Olmo Lungring: the imperishable sacred land
According to the Bonpo tradition, although Yungdrung Bon is eternal and without an ultimate beginning in time, it originated in the present kalpa or cycle of existence in the country of Olmo Lungring where Tonpa Shenrab descended from the celestial spheres and took up incarnation among human beings as an Iranian prince. The mysterious land of Olmo Lungring (`ol-mo lung-rings) or Olmoling (`ol-mo`i gling) is said to be part of a larger geographical region to the northwest of Tibet called Tazig (stag-gzig, var. rtag-gzigs), which scholars identify with Iran or, more properly, Central Asia where in ancient times Iranian languages such as Avestan and later Sogdian were spoken. According to the “gZer-mig” the traditional etymology of the name Olmo Lungring is as follows: “`ol” means “unborn”, “mo” “undermined”, “lung” “the prophetic words of Shenrab”, and “rings” “everlasting compassion”. According to the “gZi-brjid”, Olmo Lungring was also known as Shambhala in Sanskrit and it continues to be known by this name among Tibetan Buddhists even today. Moreover, it is said that in ancient times it encompassed fully one-third of the known world a statement which could apply to the historical Persian empire.
Some modern scholars attempt to identify Olmo Lungring with the area around mount Kailas in West Tibet, anciently known as Zhang-zhung, and assert that the holy nine-storeyed mountain in the center of Olmoling is in fact Mount Kailas. These scholars assert that Olmo is quite an ordinary place like other valleys in Tibet and that the name Olmo Lungring simply means “the long valley of Olmo”. Furthermore, the sacred mountain of Yungdrung Gutseg in the center of Olmo Lungring is called a crystal monolith because it is a quite ordinary mountain surmounted by a glacier. Therefore, it is most likely a representation of Mount Kailas where four great rivers of Asia are said to originate. Because Zhang-zhung was an early important center of Bon, these scholars conclude that Olmoling was this region and that Olmo Lungring was not some mystical land existing at a spiritual level. Moreover, they assert that Tonpa Shenrab was only some sort of priest whose presence was required at funeral ceremonies. He was living in the seventh century or shortly before. He was born there in West Tibet, a native Tibetan priest or magician and not an Iranian prince, and he was, therefore, a perfectly ordinary and pedestrian figure. There is no mention of Olmo Lungring in Tibetan texts before the tenth century. The coming to Tibet in the eleventh century of Buddhist teachers inspired the Bonpo Lamas to invent and actually fabricate for themselves a supposedly ancient tradition. Since these teachings could not be seen as originating in Tibet which is a quite real and ordinary place on earth, they put the birth of Tonpa Shenrab in distant Tazig, a fabulous land of legend, which recalled the Persian empire which the Tibetans much admired in the seventh century. These scholars conclude that all of the Bon tradition is fake, a deceitful invention of unscrupulous Tibetan Lamas in the tenth century and afterwards.
But according to the Bonpo Lamas, this assertion is entirely wrong. In all of the early Bonpo texts Olmo Lungring is clearly located to the west and the north of Tibet in Tazig or Central Asia. Moreover, there are two Tazigs, one of a heavenly nature and one quite physical, located in Central Asia. The Kailas mountain and its adjacent region in West Tibet is only a pale reflection of the real Olmo Lungring, the original archetype, which exists at the center of the world. According to the “gZer-mig” and other texts, the region around Tise or Mount Kailas is only a copy in Zhang-zhung of the original in Olmoling. Furthermore, according to the “gZi-brjid”, Dimpling is the same as Shambhala. It is not necessary to pray and do any meditation practice in order to be reborn in Iran or the Central Asia of the USSR, these are quite ordinary earthly places; but it is necessary to pray and to undergo a purification of mind before one can be reborn in Olmo Lungring, or even enter it in this present life, because it is a pure dimension of existence (dag-pa`i zhing-khams). It cannot be seen easily with the ordinary fleshly eye like Iran or Central Asia or even Tibet can. But simply because we do not see it is no proof that it does not exist, for that is the view of the Lokayatas or materialists.
The Bonpo account of the hidden land of Olmo Lungring is found in the “gZer-mig” and the “gZi-brjid”. There it is explained that Olmoling is physically part of our world and is not an imaginary holy land nor a celestial pure realm like the Sukhavati or Dewachan (bde-ba-can) of the Buddha Amitabha. Symbolically Olmo Lungring is the geographical, psychic, and spiritual center of our world of Jambudvipa (`dzam-bu`i gling) and at its center rises the holy mountain of nine levels, known as Yungdrung Gutseg (g.yung-drung dgu-brtsegs), which links heaven and earth. It is a kind of axis mundi connecting three planes of existence- the heaven worlds, the earth, and the nether regions. Therefore, Olmo Lungring possesses a different ontological status than ordinary geographical regions and countries. In terms of our own age, it is a hidden land or “beyul” (sbas-yul), inaccessible to all but realized beings or Siddhas. This land is said to be inhabited by Vidyadharas (rig-`dzin) or holders of esoteric knowledge. It exists on earth, but it is not an ordinary country or nation which could be observed from an orbiting satellite or sighted from a high flying airplane, for it possesses a special reality all its own. It is in this world, but not quite of it. It is part of our physical geographical world because it is located in Tazig, yet it partly exists in another spiritual dimension, and although material, it is in a certain sense imperishable and indestructible. When, at the end of the kalpa, the world will be destroyed and consumed by fire, Olmo Lungring will spontaneously rise up and ascend into the sky and there it will merge with its celestial archetype in the heavens which is called Sidpa Yesang (srid-pa ye-sangs). Olmo Lungring is truly the imperishable sacred land.
Olmo Lungring or Shambhala, this imperishable sacred land, which is the spiritual center of the world, existed on earth from the very beginning of the human race. It was the place where the celestial gods of the Clear Light (`od gsal lha) descended from heaven to earth in order to take up incarnation as human beings and ensoul the physical bodies which had been prepared for them. Since that time of the beginning, Olmo Lungring has been the sanctuary of wisdom and the receptacle of the highest mystical teachings being brought down from above. All of the inhabitants of that land have entered upon the path to enlightenment, and for this reason it is said to be the land of the Vidyadharas beyond the Himalayas, spoken of in the Puranas and other ancient books of India. This mysterious land at the center has been known by various different names in different ancient traditions throughout the world.
The Lord Tonpa Shenrab was bom a prince in Olmo Lungring some 18000 years ago (in 16017 BC according to the traditional Bonpo reckoning) and he emerged from there, crossing barriers of hot arid deserts and frigid glacial mountains, to visit briefly Zhang-zhung and Tibet. After his Parinirvana (in 7817 BC), his reign in Olmo Lungring was followed by a successive line of adepts or initiate-priest kings (rigs-ldan) who even today are the guardians and custodians of the eternal Wisdom Tradition. Thus Olmo Lungring is not only an earthly paradise filled with shining white cities, multi-storeyed temples and palaces, lush gardens and pleasure groves, but a hidden sanctuary of the Gnosis that holds a precious treasure of greatest price, the Supreme Secret. This is the precise knowledge of who we really are, whence we have come and wither we go. In mystical terms, it is the secret sanctuary hidden in the heart of every living being, the place of Buddhahood.
This land was the primordial source of Yungdrung Bon and in later times the sages of Tibet often went to Olmo Lungring in quest of these precious teachings. It is said that they proceeded toward the northwest from Mount Kailas in Zhang-zhung and journeyed for twice as far as Kailas is from the city of Shigatse in Central Tibet. In precise geographic terms, this would put them beyond the Pamirs in Sogdiana. Although no guide books to Olmo Lungring are now extant among the Bonpos, such as exist among Tibetan Buddhists, like die famous “Shambhala`i lam-yig” of the third Panchen Lama (dPal-ldan ye-shes, b. 1739), until 1959 Bonpos would still set out on pilgrimage to that fabled land, although none returned to Tibet to tell the tale. They had passed through the gates into another world. Nevertheless, pious Bonpos still pray to be reborn in that mysterious land at the center.
According to Bonpo prophesies, some 1200 years from now, when spiritual values decline and religion is nearly extinct in the outside world, a king and a teacher will emerge from Olmoling in order to revitalize the spiritual teachings of Yungdrung Bon in the world. Although the “gZi-brjid” specifically identifies Olmoling and Shambhala, neither in the “gZi-brjid” nor the “gZer-mig” is there any mention of Armaggedon or the climactic battle between the forces of the Mlechas from the West and the forces of Shambhala led by the Kulika Rudrachakrin, as is found in the Buddhist recension of the “Kalachakra Tantra”. The Bonpo canon also possesses a variant recension of this “Kalachakra Tantra”, but it is said to be incomplete and it is classified as Kriya Tantra rather than Anuttara Tantra, as is the case in the Buddhist system.
In ancient and medieval times, and even in modern times, there have been persistent rumors of a secret brotherhood of enlightened beings or Vidyadharas, possessing great knowledge and power, who, in a remote corner of Central Asia, preserve the Ancient Wisdom which was revealed at the very beginning of the human race. This Wisdom was originally brought from beyond the stars, the same celestial home from which the human spirits now comprising humanity migrated to earth in order to incarnate in bodies of earthly flesh. But this mysterious land at the center where the gods first descended remains perpetually concealed from die profane eyes of die spiritually immature and die merely curious because, without a purification of the individual`s impure karmic vision, die land at the center remains imperceptible to die ordinary fleshly eye. To behold this dimension, die individual must possess pure vision (dag snang) and open one`s wisdom eye (ye-shes kyi spyan). Habitual thoughts and preconceptions condition how die individual perceives reality. One`s impure karmic vision (las snang) inherited from past causes and conditioning creates distortions in die dimension of reality and veils die light which is natural to it. The practitioner must go beyond one`s mental conditioning and one`s conventional models of reality, so that one sees die world from a different perspective, one which does not deny the power of vision and creative imagination.
If an explorer finding himself in a remote region, but lacking this pure vision and die discriminating eye of wisdom, where inadvertently to stumble upon this fabled land, he would only see a dusty windswept arid plane surrounded by desolate mountains. He would behold an unexceptionable barren landscape, not die fragrant rivers and lush gardens and pleasure groves of paradise. Even if were to come across some of die inhabitants of this land, he would see only a few nomads living in a dirty impoverished encampment, and failing to recognize where he had arrived in reality, he would press on elsewhere and forever miss his mark. Only a Siddha or adept would recognize die signs and landmarks. Olmo Lungring exists in a dimension parallel to our own conventional reality, but for this reason it is no less real. The concealment and invisibility of Olmo Lungring to ordinary sight is no proof that it does not exist. So argue the Bonpo Lamas.
According to Bonpo tradition, Olmo Lungring fully occupies one-third of our world even now and lies to the northwest of Tibet. The Bonpo texts further speak of the three portals or doors of Zhang-zhung and some of these texts assert that Tazig is the middle door (sgo bar-ma). According to Lopon Tenzin Namdak, the outer door (sgo phyi-pa) is Zhang-zhung itself, the middle door (sgo bar-ma) is Tazig, and the inner door (sgo phug-pa) is Olmo Lungring. From the innermost gate outwards this represents the movement or progress of the teachings of Yungdrung Bon into the outer world and especially Tibet. At that time Tazig was said to have been inhabited by the “sTag-gzig hos rigs”, the royal race (rgyal rigs) of the “Hos” or Persians (the Chinese “Hu”). But in an even earlier time the people belonged to the lineage of the “rGyal-bu `thing-ge”. And in the “Ma-rgyud” is found the story of the emperor Gyer-wer of Tazig who ruled most of the known world.
In the Bonpo texts the land of Olmo Lungring is said to be divided into four concentric regions: the inner region (nang gling), the middle region (bar gling), the outer region (phyi gling), and the border region (mtha` gling). The inner and middle regions consist of twelve districts or islands (gling), the outer region of sixteen, and the border region also of twelve. These regions and districts (gling) are all sepepared by rivers and lakes and inland seas. The innermost region has the form geographically of an eight petalled lotus blossom and the sky above it corresponds to the form of a wheel or chakra of eight spokes.
At the very center of this innermost land rises the holy nine-storyed swastika mountain of Yungdrung Gutseg (g.yung-drung dgu-brtsegs), a crystal monolith in the shape of a pyramid. These nine storeys or levels of the sacred mountain signify the Nine Ways of Bon (theg-pa rim dgu) into which the teachings leading to liberation and enlightenment are classified. In the Bonpo cosmological system, the number nine is especially important and significant. In terms of the mandala, it represents the center and the eight directions, cardinal and intermediate. From the surface of the earth upward there are nine stages or levels of heaven (gnam rim-pa dgu) inhabited by the celestial gods (lha) and downward there are nine successive nether realms (sa `og rim-pa dgu) inhabited by the Nagas (klu) and other chthonic beings. The world-mountain at the center links together these three levels of existence, heaven and earth and underworld. From the mountain the adept way travel freely, ascending upward or descending downward to other worlds and dimensions. This cosmology is shared with ancient North Asian shamanism. In Bonpo symbolism, the swastika or yungdrung (g.yung-drung) corresponds to the vajra or diamond (rdo-rje, “the king of stones”) in the Indian Buddhist system. Both of them indicate something that is everlasting, indestructible, and pure. As an adjective (g.yung-drung) or as an adverb (g.yung-drung du) the word means eternal, everlasting, perpetual. As die axis mundi, this sacred mountain in the center is imperishable and indestructible (g.yung-drung).
The country is divided by rivers, chiefly nine in number, which flow into the four directions. From the foot of the sacred mountain flow four great rivers of special importance, originating from four springs that issue forth from four rocks having the shapes of symbolic animals. The river Nara arises from a spring in a lion-shaped rock (sen-ge kha `babs) and flows to the east. The river Pakshu arises from a spring in a horse shaped rock (rta mchog kha `babs) and flows to the north. The river Kyim-shang arises from a spring in a peacock-shaped rock (rma bya kha `babs) and flows to the west. And the river Sindhu arises from a spring in an elephant-shaped rock (glang-chen kha `babs) and flows to the south.
The land is filled with a complex pattern of shining cities, temples and palaces, parks and pleasure groves, lakes and bathing pools, like the descriptions of Shambhala found in the Buddhist tradition. It is truly an earthly paradise. Around the base of the sacred mountain in the center are literally hundreds of cities, palaces, and temples, but among them there are four, which are especially important. To the east of the mountain is the shining white temple of Shampo Lhatse (sham-po lha rtse). To the south is the great palace of Barpo Sogyad (bar-po so-brgyad) where Tonpa Shenrab`s had lived and he was born. To the west is the palace of Trimon Gyalzhad (khri-smon rgyal-bzhad), where the chief queen of Tonpa Shenrab, Hoza Gyalzhadma (Hos-bza` rGyal-bzhad-ma) had lived and where three of his children were born, namely, Tobu (gTo-bu), Chyadbu (dPyad-bu), and Ne`u-chen. And to the north is the palace of Khong-ma Ne`u-chung where another one of his queens, Poza Thangmo (dPo-bza` thang-mo) lived and three more of his children were born, namely, Lungdren (Lung-`dren), Gyuddren (rGyud-`dren), and Ne`u-chung.
Surrounding this innermost region in every direction is an intermediate region with twelve great cities, four in each of the four cardinal directions. One of these cities located in the west is Gyalag Odma (rgya-lag `od-ma) where the fabled king and disciple of Tonpa Shenrab, Kongtse Trulgyi Gyalpo (Kong-tse `phrul gyi rgyal-po) lived. He was important for the transmission of astrological and magical teachings coming from the Master. The miraculous temple erected by this king on an artificial island built by the Rakshasa demons in the western sea was also very important since it was here that certain teachings of Tonpa Shenrab were written down and deposited for safe keeping. These texts have been preserved there until this very day. This second region is completely surrounded by two more concentric rings, an outer region and a border region. As said above, these regions and their subdivisions are separated by rivers and other bodies of water. The entire land is in turn surrounded by an ocean called Mukhyud Dalwa (mu-khyud bdal-ba`i rgya-mtsho), “the wide-spreading enclosing ocean”. Again, this sea is surrounded by a mighty wall of snow-capped mountains called Walso Gangri Rawa (dbal-so gangs ri`i ra-ba), causing the imperishable sacred land to be impenetrable to any intrusion from the outside world.
Access and egress to and from Olmo Lungring maybe be had via the arrow way (mda` lam) that was created by Tonpa Shenrab when he shot an arrow from inside the ring of high impenetrable mountains. Piercing through this solid wall, the arrow created a tunnel or passageway. But finding this gateway is no easy task, even for adepts, for it is guarded by precipitous gorges and wild mythic beasts stand sentinel at the entrance. The tunnel is totally dark and it takes a nine full days to traverse its length to the world of light at its end. But there have been those who have succeeded in passing through it into the light… Within the territory of Olmo Lungring there are seven royal races (rgyal rigs) and chief among them is the clan of Mushen (dmu-gshen) from which Tonpa Shenrab descended. Thus the word “gshen” is also the name of a clan, as well as the term for a kind of practitioner. Besides the Mushen, there were six more royal races or clans (rgyal rigs) ruling in Olmo Lungring: “Hos”, “Shag”, “dPo”, “rGya”, “gTo”, and “gNyan”. There are also classes of ministers, merchants, artisans, commoners, and so on. All of the people living in the center and in the districts of the innermost region (nang gling) speak the language of the eternal Swastika Gods (g.yung-dning lha yi skad). In the middle region (bar gling) consisting of twelve islands or districts, there are eight great rivers in different directions and in the valleys along these rivers the peoples speak different languages and dialects. Whereas the language in the inner lands is that of the Swastika Gods, here in the twelve middle lands the people mainly speak and write the eight transformed languages (bsgyur-ba`i skad), each of which is associated with one of the eight great rivers as follows:
1. “gTsang-ma lha skad” along the Na-ra-dza-ra river in the east,
2. “Dag-pa lha skad” along the Pakshu river in the the north,
3. “Samskri lha skad” (i.e., Sanskrit) along the Ma-shang river in the west,
4. “Khri-wer lha skad” along the Sindhu river in the south,
5. “Hor ci `phrul skad” along the Ganga river in the south east,
6. “sPos ci `phrul skad” along the Sita river in the southwest,
7. “Ci gung `phrul skad” along the Seng-ga river in the northwest, and
8. “Cung tshe `phrul skad” along the Serdan (gser-ldan) river in the northeast.
In the middle and outer lands there are ten languages, which are major and some one hundred and sixty-four lesser dialects. The letters used in writing these languages have both large and small forms and are based on an original “spungs-so” or alphabet. These letters had many different shapes and it is difficult to find examples of these alphabets in our world nowadays.
In any event, all of these forms of writing were based on an original celestial prototype and were not a mere earthly invention.
Thus from the times of the very beginning of humanity, Olmo Lungring, where direct communication between heaven and earth has persisted until this very day, has continually been the source of knowledge, guidance, and civilization for the outside world. It is truly the sanctuary and the imperishable sacred land.