Preserving and promoting culture, education and wisdom of Yungdrung Bon

The importance of the preservation of philosophical study and discourse remains in the monastic education system. This architecture insures that written and oral instructions are perpetuated for future generations and insures the continuation of traditional values. This example is best exemplified with Menri Monastery (Medicine Hill) which has been the center of the Bon Tradition since 1405AD. Its roots reach back to 1196BC, when the esteemed Tagzig Bon Master and Khenpo, Zu Trul Yeshe created the monastic system in Zhang Zhung; which eventually spread into Tibet when Zu Trul Yeshe brought 500 relics of Tonpa Shenrab to Tibet. The Bon monastic system predates the Buddhist monastic system in Tibet by nearly 1800 years and remains today as the oldest monastic system in Asia.

For nearly 19 centuries starting with the first Tibetan king, Nya Tri Tsen Po and extending to the 32nd king, Tri Song Deu Tsen, Tibet and Zhang Zhung were unified under the Bon teachings. However, in the 7th century AD, through religious and cultural exchanges with India, Buddhism was introduced into Tibet. Over the next few centuries Buddhism eventually expanded, and replaced the native Bon religion with the spiritual tradition of its Indian neighbour. Through the dedicated efforts of La Chen Drenpa Namkha, the great dZogchen master from Zhang Zhung, the Bon teachings were preserved and survived to this day. His determined effort of hiding texts in sealed caves insured that the everlasting teachings of Tonpa Shenrab would be found and revealed to future generations. In 1017AD the Bon master from Zhang Zhung, Shen Chen Lu Ga discovered many Bon texts and relics hidden in a cave, this discovery of termas ( treasures ) was important to the Bon community in Tibet at that time. In 1405AD, Gyal Wa Nyamed Sherab Gyaltsen, a simple monk from Yeru monastery, began to build Menri Monastery in Tsang province. It eventually housed thousands of monks, and became the most important Bon monastery in Tibet for 700 years, until the Chinese Cultural revolution in 1959. This time line of 32 Menri Abbots in Tibet, established Menri as one of the longest lineage’s in Tibetan Bon history, which educated thousands of monks in Sutra, Tantra, and dZogchen studies.

This continues today in Dolanji, India, where the 33rd Menri Abbot, Lungtok Tenpai Nyima has vigorously preserved the Bon culture. This unselfish effort has insured that the Bon tradition survives and flourishes in modern times, connecting the present, to the ancient Oral Instructions from Zhang Zhung spanning 18,000 years. For the past 50 years, Menri Monastery has educated nearly 200 Geshes, Tulkus, and Rinpoches, sharing the Bon tradition and culture with the world today.


Menri Monastery in India

After the Lhasa uprising of March 1959, groups of Tibetans fled Tibet to seek refuge in Nepal, India, Bhutan. With help from the Indian Government and international charitable organizations, a number of refugee camps were established in India in different places along the Himalayan range, and as far south as the state of Karnataka in India. A comparatively small number of these Tibetans were Bonpos (followers of Bon religion). Soon after arriving in India, a group of Bonpo Lamas, monks and lay people gathered in Kullu-Manali. Many were employed as road workers. Due to extreme climatic differences between their homeland and India and to the little attention they received, they had hard lives and many of them lost their lives, including Shenrab Lodro (1935-1962), the 32nd abbot of Menri Monastery.

From the mid 1960s, a determined effort was made by the Bonpos to establish a proper Bonpo refugee settlement. The task of finding the land and collecting funds to purchase the land was entrusted to Tenzin Namdak, the chief tutor (Ponlob) of Menri Monastery at the time. With help from the Catholic Relief Services, he eventually bought some land at Dolanji, near Solan, in the mountain-state of Himachal Pradesh, northern India.

In 1967, settlement was formally established. It is registered with the Indian Government under the name of “Tibetan Bonpo Foundation”. It is administered according to the guidelines of its own constitution by a group of elected persons, presided over by the abbot of Menri Monastery. About 70 Bonpo families transferred from Manali to Dolanji. Each family received a house and a small piece of land, corresponding in size to the number of family members.

After the death of Sherab Lodro, Sherab Tenpai Gyaltsen (the abbot of Yungdrung Ling Monastery, the second most important Bonpo monastery in Tibet) became the spiritual leader of Bon. He came to Dolanji with a group of monks to found a new monastic community. In 1969, he prepared a ceremony to elect the successor to the deceased abbot of Menri Monastery. This authentic and unique tradition of electing the abbot of Menri Monastery is called Tagdil. The lot fell on Geshe Sangye Tenzing Jongdong (1929-2017) who was living in Norway and teaching at the University of Oslo at that time. He travelled to Dolanji and was enthroned as His Holiness the 33rd Menri Trizin and the name Lungtok Tenpai Nyima was given to him.

Later that year, after the death of the abbot Yungdrung Ling, Lungtok Tenpai Nyima took on the spiritual leadership of all Bonpos worlwide.

He built Menri main temple, quarters for monks, library, the abbot’s residence, new premises for the monastery kitchen and he organised the monks into a full-scale religious community based on the monastic rules outlined in the Bonpo Canon. The foundations of the main temple were laid in 1969 and the Menri Monastery (Pal Shenten Menri Ling) was completed in 1978.