Biography of His Holiness the 33rd Abbot of Menri,
Lungtok Tenpei Nyima Rinpoche
The 33rd Abbot of Menri Monastery, His Holiness Gyalwa Menriwa Lungtok Tenpei Nyima Pal Zangpo Rinpoche was born on the full-moon day of the fifth Tibetan month (22nd June) in 1929 in Amdo Sharkhok in Tibet in the family of Jongdong as a son of Mr. Jongdong Gyalo and Mrs. Barongza Tsomo. His child name was Lama Thar.
At the age of 7 in 1935, he went to Kyangtsang monastery and learned basic Tibetan readings and writings, chanting ritual texts, performing rituals, drawing and building mandala, etc. there with his first teacher Chatsang Sungthar.
At the age of 13 in 1941, he became well versed in monastic rituals including chanting prayer and playing ritual instruments. At that time, his mother left this world due to severe illness and therefore he became much interested in learning medicines. He studied various aspects of Tibetan medicines and its diagnoses with Tenpa Lhundrup. As to return his mother’s kindness, he generously provided free medical treatment to the people of Zungchu as well as many other regions.
At the age of 14 in 1942, he received instruction on the preliminary practices of Bon from Sherab Tenzin of Nangzhig monastery in Ngawa county. He practised the nine-hundred thousands preliminary practice three times.
At the age of 16 in 1944, the head teacher of Gamal monastery Ponlob Sherab Phuntsok gave him the name Sherab Tsultrim, as the Ponlob saw some auspicious signs in his dream. It has been also heard that His Holiness the 33rd abbot was recognised as reincarnation of the scholar Khayak, which he refuse to accept.
At the age of 17 in 1945, he received the 25 vows of novice monk from Kyangtsang Lama Sherab Tenpai Gyaltsen and received a new name Sherab Namdak. He studied with Horpa Drungrampa Tenzin Lodoe Gyatso and learned Tibetan grammar, lexicography, art of poetry, astrology and astronomy, some Bon philosophical and doctrinal texts.
At the age of 25 in 1953, he was awarded the highest academic degree “Geshe” after he successfully completed his exam and studies on the six great treatises of Bon tradition.
At the age of 27 in 1955, he travelled to Drugzur, the city of the King Trokhyab and one of the eighteen principalities of Gyalrong, and bought two copies of the block-print of Bonpo Kanjur and donated to Kyangtsang monastery. He also bought the books on the life of Tonpa Shenrab, Twelve rituals cycles and the collection of Khamchen texts to fulfil his mother’s wish and kept in the temple library of his father Jongdong.
At the age of 28 in 1956, he received many textual instructions and empowerments from the famous Lama Alak Nangsal Namkha Gyaltsen from Dza Adrak. At that time, he went to the second most important Bon monastery, Yungdrung Ling, and received the vows of novice monk from the Lamlha Ponlob and received another name Sangye Tenzin. Then he went to Tashi Menri monastery and had audience with the 30th abbot of Menri, Tenpa Lodoe, and received empowerment and instruction of the four cycles of Zhangzhung Nyengyu text. In the tenth Tibetan month of that year, he travelled to Lhasa and then he took shelter in Zungchu house of Drepung Gomang college and studied with Gen Jinpa Gyatso. He learned with proficiency in Buddhist debate and philosophical texts such as Tagrik, Logic text, Doctrinal texts, Seventy stanzas, Salam, Prajnaparamita, and so on.
At the age of 31 in 1959, during the uprising in Lhasa on the 10th of March, the abbot and his colleague Samten Karmay left Drepung monastery. Traveling and visiting Meutsang monastery on the route, they arrived in Nepal.
At the age of 32 in 1960, on his way to India, he had travelled to Mustang and Dolpo and visited many important Bonpo monasteries and village in Muktinath, Lubra, Jomsom, Charka, Tarap, Sipchok, Samling, Phuksumdo, Barle, and received many teachings and initiations from the Bonpo Lamas living in those areas. At that time, he borrowed many rare and important Bonpo books preserved in those monasteries and reprinted them in Delhi. These books were distributed to many libraries and Tibetan culture centresaround world, which became important sources to study the religion and culture of Tibetan Bon tradition.
At the age of 33 in 1961, as invited by Prof. David Snellgrove, he taught Tibetan language, religion and culture of Bon tradition at SOAS, University of London. During his stay in Londonfor about three years, he also learned English. As he was very keen and open towards foreign cultures, he participated in various cultural gatherings of different countries. Also he had audience with the Pope Paul VI and discussed many important issues on the religious harmony.
At the age of 35 in 1963, he returned to India and as instructed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he worked as teacher of the first school established for Tibetan refugeesin Mussoorie (Uttarakhand).
At the age of 38 in 1967, as invited by his friend Tibetologist Prof. Per Kvaerne, he went to Norway to teach and research at the University of Oslo.
At the age of 39 in 1968, at the new Tibetan Bonpo settlement in Dolanji, the abbot of Yungdrung Ling monastery Khenchen Sherab Tenpai Gyaltsen, Yongdzin Sangye Tenzin, Ponlob Tenzin Namdak, the abbot of Tsedruk monastery Tsondru Gyaltsen, the abbot of Chuktso monastery Yungdrung Gyaltsen, Patsang Lama Kunzang Gyaltsen, Zhutsang Lama Yungdrung Gyaltsen, Lama Yungdrung Dudul, Dege Lama Yungdrung Namgyal, Drangsong Tsultrim Namdak, Drangsong Tsultrim Samten, Gegan Sherab Drakpa, Gegan Tsultrim Yeshe, prayer leader Gyaltsen Chokleg, head of the Bonpo settlement in Dolanji Sangye Namgyal and many Bonpo Lamas and Tulku gathered and discussed thoroughly on the process of selecting the successor of the late 32nd abbot of Menri. They have collected the names of many Bonpo Lamas and Geshes, and through a very special ritual of selection process for several days, Sangye Tenzin was appointed on the golden throne of Nyamed Sherab Gyaltsen as the next abbot of Menri monastery.
At the age of 40 in 1969, Sangye Tenzin returned to Menri monastery from Norway. On the full moon of the first Tibetan month (4th March), he received the complete vows of fully ordained monk from the abbot of Yungdrung Ling monastery and the abbot of Tsedruk monastery. Thereupon, around 11am, he was enthroned on the golden throne of Menri monastery, as the 33rd abbot who would also be the supreme head of all the Bonpo followers and the chief of all the Bonpo Lamas both in exile and in Tibet. He received his new name Lungtok Tenpai Nyima Palzang po.
At the age of 42 in 1970, he initiated the construction of the main temple of Pal Shenten Menri Ling at the New Thopgyal settlement in Dolanji, and engaged himself actively in restoration and preservation of the study and practice ofTashi Menri monastery in Tibet.
At the age of 44 in 1972, he has opened a dispensary in the monastery for the Bonpo settlers. He distributed the medicines freely not only to the Tibetans, but also to the Indian locals living nearby.
At the age of 47 in 1975, he initiated the foundation of the Central School for Tibetan Dolanji, the administration part of which has been later handed over to the Government of India. The abbot also created a valuable platform of learning for the children of Bonpo families from Tibet and from Himalayan regions, where one can without any fee learn modern education along with traditional culture and religion of Yungdrung Bon.
At the age of 50, on the 10th of the 12th Tibetan month 1978, he was recognised as the supreme head of Yungdrung Bon tradition by the Tibetan Government in Exile with the recommendation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In the same year, he established a Yungdrung Bon Dialectic School, and initiated a plan of longterm course on Bon philosophical studies and traditional sciences which would be ended with an award of Geshe degree.
At the age of 51 in 1979, he attended the seminar of 2nd International Association of Tibetan Studies at the University of Oxford. He was the first Tibetan monk who participated in the International Association of Tibetan Studies.
At the age of 59 in 1987, following footsteps of the predecessor abbots of Menri monastery, he commissioned to hold the Great prayer festival “Trowo Ozer Kyilwei Drubchen”. During that occasion, the first ever academic Journal of Bon studies titled “Bonsgo”was launched as Rinpoche instructed, and published as edited by the abbot of Latri monastery Nyima Drakpa and sponsored by Rinpoche’s nephew Khedrup Gyatso. In the same year, the resolution to establish the department of Bon at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Varanasi was realised after meeting and discussion with the board of the Institute.
At the age of 60 in 1988, the abbot invited His Holiness the Dalai Lama to visit Menri monastery. When the successful achievements of Yungdrung Bon Dialectic School were presented before the Dalai Lama, he was very pleased and expressed his commitment to give the government’s formal recognition for the Geshe degree awarded at Menri monastery. In that year, the abbot commissioned another project to build a Bon Children Home to provide living and caring facilities to all the Tibetan Bonpo children coming from distance for education.
At the age of 64 in 1992, the authority of Gyalwa Menriwa appointed and enthroned Yangton Geshe Trinlay Nyima as the head teacher of Pal Shenten Menri monastery on the occasion of a birth anniversary of the first abbot of Menri Nyamed Sherab Gyaltsen and Marong Geshe Nyima Wangyal as the abbot of Triten Norbutse monastery in Kathmandu. In summer of this year, following the advice of His Holiness, the association of Bon teacher and students in the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Varanasi was established and registered under the name Yungdrung Bon Students Committee.
At the age of 66 in 1994, His Holiness made his first return visit to Tibet after the cultural revolution in Tibet. He visited then Tashi Menri monastery and sat on the golden throne for the first time at the monastery. He travelled also to many Bonpo monasteries in other part of Tibet and blessed many Bonpos with empowerment and instruction.
At the age of 68 in 1996, he visited second time to Tibet. He had visited Tashi Menri monastery, Yungdrung Ling monastery, Khyungpo Ri Tsedruk, Tengchen monastery, Hor Luphuk monastery, Patsang monastery, Pula monastery, Sogde Bon monastery in Nyenrong county, Shari monastery, as well as his hometown Zungchu and blessed many Bonpo followers in these areas.
At the age of 69 in 1997, he commissioned teachers of Menri to hold the first special philosophy course “the Great Yeru debate,” during which all the student-monks of Menri monastery study and debate focusing on the work of teachers from Yeru Wensakha monastery for the period of one month in winter.
At the age of 73 in 2001, he appointed and enthroned Jeru Geshe Tenpa Yungdrung as the abbot of Triten Norbutse monastery in Kathmandu. In the same year, he also founded the nunnery Ratna Menling in Dolanji.
At the age of 75 in 2003, the Yungdrung Bon Dialectic school celebrated the 25th anniversary of its foundation. During that occasion, His Holiness the Gyalwa Menriwa had bestowed upon the followers of Bon religion around the world the outer, inner and secret empowerments of Bon tutelary deities as they requested.
At the age of 76 in 2004, he invited the governor of Himachal Pradesh, Vishnu Sadhashiv Kokje, as the chief guest at the 12th Geshe degree ceremony of Menri monastery. In June, he successfully visited Tibet for the third time and fulfilled the wishes of many Tibetans with his warm blessing and teaching.
In 2005, he founded the meditation centre for lay practitioners and the building of which was completed in 2011. This is now a congregation hall for all the Bonpo lay practitioners living in the settlement and presently they gather on every important religious events.
At the age of 79 in 2007, when the construction of the new Yungdrung Bon Library was completed, he invited His Holiness the Dalai Lama to inaugurate the library building. His Holiness the Dalai Lama was very impressed seeing the library containing many wonderful collections of books from all Tibetan Buddhist schools beside Bon Kanjur and Tenjur, and praised the abbot for this great achievement.
At the age of 80 in 2008, the residence of His Holiness Gyalwa Menriwa hosted the great wrathful and peaceful rite of Phurpa cycle and the rite of medicine Buddha Dutsi Ozer Barwa.
At the age of 82 in 2010, His Holiness the abbot visited Shenten Dargye Ling in Blou, France, as requested by the students and practitioners of the Bon centre, which was founded by His Eminence Yongzin Lopon Tenzin Namdak. That was a great opportunity for the two foremost Bon teachers to discuss about the future of Bon religion.
At the age of 83 in 2011, His Holiness Gyalwa Menriwa commissioned to create a new website called the Yungdrung Bon (www.theyungdrungbon.com). This website has been launched as an important platform to spread the teachings and regular news of Menri monastery as well as of other Bonpo communities on air to the entire world.
At the age of 85 in 2013, the abbot invited His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje to Pal Shenten Menri monastery. His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa was very impressed and delighted when he witnessed many important Bonpo holy objects and artefacts preserved in the monastery.
In the same year, between 18th October until 16th November for the period of a month, His Holiness the abbot gave the entire empowerment of the tutelary deities of Bon according to the outer tantra and of the five primary deities of the inner tantra as organised by the Yungdrung Bon Dialectic School.
At the age of 86 in 2014, the abbot established the medical college of Sorig Bumzhi at Menri monastery and appointed its staff members. At the moment, the college has around 15 regular students and it has recently been registered under the medical council of Central Tibetan Administration.
At the age of 87 since August 2015, he became physically unwell and the monks at the Menri monastery performed the rites of Phurpa deity and hundred thousand offerings to the queen deity Sipa Gyalmo, for the quick recovery from his illness.
At the age of 88 in2016, since his physical condition shows little sign of improvement, Bon Shen Ling and its head Chongtul Geshe Tenzin Namgyal took full responsibility to invite His Holiness the abbot to USA for medical check up in American hospitals. In the spring of that year at the end of the week-long ritual of Sherab Mawe Senge, he has given his last empowerment of the wisdom deity to all the people of the Bonpo settlement in Dolanji.
At the age of 89 on the 14th of September 2017 at 6.25pm, he entered peacefully into a state of Nirvana and began his Thugdam meditation at his residence of Pal Shenten Menri Monastery. Three days before leaving this worldly existence, he called for all the school children as his wish to see them for the last time and gave them sweet as goodbye gift. On the next day, he blessed all the village people from the settlement and bid them farewell. On the morning of the 14th, he gave audience to all the monks.
In brief, he has taught and spread Bon teaching widely all over the world until his age of 89 years old. He has provided opportunity for both modern and traditional education to many younger generations, and produced hundreds of highly educated ones and awarded them Geshe degrees. Many graduates from Menri monastery were sent to serve as the abbot or teacher of the Bonpo monasteries in different parts of Tibet, Nepal and India. He has produced a number of well trained teachers who lead the Bon centres in the West and a number of scholars who teach and research at the Universities. In brief, his kindness is immeasurable as he has fostered thousands of young people who came to Pal Shenten Menri monastery from different parts of the world. He has also written a number of works. These include Chronology of the Bonpo masters, various praises and verses, and some supplements to the ritual guidebooks.