Hailed as a fascinating and unique book, this is the first in-depth study of its kind comparing the ancient Bön religion with the Siberian shamanic tradition of Lake Baikal. Combining scholarly research with spiritual insight and with over 200 illustrations, maps and diagrams, the information is presented in a clear and lively way, enabling the reader to navigate easily through the various topics dealt with and to follow the threads of the intricate tapestry woven as the parallels between the ancient shamanic traditions of Tibet and Siberia unfold.
However, it goes much further than usual research in comparative religion can; while Bө and Bön stands up to academic scrutiny, it is written from the perspective of ‘an insider’ and the author draws on his many years of experience in both Yungdrung Bön and the Bө Murgel tradition of Buryatia to bring this subject to life and help us unlock some hidden aspects of both belief systems.
Here the reader can gain insight into many aspects of these two as yet little-known traditions, such as their mythology, cosmology, rituals, and the gods and spirits which inhabit their worlds. Complex issues like the soul and the after-life are dealt with in detail, along with techniques and views of healing and magic, and concepts underlying the custom of blood sacrifice. Thorough studies of the pantheons of both belief systems reveal striking parallels not only between the deities of Bön and Bө Murgel, but also with those of other ancient Eurasian traditions and peoples such as the Indo-Iranian Aryans and Ancient Greeks. This brings us to a larger phenomenon – an Ur-religion of Eurasia. The author fills the reader in on the history of Central and Inner Asia and its peoples, painting a historical backdrop against which the development, migration and possible overlapping of Bө and Bön can easily be traced.
The author clearly defines the different types of Bön and points out how Yungdrung Bön – the teachings of the Central Asian Buddha Tönpa Shenrab Miwo – can be distinguished from them. He also shows the extent to which Bönpo culture is present within Tibetan Buddhism, emphasizing the need to keep an open and non-sectarian attitude, as both Tibetan Buddhism and Yungdrung Bön stem from the teachings of a Buddha, albeit different ones.
This book contains hitherto unpublished interviews with Yongdzin Lopön Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche and Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung, excerpts from their teachings and presentations given especially for this publication as well as detailed analyses of offering rituals and ransom rites. It is richly illustrated with pictures of Bön deities and masters, and original photos of many rituals. It also contains interviews with Bө and Utgan priests and priestesses in Siberia together with diary excerpts – including an eye-witness account of an initiation ritual – and photos from the author’s trips in the heartland of the Mongol-Buryats. The costume and ritual implements of a Buryatian Bө priest are dealt with in detail, the paramount importance of the transmission lineages is highlighted, and a list of the major deities of Bө Murgel is given.
Having thus examined both religions from many angles, the author takes a critical look at the misconceptions surrounding Bön, shamanism and the figure of the shaman in general to shed light on some of the distinctions between Yungdrung Bön and the Bө Murgel tradition of Buryatia, clearly showing the point at which similarities end.
Well-written and well researched, Bө and Bön will appeal to scholars and practitioners alike, as well as to all those of an open and inquisitive mind with a general interest in Tibetan and Siberian spirituality. As Charles Ramble, Lecturer in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies, Oxford University, says, “This fascinating and provocative book is sure to stimulate interest and debate concerning the religious heritage of Inner Asia”.