Tibet, being situated high up in the Himalayas, has long been isolated due to its unique geological barriers. Throughout its unique historical evolution, its indigenous people were able to develop a unique form of religion known as "Bonismo". Usually it's called for short "Bon."

Bon originated from the "Gandes Mountains" and " Manasarovar Lake" areas, where belong to the ancient Xiangxiong Kingdom. That mysterious Kingdom has a long and splendid history and culture, which is listed as World Cultural Heritage now. From the perspective of Tibetan history, "Xiangxiong" is almost synonymous with the entire western part of the ancient Tibet. The ancient Xiangxiong civilization is the origin of Tibetan civilization. It's no exaggeration to say, to understand Tibetan civilization, we must first understand the Xiangxiong civilization; to study Tibetan Buddhism, we must first study this Bon religion.

The well known Mt. Kailash kora, circumambulating holy Lakes, kowtow, scattering Longda, hanging prayer flags, mani stone, the butter sculpture, vajra knot, Tibetan writing, gzi Beads, Tibetan Guozhuang dance, Thangka paintings, etc. are all derived from the ancient Xiangxiong culture. The ancient Xiangxiong had a tremendous impact on later generations in culture and religion. So now, you can still find traces of Xiangxiong from the culture, arts, religion and other fields around the world, and it's also where Bon from.

Kowtow is originated from Bon religion.

Kowtow is originated from Bon religion.

There are basically two phases in the development of Bon: one is the pre-Buddhism phase, and the other one is Post-Buddhism influence. The first phase refers to the unadulterated form of Bon, before the inroads of Buddhism influences. The second phase started in the 8th century when Buddhism started to reach Tibet, and later, alongside the very revival of Buddhism in Tibet. At present, around 10 percent of the Tibetans subscribe or follow Bon.

Bon and Its Deities

Bon, as a Tibetan indigenous religion, holds the belief in various divine presences or deities, and these deities are traditionally incorporated into the designing and construction of the Tibetan houses, making each Tibetan house a veritable castle (dzongka) protected against the evil forces of the outside world. For this reason, an average Tibetan house usually has seats ascribed to the male god that protects their houses. Every day each father or the man of the house would invoke this god and eventually would burn juniper leaves and wood to placate this god. The woman of the household also has a protecting deity (phuk-lha) whose seat is situated in the kitchen. Moreover, there are many sets of deities and there are many practices that are unique to Bon religion.

Sand Mandala

Sand Mandala, one of the great Tibetan arts. 

The Evolution of Bon under the Influence of Buddhism

In the 8th Century, Buddhism slowly came into Tibet, and its influence eventually caused struggles between the powerful nobles and the ruling house of Tibet. Prodded by these struggles and the need to have a scripture of its own, Bon started to evolve into a distinctly systematized religion with well-written sacred scripture and well-laid doctrines. Throughout these struggles, Bon did not gain religious supremacy over Buddhism because of the late 8th-century persecution of Bon religion and its followers by King Khrison Detsen. Despite this persecution, however, Bon—as an indigenous religion—and its practices persisted in the eastern and northern frontiers of Tibet.

Triten Norbutse

Triten Norbutse is the earliest practice place of Bon masters.  

Bon and Buddhism

There are essential differences between the original Bon religion and the original Buddhism: the Bon religion believes in everything and Buddhism believes in Buddha. Bon religion is an original native religion in Tibet, which is influenced by Buddhism from Indian. Both Bon and Buddhism learned from each other and generally formed the current Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism is neither Hinayana Buddhism nor Mahayana Buddhism. Instead, it is an independent genre. Songtsan Gambo spread Buddhism in Tibet and made it replace Bon in the mid-sixth century. Later, even Bon believers found some disadvantages of its religion, and they began to emulate something from Buddhism. 

Bon at Present

As mentioned above, a sizeable number of indigenous Tibetans (around 10%) still subscribe to the religious practices and beliefs of Bon religion based on the most recent Chinese census. In fact, before the annexation of Tibet by the People's Republic of China, there were still 300 Bon monasteries throughout Tibet and western China. At present, there are around 264 active Bon convents, monasteries, and hermitages throughout Tibet. Moreover, a number of Bon monasteries and establishments also exist in Nepal such as the Triten Norbutse Bonpo Monastery in the western outskirts of the city of Kathmandu. Furthermore, Bon’s leading monastery (Menri Monastery) is refounded in Dolanji, Himachal Pradesh, India. Lastly, at present, Bon is already officially recognized as a religious group with equal rights as the Buddhist schools, and discrimination against “Bonpos” is forbidden and is considered as self-defeating and undemocratic.

Related Articles & Posts

  • Sand Mandalas: A Exquisite Tibetan Buddhist Ancient Art

    Sand Mandala means colorful Mandala in Tibetan. The making of a sand mandala comes from the ancient Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The creation involves in several monks and long procedure. It also shows the transience of life. ...

  • Tibetan Monks

    Tibetan Monks are a kind of mysterious groups in Tibetan Buddhism. Have you ever imagined the inside picture of Buddhist monasteries? Here's a brief introduction about the scholastic and daily life of Tibetan monks, as well as the living Buddhas. ...

  • Tibet History

    The history of Tibet including: Imperial age (602-842), Era of fragmentation, Sakya Rule, Pazhu Regime, Collapse of Serfdom, and Establishment of Tibet Autonomous Region. ...

  • Tibetan Language

    Tibetan language is referred to as Bodic or Tibetic language. Now, it's widely used in the northern part of India, Nepal, and Bhutan. We will brief introduce the history, alphabets, notable features, words and grammar of Tibetan language. ...

  • Tibetan Buddhism

    Tibetan Buddhism is very important to Tibetan people as it affects every aspect of their lives. Here's the introduction of the beginning, development, and current situation of Tibetan Buddhism for helping travelers understand Tibetan culture better. ...

  • Top 10 Tibetan Monasteries

    Visiting various Tibetan monasteries would be part of your Tibet trip. Here's the list of the top 10 Tibetan Buddhism Monastery, from which You can not only see the marvelous religious artworks, but also discover the spiritual home of Tibetan people. ...

  • Unveiling the Mystery of Longda

    Many people scatter scraps of paper into the sky for the purpose of seeking blessing from the God. Those scraps of paper are called Longda. Longda is printed with lection and patterns. ...

  • Tibetan People

    Tibetan people always keep a mysterious veil to the public. Here's an introduction of Tibetan people from their lifestyle, history, robes, inhabitants, food, architecture, occupational life, hada, language, religion and entertainment. ...

  • Tibetan Prayer Flags

    When you travel to Tibet, you will see Tibetan prayer flags at the passes of mountains, banks of rivers, sides of roads, etc.. It's a kind of symbol of the local culture. Everything from the color and words holds meaning. ...

  • Tibetan Nomads

    Nomads mainly refer to the people whose main way of life is nomadism. In order to adapt to the climate conditions of high temperature and drought in Tibetan plateau, the Tibetan Nomads have implemented a strict animal husbandry management mode. ...

Ask a Quick Question Below? Or Call 0086-891-6679450
or Email Us