Menri (Medicine Mountain) Monastery is located in the Solan district of Himachal Pradesh, in a rather out of the way corner, far from cities and bazaars. How this place has changed in recent years! From a sleepy, albeit culturally important backwater, Menri has become a bustling hub of religious learning and ritual activity. Until 1998, Menri was a very rudimentary facility with a few simple adobe and stone buildings. Even the main temple was bereft of the rich decorations that have come to characterize Tibetan religious edifices. There were around 100 monks then. Now there are hundreds more, and large concrete Tibetan-style buildings house the new temples, a library, Bon Dialectic school, dormitories, a Tibetan medical university, and the Redna Menling Nunnery, as well as other functioning centers.
The chief lama or Abbot of Menri Monastery is the Gyalwa Menri Trizin--also the titular head of all Bonpo. A typical day will see the Abbot delegating tasks to his circle of leading monks--all of whom hold the Doctor of Divinity or Geshe degree--participating in religious ceremonies, receiving visitors, dictating letters, and supervising construction and educational projects. Around the world, the Bon regard the Gyalwa Menri Trizin as the spiritual beacon for all Bonpo
There are still those who believe that Tibet is synonymous with Buddhism, not realizing that it is home to another of the world's great religions. Fortunately, attitudes are changing as the Bon people reach out to the rest of the world with ever greater vibrancy. In addition to possessing the doctrinal traditions and ecclesiastic structures of Tibetan Buddhism, Bon has preserved a variety of more ancient cultural traditions.
Needless to say, native Bon traditions are of great interest to historians, anthropologists, and archeologists. But they are also highly valuable in a practical sense, for they contain much that is of relevance to human physical and mental well-being. To name but a few of aspects of Bon's indigenous heritage, there are medical therapies, rituals for psychological contentment, systems of divination, and special rites for environmental harmony. This profound pre-Buddhist spiritual bequest draws its inspiration from the primal
well-spring of human experience, seen as the universal birthright of us all. The Bonpo believe that the foundation of our human identity has been ignored in the theologies and institutional frameworks of the other major world religions. Often mistakenly equated with shamanism by lay people and poorly-informed religious scholars, the ancient Bon legacy is actually concerned with divinity as it abides in all
natural systems. It is held that this divinity or essential state is tantamount to human beings in their fundamental phenomenological form. Known as the "natural state of mind," this view of reality is elucidated in a highly advanced system of teachings known as Dzogchen. Wed to Buddhist cosmological and ethical traditions over the last twelve centuries, Dzogchen is considered the highest of Bon teachings.