Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche

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By Himanshu Bhatt

Bon religion's great preacher Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche, also known as Buddha Shenrab, and Guru Mura Tahen.
Kongpo Bönri (Bön Mountain.) Located in Southeastern Tibet on the Northern bank of the Yarlung River.

He is the most important Bon person, being one of the Four Sugatas or Transcendent Lords (the other 3 being Sangpo Bumtri, Satrig Ersang, and Shenlha Okar.)[1] Hinduism in Tibet began with the Bon religion preached by Tonpa Shenrab, born Mura Tahen[2]. He is noted in Bon scriptures to have come from a western land called Olmo Lungring, in its royal Shenyi Podrang (Shen Palace), and wandered into to Zhang Zhung (western Tibet.) In Tibetan, Shenrab's country is also called sTag-gzig, Shangri-La, and Shambhalla. Like several other rishis, such as Rishabha, Ravan, and Śukracharya, Tonpa too meditated at Mount Kailash.

According to most Bon sources on Guru Shenrab's dating, he arrived in Tibet either around 18,000[3] or 16,000 years ago. According to another Bon tradition he was a contemporary of the pre-8th century Zhang Zhung king Triwer Sergyi Jyaruchan.[4] However, the present day Tibetan history scholar and Dzogchen master Chogyal Namkhai Norbu calculates the probable actual date of his birth as 1917 BCE.

What brought the prince to the region was his quest to retrieve his 7 blue horses that were stolen by his aggressor Khyab-pa Lag-Ring and taken to Kangpo in Zhang Zhung. (Earlier Khyab-pa had kidnapped Shenrab's daughter, which Master Shenrab rescued mounted a garuda.[5]) Master Shenrab went forth with his four attendants to find them. During his time in Zhang Zhung, he taught the locals the basic tenants of Bonpa Dharma. He found the horses, and Khyab-pa became his pupil. They left Tibet to return home, and at age 32 Prince Shenrab decided to give up the royal life and take solitude (sanyasa) to become a monk. Khyab-pa had become his leading disciple.

At age 82 he departed the world and attained Mokṣa. Both in his country and among the locals in Zhang Zhung, Buddha Shenrab was successful in stopping ritual animal sacrifices. Bon preachers continued visiting Tibet for further propagating the religion, and many Tibetan Bonpas visited Olmo Lungring for learning the religion and meeting with Bonpa scholars.

There are two types of Bonpas classed by Buddhists, White Bon (ones who also follow Buddhism) and Black Bon (strictly Bonpas.) In his native language, Musang sTag-gzig, the religion is known as Drungmu Gyer, in Tibetan as Yungdrung Bon (Eternal Religion) or as Bonpo, and in Sanskrit as Swastika Dharma. The Bon religion became so popular in parts of India outside of Olmu Lungring that at one point, several Indian Bon scriptures were translated into Tibetans in 8th century CE by Vairocana of Pagor.[6] According to the Secret Mother Tantra, the religion was known between the Eternal Gods, who then preached it in Sanskrit to the 33 gods (Traytrimsha Devas) on Meru. Then the sky-goer goddess Zangza Ringstun preached it to tSang-ba 'Dus-pa (Gautama Buddha in prior life) in sTag-gzig.[7]

Background

Lineage

He was of the dMu-gShen Dynasty of Olmo Lungring[8] from the lineage of King dMu-rigs Phrul[9]. The dMu refers to his clan, and gShen to his linguistic nationality. The 6 royal clans of regional importance from Shenrab's era were dMu, Hos, dPo, Shag, rGya, and gNyan, of which the prior 3 were of Shenrab's country.[10] rTsa rgyud nyi sgron is the Tibetan Bonpa work that elaborates on Master Shenrab's lineage.[11] His father Sogya was the descendant of two different lineages; dMu from his father's side and Phywa from his mother's.[12] Shenrab's father had the surname Tog-dkar, a name that has much significance (for Gautama Buddha[13] and Svetaketu[14] are also named as such.) According to Bdhad-mdzod[15], the men and women who descend from the gods have for their ancestor Srid-pa Ye-smon rGyal-po. The 3 clans descending from him and his wife Chu lCam are the Phywa, dMu, and gTsug.[16] The etymology of his name is that 'gShen' means heavenly, 'rap' is supreme one, and 'Miwo' is great man.[17]

The name Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche itself is a title. He is also known as gSal-ba. It is believed that prior to becoming Prince Shenrab, he was born in heaven as the Bonpo master Chi-med gTsug-phud (Deathless one in a hair-knot, also named Ye-gshen gTsug-phud.)[18] 'Shenrab' is a patronymic title stemming from the gShen (modern Shin) ethnicity. Even in the modern era, the princes of the Shins claim the title 'Shin Ra', which is related to a person in legends known as Heaihen Shin Raji or Shiribadatt.

Royal life

Tibetan map of Olmo Lungring.

The inner division of the royal premises made up of eight "islands" (four buildings and four mchod-rten) surrounding the imperial palace on the mountain Yungdrung Getseg-ri, Barpo Sogyed. To the west and north of the imperial palace, his wives lived in a castle. To the east was a the Shampo Lhatse temple.[19] Shenrab himself lived in Pho-gling-mo-gling (Father Island Mother Island.)[20] The intermediate region consists of twelve cities, four of which are towards the cardinal directions.

Family

In total he had 6 wives, 8 sons and 2 daughters.

Shenrab was married to Hoza Gyalmed ma, who is also worshiped by many Bonpas. His other 7 wives were dBo-tza' Thang-mo, gSas-bza' Ngang-ring, Phya-bza' Gung-drug, sTong-bza' Khri-lcam, Gya-bza' 'Phrul-sgyur.

His daughter Shensa Nechung, who was the wife of his chief disciple Khyab-Pa, gave birth to twins Sita Tabutung and Sibutung.

His 8 sons were Tobu Bumsang, Chedbu Trishe, Lungden Selva, Gyundren Dronma, Kong-tsha Wangdhen, Kongthsa Trulbu, Oldrug Thangpo, and Dungsob Mucho Demdrug.[21] Mucho Demrug worked to spread the Bon following outside of Olmo Lungring, and with his 6 disciples they traveled to Zhang Zhung and translated Bon scriptures into local languages.[22] The lineage of bShen or gShen comes from gShen-chen kLu-dga', who in turn is a descendant of Mucho and his wife rKong-za Khri-lcam. The descendants of Shenrab in Tibet are of the dMu-tsha sub-clan. Bkra-gsal-rgyal-po, was one such priest.

Instructing

Shenrab preached in his native tongue, Musang sTag-gzig. The Eternal Gods are said to speak in Yungdrung Lha (Eternal God, also known as 'Lha'i Skad' or Divine Language.) About 360 languages are said to have originated from it, with 164 of them having been spoken in Olmo Lungring.[23] Many times, this was the original form of the Bon scriptures, from which it would be translated into Sanskrit (Sang-tri-ta), then sTag-gzig, then Zhang Zhung, and finally Tibetan. It is further said in Dragjyang that at one point, Yungdrung Bon was translated into 360 languages out of the 1000 existing in the world. Tibetan script is believed in Tibetan tradition to have come from Zhang Zhung Maryig, which in turn is believed to have come from gStag-gzig Spungs-yig.[24] The sTag-gzig script is believed by Michael Richards to have originated with the Gupta script.[25]

Birth stories

As Chi-med

Prior to becoming Prince Shenrab, he was born in heaven as the Bonpo master Chi-med gTsug-phud (Deathless one in a hair-knot, also named Ye-gshen gTsug-phud) to parents 'Phrul-gshen sNang-ldan and bZang-za Ring-bTsun.[26] He had later descended from Sumeru as the avatar Master Shenrab.[27]

In one story of Shenrab as Chi-med, his disciple was Gautama Buddha in one of Gautama's previous lives, as tSang-ba 'Dus-pa. In Shenrab's lifetime, Gautama was again his disciple, Lhabu, who had asked Shenrab what he can do to help humans. Shenrab replied to be born in sub-Himalayan India and teach them dharma.

As Salwa

Prior to becoming Shenrab, he was born as Salwa in a part of heaven known as Sidpa Yesang, with an older brother Dakpa, and younger brother Shepa. His father was Sidpa Triod and mother Kunshe. The three brothers were disciples of Guru Tobumtri Log Gi Che Chen. After completing their studies, they had visited Sambhogakaya Buddha Shenlha Okar, whom they asked how they can be of help to humans become liberated from samsara. Shenlha Okar advised them to incarnate (avatar) into different yugas (eras) so as to help the humans of that period gain Moksha. Dakpa incarnated as Tonpa Togyal Ye Khyen. After passing of his yuga, Salwa incarnated as Tonpa Shenrab for the present era. In the following era, Shepa will incarnate as Tonpa Thangma Medron.

To decide which parents Salwa should be born to, he took form as a blue cuckoo and flew atop Mount Meru (Ri-gyal lHun-po or Ri-rab) with his 2 disciples Malo and Yulo, and he contemplated. In his meditative vision, he saw that he should be born to King Gyalbon Thokar and Queen Yochi Gyalzhed Ma in their imperial palace, Barpo, Sogyed, in Olmo Lungring on the south side of Mount Yungdrung Gutsek.

Olmo Lungring is in Karakoram

Olmo Lungring is the regions of Deosai Plains and Kohistan.
North and east of it is Brusa. West of it is Oddiyana.
Olmo Lungring is the districts of Diamer and Astore, together known in modern times as Dardistan.
Tibetan 19th century map of Olmo Lungring.

"I am inclined to suggest that the great mountains Ta la ya of sTag grig correspond to the Karakorum range." - Amnye Machen Institute[28]

Olmo Lungring is located in the Karakoram mountains of the Subcontinent, specifically Shin-majority districts of Astore and Diamer, collectively known as Shinaki. The "land of the gShen" of Bon scriptures is where Indians speak Shin (gShen.)

According to the gZer-mig, in the country's etymology '0l' symbolises the unborn, 'Mo' the undiminishing, 'Lung' the prophetic words of Tonpa Shenrab and 'Ring' his everlasting compassion. The kingdom is described as an 8-pedaled lotus underneath the sky, and shaped like an 8-spoked wheel.

   
Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche

'Ol-mo Lung-ring, the country of the gShen, has the aspect of Mount Meru with the four continents; [situated] on the northern side of the southern [continent of] Jambudvipa, encircling the southern part of the world, at the root of the Wish-Fulfilling Tree, facing the snow-clad Mount Ti-se, on the shores of Ma-pang g.Yu-mtsho, at the source of the Four Great Rivers, between the Fragrent Incense Mountain [sPos-ri Ngad-ldan] and the Nine Black Mountains, divided by the rivers Pag-shu and Sin-dhu: this is the place where the Teacher of the Three Times Appeared.

   
Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche

—mDo-dus, SA.90.1[29]


Olmo Lungring is said to have had a mountain called Mount Yungdrung (or Ri-rab Ihun-po, identified with Mount Meru) from which four rivers from the four cardinal directions meet. They are: 1) Gangka/Gaiga, 2) Sidhu, 3) Pakshu/Vakshu, and 4) Siti. Today in Kashmir one can find the Kishan-Ganga, Sindhu, Cakshu, and Sita rivers. Further, it is written that Olmo Lungring had a set of 9 black mountain ranges. Today Kashmir has a range of mountains called Karakoram (which means, Black Mountains, as does its Sanskrit name Krishnagiri.) Olmo Lungring is written to be "beyond the Himalayas" and "behind the Sharp Teeth (dBal-so) Glacier." This matches the description of Kashmir, which has the Karakoram range that is both beyond the Himalayas and west of the Siachen Glacier. Dan Martin is of the viewpoint that Olmo Lungring consisted of Baltistan, Gilgitstan, northern Jammu & Kashmir state, present-day Pakistan (i.e., Swat, Chitral, etc.) and perhaps Badakshan, along with the mountainous parts of Uttar Pradesh.[30] As Lord Shenrab was of the dMu-gShen Dynasty, it is probable that he was of Shin ethnicity, which resides mainly in the Karakoram, because 'dMu' refers to sky-gods while 'gShen' is a demonym. 'gShen' is just a variant of 'Shin' as both are used to denote the same ethnicity[31] in modern times, but Shin has taken precedence. The theory of Guru Shenrab having been a Shin is further supported by the fact that Bon teachings were delivered to Bon masters in Shinaki's adjacent territories of Gilgit (to Shenpo Ge Tene Logya), the rest of Kashmir (to Shenpo Braba Meruchan), and another part of India (to Shenpo Lisha.) Furthermore, in order to convert people within different nations, Guru Shenrab incarnated into different forms; "Arya Jambala" for sTag-gzig, gShen-lha Od-dkar for Zhang Zhung, Confucius for China, Sage Atreya for sub-Karakoram Kashmir, and Hayagriva for Uddiyana (Swat Valley or Urgyan.)[32] He would not have been written to have incarnated as a Hindu figure with a Sanskrit title if sTag-gzig's natives were Iranians (whose pantheon did not include Kuber.) He did after all incarnate as locally familiar forms of Tibetan gShen-lha and Chinese Confucius. Speaking of the Indus (Sindhu) River, Tibetans write that it flows through Mar-yul (east of Lakakh[33]), 'Bru-sa on the north of Kashmir (Kachi, which borders on Zans-dkar and Purig), through sTag-gzig reaches Uddiyana (Urgyan.)[34]

Confusion of terminology

Map of 8th century Tibetan Empire.[35] Arabist Abbasid Empire is shown as rival to Tibetan Empire. The Shin nation (Olmo Lungring) of the Indian Subcontinent is occupied by Abbasids.

"Each nationality of Jambu Island has its own name for it, among them: The people of Zhang-zhung call it Staggzig Khrom-pa'i Gling. The Indian people call it northern Shambhala, the supreme place. Tibetans call it the land of Stag-gzig, 'Ol-mo-lung -ring.'" - Shar-rdza Bkra-shis-rgyal-mtshan[36]

Some scholars have confused sTag-gzig as being an Iranian land. However, this is a latter-added term while Olmo Lungring is the earliest occurring name of Bonpa Shenrab's country. Dan Martin writes that the phrase became more common in the 12th century. Even in Authenticity of Open Awareness it is explained that Bon spread to Olmo Lungring first, and then to sTag-gzig, therefore showing that Olmo a different country than sTag-gzig. According to Lopon Tenzin Namdak, this country ("Tazik" or sTag-gzig) was said to be located northwest of Tibet. The Sino-Tibetan Treaty of 821-822 CE identifies 4 countries bordering on the Tibetan Empire; rGyagar (Sub-Himalayan India), Tashig (Abassid Empire), and Drugu Nomel (Turkistan), and rGyanag (China.)[37] Here 'Tashig' is a variant of 'sTag-gzig'.

"This negative influence was also felt by the Bonpos, so that the new Bonpos of later times ended by placing 'Ol-mo Lung-ring in sTag-gzig, creating the expression "sTag-gzig Ol-mo-lung." There is no other logical motivation for that attribution." - Chogyal Namkhai Norbu[38]

Definition of 'Tajik'

The term Tazik appears almost identical to 'Tajik'. The reason why some latter Bon writers began using the term to phrase Olmo Lungring's name is because they wanted the-then generations of their era's to understand in modern terms. Then, from 7th century onward, parts of the Indian Subcontinent including Kashmir was under Arab rule and 'Tajik' is synonymous with 'Arab'. Hence, sTag-gzig was the was politically correct word Arab-occupied Olmo Lungring. An Arabic attributed to the time of Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun (813-833 CE) inscription reads of the Arab victory over the rulers of both the Wakhan and Bolor (Gilgit.)[39] Michael Walter too criticizes the idea of sTag-szig being in the Iranian Plateau, and proposes instead that the Tibetans are just referred to the Abbasid Empire. The Abbasid and Umayyid empires were mainly Arab-governed dynasties. Arab influence would continue even after the regions were ruled by post-Arab dynasties because Arabic was an official language even under Tahirids (821–873 CE), Saffarids (861–1003 CE), and Samanids (819–999 CE.) Anna Akasoy writes that by referring to Olmu Lungring as sTag-gzig, the Tibetans could be intending the parts of the Abbasid Empire closer to them.[40] There is also Tazipora village in Kashmir, and historically the Persians used the term 'Tazi' (with the same meaning as 'Tazik') to also connate anything related to Arabs[41]. The term was used in India to refer to Arabs. Nilakantha Daivagna had compiled the Tajika Jyotisa in Arabic. There is also a coin minted in Lahore that was issued under Sultan Ghazni's reign which reads, "Tajikiya Samvat 419" (Arabic Era 419.)[42] Even the Chinese word for 'Arab' comes from 'Tazik' as a Chinese source reads that in 758 CE both Persians ("Po-se") and Arabs ("Ta-shih", which comes from 'Tazik') had burnt and sacked Canton.[43]

Connection to Himalayan areas

Some scholars have included Kashmir within the historical region of Olmo Lungring. Today in Kashmir one can find place names reminiscent of Shambhalla, such as Sangrin and Sangam. Kashmir like Uttarakhand, also being westwards of Mount Kailash fits the description of being a part of Shambhalla. Further, the Shambhalla that Bon scriptures refer to is also likely to be in Kashmir, as Samba and Sumbal Bag are towns within Kashmir. With the popularity of Buddhism rising in India, preachers such as Padmasambhava began moving to Tibet to preach the religion. Over the next few centuries, Buddhism with its missionaries from India often settled in Tibet and along with Tibetan Buddhist lamas preached Buddhism. However, Olmo Lungring was a part of the greater Shambhalla region. According to the gZi-brjid, Dimpling is the same as Shambhalla.

Kenbo Nyima Wangyal believes that Shambhalla had extended from Gilgit in its west to Namtso in its east.[44] The capital of Shambhalla was Khyunglung Ngulkhar, "The Silver Palace of the Garuda Valley", with its ruins found in the upper Sutlej Valley southwest of Mount Kailash, which is modern-day State of Uttarakhand. Sambhal is the name a village in present-day Mordabad district of Uttarakhand, which has been known to have been centuries ago a centre of Tantra.[45] Sambal is a Sanskrit name meaning, "the place of peace, of tranquillity.")

Authors such as Toni Huber write of how Tibetans have maintained a ritual relationship to India, and consider India as their holy land.

A teacher for the world

According to scriptures, Shenrab, like ascetic Rishabha, traveled other kingdoms outside of India.

"Among the countries to the north and south of Jambu Island, the places where the teacher pressed down with His feet on the earth, with His actual body are the following: China, Tanguts, India, Nepal, O-rgyan, Za-hor, Kashmir, Turkharistan, Khotan, Ta-zig, Zhang Zhung, Mon-yul, Khitan, Phrom, Gesar, Bru-sa, Qarluq, Uighur, and Tibet." - dBra-ston[46]

This list of countries is based on the list of Tibetan placenames of countries from the scripture Srid-pa Las-kyi gTing-zlog-gi rTsa-rgyud Kun-gsal Nyi-zer Sgron-ma. It substituted "India" for "rGya-gar", which is actually, more accurately "sub-Himalayan India". O-rgyan is Oddiyana. Bru-sa is Gilgitstan. Tunguts refers to the land in the Kurban-Tungut Desert in southern Kazakhstan. Ge-sar is the part of mainland China north of Tibet yet west Tarim Basin.

"The blessed, spread the teachings and converted beings within the [Eighteen] Great Countries of the Gods (Lha) Ta-zig (sTag-gzig), Oddiyana (U-rgyan), Tokharistan (Tho-gar), Camara (rNga-yab), rNga-yab-zhan (?), Za-hor, Turkestan (Gru-gu), Little Balur (Bru-sha), Kashmir (Kha-che), Khotan (Li), Nepal (Bal), India, China, Nan-chao ('Jang), Hor Gesar, snowy Tibet and Zhang-zhung. Ultimately, they all visibly entered Bon Proper (Bon nyid.)" - Dkar-ru Grub-dbang[47], 19th century Bon-po scholar

The gSang-sngags Rdzong-'phrang Nyi-'od rGyan by Thu'u-kbwan was a book of notes from a summit between Bonpas of countries of Olmo Lungring, sub-Himalayan India, Tibet, China, Turkharistan, and some others. The summit's would always take place in a cave named Mang-mkhar lCang-phrang. Cave temples or cave monasteries were very popular throughout Hindu history. (Even today pilgrimages continue to them.)

Depictions

The Four Transcendent Lords of Bonpo. Shenrab is in the bottom-left. Top-left is Satrig Ersang, top-right Shenlha Odkar, and bottom-right Sangpo Bumtri.

Normally the Guru is represented as yellow in artworks, and he is noted to be of "golden" color, or like that of a "jewel." However, depictions of him exist in the form of painted canvases[48] and cave paintings wherein he is shown as blue[49] or black.

Incarnations

Apart from the avatars of Chi-med and Salwa, Tonpa Shenrab is believed to have incarnated as Tonpa Tritsug Gyalwa[50]. Shenrab manisfested himself as Nampar Gyalwa (Fully Victorious One) and 4 wrathful gods to subdue demons that sought to destroy a monestary that was built according to his guideline.[51]

While in Zhang Zhung on Mount Kailash he tried subjugating violent spirits there. He had begun reciting the Tendrin Mantra and then eminated as Hayagriva, appearing of a red body and green head, dressed in golden ornaments and carrying a flaming red sword.[52] Other martial spirits began to appear and overwhelmed the violent spirits present.

   
Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche

The body emanation of the victorious one, Shenrab, manifested in the form of "Great Fierce Secret Conqueror of Demons.” He revealed this destroyer manifestation with sharp arrows, magic bombs, magic missiles, and spells to the assembly of deities of the upper and lower worlds. All at once, the magical manifestations of each of the deities were neutralized. The deities then vowed not to transgress the commands of Shenrab and not to renounce their oath.

   
Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche

—Bon scripture

In China

DTo-mba Shi-lo-mi-wu[53] is another avatar of Shenrab. He is worshipped by the Na-khis in southwestern China in the provinces of Yunnan its NW part) and Sichuan (its SW part.) He is always portrayed as green-bodied, apart from one image that exists in a manuscript wherein he is shown as golden.

"Like Shenrab Mibo, Dongba Shiluo resided in heaven from where he descended to earth to suppress the multitude of demons that caused havoc among humanity."[54]

In Sikkim

In Sikkim, folk legends recognize Bon Tenpa Yab Yum as Tonpa Shenrab, seated on an altar of lineage protectors in the heavenly paradise of Bon gods.[55]

In Nepal

In Nepal, the kul-jhakris (family-priests) of the Tamang tribe chant from the Bumba Shyareb and dedicate themselves to Guru Shyareb[56], who is none other than Shenrab.

See also

References

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