Bon Religion and its History

The Tibetan Bon religion was founded by Tonpa Shenrab Miwo. Its primary centre was in the present West Tibet and in its early phases it mainly comprised of ritual practice. The ritual specialists (Shen and Bon) were mainly in charge of the death rituals of the kings. After Buddhism was brought to Tibet by its religious kings (Dharmarajas) some conflicts arose. However, Bon religion and Buddhism developed side by side and it is not clearly documented which tradition was more influenced by the philosophy of the other.

The Bon religion was further developed side by side with the Buddhism which was introduced in the 7th century. Today, Bon religion is a structured doctrine. At times the relationship to Buddhism was rather strained. The followers of Bon were persecuted during several time periods in history and were often forced to convert to Buddhism. Therefore, many emigrated into the provinces Amdo and Kham on the outer regions of Tibet as well as to the border regions in the North of present-day Nepal where they could practice their religion in relative ease. In these regions Buddhists and Bonpo live peacefully side by side. In central Tibet today there are two Bon monasteries (sMen-ri und gYung-drung-ling), but these were and are not surrounded by a large layman community who could support them in a large scale.

Since the annexation of of Tibet by the Chinese in 1950 the religious freedom is limited. Many Tibetans fled into the bordering countries where they built new centers such as in India and Nepal. In this altered situation a new Tibetan identity developed which solely drew on Buddhism and excluded the Bon religion completely. Only with great difficulty the Bonpo managed to build up an own religious centre in Dolanji in northwestern India (called "New Menri"). Many old original texts from Dolpo were exported and reprinted in India, because in Tibet many were destroyed, got lost or were not accessible. After a long struggle with the Tibetan exile government in Dharamsala the Bonpo finally managed to speak to the Dalai Lama personally. In 1978, after visiting the newly build Bon monastery in Dolanji, the Dalai Lama officially recognised Bon religion as a school with own practices and awarded Sangye Tenzing (Lungtok Tempa Nyima) in Dolanji with the important "throne" title. This title
is normally reserved for the highest leaders of the Buddhist schools and receiving it implied an important step towards the integration of the Bon community into the Tibetan exile community. In the Tibetan exile parliament today there are two representatives of Bon religion together with two representatives of each main Buddhist school (Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug).  

Meanwhile there is a large monstery in Kathmandu called Triten Norbutse which was founded and lead by Lopon Tenzin Namdak. At present the abbot Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung is the head of the monastery, he grew up in a refugee camp in Dhorpatan in Nepal. Triten Norbutse Gompa is located behind the famous stupa of Swayambunath at the foot of a hill. (© Marietta Kind)
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