H.E. Yongdzin Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoché

Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche is the senior lineage holder of the Yungdrung Bon tradition. He is the precious master of all the teachers listed on this website, as well as the founder of Shenten Dargye Ling, the honorary President of its Congregation, and above all, the most beloved and venerated master of all the western Bon students who are connected with Shenten. From 2005 until recently, Yongdzin Rinpoche spent part of every year at Shenten where he offered teachings to students who felt called to travel there to be with him. Now, since Rinpoche´s advanced age doesn’t permit him to travel to Europe, many of his students seek opportunities to visit him at his home monastery in Kathmandu, Triten Norbutse, which he founded and which he continues to bless with the joyful presence and selflessness so typical of him.

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Tankas representing Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak and his two masters surmounted by Tapihritza

H.E. Yongdzin Lopön Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche is the current lineage holder of the Yungdrung Bön tradition and doctrine. He was born in the Kham province in eastern Tibet in 1926. At the age of seven he entered Tengchen Monastery to start his education. In 1940, at the age of fifteen, he went with his uncle to Yungdrung Ling, a leading Bön monastery in central Tibet.

 

At the age of seventeen, and very much against the wishes of his cousin, Rinpoche made the two-day walk to Menri Monastery, and was ordained. He was finally able to realize his dream of becoming a monk. He took his vows from Gyaltsab Tsakpe Gelong and the teacher Sonam Rinchen. He received the ordination name Tenzin Namdak, “The Guardian of the Essence of the Pure Doctrine of Buddha”.

 

From 1940 to 1942 Rinpoche helped his uncle to execute a series of wall paintings for the new temple in Yungdrung Ling making use of his training since the age of eleven as an artist and painter. In late 1942 he went on pilgrimage to Nepal and western Tibet, returning to Yungdrung Ling in mid-1943 to begin his studies in philosophy.

 

During 1944-1948 Yongdzin Rinpoche lived and studied with his teacher and master, Gangru Tsultrim Gyaltsan Rinpoche, who had retired as Lopön (principal teacher) of Yungdrung Ling. Much of this period was spent in a remote meditation cave at Juru Tso Lake in Namtsokha, northern Tibet, where Gangru Ponlob Rinpoche taught him grammar, poetics, monastic discipline, cosmology and the stages of the path to enlightenment according to Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen.

 

In the end of 1948, he traveled to Menri Monastery in Tsang province, central Tibet, to complete his studies for the Geshe degree (the Tibetan equivalent of a doctorate in philosophy) according to the advice of his first master. His main teacher at Menri was Lopön Sangye Tenzin Rinpoche. In 1952 at the age of 27, he was awarded his Geshe degree, and he was also elected to succeed his master as Lopön of the monastery.

 

He retired from his activities as Lopön at Menri in 1957 due to increasing conflicts and Chinese communist pressure to the monastic life. He went to Sezhig Monastery on Lake Dangra - a sacred lake for the Bönpo - in northern Tsang, where he remained in personal retreat until 1960. Like tens of thousands of other Tibetans, Rinpoche tried to escape to India after the Lhasa uprising against the Chine Communist occupiers, but he was shot and held in Communist imprisonment for ten months before managing to escape over the Himalayan border to Nepal.

 

In his escape, Yongdzin Rinpoche was able to conceal the famous stupa of Nyame Sherab Gyaltsen together with statues, precious relics and other sacred objects in a cave at Lug-do Drag in the area of Tsochen, Tibet. During his escape he carried with him the precious volumes of the Oral Transmission of the Zhang Zhung Nyen Gyud and other texts to ensure their preservation for the future.

 

In 1961, Rinpoche was invited to London by his colleague, English Tibetologist, professor David Snellgrove. Under a Rockefeller Foundation grant, he became a visiting scholar first at SOAS, University of London and then at Cambridge University. The collaboration with professor Snellgrove resulted in the publication of The Nine Ways of Bön, which includes extracts translated from the esteemed Zijid  (The Magnificence), an extensive hagiography of the founder of Bön, Tönpa Shenrab Miwo. This was the first scholarly study of the Yungdrung Bön tradition conducted and published in the West. Rinpoche stayed in England for three years, until 1964.

 

During 1964-1967 Rinpoche strived to keep the Bönpo people and their culture alive in exile in India. In 1966 he succeeded to formally establish and register with the Indian Government a settlement for Bönpo refugees under the name of the Tibetan Bönpo Foundation in Dolanji in northern India. In 1967, with financial assistance from the Catholic Relief Service, he bought a piece of land, and started the settlement, school and monastery there. Around eighty families were transferred from Manali and each received a house and a small piece of land, the size depending on size of the family. 

After passing away of the spiritual head of the Bön community in exile, the 32nd Trizin (Abbot) of Menri Monastery, His Holiness Sherab Lodrö, Yongdzin Rinpoche facilitated the appointment of the 33rd Trizin of Menri Monastery, His Holiness Lungtok Tenpai Nyima Rinpoche in 1969 and his recognition as the official spiritual head of the Yungdrung Bön tradition. Yongdzin Rinpoche and H.H. Menri Trizin worked together to build the monastic community in Dolanji. Rinpoche focused also on writing, publishing, practicing, transmitting initiations and teaching the lamas and monks, as well as on tracing and preserving the tradition’s important texts and manuscripts during his years in Dolanji.

 

Upon the death of Lopön Sangye Tenzin in 1977, Rinpoche was given full responsibility for teaching the younger generation of monks. By 1978 a sufficient number of Bönpo texts had been collected and republished so that a curriculum could be organized around them. In 1978 the Dialectic School was established and organized under his guidance in Dolanji. In 1986 the first class of monks graduated from the Dialectic School with their Geshe degrees.

 

After having completely accomplished the Dialectic and Meditation Schools in Dolanji, Rinpoche founded a second monastery, Triten Norbutse in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 1987. A complete education of the Bön philosophy and general Tibetan sciences was set up in 1994, and until now over hundred students have graduated from the Dialectic and Meditation Schools of Triten Norbutse. In the late 1980’s Rinpoche also reintroduced the Bön doctrine and teachings in Tibet.

 

Yongdzin Rinpoche was the first person to give Bön teachings in the West in 1989. One of his main teachings have been Dzogchen, which is the highest and most profound meditation system in the Bön tradition. Rinpoche considered these teachings especially suitable for the westerners because they do not involve special cultural familiarity and they appeal directly to the mind.

 

At the beginning of 2001 Rinpoche established Shenten Dargye Ling in France for the preservation, research, teaching and practice of Yungdrung Bön. In 2005, Loel Guinness, a student and friend of Rinpoche generously donated the property for this new monastery in Blou, western France. The same year Bön was given the official recognition as a congregation and fully independent religion by the French government.

 

At Shenten Dargye Ling Rinpoche established a regular “gomdra”, or meditation school, giving westerners the opportunity to learn meditation and philosophy in the same systematic way that monks do in Bön monasteries.

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