The following article is from the Winter, 1996 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

Ligmincha Institute:

Bonpo Dzogchen Teachings with
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche


Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche is an accomplished lama of the Bön tradition who resided in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he has established the Ligmincha Institute for the preservation of the religious and cultural heritage of Tibet.

Rinpoche was recognized by Lopon (Head Teacher) Sangye Tenzin and by the Abbot of Menri Monastery in Dolanji, Himachal Pradesh, India, H.H. Lungtok Tenpa Nyima, as the reincarnation of Khyung Tul Rinpoche, a scholar, lama, author, and meditation master who had demonstrated magical healing powers during his lifetime.

Tenzin Rinpoche has studied and practiced with important masters of Bön and Buddhist lineages since the age of thirteen, and he is the only master of Bön presently living in the West who is qualified to give teachings and transmissions. After completing his Geshe degree at the Bön Monastic Center in Dolanji, he traveled to the West for the first time in 1989 at the invitation of Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche's Dzog Chen Community in Italy, and was later awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship to teach at Rice University in Houston, Texas, from 1991-92.

Wonders of the Natural Mind The Essense of Dzogchen in the Native Bon Tradition of Tibet By Tenzin Wangyal RinpocheHe is the author of Wonders of the Natural Mind, in which he presents a straightforward introduction to the view and practice of the Bön Dzogchen (Great Perfection or Great Completeness) teachings, and he has recently been conducting academic research in collaboration with Prof. Anne Klein of Rice University on philosophy and Dzogchen, thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He also appeared on the Discovery Channel in 1994, where he explained the principles involved in Tibetan dream practice, as part of their three-part series entitled The Power of Dreams.

Over the past three years Rinpoche has established regional centers in several parts of the United States and Europe, and he continues to maintain his busy schedule of teaching and travel.

In July '96, he led Ligmincha's annual Summer Retreat, as part three of a seven-year cycle of teachings. His main teacher, Lopon Tenzin Namdak, and the abbot of Tritsan Norbutse Monastery in Nepal, Khenpo Nyima Wangyal, together with Geshe Nyima Dakpa from Menri Monastery, joined Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche in presenting teachings and practices based on a quintessential text of Bonpo Dzogchen, the Zhang Zhung Nyen Gyí_ (zhang zhung snyan rgyud).

Lopon Tenzin Namdak has been one of the foremost proponents of Bön teachings in the West for the past thirty years (see Snellgrove's The Nine Ways of Bön, 1967), and he has become familiar to a wider audience thanks to the commentary he published in 1993 on Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen's Heart Drops of Dharmakaya (kun tu bzang po'i snying tig), an important text from the early part of this century that presents a complete outline of Dzogchen view and practice.

Lopon Rinpoche was the teaching master (slob dpon) of Menri Monastery in Central Tibet from 1953-57; following his imprisonment and escape from Tibet, he was able to raise money to establish the Tibetan Bonpo Foundation in Dolanji, and he has been deeply involved in preserving the Bonpo monastic and lay communities in exile ever since. He is highly regarded as a scholar and a master of Dzogchen.

What Does BÖN Teach?

For the first two weeks of the Summer '96 Retreat the teachings focused on the 21 Nails chapter of the Zhang Zhung Nyen Gyü. Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche has based much of his teaching for the past six years on this comprehensive work. Its wide range of subject matter includes:

  • biographies of lineage masters, advice given by the master Taphiritsa to his main disciple Nang Zhir Lopo
  • tantric meditations connected with the six realms
  • invocations of protectors
  • tantric subtle body or channel and wind practices (tsa lung)
  • yogic trul khor ('khrul 'khor) physical movements

According to Rinpoche, the 21 Nails chapter is the most important chapter in the Zhang Zhung Nyen Gyü. Each nail consists of poetic verse written to convey Dzogchen experience. Over the course of the first two weeks of the retreat, Lopon and Rinpoche based their teaching upon each of the 21 root verses, along with the traditional commentary that accompanies them. During the third week they taught Bonpo shamanic practices, including the construction of a wish-fulfilling vase and a long life arrow (da dar), and the practices of Soul Retrieval and Chod. Throughout the three weeks, Khenpo Nyima Wangyal taught the seven cycles of the trul khor yogic physical movements.

The purpose of the seven year cycle of teachings is to provide a comprehensive and well-organized foundation for students to work from that will allow concrete understanding about the Bön tradition to develop both intellectually and experientially.

This retreat marked the third year of the Seven Year Program of teachings Rinpoche has established. The fourth took place at the Bodhi Manda Zen Center in Jemez Springs, New Mexico. The purpose of the seven year cycle of teachings is to provide a comprehensive and well-organized foundation for students to work from that will allow concrete understanding about the Bön tradition to develop both intellectually and experientially.

Rinpoche is urging those who have started the program to try to complete it, but he would also like to encourage newcomers who are interested in the retreat, or the activities of the Ligmincha institute in general, to come forward and participate.

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche has a particular interest in the connection between Native American spiritual traditions and the Bön tradition. Indeed, Lopon Tenzin Namdak believes there is a connection of blood and culture between Native Americans and Tibetans. He and Tenzin Rinpoche have established contacts with several tribes such as Hopi, Pueblo, and Sioux in the United States and the Tarahumara in Mexico.

Tenzin Rinpoche is also vitally interested in the relationship between psychotherapy and spiritual practice. He feels that at times a Western therapeutic approach can be helpful in resolving certain obstacles to spiritual development. To explore this possibility, he has established relationships with psychotherapists who have experience with spiritual practice and will continue to foster such connections in the future.


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Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, a lama in the Bön tradition of Tibet, presently resides in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the founder and director of Ligmincha Institute, an organization dedicated to the study and practice of the teachings of the Bön tradition. He was born in Amritsar, India, after his parents fled the Chinese invasion of Tibet. He received training from both Buddhist and Bön teachers, attaining the degree of Geshe, the highest academic degree of traditional Tibetan culture.