Glossary of Bon Terms
bardo (tib:bar do; skrt: antarabhava) Bardo means "in between state," and refers to any transitional state of existence -- life, meditation, dream, death -- but most commonly refers to the intermediate state between death and rebirth.
Bon (Tib: bon) Bon is Tibet's oldest spiritual tradition. It includes teachings and practices applicable to all parts of life, including our relationship with the elemental qualities of nature; our ethical and moral behavior; the development of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity; and Bon's highest teachings of the "Great Perfection," dzogchen.
According to the traditional Bon account of its origins, many thousands of years before the birth of the Buddha Shakyamuni, the Buddha Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche came to this world and expounded his teachings in the land of Olmo Lungring. Ol symbolizes the unborn, mo the undiminishing, lung the prophetic words of Tonpa Shenrab, and ring his everlasting compassion. Some modern scholars have identified Olmo Lungring with Zhang Zhung, the country surrounding Mount Kailash in Western Tibet and the cradle of Tibetan civilization.
Tonpa Shenrab is said to have taught Bon in three successive cycles of teachings. First he taught the "Nine Ways of Bon"; then he taught the "Four Bon Portals and the Fifth, the Treasury"; and finally he revealed the "Outer, Inner, and Secret Precepts." In the final cycle of teachings the outer cycle is the path of renunciation, or sutric teachings; the inner cycle is the path of transformation, or tantric teachings; and the secret cycle is the path of self-liberation, or dzogchen teachings. This division into sutra, tantra, and dzogchen is also found in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism.
Followers of Bon receive oral teachings and transmissions from teachers in a lineage unbroken from ancient times until the present day. In addition, most of the scriptural texts also have been preserved. While much in modern Bon is similar to Tibetan Buddhism, Bon retains the richness and flavor of its pre-Buddhist roots.
chakra (tib: khor-lo; skrt: chakra) Literally 'wheel' or 'circle.' Chakra is a Sanskrit word referring to energetic centers in the body. A chakra is a location at which a number of energetic channels (tsa) meet. Different meditation systems work with different chakras.
channel (tib: tsa; skrt: nadi) The channels are the 'veins' in the system of energetic circulation in the body, through which stream the currents of subtle energy that sustain and vivify life. The channels themselves are energetic and cannot be found in the physical dimension. However, through practice or natural sensitivity, individuals can become experientially aware of the channels.
chod (tib: gchod) Literally: to cut off, to cut through. Also known as the 'expedient use of fear,' and the 'cultivation of generosity'. Chod is a ritual practice meant to remove all attachment to one's own body and ego by compassionately offering all that one is to other beings. To this end the practice involves an evocation of various classes of beings and the subsequent cutting up and transformation of the practitioner's own body into objects and substances of offering. Chod uses melodious singing, drums, bells, and horns, and is generally practiced in locations that incite fear, such as charnel grounds, cemeteries, and remote mountain passes.
dakini (tib: mkha' 'gro ma; skrt: dakini) The Tibetan equivalent of dakini is khadroma, which literally means female-sky-traveler. 'Sky' refers to emptiness and the dakini travels in that emptiness; that is, she acts in full realization of emptiness, absolute reality. A dakini can be a human woman who has realized her true nature, or a non-human female or goddess, or a direct manifestation of enlightened mind. Dakini also refers to a class of beings born in the pure realm of the dakinis.
dharma (tib: ch"s; skrt: dharma) A very broad term, dharma has many meaning. Most commonly, dharma is both the spiritual teachings that ultimately derive from the Buddhas and the spiritual path itself. Dharma also means existence.
dharmakaya (tib: ch"s sku; skrt: dharmakaya) A buddha is said to possess three bodies (kaya): dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya. The dharmakaya, often translated as the "truth body," refers to the absolute nature of the buddha, which all buddhas share in common and which is identical with the absolute nature of all that exists: emptiness. The dharmakaya is non-dual, empty of conceptuality and free of all characteristics. (See also sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya.)
dzogchen (tib: rdzogs chen) The "great perfection" or "great completion." Dzogchen is considered the highest teaching and practice in Tibetan Buddhism. Its fundamental tenet is that reality, including the individual, is already complete and perfect, that nothing needs to be transformed (as in tantra) or renounced (as in sutra) but only recognized for what it truly is. The essential dzogchen practice is "self-liberation"; allowing all that arises in experience to exist just as it is, without elaboration by the conceptual mind, without grasping or aversion.
guardians (tib: srung ma/ chos skyong; skrt: dharmapala) Guardians are male or female beings pledged to protect the dharma (teachings) and the practitioners of the teachings. They may be worldly protectors or wrathful manifestations of enlightened beings. Tantric practitioners generally propitiate and rely upon guardians associated with their lineage.
karma (tib: las; skrt: karma) Karma literally means "action," but more broadly refers to the law of cause and effect. Any action taken physically, verbally, or mentally, serves as a "seed" that will bear the "fruit" of its consequences in the future when the conditions are right for its realization. Positive actions have positive effects, such as happiness; negative actions have negative effects, such as unhappiness. Karma does not mean that life is determined, but that conditions arise out of past actions.
karmic trace (tib: bag chags) Every action -- physical, verbal, or mental -- undertaken by an individual, if performed with intention and even the slightest aversion or desire, leaves a trace in the mindstream of that individual. The accumulation of these karmic traces serve to condition every moment of experience of that individual, positively and negatively.
kunzhi (tib: kun gzhi) In Bon, the kunzhi is the base of all that exists, including the individual. The kunzhi is the unity of emptiness and clarity; of the absolute open indeterminacy of ultimate reality and the unceasing display of appearance and awareness. The kunzhi is the base or ground of being.
kunzhi namshe (tib: kun gzhi rnam shes, skrt: alaya vijnana) The kunzhi namshe is the basic consciousness of the individual. It is the "repository" or "storehouse" in which the karmic traces are stored, from which future, conditioned experience arises.
lama (tib: bla ma; skrt: guru) Lama literally means "highest mother." Lama refers to a spiritual teacher, who is of unsurpassed importance to the student practitioner. In the Tibetan tradition the lama is considered to be more important even than the buddha, for it is the lama that brings the teachings to life for the student. On an ultimate level, the lama is one's own buddha-nature. On the relative level, the lama is one's personal teacher. However, the term lama is commonly used as a polite form of address for any monk or spiritual teacher.
loka (tib: 'jig rten; skrt: loka) Literally "world" or "world system." Commonly used in English to refer to the six realms of cyclic existence, loka actually refers to the greater world systems, one of which is occupied by the six realms. (See "six realms of cyclic existence.")
lung (tib: rlung, ch: chi, skrt: prana) Lung is the vital wind energy, also commonly known in the West as prana or chi. Lung has a broad range of meanings: most commonly it refers to the vital energy upon which both the vitality of the body and consciousness depend.
nirmanakaya (tib: sprul sku, skrt: nirmanakaya) The nirmanakaya is the "emanation body" of the dharmakaya. Usually this refers to the visible, physical manifestation of a buddha. The term is also resonant with the dimension of physicality.
rainbow body (tib: 'ja lus) The sign of full realization in dzogchen is the attainment of the rainbow body. The realized dzogchen practitioner, no longer deluded by apparent substantiality or dualisms such as mind and matter, releases the energy of the elements that compose the physical body at the time of death. The body itself is dissolved, leaving only hair and nails, and the practitioner consciously enters death.
rigpa (tib: rig pa; skrt: vidya) Literally, awareness or knowing. In the dzogchen teachings, rigpa means direct awareness of the truth, direct recognition of the non-dual awareness that is the true nature of the individual.
rinpoche (tib: rin po che) Literally, "precious one." An honorific widely used in addressing an incarnate lama.
samaya (tib: dam tshig; skrt: samaya) Commitment or vow. Commonly, the commitment the practitioner makes in connection with tantric practice, regarding behaviors and actions. There are general vows and vows specific to particular tantric practices.
sambhogakaya (tib: longs sku; skrt: sambhogakaya) The "enjoyment body" of the buddha. The sambhogakaya is a body made entirely of light. This form is often visualized in tantric and sutric practices and is characterized by symbolic ornaments and postures. In Dzogchen, the unadorned image of the dharmakaya is often visualized instead.
samsara (tib: 'khor ba; skrt: samsara) The realm of suffering that arises from the occluded, dualistic mind, where all entities are impermanent, lack inherent existence, and where all sentient beings are subject to suffering. Samsara includes the six realms of cyclic existence, but more broadly refers to the characteristic mode of existence of sentient beings who suffer through being trapped in the delusions of ignorance and duality. Samsara ends when a being attains full liberation from ignorance, nirvana.
Shenlha Okar (tib: gShen Lha 'od dkar) Shenlha Okar is the sambhogakaya form of Shenrab Miwoche, the buddha who founded Bon.
Shenrab Miwoche (tib: gShen rab mi bo che) Shenrab Miwoche was the nirmanakaya Buddha that founded Bon, traditionally believed to have lived seventeen thousand years ago. There are fifteen volumes of biography of Shenrab Miwoche in the Bon literature.
six realms of cyclic existence (tib: rigs drug) Commonly referred to as "the six realms" or "six lokas." The six realms refer to six classes of beings: gods, demi-gods, humans, animals, hungry-ghosts, and hell-beings. Beings in the six realms are subject to suffering. They are literal realms, in which beings take birth, and also broad experiential and affective bands of potential experience that shape and limit experience even in our current life.
sutra (tib: mdo; skrt: sutra) The sutras are texts composed of teachings that came directly from the historical Buddha. The teachings of sutra are based on the path of renunciation and form the base of monastic life.
tantra (tib: rgyud; skrt: tantra) Tantras are teachings of the Buddhas. They are based on the path of transformation and include practices such as working with the energy of the body, the transference of consciousness, dream and sleep yogas, and so on. Certain classes of tantras may also contain teachings on dzogchen.
Tapihritsa (Tib: ta pi hri tsa) Although considered an historical person, for Bon practitioners Tapihritsa is iconographically represented as a dharmakaya Buddha, naked and without ornaments, personifying absolute reality. He is one of the two principle masters in the dzogchen lineage of the Zhang Zhung Nyam Gyud.
terma (tib: gter) In Tibetan culture there is a tradition of "terma"; sacred objects, texts or teachings hidden by the masters of one age for the benefit of the future age in which the termas are found. The masters who discover terma are known as "tertons," treasure finders. Terma has been and may be found in physical locations, such as caves or cemeteries; in elements such as water, wood, earth or space; or received in dreams, visionary experience, and found directly in deep levels of consciousness. The latter case is known as gong-ter: mind treasure.
tigle (tib: thig le; skrt: bindu) Tigle has multiple meanings depending on context. Although usually translated as "drop" or "seminal point," in the context of the dream and sleep yogas the tigle refers to a luminous sphere of light representing a quality of consciousness and used as a focus in meditation practice.
transmission Often, a qualified lineage master will give transmission (Tib.: lung) for a particular teaching by verbally reciting the Tibetan text of the teaching in the presence of the student. This recitation is typically done after detailed instructions have been given; for example, at the close of a retreat. By receiving the transmission, a student is empowered to study and practice the teachings on his or her own.
yidam(tib: yid dam; skrt: devata) The yidam is a tutelary or meditational deity embodying an aspect of enlightened mind. There are four categories of yidams: peaceful, increasing, powerful and wrathful. Yidams manifest in these different forms to overcome specific negative forces.
yogi (tib: rnal 'byor pa; skrt: yogi) A male practitioner of meditative yogas, such as the dream and sleep yogas.
yogini (tib: rnal 'byor ma; skrt: yogini) A female practitioner of meditative yoga.
Zhang Zhung Nyam Gyud (tib: Zhang Zhung snyam rgyud) The Zhang Zhung Nyam Gyud is one of the most important cycles of dzogchen teachings in Bon. It belongs to the upadesha (secret oral instruction) series of teachings.
zhine (tib: zhi gnas; skrt: samatha) "Calm abiding" or "tranquility." The practice of calm abiding uses focus on an external or internal object to develop concentration and mental stability. Calm abiding is a fundamental practice, the basis for the development of all other higher meditation practices, and necessary for both the dream and sleep yogas.