Yungdrung Bon

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By Himanshu Bhatt

The official Bon flag.

Yungdrung Bon is a Hindu sect practiced mainly by Tibetan nationalities living within India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet. Its other names are Drungmu Gyer in the ancient language of Olmo Lungring, Swastika Dharma in Sanskrit, and Grags-pa Bon-lugs, Bonpo or simply Bon in Tibetan as variants of Yungrung Bon. An adherent of Bonpo is a Bonpa. Tonpa Shenrab was a sage who had popularized the religion. According to scriptures, he had taken avatar as Shenrab to teach humanity how to achieve Moksha.

Key beliefs

Dualistic reality

"According to the teaching of Tonpa Shenrab, the world was created by means of emanation, but in its duality, that is, light-darkness, day-night, male-female, good-evil." - Andrew Woznicki[1]

This material universe is the Exterior Reality (phyi snod) while Inner Reality (bcud) is the pure spiritual realm. The dualistic onto-metaphysical principle for the process of existence is classed as Being (yod-pa) and Non-Being (med-pa.)[2] Bon explains that this dualism keeps all things in cosmic harmony.

Universe

The gods of the four seasons working for the welfare of gods, humans, and nagas, are believed to have come from the blood, flesh, heat, and breath of Shenrab.[3]

Bon's Supreme God is Kuntu Sangpo, who created the universe from a lump of slime and created creatures from an egg.[4] The Supreme God in Bon is written of as "Yang dar rgyal po" meaning that he was present when there is nothing in the universe. Other phrases include "sNang ba 'od ldan", "Kun snang khyab pa", and "Khri khug rgyal po."

   
Yungdrung Bon

This, the three-thousandfold, is the inviolate world
Through compassion and the different causal grounds.
The words of the teaching accord with [specific needs] of disciples.

   
Yungdrung Bon

Three Hundred-Thirty Verses, Methods for Accomplishing Enlightenment[5]


Thus, Bonpo proposes that the universe responds to the needs of the disciples. For example, if the Bon teachings are in a state of danger, the universe will respond by sending forth a Buddha for the welfare of humanity.

Other origin tales

The Lubum Trawo reason that a serpent goddess, named Queen of the Water Spirits, of cosmic length created the physical, biological, and divine constructs of the universe out of her body.[6] From her nostrils originated the various types of life-nourishing winds. From her blood came the 5 oceans and from her nerve channels came water courses. The light from her flesh created the earth. Animals originated from her limbs. Night and day came from her back and front. The spirit world came out of the light from her organs.

There are a few tales stating that universe originated from an egg or eggs. The oldest myth is that the entire universe arose from an egg. In another myth there were 2 eggs, 1 luminous and the other of darkness. From the light one arose an Illuminating Resplendence being (Kuntu Sangpo, an avatar of Trigyal Khugpa), while from the other came King of the Negative Realm (Kalpa Medbum Nagpo or Munpa Zerden)[7], and this king created Tong Zham Nangmo out of his own shadow. From these 2 originated the good and evil attributes of the universe. Then of 3 eggs the Muchoi Tromdur mentions there was a white, copper, and black egg. From then came gods and humans.

Spiritual Development

Bon teaches a threefold trajectory towards self-realization.[8]

  1. Repenting by disgusting the worldly matters which are the cause of human misery (Ngyes "byung)
  2. Training one's mind in altruistic aspiration to attain full enlightenment for benefit of all beings, that is, Bodhicitta (Byang chub kyi sems)
  3. Viewing the ultimate nature of reality as devoid of any inherit existence and self-identity, that is, as empty (stong pa nyid)

Jewels of Refuge

Like Buddhism and Jainism, Bonpo recognizes Jewels of Refuge (Skyabs gNas bZhi.) However, usually the Bon tradition names 4 instead of 3 (dKon mChog gSum .)[9]

  1. Buddha (Tonpa Shenrab, "Sangs rGyas")
  2. Eternal Bon Teachings ("Yungdrung Bon Rinpo Che")
  3. Excellent gShen ("gShen rab gYungdrung Sems dPa")
  4. Master (a family guru, "Bla Ma")


Above, numbers 1, 2, and 3 correspond to the Buddhist jewels of refuge Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Bonpas have added the Master or Guru as another jewel to depend on for learning spirituality.

Cycles

Buddha Shenrab taught in 3 successive cycles; first expounding the 9 Ways of the Bon, second Four Bon Portals, and the Fifth, Treasury, third the Outer, Inner, and Secret Precepts.

1) 9 Ways of the Bon

This is known as Theg-pa rim-dgu'i Bon.

Path Class Function
Way of the Shen of Prediction

(Phyva-gshen theg-pa)

Ways of cause (rGyud-kyi theg-pa) Four different ways of prediction: sortilege (Mo), astrology (rTsis), ritual (gTo) and examination of causes (dPyad.)
Way of the Shen of the Visual World

(sNang-gshen theg-pa)

Ways of cause (rGyud-kyi theg-pa) It explains the origin and nature of gods and demons living in this world, the methods of exorcisms and ransoms of various kinds.
Way of the Shen of Illusion

('Phrul-gshen theg-pa)

Ways of cause (rGyud-kyi theg-pa) It contains the rites for the disposing of adverse powers.
Way of the Shen of Existence

(Srid-gshen theg-pa)

Ways of cause (rGyud-kyi theg-pa) It is concerned with the state after death (Bar-do) and methods of guiding living beings towards the final liberation or a better rebirth.
Way of the Virtuous Followers

(dGe-bsnyen theg-pa)

Ways of result ('Bras-bu'i theg-pa) It guides those who follow the ten virtues and ten perfections.
Way of the Monkhood

(Drang-srong theg-pa)

Ways of result ('Bras-bu'i theg-pa) Here are described the rules of monastic discipline.
Way of Pure Sound

(A-dkar theg-pa)

Ways of result ('Bras-bu'i theg-pa) It gives an exposition of higher tantric practices, the theory of realization through the mystic circle (mandala) and the rituals which form an integral part of these practices.
Way of Primeval Shen

(Ye-gshen theg-pa)

Ways of result ('Bras-bu'i theg-pa) It stresses the need for a suitable master, place and occasion for tantric practices. Here the layout of the mystic circle is described in detail together with instructions for meditation on particular deities.
Supreme Way

(bLa-med theg-pa)

Great Perfection (rDzogs-chen) It is the highest attainment of the Great Perfection (rDzogs-chen.)
2) 5 Portals of Bon

This is known as sGo-bzhi mdzod-lnga.

Path Class Function
White Waters

(Chab-dkar)

It contains the esoteric or higher tantric practices.
Black Waters

(Chab-nag)

It includes narratives and various rites, magic and ordinary, such as death, funeral, illness and ransom rituals.
The Land of Phan

('Phan-yul)

It explains the monastic rules and gives exposition of philosophical concepts.
The Lordly Guide

(dPon-gsas)

It contains the Great Perfection practices (rDzogs-chen.)
The Treasury

(mTho-thog)

It comprises the essential aspects of all the Four Portals.
3) Outer, Inner, and Secret Precepts

Main message

   
Yungdrung Bon
All you attendant Bodhisattvas and all you high Bodhisattvas and Arhats! Al of you Devas, Asuras, humans, and all you smell-eaters, male and female - all of you who are present here! What I am teaching here is extremely precious and true. Everybody must listen carefully. If any of you here is not listening attentively or intently then you will be continuously deluded and will fall down into Samsara again and again. If, on the other hand, you follow this Teaching, obey it and practise it, then gradually you will enter the great path of precious release from Samsara. Then you will no longer be deluded or be lost in Samsara. Gradually, if yo continue to practise with virtuous motivation, you will achieve the precious result of Tharpa, liberation in the highest realms such as Ogmin Zhingkham, and ultimately Buddhahood.
   
Yungdrung Bon

—Bon scripture[10]


Each sentient being has 2 types of seeds that are kept in their kunzhi namshe or alaya. If a human engages in positive causes, this leads to the release of suffering. If though, a human meets negative causes, it leads to staying in Samsara.[11]

A religion for the world

The Menri Monastery in Dolanji, Himachal Pradesh. His Holiness the 33rd Menri Trizin, is the spiritual head of the worldwide Bon community, resides here.

A fair number of Bon temples exist in parts of India, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and some western countries.
Bon Shen Ling monastery in NYC, USA.

Although Bonpo remains mainly practiced by Tibetan nationalities, and some Indians and Chinese, it was intended to be a dharma to which everyone can learn from and apply towards Moksha, just like other Hindu sects.

Bonpas preached the philosophy to various countries and an annual summit of practitioners commenced in a famous cave temple. According to scriptures, Shenrab, like ascetic Rishabha, traveled other kingdoms outside of India. Other missionaries of Bonpo had also traveled in different countries to teach the doctrine.

"Among the countries to the north and south of Jambu Island, the places where the teacher pressed down with His feet on the earth, with His actual body are the following: China, Tanguts, India, Nepal, O-rgyan, Za-hor, Kashmir, Turkharistan, Khotan, Ta-zig, Zhang Zhung, Mon-yul, Khitan, Phrom, Gesar, Bru-sa, Qarluq, Uighur, and Tibet." - dBra-ston[12]

This list of countries is based on the list of Tibetan placenames of countries from the scripture Srid-pa Las-kyi gTing-zlog-gi rTsa-rgyud Kun-gsal Nyi-zer Sgron-ma. It substituted "India" for "rGya-gar", which is actually, more accurately "sub-Himalayan India". O-rgyan is Oddiyana. Bru-sa is Gilgitstan. Tunguts refers to the land in the Kurban-Tungut Desert in southern Kazakhstan. Ge-sar is the part of mainland China north of Tibet yet west Tarim Basin.

"The blessed, spread the teachings and converted beings within the [Eighteen] Great Countries of the Gods (Lha) Ta-zig (sTag-gzig), Oddiyana (U-rgyan), Tokharistan (Tho-gar), Camara (rNga-yab), rNga-yab-zhan (?), Za-hor, Turkestan (Gru-gu), Little Balur (Bru-sha), Kashmir (Kha-che), Khotan (Li), Nepal (Bal), India, China, Nan-chao ('Jang), Hor Gesar, snowy Tibet and Zhang-zhung. Ultimately, they all visibly entered Bon Proper (Bon nyid.)" - Dkar-ru Grub-dbang[13], 19th century Bonpa scholar

The gSang-sngags Rdzong-'phrang Nyi-'od rGyan by Thu'u-kbwan was a book of notes from a summit between Bonpas of countries of Olmo Lungring, sub-Himalayan India, Tibet, China, Turkharistan, and some others. The summit's would always take place in a cave named Mang-mkhar lCang-phrang. Cave temples or cave monasteries were very popular throughout Hindu history. (Even today pilgrimages continue to them.)

A popular missionary of Bonpo was gShen-chen kLu-dga. He was a descendant of Shenrab's lineage in the dMu-tsha clan.[14] gShen-chen was requested to send Bon scriptures.

   
Yungdrung Bon

An emanation of Da-mi-thad-kye
named kLu-dga' of gShen will appear.
After being blessed by the ministers,
he will open the door of scriptural treasures.

   
Yungdrung Bon

—The Middle Key of dPon-gsas Da


'TShe-mi Shag-'bar with 4 others requested teachings, and were known as the 4 Chiefs of Upper Nyang. Then the 8 Pillars of Lower Hyang requested teachings: 1. Rong-bu A-tsa-ra, 2. Rong-bu G.yung-drung-gstug-phud, 3. Phug-pa rGod-po, 4. sTag-sgom Rtsang-po-'bar, 5. Ra-zhags 'Phags-pa, 6. Ra-zhags Mon-skyid, 7. Skyi-dpal 'Dui-gsas, 8. Bru-sha Lha-gnam-gsas. There were several receivers in various regions of Tibet. From Nyang-stod 3 are named, and from La-stod 3 are named, and from 'Bring-'tshams there were 3.

Worship

The Ma Tri Du Mantra painted on a cliff face in Tibet.

Om Ma tri Mu Ye Sa Le Du is its chief mantra, and is the hymn of compassion.

Deities

Bonpas worship both Buddhas and demigods.

The most important god in Bon, considered prime even over Guru Shenrab, is a primordial Buddha named Kuntu Sangpo, or All Goodness, who is in a constant state of fulfillment (Nirvana.) Having created the universe he is considered the Supreme God.

Gods are known as the lha. There are 3 categories of lha, the highest of which are the Buddhas, next the Bodhisattvas, and finally the Dra-lhas (Sky-gods), the last of whom are always in conflict with the hDre (demons.)[15]

Major gods
Deity Function Mantra
Sangpo Bumtri Creator
Tonpa Shenrab Guru May The Teacher Come To Our World!

May The Teaching Be Bring As The Sun Rays! May Teachers And Students Increasingly Learn And Accomplish! May There Thus Be Good Fortune That The Teachings Long Remain!

Shenlha Odkar Demigod A Om Hung A Aa Kar Sa Le Oh A Yang Om Dhu
Satri Ersang

(Yum Chen Sherab Chamma)

Demigod Om Ma-Wa Ma-Te Ma-Hi Mo-Ha

E Ma Ho Ma-Ye Ru-Pa Ye-Ta Dhu-Dhu So-Ha

Tapihritsa Guru
Men Lha

(Medicine Buddha)

Demigod Om Na-Ma Se La Amita Se Gyer Dun-Pung

Om A Hung Ram Dza Samaya Tita Lhen

Khyung Mar

(Red Garuda)

Saint-Warrior Hung Tro Ta Ya Ghar Una

Tri Trong Ha Ra Nye Lo Yo So Thun Tu

Drenpa Namkha

(Recollection Sky)

Guru Ah Om Hung

Drenoa Mu La Ha Ri Nis Sa Si Di Hring Hring Hung Hung Dza Dza

Zhambala

(Prosperity Deity)

Demigod Om Red Na Ku We Ra Ha! Yag Sha Zam Bha La Ye So Ngo Drub Red Na Si Ti Dhu!
Sidpa Gyalmo Demigod So Ma Ma Za Nye Lo Yo Ram Thun Jo!
Yeshe Walmo

(Wisdom Protector)

Demigod Om A Bhi Ya Nag Po Bad Sod So Ha

Apart from there, some mainstream deities are sometimes mentioned in Bonpa scriptures, such as Brahmā and Indra.

   
Yungdrung Bon

You are well known by the name to the followers of Yungdrung Bon in Tazik (Shinaki),
Where you are also called mighty white crystal, Shelgying Karpo.
You are well known by the name to the Dharma (Buddhism) practitioners of rGya-gar (Sub-Himalayan India),
Where you are called the Brahmā with a white conch shell in his plaited hair, Dungi Thortsugchan.
You are well known by the name to the kings of China,
Where you are called the king Dapangse.
And you are well known by the name to the Pugyal kings of Tibet,
Where you are called by the great Kyahrang Chenpo.

   
Yungdrung Bon

Zhang-Zhung snyan-rgyud[16]


Bodhisattvas

Almost as important than the Buddhas, are the Bodhisattvas, known in Tibetan as Yungdrung Sems-dpa's which translates in Sanskrit as Swastikasattvikas, meaning Swastika-beings[17].)

  1. Kunang Khyabpa
  2. Salba Rinjing
  3. Gela Garchug
  4. Jhe drag ngo med
  5. Gava don drub.


Each resides in a different paradise.

Protectors of the Word (bKa'-skyong)
  1. Ma-mchog Srid-pa'i rGyal-mo
  2. Mi-bdud 'Byams-pa Khrag-mgo
  3. bTsan-rgod Hur-pa
  4. Dbal-bons - Lord Protector


Classification of other supernatural beings

Bonpa scriptures usually classify supernatural beings into 8 groups of persons.[18]

Being Class Function
Lha Demigod
Nojin Male demon
Mamo Female demon
bDud Demon
tSen Demigod Warrior guardian
Gyalpo
Shinje Demigod Judge of the dead
kLu

(Nagas)

Demigod


Classes of prominent lhas
  1. Pho-lha (Tuletary god)
  2. Thab-Iha (Hearth god)
  3. Yi Dam-lha (Personal god)
  4. Yab-lha (Ancestor god) - One such was King gNya-'khri btSan-po the Lha-sras (Son of gods), during whose reign Bonpo was introduced into Zhang Zhung by Shenrab.


Classes of venerated spirits
  1. btShun (Ancestors)
  2. Sa-bDag (Earth Landlords)
  3. Zhi-bDag (Earth owners)

Scriptures

Shenrab's divine words (bKa) of Bon Gyi Thengpa Rempa Ga has the power to develop spirituality of the followers of Bonpo in a threefold way[19]:

  1. Negative spirituality by possessing the Wisdom of Renunciation (spong lam)
  2. Positive spirituality by unfolding the Secrecy of Transformation (sgyur lam)
  3. Sublime spirituality by aiming to attain the Great Perfection (dZog-chen)

Bonpa scriptures are divided into 2 major groups; Kanjur and Katen. The prior are the words of Shenrab himself, while the latter are dependent on the Kanjur.

The Kanjur itself consists of 4 categories of scriptures; mDo, 'Bum, rGyud, and mDzod.

Text Type Era composed
mDo'dus Biography of Shenrab
gZer-mig Biography of Shenrab
gZhi-brjid Biography of Shenrab
Srid pa spyi mdos
Nyer mkbo'i snang ba
Legs bshad rin po che'i mdzod
Rigdzin Rigpai Thukgyu
Khams-brgyad gTanla 'Bum
mChong
Srid-pa'i mdZod-phug Chen-mo
rNam-dag Yu,-gyi 'Phrin-las Outer Tantras (Sngags Phyi)
Thang-ma-'od-rgyal-gyi mChod-gtor Outer Tantras (Sngags Phyi)
Mu-dra Lha'i Phyag-rgya Outer Tantras (Sngags Phyi)
tSha-tsha Outer Tantras (Sngags Phyi)
Kun-snang-khyab-pa Outer Tantras (Sngags Phyi)
Rab-gnas Skor gSum Outer Tantras (Sngags Phyi)
Kun-rigs Lha-ma-yin-ygi Sbyin-bsreg Outer Tantras (Sngags Phyi)
Zhi-ba Yongs-rdzogs Inner Tantra (Sngags Nang)
Man-ngag Thig-le Dbyings 'Chad Inner Tantra (Sngags Nang)
Khro-bo Dbang-chen Gzhung Rtags Inner Tantra (Sngags Nang)
Dbang Chu-bo Rab-'byam Inner Tantra (Sngags Nang)
Dus Drug Ma-mo Inner Tantra (Sngags Nang)
Srid-pa'i-rgyal-mo Inner Tantra (Sngags Nang)
Ma-mo 'Dus-pa Yang-snying Inner Tantra (Sngags Nang)
Ga-pa Mental Class
Mu-stegs A-mu-kha Phung-gi Rgyud Protection mantra against malevolent spirits
Shan-pa Ma Bzhi'i Gsang Sgrub
Khans-chen Protection mantra against malevolent spirits

Three traditions of Bon

Revealed Bon
Derived Bon
Transformed Bon

Two types of Bonpas

Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, senior teacher of the Bon religion in exile, with his Holiness the Dalai Lama.

"Bon was not a sinister perversion of Buddhism, but rather an eclectic tradition which, unlike Buddhism in Tibet, insisted on accentuating rather than denying its pre-Buddhist elements." - M. Alejandro Chaoutl-Reich[20], Ph.D.

  1. White Bonpas - Those who practice Bonpo in conjunction with Buddhism
  2. Black Bonpas - Those who strictly practice Bonpo


Historically the two spiritual traditions of Tibet have been Grags-pa Bon-lugs (Bonpo) and gSans-ba Chos-lugs (Buddhism) and normally Buddhism played a role in the lives of most Bonpas since its introduction to them. Except for 2 kings noted in the rGyal-rabs gSal-ba'i Me-long, the interaction betwween Bon and Chos have been friendly for the most part.[21]

Clergy

Disciplic succession of monastic order

According to the 'Dul ba rgyug drug, the succession of Shenrab's monastic institution succeeded in the order below. The rTsa rgyud nyi sgron confirms that this lineage began in the time of the transmission of the 'Dul ba rgyug drug by Shenrab, and lasted until the era of rule of the 8th Tibetan emperor, Gri-rum bTsan-po.

Shenrab Miwoche
Mu-cho lDem-drug
gTsug-gshen rGyal-ba
Drang-srong rGyal-ba
gTug-sras rMa-lo
Khri-lde Gung-grags
dMu-chp Dra-he
Khri-lde 'Od-po
lHang-lhang gTsug-phud
Dwang-ba Yid-ring
Thugs-dkar Ye-shes
Gung-rum Ye-shes
'Od-lha gSal-'bar
rDzu-'phrul Ye-shes
Ye-shes Tsul-khrims
g.Yung-drung Tsul-khrims
gTsug-phud Tsul-khrims
Ga-chu gTsug-phud rGyal-ba
Ya-gong Ye-shes rGyal-ba
lDe-btsun Ran-gsal
brGya-co Ye-shes
Mu-zi gSal-bzang

See also

References

  1. P. 73 Transcendent Mystery in Man: A Global Approach to Ecumenism By Andrew N. Woznicki
  2. P. 72 Transcendent Mystery in Man: A Global Approach to Ecumenism By Andrew N. Woznicki
  3. Unbounded Wholeness: Dzogchen, Bon, and the Logic of the Nonconceptual By Anne Carolyn Klein, Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche
  4. P. 387 Religions of Mankind: Today & Yesterday By Helmer Ringgren, Åke V. Ström
  5. Byang Chub sGrub Thabs Kyi Bon tShigs Su bCad Pa Sum Brgyas Sum Cu Pa
  6. P. 242 The Dawn of Tibet: The Ancient Civilization on the Roof of the World By John Vincent Bellezza
  7. P. 152 Bon in the Himalaya By B.C. Gurung
  8. P. 81 Transcendent Mystery in Man: A Global Approach to Ecumenism By Andrew N. Woznicki
  9. P. 182 Enlightened Rainbows: The Life and Works of Shardza Tashi Gyeltsen By Jean-Luc Achard
  10. P. 8 The Four Wheels of Bön By Yongdzin Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, Dmitry Ermakov, Carol Ermakova
  11. P. 9 The Four Wheels of Bön By Yongdzin Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, Dmitry Ermakov, Carol Ermakov
  12. P. 35 Unearthing Bon Treasures: Life and Contested Legacy of a Tibetan Scripture By Dan Martin
  13. P. 10 Mandala Cosmogony: Human Body Good Thought and the Revelation of the Secret Mother Tantras of Bon By Dan Martin
  14. From his great-grandfather Bkra-gsal-rgyal-po who had migrated to tSong-ka in the northest and then to Cog-ro 'Bring-'tshams in southern Tibet. From dBang-phyug-mgon-po, and from dPal-mgon, and from him finally gShen-chen.
  15. P. 116 Imprints of Indian Thought and Culture Abroad By Vivekananda Kendra Prakashan
  16. P. 362 The oral tradition from Zhang-Zhung: an introduction to the Bonpo Dzogchen teachings of the oral tradition from Zhang-Zhung known as the Zhang-Zhung snyan-rgyud By John Myrdhin Reynolds
  17. P. 18 Bonpo Dzogchen Teachings By Tenzin Namdak
  18. P. 220 Bø and Bön: Ancient Shamanic Traditions of Siberia and Tibet in Their Relation to the Teachings of a Central Asian Buddha By Dmitry Ermakov
  19. P. 82 Transcendent Mystery in Man: A Global Approach to Ecumenism.By Andrew N. Woznicki
  20. P. 171 Encyclopedia of Monasticism By William M. Johnston
  21. P. 180 Female Stereotypes in Religious Traditions By edited by Ria Kloppenborg, Wouter J. Hanegraaff