“Tönpa Shenrab Miwo and Buddha Shakyamuni”: brief discourse by Yongdzin Rinpoche
Many people may wonder if or how the historical Buddha Shakyamuni is connected with Tönpa Shenrab Miwo.
Tönpa Shenrab descended to this planet eighteen thousand and eighteen years ago, but that is not according to our era, our time. Maybe you think this something beyond history, that it must be some kind of mythological story. You are free to think that, of course, but we followers of Bön are still using his teachings even though we have had so many different struggles over this long period. We have kept the Teachings very carefully, and we don’t trust or take whatever we have heard or seen lightly; we check things very carefully then keep and preserve them. So we believe that what we are keeping is something very precious; we don’t easily just accept whatever we see or hear. Therefore, our studies and our dialectic school are very important for us, because through study and debate we can ensure that the teachings are pure and not mixed with any defects. They have been preserved in pure form for so many centuries. That is why our studies take a long time and are very hard.
Before Tönpa Shenrab descended to this planet, he was in the Deva Loka palace. There, he had a very special disciple called Hlabu Dampa Tog Karpo, Son of Gods, Sage with a Crystal Head-ornament. This disciple was a previous incarnation of Buddha Shakyamuni. At that time, heretics were destroying human health and wealth on Earth so there was a lot of suffering. Tönpa Shenrab saw the connection between the spread of false teaching and the human suffering, and he saw he was able to control it through his first disciple. So Tönpa Shenrab ordered Hlabu Dampa Togkar to go to India. That was the centre from where the heretic teachings spread.
‘What shall I do? How can I control them?’ asked Hlabu Dampa Tog Karpo.
‘You should preach what you have heard from me, your Master,’ replied Tönpa Shenrab.
Then the Buddha explained his disciple the Twelve Deeds of Buddha, and advised him to control the heretics in that way.
Thus, whatever Shakyamuni preached is acceptable for Bönpos. But because there is so much studying and knowledge which we need to practise on the Bönpo side that even though we do respect Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings, there is not much time to practise them. It is a bit like the situation here, today, in this retreat – you can listen but you don’t have much time to practise!
As Bönpos we do very much respect Buddha Shakyamuni’s real teaching, but then gradually so many commentaries were added, and maybe some people added their personal ideas or something, so there are so many different explanations that gradually it became quite different. Maybe some points are still very closely related to Shakyamuni’s own teachings. Anyhow, we respectfully keep his teachings and the doctrines he preached.
The background and subject do not differ so much for Tönpa Shenrab or Shakyamuni. The names and languages are quite different since Tönpa Shenrab taught in Tagzig, Olmo Lungring and Zhang Zhung. Shakyamuni taught in India. But the meaning has to be very similar. Why? Because it is Teacher and Pupil speaking.
Extracted from and re-edited: Yongdzin Lopön Tenzin Namdak, Trnscr. & Ed. Carol and Dmitry Ermakovi. Teachings in Blanc: Nyamgyud, Morning, Volume I, 3-15 June, 2001. Association Yungdrung Bön, 2006.
 Tib. Ston-pa Gshen-rab mi-bo-che.
 As of 2001. This year, 2022, is 18039th year since the birth of Tönpa Shenrab.
 In many traditional sources Tönpa Shenrab’s lifespan is calculated in shen-years (Tib. gshen-lo) with one shen-year being equal to 100 human years.
 Tib. bshad-grwa – dialectic school.
 Tib. Srid-pa ye-sangs.
 Tib. Lha-bu Dam-pa tog-dkar.
 Tib. mu-stegs-pa.
 Tib. Mdzad-chen bcu-gnyis.
 Tib. Stag-gzig, ‘Ol-mo lung-ring, Zhang-Zhung.
Left: Buddha Tönpa Shenrab Miwo. Thangka by Geshe Monlam Wangyal. Right: Buddha Shakyamuni. Seated Buddha, Gandharan style, Kushan era. Tokyo National Museum. Photo: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, Creative Commons / Wikimedia.