the Bon Religion
The ancient Boil religion of Tibet comprises a number of branches, and it developed in various stages. In Bon sources, the wriginal site of Bon merges with the birthplace of its founder, Shenrab Miwo, v/ho was bom miraculously at Olmo Lungring, which some sources locate in the land of Takzig or Persia; while others identify ii with the kingdom of Zhang-Zhung. Whatever the truth of the matter, Bon spread thanks to the cultural influence of Zhang-Zhuag and reached Tibet well before there was any contact with Buddhism, it appears that in Tibet, B5ai merged w'ub ancient magical and folk beliefs, the ''nameless reli-, gion."' and ,eventually came w form what .is known a?, "orga-
nt/' Bftn-" ihf;re two types of priew, the -J,en and the amJ cW teaching included royal muak, methods of divination and astrology, rites for prosperity, longevity, healing, and exorcism, as well as very waited spintuat teachings such as Dzogchen, which ts also found in Buddhism.
When it eventually made contact with Buddhism, Bon had to integrate numerous Buddhist elements in order to survive the prohibitions that were placed upon it. This osmosis was so successful that nowadays the B6n is often regarded as a marginal schoot of lamaism, known as transformed Bon or Gyur Bon.
Modern Bon has its monastic orders and canonical texts, and its various practices are classified into nine vehicles, following the model used by the Nyingrm Buddhists. Only some of these, However, correspond, namely those which deal with discipline, Tantrism, and D2ogchen. There is no doubt that certain interchanges occurred between Buddhism and Bon, some by force anc! others voluntarily. It would be absurd, however, to suggest that the highest spiritual elements of Bon are all late borrowings from Buddhism.
Astrology assumes considerable importance in the Bon tradition: in the first vehicle, the Cha% Sbert gyi Thekpthe "Vehicle of the Shen of Prediction," astrology is Associated with other methods of divination and enters inro different rites intended to ward off the negative influences that sometimes threaten the lives of human beings. Ir also plays,» pan in medical diagnosis.
According to the lift, which has been translated in par! hv David Snellgrove,1 this vt-hicie uses four methods: divination or mo; astrological calculations or hi. ritual or to, and diagnostics or cbe. As far as astrology ¡> concerned:
There are four up-"- oi asti olog-.cal eJcuUdon: The mirror of magical horoscopes-; the cialc oi P«Uw U^wms) ami Mewas (,tuKu- squares in <> colours); the Wheel oil. meot the elements; and the calculation ot interdependence by <hv hak method,
Of these methods, Mnva arid Parkha an- of Chinese origin and as w shall see, they are highly developed in both Chinese and Tibetan Jungtst astrology. The Mewas, combined in cycles of 60 years, form great cycles of 180 years, the metreng, which the B5npos have long used iti chronology-—the first metreng cycle is regarded as beginning with the birth of Shcnrab Miwo.
Vf'i may also note the importance of the astrology of the elements in certain rituals intended to strengthen vitality and improve good luck and prosperity, such as the Wind Horse, the n&mkha, colored threads wound together and used to rebalance elemental forces, the do rituals, and so on, all of which constitute a cycle of ancient rites found in Bon and later adopted by Buddhism.
The cosmogonic myths of Bon assume numerous forms, but there are always rwo constants: creation from cosmic eggs; and the dualistic nature of creation, which begins with the formation of a divine world of light and a demonic world of darkness. The influence of sV.e Persian Mazda religions is clear in these dualistic myths, and i: can be assumed that Mesopotamian astrological knowledge also i cached Tibet through Bon,
At the center of the world is the axial mountain, Mount Ti Se. This is the meeting point between heaven and earth, arid at its peak there is a celestial ladder, namtak-, analogous to the mtt cord of the hrst kings. This is also where the 360 Geko gods dwell, 3} mboh/iing [he 360 days of the lunar year.
The divine palate is in the form of a square, with four doors representing rhe- four cardinal points. These doors are guarded by a white tiger (T.astj, a turtle (North), a red bird (West), and a turquoise dragon (South), the divinities of the four directions, flerer we see a probable Chinese influence,
Tiit 360 Geko gods are also assoc iated with a Bon divination method, Juibik whu.li uses small pieces of string. These represent the tetiiiut- ol a vet y important god, Balchen Geko, who is ck-scribed aj follows: he has nine heads and eighteen arms, is yellow- and very wiathful. The eagle Khyung flies above his head and 3k- came:, i sword marked with a swastika. He sits on eight -sriakv-s and he it adorned with the skins of men and demons. -In his belt, five poisonous snakes are intertwined, and the Fid* MahSdevas or great gods form his crown, Hb symbols are "he eight planets and the rwenty-cight lunar mansions are his clothes. Since he is said to govern t,me and the three worlds of existence, he may be the supreme deity of Bon astrology analogous in this respect to Kllacakra among the Buddhists or Siva among the Hindus.
The Bon vehicle includes important cultural elements and has played a seminal role in the development of Tibetan astrology.
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