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Tse Dup Yang Bod: Tibetan Bon Soul Healing Ancient Healing for a Modern World

by Vicki Jenkins Ph. D.

“We came into this world not to suffer, but to help relieve the suffering of all beings.”

With the energetic arc of those words, Tibetan Bon Lama Geshe Chongtul Rinpoche reminded the gathered students that although the three-year Tse Dup Yang Bod teaching was coming to a close, our journey as healers should radiate out in the ongoing service of love and compassion. What now remained was to receive the final Tse Dup Yang Bod transmission and empowerment from the current spiritual head of the Tibetan Bon tradition, His Holiness Lungtok Tenpai Nyima, the 33rd Menri Trizin, who had made a special journey to the States for this occasion. The energetic arc shimmered with compassionate intensity as the students were connected to the unbroken lineage of Tse Dup dating back to its roots in an 8th century Tibetan Bon text.

The Tibetan Bon tradition has its spiritual origins in the teachings of Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche, the enlightened teacher of the ancient Zhang Zhung kingdom, who is said to have lived over 18,000 years ago. Tonpa Shenrab compassionately dedicated his life to the practice and teaching of “Yungdrung Bon” or “Eternal Bon” for the benefit of all beings. The essence of his teaching was the recognition of one’s true nature and the realization of the inherent wisdom and compassion that enables one to abide peacefully and joyfully. After Tonpa Shenrab’s passing at 81, his dedicated disciples tirelessly organized and spread his teachings throughout the Zhang Zhung kingdom as well as to the adjacent lands of India, Kashmir, Nepal, China, and ultimately Tibet, where Yungdrung Bon flourished.

The arrival of Buddhism in Tibet in the late 7th century created many complex challenges for Bon. However, with the dedication of many great masters, the Bon teachings were carefully preserved. Drenpa Namkha, an 8th century Zhang Zhung self-realized teacher and important preserver of the Bon teachings, had extraordinary twin sons: Tsewang Rigzin and Yungdrung Thongdrol. Yungdrung Thongdrol, also known as Padmasambava, is the founder of the Nyingma Buddhist tradition. Tsewang Rigzin is revered as the main long life deity of Bon. Born enlightened, Tsewang Rigzin studied with his father as well as with many other famous disembodied masters, for among his siddhis was the special gift of communication with nonphysical masters. As an embodiment of the highest life force energy, Tsewang Rigzin was the first Bon master to teach how to enhance and retrieve the life force and soul.

Although there are numerous Bon teachings for long life and prosperity, the 8th century text, Tse Dup Jha Ri Ma, contains the special soul healing teaching that was transmitted orally to Tsewang Rigzin by the dakini Yum Chen Thuk Je Kundrol while he was in deep meditation. The Tse Dup Jha Ri Ma has three distinct ritual components: the long life empowerment rituals, soul retrieval (la ghuk), and life force retrieval (tse ghuk).

There is a long tradition of Bon Rinpoches traveling to towns to perform the rituals of the Tse Dup Jha Ri Ma to help bring good health and long life to the people. Bon Rinpoches still perform these rituals to help facilitate healing and harmony when times are troubled due to strife, environmental disasters, or widespread sickness. Soul retrieval (la ghuk), life force retrieval (tse ghuk) using the ritual arrow with five colored ribbons (dhadar), and carrying a piece of turquoise as a representative of one’s soul, all continue to be very popular in Tibetan Bon society. The Bon understanding of the soul (la) is unique.

Since the Tse Dup Jha Ri Ma is so significant in Bon, it was the vision of Chongtul Rinpoche, a lineage holder of this practice, to authentically adapt this teaching to a more modern and accessible format. He also realized the importance of sharing this teaching with Westerners, as many consider this to be the origins of Reiki. Dedicated to preserving its authentic Bon spiritual foundation, in 2007 Chongtul Rinpoche created a thirty day teaching, “Tse Dup Yang Bod: Bon Soul Healing,” spread out over three years, to train students in the fundamentals of this complex healing system. Tse Dup Yang Bod provides a comprehensive, integrated teaching about how to recognize the energetic relations among the internal organs and external elements, how to recognize soul loss, and how to restore soul energy from each of the five directions. Invoking the healing power of the Long Life meditation mantra, channeling the five different types of healing energy, performing ritual soul retrieval and soul ransoming from evil spirits, provide the energetic heart of the Tse Dup teaching and practice.

In May 2008, Chongtul Rinpoche taught the first year of Tse Dup to an internationally diverse group of students, masterfully laying the historical, spiritual and energetic foundations for that amazing transmission by His Holiness Lungtok Tenpai Nyima three years later.


What does the teaching title “Tse Dup Yang Bod” mean?

Literally translated, Tse means life force, Dup means to intensify, Yang refers to the energetic essence of the soul, life force, and five elements, and Bod means to call or retrieve through respectful practice.

Thus, through long practice of specific meditations and the focused recitation of many mantras, we are connecting with and intensifying in ourselves the ancient, empowered life force energy of Tsewang Rigzin. We are learning how to call and embody the highest essence of the energies from the different directions so that we can restore vitality and brightness to the soul, life force, and life.

Could you clarify the Bon concepts of soul (la), life force(tse) and life(sog) ? How are they interrelated?

The soul (la) is ultimately known directly. Through cultivating an inner sensitivity and awareness, one comes to more clearly know and recognize the soul (la) of someone. It is a brightness of mind, a vitality and radiant shining, the most essential energy of someone or something. When we “look into” a person and see a shining or a dullness, we are catching a glimpse of the soul, that highest essential energy of someone. In that glimpse we are also registering the yang of the soul: does it shine with a powerful radiance or is it energetically dull, like a fading light bulb. It is possible for the soul energy to lose its vitality, indeed to be totally lost, but for a person to still be alive.

The life force (tse), refers to the life force energy of sentient beings. When the soul energy is low, the life force is weakened. Susceptibility to accidents and disease, a weakened immune system, and lack of interest in life can be indications of a weakened life force. People can still be alive without this life force, for example, those in a deep coma. They are just breathing and existing, unable to move, eat, communicate, or engage in life activities.

The life (sog) refers to biological life, and is most directly connected to the breath. One can still have life without the presence of the soul or life force; however, without life, death swiftly and inevitably results.

Rinpoche, based on years of extensive personal practice and research, you consolidated the rituals, prayers, and teachings of the Tse Dup Jha Ri Ma into a more accessible, modern format which you call “Tse Dup Yang Bod: Bon Soul Healing”. Can you provide an overview of Tse Dup Yang Bod?

This Tse Dup teaching is about how our soul, life force, and life are carried by the body. The foundation of life and good health is strong, balanced communication among the five organs of spleen, lung, liver, kidney and heart, with the five inner elements of flesh, breath, heat, blood, and mind, with the five external elements of earth, wind, fire, water and space. When our life is strong, then our life force has a vitality that shines as the strength of our soul. When our soul is strong, we are healthy. Conversely, when an organ is weak due to disease, trauma or stress and its connection to these elements is blocked, loss of soul energy can occur.

From the Bon perspective, it is ultimately the five poisons of anger, attachment, jealousy, pride and ignorance that create suffering in samsara. The five poisons give rise to physical manifestations of imbalance and disease that weaken our energy and make us vulnerable to attacks on our life force, soul, and life. We become increasingly unable to generate wisdom and life energy, and so we weaken. When instead we embody the five wisdoms of compassion, equality, openness, generosity and self-awareness, our mind and body are healthy, and negative energies can’t penetrate. We have a strong life force and soul and are able to help others. At the deepest level, Tse Dup is about reducing these five poisons in our self and in others, for this is the true root of all disease and soul loss.

In Tse Dup one learns how to determine the root of the disease and to provide the root of healing. One learns how to build healing energy, how to work with the energetic essence of the five elements, how to effectively utilize the energetic connections and communication pathways between the organs, elements, and soul energy. Tse Dup is based on the ancient, ethnic Tibetan style of building healing energy from a deep understanding of the complex details, source and root. As a Tse Dup healer, one sends a specific healing energy based on this deep understanding, in contrast, for example, to Reiki, which channels a generalized healing energy.

Might you say a little more about the key elements that are addressed in each year of this Tse Dup Yang Bod teaching?

In the first year, students learn to use the Long Life mantra to build healing energy, as well as to master detailed understandings of the identifying characteristics and connections among the five directions, external and inner elements, organs, inner poisons and wisdoms. Students learn how to recognize specific signs of soul and life force loss, as well as how to collect and generate the specific type of energy needed for healing by using the ritual arrow (dhadar) and mirror (melong). Basic yoga techniques (trul khor) to open energy channels are introduced. And it is so important that students learn how to bring peace and compassion to the negative energies that are weakening or holding a soul so that they, too, might be released from suffering.

The second year builds on these teachings, with a special focus on learning how to generate in one’s palms the distinctive essence of each of the five elemental energies. Students work with the yang, the highest quality of these energies, rather than with the elements themselves. Students also learn more advanced techniques for reading soul energy, as well as traditional Bon divination techniques to determine if the soul energy has been successfully retrieved or if more healing work needs to be done. Such divination can also help clarify whether the soul has not returned because the person is nearing death. If that is so, then there is no need for more practice of Tse Dup; rather, one needs to help the person find a peaceful acceptance of the situation.

The third year training represents a spiritual and energetic culmination of much detailed practice and dedication. Students learn a technique for assessing soul dynamism that provides further insight into the effectiveness of what has been done so far and what type of healing might yet be needed. There is an overall synthesis of the Tse Dup practice for returning the soul to the life force, returning the life force to the life, and integrating the life into the Ni syllable, the representation of the base consciousness.

Although learning these energetic healing techniques is an important focus each year, there is deeper work as well. The most fundamental task for the student is opening to the deep wisdom within. Through dedicated practice of special meditation and healing mantras, students learn to “dust the mirror”, to see and become more familiar with their own inherent wisdom. The Tse Dup student’s responsibility is to help others, and to do that effectively, it is most important to develop and strengthen one’s own inner wisdom.

Since learning and performing the Preliminary Practices (Ngondro) of Bon are a significant component of the Tse Dup teaching and student commitment, would you clarify the relation between spirituality and this healing practice? Does one have to become a practicing Bonpo to learn the Tse Dup healing system?

Some people think that all Tibetan teachings are related to a religious purpose. But it is certainly not required to be a Bonpo or even to be a religious person to practice Tse Dup. One might be a spiritual person or just have a strong interest in wellness. The important thing is to have an open mind and heart: there is no need to believe in God or deities that will help you. Each person already has the tools to help all sentient beings, each person has the seeds of enlightenment. But without practice it is difficult for people to realize this. Learning and performing the Preliminary Practice mantras helps build our soul energy, slowly purifying our inner poisons and helping to transform them into wisdom. Reciting these mantras does not, in itself, mean that someone is a Bon practitioner.

To study this teaching is to study the heart of compassion; it is to learn how to develop and bring this healing energy into the world to help others. The foundation must be compassion: without compassion, there is no Tse Dup. Compassion is the seed: without this seed nothing will grow in the field, even if there is water, good soil, and plenty of sunshine. So, too, the Tse Dup healer must cultivate a heart seed of compassion; otherwise the energy sent is just energy.

What is your vision in bringing this teaching to Western students?

The West has a very impressive physical medical system that skillfully treats diverse diseases and conditions. However, there are many occasions when the patient does not respond to this medical treatment, and comes to exist in an increasingly listless and chronically ill state. This ancient healing technique of Tse Dup Yang Bod provides a direct energetic working into the essential Mind that is seen to be the real root of disease. It provides very strong and effective healing for the soul and the life force. Throughout my life I have seen how this healing has helped Tibetans when physical medicine was ineffective. I was very interested in bringing it here so that others could learn and benefit from this complete healing system for the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual components of life.

Because of the growing interest and need for access to this healing system, I am looking forward to once again teaching the entire three-year Tse Dup Yang Bod course as a series of weekend teachings, starting in January 2014 in Parsippany, New Jersey. When approached with dedication of body, mind and spirit, the Tse Dup teaching opens the student to the infinite healing energy of compassion that is the heart of the universe, that is our true nature.


Struck by the powerful, quite palpable, healing force of the compassionate energy that Chongtul Rinpoche radiated and threaded through the Tse Dup training, all his students felt connected to this teaching from the very first day. Without exception, students have noted a greatly increased energetic sensitivity and ability to generate healing energy that carry over into other healing practices such as Reiki and Qi Gong. Many report success in addressing physical ailments, including debilitating migraines, chronic back pain, vertigo, as well as profound shifts toward sustained emotional peace and stability. Although some students initially resisted the spiritual demands of this practice, it has become clear to all that the healing practice of Tse Dup heals oneself as much as it heals others.

As student Cheri Brady observes:

“I have studied many healing modalities over the years, but it was Tse Dup Yang Bod that incorporated all the components into a beautiful interwoven tapestry of healing and spiritual awareness… Learning techniques to access and direct the vibration and frequency of this spiritual healing energy at the soul level brings a harmonious balance for self-healing as well as for helping others on their healing journey.”

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Article Archives  This Month's Articles  Click Here for more articles by Vicki Jenkins Ph. D.
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