Lopön Tenzin Namdak

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Yongdzin Lopön Tenzin Namdak Rinpoché, abbot of a Bon Monastery in Nepal

Yongdzin Lopön Tenzin Namdak Rinpoché[1] (Tibetan: སློབ་དཔོན་བསྟན་འཛིན་རྣམ་དགWylie: slob dpon bstan 'dzin rnam dag) (born 1926, in Khyungpo Karu (khyung po dkar ru) in Kham, East Tibet) is a religious leader and the most senior teacher of the Bön tradition, in particular of Dzogchen and the Ma Gyud or Mother Tantra, and an expert on Bön outside Tibet.

Early life[edit]

Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak (Tib. slob dpon bstan 'dzin rnam dag). His father was a farmer in the Chamdo district and his uncle, Kalzang Tsultrim (bsKal-bzang tshul-khrims), was the Urndze (ommdzad), or chant leader, among the monks at the Tengchen Monastery (steng chen). The monastery belonged to the tradition of Old Bön (Bön rnying-ma), other-wise known as Yungdrung Bön (g.yung-drung Bön) in contrast to New Bön (Bön gsar-ma) and had close affiliations with Menri Monastery and Yungdrung Ling (gyung drung gling) Monastery in central Tibet. In 1933, at age seven, Yongdzin went to Tengchen Monastery and in 1941 he went to Yungdrung Ling where he helped execute a series of wall paintings for a new temple. In 1944 he went on pilgrimage to Nepal including Solu-Khombu, Pokhara, Mustang and Kathmandu.

In 1933 he returned to Yungdrung Ling to commence studies in philosophy (tsennyi; mtshan nyid). During 1945 – 1950 he lived a principally eremitic existence, cloistered with his tutor and guru Gangru Rinpoche (sgang ru tshul khrims rgyal mtshan) with whom he studied poetry (nyanga; snyan ngag), cosmology (dzopu; mdzod phug), grammar (da; sgra), monastic discipline (dulwa; dul ba) and the principal stages on the path to enlightenment (salam; sa lam). In 1950 he went to Menri Monastery (sman ri, literally "the medicine mountain") in Tsang Province in central Tibet. On the instruction of Rinpoche he commenced his studies. In 1953 he was elected to the position of Lopön (head teacher) and received the degree of Geshe (dge bshes).


Professorship and retreat[edit]

Yongdzin Lopön Tenzin Namdak Rinpoché became a professor (slob dpon) at Menri Monastery in 1953. He left in 1959 due to increasing conflicts between the indigenous Tibetans and the encroaching Chinese Communists and went to the Sezhig Monastery on the Dangra Lake in northern Tsang where he remained in spiritual retreat until 1960.

Capture and escape[edit]

After the Lhasa uprising (10 March 1959), many Tibetan lamas, including the present Dalai Lama and the Gyalwa Karmapa, along with numerous Tibetan refugees departed their homeland to seek refuge in India and Nepal. Riding this exodus, Yongdzin endeavoured to reach safety in India in 1960, but was shot, wounded and seized by Chinese soldiers and imprisoned for ten months. He escaped to Nepal via the small principality of Mustang.

Collaboration with Snellgrove/Hoffmann[edit]

While in Kathmandu in 1961, Yongdzin got invited to London by his colleague the English tibetologist David Snellgrove through a Rockefeller Foundation grant, where he became a visiting scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He resided for a period at the University of Cambridge. The collaboration with Snellgrove resulted in the publication of The Nine Ways of Bön,[2] which includes extracts translated from the esteemed Ziji (gzi brjid): an extensive hagiography of the Buddha, Tonpa Shenrab. This was the first scholarly study of the Yungdrung Bön tradition to be conducted in the West. He stayed in England for three years, until 1964.

In 1969 he made a second visit to Europe at the invitation of professor Helmut Hoffmann where he was a visiting scholar at Munich University with whom he collaborated on compiling of the Dictionary of Written Tibetan.[3]

Tibetan Bönpo Foundation[edit]

Doctor Khepa was working in the Nepal (Dorthang) Bon community as a social worker. He was looking forward to help any Bonpo community. When he reached Dorthang, Menri Trizin, the head of the Menri monastery, his holiness had just expired and the next successor had not yet been appointed. Yongdzin was appointed as the acting director. Khepa arranged funds from the Catholic Relief Service for the Bonpos to purchase a place where they could start a Bon community. Dolanji was selected. After difficulties in acquiring the land, Gungthang Tsultrim helped register the land for the organisation Bod Kyi Bonpo Tsokpa, by including the Dolanji in the organisation called Tsokpa Chuksum, in which other settlements were registered, such as the Bir settlement in Himachal and Clement Town in Dehradhun etc. Dolanji, near Solan in Himachal Pradesh.

In 1967 the settlement was formally established and registered with the Indian Government under the name of the Tibetan Bönpo Foundation. About seventy families transferred there from Manali and each received a house and a small piece of land, the size depending on size of the family. The Tibetan Bönpo Foundation possessed its own constitution and administration. The Abbot of Menri acted as president. The new settlement at Dolanji was named Thobgyal Sarpa (thob rgyal gsar pa) after the village Thobgyal. Most of the Tibetans in the new settlement came from the Mount Kailash region and Upper Tsang in the west, and from Hor, Kongpo, Derge, Amdo and Gyarung in the east.

After the death of the abbot of Menri in 1963, Sherab Lodro, the abbot of Yungdrung Ling, became the spiritual head of the Bönpo community in exile. Sherab Lodro came to Dolanji with a band of monks who founded a new monastic community. An intimate prayer chapel and a few small houses were built. In 1969 the successor to the abbot of Menri was established by lot and the office fell to Lungtog Tenpai Nyima Rinpoche (lung rtogs bstan pa'i nyi ma rin po che), who was installed as the thirty-third abbot.

Following the death of Yungdrung Ling abbot, Sangye Tenzin assumed the spiritual leadership of the Bönpos. More houses were established, along with a library and abbot's residence (labrang; bla brang). Monastic life was structured around the ordinances of the Vinaya (dulwa; dul ba). The foundation for the principal temple was inaugurated in 1969 and completed in 1978 and named Pal Shentan Menri Ling (dpal gshen bstan sman ri'i gling). The complex was styled the Bönpo Monastic Centre and formed part of the Tibetan Bönpo Foundation.

From 1970 – 1979 Yongdzin continued writing and teaching while in residence at the Bönpo Monastic Centre. Concurrently, he was engaged in the publishing of significant Bönpo texts. From 1967, when the first monks came to Dolanji, teaching had been done by Lopön Sangye Tenzin (former head teaching master at Menri) and assisted by Yongdzin, who became his successor.

Lama college and Bönpo monastery[edit]

When Sangye Tenzin died in 1968, Yongdzin was assigned responsibility for the education of the younger generation of monks. By 1978 a sufficient number of Bönpo texts had been published so that a curriculum could be organized around them. Thus a lama's college (shedrup; bshad sgrub) was established in 1978, organized under the guidance of Lopön Rinpoche who served as one of the two professors. The official name of the college is Yungdrung Bön Shedrup Lobnyer Dude (gyung drung bon bshad sgrub slob gnyer 'dud sde).

The purpose of the college at Dolanji was to preserve the tradition of philosophy established and developed at Yeru Wensaka (gyas ru dben sa kha), where philosophical analysis and logic were applied to the understanding of Do Ngag Semsum (mdo sngags sems gsum), that is, to the teachings of the Sutras, the Tantras and Dzogchen. Unlike the Nyingmapa tradition, the Bönpos developed a system of logic and debate specifically relating to the Dzogchen teaching. At Menri in Tibet, all instruction in Tantra and Dzogchen was done in private except for the philosophy college where the monks studied the five scripture system Dozhung Nga (mdo gzhung lnga)

However, in Dolanji students also study Tantra and Dzogchen in the college, as well as the five scriptural systems that pertain to Sutra. Also included in the curriculum are the secular sciences (rignai; rig gnas), such as grammar, poetics, astrology, and so on. The college has a nine-year term of studies that prepares the student for a degree in Geshe. The first group of young monks graduated in 1986.

Another Bönpo monastery and college known as Triten Norbutse (khri brtan nor bu rtse), located near Swayambhu, west of Kathmandu, Nepal was established under Yongdzin's direction. In 2005 he founded in France the new bonpo Shenten Dargye Ling.[4] In 2010 he consecrated the stupa in Shenten Dargye Ling with Lungtok Tenpai Nyima, 33rd Abbot of Menri and consecrated in same year the Great Stupa in Chamma Ling, Valle de Bravo, Mexico with Nyima and many bonpo teachers and Geshes.

Third trip to The West[edit]

In 1989, Yongdzin traveled to England, America and Italy, at the invitation of the International Dzogchen Community of Chögyal Namkai Norbu Rinpoche in those countries. During his six month trip he presented to interested Western students the Dzogchen teaching according to the Bönpo traditions of the Atri (a khrid) and the Zhang Zhung Nyengyu (shang zhung snyan rgyud).

In 1991, he visited Germany, England, the Netherlands and Italy. During his visit to these countries he spoke and taught on various meditation systems and fields of study of the Bön tradition. Later that year he was invited by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to represent the Bön tradition at the Kalachakra Initiation in New York. In this way, Yongdzin spread Bönpo teachings in many countries. His permanent residences are in Kathmandu and Dolanji.


The Collected Works of Menri Yongdzin Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche: Vol. 1-13 (Tibetan language)

  • Volume 1: History of the successive lives of Buddha Tonpa Shenrab based upon the extensive and medium length biographies
  • Volume 2: continuation of Volume 1
  • Volume 3: Early Tibetan religion and culture, history of Yundgrung Bön and Bon practice, important Bon monasteries and holy sites in Tibet and Nepal.
  • Volume 4: Cataloges of temples and stupas, description of Tonpa Shenrab's clothing, study of his date of birth, list of lineage masters.
  • Volume 5: Vehicles of Bön 1, 2 and method of building statues, stupas, temples, the mandalas of the four series of Tantras, methods of divination.
  • Volume 6: Arrangement for thangka paintings of the yidam deities of the four tantric cycles along with drawings showing their position and colors.
  • Volume 7: continuation of Volume 6
  • Volume 8: The first and second texts of this series explain logic. Prajna Paramita, Shinay practice, advanced Shinay.
  • Volume 9: Series of texts on Madhyamika
  • Volume 10: Extensive study of the stages of practice of the four cycles of Tantra
  • Volume 11: Five texts explaining the Mother Tantra
  • Volume 12: Description and explanation of rituals
  • Volume 13: Six texts with instructions on rDzogs chen. The fifth text contains long life prayers.

In English:

  • 197? Dictionary of Written Tibetan collaboration with Helmut Hoffmann
  • 1980 Nine Ways of Bon: Excerpts from gZi-brjid, collaboration with David Snellgrove ISBN 9780877737391
  • 2002 Mandalas of the Bon Religion, Saujanya Publications, ISBN 8186561005
  • 2002 Heart Drops of Dharmakaya: Dzogchen Practice of the Bön Tradition, Snow Lion Publications, ISBN 1559391723
  • 2006 Bonpo Dzogchen Teachings, Vajra Publications, ISBN 9994672053
  • 2006 The Main Dzogchen Practices: From the Oral Transmission of the Great Perfection in Zhang Zhung, ISBN 9994672053
  • 2010 Masters of the Zhang Zhung Nyengyud, Heritage Publishers, ISBN 8170262682
  • 2012 Heart Essence of the Khandro - Experiential Instructions on Bonpo Dzogchen, Heritage Publishers, ISBN 8170262828


  • Lopön Tenzin Namdak (2002) Heart Drops of Dharmakaya: Dzogchen Practice of the Bön Tradition. Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1559391723 (Appendix 3: Biography of Lopön Tenzin Namdak p. 147-153)


  1. ^ Lopön is a title that may be rendered in English as 'Great Teacher'.
  2. ^ The Nine Ways of Bon: Excerpts from GZi-brjid. Prajñā Press. 1 January 1980. ISBN 978-0-87773-739-1. 
  3. ^ Dr. Ellen Latzin (2006-12-20). "Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften - Kommission für zentral- und ostasiatische Studien". Badw.de. Retrieved 2014-07-26. 
  4. ^ About us. "About us". Shenten.org. Retrieved 2014-07-26.