It is believed that bon belief is the indigenous Pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet that signifies truth, reality and true doctrine for Bonpo, follower of Bon. This faith was very much popular in the west of Tibet from third century AD. This is a shamanistic and animistic practices to contact with the nature through priest known as Shen or Bon.
According to Bonpo belief, eighteen enlightened teachers will be appeared in this aeon and Tonpa Shenrab, the founder of this religion, is the enlightened teacher of this period. It is believed that he was born in the mythical land of Olmo Lung Ring which is still not clearly identified. Traditionally described that this land is dominated by Mount Yung-drung Gu-tzeg (edifice of Nine Swostika) which is assumed as located in the region of sacred Mount Kailash in the western Tibet. There is a perception that he learned this Bon religion at first in the heaven and he made a solemn promise on the feet of the god of compassion, Shenla Okar, to deliver his teaching to all the human being. At the age of 31 he renounced the world and commenced to preach this doctrine to help people remove from the misery and suffering. He went to the way to region of Mount Kailash known Zhang-zhung Kingdom in north west of Tibet to propagate this religion. So, this is the principal seat of Bon belief. Thus, devotees of this belief come here for pilgrimage and they circumambulate the holy mountain, Mount Kailash, in anti-clockwise direction.
In the history of Tibet, according to the inscription that found in the tomb of King Senalek (Trisong Desong), the term bon refers to the royal priest whose job was to perform rituals for the Yarlung Kings. Before the 33rd tubo king Srong btsan gampo, all kings were highly influenced and the followers of Bon and their priest was known as Bon too. The implantation of Buddhism among royal family as well as its people in 8th century in Tibet was highly succeeded, however some royal members were still active in Bon belief. Thus, once again Bon was in power when Langderma killed his own brother King Ralpachen (a pious follower of Buddhism) and took a power in 837CE. The new king Langderma who was a follower of Bon, flourished this faith in his kingdom until he was assassinated by a Buddhist monk. After that event during long time Bon and Buddhism lived together which made them influenced each other. So, the “new or reformed Bon” was appeared known as White Bon in which the teaching of Buddha was absorbed as the teaching of Tonpa Shenrab. Similarly, lot of Bon practices were penetrated in Buddhism at that period.
The two types of Bon are recognized: Black Bon (the ancient one) and White Bon (the new reform one). The followers of Bon believe that every nature has their own spirit, because of their temperament good harvest, natural disaster etc. could be happened. Thus, to keep them calm or control mountain, forest, water demon the magical ritual and hex are executed by the Ancient Bon or Black Bon often involving sacrifice. The priests also perform rituals to propitiate local spirits and ensure the well-being of the dead in after life.
The nine ways of Bon are the popular doctrines that taught by the enlightened Tonpa Shenrab:
- Phyva-gshen theg-pa (the way of prediction) – Four general practices: divination (mo), astrology calculation (rtsis), various rituals (gto), and medical diagnosis (dypad) are included in this way.
- sNang-shen theg-pa (the way of visual world or visible manifestation) – This is related with overpowering or placating the gods and demons of this world. The ritual performed for the benefit of demandant. These bring worldly prosperity and depend on the magical powers of those who execute them and involved with exorcism.
- Phrul-gshen theg-pa (the way of illusion or magical power) – This is a way to counteract the influences of demonic beings, protect people from harmful forces, and perform rituals of exorcism.
- Srid-gshen theg-pa (the way of existence) – It concerned with caring for living and the dead. Protecting the life force of living beings and bring back the spirits of the dead. These first four ways include the indigenous folk religious practices of Tibet, many of which are of ancient origin.
- dGe-bsnyen theg-pa (the way of a lay followers) – It refers to those who follow the practice of the ten virtues and the ten perfections and build and worship stupas.
- Drnag-srnng theg-pa (the way of a monk) – This is the way of strict ascetic discipline and meditative training. The symbol of this vehicle is the swastika in anticlockwise direction.
- Adkar theg-pa (the way of primordial sound) – It deals with higher tantric practice and meditation. White A refers to the emanation of five parts mandala from the translucent center of a Tibetan letter A. It is responsible for making offerings to deities using nine vessels and nine Tormas and for maintaining the order of world through their rituals and chants and with special songs called Gshenglu correspond to Nyingma Mahayoga tantra.
- Ye-gshen tehg-pa (the way of primordial shen) – This is a way to guidelines for seeking a true tantric master and the commitments (dam tshigs, parallel to the Sanskrit samaya) that bind a disciple to his tantric master. It corresponds to those of the Nyingma Anuyoga tantras.
- Bla-med theg-pa (the way of supreme doctrine) – Bon teachings of the great perfection (rdzogs chen) which correspond to those of the Nyingma order. Bonpos consider Dzogchen to be the supreme of all meditative path.
Like in Buddhism, Bon also bears peaceful and wrathful deities. It has many mythical creatures which are similar to Tibetan Buddhism. One of the principal monasteries of Bon is Menri monastery located between Lhasa and Shigatse.