Tibetan Bön Religion
Bön is the indigenous religion of Tibet. Prior to the Arrival of Buddhism in the 7th and 8th century in Tibet. Later the Buddhism became a predominant religion and Bön practitioners had to move to the remote location to preserve their tradition. But much of the distinctive characteristic of Tibetan Buddhism is the Adaptation from the Bön religion. The Tibetan name of the Tibet itself if derived from Bön. We call our self a Beopa, Meaning Tibetan. The Followers of the Bön are called Bön-Po.
According to the census, there are about hundred thousand Bön followers making it to the 10% of entire Tibetan population. There are 264 Bön Monasteries, nunneries and Hermitages. Today Bön can be found in the more isolated parts of western and northern Tibet.
History of Bön Religion
We can bring the Bön religion history into two phases. The first one is the Original Bön which is animistic and Shamanistic, believing that nature is pervaded by good and evil spirits.
The true nature of the original Bön is difficult to determine because all the early description are from the Buddhist perspective and are intended to discredit it. In 8th and 9th centuries, struggles took place between Bön support by powerful nobles and Buddhist backed by the ruling house of Tibet. Influences by the deliberate Buddhist work on writing works, Bon was developed into a systematized religion with specific doctrine and sacred literature.
After the first diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet in the 8th century, Bön was persecuted under the Buddhist ruler King Trisong Detsen. Yet it survived and became more organized at the time of the second diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet in the 11th century.
The second stage of Bön is called Yungdrung Bön. This is said to be found by a Buddha Shenrab Miwoche. Just like Buddha, Shenrab renounces the life of the prince and became the monk, achieved enlightenment, and preach other how to attain it. Thus he converted the Animalistic Bön to Yungdrung Bön.
In the 14th century, some Bön teacher adopts Tibetan Buddhist practice related to Padmasambhava. Thus began the New Bön as it is the practice now. The new Bön is different from the Yungdrung Bön. The practitioners of this New Bön consider themselves as the continuation of Old Bön tradition.
We commonly believe the much of unique feature of the Tibetan Buddhism it brought from the old Bön tradition. Besides the numerous attempt by the Tibetan Buddhist ruler to persecute Bön practitioner in the historical time. It was never completely destroyed and Continues to services in the remote regions of Tibet.
Bön tradition now
Now in the new society, the Bön practitioners are free to practice their faith and promoting their tradition. Bön is now a very important topic for the researcher to understand Tibetan Pre-Buddhist history. Most referred sources of the Bön tradition are the Dunhuang manuscripts. Recently we had an international meeting of Bön scholars in Tibet. where hundreds of researcher gathered in Lhasa to discuss. One of our team members is fortunate enough get an opportunity to translate presentation in different languages.
Adaptation of Bön Practice in Tibetan Buddhism
- Tibetan Prayer Flags
- Diety worshiping (Local God)
- Musical ritual instrument
- Incense burning