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Bon-Po

Bon Po Books

Annapurna Culture

The minority Bon-Po faith of Tibet represents a continuing stream of religious knowledge and practise dating back in time to before prehistory. Bon-Po has sought throughout its existence to include best practise from other faiths into which it has come into contact. It has absorbed ideas wherever it can. Consequently today it is a mixture of Buddhism, Shamanism and magic rituals. It is the old faith of Tibet.

     When the Buddhist guru Padmasampa claimed to have defeated the Bon-Po at Mount Kailash in the 8th century, this left the Bon-Po lamas with a bit of a problem. As they had already absorbed Buddhism into their faith, they could not in good conscience oppose Buddhism. It appears that many Bon-Po migrated from Tibet around this time. The old hill tribes of Nepal, such as the Gurung are Bon-Po for this reason. The Bon-Po clash with Padmasampa's Indian Buddhism led to the reformation of Bon-Po. In the Bon-Po gompas the first Bon-Po literature was created in a typical response to Padmasampa's book based Indian Buddhism.

     Buddhism, even in the 8th century had a vast literature. You can see the extent of it today in any Tibetan Buddhist gompa on the Annapurna Circuit. The Bon-Po at that time relied on oral transmission of their faith, history and rituals. In Taje above the Marsyandi River the Ghyabre and Paju Bon-Po lamas still rely on oral ritual. Unlike the Buddhist lamas who recite rituals from texts, The Bon-Po recite from memory. The Bon-Po believe this memorisation gives them an advantage over their yellow hat Buddhist lama competitors. As the Bon-Po say, only a Bon-Po can deliver an exorcism in the dark. An evil spirit can blow out a Buddhist Lama's butter lamp.

     The 'Nine ways of Bon' has been translated by David Snellgrove, and is an extract of a larger work entitled 'gZi-brjid' or 'The glorious'. It includes a great many Buddhist concepts and has a central character, gSen-rab. He is the Bon-Po counterpart of Sakyamuni Buddha. The first two 'ways' of Bon-Po appear (at least to this author) to comprise what must be the core of old unreformed Bon-Po. Way number one describes methods of predicting the future. The second way concerns rituals for protection against gods and demons. These are the rituals which the Bon-Po of Taje, as described in Stan Mumford's book 'Himalayan Dialogue', appear to still carry out. They are the lower ways of Bon. However Tibetan Buddhists, including their lamas have these same beliefs. The court of the Dalai Lama uses similar predictive techniques when making difficult decisions. The two religions appear to have conceptually interpenetrated one another. Although only Bon-Po has formally recognised the need for protection of crops and harvests from demons and serpent deities (klu), every Tibetan, Bon-Po or Buddhist, lama or layman believes this. As Snellgrove has said, every Tibetan is a Bon-Po at heart. The other seven ways of Bon appear to be largely Buddhist in concept.

     On the Annapurna Circuit, Lubra is the main centre of Bon-Po influence. Here may be found the Bon-Po Phuntsholing gompa. This was founded in the mid 19th century by Tenzin Richen, to replace the original Samling gompa. The land on which the Samling Gompa once stood has been totally eroded by the Panda Khola, leaving no traces.