Within the Yungdrung Bon religion, members of a family form a very close bond. The family is considered to be a sacred foundation, a guide post to their community and in some cases a safeguard to specific spiritual lineages. In almost all communities, the Bonpos hold the family unit in high regard, and as such the family has certain moral and social obligations to uphold.
Last night I received three questions regarding the Bonpo view of incest. This is a very sensitive topic that is usually not discussed among Tibetans, especially in the open. Nonetheless, it is a problem in some communities of Tibet and India and those who are asking with a genuine heart should be answered openly.
While I come from a Tibetan background, I’ll admit that I’m not an expert on the various cultural aspects of all the many different Tibetan communities (there are several). Each community often has their own traditions when it comes to family relationships and children. With this being said, I can only provide information from my own tradition, and thus I hope this is helpful to the reader who asked these questions. I welcome responses from others who are familiar with their own traditions.
What is the Bonpo view of incest?
There are different views on the issue depending on the particular Tibetan community. However, most Bonpo view incest as being equal to murder. In ZhangZhung Shenpo-Yungdrung Bon, marriage and relations between a father and daughter, mother and son, as well as brother and sister are prohibited. Other prohibited relations include: grand-father and grand-daughter, grand-mother and grand-son, uncle and niece, aunt and nephew, including first, second and third cousins. Some communities may prohibit marriage between individuals up to the seventh generation.
If a couple has committed incest, how is this dealt with?
There is a traditional confession and ritual, which includes an offering according to the means of the individuals involved, to obtain absolution of the crime. No stigma is placed upon the individuals after they have received a certificate of absolution. The absolution ritual may also require a pilgrimage.
If the couple have a child from an incestuous relationship, how is the child viewed?
Many Tibetan communities view a child which was born from an incestuous relation as being unable to have a proper place within their society, while others speak of the child as never having the ability to purify itself. These thoughts are based on both religious ideals and Tibetan culture without a full agreement between all Tibetan communities. While orthodox Yungdrung Bon is from a Tibetan culture, its adherents know that the religion itself is universal and should not be based solely on the cultural aspects of any particular Tibetan community. Thus, it is believed that such a child should be raised with the best possible care in a loving and caring environment. There are many difficulties in providing details as to such cases, as these are best dealt with initially by a community elder or judge. In any case, the child should be seen as being the innocent victim and should never be stigmatized by family or those who know of the situation. Extending love and compassion should be the top priority in all situations.
(Black and white illustration courtesy of Stock.xhchng)