Tenzin Wangyal
Station Hill Press: Barrytown, New York, 1993.
220 pp., $14.95 (paper).

and

Shardza Tashi Gyaltsen
Commentary by Lopon Tenzin Namdak
Snow Lion Publications: Ithaca, New York: 1993.
197 pp., $15.95 (paper).


For most readers, these two books will serve as the first “insider” introductions to Bon, the indigenous spiritual tradition of Tibet that predates Buddhism in the Land of the Snows. Bon has been depicted by many Tibetan Buddhist teachers and their Western converts as the most primitive of religions, a sect of devilish animists who, failing to defeat Buddhism with black magic, sought instead to plagiarize and embellish its canon, grafting Buddhist ideas onto its own rituals. Most venal and unforgivable to many Buddhists is the Bonpos’ (those who practice Bon) claim that their tradition predates the lineages of Shakyamuni Buddha by several thousand years and represents the teachings of the enlightened Persian prince Shenrab Miwoche. Quite a story to swallow from “primitive local animists.” Yet the Tibetan Buddhist depiction of Bon is consistent with the pattern of most histories written by conquerors through the ages, those who felt compelled to “civilize” the aboriginal traditions they displaced. Now, with renewed respect for indigenous traditions everywhere, groups like the Bonpos are getting the chance to have their voices heard.

In these challenging years for Tibetan people, perhaps self-preservation motivates a wider sense of tolerance for non-Buddhist teachings than has otherwise historically been the case. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, discovering in Bon both an authentic lineage of spiritual transmission and some key aspects of Tibetan cultural history, has persuaded his government-in-exile to recognize the order as the country’s fifth traditional religious school, on equal footing with the Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug lines. Not surprisingly, His Holiness has met with some resistance, especially from within the ranks of his own Gelug school, whose founder, Je Tsongkhapa, once cautioned, “No refuge to the Three Jewels as Bonpos.” Breaking that very tradition, His Holiness has lent an enthusiastic foreword to Wonders of the Natural Mind.

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