Foundation for the Preservation of Yungdrung Bön / གཡུང་དྲུང་བོན་ཉར་ཚགས་རིག་མཛོད།

Bön as a multifaceted phenomenon





Bön as a multifaceted phenomenon:
looking beyond Tibet to the cultural and religious traditions of Eurasia
Presented at Bon, Zhang Zhung and Early Tibet Conference, SOAS, London, 10 September 2011
by Dmitry Ermakov

This article explores the Bön phenomenon from a larger perspective, that of the Eurasian cultural and religious heritage, and tackles the following question: Tibetan Bön is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon but do its origins lie in the Tibetan Plateau as such? I shall attempt to answer this by looking at three areas:

– Firstly, the prehistoric pan-Eurasian cult of the Sky Deer;
– Secondly, the links between rock carvings in Gilgit and Bönpo mchod rten;
– And finally, parallels between episodes in the Ṛgveda and the life story of Ston pa gshen rab.

Four types of Bön
In order to investigate this, we first need to have a clear understanding of the various types of Bön, as although the word Bön is used to denote many diverse religious and cultural traditions, they can be summed up into four main categories:

– Gdod ma’i bon, the Prehistoric Bön of Zhang Zhung and Tibet: an extremely ancient system of beliefs and ritual practices, largely extinct today. A small part of it is represented by the traditions of lha pa and dpa’ bo, some aspects of which can be compared with Siberian shamanism;
– G.yung drung bon, sometimes also called bon rnying ma: the teachings of the Central Asian Buddha Mu ra ta hen known in Tibet under the name Ston pa Gshen rab mi bo.
– Bon gsar ma, New Bön: a syncretic tradition created in the 8th century AD through the amalgamation of Yungdrung Bön and Shakyamuni’s Buddhism which was newly introduced from India.

This is the traditional three-fold classification of Bön religions found in G.yung drung bon texts such as Legs bshad mdzod1 by Shar rdza Bkra shis rgyal mtshan (1859 – 1935), Dpal tshul bstan ‘byungby Dpal ldan tshul khrim (1902 -1973) and ‘Bel gtam lung snying3 by Yongs ‘dzin Slob dpon Bstan ‘dzin rnam dag Rinpoche (b. 1926). Mdo gzer mig4 aslo speaks of bod kyi bon po, followers of gdod ma’i bon as opposed to gshen po, followers of g.yung drung bon.

– Mixed Bön:5  is a blend of these three types of Bön in different proportions, often with the addition of elements from other religions such as Hinduism, Taoism, Himalayan Tribal religions, Native Siberian belief systems etc. Mixed Bön would include Secular Bön or the civil religion of the Himalayan borderlands studied by Charles Ramble in his The Navel of Demoness,6  as well as Buryatian Bѳ Murgel7  from the shores of Lake Baikal, the religion of the Nakhi in Yunnan, and so on.

I would argue that out of these four categories of Bön only one, bon gsar ma, can be tentatively said to have originated in Tibet and even that is a long shot as both elements which constitute it ‒ g.yung drung bon and Indian Buddha-Dharma ‒ came from elsewhere.

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གས་བཤད་མཛོད། Shar rdza bkra shis rgyal mtshan. Legs bshad rin po che’i gter mdzod, xizang ben jiao yuan liu/ Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, Pe cin 1985, 1987.
2 དཔལ་ཚུལ་བསྟན་འབྱུང་། Dpal ldan tshul khrims. Sangs rgyas gyung drung bon gyi bstan pa’i byung ba brjod pa’i legs bshad skal pa bzang po’i mgrin rgyan rab gsal chu shel nor bu’i do shal bzhugs so. Lha sa, bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang / Xi zang ren min chu ban she, 1988. ISBN 7-223-00084-8/K.
3 སྨན་རིའི་ཡོངས་འཛིན་བསྟན་འཛིན་རྣམ་དག་གི་གསུང་འབུམ། གསུང་པོད་གསུམ་པ། བཏན་བྱུང་དང་ལོ་རྒྱུས་ཀྱི་སྐོར། འབེལ་གཏམ་ལུང་གི་སྙིང་པོ། ཁྲི་བརྟན་ནོར་བུ་རྩེའི་དཔེ་མཛོད་ཁང་། Sman ri’i yongs ‘dzin slob dpon bstan ‘dzin rnam dag gig sung ‘bum, Gsung pod gsum pa: Btan byung dang lo kyi skor: ‘Bel gtam lung gi snying po. (Kathmandu: Khri brtan nor bu rtse’i dpe mdzod khang).
4 Gzer mig is said to have been translated from the language of Zhang Zhung either by Ba gor Bai ro tsa na or Sad ne ga’u in the 8th century and re-discovered by Drang rje bTsun pa gser mig in 11th century. (According to Yong ‘dzin Slob dpon Bstan ‘dzin rnam dag, Mdo gzer mig gi dkar chag, f. 3a2.)
5 During the course of my research which led to the publication of Bѳ and Bön: Ancient Shamanic Traditions of Siberia and Tibet in their Relation to the Teachings of a Central Asian Buddha, (Kathmandu: Vajra Publications, 2008) I felt there was a need to add a fourth category which is not reflected in the traditional classification above. I called it Mixed Bön.
6 Ramble, Charles. The Navel of the Demoness: Tibetan Buddhism and Civic Religion in Highland Nepal (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).
7 Bur. бѳѳ мүргэл.
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Deer Cult in Eurasia
Today, gdod ma’i bon is probably not found anywhere in its pure form but some of its cultural and ritual elements live on in other types of Bön, including traditions of lha pa and dpa’ bo and rgyu’i bon or the Causal Vehicles of g.yung drung bon, taught by sTon pa Gshen rab. It is particularly evident in the latter through traces of the pan-Eurasian Sky Deer cult reflected in three ritual traditions from the Shes pa bcu gnyis or Twelve Sciences, marked in bold below:

1. Shes lha bon, The Bön of the Protective Deities
2. G.yang shes phywa bon, The Bön of Prosperity
3. ‘Gro shes glud gtong, The Science of Ransom Rites
4. ‘Dur shes srid gshen, The Shen of Existence who performs the Funerary Rites
5. Gtsang shes sel ‘debs, The Science of Exorcism and Purification
6. ‘Grol shes gtad byad, The Science of Release from Curses
7. Phan shes sman dpyad, The Science of Healing and Therapies
8. Skos shes rtsis mkhan. The Science of the Astrologer who controls the Order of Existence
9. Smrang shes gto dgu, The Science of the To Rites of the Proclamations
10. Lding shes sha ba, The Bön of the Flying Deer
11. ‘Phur shes ju thig, The Science of Juthig Divination
12. Sgrol shes ‘phrul bon, The Bön of Magical Power and Destructive Rites

In the g.yang ‘gug ‒ calling of fortune, bla ‘gugs ‒ re-calling of the bla and mdos ‒ ransom rituals, the figure of the sacred deer plays a central role and many details of both the rituals and the underlying ideology encoded in the smrang, the myths of origin, find direct parallels in the general Cult of the Sky Deer, active traces of which can be found throughout Eurasia and even beyond, in Japan and the Americas.8


One of the earliest tangible pieces of evidence pointing to the Deer Cult in Eurasia is the rock carving of the ‘Sorcerer’ found in the French Pyrenees in the cave of Trois Frêres, dated roughly 13,000 – 14,000 BC (fig. 1). He is wearing a headdress of deer antlers, a bird’s beak and bear’s paws over his hands. Similar costumes have subsequently been worn by priests of various so-called ‘shamanic’ traditions throughout the ages, right up until now, as illustrated by the drawings below.

Fig. 2 shows a ‘shaman’ from a perm’-yugra bronze platelet: Here again we see a very similar kind of costume: a moose head crown, wings and the beak of a bird and, possibly, bear paws. Many similar perm’-yugra pieces are found in the Urals and West Siberia, and are generally dated around 6th-9th c. AD.10

Fig. 3 shows a Buryatian bѳ-priest11  in full ritual dress, and again, there is: maihabshi12  deer-horn crown symbolizing the power of the Sky Deer; malgai-hat,13  made of bear fur worn under the crown, symbolizing the power of the Bear, the owner of the taiga; dalabshi14  – the winged shoulder-piece symbolizing the power of the sacred Eagle, bringer of fire and mystical knowledge. Interestingly, the bѳ’s drum, which is used as a vehicle in the ‘flight of the soul,’ is often called ‘deer’ and has a deer emblem painted on it. The full costume is still in use today in Buryatia and Mongolia as represented by fig. 4.

Fig. 5 shows a metal deer-crown from South Siberia used in rituals by Sel’kup shamans15  as recently as the beginning of the 20th century.

Fig. 6 shows a drawing of a Bönpo priest, based on the original illustration from the Gzer mig manuscript held in Berlin.16  He is wearing a deer-crown, holding a gshang bell ‒ symbol of sound – and a feather, presumably used for khrus lustral-sprinkling purification rites.


All this clearly demonstrates the continuation and tenacity of the Deer Cult throughout Eurasia from Palaeolithic until now. The single most important element in all these variations of ritual dress is the deer-crown. It does not represent an ordinary deer but the Sky Deer which has the ability to fly between different dimensions of the universe, mediate between different classes of beings, and bestow the power of prosperity and good luck: hulde17  in Buryatian and phya g.yang in Tibetan.
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8 For a more detailed examination of this, see Ermakov, Dmitry. Bѳ and Bön, pp. 367-388.
9 Rus. пермско-югорские ‘шаманские’ бляшки.
10 This is according to A. P. Smirnov. I. A. Spitsyn gives 10th-15th c. AD and according to A. P. Smirnov they are ‘before 11th c.’. In Rybakov, Boris. Yazychestvo Drenikh Slavyan, (Moscow: Sofia-Helios, 2002), pp. 55-56.
11 Bur. бѳѳ.
12 Bur. майхабши.
13 Bur. малгай.
14 Bur. далабши.
15 Rus. селькупские шаманы.
16 Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz zu Berlin, Orientabteilung.
17 Bur. һүльдэ.
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Sky Deer
Currently, over 600 Deer Stones (fig. 7) have been discovered scattered all over the Eurasian Great Steppe. The highest concentrations are in Mongolia, Southern Siberia and A mdo. The culture responsible for them is known simply as the Deer Stones Culture and has been dated 2nd to 1st millennium BC. The Deer Stones are divided into three bands: Sky, Middle Space and Earth. The Sky band is carved with circles and sometimes faces representing sun, moon and the sky-dwelling gods; the earth band contains carvings of weapons, tools and humans; the Middle Space band is carved with images of the sacred deer flying towards the Sky, sun, moon and the gods. These deer obviously fulfil the function of messengers and mediators, and this is confirmed by Buryatian Bѳ Murgel myths and cosmology. Interestingly, they fulfil a similar function in the Lower vehicles of g.yung drung bon, as we shall see later. Buryatian Tengeriin sky-gods are also called buga unsan18  (Galloping on the Deer) and have the epithet haliutan from haliun19  meaning ‘deer.’ Many Deer Stones are also inscribed with swastika symbols.



Fig. 8 shows images of the Sky Deer from other locations: Sun Deer from Tagarskaya culture (10th-3rd c. BC), South Siberia; a Scythian armour decoration from Semibratnyi kurgan (6th–5th c. BC), Ukraine, and a bronze platelet from Kobanskaya culture (12th-4th c. BC), Caucasus. The latter two clearly show Deer and fawns positioned above birds, underlining their celestial nature. This is further confirmed by the large body of myths from the Urals and Siberia which place the Deer in the dimension of the Sky and connect them with prosperity. The perm’-yugra platelet from 6th-9th c. AD (fig. 9) confirms this, depicting the Sky Deer carrying olen’tsy-fawns which fall on earth from the sky to populate the forests.



Fig. 10 shows rock carvings of the Deer, from the Zhang Zhung period, discovered in 1988 in Ru thog, North-West Tibet, by the expedition led by Professor Namkhai Norbu. The Deer are surrounded by other carvings of tigers, mythological khyung, g.yung drung, the Bönpo swastika, and some lines which a kind of writing might be. Namkhai Norbu argues that these are not merely animals carved by hunters but are important symbols related to the Bön culture of Zhang Zhung.20  If that is so, then the deer carvings most likely relate to the sacred Sky Deer of rituals pertaining to the Causal Ways of g.yung drung bon.

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18 Bur. буга унсан.
19 Bur. халиутан; халиун.
20 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, Tr. Adriano Clemente, Ed. Nancy Simmons, Photography by Alex Siedlecki. Zhang Zhung: Images from a Lost Kingdom (Arcidosso: Shang Shung Publications, 2010), p. 21.
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Sky Deer in a g.yang ‘gug ritual
One such ritual is the g.yang ‘gug ritual, the Re-calling of the Quintessence of Prosperity and Well-being, published by Samten Karmay in a volume called the Call of the Blue Cuckoo: An Anthology of Nine Bonpo texts on Myths and Rituals. The anonymous Tibetan Text 2A21  contains the origin myth of the White Deer which clearly states its celestial origin, and I have translated two short excerpts here:

ri rab ‘de’i byung phyogs na
[…] To the north of this World Mountain,
g.yu mtsho mer ba’i dkyil shed na
In the centre of the great expanse of the Turquoise Lake,
g.yung drung brag gu zur bzhi yod
There is a Swastika-rock with four corners.
g.yung drung brag gu’i steng shed na
On this Swastika-rock
pha ni gnam sha ru ring yin
[There are] the Father, the Sky Deer with Long Horns,
ma ni dmu sha yu mo yin
[And] the Mother, the Doe of the Mu.
yab yum de gnyis sprul ba’i sras
These two have united and emanated a Son,
dung sha shel ru can cig yod
The White Conch Shell Deer with Crystal Horns.
g.yung drung phywa gzhi de la gyis
Take that [as] the Base of Yungdrung Chya.

This is our Sky Deer – the whole family: father, mother and son – giving us a very clear link to the Eurasian Cult of the Sky Deer. This passage may also explain why a g.yung drung swastika is inscribed next to the deer carvings in Ru thog: it probably represents the swastika-rock and/or g.yung drung phya, the indestructible energy of universal well-being.
     Another quote from this text gives us very precise information about the origin of father Sky Deer:

pha ni gnam sha ru ring yin
[…]As for [my] father, [he] is
the Sky Deer with Long Horns,
gnam lha dkar po’i sprul pa yin
An emanation of Gnam lha dkar po.

Gnam lha dkar po, also known as Gnam theb dkar po and Gnam thib dkar po, was the main protective deity of a temple of the proto-Mongol Hor tribes on the shores of Lake Kokonoor22  known as Bar mda’ hor or Sog g.yung drung gling bon po dgon pa, destroyed by the Tibetan army in the 8th c. AD.23  As I argued in my book Bѳ and Bön, these Hor tribes were an off-shoot of the Hor’ or Hori24  tribe from the shores of Lake Baikal, where they still live today. The original religion of this tribe is Buryatian Bѳ Murgel. If we translate the name Gnam lha dkar po back into Buryatian it will be Sagaan Tengeriin,25  the White Sky-dwelling God. This is a generic name for the Positive White Sky-dwelling Gods of the Bѳ Murgel tradition and this links our Bönpo Gnam sha ru ring, the Sky Deer with Long Horns, to the Bѳ Murgel pantheon and, consequently, to the larger religious and cultural heritage of the Great Steppe and North Asia.26________________________________________

21 Ed. Karmay, Samten G. and Yasuhiko Nagano. The Call of the Blue Cuckoo: An Anthology of Nine Bonpo texts on Myths and Rituals, Senri Ethnological Reports 32, Bon Studies 6 (Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology, 2002), pp. 35-53.
22 Mong. Хѳх нуур; Tib. Mtsho sngon po.
23 Oral information from Yongs ‘dzin Slob dpon Bstan ‘dzin rnam dag Rin po che.
24 Bur. хорь, хори, хорёдой.
25 Bur. сагаан тэнгэриин.
26 Ermakov, D. Bѳ and Bön, pp. 255-264; p. 267, footnote 89.
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Spread of Sky Deer Cult in Eurasia

It would seem clear, then, that certain strains of Tibetan Bön, and the Sky Deer Cult in particular, are directly related to the general culture and religion of Eurasia and did not necessarily originate in the Tibetan Plateau itself. This crude map (fig. 11) is an attempt to visualise how these strains, related to gdod ma’i bon and the Causal Vehicles of g.yung drung bon, could have come in and out of Tibet as the result of the cross-pollination of ideas and practice methods from multiple sources. The nomadic nature of the ancient tribal states contributed to the spread of the Deer Cult throughout Inner Asia, as did dissemination along the ancient trade routes and migrations from the Great Steppe via A mdo, eastern Zhang Zhung in prehistory, and then into the other parts of the plateau. There was most probably another route via the Pamir into West Tibet.



Extra-Tibetan origins of higher doctrines in g.yung drung bon

We have established that many cultural elements of Prehistoric Bön and the Lower Vehicles of g.yung drung bon may well have entered Tibet from elsewhere, but what about the mdo sngags sems gsum: Sutra, Tantra and Rdzogs chen which belong to bras bu’i bon, the higher division of g.yung drung bon tradition? Did they reach Zhang Zhung and Tibet from outside, too? Many Bönpo texts and oral traditions clearly state they did, but since a great number of Bönpo texts were destroyed in the 8th c. AD, many texts of the modern Bön cannon belong to the category of gter ma or rediscovered texts. Many Buddhist and modern Western scholars are sceptical of gter ma and oral traditions, and this casts doubt over claims regarding the origins of higher teachings. However, these claims can in fact be backed up by looking further afield and taking other evidence into consideration. I shall focus on two topics.


Rock carvings and mchod rten from Gzi brjid
Firstly, I shall compare rock carvings of stupas in Gilgit, photographed by Karl Jettmar and Volker Thewalt,27  and mchod rten carvings from Ladakh, photographed by Giuseppe Tucci in 1935 and published by Giacomela Orofino in 1990,28  with drawings from the set of 118 Bönpo mchod rten from a recently published book29  based on a text composed by Yongs ‘dzin Slob dpon Bstan ‘dzin rnam dag Rin po che which in turn is based on Gzi brjid, received in a vision by Blo ldan snying po in 14th c. AD.30 

The most ancient are the tower-stupas in Gilgit from Chilas II, dated 1st c. AD, and from Chilas IV, dated approximately 4th-5th c. AD (fig. 12), followed by two tower mchod rten from Ladakh dated approximately 7th-9th c. AD (fig. 13) and finally, two Bönpo tower mchod rten, the bKra shis sgo mang mchod rten and the dPal thog gsum pa mchod rten, described in Gzi brjid (fig. 14). The similarities here are obvious. Further similarities can be seen between the stupa-temple from Chilas IV (fig. 15) and the Li li bang bang mchod rten (fig. 16), as well as between two rock carvings from Ladakh (fig. 17) and the G.yung drung bkod legs mchod rten described in Gzi brjid (fig. 18).


It seems obvious that all these stupas/mchod rten belong to the same tradition, and indeed, Karl Jettmar and others came to this conclusion a long time ago. But in my opinion, when these rock carvings are pinned against the Gzi brjid mchod rten drawings, there can be no doubt that they stem from a common tradition. Not only do all the mchod rten here have a characteristic Bönpo top (featuring char khebs – parasol; bya ru – horns of khyung; tog – top ornament; bya gri – bird-sword, fig. 19) but also their general structure seems to correspond quite closely to these three types of g.yung drung bon mchod rten.


Teachings on constructing and consecrating mchod rten belong to ‘bras bu bon, the Bön of Result, the higher teachings, so this would suggest the continuity of these higher teachings from well before the 8th c. AD as well as their links with areas west of Tibet. This is further corroborated by the fact that the original titles of many Bönpo texts – such as Theg rim – are still kept in Bru sha, the Burushaski language of Gilgit, the region where the Chilas rock carvings are found, and the genealogy of the Bru Bönpo clan which is said to have come to Tibet from Gilgit.

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27 Jettmar, K. (1985) Non-Buddhist Traditions in the Petroglyphs of the Indus Valley. In J. Schotsmans & M. Taddei, edds., South Asian Archaeology 1983, vol. 2, p. 767; Thewalt, V. (1985) Rockcarvings and Inscriptions along the Indus. The Buddhist Tradition. In J. Schotsmans & M. Taddei, edds., South Asian Archaeology 1983, vol. 2, p. 794; Jettmar K. and V. Thewalt (1987) Between Gandhāra and the Silk Roads. Rock-carvings along Karakorum Highway. Discoveries by German-Pakistani Expeditions 1979-1984. London, photograph 14 – plate 9.
28 Orofino, G. 1990. A note on some Tibetan Petroglyphs of the Ladakh Area. In East and West, vol. 40, pp. 173-200, IsMEO, Roma.
29 Slob dpon Bsan ‘dzin rnam dag, Mkhan po Bstan pa g.yung drung, Dpon slob Tshangs pa bstan ‘dzin, Dge bshes Bsam gtan gtsugs phud, Dge bshes Yon tan phun tshogs, Dge bshes Bstan ‘dzin skal bzang, Kun bzang lhun grub, Phun ko, Blo gros ‘od gsal, Gtsug phud dbang rgyal, Shes rab dbang rgyal, Dpal gyi dbang phyug. Klong las ci yang sprul pa’i mchod rten gyi thig tshad bzgugs so, Si khron rigs dpe skrun khang, 2010, ISBN 978-7-5409-4566-4.
30 Sku gdung bstan pa rjes bzhag gi mdo in Dri ma med pa gzi brjid rab tu ‘bar ba’i mdo, Vol.8; Lho gter rab gnas skor gsum in Brten ‘gyur, Vol. 116; Mchod rten rab gnas skor gsum in Brten ‘gyur, Vol. 116; Mchod rten gyi gzhung in Brten ‘gyur, Vol. 116.
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The Arrow Way episode in Bönpo literature and the ‘archer-god myth’ in thegveda
Secondly, I would like to put forward a tentative hypothesis regarding similarities in certain passages of Gzi brjid and the Ṛgveda I noticed recently.

There are direct parallels between the Mda’ lam or Arrow Way episode in Gzer mig (Vol.II, Ch. 12),31  Gzi brjid (Vol. VIII),32  and a myth found in the Ist (I.61.7) and VIIIth Maṇḍala (VIII.3.19; 69.14; 77.6-11; 96.2; 97.1-2) of Ṛgveda.
Gzi brjid narrates the story of how sTon pa Gshen rab shoots an arrow through an impenetrable mountain range making a tunnel in order to pursue the demon Khyab pa lag ring who has stolen his seven horses. Later, he again shoots an arrow causing healing water to gush forth from a rock.

In the Ṛgveda, it is Indra who pierces the seven or thrice seven mountains, either with an arrow, a thunderbolt or a tuft of darbha-grass in order to retrieve the cows and horses (VIII.97.2) stolen by the asuras as well as to release the waters.

Although this myth is repeated in later Vedic literature such as Taittirịya Sahitā and Caraka Sahitā, to the best of my knowledge, none of these works has been translated into Tibetan. So this raises the question: Why do we find parallel episodes in Bönpo Gzer mig and Gzi brjid? Gzer mig is said to have been translated from the language of Zhang Zhung either by Ba gor Bai ro tsa na or Sad ne ga’u33  in 8th c. AD and rediscovered by Drang rje Btsun pa gser mig in 11th c. AD; Gzi brjid was received in 14th c. AD by a simple goat-herd, Sprul sku Blo ldan snying po (b. 1360), as snyan rgyud, a series of aural transmissions, from an early Bönpo sage Stang chen Mu tsha gyer med.
    
According to F. Kuiper,34  ‘the non-Aryan myth about the ‘archer god’ is ‘grafted upon the Indra-Vṛtra-myth’ and was introduced into the Rigvedic mythology by the vas, who he purports to be of non-Aryan descent. It is far from clear what the ethnic roots of the vas were, but the language of Ṛgveda contains substrata of several non-Aryan languages including Proto-Burushaski and the languages of the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex,35  the BMAC or Oxus civilization. This indicates a point of contact between the Aryans and the BMAC culture, which is dated 2200–1700 BC and occupied the lands of present-day western Tajikistan, southern Uzbekistan, north-eastern Iran, northern Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Many Bönpo sources locate Stag gzig, the cradle of g.yung drung bon, to the north-west of Mt. Ti se, thus BMAC seems to fit into this geographical model. BMAC had an intense cultural exchange with the Andronovo culture dated 2300–1000 BC and located further North. Some scholars hold the view that Andronovo was a proto-Indo-Iranian culture which was either related to BMAC or gradually took it over. (Fig. 20.)



Since the cultural matrix of this myth cannot easily be explained as a straightforward borrowing on the part of the Bönpos from the Vedic literature, it could be explained by a shared cultural environment in the distant past, somewhere in Central Asia to the west and north-west of the Tibetan Plateau. This might be another of several clues pointing to the archaic and Eurasian – rather than specifically Tibetan – origins of g.yungdrung bon.

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31 Bka’ ‘gyur mdo sde, Vol. 29 (Pa), Gzer mig, Vol. 2, p. 185.
32 Gzi brjid, Book 8 (Deb brgyad pa), Bdud khams thar pa bkod pa’i mdo, p. 324.
33 According to Yongs ‘dzin Slob dpon BsTan ‘dzin rnam dag, mDo gzer mig gi dkar chag, f. 3a2.
34 F. B. J. Kuiper, Aryans in Rigveda, (Amsterdam-Atlanta: Rodopi, 1991), pp. 15-18, 43.
35 A. Lubotsky, The Indo-Iranian Substratum, in: Early Contacts between Uralic and Indo-European: Linguistic and Archaeological Considerations, ed. Chr. Carpelan, A. Parpola, P.Koskikallio (Helsinki, Suomalais-Ugrilainen Seura 2001), pp. 301-317; Michael Witzel, Substrate Languages in Old Indo-Aryan (Rigvedic, Middle and Late Vedic), Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies , vol. 5, no. 1 (1999); Michael Witzel, Central Asian Roots and Acculturation in South Asia. Linguistic and Archaeological Evidence from Western Central Asia, the Hindukush and Northwestern South Asia for Early Indo-Aryan Language and Religion. In: T. Osada (ed.), Linguistics, Archaeology and the Human Past. (Kyoto: Indus Project, Research Institute for Humanity and Nature 2005), pp. 87-211.
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Conclusion
As Bön is such a manifold complex phenomenon with multiple origins and wide geographical spread, it demands a matching multi-disciplinary approach and cross-field co-operation if we are to arrive at a better understanding of its pre-8th century forms and verify the information contained in rediscovered texts and oral traditions. In particular, the study of oral traditions and myths has a crucial role to play as these contain direct or coded information which, if pitted against other data from the fields of archaeology, linguistics, anthropology, genetics, textual analysis and so on, can provide us with new perspectives on already seemingly solved puzzles and enigmas which have so far eluded explanation.
   

List of Illustrations
Fig. 1. Rock carving of the ‘Sorcerer, Trois Frêres cave, France. Public domain image.

Fig. 2. ‘Shaman’, a perm’-yugra bronze platelet. Line drawing based on image in Rybakov, Boris. Yazychestvo Drenikh Slavyan, (Moscow: Sofia-Helios, 2002), p. 61.

Fig. 3. A Buryatian bѳ-priest in full attire. Drawing by Richard Williamson.

Fig. 4. Mongol bѳ-priest. Public domain image.

Fig. 5. Sel’kup’s shaman metal deer-crown. Based on the deer-crown held at I. S. Shemanovsky’s Museum and Exhibition Complex, Salekhard, Yamalo-Nents Autonomous Okrug, Russian Federation.

Fig. 6. Bönpo priest. Drawing by Richard Williamson.

Fig. 7. Deer Stones, Mongolia. Adapted from public domain images.

Fig. 8. Sun Deer, Tagarskaya culture, Kuzbass; Scythian armour decoration, Ukraine; Bronze platelet (fragment), Kobanskaya culture, Caucasus. Sun Deer line drawing is based on a prehistoric petroglyph first published in Okladnikov, A. P. & Martynov, Sokrovishcha tomskih pisanic (Moskva: A. I.1972); Other line drawings based on images in Rybakov, B. Yazychestvo Drenikh Slavyan, p. 73.

Fig. 9. Sky Deer carrying olen’tsy-fawns, perm’-yugra platelet. Line drawing based on image in Rybakov, Boris. Yazychestvo Drevnikh Slavyan, p. 56.

Fig. 10. Rock carving from Ru thog (inversed). Photo by Alex Siedlecki from Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, Tr. Adriano Clemente, Ed. Nancy Simmons, Photography by Alex Siedlecki. Zhang Zhung: Images from a Lost Kingdom (Arcidosso: Shang Shung Publications, 2010),  p. 21. Image inversed in order to make the carvings stand out better.

Fig. 11. Spread of the Deer Cult in Eurasia. Computer graphics by the author.

Fig. 12. Tower-stupas, Chilas II and Chilas IV. Tower-stupa Chilas II after Jettmar K. and V. Thewalt (1987) Between Gandhāra and the Silk Roads. Rock-carvings along Karakorum Highway. Discoveries by German-Pakistany Expeditions 1979-1984. London, photograph 14 – plate 9; Tower-stupa Chilas IV after Jettmar, K. (1985) Non-Buddhist Traditions in the Petroglyphs of the Indus Valley. In J. Schotsmans & M. Taddei, edds., South Asian Archaeology 1983, vol. 2, p. 767, Fig. 13.

Fig. 13. Two tower mchod rten, Ladakh. After Orofino, G. 1990. A note on some Tibetan Petroglyphs of the Ladakh Area. In East and West, vol. 40, pp. 173-200, IsMEO, Roma, pp. 182-183: Fig. 2, Fig. 3.

Fig. 14. Two Bönpo tower mchod rten described in Gzi brjid. In Slob dpon Bsan ‘dzin rnam dag, Mkhan po Bstan pa g.yung drung, Dpon slob Tshangs pa bstan ‘dzin, Dge bshes Bsam gtan gtsugs phud, Dge bshes Yon tan phun tshogs, Dge bshes Bstan ‘dzin skal bzang, Kun bzang lhun grub, Phun ko, Blo gros ‘od gsal, Gtsug phud dbang rgyal, Shes rab dbang rgyal, Dpal gyi dbang phyug. Klong las ci yang sprul pa’i mchod rten gyi thig tshad bzgugs so, Si khron rigs dpe skrun khang, 2010, pp. 33, Fig. 96; p.36, Fig. 107.

Fig. 15. Stupa, Chilas IV. Thewalt, V. (1985) Rockcarvings and Inscriptions along the Indus. The Buddhist Tradition. In J. Schotsmans & M. Taddei, edds., South Asian Archaeology 1983, vol. 2, p. 794, Fig. 16.

Fig. 16. Li li bang bang mchod rten described in Gzi brjid. In Klong las ci yang sprul pa’i mchod rten gyi thig tshad bzgugs so,
p. 26, Fig. 73.

Fig. 17. Two mchod rten, Ladakh. After Orofino, G. A note on some Tibetan Petroglyphs of the Ladakh Area. p. 185, Fig 7; p. 198,    Fig. 40.

Fig. 18. G.yung drung bkod legs mchod rten. Drawing by Yongs ‘dzin Slob dpon Bstan ‘dzin rnam dag.

Fig. 19. Bönpo mchod rten top. Computer graphics by the author.

Fig. 40. Zhang Zhung, BMAC and Andronovo culture. Computer graphics by the author.


Copyright © Dmitry Ermakov, 2011.

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