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Tonpa Shenrab

Updated on July 26, 2017

According to the Bon faith Tonpa Shenrab was born approximately 18000 years ago in land called Olmo Lungring. Legend has it that Olmo Lungring occupies one-third of the known world. The kingdom is described as an eight petal-ed lotus that sits beneath a sky that resembles a dharma wheel (these descriptions may be purely metaphoric) and right in the center is the triangle shaped Mount Yungdrung.

At the base of the mountain there are four springs that flow into four sacred rivers that run concurrently in four different directions. Each spring bursts forth from four different rocks, each shaped like a different animal.

The river Nara flows from a lion shaped rock and continues towards the east. The river Pakshu flows from a horse shaped rock and continues towards the north. The river Kyim-shang flows from a peacock shaped rock and surges to the west and the river Sindhu flows from an elephant shaped rock and journeys to the south.

Tonpa Shenrab was the son of King Thodkar and therefore a prince by birth. In time he married and had children and they became his first and earliest disciples (this is a more contemporary version of the myth).

Tonpa Shenrab was born with the ability to see and communicate with spirits and other invisible beings or deities that are not visible to the karmic eye or the naked eye, be it, heavenly, celestial or otherwise and the secrets and the nuances of the Bon faith were revealed to him by the spiritual entities that he came in contact with.

He was a very special person in all aspects of the word but having said that, it is also important to acknowledge that anyone born in Olmo Lungring may be born with spiritual sight.

He strived to propagate the faith but his work was consistently interrupted by a demon called Khyabpa Lagring who was his nemesis and sought to destroy his work. Eventually however the demon was caught and converted and it became one of his disciples.

They obviously fought numerous battles with each other, prior to Khyabpa Lagring becoming a disciple and it was during one of these battles, when Tonpa Shenrab pursued the demon to recover a herd of stolen horses, that he set foot in Western Tibet, which once again reaffirms my believe that Tonpa Shenrab was originally from the South-West of Tibet.

The pursuing of horses also brings to mind the horse sacrifice which is an ancient rite that is synonymous to Hindu Kings. Among other things it is an invitation to war and it was a means for ancient kings to expand their fame and fortune.

In the case of the horse sacrifice however, it is only one horse that is freed. The horse is set loose to roam freely for a year while it is followed by a small contingent or detachment of men. If the horse is captured, in the space of the year in any of the kingdoms or territories it finds itself in, it is a call to war and both armies i.e. from the kingdom the horse started off in and in the kingdom it was captured in will meet on the battlefield.

If the horse is not captured by the end of a year, the horse is brought back by the contingent or detachment of men that were sent out to follow it discreetly and the horse is then sacrificed in honor of the Guardian Deity (this may differ from kingdom to kingdom). If anything it suggests that Tonpa Shenrab was truly of noble blood.

It was the first time Tonpa Shenrab had been to Tibet and according to most sources he found the people to be very apprehensive and unprepared for his teachings. The fact that they weren’t prepared to receive his teachings here, I think, simply means that they still viewed everything with karmic sight or from the materialistic as opposed to the spiritual perspective.

In order to be successful at Bon, one must be able to open the spiritual eye or the third eye and when that happens, the person will encounter many beings, spiritual and otherwise. It is fair to surmise that Bon is a polytheistic religion and it is also fair to say that this particular aspect of Bon is not at all shamanistic.

Tonpa Shenrab disseminated his teachings to the locals and told them that his teachings would flourish in time before returning to Olmo Lungring where he remained until the age of 82. Now, a year in Olmo Lungring corresponds to a 100 human years and therefore Tonpa Shenrab lived for 8,200 years.

© 2016 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward

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