The animist religion preceded Tibetan Buddhism by several centuries and is considered one of the oldest religions still practised in the world. Its 34th leader was chosen after almost a year of mystical practices.
Dharamsala (AsiaNews) – After almost a year of mystical practices, Kyabje Menri Trizin Geshe Dawa Dhargye is the new leader of Bon, an ancient Tibetan religious tradition.
The new Menri Trizin was officially enthroned in a solemn two-day ceremony at the Pal Shenten Menriling monastery (northern India) in the presence of exiled Tibetan political leaders, including the President of the Tibetan Central Administration Lobsang Sangay.
The new spiritual leader was identified through the Lha Sung Den Terwa, a process by which the names of candidates are removed in consultation with protectors chosen for the wisdom of their teachings and knowledge of ritual practices. The Lha started on 19 December 2017 and involved some 60 candidates.
The term Bon refers to Tibet’s pre-Buddhist tradition whose traits were originally shamanic. The main practitioners, the Bonpo, were mainly concerned with healing the fate of the soul after death and the welfare and prosperity of the living through the appropriate propitiatory rites.
This follows the practice of venerating Tibetan kings who, after their death, were accompanied in the otherworld by animal spirits (especially the yak and the horse), sacrificed during the funeral.
These traditions were largely suppressed when Buddhism became ascendant around the 8th and 9th centuries. However, after a period of religious conflict, the two traditions changed each other.
Today’s Bon, the so-called Yungdrun Bon or Eternal Bon, developed as Buddhism underwent a revival but has remained separate. It is very similar to Tibetan Buddhism, yet distinct with its own identity.
Today about 10 per cent of Tibetans follow the Bon tradition to some extent. A substantial number of believers can be found even in the West (in countries like Italy), often practising Tibetan Buddhism at the same time.
In Tibet some 264 Bon monasteries, convents or hermitages actively follow the tradition.