The Tibetan Book Of The Dead, Transitions To The Otherworld, Page 5


Before the arrival of Buddhism from India sometime in the seventh century A.D., Tibetan religious practice was focused largely on the person of the king. Since it was held that the welfare of Tibet depended upon the welfare of its ruler, special rituals were performed to protect and prolong the king's life, and when dead, to guarantee his safe passage to the heavenly mountains. According to some of the early historical sources, the priests that performed such rituals were identified by the name "bon- po" and their beliefs by the term "bon." Although it is commonly claimed that this ancient pre-Buddhist class of Tibetan priests became the Bon religion of modern times, historical evidence indicates that Bon developed into an organized and distinctive religious tradition only in deliberate opposition to Buddhism as late as the tenth century. Thus, more than likely, a genuine pre-Buddhist Bon religion never truly existed. In other words, the development of Buddhism and Bon were separate but simultaneous processes within the whole range of Tibetan religion. Over the centuries the mixture of indigenous Tibetan beliefs and practices with those of Buddhism (and Bon) has succeeded in almost completely obscuring any distinctions between the two. What appears to be certain is that early Tibetan religion revolved essentially around ideas about the creative and destructive powers of the earth and the nature and persistence of the soul or la (bla) after death. Certain elements of these ideas have survived and can be discerned in Bon-po (or, as the case may be, in Buddhist) literature, but such ideas themselves are fundamentally different from the basic doctrines of the Bon religion that originally had been instituted only after the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet (and that continue to be practiced today). The Bon texts that are showcased in this section of the exhibit reflect the creative tension between the two opposing traditions of Buddhism and Bon, and reveal a number of Tibetan ideas on death and the hereafter that have more or less survived from ancient times.

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