Bonpo Monasteries: Yungdrungling

Although Menri Monastery (sMan-ri dGon-pa) had been established in 1405 in the hope of continuing the Bon (Bon) debate tradition of Ensaka Monastery (dBen-sa-kha dGon-pa), this intention was not fulfilled.

In 1836, Nangton Dawa Gyaltsen (Nang-ston Zla-ba rgyal-mtshan) (b. 1796) founded Yungdrungling Monastery (g.Yung-drung gling dGon-pa) just below Menri. This became the major debate monastery for the Bon tradition, although in the 20th century nine more were established in Kham (Khams) and Amdo (A-mdo).

Monks studied only sutra in the debate style, while they studied tantra and dzogchen privately with their teachers. Yungdrungling, as well as the debate college that was started at Menri in 1947, awarded its own Geshe (dGe-bshes) degree. Monks with this degree could go on for further studies at Losel-ling College (Blo-gsal gling Grva-tshang) of Drepung Monastery (‘Bras-spungs dGon-pa) of the Gelug tradition and take examinations for becoming Geshe Lharampa (dGe-bshes Lha-ram-pa). A few monks carried out their entire debate education at Drepung Losel-ling.

Yungdrungling Monastery had four colleges: Yungdrungling (g.Yung-drung gling), Kunseling (Kun-gsal gling), Kunkyabling (Kun-khyab gling) and Kundragling (Kun-grags gling), with eight divisions. In 1959, the monk population was approximately 400. In addition to the study of sutra dialectics, the monastery also maintained the major tantric rituals of the Bon tradition.

The sutra debate tradition at Yungdrungling, and later at Menri, is very similar to that found in the Buddhist monasteries. The great texts and subjects studied are very similar. First, the monks learn collected topics of set theory (bsdus-grva, dura), ways of knowing (blo-rig, lorig), ways of logical proof (rtags-rig, tagrig), and systems of tenets (grub-mtha’, drubta). Then they study the Bon equivalents of prajnaparamita (phar-byin) concerning the insights along the stages and paths, madhyamaka (dbu-ma) philosophy, pramana (tshad-ma) logic, abhidharma (mdzod) metaphysics, and vinaya (‘dul-ba) rules of discipline. For tantra and dzogchen practice, monks undertake preliminaries, as among the Buddhists, such as taking refuge, developing bodhichitta, mandala offering, openly admitting to previously committed negative acts, and purification.

Yungdrungling Monastery had an abbot, disciplinarians, chant-leaders, and other monk officials, much as any Buddhist monastery. The Bon monk’s rules of discipline are very strict. In addition to vows very similar to those of the Buddhists, Bon monks have vows not to eat meat or garlic, and to wash regularly.