referred to as the Six Great Scholars or the “Six Ornaments of the World” [Zamling Khepi Gyendug]. They translated the Bön teachings into their own languages and spread them throughout their native lands. These six great masters are: Mutsa Tahe, Tritok Partsa and Huli Paryag from Tagzig; Lhadag Ngagdo from India; Legtang Mangpo from China; and Sertok Chejam from Trom.
“The Bön teachings were by now well established in Zhang Zhung, where the northwestern part of modern Tibet is today. As noted above, Zhang Zhung was an independent state with its own language, literature, and culture. It was divided into three sections referred to as the “Three Doors”: inner [phugpa], outer [gopa], and middle [barpa]. The inner door is Olmo Lung Ring, the middle door is Tagzig, and the outer door is Zhang Zhung itself. In the eighth century, the assassination of the Emperor Ligmincha by the Tibetan king Tirsong Dewutsen ended Zhang Zhung’s independence. Thereafter, Zhang Zhung’s land and culture were assimilated into Tibet, and eventually disappeared. However, many Zhang Zhung words from ancient Bön texts still exist in the modern languages of Kinnaur, Lahul, Spiti, Ladakh, Zanskar, and some Himalayan regions of Nepal.” 2
* In all of the early Bonpo texts Olmo Lungring is clearly located to the west and the north of Tibet in Tazig or Central Asia. Moreover, there are two Tazigs, one of a heavenly nature and one quite physical, located in Central Asia. The Kailas mountain and its adjacent region in West Tibet is only a pale reflection of the real Olmo Lungring, the original archetype, which exists at the center of the world. According to the “gZer-mig” and other texts, the region around Tise or Mount Kailas is only a copy in Zhang-zhung of the original in Olmoling. Furthermore, according to the “gZi-brjid”, Dimpling is the same as Shambhala. It is not necessary to pray and do any meditation practice in order to be reborn in Iran or the Central Asia of the USSR, these are quite ordinary earthly places; but it is necessary to pray and to undergo a purification of mind before one can be reborn in Olmo Lungring, or even enter it in this present life, because it is a pure dimension of existence (dag-pa`i zhing-khams). It cannot be seen easily with the ordinary fleshly eye like Iran or Central Asia or even Tibet can. But simply because we do not see it is no proof that it does not exist, for that is the view of the materialists….Symbolically Olmo Lungring is the geographical, psychic, and spiritual center of our world of Jambudvipa (`dzam-bu`i gling) and at its center rises the holy mountain of nine levels, known as Yungdrung Gutseg (g.yung-drung dgu-brtsegs), which links heaven and earth. It is a kind of axis mundi connecting three planes of existence- the heaven worlds, the earth, and the nether regions. Therefore, Olmo Lungring possesses a different ontological status than ordinary geographical regions and countries. In terms of our own age, it is a hidden land or “beyul” (sbas-yul), inaccessible to all but realized beings or Siddhas. This land is said to be inhabited by Vidyadharas (rig-`dzin) or holders of esoteric knowledge. It exists on earth, but it is not an ordinary country or nation which could be observed from an orbiting satellite or sighted from a high flying airplane, for it possesses a special reality all its own. It is in this world, but not quite of it. It is part of our physical geographical world because it is located in Tazig, yet it partly exists in another spiritual dimension, and although material, it is in a certain sense imperishable and indestructible. When, at the end of the kalpa, the world will be destroyed and consumed by fire, Olmo Lungring will spontaneously rise up and ascend into the sky and there it will merge with its celestial archetype in the heavens which is called Sidpa Yesang (srid-pa ye-sangs). Olmo Lungring is truly the imperishable sacred land.
1. Adapted from articles provided by Association Yungdrung Bön and various other scholary sources.
2. Excerpt from “Opening the Door to Bön” by Latri Nyima Dakpa Rinpoche
“May the teacher come to our world!
May the teaching be bright as the sun rays!
May teachers and students increasingly learn and accomplish!
May there thus be good fortune that the teachings long remain!”