His Holiness Lungtok Tenpai Nyima

The following article is from the Winter, 2000 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only.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.




by James Manganiello

His Holiness Men-ri Trizen Lungtok Tenpai Nyima is the leader of the indigenous Tibetan spiritual and cultural Tradition known as Yungdnmg Bon. Now in his early seventies, Rinpoche is a vital and passionate man who embodies the fruit of long and deep spiritual practice. He is the 33rd Abbot of Men-ri Monastery, celebrated for its excellence in educating and training monks, located, since 1968, in Dolanji, Himachal Pradesh, India.

His Holiness works 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 persecutedfor political reasonswithin 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 Men-ri Trizen was bom Sangye Tenzin in 1929. At 8, he became a monk at Kyong Tsang 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 is a taskmaster who holds his students to the same work ethic and standards of compassion and excellence that characterize his own life. He is an accomplished scholar and physician who typically spends hours each day practicing and praying for the well being of others.

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


His studies at famous Yungdrung Bon monasteries, including Men-ri, 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 publfsh in India so that they could survive.

While at Dolpo, Sangye Tenzin met David Snellgrove, a prominent Oriental Studies scholar from the University of London. Professor Snellgrove later assisted Sangye Tenzin 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. Sangye Tenzin donated his entire salary to buy food for the monks.

At the invitation of the Bon scholar Per Kvaerne, Sangye Tenzin taught Tibetan History and Religion at the University of Oslo during 1967 and 1968. The former Abbot of Men-ri, 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, Sangye Tenzin opened a telegram and discovered that the Protectors selected him as the 33rd Abbot of Men-ri. 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 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, Men-ri 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 that there are now no monks at Men-ri Monastery in the 40-60 year range!

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 Dream Yoga, 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.

His Holiness Lungtok Tenpai Nyima welcomes sponsors for orphaned children.

If you are inspired to help, please do so. Just $300.00 will meet one child s full needs for an entire year. Sponsors are warmly welcome to travel to Dolanji and meet with the children and with His Holiness Lungtok Tenpai Nyima.

For information about how to sponsor a child, please contact Dr. Jim Manganiello at (804) 263-8883 or email him at drjm@mindspring.com. ä_æ

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