Bon its Encounter With Buddhism in Tibet

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Item Code: NAP571
Author: B. L. Bansal
Language: English
Edition: 1996
ISBN: 8186339035
Pages: 228
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 370 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

Bon is the native religion of Tibet while Buddhism was introduced into that country from India in the seventh century A. D. or thereabouts under Royal patronage. Originally Bon was a cult of nature worship. The Bon poregarded the various elements of nature as spirits or gods to be worshipped for favours or propitiated to avert harm. Seeing that Buddhism had a sound philosophical and doctrinal structure, they thought of providing their religion with a philosophical structure of its own so as to enable it to hold its own in the face of the new religion. In the process they came into conflict with Buddhism. They were supported by a section of the aristocracy which felt threatened at court by the entry of Buddhism with the support of the King.

About the beginning of the eleventh century there was a revival of Buddhism with a centralized religious hierarchy and a monastic order. The Bon po too organized themselves a new with a revised doctrinal structure and an order of monks and monasteries on the same lines as the Buddhists. Though they were called Bon po, they had far too many affinities and similarities with the Buddhists. This helped in eliminating tension between them over the centuries. In fact Bon and Buddhism have together given Tibet a unique religious culture which is reflected in its temples, monasteries, sculptures, paintings, arts, and icons. This religious culture is reflected in the day-to-day life of its people as well.

This book is so designed as to help those engaged in research on the subject in understanding the distinction between Bon and Buddhism in Tibet.

About the Author

B.L Bansal, the Author, has been interested all his life in religion and philosophy in general and in Buddhism in particular, His frequent visits to the hilly regions in the hilly regions in the north of his country stimulated his natural interest further and caused him to give himself over to a serious study of the religions and folk culture of Tibet. So much so that, following his retirement from the Indian Economic Service in 1986, he joined the Department of Buddhist Studied at the University of Delhi as a research scholar in the field of Buddhism in Tibet and its unique practices. He took up first a study f Bon, which was the religion of Tibet prior to the entry of Buddhism into that country, as interaction between Bon and Buddhism and their mutual hostility and their convergence appeared to be an exciting subject. The present book is the result. His research in this field continues.


Not many people understand the real position of position Bon in the history of Tibetan religion. Mr Bansal has tried in this work to shed light on this problem.

According to Buddhism the eradication of ignorance and other evils enables one to understand the real nature of phenomena in the same way that water is purified by and a fruit known as katak. The mere sound "katak" cannot purify water. A knowledge of religion by itself, i.e. without; practice, can lead us nowhere. One should, therefore purify oneself and accumulate prajan or true knowledge by following the path that leads to nirvana. The author shows that Bon as a religion and way of life points_ to a similar path and that the Bon tradition runs parallel to that of Buddhism.

It is I am quite satisfied with this work which the author east has written after his retirement from Government service. To have written a work of this kind at his age definitely reflects his thirst for knowledge. It is hoped that this work will help the readers in understanding Bon and its relationship with Buddhism clearly. Furthermore, it is gratifying to note that the author is continuing his yard researches in the field. I wish him success and Godspeed.


Tibet, Roof of the World, a high plateau with the highest altitudes, is a land of austere beauty continually battered by furious storms of wind, rain, hail, snow, and dust mixed with gravel. Yet, or perhaps because of it, Tibet has a unique religious culture given to it by two living traditions---Buddhism and a faith known as Bon. Ever since its entry into Tibet between the ' fifth and seventh centuries A.D. Buddhism has been the dominant religion of Tibet. Ron is less well known in spite of its being the native religion. Tradition characterizes it in unfavourable terms as a perversion of Buddhism. Indeed it is regarded as a religion in which Buddhist doctrines and practices have been either copied or perverted and distorted. Often it is even compared to Shamanism. Thanks to recent researches, however, a more accurate understanding of Bon has now emerged. It is recognized as closely related to the various Buddhist schools in Tibet in spite of its having an identity of its own.

This is by no means an exhaustive work on the subject, many questions remain unanswered. The first and foremost is about the origins of Ron. Is Ron native to Tibet, or has it come from outside, and from where? Is it only a faith or a religion? What is its contribution to the present culture of Tibet? The primary difficulty in the way of our finding answers to these questions is the non-availability of any literature on the subject pertaining to the period before the seventh century A.D. Tibet was then without a literary language of its own. A good deal of the Material relating to the subsequent centuries is of doubtful authenticity. Indeed it is based on inferences drawn from the literature of organized tradition. Further, most of the works on Ron are as yet untranslated from Tibetan. The number of works that have been translated by Western Tibetologists is small. Of course they do throw considerable light on the development of Bon from a cult of nature worship to an organized tradition, but they only whet the appetite for more information. Meanwhile the Tibetans have had to leave the land of their birth and settle dowd elsewhere, mostly in India and Nepal. In India they have established a big monastery at Dharamiala in Himachal Pradesh (known as Little Tibet). A Bon monastic center at Dolanji, Solan and a couple of other monasteries in Karnataka in South India. Many of them have brought their scriptures with them their precious possessions. A library of Tibetan works and archives has been established at Dharamgala. And the work of translating important documents has started. It is expected that more and more documents would become available and that we would soon be enabled to know more about Tibet's religious culture and attain a fuller understanding.

Neither Bon nor Buddhism can be studied in isolation in the context of Tibet. The account of Bon in this study, therefore, runs parallel to that of Buddhism in Tibet. In putting my facts together I have drawn on a number of pioneering works by Western Tibetologists. I have acknowledged my use of their material in the notes appended to each chapter. The bibliography at the end of the study lists some more important works. It is a select (and by no means exhaustive) bibliography. Each of the works listed there is significant and adds an important dimension to our understanding of Bon.

The idea of researching into Bon was first suggested to me by a scholar who is also a Bonpo – Mr Thupten K. Rikey. He also provided me with a good deal of material. He was kind enough to launch me on the subject and to give me useful advice from time to time. I was encouraged to undertake the work by the graciousness of Dr G.G. Gyatso of the Department of Buddhist Studies, University of Delhi. He took me in hand and guided me step by step in this new World of Tibetan religious doctrines and practice. Without him there was no question of my milking this study so fruitful, so worth-while my association with Dr Gvatso was in line with the well-known guru-Siya tradition that has been unique to India's intellectual world. Mr A.S. Hebbar of the Jawaharlal Nehru University went through the entire draft and helped in finalizing the text. He calls his work a labour of love, and says that it celebrates our long friendship of nearly a quarter of a century. My grateful thanks are due to all those who have had a hand in the making of this study, but I shall be failing in my duty if I do not mention Professor Sanghsen Singh and Mr V.K. Singh of the department of Buddhist Studies and professor Dalip Singh Duggal, formerly Head of the Department of African Studies, University of Delhi, for their constant and loving encouragement. Professor S.K. Pathak of Santiniketan looked through the entire manuscript and suggested inclusion of some information on the traces that we can still see of Ron in the Northwest Himalaya. Acting on this suggestion I have provided in an appendix whatever information I could gather from published sources. I am grateful to Professor Pathak for this suggestion and generally for his interest in my work.

My wife Santosh and son Sumit stood by me during the period of study. To say that I thank them is a mere formality. My debt to them stands. I can only acknowledge it here.


Chapter - I Introduction  
Chapter - II Physical features and early History of Tibet 15
Chapter -III Bon Religion : Origin and evolution 31
Chapter -IV Bon Religion : Scriptues, Pantheon, Ritual 65
Chapter - V Bon's Encounter with Buddhism 95
Chapter - VI Revival of buddhism and the Rise of Different Schoos of Buddhism 125
Chapter - VII Conclusion 157
Appendix Living Traces of Bon in the Northwest Himalaya 173
Select Bibliography   193
Index   199


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