The original Tibetan text from which the present translation is prepared is sTon pa yang
dag rdzogs pa'I sangs rgyas rgyal ba gshen rab mi bo'I mdzad pa bcu gnyis kyi rim pa, or
mDzad chen bcu gnyis kyi rnam bshad mdor bsdus, a brief like story of Tonpa Shenrab
based on the traditionally known format, the 'twelve deeds'. It was composed in the 1960s by
Menri Lpoon Sangye Tenzin (d. 1977) and was published by The Tibetan Bonpo Foundation in
Delhi in 1965. In 1988, the Council for Tibetan Education of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in
collaboration with Jadur Sonam Sangpo, the then Bon representative for the Assembly of
Tibetan People's Deputies, published this in book form with illustrations, to facilitate the
reading material on Bon for Tibetan school-children. It is this later edition on which the
present translation is based.
According to the Bon tradition, Tonpa Shenrab was not only the founder of the Bon
religion, but also the first Buddha to appear in this 'age of degeneration' The Stages of
A-Khrid Meditation (Kaliyuga) to save living beings from sufferings. He was believed
to have been born 16,016 years ago (B.C.) in the land called Olmo Loongring ('Ol mo lung
ring), in the innermost part of the Zhang Zhung kingdom then called Tagzing (sTag
gzigs) and lived 81 Shen years, during which he visited Tibet (i.e. Kongpo) once, and
taught the people there the basics of Bon practices called 'causal Bon'.
His detailed life story is available in three versions: long, of medium length and
short. They are among the class of scriptures which are considered his own 'words'
(mDo). Therefore, their ultimate source is being traced back to Tonpa Shenrab
himself. The long version, 'Dus pa rin po che'I rgyud dri ma med pa gzi brjid rab tu 'bar
ba'I mdo (also called Dri med gzi brjid or simply gZi brjid), has 61 chapters in 12
volumes. It belongs to the class of scriptures called 'transmission by hearing' (snyan
brgyud) and was mystically transmitted to Trulku Lodhen Nyingpo (b. 1360 A.D.) by
Tangchen Mutsa Gyermed, a siddha of the 8th century A.D. Extracts from chapters
7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15 and 16 of this version have been edited and translated into English
by D.L. Snellgrove.
The middle length version, 'Dus pa rin po che'I rgyud gzer mig (also called
mDo gzer mig or gZer mig), has 18 chapters in two volumes. It belongs to a class of
scriptures called 'rediscovered treasure' (gter ma) and was rediscovered from Trithang
Durtrod (Khri thang dur khrod) in Samye by Drangje Tsunpa Sermig. The first seven
chapters and part of the eighth of this version have been translated into English by A.H.
Francke. The short version, Dus gsum sangs rgyas byung khungs kyi mdo', more
popularly known as mDo 'dus, has 24 chapters in one volume. It belongs to the same class as
gZer mig and was rediscovered (in 961 A.D.) in the red stupa (mChod rten dmar po) in
Samye by two Indian sadhus (A-tsa-ra mi gnyis).
The present translation first appeared in Tibet Journal (Vol. XVII, No. 2, 1992).
Certain parts of the translation needed correction and retranslation which I did after
consulting the original Tibetan text. I wish to thank Vyvyan Cayley, a volunteer editor at
LTWA, for proofreading the translation.
Back of the Book
According to the Bon tradition of Tibet, Tonpa Shenrab was not only the founder of the bon
religion but also the first Buddha to appear in this 'degenerate age' (Kaliyuga), with the
express purpose of relieving the sufferings of all sentient beings. In the Twelve Deeds,
told according to the traditional format, we can read about the major events of Tonpa
Shenrab's life, including his compassionate and miraculous deeds and his entrance into
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