Bon, also spelled Bön (Tibetan: བོན་, Wylie: bon,
Lhasa dialect IPA: pʰø̃̀), is a Tibetan religion, which
self-identifies as distinct from Tibetan Buddhism, although it shares
the same overall teachings and terminology. It arose in the eleventh
century and established its scriptures mainly from termas and
visions by tertöns such as Loden Nyingpo. Though
Bon terma contain
Bon existing before the introduction of
Buddhism in Tibet,
"in truth the 'old religion' was a new religion."
1 Definitions of Bon
2.2 “A Cavern of Treasures” (mdzod phug)
2.3 18th century
2.4 19th century
5 Present situation
7 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Definitions of Bon
Bon only arose in the eleventh century through the work of tertons,
Sam van Schaik states it is improper to refer to the pre-Buddhist
Tibet as Bon:
Though some people call the old pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet
‘Bon’, it is unlikely that before
Buddhism the Tibetans had a
clear sense of practising a religion as such, or a specific name for
these practices. In fact, the Bonpo religion only started to take
shape alongside the revival of
Buddhism in the eleventh century. And
when the scriptures of the Bonpo started to appear in Tibet, it was
mainly through the work of tertons.
Bon scriptures—mdo 'dus, gzer mig, and gzi brjid—relate the
mythos of Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche. The Bonpos regard the first two as
gter ma rediscovered around the tenth and eleventh centuries and the
last as nyan brgyud (oral transmission) dictated by Loden Nyingpo, who
lived in the fourteenth century. In the fourteenth century, Loden
Nyingpo revealed a terma known as The Brilliance (Wylie: gzi brjid),
which contained the story of Tonpa Shenrab. He was not the first Bonpo
tertön, but his terma became one of the definitive scriptures of Bon
religion. It states that Shenrab established the
Bon religion while
searching for a horse stolen by a demon. Tradition also tells that he
was born in the land of
Tagzig Olmo Lung Ring
Tagzig Olmo Lung Ring (considered[by whom?] an
axis mundi) which is traditionally identified as Mount Yung-drung
Gu-tzeg (“Edifice of Nine Sauwastikas”), possibly Mount Kailash,
in western Tibet. Due to the sacredness of Tagzig Olmo Lungting and
Mount Kailash, the Bonpo regard both the swastika and the number nine
as auspicious and as of great significance.
Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche
Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche visited
Kongpo and found people whose practice
involved spiritual appeasement with animal sacrifice. He taught them
to substitute offerings with symbolic animal forms made from barley
flour. He only taught according to the student's capability with lower
shamanic vehicles to prepare; until with prayer, diligence, devotion
and application they could incarnate to achieve sutra, tantra and
Bon teachings feature Nine Vehicles, which are pathway-teaching
categories with distinct characteristics, views, practices and
results. Medicine, astrology, and divination are in the lower
vehicles; then sutra and tantra, with
Dzogchen great perfection being
the highest. Traditionally, the Nine Vehicles are taught in three
versions: as Central, Northern and Southern treasures. The Central
treasure is closest to
Nyingma Nine Yānas teaching and the Northern
treasure is lost.
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche elaborated the Southern
treasure with shamanism.
“A Cavern of Treasures” (mdzod phug)
“A Cavern of Treasures” (Tibetan:
མཛོད་ཕུག, Wylie: mdzod phug) is a
uncovered by Shenchen Luga (Tibetan:
གཤེན་ཆེན་ཀླུ་དགའ, Wylie: gshen
chen klu dga') in the early 11th century. Martin identifies the
importance of this scripture for studies of the Zhang-Zhung language:
For students of Tibetan culture in general, the mDzod phug is one of
the most intriguing of all
Bon scriptures, since it is the only
lengthy bilingual work in Zhang-zhung and Tibetan. (Some of the
shorter but still significant sources for Zhang-zhung are signalled in
Dzungar people invaded
Tibet in 1717 and deposed a pretender to
the position of
Dalai Lama who had been promoted by Lhabzang, the
titular King of Tibet. This was met with widespread approval. However,
they soon began to loot the holy places of Lhasa, which brought a
swift response from the
Kangxi Emperor in 1718, but his military
expedition was annihilated by the Dzungars not far from Lhasa.
Many Nyingmapas and Bonpos were executed and Tibetans visiting Dzungar
officials were forced to stick their tongues out so the Dzungars could
tell if the person recited constant mantras, which was said to make
the tongue black or brown. This allowed them to pick the Nyingmapas
and Bonpos, who recited many magic-mantras. A habit of sticking
one's tongue out as a mark of respect on greeting someone has remained
a Tibetan custom into modern times.
In the 19th century, Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen, a
Bon master whose
collected writings comprise eighteen volumes significantly rejuvenated
the tradition. His disciple Kagya Khyungtrul Jigmey
many practitioners to be learned in not only the
Bon religion, but in
all Tibetan schools.
According to the Bonpo, eighteen enlightened entities will manifest in
this aeon and Tönpa Shenrab Miwoche, the founder of Bon, is
considered the enlightened Buddha of this age (compare yuga and
kalpa). The 33rd lineage holder of Menri Monastery, Menri Trizin
Lungtog Tenpei Nyima and
Lopön Tenzin Namdak
Lopön Tenzin Namdak are important current
lineage holders of Bon.
More than three hundred
Bon monasteries had been established in Tibet
prior to Chinese annexation. Of these,
Menri Monastery and Shurishing
Yungdrung Dungdrakling Monastery were the two principal monastic
universities for the study and practice of
Bon knowledge and
Bon monastery of
Nangzhik Gompa at Ngawa Town, in Sichuan.
Tibet is not confined culturally to China's
Region. The broader area of ethnic
Tibet also includes, to the east
and north, parts of the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu
Yunnan and the southern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region; to the
southwest, the Indian territories of Ladakh, Lahaul and Spiti and the
Baltistan region of Pakistan; the extreme northwest of Assam; and to
the south, Bhutan, Sikkim, and parts of northern Nepal, such as
Mustang and Dolpo, the regions in northeastern
Nepal inhabited by
Sherpa and Tamang peoples, and extreme northern Burma (Myanmar). Even
parts of modern Bangladesh were once a part of this "Greater Tibet."
Bonpos cultivate household gods in addition to other deities:
Tibet divine presences or deities would be
incorporated into the very construction of the house making it in
effect a castle (dzongka) against the malevolent forces outside it.
The average Tibetan house would have a number of houses or seats
(poe-khang) for the male god (pho-lha) that protects the house.
Everyday [sic] the man of the house would invoke this god and burn
juniper wood and leaves to placate him. In addition the woman of the
house would also have a protecting deity (phuk-lha) whose seat could
be found within the kitchen usually at the top of the pole that
supported the roof.
Another set of deities are the White Old Man, a sky god, and his
consort. They are known by a few different names, such as the Gyalpo
Pehar called “King Pehar” (Wylie: pe har rgyal po). Pehar is
featured as a protecting deity of Zhangzhung, the center of the Bon
religion. Reportedly, Pehar is related to celestial heavens and the
sky in general. In early Buddhist times, Pehar transmogrified into a
shamanic bird to adapt to the bird motifs of shamanism. Pehar’s
consort is a female deity known by one of her names as Düza Minkar
(Wylie: bdud gza smin dkar, Stein1954 in Hummel 1962).
Lopön Tenzin Namdak, abbot of a
Bon monastery in Nepal
According to a recent Chinese census[when?], an estimated 10 percent
of Tibetans follow Bon. When
Tibet was annexed into the People's
Republic of China, there were approximately 300
Bon monasteries in
Tibet and the rest of western China. According to a recent[when?]
survey, there are 264 active
Bon monasteries, convents, and
The present spiritual head of the
Bon is Lungtok Tenpa'i Nyima
(1929–2017), the thirty-third
Menri Monastery (destroyed in
the Cultural Revolution, but now rebuilt), who now presides over Pal
Shen-ten Menri Ling in
Dolanji in Himachal Pradesh, India, for the
abbacy of which monastery he was selected in 1969.
A number of
Bon establishments also exist in Nepal; Triten Norbutse
Bonpo Monastery is one on the western outskirts of Kathmandu. Bon's
leading monastery is the refounded
Menri Monastery in Dolanji,
Himachal Pradesh, India.
Bon elements are in the Hangui (韩规) religion of the Pumi
Lobsang Yeshe, recognized as the 5th
Panchen Lama by the 5th Dalai
Lama, was a member of the Dru family, an important family of the Bon
religion. Under Lozang Gyatso,
Bon became respected both
philosophically and politically. However, the Bonpo remained
stigmatized and marginalized until 1977, when they sent
Dharamshala and the 14th Dalai Lama, who advised
Parliament of the Central Tibetan Administration
Parliament of the Central Tibetan Administration to accept Bon
Bon has had official recognition of its status as a
religious group, with the same rights as the Buddhist schools. This
was re-stated in 1987 by the Dalai Lama, who also forbade
discrimination against the Bonpos, stating that it was both
undemocratic and self-defeating. He even donned
paraphernalia, emphasizing "the religious equality of the Bon
However, Tibetans still differentiate between
Bon and Buddhism,
referring to members of the Nyingma, Shakya,
as nangpa, meaning "insiders", but to practitioners of
Bon as "Bonpo",
or even chipa ("outsiders").
Bon in Bhutan
^ William M. Johnston (2000). Encyclopedia of Monasticism. Taylor
& Francis. pp. 169–171. ISBN 978-1-57958-090-2.
^ Keown, Damien (2003). Oxford Dictionary of Buddhism. Oxford
University Press. ISBN 0-19-860560-9.
Sam van Schaik describes "In fact, the Bonpo religion only started
to take shape alongside the revival of
Buddhism in the eleventh
century." - Tibet: A History. Yale University Press 2011, p. 99.
^ a b c d Van Schaik, Sam. Tibet: A History. Yale University Press
2011, pages 99-100.
^ Karmey, Samten G. A General Introduction to the History and
Doctrines of Bon, The Arrow and the Spindle. Kathmandu: Mandala Book
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^ a b Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, Healing with Form, Energy, and Light.
Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications, 2002.
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^ Berzin, Alexander (2005). The Four Immeasurable Attitudes in
Hinayana, Mahayana, and Bon. studybuddhism.com. Retrieved June 6,
^ n.d.: p.21
^ Martin, Dan (n.d.). "Comparing Treasuries: Mental states and other
mdzod phug lists and passages with parallels in Abhidharma works of
Vasubandhu and Asanga, or in Prajnaparamita Sutras: A progress report"
(PDF). University of Jerusalem. Archived from the original (PDF) on
June 28, 2011. Retrieved March 1, 2010.
^ Richardson, Hugh E. (1984).
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^ Stein, R. A. Tibetan Civilization. (1972), p. 85. Stanford
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Tibetan Buddhism – Unit One" (PDF). Sharpham Trust. p. 5.
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July 2011. Everyday [sic] the man of the house would invoke this god
and burn juniper wood and leaves to placate him.
^ "普米韩规古籍调研报告". Pumichina.com. Archived from the
original on 2012-09-14. Retrieved 2013-06-14.
^ Karmay, Samten G. (2005), "The Great Fifth" (PDF), International
Institute for Asian Studies Newsletter (39), pp. 12–13
^ Kværne, Per and Rinzin Thargyal. (1993). Bon,
Democracy: The Building of a Tibetan National Identity, pp. 45–46.
Nordic Institute of Asian Studies. ISBN 978-87-87062-25-1.
Bon Children's Home In
Dolanji and Polish Aid Foundation For
Children of Tibet". Nyatri.org.
^ "About the Bon:
Bon Culture". Bonfuturefund.org. Archived from the
original on 2013-09-06. Retrieved 2013-06-14.
Karmey, Samten G. (1975). A General Introduction to the History and
Doctrines of Bon. Memoirs of the Research Department of the Toyo
Bunko, No. 33, pp. 171–218. Tokyo.
Allen, Charles. (1999). The Search for Shangri-La: A Journey into
Tibetan History. Little, Brown and Company. Reprint: Abacus, London.
2000. ISBN 0-349-11142-1.
Baumer, Christopher. Bon: Tibet’s Ancient Religion. Ilford: Wisdom,
2002. ISBN 978-974-524-011-7.
Bellezza, John Vincent. Spirit Mediums, Sacred Mountains and Related
Bön Textual Traditions in Upper Tibet. Boston: Brill, 2005.
Bellezza, John Vincent. “gShen-rab Myi-bo, His life and times
according to Tibet’s earliest literary sources”, Revue d’études
tibétaines 19 (October 2010): 31–118.
Ermakov, Dmitry. Bѳ and Bön: Ancient Shamanic Traditions of Siberia
Tibet in their Relation to the Teachings of a Central Asian
Buddha. Kathmandu: Vajra Publications, 2008.
Günther, Herbert V. (1996). The Teachings of Padmasambhava.
Gyaltsen, Shardza Tashi. Heart drops of Dharmakaya:
Bon tradition, 2nd edn. Trans. by Lonpon Tenzin Namdak. Ithaca,
NY: Snow Lion, 2002.
Hummel, Siegbert. “PE-HAR.” East and West 13, no. 4 (1962):
Jinpa, Gelek, Charles Ramble, & V. Carroll Dunham. Sacred
Landscape and Pilgrimage in Tibet: in Search of the Lost Kingdom of
Bon. New York–London: Abbeville, 2005. ISBN 0-7892-0856-3
Kind, Marietta. The
Bon Landscape of Dolpo. Pilgrimages, Monasteries,
Biographies and the Emergence of Bon. Berne, 2012,
Lhagyal, Dondrup, et al. A Survey of Bonpo Monasteries and Temples in
Tibet and the Himalaya. Osaka 2003, ISBN 4901906100.
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Spaces and Powerful Places In Tibetan Culture: A Collection of Essays,
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and Archives, 1999, pp. 125–153. ISBN 81-86470-22-0.
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Bon religion. Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion. The book gives
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View Which is Like the Lion's Roar".
Samuel, Geoffrey (1993). Civilised Shamans. Smithsonian Institution
(accessed: Thursday January 18, 2007)
Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche (2002). Healing with Form, Energy, and Light.
Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-176-6
Lopön Tenzin Namdak
Lopön Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche (2012). Heart Essence of the
Khandro. Heritage Publishers.
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