Yongzhong Bon Religion was once called “white hat Bon” in its early period
On the basis of reforming the Primitive Bon religion, Shenrab Miwo created a new religion to unify the scattered Primitive Bon religion of many different sects. This new religion is called “Yungdrung Bon religion“, which is different from Primitive Bon religion
Yungdrung Bon religion, which originated near Mountain Kailash and gradually became systemic, spread to Tubo and other tribes in the east in the fourth century BC, and began to have an influence in Tibetan areas for more than two thousand years. Its influence spreads over the entire snow-covered plateau and its surrounding areas.
Because the traditional hat of Yungdrung Bon, which was “dkar mo rtse rgyal”, is white. Therefore, Yongzhong Bon was once called “white hat Bon” in its early period
In the later stages of the development of Yungdrung Bon, its believers wore black scarves on their heads, so they were also called “black sect religion (nag chos)” by Tibetan Buddhist followers. Since the term “black sect” in Tibetan means “evil sect”, so that Bon believers think that “black sect” is a hostile title.
Yungdrung Bon Religious — Development
The development of Yungdrung Bon Religion can be roughly divided into two periods: “Hyar Bon Period” and “Gyu Bon Period”.
“Hyar Bon” period
“Hyar Bon” means “wandering bon”, referring to the Bon teachings that came from the outer domains (Kashmir, Zhang Zhung, Patola Sahi). This period roughly started from “Drigum Tsenpo (reign: 146 BC- 123 BC)” to “Songtsen Gampo (reign: 629 AD-650 AD)”.
Legend has it that during the reign of the 7th Tibetan king – Sitri Tsenpo, the Bonpo of Tubo kingdom could not deter the evil
Therefore, the 8th king of Tubo – Drigum Tsenpo invited three Bon masters with superior power (special expertise) from Kashmir, Bolu, and Zhang Zhung to carry out religious activities such as deterring evil
Among the three Bon masters who were invited:
- One can use the witchcraft to eliminate disasters and practice the Vulcan method, ride on the drum to parade in the void, discover the hidden treasure, and cut off the iron with bird feathers…etc, to show all kinds of power
- One used color thread, divine words, fresh blood, etc. to do divination to determine good fortune or disaster, and good or evil
- One was good at removing evil for the dead, suppressing ghosts, and proficient in all kinds of exorcise
The above is based on “China and Tibet History (Gya-Bod-kyi-yig-tsha)”
Then this can be considered as an example of the “Drigum Tsenpo” introducing super wizarding spells from surrounding areas to transform or enrich the Primitive Bon religion, which was increasingly unsuitable for social development at that time.
From then on, Primitive Bon religion began to be ended the more primitive form of religion (pure witchcraft means, but lack of doctrinal rules), and entered a new era of actively introducing superb practice magic power (beginning to gradually form its own “religious theory system”).
Of course, the “religious theory system” here is only relatively speaking, it had developed a lot compared with before, and had formed some rough religious views or speeches, however, Strictly speaking, the Yungdrung Bon religion at that time was far from talking about a theoretical system.
According to “The Origins of Tuguan Sects“: Before the three people came to Tibet, how the Bon religion held their views, it was still not clear to put forward, afterwards, the Bonpo had opinions about their views of theory.
Some scholars also believe that Yungdrung Bon Religion (Hyar Bon) of this period was formed after blending with the Mahesvara of India, and it was the beginning of the gradual formation of its philosophical system
Judging from the records in the above records, the main factor that formed Hyar Bon not only eliminated or discarded the cultural dross in the “Dol Bon (primitive Bon religion)” that did not meet the needs of social development at that time. For example, “Hyar Bon” abolished and merged various and complicated objects of worship, established the Yungdrung Bon religion who believed in the “Three Realms”, which divide the world into Heaven, Earth and Underground, and worship the Heaven deity “Zan or Tsan”, the Earth deity “Nyan” and the Underground deity “Lu (meaning Loong)”.
Moreover, Tsenpo (Tibet king) was no longer considered the son of deity, and the creator of Bon religion Shenrab Miwo was regarded as the leader. King, the officials and the people began to make sacrifices to the deities and the leader, and began to institutionalize.
More importantly, it actively absorbed or introduced foreign religious culture that could promote the development of society. In other words, the Yungdrung Bon religion in the Hyar Bon period was a blend of primitive Bon religion and foreign religious ideas in surrounding areas such as India. And formed a new religion with a certain theoretical level.
Of course, Hyar Bon was formed on the basis of “Dol Bon (primitive Bon religion)” and had a direct connection with “Dol Bon (primitive Bon religion)”.
It is worth pointing out here that the final formation of “Hyar Bon” was mainly attributed to a person named “Shenrab Miwo“, the founder of Yungdrung Bon religion.
“Gyu Bon” Period
In Tibetan, the “Gyu” of “Gyu Bon” has many meanings such as translation, interpretation, and compilation, and “Bon” is the abbreviation or generalization of Bon religion. The word “Gyu Bon” means “translated Bon” or “transformed Bon”.
At this time, Yungdrung Bon religion ended its Hyar Bon period and entered a new Gyu Bon period, the third stage of the development of Bon religion
The period when Songtsen Gampo introduced Buddhism to Tibet from the Tang Dynasty and Nepal can be regarded as the rough boundary between the early period (Hyar Bon) and the late period (Gyu Bon) of Yongzhong Bon religion.
Songtsen Gampo himself did not believe in Buddhism. The harsh laws he enacted included torture that completely violated Buddhist teachings such as severing limbs, cutting tongues, gouging eyes, and peeling skins, which fully confirmed this point. He tried to support the power of Buddhism to restrain the power of the Bon religion, which was strong enough to threaten the royal power; however, due to the restrictions of the geographical environment and the resistance of the Bon culture, Buddhism could not be widely spread.
When Trisong Detsen (reign AD 755 – AD 797) came to the throne, Buddhism began to be vigorously supported, and many Buddhist monks from India were invited to promote the Dharma.
At first, Trisong Detsen was very tolerant of Bon religion and created external conditions similar to Buddhists for Bon religion, such as setting up a place for translation of scriptures, allowing them to concentrate on translating or compiling Bon Bo religion.
In fact, this was a kind of cautious attitude adopted by Trisong Detsen to learn from the experience of hs ancestors.
Once the conditions was ripe, he had no hesitation in implementing repressive and tough measures against Bon religion in order to weaken its power, and create a broad development space for Buddhism.
When Trisong Detsen found that the dispute between Buddhism and Bon religion was intensifing, he organized a controversy on Buddhism and Bon under the suggestion of Shantarakshita to judge the pros and cons. And explained in advance: if the Bon religion is triumphant, Shantarakshitato returns to Tianzhu (India), Promoting Bon religion, and prohibit Buddhism; if Buddhism triumphs, then abolish Bon religion and promoting Buddhism;
In 759 AD, a debate between Buddhism and Bon religion was held in front of the “Gyanpu Garden Palace” in Supu District, Mozhu.
Bon religion failed in the debate with Buddhism. Trisong Detsen took the opportunity to issue a decree of prohibiting Bon religion from using animal flesh and blood to sacrifice to the deities, and put some Bon sutras under the tower or thrown into the river. This was also the era of the extinction of the Bon religion referred to by the Bonpos
From then on, the activities, rituals of Bon religion in the U-Tsang area (now Lhasa, Gyantse, Shigatse) were banned. And Bon was transferred to remote areas such as Ngari, Amdo, and Kham, and later spread to Gannan and south of Yunnan area
However, Buddhism was also deeply influenced by Bon religion. For example, Tibetan Buddhism’s deity, protector deity, rituals, offerings, costumes, praying for auspiciousness, gto(a very important ritual for exorcising disasters), cremation, Wei-sang…etc, and even symbolic objects mostly continue from the Bon religion.
In AD 877, after the collapse of the Tubo dynasty (after the destruction of Buddha by Langdarma), the re-emerged Bon religion organized and translated the classics of Bon religion, introduced a large number of doctrines from Buddhism, enriched its own theories, and gradually formed a set of established theoretical systems.
Note 1: Before “Hyar Bon” and “Gyu Bon”, there was a period of time called “Dol-Bon”, which means chanting Bon, which refered to the local religion. This was the beginning of Bon religion, please refer to “Primitive Bon religion“
Yungdrung Bon religion in Modern time
After the 11th century, the development of Buddhism in Tibet was in full swing which forming theocracy that sparing no effort to support and promote Tibetan Buddhism, and to combat the spread of Bon in Tibetan areas
Drogon Chogyal Phagpa, the national advisor of Yuan dynasty, even sent his disciples to Amdo area (now Tibetan area in Qinghai province and Gansu province) to convert Bon tradition monasteries into Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, which was even very effective.
In places such as Lhasa, Shannan, and Shigatse, where Tibetan Buddhist culture was extremely developed, the influence of Bon religion was becoming weaker and weaker.
But in emote areas such as Ngari, Nagqu, the eastern Tibet of Kham and Amdo, Bon religion is still being developed, and many Bon monasteries have been established to inherit Bon religion.
The Jiarong area of Sichuan (now the region of Danba county, Jinchuan county, Xiaojin county) has always been the stronghold of Bon religion which were once prospered here.
At present, there are still many Bon monasteries and living Buddhas in Tibetan areas.
Today, when Tibetan Buddhism is completely dominant, the main reason why Bon religion can still survive in Tibetan areas is that Bon religion is deeply rooted in the beliefs and culture of Tibetan in the course of historical development.
According to statistics, there are currently 235 Bon monasteries in the Tibetan cultural area, including 92 in the Tibet Autonomous Region (54 in Chamdo, 28 in Nagqu, 6 in Shigatse, 2 in Nyingchi, and one each in Lhasa and Ali), there are another 35 in Qinghai, 9 in Gansu, 84 in Sichuan, and about 15 in Nepal and India.
However, from the geographical distribution, except for a few large monasteries built in pastoral areas with superior living conditions, most Bon monasteries are located in remote, barren, and inaccessible places.