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The preparatory exercises of the Bön


Before you start with the actual preparatory exercises, you should first get to know a few other things.



The fourfold practice to train our mind

To better understand the Bön teachings and their qualities, it is important to recognize the value of one's own perfect human birth along with its nature of transience. As long as you have not attained enlightenment, you will perish eternally in this cyclical world of suffering, grievances and disappointments. You will experience the results of your actions from your own actions ꟷ both positive and negative. To overcome the suffering, you must understand and recognize the law of cause and effect.


The quadruple practice is used to tame the untrained mind in accordance with the Bön as follows:


➳ by recognizing the rarity of a perfect human body,

➳ by recognizing the nature of the transience of life,

➳ by recognizing the sources of suffering in this cyclical world and

➳ by understanding the law of cause and effect.



Recognizing the rarity of a perfect human body

First, what does it mean to have realized the rarity of a perfect human body? You have to decide if you want to expand the eighteen qualities that make up a perfect human body. The Eighteen Perfected Qualities are the Eight Conditions and the Ten Perfections.


If you have not perfected these qualities, then you need to practice to find a way to achieve that. The imperfection of even one of these characteristics will make a difference in your practice. When you have achieved all these qualities, it is very important that you commit yourself to use this rare opportunity in this life to engage in the practice and help all sentient beings.



The eight conditions

To perfect the eight qualities, you must not live under any of the following eight conditions. This is because their respective ailments disturb you in your practice.



1. The hell area

In the hell realm, you are born through anger in past lives. In the hell area you will constantly suffer from cold and heat. Not a single moment is one free of suffering. Therefore, there is no way and no time to practice or teachings. Therefore, this area is not free from suffering.



2. The realm of hungry ghosts

The birth in this area is caused by attachment. In the field of hungry ghosts there is always hunger and thirst. At every moment of their lives, these beings languish for food and drink, but even if they receive it, they are unable to absorb it and continue to suffer. Therefore, these have no way to practice.


Here connected is a story about Tertön Guru Nontse, a great discoverer of the treasures of Bön and a well-known teacher. In a vision he asked an elderly lady of hunger spirits «Do you understand the qualities of the virtuous and the non-virtuous acts? Do you know any recitations or prayers?» She replied: «I know the qualities of virtuous and non-virtuous deeds, and can also recite prayers, but many of my 500 children die of hunger and thirst. There is no moment when I am free to practice».



3. The range of animals

The birth as any form of animal is caused by ignorance. The sufferings of these beings contain ignorance, no freedom of choice and dependence. Among the animals, the highest form is a pet. If we place a hundred volumes of the teachings of Tönpa Shenrab before them and recite the teachings, these animals can receive the blessing of the prayers, otherwise they do not understand a word. Because they always suffer for lack of clarity and knowledge, they are not free for a moment. Therefore, there is not a single moment in which these can engage in the smallest amount of practice.



4. The realm of long-lived gods

Who is born in this area, believes that he has reached the ultimate goal and is therefore very satisfied with himself. That's why they do not engage in any kind of practice. They spend most of their lives in a state of unconsciousness. Immediately before dying, they suddenly realize that they are being reborn in a lower realm, and in that moment, they are generating an erroneous view of their power. Since they have no opportunity to practice, there is no chance to change their wrong view of the teachings and their suffering will continue.



5. The absence of enlightened ones

The time of the Absence of the Enlightened is known as the Dark Aeon. Those who are born in a place where there are no enlightened ones will not be lucky enough to receive the teachings of Bön. Therefore, they will not understand the essence of Bön and will not be able to distinguish between the qualities of virtuous and non-virtuous deeds. Every moment of her life will lead to more suffering and there will be no time or space for practice.



6. The absence of the teachings

Whoever is born in a place where the Bön teachings are not taught because of his karma, will certainly not know what and how to practice, nor will he know the value of the Bön. He will of course lack an understanding of the quality of the enlightened and the virtuous action. Therefore there is no chance to gain enlightenment. They will not be able to gain freedom from the suffering of cyclical existence.



7. No good health conditions

If we are born as disabled or mentally ill people, although we have the opportunity to receive the teachings, we will not be able to understand their nature. For example, if we are blind, we have no way of receiving blessing through the seeing of the enlightened and the teachers. When we are deaf, there is no chance to hear the words of the Teaching.


If we are stupid, we can not recite and discuss the meaning of the teachings. If we are mentally afflicted, then we have no opportunity to apply the teachings in our practice, clearly understanding the virtuous and non-virtuous acts as well as the qualities of suffering and enlightenment. We will always suffer from the lack of these qualities.



8. Have wrong views on the teachings

If you develop false beliefs about the teachings, then you will not be able to practice the teachings in any way. Instead, you will build negative views and bad karma. Lack of positive beliefs about the teachings will result in ceasing of the blessings, energy, and power of Bön.


These are the eight conditions that can hinder students from practicing freely. Under these conditions, there is no way of practicing to gain enlightenment. Fittingly, there is a quote from Dangwa Don Gyi Dho: «If we are born in some form as a being of hell, as a hungry mind, or in the animal kingdom, which are not free from suffering, there is no way to understand the teachings and no opportunity to receive the teachings. Because of non-understanding, there is no practice and because of non-practice, there is no way to achieve enlightenment».


You have to be lucky enough to be free from all these obstacles to practice and to gain understanding. Only then is there a way to get on the path of enlightenment.


We should all clearly understand from the core of our heart that the preservation of this transient human body is like finding a treasure in a dream ꟷ when we wake up from that dream; we have nothing in our hands.



The recognition of the nature of the transience of life


It is very important for practitioners to deeply realize the nature of transience. The more you understand the nature of transience and become familiar with it through daily practice in life, the more you are asked to practice regularly without delay, and this will also deepen your understanding of reality.


We all have a general desire to practice, but as our true realization lacks the aspect of transience; we postpone our regular practice day by day, week by week. We believe that we will practice the next day or next week because we often think in a very specific way that we will still be here tomorrow or the next day. Actually, this is very uncertain and we should recognize this clearly. The most important thing is to be aware of the rarity of the perfect human body and to think about its meaning. If you miss an opportunity, maybe there will not be another. This perfected quality is very volatile and can be changed at any time by many conditions or circumstances.


There are the following six different methods with which the transience is better to realize:


1. Meditating on transience by reflecting on the changing and evolving Universe

The universe is built on the common merit of living beings in the form of mountains, lakes, oceans and so on. All of this seems very stable and permanent to the human eye, but actually everything continues to evolve. For example, erosion can change waters. Mountains can always be changed by landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and so on. Fire, wind, rain and other elements change the physical landscape.



2. Meditating on transience by reflecting on the state of living things in the universe and their birth, death and suffering

In the same way as the universe continues to evolve and be destroyed, the living beings contained in this universe continue to evolve and disappear through the three major crises of disease, hunger and war. According to a quotation from one of the Dho texts: «None of the sentient beings will be eternal without change or death».


We agree that because we were born, the end of our lives is death. But we can not really recognize this from the deep as an experience of transience. In the six realms of existence, none of our ancestors lived eternally from the beginning to the present. They all followed the path of impermanence and died on various conditions, such as hunger, disease or war. Tönpa Shenrab and the great enlightened ones who have manifested in human form have shown us the way of death and transformation so that we understand the true quality of transitoriness.



3. Meditating on transience by reflecting on the nature of death and the birth of the great enlightened and masters in the past

The reason that we are taking the great Masters and Enlightened as examples to realize that if they had to die, there is no chance for a normal sentient being to live forever. These great masters of Zhang-Zhung and Tibet, who have authorized themselves to manifest during each time, also went through the process of death. They all followed the same path of dying so that we too should be willing to follow the path of transience and give up our idea that life is permanent.



4. Meditating on transience by reflecting on the birth and death of living beings

All beings, from the highest levels of the realm of the gods to the deepest ground of the hells, are transient. A quotation from a Sang Ngag text says: «After birth, there is no other way but to follow the path of death, and there is no way to escape from the reign of the Lord of death».


There are always lessons to learn about transience. As we contemplate the period of our present life, from birth to now, many of our relatives, neighbors and friends, from infancy through adolescence to old age, have suffered sickness and death. From the most powerful people in the world to the poorest, everyone must follow the same path and everyone is equally limited by the nature of transience.

When we think about it, we can apply it in everyday life so that we get a better understanding of the nature and quality of transience. When the time for death comes for us, you can face death without regret and anxiety. We will be able to follow the path of wisdom and, through our experience of practice, more easily attain enlightenment. When we are aware, there are many aspects of daily life and the environment to enhance our recognition of the transience of life.



5. Meditating on transience through reflection on different examples of transformations

Think about the gradual changes in the seasons. Reflect on moments when you feel joy and how the same feeling can be transformed into sadness just because the path of nature changes. We can also think about the changes in people's lives. For example, good relationships between families and friends can suddenly turn into anger and violence. Maybe someone we do not like and regard as an enemy will suddenly become a good friend. Our health can suddenly be transformed by an illness. There are infinite examples in our daily life and environment that show the real transience of life.



6. Meditating on transience by reflecting on the experience of death

We living beings expect to live for a long time without thinking that death can occur at any time, in any place and in many circumstances. Because we lack an understanding of the true nature of uncertainty, we have the notion that since we are young and healthy and have a family history of long life, we will live for a long time. This conception is the main obstacle to the realization of the true nature of transience. We may not have the same lifespan as other family members have because everyone has their own karma and destiny. Death can come at any time and we will have no choice but to follow the path.


When death comes, there is no way for us or our family to save our lives or postpone our death. The only help available comes from our virtuous deeds, our trust and faith in the Enlightened, our teachers and the teachings (and their blessings) and practice. Everything else in our lives consists only of material objects that hinder us and cause us to have attachments to our lives. These things will hinder our path to enlightenment.


It is important to meditate on transience in order to free oneself from the suffering of this cyclical world and to develop the wisdom of realization. This enables us to attain enlightenment. Only an understanding of transience is not enough to achieve enlightenment. It is important to realize that every single moment of our live can be influenced by the practice. Only in this way can I-relatedness and grasping be overcome.


In ancient times, the great masters in Tibet often went to a graveyard to meditate. This is a good place to experience the transience of life. Some practitioners even had a skeleton hung on their door to remind them that the skeleton was once part of a human body, but its condition was altered by the nature of transitoriness.



The recognition of the sources of suffering in this cyclical world


It is not enough to understand the precious quality of our birth as a human being. It is important to recognize the sources of suffering in the cyclical existence and apply this knowledge in our practice. This will help us to overcome the ocean of suffering forever. If we do not recognize the true sources of suffering, there is no way to completely free ourselves from them.


The most common causes of the suffering experienced by all people are:


➳ Suffering through the birth,

➳ Suffering through old age,

➳ Suffering from the disease,

➳ Suffering through death,

➳ Suffering from the fear

➳ Suffering from thoughts about being separated from loved ones,

➳ Suffer from a lack of basic needs and

➳ Suffering from the fear of losing wealth.


The purpose of the eight different levels of suffering is not limited to a certain number, but to show how limited we are of the qualities of this cyclic existence. To overcome the suffering, it is necessary to reflect on each of these eight stages. We need to recognize the different types of suffering and, above all, refer to those who cause us the most difficulties. The purpose of this exercise is not to worry us, but to warn and wake us while there is still time to overcome these sufferings.



Understanding the law of cause and effect


An essential part of Bön's teachings is to understand and recognize the consequences of the law of cause and effect in our daily lives. All acts of body, mind and speech can have powerful results. As practitioners, we become more aware of the importance and value of the teachings of the law of cause and effect. These teachings will make a difference both in our present life and in our rebirth.


The fruits of all our actions, both positives and negatives, will thus manifest in our lives and we will experience their effects. They will accompany us throughout our lives. This is similar to a bird flying in the sky. No matter how high the bird flies, its shadow will follow him inseparably on the ground and will unite with him where he lands.


There is not a single result that appears without a cause. The circumstances in our present life, whether pleasant or unpleasant, are the result of our actions. It is important to understand this law in a deeper sense, in order to realize that it is necessary to practice virtuous deeds and avoid non-virtuous acts.



The non-virtuous acts

The non-virtuous acts are caused by the five poisons and the result of the ten non-virtuous actions, with their fruits. According to one of the Dho texts, it is essential to overcome non-virtuous actions, to identify the poisons that cause them, and then to avoid them. Without purification or overcoming the five poisons, there is no way to gain enlightenment. Just as a doctor needs to diagnose the cause of a disease, and then prescribe the right medication to heal, you need to recognize how the five poisons affect us and then apply the antidotes through the practice. Through this practice, our attention is growing to slowly subdue the power of the following five poisons:


1. Ignorance,
2. Attachment,
3. Anger,
4. Pride and
5. Jealousy.


For all sentient beings, and especially for us as practitioners, the most dangerous enemies are our own five poisons. If we do not free ourselves from these poisons, we can not attain enlightenment. However, every sentient being has the ability to overcome the five poisons.


We should be alert to each of our actions so that we can correct our mistakes and commit ourselves not to do so again. Unless we constantly focus our attention on these poisons, we will not be able to subdue them, and we will gradually sink deeper and deeper under their influence. The precious life of this perfect human body will come to an end without fulfilling its purpose of attaining enlightenment and helping all sentient beings to liberate themselves from the suffering of this cyclical world.


We can, through practice, apply the teachings as an antidote to poisons, in accordance with the Path of Departing from Dho, the Path of Transformation of Sang Ngag, or the Path of Self-Liberation or Dzogchen. It is important to choose which of these paths brings the most benefits in daily life and which one is best suited to your own level of consciousness.


The ten wicked acts are mainly caused by the influence of the five poisons. These are divided into the body's three non-virtuous acts, the four non-virtuous acts of speech, and the three non-virtuous acts of the mind, each of which is described below.



The three non-virtuous acts of the body


1. Take a life

This can be produced by three of the five major poisons: anger, ignorance and attachment. For example, life can be taken during a war based primarily on anger. We can also die because of attachment because we want to eat meat or have a fur coat. We can also take someone else's life because of ignorance or lack of a clear understanding of the positive and negative causes and effects. We believe that we are not involved in killing one being, but in reality every person is involved in this deceitful act.


Whether we are vegetarians or not vegetarians, we feed ourselves by killing animals and plants. Even when walking on the ground, we kill microscopic creatures. For that reason, we should all continually purify ourselves of these negative actions.



2. Steal

This is the desire to obtain a material object, directly or indirectly through violence or robbery. Our intention is to own something no matter what we need to do to get it. Our attachments can lead us to commit this act. It is very important to develop a detachment from material objects in order to avoid the desire to steal.



3. Sexual misconduct

This applies to lay practitioners, especially if they take vows of austerity, on special days, such as the birthday of Tönpa Shenrab, the birth and death days of other great masters, and the full moon days in the monasteries. A sexual relationship without the consent of the partner is also considered a sexual misconduct.



The four non-virtuous acts of speech


1. Lies

This virtuous act has two aspects: lying with the intention of harming or deceiving others and lying without the intention of harming anyone. The worst lie is leaving someone else with the impression that we have wisdom or knowledge that we do not actually have. Telling our teacher that we have gods, deities or other visions that we have never really seen is a lie that has extremely negative results. It is common for people to try to get a temporary benefit from the lies without worrying about the resulting negative effects. It is wiser to consider the long-term consequences for yourself and others before choosing to lie, as lying can cause suffering. Lying, unlike truth, does not have the energy of eternal power.



2. Intentionally cause problems between friends

This will be done by the jealousy and the limitedness of thinking, when we create negative thoughts towards friends or the community. We destroy true closeness between people when it is our intention to lie, to break a friendship apart. This is a powerful negative act because we have hurt the innocent hearts of true friends. We've planted the seeds of poison under them that will grow until the friends recognize our fraudulent intent. Even if we then purify our negative thoughts, we will not be free from receiving the negative results of this action because we were the source. We should be aware that our negative behavior will affect both ourselves and others. Instead, we should cultivate positive merit and virtuous deeds that can lead to happiness and joy and bring those who have been separated by deliberate wickedness back together.



3. Harsh words

This virtuous act is one of the most powerful acts that can harm us. There is a Tibetan proverb that reads, «The harsh word is not a weapon, but it will cut your heart to pieces». When we talk to someone, it's important to be aware of the words we use. Harsh words do not necessarily have to be spoken aloud or in anger. Words that are spoken politely can also harm the creatures, even if the person concerned is not present. Hard language creates very energetic anger or jealousy, so we have to be careful how we address the family, friends, elders and others. Pointing out the weaknesses of others in public is like putting a finger in their eyes. To overcome this behavior, one has to learn how to speak properly with genuine, loving, and honest intent.



4. Gossip

This non-virtuous act can occur with or without intention. For example, we often spend our time talking to friends about things without having a specific goal in mind. This is an inadvertent gossip. But it can also be created deliberate gossip to set in scene. For the most part, gossip means spending our time talking or laughing with no but or purpose. This activity is called a waste of time.



The three non-virtuous acts of the mind


1. Negative thoughts

This non-virtuous act is the generation of negative thoughts. When we see an object that we would like to have, it can stay in our mind and our admiration for it can become stronger. It gets our attention, even if we do not own it. Another example is, if you see someone with a happy and successful life, we can create evil thoughts that he or she should not experience joy or success.



2. Harmful thoughts to others

This non-virtuous act is similar but more violent than the negative thoughts. It means willingness to cause harm to others or destroy something to cause misery. When we see the joy and happiness of others, or see them live in luxury, and this fuels our harmful thoughts, we want to destroy their happiness, in the hope that bad things will happen to them, or we will place harmful thoughts on them, known «nod sem».


If we want someone to lose something or in a larger context, think about killing someone, we are more likely to act under the influence of the side of anger. There are also aspects of jealousy involving harmful thoughts to others.



3. Wrong views on the teachings

This non-virtuous act of the mind is a result of the lack of understanding of the essential spiritual aspects of the teachings. Depending on the karma, there are a variety of beliefs that might be misnamed, such as disbelief in the truth of the law of cause and effect, or disbelief in past births and future rebirths. Other false beliefs can not accept that enlightenment is achieved as a result of practice, or the truth and quality of Bön teachings are not recognized. All of these support and pursue the path of false views.


As described in the text by the Mutek Zar Chö Ten Tsik Tek Dho , there are 360 different types of false views that can be simplified to 99 types of false views. In the simplest classification, there are two main unbelieving traditions: Eternalism and Nihilism.



The law of cause and effect is just true. Every aspect of our virtuous deeds will lead to peace, happiness and goodness. In the same way, all the non-virtuous acts of body, mind, and speech will cause us and others to experience suffering and unhappiness. The best course of action to cleanse our negative actions is to develop our inner wisdom and engage ourselves in the practice. In order to free ourselves from unrighteous acts, we should practice generosity with pure intention. It is of merit, if you offer only a single flower or incense. We can also create the things of the offering mentally in our minds.



The ten virtuous deeds

Practitioners must strictly practice the following ten virtuous deeds:


1. Avoid taking the life of another being,
2. Practice generosity,
3. Practice mindfulness,
4. Overcome sexual misconduct after moral discipline,
5. Tell the truth and avoid lies,
6. Try to bring together friends who have split up (instead of separating friends by spreading rumors),
7. To speak peacefully and quietly instead of using a harsh language,
8. Train us in practice (make prayers and recitations instead of wasting time gossiping),
9. Be free from evil thoughts towards others (generating love and kindness instead of harmful thoughts to others) and
10. Be free of wrong views on the teachings (recognize the law of truth of cause and effect and walk the spiritual path).


The result of our virtuous and non-virtuous acts either forces us to give birth in this cyclical world of suffering or frees us to attain enlightenment.