Foundation for the Preservation of Yungdrung Bön / གཡུང་དྲུང་བོན་ཉར་ཚགས་རིག་མཛོད།

The Multiverse in Yungdrung Bön

The Multiverse in Yungdrung Bön

Based on teachings and explanations by Yongdzin Lopön Tenzin Namdak, Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung and Geshe Gelek Jinpa given 1995–2006

In both Bön and Buddhist texts alike, it is generally said that our universe is flat. However, as everything appears to sentient beings through the ripening of their karma, there is in fact no such thing as a fixed shape or a fixed universal perception; we can see different forms. At one time the universe is explained as being flat but the Yungdrung Bön texts also say that in some cases the form of the universe is seen as very long and narrow, or round like a ball, or completely square, or semi-circular, or as very tall and narrow. Nothing is fixed as everything appears according to karmic cause and everything is projected by sentient beings. Nevertheless, in Yungdrung Bön the standard model of our universe is that it is flat with the World Mountain in the centre surrounded by the mountain ranges, the ocean with twelve islands and then the outer rim. That is known as one tsangjung,[1] or our universe.

Our universe, however, is only a miniscule segment in the system of the Three Thousandfold Universe, which is in fact filled with similar universes. Each universe is flat and has a World Mountain in the centre surrounded by the four islands each with two small island companions. Each universe has beings similar to those of the Six Realms of our universe, and each universe has a Buddha who manifests an emanation in each of the Six Realms, all of whom teach simultaneously. One thousand of such universes are piled up one on top of another in twenty-five layers like biscuits in a packet or like beads on a thread. Our universe is in the centre with twelve universes above and twelve universes below. Forty strings of twenty-five universes are arranged around it like pillars thus making one thousand universes. Around them is a fence, and that is counted as the first thousand.

This thousand is counted as one unit and there are again one thousand of them arranged in the same manner, surrounded by a fence. That is the second thousand.[2]

This thousand is again taken as one unit and one thousand of them are arranged in a similar manner with a fence outside. That is tongsum,[3] the Three-Thousandfold Universe which consists of one thousand million universes.

This tongsum is multiplied one thousand times to make kopa dangpo.[4] Kopa dangpo in turn is multiplied one thousand times making kopa barma.[5] Kopa barma is multiplied one thousand times forming kopa thama.[6] This is the dulzhing[7] of Tönpa Shenrab throughout which his teachings are spread. No matter how many sentient beings are contained in the universes of this dulzhing, he can reach them all with his compassion.

Furthermore, in the ten directions there are ten universe complexes similar to the dulzhing of Tönpa Shenrab. Each of them has its own Buddha who reaches all the beings within his dulzhing. Thus we have a group of ten universe complexes, including Tönpa Shenrab’s dulzhing, and this forms a multiverse called muchu dangpo.[8] This in turn is taken as one and multiplied one thousand times and that is muchu barma.[9] Muchu barma is multiplied by one thousand to make muchu thama.[10]

This is then again multiplied one thousand times forming dogdal dangpo,[11] which is multiplied a further one thousand times becoming dogdal barma[12] which is again multiplied one thousand times to make one dogdal thama.[13] It is said that even a Buddha loses count beyond this; there is no end to the number of universes and sentient beings within them.

[1] Tib. tshang rgyung.

[2] I.e. 1,000,000 universes.

[3] Tib. stong gsum.

[4] Tib. bkod pa dang po consists of 1011 universes.

[5] Tib. bkod pa bar ma consists of 1014 universes.

[6] Tib. bkod pa tha ma consists of 1017 universes.

[7] Tib. gdul zhing.

[8] Tib. mu khud dang po consists of 1018 universes.

[9] Tib. mu khud bar ma consists of 1021 universes.

[10] Tib. mu khud tha ma consists of 1024 universes.

[11] Tib. dog bdal dang po consists of 1027 universes.

[12] Tib. dog bdal bar ma constists of 1030 universes.

[13] Tib. dog bdal tha ma consists of 1033 universes.

Extracted from: Ermakov, D. Bө and Bön: Ancient Shamanic Traditions of Siberia and Tibet in Their Relation to the Teachings of a Central Asian Buddha (Kathmandu: Vajra Publications. 2008), Chapter IV, Cosmology, The Multiverse, pp. 200-202.

Illustration: Our Universe, Tib. tshang rgyang gi bkod pa, mural at Triten Norbutse Monastery, photo by Christophe Moulin.


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