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



On 22nd June 2024 we heard the sad news that Lama Yangtön Tashi Gyaltsen of the Yangtön lineage passed away in Kathamandu. We were fortunate to have met him on our first visit to Nepal in 1996 when we shared many meals and lively debates with him in Triten Norbutse Monastery.

Here is a short biography:

Lama Yangtön Tashi Gyaltsen was the son of Nyima Tseten. As a young boy he received the genyen[1] vows from Lama Nyima. He received initiations of external, internal and secret divinities according to the system of the ancient masters and completed a traditional three-year retreat in the now abandoned Tadzong Phuntsok Ling.  He later accompanied Barle Lama Tsugkhü Gyaltsen, Samling Lama Namgyal Wangdü and Tarap Lama Tsukphü Wangdrak on pilgrimage to Kathmandu. As it turned out, H. E. Yongdzin Lopön Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche was in Phakpa Shingku[2] at that time, so through the power of past good karma, Tashi Gyaltsen was able to meet Yongdzin Rinpoche. Yongdzin Rinpoche told him stories about the ancient Yangtön lamas, stressing the importance of this lineage for the Bön tradition. Yongdzin Rinpoche urged him to go to Dolanji, become a monk and study, and then return to his native land that the Buddha Tönpa Shenrab’s doctrine may flourish once again in Dolpo. The young Tashi Gyaltsen promised to do so, and subsequently took robes in Menri monastery, Dolanji. He took full Vinaya vows and received a great many instructions and initiations from Menri Tridzin Rinpoche, Yongdzin Rinpoche and many other great Bönpo masters. In particular, he received the complete instructions on the Zhang Zhung Nyengyud Dzogchen from Lopön Sanggye Tenzin Rinpoche and Lopön Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche. After joining the dialectic school in Dolanji he studied Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen as well as the Five Sciences and received his geshe degree in 1986.

                Since ancient times, the single lineage transmission of this most important Bönpo Dzogchen cycle, the Zhang Zhung Nyengyud Dzogchen, has been passed down from generation to generation in a long line of Yangtön clan lamas. Yangtön Togden Depa Sherab gave full instructions and transmitted the Zhang Zhung Nyengyud to Dru Gyalwa Yungdrung of Dru, so the transmission entered the Dru clan. The practice lineage of the Zhang Zhung Nyengyud subsequently declined among the Yangtön clan lamas in the Dolpo area, but more recently, Yongdzin Lopön Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, the current holder of the single lineage of Zhang Zhung Nyengyud, transmitted the whole cycle to Yangtön Tashi Gyaltsen, thereby re-introducing the teachings from the Dru lineage to the Yangtön lamas.

                Lama Tashi Gyaltsen returned to Tsarkha after graduating, and all the local Bönpo implored him to take up position as head of the local gompa, which he did. Until his passing away on 22nd June 2024 he worked to ensure the spread and preservation of the doctrines in this area.

Taken and adapted from: Jinpa, Nagru Geshe Gelek and Carol Ermakova, Dmitry Ermakov. Bön in Nepal: Traces of the Great Zhang Zhung Ancestors in Himalayas, The Light of the History of Existence, (New Delhi, Frosterley: Heritage Publishers & Foundation for the Preservation of Yungdrung Bön, 2013), pp. 125-126.

Cover photo of Lama Yangtön Tashi Gyalsten courtsey of Geshe Tenzin Yangön.

[1] Tib. dge bsnyen – vows of a layman. Traditionally, Tib. tshe ring skra bcad, a symbolic hair cutting, is also performed on this occasion.

[2] Tib. ‘Phags pa shing kun – Swayambhunath.


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