From Ponlop Trinley Nyima
My Dear Friends:
I hope you all are very well and in good health. His Holiness the Dalai Lama just visited Menri Monastery, so I wanted to write and tell you all about his trip here. I am sure that you all know about the Dalai Lama, so I don't need to explain who he is! But briefly, he is the leader of the Tibetans, not just in the political sense, but he is also our religious leader. He is a very great leader and very peaceful and even-minded. This is his second visit to Menri. The first was on April 21, 1988. This year his visit also fell on April 21-this wasn't planned but just happened naturally, so we all felt that it was auspicious. This year His Holiness Lungtog Tenpai Nyima invited the Dalai Lama, particularly to celebrate the opening of our new library. The Dalai Lama arrived on the 20th, and he came by helicopter. Myself and the monastery officials all went to Solan to welcome him, and at that time we offered katas. At that time I offered him a blue kata. Blue is a special color for the Bon tradition. In particular, it is a symbol of everlastingness-just like the sky and the ocean, which are blue and are unchanging. Similarly, there is also one kind of grass called "tshe" that is blue in all the seasons. Another reason we use it is that Buddha Tonpa Shenrab once came from the god realm to the human realm in the form of a blue cuckoo. We say that the blue cuckoo has the nicest song, and that especially in the springtime its voice is the most beautiful among all the birds.
The Dalai Lama arrived at Menri around 2:00pm, all the Bon people and monks had a welcome ceremony for him, and offered katas to welcome him to the monastery. That day at 3:00pm some of the monks did a debate demonstration in front of the Dalai Lama at the Menri temple. The debate involved all of the vehicles: sutra, tantra, and dzogchen. The Dalai Lama said that he was quite pleased with the debate, and complimented the monks on their studies.
At that time, the Dalai Lama also gave a speech to the monks. He mentioned that in the past people had told him that Bon was not a "Buddhist" tradition. Here the terminology is very difficult, because like the Buddhists we consider ourselves to be an "insider" tradition (nang pa). Although we are not followers of Sakyamuni Buddha, we still say that ours is a "doctrine of the buddhas" (sangs rgyas chos), because there are buddhas in our system, and we have methods for training the mind and becoming enlightened. So, in response to the claim that ours is an "outsider" tradition or "non-Buddhist," the Dalai Lama told us "I have never said this." He said that Bon is the tradition of our forefathers (pha ma'i chos), and that he feels that the Bon teachings are very profound, sometimes similar to Buddhism, but different methods for reaching the same goal of enlightenment. He told us that since 1960, he has accepted Bon as part of the Tibetan government, and that he feels very accepting, trusting, and appreciative of the Bon tradition.
On the 21st, we did a long life ritual for the Dalai Lama, from the Bon rituals. Then I read an explanation of the mandala, and His Holiness Lungtog Tenpai Nyima led a mandala offering for the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama thanked us for the offering and for the prayers, and said that he would pray for us in return. He said that he also hoped he would have a long life, and would do his best to stay with us for a long time. We then offered him a Bon hat, the lotus hat (pad zhwu), which he put on. The hat is for the higher monks in the Bon tradition (drang song), who hold 250 vows. Just as a lotus is pure and clean, similarly the ones who wear the hat keep their vows purely.
After 10:00am on the 21st, we had the opening ceremony for the Yungdrung Bon Library. At this time, the Dalai Lama untied a 5-colored ribbon on the door, and then we went into the main temple in the library, where we did a consecration ritual (rab gnas) for the building. During the ceremony, the Dalai Lama used the Bon bell; he told us that he had never used this before, that it was difficult! Following the consecration, he mentioned that he really appreciated the ceremony, and felt that the ritual was from a very meaningful and great text.
The library here does not just contain Bon works, but has texts from all the Tibetan traditions. Inside the main room, in addition to Bon scriptures, we also have the Buddhist Kanjur and Tenjur, and important collections from Geluk, Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Jonang traditions. We even have begun collections from foreign religious traditions. So, although we have called the library the Yungdrung Bon Library, its goal is not to be sectarian. As the Dalai Lama toured the library, he complimented us on it, and said that it would be of great benefit for research scholars and students of religion and history, and that it seemed to him to be in the spirit of non-sectarianism (ris med).
Many Tibetans from outside of Dolanji attended the opening ceremony, and people came from Ladakh, Sikkim, Tibet, Nepal, Darjeeling, and Bhutan. After lunch, the Dalai Lama gave a public talk to everyone hat had come. Here, he said that Bon is Tibet's native tradition, that it is very important in Tibetan history, and that we need to learn more about it and learn more deeply. He mentioned that some in the past had said that Bon was just a ritual system; he said that in actuality it contains many great teachings and spiritual advice, and that it was important for us to learn more about it. He also mentioned that if we needed any help from him or the Tibetan government to please let him know, and that he would help us.
That afternoon, the school children also performed some dances for the Dalai Lama. At this time he mentioned that Bon was not only important as a religious system, but that it had made many cultural and political contributions to Tibet. He told us that he was very happy with his visit, and was glad that he had been able to come to Menri, the main monastery of the Bon tradition.
On the morning of the 22nd, all of the monks gathered in front of the temple, and we took some wonderful photos. Later, I went with the party to Solan to tell him goodbye. I requested him to please come again to Menri, and he said that he would like to.
I hope this finds you all well and in good health. I will pray for all of you, for your long life and good health. I also would like to ask you all to pray for the long life of the Dalai Lama.
Ponlop Trinley Nyima