Alex Wright

A Week With The Bönpos

July 20, 2006

Earlier this month, I spent a week at Serenity Ridge with Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. I met Rinpoche last year in Colorado, and found him such an engaging teacher that I decided to come out for his annual summer retreat in Nelson County, Virginia, about 30 miles south of Charlottesville.

Rinpoche teaches in the Bön tradition, the ancient indigenous religion of Tibet, which purports to predate the arrival of Buddhism there by some 16,000 years. Today, much of the distinctive character of Tibetan Buddhism can be traced to its Bön heritage. I am abjectly unqualified to explain much more than this about the history of Bön and its relationship to Buddhism, but suffice it to say the folks at Serenity Ridge call themselves "Bön Buddhists." For more historical background, here's a solid introduction to Bön.

Coming from my own experience in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, I found the whole situation more familiar than foreign, and was hard pressed to spot any major philosophical divergences beyond a few points of doctrinal hair-splitting and some esoteric deity issues that are well over my head anyway. In general, I found the community here friendly, relaxed and open, with a refreshing lack of the kind of institutional regimentation that sometimes irks me about Shambhala.

As for the retreat itself, I am going to refrain from writing much about it here - I am too much of a beginner with this material, and anything I said here would almost certainly obfuscate more than it would enlighten. I will just say that I found the experience enormously worthwhile, and wish I could have stayed longer. Beyond that, I will just let the program description do the talking.

I will add that Serenity Ridge was a gorgeous spot to spend a week in the woods, and that I look forward to coming back.

The Gompa (Meditation Hall)

Morning in the Blue Ridge

Residence Hall

A few members of the local Tibetan community came out to celebrate the Dalai Lama's birthday

Monks taking care of business

File under: Dharma

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