Menri Monastery (Tibet) History
Tashi Menri Monastery (bKra-shis sMan-ri dGon-pa), located at Tobgyel (sTobs-rgyal) in Tsang, was established in 1405 by Nyammey Sherab-gyeltsen (mNyam-med Shes-rab rgyal-mtshan) (1356-1416), and became the main Bon monastery of Tibet.
When the founder of Bon, Tonpa Shenrab (sTon-pa gShen-rab), traveled to Kongpo (Kong-po), he stopped at Tobgyel. With his miraculous powers, he left his footprint in a rock, saying, “Little boy, in the future your monastery will be here.” The mountain behind Menri is like a drawn curtain of white silk. In the middle of it, there is an expansive flat rock slab with the naturally formed figures of 1000 Buddhas, 80 vidyadharas (rig-‘dzin, holders of pure awareness), and 1000 dakini’s. The mountains in front of the monastery have many naturally formed wondrous shapes. The surrounding mountains are covered with hundreds of types of medicinal plants and medicinal springs, from which the name Menri derives, which mean “Medicine Mountain.”
Menri Monastery, Dolanji, India
Menri (Medicine Mountain) Monastery is located in the Solan district of Himachal Pradesh. This place has changed in recent years from a sleepy, albeit culturally important backwater, to 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 over 350 residents, and large concrete Tibetan-style buildings have come up to house the new temples, a library, Bon Dialectic School, dormitories, health center, and nunnery as well as other well functioning centers.
The chief lama of Menri Monastery is Menri Trizin, who is also the titular head of all the Bonpo. Now in his 80’s, His Holiness still maintains a full work schedule, overseeing important functions at the monastery. A typical day will see Menri Trizin 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 education projects. Menri Trizin fulfills his role as spiritual leader of the Bonpo admirably well, and he cuts an impressive figure with his deep resonant voice and regal bearing. His Holiness however, is a good listener and is always ready to help all who seek him out. In short, he is the ideal spiritual beacon.
A new Bon nunnery is being completed in a pristine setting across the river from, and in view of, Menri Monastery. Called Redna Menling or “Land of Precious Medicine,” it is the only Bon nunnery in India and only one of a handful in the world. Girls and women from Tibet and the borderlands arrive here to study and remain as nuns in the Bon culture. Redna Menling is a rapidly growing institution that is a solid reflection of women as leaders and practitioners of the Bon tradition.
The Menri Bon Children
Menri is a refuge for approximately 350 Bon children whose numbers increase each year. The children — some of whom are orphaned — are sent to Menri from poor regions in the borderlands of Tibet and Nepal for their sustenance and education. Boys whose families send them to the monastery are trained as monks. Girls who are placed in the nunnery are trained as nuns. Also within the Menri complex is the Bon Children’s Home with dormitories for boys and girls who were sent to Menri for basic care and education.
All children, including the young monks and nuns, attend school together at the Central School for Tibetans. Situated in the valley below the monastery, the school is run by the Indian government and provides education through the tenth grade. Because Bon tradition places such high value on education and on the continuation of the Bon culture and tradition, the school includes a strong component of Bon studies. Education is regarded as an absolute necessity for the future of Bon.