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Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Tönpa Shenrab (Tibetan: ston pa gshen rab) or Shenrab Miwo (Tibetan: gshen rab mi bo)—also called Buddha Shenrab, Guru Shenrab, Tönpa Shenrab Miwoche, Lord Shenrab Miwo, and known by a number of other titles—is the founder of the Bön religious tradition of Tibet.

"gShen-rab mi-bo is the founder of the Bön Religion.

He occupies a position very similar to that of Śākyamuni in Buddhism, but in contrast to the Lord Buddha, we have no available sources with which to establish his historicity, his dates, his racial origin,

his activities, and the authenticity of the enormous number of Books either attributed directly to him or believed to be his word.

The latter, the Bonpo say, were written down after his Death in much the same way as the Buddhist scriptures were assembled.

It is only from later sources in which fact and legend are woven together that we can get any idea of his Life.

No pre-10th century materials are so far available that might throw Light on activities such as his visit to Tibet...." [1]

Shenrab's Life according to Bön traditions

According to Bön tradition, Tönpa Shenrab predates Padmasambhava and The Buddha Śākyamuni.

It is held that Tönpa Shenrab first studied the Bön Doctrine in Tagzig Olmo Lung Ring (which for economy may be equated with space,

Heaven and the aetherial realm), at the end of which he pledged to Shenlha Ökar (Tibetan:

gshen lha 'od dkar), the God of Compassion, that he would guide the peoples of this World to Liberation. Like The Buddha Śākyamuni, Tönpa Shenrab was of royal birth.

Tönpa Shenrab renounced his royal inheritance at the age of thirty-one to travel the path to Enlightenment.

Tönpa Shenrab embraced the Life of a renunciate and commenced austerities, spreading the Doctrine of Bön; at length, he arrived in the land of Zhangzhung near what is widely held to be Mt Kailash.

Accounts of Tönpa Shenrab's Life are to be found in three principal sources, entitled;

The first and second of the accounts are held to be Terma (gter ma) discovered by Bön Tertön (gter ston) in the tenth or eleventh century; the third is part of the "aural lineage"(nyen jü, snyan brgyud), transmitted via disciplic succession.

The Four Portals and the Fifth, the Treasury

The doctrines taught by Tönpa Shenrab are generally classified variously, two being most common. In the first, The Four Portals and the Fifth, the Treasury (sgo bzhi mdzod lnga), the:

Bhavacakra Thikse.jpg

The Nine Ways of Bön

The second classification, the Nine Ways of Bön (bon theg pa rim dgu) is as follows—the:

  1. Way of Prediction (phyva gshen theg pa) codifies ritual, prognostication, sortilege and Astrology;
  2. Way of the Visual World (snang shen theg pa) details the psychophysical Universe;
  1. Way of Illusion (phrul gshen theg pa) explains the rites for the dispersal of adverse thoughtforms, entities and energies;
  2. Way of Existence (srid gshen theg pa) details funeral and Death rituals;
  1. Way of a Lay Follower (dge bsnyen theg pa) contains the ten principles for wholesome activity;
  2. Way of a Monk (drang srong theg pa) codifies monastic rules and regulations;
  1. Way of Primordial Sound (a dkar theg pa) charts the integration of an exalted practitioner into the Mandala of highest Enlightenment;

  1. Way of Primordial Shen, (ye gshen theg pa) renders the guidelines for seeking a true tantric master and the commitments (dam tshigs, parallel to the Sanskrit Samaya) that bind a Disciple to his tantric master; and finally,
  1. Way of Supreme Natural Condition (bla med theg pa), or The Way of Dzogchen.

The nine ways can also be classified into three groups, the:

  1. Causal Ways (rgyu'i theg pa) comprises the first four of the above;
  2. Resultant Ways (bras bu'i theg pa) includes the fifth through eighth; and
  3. Unsurpassable Way or the Way of Dzogchen (khyad par chen po'i theg pa or rdzogs pa chen po, abbreviated rdzogs chen) is the ninth.

The Bön Canon

The Bön canon comprises more than two hundred volumes, classified in four categories: the Sutras (mdo), the Perfection of Wisdom Teachings (bum), the Tantras (rgyud) and Knowledge (mdzod).

Besides these, the Bön canon includes material on rituals, arts and crafts, logic, medicine, poetry and narrative.

It is interesting to note that the "Knowledge" section concerning cosmogony and cosmology, though in some respects unique to Bön, shares a more than passing resemblance to Nyingma (rnying ma) doctrines.

Aspects of Shenrab Miwoche

Shenrab Miwoche is said to have three aspects or forms:

the dzoku (Tibetan: rdzogs sku; Sanskrit: Sambhogakāya), Shenlha Ökar; and the bönku (Tibetan:

bon sku; Sanskrit: Dharmakāya), Kuntu Zangpo.[2]



  1. Karmey, Samten G. (1975). A General Introduction to the History and Doctrines of Bon, pp. 175-176. Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko, No. 33. Tokyo.
  2. The Tibetan for dharmakāya is chos sku in the Buddhist context; though a case can be made that Bön borrowed some, or even much, of its current terminology from Buddhism, to suggest that Sanskrit words are thus the "source" of this terminology is dubious.