The original Triten Norbutse Monastery was established in the fourteenth century in central Tibet by the great Bönpo Master Shen Nyima Gyaltsen (born 1360), a descendant of the Shen lineage which is the lineage of Buddha Tonpa Shenrab, the founder of the Bön religion. For many centuries Triten Norbutse was one of the four main Bönpo monastic institutions in Tibet which provided a complete Bön cultural and religious education. Completely destroyed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, it has since been partially rebuilt, although there is no real possibility of studying there nowadays.
The story of the modern Triten Norbutse monastery in Nepal began in 1977, when Yongdzin Rinpoche traveled from Menri monastery, India to Swayambhu near Kathmandu in search of a land for a monastery to serve the Bonpo community in Nepal.
3 main purposes in establishing a Bön monastery:
- to preserve the Bönpo culture and religion outside Tibet;
- to provide a full education and practice program for the Bonpos of Dolpo and Mustang, the outer regions of Nepal; although there are over twenty Bön monasteries in these areas, none of them are able to offer this possibility.
- to serve as a centre for the social and religious life of the Bönpo communities.
In 1987, Triten Norbutse Monastery was established by H.E. Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche on a hill facing the Great Stupa of Swayambhu.
In 1991 the building of a new Gompa began supervised by Yongdzin Rinpoche. Artists were called from Bhutan to make the large statue of Tonpa Shenrab, two other statues of Drenpa Namkha and of Nyamed Sherab Gyaltsen (founder of the original Menri monastery) were made by Tibetan sculptors. The internal decorations and the pictures of the Guardians, Midu and Sipe Gyalmo, were drawn by Bhutanese artists, while the 19 painted mandalas, the pictures of the 1000 Buddhas, the large pictures of Nampar Gyalwa and of Sherab Jyamma (the Goddess of Wisdom), the drawings of the Buddhas of the three times and of Nyamed Sherab Gyaltsen and all the external decorations are the work of Triten Norbutse’s monks.
In 1992 a large prayer wheel (khorchen) was built and many new volumes increased the monastery library. These include texts of all the major traditions of Tibet as well as books in many other languages. Following his visit to Tibet in the same year Yongdzin Rinpoche brought back several books that were no longer available outside Tibet, in order to publish them in India. These were also added to the library, which housed the first copy of the BönbKa-gyur (Canon) outside Tibet, composed of 149 volumes. 1992 was also the year when Geshe Nyima Wangyal, who had studied under Yongdzin Rinpoche’s guidance at Dolanji and was among the first to complete the Geshe course there.
Over the next two years, dark house and retreat halls and a new enlarged kitchen were built. The Dialectics School and Meditation Group were officially established in 1994 and in November 1995 the monastery was inaugurated with seven days of puja also in the presence of H.H. Menri Trizin Rinpoche. A house for the teachers of the monastery was begun in 1995 and completed in 1996
A new junior Lopon, Tenpa Yungdrung, was also elected in 1996 to teach the younger monks Logic, Grammar and Sutra studies. At this time five Geshes from Dolanji also began teaching a number of other subjects:
The main education program of Triten Norbutse is an academic program leading to the Geshe degree. It provides an extensive and rigorous comprehensive study of a broad spectrum of the Bön religious tradition which includes Bön philosophy of Sutra, Tantra and Dzogchen pertaining to its major canonical texts as well as general Tibetan sciences and arts, namely astrology, poetry, medicine, Tibetan and Sanskrit grammar and various aspects of religious iconography such as Mandala, script and calligraphy. There are also courses on religious rituals, arts and music. Lessons taught by specialized masters, the monks are encouraged to deepen their knowledge through regular lively debate.
Upon successfully completing this thirteen-year program, the monks are awarded the distinguished Geshe degree, the highest academic qualification in the Bön tradition, which corresponds to the European Doctor of Theology.
The Meditation Training Program concentrates on Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, which is a system of meditation on the Nature of Mind. This program transmits the entire teachings on the four major Bön Dzogchen texts enabling the students to acquire a deep understanding and experience of meditation.
In Tibetan and Himalayan society, a monastery serves as a centre for the social life of the community in many ways: it is the meeting point on festive occasions; people come here with physical and mental problems to find help and guidance; there are public prayers and meditations for peace and prosperity in the country and the world; herbal medicine is gathered, prepared and consecrated; public lectures are given to reinforce faith, peace and harmony in the community; rites for the welfare of the deceased as well as for living beings are performed, and the monastery is an example of a favorable environment with a positive influence on its surroundings. As part of this community, the monk-students’ needs are met by the monastery; accommodation, food, clothes and books, as well as education and guidance are provided free of charge.