Enlightened beings are often depicted as deities, although they are not seen as gods (lha), who are still within the samsaric cycle of existence, but rather as fully enlightened buddhas. They may appear in either peaceful form or in wrathful forms, and are the focus of deity yoga meditation practice and invocations for protection.
THE PEACEFUL DEITIES
Kuntu Zangpo is the Primordial Buddha from whom Lord Shenrab was emanated and took a human body for the benefit of all sentient beings. He is also referred to in Sanskrit by the name “Samantabhadra.” The name Kuntu Zangpo means “that which is most excellent and present in all places.” Thus our ancient texts refer to Kuntu Zangpo as being “Self-Awareness”, “True Self” and “Source of the Self”.
In the introduction to an English translation of selections from the Bönpo Book of the Dead, John Myrdhin Reynolds says, “The Homage, with which the Tibetan text opens, Kuntu bzang-po rang-rig gsal-bar ston la phyag ‘tshal-lo, invokes the Primordial Buddha Kuntu Zangpo (…Skt. Samantabhadra) as being the Self-Awareness (rang-rig) which clearly reveals itself (gsal-ba ‘iston) at the heart or core of every single individual sentient being.
This Self-Awareness clearly reveals and shows itself in the guise of the ordinary everyday conscious life of the individual. Consciousness or awareness in itself testifies to the presence of Kuntu Zangpo, the Primordial Buddha. For that reason, the very name Kuntu Zangpo itself points to the meaning: that which is most excellent (bzang-po) is present everywhere (kuntu) in every sentient being. This presence is what makes a sentient being (sems-can) sentient. This indicates the presence in sentient beings of an intrinsic awareness (rig-pa), one that is in itself beyond time and space, but which engages itself in the infinitudes of time and space.”
With reference to the Dharmakaya, the same designation of Kuntu Zangpo is employed for the Primordial Buddha in the scriptures of both the Old Schools, the Nyingmapa and the Bönpo. Although Kuntu Zangpo represents the Primordial Buddha who has been enlightened from the very beginning (ye sangs-rgyas), nevertheless, He is equally present in the heart and at the core of every single sentient being as the Base (gzhi) or the Primordial State of the individual.
As the Dharmakaya, He is without boundaries, without limitations, without definitions, without any divisions, like the infinite sky itself. He is totally all-pervading and all-encompassing. Because He is totally devoid of and in no way limited by any conceptions or discursive thoughts whatsoever, iconographically he is represented as a nude Buddha figure, lacking any ornaments or adornments, sitting in meditation position in the center of the infinitude of space. He is shown in meditation position or samadhi-mudra because He represents the state of pure contemplation that is beyond the workings of the mind and its conceptual limitations…He sits upon an immaculate lotus blossom because He embodies a total primordial purity.
Kuntu Zangpo is the essence of enlightenment or Bodhichitta) who has been wholly present from the very beginning as purity and perfection, but who has gone unrecognized by ordinary deluded sentient beings, still caught up in Samsara, due to the arising of adventitious obscurations that conceal and cloud the presence of the primordial enlightenment which is Kuntu Zangpo.”
THE FOUR SUGATAS
Within the Bön tradition, there are Four Principal Sugatas (Conqueror Buddhas), referred to as the Four Peaceful Deities:
1. Sangpo Bumtri: the Creator Dharmakaya Deity
2. Sherab Chamma: the mother of all Buddhas. She embodies the perfection of wisdom and love. She is also known as Satrig Ersang, her Zhang Zhung name.
3. Shenlha Okar: the God of Compassion, a Sambhogakaya emanation of Sangpo Bumtri’s love in the world working within Lord Tonpa Shenrab.
4. Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche (Lord Buddha Tonpa): the Nirmanakaya Buddha and World Teacher.
Sangpo Bumtri is the creator god of Bon. He has “neither eyes to see, nor hands to hold, nor ears to hear, nor nose to smell; he has only his spirit.
Yum Chen Sherab Chamma (The Great Wisdom Loving Mother) is known as the Mother of all Enlightened Ones and source of all love and Compassion.
All Bön deities come from Chamma, she is the compassionate and wise mother of all. Chamma is the feminine counterpart to Shenlha Odkar. Her body is also “dzo ku,” the body of perfection. Chamma is available to everyone for comfort, guidance and healing as she has the power to dispel all obstacles such as fear, sickness, sadness or negative impact of demonic forces. She is thereby able to prolong life. Chamma holds a mirror in her left hand. This mirror represents the purity of Chamma heart as reflected in a perfect understanding of the karma and suffering of all beings. The vase in her right hand contains the essence of the potential hopes, dreams and accomplishments of all who are committed to Chamma. Her throne is supported, like Shenlha Odkar, by two snow lions representing her supremacy over all life.
Mantra: OM MA WA MA DE MA HI MO HA E MA HO MA YE RU PA YE TA DHU DHU SO HA
Shenlha Okar personifies one of the three main aspects of Tonpa Shenrab: the Creator (srid) is Sangmo Bumtri, the Deity (lha) is Shenlha Odkar; and the Priest (Shen) is Tonpa Shenrab.
Shenlha Odkar is the deity of Supreme Compassion. Out of his compassion the Bon teachings and practices have grown to assist all sentient beings on the path to liberation. He is the master teacher of all teachers and teaching has become his primary activity. Odkar means ‘white light’ and his body of light is pearlescent, the body of perfection (dzog ku). Shenlha Odkar is always dressed in elaborate, ceremonial robes with his hands in the meditation mudra. He sits on a throne supported by two snow lions, which represent Shenlha Odkar’s supremacy over all life forms.
Mantra: A OM HUNG AA A KAR SA LE OH A YANG OM DHU
Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche
Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche, the Completely Enlightened One, and the founder of the Yungdrung Bön religion, was born in 16,017 BC, in the land of Olmo Lung Ring. Tonpa Shenrab appeared initially as an ordinary man. Before he attained Buddhahood, he went through the six realms of cyclic existence in countless births. He entered the door of enlightenment through the practices of accumulating merit and purifying himself, resulting in the attainment of the transcendental qualities of wisdom, loving kindness and compassion. He is superior among all the exalted enlightened beings and is dedicated to the liberation of all sentient beings. In order to rescue them, he turned the Dharma Wheel of Bön three times as an antidote to all suffering.
OTHER PEACEFUL DEITIES
Tapihritsa was born as son of Rasang Lugyal at Dharog in Zhangzhung in the 17th century. From his childhood he bore a special interest in the virtuous deeds. At the age of eleven, he received complete ordination relating to Dzogchen from his master by the name of Tsepung Dawa Gyaltsen.
For nine entire years he remained fully committed in conducting retreat in a place known as Mamig, which is located toward the north of Mt. Kailash. It is believed that after accomplishing his intensive and systematic practice on Dzögchen teaching, he obtained the state of Buddhahood by dissolving his physical body into rainbow color.
Attaining the rainbow body means the body disappears from sight, leaving no trace of where it has gone. It is believed that practitioners of the great perfection, Dzögchen practice, may accomplish the rainbow body by total purification of the body, mind and spirit through devotion to the Dzögchen meditations. A practitioner who works hard and realizes the original self with no attachment can ultimately disappear from this planet, leaving only bits of hair and nails on the meditation cushion from which the practitioner has departed.
As a result of Tapihritsa’s marvelous teaching as many as twenty-five disciples have attained the Rainbow Body Accomplishment.
Medicine Buddha, Men Lha, is a manifestation of Tonpa Shenrab, the original Bon Teacher and Enlightened One. The history of the Medicine Buddha teaching comes from the sutra of ‘Healing Method for Sickness of Affliction and Ignorance’ from the ‘Mandala of King of Medicine and Ritual Ceremonies for Enlightenment’ text. Importantly medicine is associated here with wellness as enlightenment.
Tonpa Shenrab became aware of the suffering of people living to the north of ancient Olmo Lung Ring on a little island called Dawa Ruting. This island was dominated by the evil deeds of the Prince Drachen Korlo, whose actions caused disturbances, sickness and suffering for the people. Tonpa Shenrab gave this teaching to eliminate their suffering, and heal them from temporal difficult conditions, to purify negative karmic deeds and to free them from the five inner poisons based on ignorance, and to harmonize and restore peace to the region.
It was at the request of the kings of the island of Dawa Ruting that Tonpa Shenrab first gave the teachings of the Medicine Buddha. They were then transmitted through Chadbu Trishe, one of Tonpa Shenrab’s eight sons and the source of all healing tradition of Tibetan Medicine lineage according to Bön. Gradually it was passed through masters in a continuous lineage down to the founder of the original Menri Monastery, Nyammed Sherab Gyaltsen, and all the subsequent holders of that lineage and has been preserved unbroken to the present day.
While Tonpa Shenrab was in the process of giving teachings, his body began to turn blue, the special color of Menlha, the Bön Medicine deity. Menlha possesses the perfect body (dzo ku). He sits resplendent in his ceremonial robes and lotus crown on a lotus throne supported by two white elephants. Menlha’s right hand holds a Yungdrung Chakshing. His left hand is in a meditation posture holding the Arura (principle seed of healing) still in use today. He sits in the Vajra cross-legged position and gazes toward the west. All beings receiving the blessings of these teachings shall be healed.
Mantra: OM NA MA MIR TA YU DRANG RED NA A MIR TA DRUM DU
The name of the Bön deity Drenpa Namkha means “memory as vast as the sky” according to H.H. 33rd Menri Trizin. This deity has knowledge of the past and the future as well as the present. Drenpa Namkha provides protection from bad fortune, disease, and unhappiness through aspects like the Medicine Buddha and the prosperity deity Dzambhala. The deity has appeared in human manifestation as a prince in Zhang Zhung and later was born in 718 as a Tibetan who preserved teachings and made prophecies for a future time such as the present. The Supplication Prayer of Drenpa Namkha is shown in the illustration.
Mantra: AH OM HUNG DRENPA MU LA HA RI NI SA SI DI HRING HRING HUNG HUNG DZA DZA
Dzambhala, Prosperity Deity, is the deity who manifests wealth and prosperity. He is also known as Blue Namse. He is adorned with heavenly silk garment, sits on a naturally emerged throne, pressing a wealth vase under his left outstretching leg, holding in right hand a sprout of rice and in his left hand, he holds a mongoose-shaped leather bag, representing a container which holds whatever you need to fulfill your wishes. Tibetans love to have a statue or image of Dzambhala in their home. They believe that the deity helps to fulfill all dreams.
Mantra: OM RED NA KU WE RA HA! YAG SHA ZAM BHA LA YE SO NGO DRUB RED NA SI TI DHU!
Mawai Sengge is the wisdom deity of the Yungdrung Bön tradition. His light dispels ignorance, allowing wisdom to grow in each being and represents the highest manifestation of truth and justice. He is invoked by the monastic community to guide them during debate. He holds a sword in his right hand symbolizing the power obtained through truth and justice to eliminate ignorance and attachment. His left hand is in the mudra of the declaration of the Bön truth and rising from his arm is the lotus flower of purity supporting a holy light. He sits on a dragon throne which demonstrates the enlightened quality of his speech.
The role of the wrathful deities is to fight against ignorance and the enemies of the teaching.
The Five Wrathful Yidams (tutelary deities) who govern the tantric rituals of Mother Tantra and Father Tantra are:
1. Welse Ngampa with 9 heads and 18 arms
2. Lhagö Togpa
3. Trowo Khaging
4. Welchen Gekhö: God of Mount Tise (Kailash) in Zhang Zhung. He has 9 heads, and is the God of the yearly cycle
5. Phurba: God of resolved action, the Khyung (garuda) with the power of the Phurba (dagger)
Other major wrathful deities in the Bön pantheon are
Takla Mebar, the Flame Tiger God, is an enlightened wrathful deity. He strongly protects the Yungdrung Bon teachings and its followers against both enemies and wrong views. If one meditates on Takla Mebar as a yidam and accomplishes the recitation of his mantra, one may experience many rewards, including protecting one’s life force and assistance in accomplishing one’s personal goals.
Sidpe Gyalmo, Queen of the Universe, is the chief wrathful protector deity of the Yungdrung Bön. She has a horrifying aspect in order to frighten evil ones. Her job is to protect all sentient beings from harm. Sidpe Gyalmo is the most special guardian of all Yungdrung Bön. She is a deity of exorcism and healing using her ferocious aspect to transmute all negative energies thus assisting in the healing of all sentient beings. Sidpe Gyalmo is indigo in color with three faces: the right face is white and represents the father, the left face is red and represents the mother, the center of the face is indigo and represents her omnipresence. She is riding on a mule and has six arms holding:
- a victory banner indicating her triumph over emotional afflictions
- a sword made of a thunderbolt symbolizing her eradication of hostile forces and gaining control over life and death
- a phurba (glorious dagger), symbolizing the salvation of all sentient beings from illusion
- a mirror symbolizing the reflection clearly appearing of all cosmic truth in her wisdom mind
- a hook, symbolizing the liberation of all sentient beings
- a skull cup filled with blood, symbolizing her devouring of devils who have broken their pledge.
Her body is draped in skulls and fresh flayed human skin to indicate her dominion over evil and death. Her indigo color represents her control over boundless space; the flames surrounding her represent her ultimate power to burn away ignorance and all negativity. Sidpe Gyalmo has a special shrine in all Yungdrung Bön temples where prayers are said to her round the year, morning and night by a Sidpe Gyalmo prayer master. These prayer masters thank her for her special love and protection of Yungdrung Bön and all sentient beings. They ask her to liberate the world from evil and bring everlasting peace.
Mantra: SO MA MA ZA NYE LO YO RAM THUN JO!
Yeshe Walmo, Wisdom Protector is considered the wisdom aspect of Sidpe Gyalmo. Throughout the ages, whenever the Bön religion suffered persecution, lamas would hide Bön texts and sacred ritual objects in mountains. Yeshe Walmo is the deity in charge of keeping Bön texts and sacred items safe. She is the preserver and protector of all Bön wisdom and allows these objects to be found when times are ripe. These hidden objects are known as “terma” and the finder, usually a dakini, is known as a “terton.” Dakinis, feminine spirit beings, often manifest in human form. There are many stories of termas being discovered by tertons in Tibet even in this modern day.
Yeshe Walmo is in the same color as Sidpe Gyalmo, but has only one face and two arms. She’s standing on one foot dressed in peacock feathers, which symbolize the transmutation of poison (ignorance). In her right hand, she holds a flaming thunderbolt sword, which cuts away ignorance. Her left hand holds a vase filled with the waters of long life. She wears a tiger skin, which displays her prowess over the most ferocious energies of nature. She stands upon a lotus flower representing the purity of her wisdom and is surrounded by flames burning all ignorance.
Yeshe Walmo works swiftly when called upon for any assistance (health problems, business problems, life problems, etc.) and is an especially good aide to students and scholars.
Mantra: OM A BHI YA NAG PO BAD SOD SO HA
Another mantra: SO MA MA RA YO DZA
Khung Mar, Red Garuda, is a Wisdom protector manifestation of pure awareness. One of the most important Bön deities, Red Garuda represents the fiery power of energy. This deity protects against obstacles of the outer, the inner, and the secret. He transforms the five poisons, and liberates sentient beings from suffering. The Red Garuda healing practice is highly effective physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Mantra: HUNG TRO TA YA GA RU NA TRI TRONG HA RA NYE LO YO SO THUN TU
A very ancient protectress of Tibet. She is depicted riding a mule, and is also a popular protectress of all the Buddhist lineages in Tibet.
A protector of the Zhang Zhung Nyengyud Dzogchen teaching, he helps Welchen Gekhö. He is depicted with a peaceful face, riding a horse and wearing a white turban. His female partner is Menmo from the Men Goddess family.
Zhang Zhung Meri
Zhang Zhung Meri is a Bon yidam from the ancient land of Zhang Zhung, and the high protector of the Zhang Zhung Nyengyud Dzogchen lineage.
A Tsen God, depicted as riding a horse and wearing an armor.
A former demon who was converted to Bön and became an oath bound protector.
Gyalchen Dragpa Seng
And From Khyungdzong Wodsel Ling’s website, http://kwling.org/bon/dieties/