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Bon Teacher: Nyamme Sherab Gyaltsen

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- Nyamme Sherab Gyaltsen Biography (below)
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Nyamme Sherab Gyaltsen (mnyam med she rab rgyal mtshan, 1356-1415): founder of Menri Monastery in 1405.

Jeff Watt [updated 8-2017]


Nyamme Sherab Gyaltsen Biography

Nyamme Sherab Gyaltsen, 1356-1415, (myam med shes rab rgyal mtshan) was born in the region of Gyalmorong (rgyal mo rong) a region in southeastern Amdo, in a Fire-Monkey year, 1356. His father, Lugyal (klu rgyal) of the Ra (bra) clan, was an expert in the four Causal Bon Teachings. His mother, Rinchen Men (rin chen sman), was said to have all the signs of a kandroma. At the time of his birth, on the fifteenth of the second spring month, it is said that the sky was filled with rainbows, gods danced amidst clouds, producing rains of flowers while on earth fruits ripened before their usual season and birds offered the melodious songs as gifts to his birth.

Sherab Gyaltsen was a child of exceptional intelligence. At the age of ten he took novice vows from Chala Yungdrung Gyaltsen (phya bla g.yung drung rgyal mtshan) who gave him the name Sherab Gyaltsen. He then studied with numerous renowned masters in Dokham (mdo khams) and Nyarong (nyag rong).

Later in his early adult life, Sherab Gyaltsen met Rinchen Lodro (rin chen blo gros, d.u.) on the way to Tibet and became his disciple. He practiced with such zeal the teachings of his master that, when back in Kham, he is said to have had the meditative realization known as "samsara and nirvana having a single flavor."

Sherab Gyaltsen later made a second trip to Tibet during which he met the great Buddhist master Rongton Sheja Kunkhyen (rong ston shes bya kun mkhyen, 1367-1449), with whom he studied Madhyamaka, Prajnaparamita, Vinaya, Abhidharma and, in particular, Logic.

At the age of thirty-one, Sherab Gyaltsen went to the Bon monastery of Yeru Wensakha (g.yas ru dben sa kha) in Tsang, where he took monk vows from the abbot Tsultrim Yeshe (tshul khrims ye shes). At Wensakha, he studied the Walpur (dbal phur) cycles [Walse Ngampa & Purba Drugse Chempa cycles] with Meton Kunzang Gyaltsen (me ston kun bzang rgyal mtshan). During this initiation he reported seeing clearly Meton as the deity Tagla Membar (stag la me 'bar), and the teacher's wife and children as gods and goddesses.

Sherab Gyaltsen studied with numerous masters and his knowledge became so famous that two members of the Dru (bru) clan offered him the abbot throne of two monastic colleges in Yeru Wensakha. There, he spread the teachings through exposition, debate and composition of works. During that time, he felt the need to return to his native place and meet his parents. On the way back to Kham, he received the terrible news that the Yeru Wensakha Monastery had been entirely destroyed by floods. Sherab Gyaltsen stayed some time in the East until, according to the later tradition, a prophecy uttered by Yeshe Walmo (ye shes dbal mo) to the effect that he would only obtain accomplishments in Tsang brought him back to Tibet.

In 1405, at the age of fifty, Sherab Gyaltsen founded the famed Tashi Menri (bkra shi sman ri) monastery on the slope of Mt Shari Powa (shar ri pho ba) in Tobgyal (thob rgyal). Upon reaching the site of the future monastery, Sherab Gyaltsen met two ascetics to whom he offered some tea. None of them had water to make tea, but tradition says that Sherab Gyaltsen struck the ground with his staff and caused a fountain of pure water to appear. Later, he asked his disciple Rinchen Gyaltsen (rin chen rgyal mtshan) to use small pebbles to delineate the basis of the monastery and the number of cells for the monks.

After the completion of the building, Sherab Gyaltsen had visions of the guardians of the teachings, such as Walchen Gekho (dbal chen ge khod), Tsochog Trowo (gtso mchog khro bo), and others. He also envisioned illustrious masters of the past, such as Tong Gyung Tuchen (stong rgyung mthu can) and Drenpa Namkha (dran pa nam mkha'). He then taught at Kharna (khar sna), as well as in numerous hermitages, teaching primarily meditative practices.

Numerous miraculous stories are told of Sherab Gyaltsen's life. Perhaps the best known is that of his hat. It is reported that as a proof of their spiritual accomplishments both Sherab Gyaltsen and Mugyal Nyima (dmu rgyal nyi ma) could fly in the sky. However, Sherab Gyaltsen flew so high in the atmosphere that his hat was burnt by the rays of the sun. As a display of more ordinary miracles, he was also said to be able to write on stones with his fingers or leave his footprints on rocks. [See Bon hats].

Sherab Gyaltsen's compositions were collected in ten volumes. He wrote on logic; tantras; outer, inner and secret practices; monastic rules and discipline; philosophical commentaries, and other topics.

Among Sherab Gyaltsen's more famous disciples were Gyaltsab Rinchen Gyaltsen (rgyal tshab rin chen rgyal mtshan), from the Tsang region of Tibet; Sonam Gyaltsen (bsod nams rgyal mtshan), from the Ngari (mnga' ris) region, Dardo Tsultrim Wangden (dar do tshul khrims dbang ldan) and Sonam Ozer (bsod nams 'od zer), from Kham; Yeshe Tsultrim (ye shes tshul khrims) and Rinchen Tsultrim (rin chen tshul khrims), from Gyalmorong.

At the age of sixty, Sherab Gyaltsen preached the teachings of the Oral Transmission of Zhangzhung (zhang zhung snyan rgyud) under a tent in Terchukha (gter chu kha). It is said that during the day, he taught his disciples and in the night he would teach the lu [serpent spirits] and other local deities. Tradition has it that it was then, at dawn of the 8th day of the third summer month of the year 1415, that his mind dissolved into the absolute space (bon dbyings) and for three whole days his body remained floating above the ground, amidst rainbows and rays of light. Prayers were recited and his body descended on the ground for the cremation.

According to the tradition, his disciples found in the ashes several small statues of Kuntuzangpo (kun tu bzang po), Mawai Senge (smra ba'i seng ge), and other Bon deities, as well as seed-syllables (a, om and huM), and other relics. Among the latter, three had large dimensions: two, meant for the gods, flew into the sky amidst sounds and rays. The third one was given to his most important disciple, Rinchen Gyaltsen.

Sources:

Achard Jean-Luc. 2004. Bon po Hidden Treasures, A Catalogue of gTer ston bDe chen gling pa'i Collected Revelations Leiden: Brill, pp. 253-254.

Achard Jean-Luc. 1995. "Nyamme Sherab Gyaltsen (1356-1415), fondateur du monastere bonpo de Menri." Dzogchen Bulletin, no. 1, pp. 6-8.

Dpal ldan tshul khrims. 1988. Bstan 'byung: g.yung drung bon gyi bstan 'byung phyogs btus, Beijing: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang.

Jean-Luc Achard, March 2010 [Extracted from the Treasury of Lives, Tibetan lineages website. Edited and formatted for inclusion on the Himalayan Art Resources website. April, 2010].