Written By: Aidan Forshaw
Bon is a religion primarily practiced in Tibet, and is a sub sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The religion, like traditional Buddhism, focuses on the gaining of enlightenment, and the freeing of the soul from the Samsara Cycle, and into Nirvana, and was first started by Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche, who apparently founded Bonism while searching for a horse that was stolen by a ‘demon’. The religion itself hopes to achieve the path to Nirvana by purging the body of its ‘demons’, and emotions not essential to the next incarnation of life, such as hatred, jealousy, and other such feelings. Thus, the founding of the school of thougt is often regarded as a metaphor, with Tonpa finding his own demon, and letting it loose as if on a horse.
The practice of the religion itself is similar to regular Buddhism, consisting of regular meditation, introspection, and the act of fasting, but is unique in the fact that they do what could be regarded as mildly shamanistic acts. An example of such would be the burning of baking flour, to see and gain knowledge from a past life before their own. They also practice creating symbols and images that represent animals and concepts to be used as guiding steps to achieve various levels of concentration and understanding, known respectively as Sutra, Tantra, and Dzongchen.
As an interesting piece of trivia, as well as a point of contention in today’s society, Bon’s symbol was a swastika, going into a left most facing pattern, which was a Chinese symbol for Good fortune and luck, until Nazism reversed the symbol, turning it into a symbol of death and misfortune. This dogma still exists today due to the horrors that they caused, and have since changed the symbol, leaving no space between the strokes of the menji, and casting each sign in a different colour.
While the religion itself considers itself mainly Tibetan based, it does and has in fact spread a fair bit, existing in countries such as India, parts of China, Pakistan, and certain parts of Europe. This in combination with the already existing sects of Buddhism exists in these countries helping pave the way, and from actual interest from the people of these regions.
As per the norm with Buddhism, there are few actual gods to be worshipped, but they DO exist. An example of this would be the deity built/added to a house when it is built. Every day, the person living there would burn incense or lavender to keep the God of the house calm, and to invite good fortune into the household. In a role of the ‘devil’ or his functional equivalent, would be a Rakshasa. A type of demon that was once a holy man, but fell into evil and darkness, wanting nothing but the knowledge of forbidden arts and the suffering of all those around them. However, they can be reasoned with, such as by offering them bits of knowledge that they did not know.
So, when compared to regular Buddhism practices, you can see the difference between the two quite clearly, specifically in their regards towards violence and the like. In fact, these differences were another point of contention towards the Bon, and were continued the 14th Dalai Lama, Dharamsala, made the Parliament of the Central Tibetan Administration accept practitioners of Bon in 1977.