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Yungdrung Bon

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Himanshu Bhatt

The official Bon flag.

Yungdrung Bon (Swastika Dharma), is a dharma 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. It is sometimes confused as a sect of Bauddh. Tonpa Shenrab was a sage who had popularized the religion. According to scriptures, a heavenly being called Selwa he had taken avatar as Shenrab to teach humanity how to achieve Moksha. Shenrab was definitely born generations before Gautam Buddha, as is demonstrated in the Bonpa story wherein both were born as Chimed Tsugphud and Sangwa Dupa in their previous lives, and Chimed advised Dupa to take birth to preach Bon in Sub-Himalayan India. Dupa's disciple Ludrub Yeshe Nyingpo is considered to have been a previous life of the Bauddh Nagarjuna.

Key Beliefs[edit]

Dualistic reality[edit]

"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.


Before anything [in] the universe came into being, [there was] the expanse Nonbeing. It abided as the so-called Lord Nam-mkha's sTong-ldan Phyod-sum

sGra 'grel 'pbrul gyi lde mig, Dhi,5I,I

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 Zangpo[4], who created the universe from a lump of slime and created creatures from an egg.[5] 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."

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.

Three Hundred-Thirty Verses, Methods for Accomplishing Enlightenment[6]

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.

There are 5 aspects of Kuntu Zangpo; Tonpa (Teacher), Gyen (Ornament), Lam (Path), Rigpa (Nature of Mind), and Togpa (Realization).[7]

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.[8] 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 Zangpo, an avatar of Trigyal Khugpa), while from the other came King of the Negative Realm (Kalpa Medbum Nagpo or Munpa Zerden)[9], and this king created Tong Zham Nangmo out of his own shadow. From these 2 originated the good and evil attributes of the universe. Of the origin of humanity, there is a tale that Trigyel Kugpa made 2 eggs - 1 white and the other blue. Then of 3 eggs the Muchoi Tromdur mentions there was a white, copper, and black egg. From then came gods and humans.


The supreme heaven, a metaphysical real, is where Kuntu Zangpo lives, and it is the The Perfect Sphere.

Shenlha Odkar lives in The Enjoyment Sphere.

There are also the Four Great Residences. The first of these is, Sipa Yesang, where Sango Bumtri lives. The second paradise is Sipa Gungsang, where gods discuss the fate of the earth. The third is Barlha Ösel, where the gods purify themselves before descending [on Earth]. Fourth is Gontsun Phyva, where gods are educated. This last 1 is the highest of the 4 residences. The Charje Yapla Deldruk, primarcy ancestors of Tibetan monarchs, are said to reside there too. Meanwhile, Sipa Yesang is from where the divine revelations (Bon Gyi Thegpa Rempa Gu) originate.

Spiritual Development[edit]

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

Bon teaches a threefold trajectory towards self-realization.[10]

  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[edit]

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 .)[11]

  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.


Buddha Shenrab taught in 3 successive cycles; first expounding the 9 Ways of the Bon, second Four Bon Portals and the Fifth Treasury, and 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


It contains the esoteric or higher tantric practices.
Black Waters


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


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


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


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

Main Message[edit]

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.

—Bon scripture[12]

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.[13]

Transmission Lineages[edit]

Ultimately, the teachings go back to the Lord Supreme, Kuntu Zangpo.

After him, it is Chimed Tsugphud, who taught to Sangwa Dupa, and the latter taught to dBal chen sTag la me 'bar, who himself taught to sNang ba mdog can.

The transmission lineages are sometimes categorized as 3, other times 4, 5, or 6.

The most common viewpoint on transmission lineages

• First Transmission Lineage from the heat-born Chimed Tsugphud

• Second Transmission Lineage from the egg-born Yeshen Tsugphud

• Third Transmission Lineage from the apparitionally-born Sangwa Dupa
1. Lhabon Thodkar
2. Yeshen Samdrub
3. Gyerpung Legdrub
4. Gyungyar Tsadpo
5. Trese Gyalpo
6. Zhang-zhung Garab (Garab Dorje?[14])
7. Rasang Sodnamtsek
8. Zhang-zhung Tashi Gyaltsan
9. Gyerpung Nangzher Lodpo

Interestingly, Tsewang Rigzin (son of Drenpa Namkha) is also considered an avatar of Sangwa Dupa.[15]

A Religion For The World[edit]

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 Arya dharmas. Tonpa Shenrab himself had as disciples the 6 Ornaments of the World (Zamling Khepi Gyendug); Mutsa Trahe from sTag-gzig, Tritok Partsa from Zhang Zhung, Huli Paryag from Sum-pa, Lhadag Ngagdo from Sub-Himalayan India, Legtang Mangpo from China, and Sertok Chejam from Phrom.[16] They promulgated his teachings in their native lands.

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. He even went to China and taught the Chinese Bonpo Legtang Mangpo. Other missionaries of Bonpo had also traveled in different countries to teach the doctrine. Namse Chyitol.g of the Gilgistan is accredited with having converted King Seve Salbar of Afghanistan to Yungdrung Bon.

"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[17]

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[18], 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.[19] gShen-chen was requested to send Bon scriptures.

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.

—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.

Many Bonpa clergy were well connected with nationalities both within and outside of India. One can see Bonpo influence and interactions with the world in the story of King Srong-btsan sGam-po. He maintained relations with royalties outside of the Subcontinent. The king took Princess Lig-tig-sman from Zhang Zhung as his wife and she brought with her a Zhang Zhung image of Lord Shenrab when he was age 1, from the Temple of dKar-nag bKra-gsal in Olmo Lungring, and for that image was built the Them-chen Temple in Tibet. From Nepal he married Princess Khri-btsun and she had brought with her a Nepali silver image of Byams-pa 'Khor-lo for which was built the Temple of Ra-sa in Tibet. He also married Chinese Prinecss Kong-co and she had brought a Chinese image of Shenrab at the age of 9 for which was built the Temple of Ra-mo-che. The king had invited a monk from Sub-Himalayan India, Akarashilamati, who had brought with him a sandal-wood self-created image of Shenrab, and for it was built the bCu-gcig-zhal Temple in Lhasa.

Zhang Zhung as the greatest centre of Yungdrung Bon[edit]

Although the master Tonpa Shenrab himself was born in Shenaki, and many scriptures were written elsewhere, Zhang Zhung was the most important centre for Yungdrung Bon because it is known to have had the most Bonpo temples, and this region of Tibetan even today has some surviving ones. The people of Zhang Zhung were serious more about the religion than elsewhere. In the Trije Lungten, Tonpa Shenrab had even told his disciples an important parable of King Triwer Larje's family in Zhang Zhung. Its holiest mountain is by where the Walled Mountain Turquoise Leaf Tree Fortress Castle was located, within the capital city of Tisei Karchak.[20]

It is described in the Nyer mkho'i snang ba[21] as:

The country of Zhang Zhung [is divided into] sGo, Phug, and Bar. Of these, Zhang-zhung Phug-pa [is situated], at more than three months' journey, on the western side of Mount Kailash, near Par-sig of Mesag, Bha-dag-shan, Bha-lag, and so on. In the former times, the capital was called rGyal-ba mNyes-tshal. There, a self-originated image of gSang-mchog existed [on] a big mountain with five peaks. At the time of rGyal-gshen Mi-lus bSam-leg, [the city] was [known as] rGyal-mukhar Ba-tshod.

It is described in the Nyer mkho'i snang ba[22] as:

That place had thirty-two provinces. Sages such as the Four Great Teachers and so on, who spread Sutra and Tantra teachings together with the secular sciences, as well as accomplished masters, who were able to fly in the sky, appeared there in great numbers. Nowadays, since [the land] has been conquered by foreign barbarians [mtha mi, lit. border people], the original teaching does not exist; it is said, however, that a few Tibetan, Indian, and Chinese practitioners, who have great faith in the religion, live there.
Boundary of Zhang Zhung

The Treasury of Good Sayings lists divisions of Zhang Zhung.

Trine Regions Number of Kings Description
Inner 1. Gyanri Hill
2. Kyunglung Valley
3. Purang
8 1. south of Mt. Ti-se
2. west of Mt. Ti-se
3. south of lakes Rakshas Tal and Manasarovar
Middle 1. tSi-na
2. Ta-rog
3. Ta-sgo
Outer 1. K'a-skyor
2. K'a-yug
3. La-dvags (Ladakh)
4. Ru-t'og (Rudok)

Zhang Zhung had a diversity of tribes, most of them totemic. The lDe'u rgya bod kyi chos 'byung. The first ones to rule the land may have been Black gNod-sbyin [in bZangs-yul rGyan-med[23] kingdom], and their weapons used were bows and arrows. Second were bDud re-lde mGo-g.yag [in bDud-yul Gling-dgu[24] kingdom], and their weapons were axes and hatchets. Third were Srin-po gNya'-ring Phrag-med[25] [in Nag-po dGu-dul[26] kingdom], and catapults and Srin-po boots were weapons. Fourth were the lHa dMar-ljam [in lHa-yul Gung-thang[27] kingdom], and their weapons were 3-pointed kha tam. Fifth were the Klu [in Ngam-brang Cang-brang kingdom], and their weapons were spears. Sixth were the 'Dre [in Lang-tang Ling-tang kingdom], and their weapons were maces. Seventh were the Nine Ma-sangs[28] [in Bod-khams g.Yang-drug[29] kingdom], and their weapons were quivers and sheaths and their used shields. Eighth were the Klu [in Bod-khams Gling-dgu[30] kingdom]. Ninth were the Mi-ma-yin [in Ngam-yul Nag-po[31] kingdom].

Transmission of teachings into different languages[edit]

The language of the Eternal Gods derived from the speech of the 'God of dMu-gshen’, and was the language of the people of the Eight Palaces of Tonpa in Olmo Lungring.[32] This is different than the language that Tonpa Shenrab and other gShens in general spoke commonly - sTag-gzig rMu'i skad.

The 3 translators of Olmo Lungring [who were also disciples of Mucho Demrug], dMu-tsha Tra-he, Khri-thog sPa-tsha, and Hu-lu sPa-legs shared their translations to Sad sPungs-dun, Gyer-sangs gTsug-phud, dMu-tsha Ting-rim, dMu-bon brTan, dMu-mkha' lDing-nam, and dMu-rje sPal-pa dGu-'byung. The 3 also shared them to hLadak nGakdro (hLa-bdag sNgags-Dro) of Sub-Himalayan India transmitted the teachings to Gyalpo Ratsa Pungpa (rGyal-po Ra-tsa sPungs-pa), who then taught them to Zhang Zhung's Mukho Dang (Mu-kho sTangs), who passed them on to 4 people of different regions; Khalusha of Sub-Himalayan India, Srami Rican Kha-che mkhan-po of Kashmir, 'A Ba Shang Shang of Tho-gar, and to Dokane (lDo-ka-ne) of Gilgit.

The 3 further interpreted them to the Bon-po Mu-khod of Zhang Zhung, the gShen-po Li-sha of Sub-Himalayan India, the gShen-po Bra-ba Me-ru-can of Kashmir, the gShen-po Pa-va Shang-shang of Tho-gar, and the gShen-po Ge lTe-ne Lo-rgya of Gilgit. Legs-tang rMang-po in turn, expounded them to gShen-po gTsug-lag dPal-ge of China and Virochana of Ba-gor. gSer-thog lCe-'byams expounded them to rGam-pa lCe-ring of Ge-sar, Mu-spungs gSal-tang of Sum-pa, Sha-ri dBu-chen of Tibet and lCe-tsha mKhar-bu of Me-nyag and they translated them into their own languages and promulgated Yungdrung Bon.

sMar, Dar-ma, Dir-ma, Dar-ma-dir, Gu-ge, and Phal-po-glang were the main languages spoken in Zhang Zhung. sMar (considered to have been the most refined of them all) was spoken in the central zone, of Dar-ma in southern zone, Dir-ma north zone, and Dar-ma-dir was the colloquial language spoken in the eastern and western zones, and of Gu-ge was considered the literary language of all of Zhang Zhung.[33]

While these gurus expounded the teachings internationally, it is believed to be Krilde Odpo[34], a disciple of Mucho Demrug, that brought the full teachings of Tonpa Shenrab to Shangshung two generations later.


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.


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 Swastik-sattvas, and finally the Dra-lhas (Sky-gods), the last of whom are always in conflict with the hDre (demons.)[35] Apart from gods, some Bonpo practitioners are also said to have had access to the divine. For example, King Tho-tho-ri sNyan-shal is believed to have been given Bon teachings from heaven, according to the Byams-ma.

The most popularly worshiped of deities are the Four Principal Sugatas (oder gshegs gtso bzhi); Sangpo Bumtri, Satri Ersang, Shenlha Odkar, and Tonpa Shenrab. The worship of the Satri Ersang in particular was popularized by Zangsa Ringtsun. She is also known as Chucham Gyalmo, Sherab Jhamma (Most Loving Mother) and Yum Chenmo (Great Mother.) there exist 4 emanations of Sridpa Gyalmo.[36]Sangpo Bumtri is also known as Yemon Gyelpo and sMon-pa'i Mi-bo Lum-lum. gYu’i zur-phud-can, considered Sangpo’s avatar, came down from heaven to request Shenrab convert the evil gTo-bu Do-te.[37] Nampar Gyalwa is Tonpa Shenrab’s manifestation.[38]

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 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


(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 them, some mainstream deities are sometimes mentioned in Bonpa scriptures, such as Brahmā and Indra.

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.

Zhang-Zhung snyan-rgyud[39]


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[40].)

  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.[41]

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



Classes of prominent lhas
  1. Pho-lha (Tuletary gods)
  2. Thab-Iha (Hearth gods)
  3. Yi Dam-lha (Personal gods)
  4. Yab-lha (Ancestor gods) - 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)

Mainstream Devas
Brahmā in other sects

Brahmā is known in Bon scriptures as 'Bram-ze'. ’Gyur ba blo gsal’ [bram ze’i bu ’gyur ba blo gsal] has been written as the 'Son of Brahmā'.

Shiva is written of as mGon-po Phyag-drug-pa.

Garudas and Nagas are commonly mentioned in 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[42]:

  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. Katen is basically volumes of commentaries, rituals, works on arts and crafts, and so on. This dualistic classification was mde in the fifteenth century by Sherab Gyaltshan.

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

Text Type Era composed
mDo'dusAKA Mdo dgongs pa'dus pa
(Gathering of Intentions Sutra)
Biography of Shenrab
'Dus-pa rin-po-che'i rgyud gZer-mig AKA gZer-mig Biography of Shenrab
(The Brilliance)
Biography of Shenrab 14th century CE
Srid pa spyi skong snang srid spyi mdos AKA Srid pa spyi mdos
Nyer mkbo'i snang ba
Legs bshad rin po che'i mdzod
(TPrecious Treasury of Good Sayings)
Rigdzin Rigpai Thukgyu
Khams-brgyad gTanla 'Bum
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[edit]

Revealed Bon
Derived Bon
Transformed Bon

Two Types of Bonpas[edit]

"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[43], 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.[44]


Disciplic succession of monastic order[edit]

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

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External Resources[edit]


  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. AKA Kun tu ‘chang chen or mKha’ ‘gying rgyal po
  5. P. 387 Religions of Mankind: Today & Yesterday By Helmer Ringgren, Åke V. Ström
  6. Byang Chub sGrub Thabs Kyi Bon tShigs Su bCad Pa Sum Brgyas Sum Cu Pa
  7. P. 35-36 Penetrating Wisdom: The Aspiration of Samantabhadra By Dzogchen Ponlop
  8. P. 242 The Dawn of Tibet: The Ancient Civilization on the Roof of the World By John Vincent Bellezza
  9. P. 152 Bon in the Himalaya By B.C. Gurung
  10. P. 81 Transcendent Mystery in Man: A Global Approach to Ecumenism By Andrew N. Woznicki
  11. P. 182 Enlightened Rainbows: The Life and Works of Shardza Tashi Gyeltsen By Jean-Luc Achard
  12. P. 8 The Four Wheels of Bön By Yongdzin Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, Dmitry Ermakov, Carol Ermakova
  13. P. 9 The Four Wheels of Bön By Yongdzin Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, Dmitry Ermakov, Carol Ermakov
  14. P. 59 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
  15. P. 120 The Bon Religion of Tibet: The Iconography of a Living Tradition By Per Kværne
  16. P. 7 Bonpo Dzogchen teachings By Tenzin Namdak
  17. P. 35 Unearthing Bon Treasures: Life and Contested Legacy of a Tibetan Scripture By Dan Martin
  18. P. 10 Mandala Cosmogony: Human Body Good Thought and the Revelation of the Secret Mother Tantras of Bon By Dan Martin
  19. 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.
  20. P. 91 The Dawn of Tibet: The Ancient Civilization on the Roof of the World By John Vincent Bellezza
  21. Nyer mkho'i snang ba 7,1
  22. Nyer mkho'i snang ba 7,4
  23. The Stratified Country Without Ornaments
  24. The Country of the Nine Regions of the bDud
  25. The Long-Necked Shoulderless Srin-po
  26. The Country of the Nine Black Disciplined Ones
  27. The Central Plain Country of the Gods
  28. Consists of g.Yang-'brum Si-le-ma, gNyan Ma-sangs g.Ya'-spang sKyes-gcig (the One Born from the Meadows and Rocky Crags), Gar Ma-sangs gTso-gar sKyes-kyi sDig-nam-tshad, gNyan Ma-sangs Ngan-lam gTsang-skyes, rNgub Ma-sangs Tho-gar-skyes, She Ma-sangs Thod-dkar Nam-tshang, Me Ma-sangs Pad-ma sKyes-kyi sNying-nam-tsha, Mi Ma-sangs rGya-mtsho sKyes-kyi Dranga-'gur (the Ma-sangs of Humankind, Born from the Ocean), Od-ma Ma-sangs sTon-nam-tsha
  29. Tibet of the Six Glories
  30. Tibet of the Nine Divisions
  31. The Black Country of Darkness
  32. rGyal-sa pho-brang-gling-brgyad
  33. P. 61 A History of Zhang Zhung and Tibet, Volume One The Early Period · Volume 1 By Chogyal Namkhai Norbu
  34. The Treasury of Good Sayings: "The sage K'ri-lde Odpo of sTag-gzig transformed himself into a vulture and flew into the presence of the holy master Od-kyi Mu-sans at gNas-brtan Rin-po-c'e Palace which was situated on the slope of Mount Ti-se in Zan-zun [Shang-shung]. Thereafter, a religious community of 16,000 practitioners flourished at the A-ti gSan-ba Yung-drun Cave, which is located left of Mount Ti-se. The king who ruled at that time was K'ri-wer La-rje of Zan-zun, the Holder of the Golden horn-like Crown, who dwelt at Ga-ljan Yu-lo Castle situated in front of Mount Ti-se.";
    The Search For Shangri-La: A Journey into Tibetan History By Charles Allen
  35. P. 116 Imprints of Indian Thought and Culture Abroad By Vivekananda Kendra Prakashan
  36. P. 144 Heart Drops of Dharmakaya: Dzogchen Practice of the Bon Tradition By Bkra-śis-rgyal-mtshan (Śar-rdza), Bstan-vdzin-rnam-dag
  37. P. 87 Routledge Library Editions: Tibet By Various Authors
  38. P. 280 Envisioning a Tibetan Luminary: The Life of a Modern Bönpo Saint By William M. Gorvine
  39. 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
  40. P. 18 Bonpo Dzogchen Teachings By Tenzin Namdak
  41. 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
  42. P. 82 Transcendent Mystery in Man: A Global Approach to Ecumenism.By Andrew N. Woznicki
  43. P. 171 Encyclopedia of Monasticism By William M. Johnston
  44. P. 180 Female Stereotypes in Religious Traditions By edited by Ria Kloppenborg, Wouter J. Hanegraaff

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