BÖN LINEAGE MASTERS
Although it is hard to trace many of the ancient Bön lineages over the sands of prehistoric time to the present day, one lineage transmission cycle that is fairly well defined is the Zhang Zhung Nyengyud oral transmission of Dzogchen.
The Zhang Zhung Nyengyud lineage was an entirely oral transmission until the 8th century, tracing its origins back to the heavenly realms preceding Tonpa Shenrab. Of the four Bön Dzogchen lineages, it is the only one that is uninterrupted.
Tapihritsa was a Dzogchen practitioner in the 8th century who received teachings from Tsepung Dawa Gyaltsen (the 24th master of the Zhang Zhung Nyengyud oral transmission of Dzogchen). After nine years of practice, he achieved the rainbow body. In order to transmit the Zhang Zhung Nyengyud, he manifested as a young boy and met Nangzher Löpo who became his disciple. He gave the permission to write down the Zhang Zhung Nyen Gyud to Gyerpung Nangzher Lödpo. This was the first time that this Dzogchen cycle was committed to writing.
Gyerpung Nangzher Lödpo
Nangzher Lödpo lived in the 8th century. He received the Zhang Zhung Nyengyud from Tapihritsa, and asked for permission to write down the teachings for the first time so that they would not be lost under the persecutions of Bön that were taking place at that time under the Tibetan King Trisong Detsen. He also asked for and received permission to transmit the teachings to more than one person, as had been done up to this time. By these measures he was able to preserve the precious teachings and pass them on so that they are still available today.
There have been three different emanations of Drenpa Namkha in different periods of time. The first one was Tagzig Drenpa Namkha. The second one was Zhang Zhung Drenpa Namkha and the third is Tibetan Bökyi Drenpa Namkha.
The third and last one was a great mahasiddha in the 8th century who studied several languages and visited many holy places in Zhang Zhung, India and Drusha. He is the source of the teachings of the Yetri Thasel (one of the four Bönpo Dzogchen texts). He generally appears blue in color because the first Drenpa Namkha emanated from Kuntu Zangpo in the form of the syllable AH of light. Also, he was born miraculously in a blue lotus. In his right hand, he holds a yungdrung which represents the everlasting and unchanging state of his wisdom and teachings. In his left hand, he holds a skull full of nectar (amrita) which represents siddhi.
Together with the Nyingma Buddhist translator Vairotsana, they created their own system of practice known as New Bön, embracing and combining elements of both Bön and Indian Buddhism, yet rooted in the original teachings of Tonpa Shenrab.
Lishu Tagring was a great Drakpa Korsum lineage Dzogchen master born in 1751. He composed a commentary on Dzogchen Drakpa Korsum as well as the extensive teaching cycle called Dzogchen Yongtse Longchen. He visited Olmo Lung Ring and brought many teachings back to Tibet. He is known as having had miraculous powers. He was born as a girl and became a boy later in his life.
Joza Bönmo was born in rTsang-po Dag-shod. She was the consort of Lishu Tagring and achieved the rainbow body after studying the Dzogchen Yetri Thasel (Removing the Extremes from the Primordial Mind).
Nyame Sherab Gyaltsen
Nyame Sherab Gyaltsen was a 14th century master born in Eastern Tibet. After meeting with many masters during his youth, he visited Yeru Wensakha Monastery near Shigatse, and became the 19th Abbot. After the flood destroyed the monastery while he was away, he rebuilt it higher up the mountain, and it became known as the Menri Monastery. Nyame Sherab Gyaltsen restored the old system of monastic discipline, education and practice from Yeru Wensakha. He is known as Gyalwa Nyipa (the second Buddha) and he is celebrated each year on the fifth day of the first month.
Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen
Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen (1859 – 1933 or 1935) was a great Dzogchen master of the Bön tradition of Tibet who took not only Bön disciples, but gathered students from all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. According to tradition, Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen famously realized the rainbow body. He authored several books, including The Self-Dawning of the Three Bodies, and The Most Profound Heavenly Storehouse, None Other than the Oral Transmission of Trul Khor Energy Control Practices.
Lopon Sangye Tenzin Rinpoche
Lopon Sangye Tenzin Rinpoche was born into the Jyab ‘Og family, a family lineage held in very high esteem within the Bön tradition. He became an accomplished master of Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen. Lopon Sangye Tenzin Rinpoche lived a very simple life, yet he was considered by many to be the greatest Bön scholar of his generation. Lopon Sangye Tenzin Rinpoche was a teacher of Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche and Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, and was known for his very direct, clear and strict teaching style. As Tenzin Rinpoche’s first root master, for three years Lopon Sangye Tenzin gave Tenzin Rinpoche the formal Dzogchen teachings of the Zhang Zhung Nyen Gyud (Oral Transmission of Zhang Zhung). A few months after completing these teachings and entering a new cycle of the same teachings, he became gravely ill and asked Yongdzin Rinpoche to take on his role as lopon at the monastery. Lopon Sangye Tenzin Rinpoche died in Dolanji in 1977 at age 67. After his death, according to his wishes his savings were used to found the Dialectic School of Bön at Menri.
H.H. Lungtok Tenpai Nyima Rinpoche
His Holiness Lungtok Tenpai Nyima, the 33rd Menri Trizen, is the current spiritual leader of the Bön tradition. His Holiness became a monk at the age of 8 and at 24 received his geshe degree, specializing in Tibetan medicine, astronomy and astrology. At the time of the Chinese invasion of Tibet, he fled on foot to Northern India.
On March 15, 1968, he was selected to be the 33rd abbot of Menri Monastery, the spiritual leader of the Bönpo. Many lamas came from Tibet, Nepal and India to give him their initiations and teachings; and for more than a year he intensively trained and practiced for his role as abbot, the leader who would guide the Bönpo and hold all the teaching lineages.
His Holiness joined Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche in rebuilding Menri Monastery, and in establishing a Bön dialectic school that awards geshe degrees certified by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He then created the Bön Children’s Welfare Center, an orphanage for Bönpo boys and girls who had lost their families during the Chinese invasion.
Yongdzin (Lopon) Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche is the most senior teacher in the Bön tradition. Born in Kham, Eastern Tibet in 1926, he became a monk at the age of 15. After studying and meditating in a cave for four years with his master, in 1953 he was elected to the position of lopon (head teacher), the same year that he obtained his geshe degree from Menri Monastery in Tibet.
After fleeing to Nepal in 1960, Yongdzin Rinpoche went to London on a Rockefeller scholarship and collaborated h Professor David Snellgrove on The Nine Ways of Bön, the first scholarly study of the Bön tradition in the West. In 1964, he returned to Himachal Pradesh, Northern India, and founded the Dolanji Settlement for Bönpo people in exile, and then established a traditional dialectic school to preserve the Bönpo philosophical tradition.
In 1987, Yongdzin Rinpoche founded the Bön monastery Triten Norbutse, just west of Kathmandu, Nepal. He has been teaching Dzogchen regularly in the USA and Europe since 1989. In 2005, he opened Shenten Dargye Ling, an international center for the study and practice of Yungdrung Bön in Blou, France.
H.E. Menri Lopon Trinley Nyima Rinpoche is the lopon, or head instructor, of Menri Monastery in Dolanji, India. Born in Dolpo, a remote region of western Nepal, he has the family name of “Yangton” and an ancestry that traces back to Yangton Sherab Gyaltsen, a famous Dzogchen and tantric master of the 11th century. H.E. Menri Lopon Rinpoche began his training in 1976 at the age of 10. He received his geshe degree in 1989 from the Dialectic School at Menri Monastery and has been teaching at the school since that time. He became lopon of the monastery in 1992.
Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche is the abbot (khenpo) of Triten Norbutse Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal, one of the two main Bön monasteries outside of Tibet. Khenpo Rinpoche was born in 1969 in Dhorpatan, a remote area of western Nepal that hosts a small Tibetan refugee settlement and a Bön monastery. Khenpo received his geshe degree from Menri Monastery in Dolanji, India. In 1986, Khenpo Rinpoche began teaching philosophy and general Tibetan sciences to younger students.
After graduating, Khenpo Rinpoche went to Kathmandu to further his studies of Tantra and Dzogchen under the guidance of Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche. In 1996 His Holiness Menri Trizin Rinpoche and Yongdzin Rinpoche appointed Khenpo Rinpoche as ponlob (principal teacher) of Triten Norbutse Monastery. In 2001, he was appointed as khenpo of the monastery by H.H. Menri Trizin Rinpoche and H.E. Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche.
Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche is recognized as the reincarnation of the famous master Khung Tul Rinpoche, a great meditator and scholar. Beginning at age 13, Rinpoche practiced Dzogchen under the guidance of masters from both the Bön and Buddhist schools, including His Holiness Lungtok Tenpai Nyima, Lopon Sangye Tenzin Rinpoche, Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche and Geshe Yungdrung Namgyal. An accomplished scholar in the Bön Buddhist textual traditions, Tenzin Rinpoche completed an 11-year course of traditional studies at the Bön Dialectic School, where he received his doctoral, or geshe, degree.
Tenzin Rinpoche came to Rice University, Houston, in 1991 on a Rockefeller scholarship and has remained in the West to teach the ancient Bön traditions to Western students. In 1992, Rinpoche founded Ligmincha Institute. He is the most prolific living author in the Bon tradition living today, and offers courses to thousands of students in Bon study and practice around the world and online. He currently lives in Santa Barbara, California in the United States.
Tulku Pondse Jigme Tenzin (Jorge René Valles Sandoval)
Tulku Pondse Jigme Tenzin—born Jorge René Valles Sandoval on Aug. 17, 1996, in Chihuahua, Mexico—is considered the reincarnation of the great Bön master Lopon Sangye Tenzin Rinpoche. Only a few weeks after Jorge René’s birth, Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche informed his parents that their third child was the incarnation of Lopon Sangye Tenzin; His Holiness Lungtok Tenpai Nyima Rinpoche confirmed this soon afterwards.
Tulku Jorge Rene was enthroned at Menri Monastery in Dolanji, India, in December 1999 by His Holiness and given the name Pondse Jigme Tenzin. He also was enthroned at Triten Norbutsé Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal, by Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche and Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche. Tulku Jorge René has received teachings at both monasteries and in Mexico.
Since 2000 he has attended summer retreats at Ligmincha Institute at Serenity Ridge in Shipman, Virginia, and has attended most of the retreats and seminars organized by Ligmincha Mexico.
 For a complete list of all the lineage holders from Tonpa Shenrab up to Tapihritsa, most of who achieved the rainbow body, refer to Masters of the Zhang Zhung Nyengyud: Pith Instructions from the Experiential Transmission of Bönpo Dzogchen, by Yongdzin Lopon Tenzin Namdak. See also John Myhrdin Reynolds, The Oral Tradition from Zhang-Zhung: An Introduction to the Bönpo Dzogchen Teachings of the Oral Tradition from Zhang-Zhung for a more comprehensive biographies of the lineage masters. See also the website, Nine Ways ravencypresswoods.com.