The following article is from the Winter, 2000 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.


His Holiness Lungtok Tenpai Nyima

His Holiness Lungtok Tenpai Nyima. Bon Tradition, Tibet

The Thirty-Third Menri Trizin, His Holiness Lungtok Tenpai Nyima (1929-2017)

by James Manganiello

His Holiness Menri Trizen Lungtok Tenpai Nyima is the leader of the indigenous Tibetan spiritual and cultural Tradition known as Yungdrung Bon. Rinpoche was a vital and passionate man who embodied the fruit of long and deep spiritual practice. He was the 33rd Abbot of Menri Monastery, celebrated for its excellence in educating and training monks, located, since 1968, in Dolanji, Himachal Pradesh, India.

His Holiness worked tirelessly to safeguard the Yungdrung Bon spiritual Tradition. This Tradition derives from the Buddha Tonpa Shenrab who, according to Bon scholars, dwelled in the land of Zhang Zhung 18,000 years ago. Bon culture and spirituality later moved from Zhang Zhung to Tibet. Sadly, the Bon people and their spiritual teachings were denigrated and, at times persecuted for political reasons within Buddhist Tibet.

There is now a growing appreciation for Yungdrung Bon culture and the profundity of the its spiritual tradition. The Bon Dzogchen teachings, for example, derive from the uninterrupted oral tradition known as the Zhang Zhung Nyan Gyu. Commenting on these highest of spiritual teachings, Ponlob Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, the renowned Dzogchen master, noted that, beyond these teachings, Nothing exists.

His Holiness the 33rd Menri Trizen was born in 1929. At 8, he became a monk at  Kyangtsang Monastery near his home in Amdo. At 16, he entered the Dialectical School, where, at 26, he earned his Geshe degree in Tibetan Medicine, Astronomy and Astrology.

His Holiness was a taskmaster who holds his students to the same work ethic and standards of compassion and excellence that characterize his own life. He was an accomplished scholar and physician who typically spent hours each day practicing and praying for the well being of others.

At 26, he completed an immense undertaking. He traveled to the Kingdom of Gyalrong in Eastern Tibet, where, using the King Trochen Gyalpos wooden blocks, he printed the entire Yungdrung Bon Kangyur containing over 100 sacred texts.


His studies at famous Yungdrung Bon monasteries, including Menri, Yungdrung Ling, Khana and Drepung in Lhasa, ended with the Chinese takeover in 1959. The Chinese destroyed most of the Yungdrung Bon sacred books. Sangye Tenzin fled on foot to Mustangand to India. He later left India, journeying to Samling Monastery in the Dolpo region of Nepal, to make copies of important texts to publish in India so that they could survive.

While at Dolpo, Lungtok Tenpai Nyima met David Snellgrove, a prominent Oriental Studies scholar from the University of London. Professor Snellgrove later assisted Lungtok Tenpai Nyima in pursuing Western studies there under a Rockefeller grant. In 1964, His Holiness returned to India to open a school for struggling Tibetan refugees, which he directed for three years. During this time, he also established a meditation center for Lamas and monks in Manali. Lungtok Tenpai Nyima donated his entire salary to buy food for the monks.

At the invitation of the Bon scholar Per Kvaerne, Lungtok Tenpai Nyima taught Tibetan History and Religion at the University of Oslo during 1967 and 1968. The former Abbot of Menri, who, like many Bonpos, suffered health threatening hardships during the relocation from Tibet to India, met with an early death at 32. His passing triggered a process to select a new Abbot. The Abbot of Yungdrung Ling, Ponlob Sangye Tenzin, Ponlob Tenzin Namdak and other high Lamas, prayed for fourteen days to the Protectors of Yungdrung Bon to select a new Abbot.

On March 15, 1969, while still in Norway, Lungtok Tenpai Nyima opened a telegram and discovered that the Protectors selected him as the 33rd Abbot of Menri. His selection came at a critical time in Yungdrung Bon history. During the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese destroyed nearly all of the Bon monasteries, schools and traditions in Tibet. His Holiness's strong and compassionate leadership saved the Bon spiritual and cultural tradition from extinction.

Despite hardships, His Holiness built a new monastery in Dolanji, a Yungdrung Bon Dialectical school that is certified by the Dalai Lama and a Central School for Tibetan students. Because of the plight of refugee children, he also created a Bon Children's Welfare Center for orphans and a Children's Home.

The Yungdrung Bon vision of Monastic life includes a special dedication to the well being of the people living in the village surrounding the Monastery. Because of the tireless work of His Holiness, Menri Monastery is now a vital center of Bon culture and spiritual life. There are more than four hundred Bonpos in residence in Dolanji.

There are more than a million Yungdrung Bonpos living in Tibet and many thousands in exile throughout the world. Because of the harsh difficulties of getting to and adapting to a new climate and terrain, many of the early Bon arrivals in India did not survive. So many Bonpo males died young.

Geshes trained by His Holiness and his spiritual brothers, Ponlobs Sangye Tenzin Rinpoche and Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche are now teaching in the West.

Many Westerners from the United States, Europe and Mexico are Yungdrung Bon spiritual practitioners. The Dzogchen master Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, for example, who founded and directs Ligmincha Institute, is one such teacher with many students worldwide. His books The Wonders of the Natural Mind and The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep, demonstrate the power and depth of Yungdrung Bon spirituality. Nyima Dakpa Rinpoche, another Geshe trained at Dolanji, teaches widely in the West and also in Asia, including Tibet.

In July of 1999, His Holiness Lungtok Tenpai Nyima and his assistant, a Tulku. Kyongtul Rinpoche, joined Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche at Ligmincha Institute's annual three week retreat. His Holiness gave a teaching on the biographies of 24 Yungdrung Bon lineage Masters, each of whom attained the Rainbow Body. His Holiness gave clear and compelling pointing out instructions for Dzogchen practice. The depth of his realization was palpable. For many who came, his teaching was a life changing introduction to what Dzogchen actually is.

Kyongtul Rinpoche also directs the Bon Children's Welfare Center for Tibetan refugee orphans. Many of the children, who desperately need shelter and food, often arrive at the Monastery unannounced. Because of financial pressures, the children must sometimes live under severe constraints. His Holiness along with Kyongtul Rinpoche have a dream of adequately meeting the housing, educational and medical needs of any orphaned child that arrives at their doorstep. They cannot do this without assistance.

If you are inspired to help sponsor orphaned children, please do so by contacting Global Giving: Educating Tibetan Bon Children and Youth for more information.

His Holiness Lungtok Tenpai Nyima:

"In 2016, Lungtok Tenpai Nyima began to have health problems and made trips to the United States to have medical treatments. Despite a brief improvement, on September 14, 2017, the Thirty-third Menri Trizin, Lungtok Tenpai Nyima died at Menri Monastery surrounded by his close disciples. He was eighty nine years old." - Samten Karmay