Hundreds Gather to Celebrate Tibet's Ancient Bon Religion

tibet-bon4-072617.jpg Crowds fill the hills outside Tsedrup monastery in Tibet's Chamdo prefecture in an undated photo.
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Hundreds of followers of Tibet’s oldest spiritual tradition gathered this month in Tibet’s Chamdo prefecture to hold teachings and conduct rituals and dances important to their faith, Tibetan sources said.

The event drew participants from across Tibet who filled the hillsides outside Tengchen county’s Tsedrup monastery from July 2 through July 23, and was led by senior lamas of the Bon tradition, a Bon follower in India told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“The congregation was presided over by Yungdrung Nyima Rinpoche, Yungdrung Khen Rinpoche, and the Lobpon Lobsang Nyima,” the source, named Yungdrung Lodroe, told RFA.

“The events were all conducted according to Bon tradition,” Lodroe said.

Bon, an indigenous Tibetan spiritual tradition, preceded the eighth century introduction of Indian Buddhism into Tibet and later developed alongside Tibet’s Buddhist schools, with the two faiths now sharing many influences.

Festival organizers conducted a large prayer gathering called Yarchoe Rigdzin Dupa from July 2 to July 7, and another group ritual from July 9 to July 18, Lodroe said, citing sources in Tibet.

Meanwhile, on the gathering’s first day, the Bon lama Tenzin Woeser Rinpoche spoke to mark the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Bon Higher Institute for Study and Practice, which now has branches across Tibet.

“He emphasized the preservation of the Bon tradition and how unity should be maintained among its followers,” Lodroe said, adding that a large debate on scriptural logic was then held, with over 1,000 people taking part.

Dancers in Tsedrup monastery portray the journey of the soul after death in an undated photo.
Dancers in Tsedrup monastery portray the journey of the soul after death in an undated photo.
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Journey after death

A highlight of the gathering was the performance of a ritual lamas’ dance, Lodroe said.

“This dance is performed at Tsedrup monastery every 12 years, and Bon followers consider it a very sacred event. Both monks and laypersons participated in the performance, with masked dancers portraying wrathful deities.”

The dance’s major theme was the judging of souls after death, based on the deceased person’s collection of “white virtuous deeds” and “black negative deeds,” with dancers also portraying other experiences of the soul’s journey in the afterlife, he said.

Traditional gatherings in Tibetan-populated regions of China have greatly increased in size in recent years, as thousands of Tibetans gather to assert their national identity in the face of Beijing’s cultural and political domination.

Though China in recent years has frequently allowed the holding of Tibetan festivals as a sign of stability and “progress” in Tibetan areas, security forces often monitor and sometimes close down events involving large crowds, fearing spontaneous protests against Chinese rule.

Reported by Lobsang for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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