Message from the Dalai Lama
“The Bön tradition is commonly associated with the kingdom of Zhang Zhung, which existed around Mount Kailash and the region to the west of Tibet until the time of the seventh century Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo. We Tibetans regard Bön as the ancient, indigenous religious and cultural tradition of our ancestors, which is the source and embodiment of many aspects of the Tibetan way of life. With the advent of Buddhism in the Land of Snows, most Tibetans became Buddhists. Nevertheless, Bön remained and has experienced periods of growth and revival since the eleventh century, so that prior to the Chinese occupation it was practiced in many parts of the country.
“The Bön tradition has bequeathed the present generation a strong legacy of education and training in philosophy, monastic discipline, ritual and meditation. It encourages a combination of literary study, vibrant debate and personal reflection.
“Bön monasteries, their monks and lamas suffered no less than their Buddhist counterparts from the turmoil that followed the Chinese takeover of Tibet. A handful of dedicated teachers have been responsible for preserving and passing on the Bönpo spiritual and cultural transmission.
“Here in exile in India, the Bönpo community has established a settlement at Dolanji in the hills around Solan in Himachal Pradesh, where they have made efforts to preserve the Bönpo way of life. Similar to the four Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the Bönpo community elects representatives to the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies.
“The focus of the settlement is Tashi Menri Ling Monastery, where young monks receive complete traditional training. In addition to classes in grammar, medicine, astrology and poetry, they are also provided with a modern education. I have seen for myself that the students are provided good facilities for study and that the monks are well disciplined. I therefore welcome any assistance that may be extended to the monastery.”
—His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
A Short Historical Outline of Bon Religion
The Origin of Bon
The Bonpos maintain that Bon originated in the land of Olmo Lungring, situated to the west of Tibet and covering one third of the existing world. It is described as an eight-petalled lotus under the sky, which appears like an eight-spoked wheel. In the center rises the Mount Yungdrung Gutseg, the Pyramid of Nine Swastikas(the swastika is the symbol of permanence, the nine stacked swastikas represent the Nine Ways of Bon). From the base of Mount Yungdrung Gutseg spring four rivers flowing outward towards the four cardinal directions. The mountain is surrounded by temples, cities and gardens. To the south is the palace where Lord Tonpa Shenrab Miwo (founder of Yungdrung Bon Religion) was born, to the west and north are the palaces where his 360 wives and children resided. This description of Olmo Lungring shows the supra-mundane origin of the Bon religion, leading scholars to speculate about the real geographical location it migh correspond to. Some see it as a description of Mount Kailash (Mt. Tise) and the four great rivers that spring from its base (China being the land to the east, India to the south, Orgyan to the west and Khotan to the north). For others, it resembles the geographu of the Middle East and Persia at the time of Cyrus the Great. Symbolic descriptions, which combine history, geography and mythology, are common in ancient scriptures (for example in the Buddhism, the Universe, Mount Meru supporting the sky and the four chief continents, and earth as the Southern Continent, Jambudvipa).
The Founder and his Teachings
In a distant past age, there were three brothers, Dagpa, Salba and Shepa, who studied the Bon Doctrines in heaven under the Bon sage Bumtri Logi Chechen. They completed their studies and they visited the God of Compassion, Shenlha Okar to ask him how they could best help the living beings submerged in the misery and suffering. He advised them to guide the humans and all the sentient beings, in the three ages of the world. Accordingly, the eldest brother Dagpa completed his task in the past age; Salba (who took the name Shenrab) is the guide of the present age and the youngest brother Shepa will come to guide in the next world age. The founder of Bon religion is Lortd Tonpa Shenrab Miwo. He was a prince, born in the palace Barpo Sogye. He got married while young and had children. At the age of 31 he renounced the worldly life and started to live in austerity, teaching the Bon doctrine. Throughout his life his efforts to propagate the Bon religion were obstructed by the demon Khyaba Lagring, until he eventually converted him as his disciple. Once pursuing this demon to rerieve his stolen horses, Tonpa Shenrab arrived in Tibet. It was his only visit there; he imparted some instructions concerning rituals but found the people were unprepared to receive higher teachings. Before leaving he prophesied that his doctine would flourish in Tibet when the right time would come. In 8020 BC, Lord Tonpa Shenrab Miwo departed this world at the age of 81 Shen years.
There are different written accounts of the life of Tonpa Shenrab: ‘Dhodu (10th Century), Zermik (11th Century) and Ziji revealed to Loden Nyingpo in the 14th century in the way known as “Spiritual Transmission”. His teachings can be classified into two systems: “The Four Portals and the Treasury as the Fifth (Gozhi Zonga)” or “The Bon of the Nine Successive Stages (Thegpa Rimgui Bon)”. As well as the formulated path of the monastic training, there are special methods to achieve the highest level of spirtitual perfection. The highest are those of Dzogchen (the Great Perfection), forming three different systems of meditation: A-tri (Akhrid), Nyengyud (Oral Transmission) and Dzogchen.