Bon

Bon, also spelled Bön, is a Tibetan religion. It is almost indistinguishable from Tibetan Buddhism in terms of doctrines and rituals, but differs in the religious authority and history it accepts, which has led to its practitioners and scholars considering it to be a distinct religion. Bon people believe that they were the indigenous religion of Tibet before Buddhism received royal sponsorship in the eighth century CE.

The practitioners of Bon faith believe that their religion is eternal, based on the teachings of Tonpa Shenrab who lived long before the Buddha, ruled the lands west of Tibet, and from where it arrived in India, China, Mount Kailash centered kingdom called Zhang Zhung, and there to Tibet. According to Bon belief, the Tibetan people and rulers patronized the Bon religion through the eighth century CE when royal support switched to Buddhism. The Bon people hid their texts, adopted rituals and religious practices of the Tibetan Buddhists, but remembered their history and beliefs as well. According to the Bons, their texts and practices have been a subject of Buddhist polemics and they have been treated as heterodox.

However, according to Sam van Schaik, the Bon tradition likely arose in the eleventh century CE because there is no evidence for any systematic religion in Tibet before the arrival of Buddhism, and it was in the eleventh century CE that Bon tradition formulated its scriptures, mainly from termas and visions by tertöns such as Loden Nyingpo. Though Bon terma contain myths of Bon existing before the introduction of Buddhism in Tibet, “in truth the ‘old religion’ was a new religion.” Some scholars consider Bon as a separate sub-school or religious order within Tibetan Buddhism.

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