ZhangZhung-Yungdrung Bon
Pure ZhangZhung Shenpo-Yungdrung Bon of Lord Buddha Tonpa Shenrab



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)


When I began to complete my full ordination as a monk I was told that it was not necessary to join in with other groups calling themselves “Bon.”  In one way this is also reflected in the ancient teachings of Buddha Tonpa: “Truth and falsehood there may be, but make true distinction,” and, “Do not show a smiling countenance to one who comes with deceiving words.”  There are many religious “salesmen” that will come to your door with ulterior motives or with misinformation.  There are all types of these on the internet.  Since I started using the internet I have come to find many of these false teachers misrepresenting the teachings of Yungdrung Bon.  These range from people more interested in selling books “about” Tibetan Buddhism to small groups who exploit and misrepresent the truth of Bon and Tibetan culture in general.

The “Bon” tradition did not originate from India or Buddha Shakyamuni.  The original Bon tradition, referred to as “Yungdrung Bon”, and “Shenpo” or “ZhangZhung Shenpo”, originated with Buddha Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche from the Pure Land of Olmolungring.  This is we refer to as “Orthodox Yungdrung Bon”.

Lord Tonpa Shenrab came to Tibet at least once and taught some of the people there.  He found that the majority of Tibetans at the time were not ready for his teachings. It is said that some of the Tibetans during this time were following a shamanic type religion which involved many animal sacrifices, sorcery and dark magic.  This type of Bon, called “old Bon” was not the religion founded by Lord Tonpa.

The religion of Lord Tonpa has been referred to as “Yungdrung Bon”, meaning “Eternal Bon” or “Eternal Way”, “Eternal Law.”  As noted above this is also referred to as “ZhangZhung Shenpo”, specifically meaning the religion brought by Lord Tonpa Shenrab that originated in Olmolungring and brought to ZhangZhung, as opposed to other Bon traditions.  This latter name also assists in differentiating the various Tibetan “Bon” sects that no longer follow the original teaching of the religion, but rather follow after a new school, also referring to itself as “Bon”.

This third sect is referred to as “New Bon.”  The book Bon Po Hidden Treasures, by Jean-Luc Achard (Brill, 2004), says, “The New Bon…represents a new current of teachings related to both Eternal Bon and to” the Nyingmapa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism… “adepts of Eternal Bon…consider [New Bon] as being tinged with Buddhist teachings most likely linked to Padmasambhava.”

The Yungdrung Bon tradition within ZhangZhung does not look at Padmasambhava as an enemy or opponent of the pure teaching of Lord Tonpa Shenrab. Rather, it frowns on any unnecessary innovations and anything that is not from the authentic source, Buddha Tonpa.  Viewed in the right light, Padmasambhava becomes a friend to the purity of Bon and can be seen as the equivelant of Buddha Tonpa himself, much in the same was we see Amitabha of the Pure Land sect of Buddhism as being the same person as Buddha Tonpa.  Neither does the true Bon speak disparagingly of Buddha Shakyamuni.  Rather, those who practice Pure Shenpo, and some other Bon traditions understand Shakyamuni to have been a disciple of Buddha Tonpa.  This is why I encourage the study of Buddha Shakyamuni’s teaching, especially as found in the Dhammapada.

Zhangzhung Shenpo-Yungdrung Bon is based on the teachings and words of Lord Buddha Tonpa Shenrab from Olmolungring.  This is what we believe to be the authentic source.  We see no reason to make innovations that run against the grain of his pure teachings.  This is why we call his teachings the “Pure Shenpo.”

The reason a distinction must be made in this case with the various schools within the Bon traditions of Tibet is mainly due to misrepresentation of the teachings of the founder of Yungdrung Bon (Buddha Tonpa), and due to the fact that there are so many so called Buddhist sects that incorporate New Age elements, supplanting the ancient, authentic teachings of Buddha Tonpa.

The teachings of Buddha Tonpa Shenrab are not limited to Tibet, China or any other particular land.  Lord Tonpa Shenrab’s teachings are universal and applicable to all of humanity, especially during these times which are so very uncertain for many people today.  The Orthodox Yungdrung Bon of Lord Buddha Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche bring hope, comfort and perfection to those who undertake its study and practice seriously.


Lord Tonpa ShenrabBuddha Tonpa Shenrab,
“I bow in respect to You who,
Being motivated by compassion for all sentient beings
Of this cyclic existence who are difficult to subdue;
Relieved their suffering from afflictions
And released them from the lower realms;
Leading them to the path of liberation.”

(Zit. Nach Sangye Tandar The Twelve Deeds, A Brief Life Story of Tonpa Shenrab the Founder of the Bon Religion)


Homage to Kuntu Zangpo
Who is one’s own Self-Awareness
Without obscurations!

In the ZhangZhung Shenpo-Yungdrung Bon, Kuntu Zangpo is often referred to as a god or deity.  Within Bonpo there are many different deities, each with their own personalities and traits.  As mentioned in the pamphlet “Bonpo Deities“, in the Bonpo tradition of Lord Buddha Tonpa “we have a division between the gods of the higher spheres and the demi-gods and minor deities who remain active in our world today.”

In the Pure Shenpo, the original teachings of Lord Tonpa Shenrab from ancient text, oral tradition and divine transmission, we understand that Kuntu Zangpo is not of “equal level” to Sangpo Bumtri, the creator deity, also called “Father.”

Kuntu Zangpo is better understood as the Primordial Buddha from which Lord Shenrab was emanated and took a human body for the benefit of all sentient beings. He is also referred to in Sanskrit by the name “Samantabhadra.” The name Kuntu Zangpo means “that which is most excellent and present in all places.”  Thus our ancient texts refer to Kuntu Zangpo as being “Self-Awareness”, “True Self” and “Source of the Self”.

In the introduction to an English translation of selections from the Bonpo Book of the Dead, John Myrdhin Reynolds says, “The Homage, with which the Tibetan text opens, Kuntu bzang-po rang-rig gsal-bar ston la phyag ‘tshal-lo, invokes the Primordial Buddha Kuntu Zangpo (…Skt. Samantabhadra) as being the Self-Awareness (rang-rig) which clearly reveals itself (gsal-ba ‘iston) at the heart or core of every single individual sentient being.

This Self-Awareness clearly reveals and shows itself in the guise of the ordinary everyday conscious life of the individual. Consciousness or awareness in it self testifies to the presence of Kuntu Zangpo, the Primordial Buddha.  For that reason, the very name Kuntu Zangpo itself points to the meaning: that which is most excellent (bzang-po) is present every where (kuntu) in every sentient being.

This presence is what makes a sentient being (sems-can) sentient.  This indicates the presence in sentient beings of an intrinsic Awareness (rig-pa). One that is in itself beyond time and space, but which engages itself in the ifinitudes of time and space.”

Within ZhangZhung Shenpo we speak of being united with the “True Self”, the Primordial Buddha, who is represented by Lord Buddha Tonpa Shenrab himself.  When desires and obscurations are removed, we are in a better position to see this truth, that we are and always have been, a part of the True Self – Buddha Tonpa, our own father.  By faithfully practicing the teachings of Buddha Tonpa Shenrab according to his own instructions, outside the misconceptions of false teachers, and having faith in him, we become one with the True Self and our Awareness reaches a higher level.

Reynolds writes that “Kuntu Zanpo, the Primordial Buddha…is, therefore, like a mirror that reflects everything.  Kuntu Zangpo is the Bodhichitta or the Nature of Mind as such… He has never been touched or corrupted by the emotional defilements…that represent the actual causes of Samsara…Therefore, He represents a state of total primordial purity (ka-dag chen-po) and is the embodiment of the Dharmakaya itself (bon-sku), the ultimate aspect of Buddhahood and enlightenment.

With reference to the Dharmakaya, the same designation of Kuntu Zangpo is employed for the Primordial Buddha in the scriptures of both the Old Schools, the Nyingmapa and the Bonpo.  Although Kuntu Zangpo represents the Primordial Buddha who has been enlightened from the very beginning (ye sangs-rgyas), nevertheless, He is equally present in the heart and at the core of every single sentient being as the Base (gzhi) or the Primordial State of the individual.

As the Dharmakaya, He is without boundaries, without limitations, without definitions, without any divisions, like the infinite sky itself.  He is totally all-pervading and all-encompassing (khyab bdal chen-po).  Because He is totally devoid of and in no way limited by any conceptions or discursive thoughts whatsoever, inconographically he is represented as a nude Buddha figure, lacking any ornaments or adornments, sitting in meditation position in the center of the infinitude of space.  He is shown in meditation position or samadhi-mudra because He represents the state of pure contemplation that is beyond the workings of the mind and its conceptual limitations…He sits upon an immaculate lotus blossom because He embodies a total primordial purity.

Kuntu Zangpo is the essence of enlightenment or the Bodhichitta (byang-chub sems) who has been wholly present from the very beginning as purity and perfection, but who has gone unrecognized by ordinary deluded sentient beings, still caught up in Samsara, due to the arising of adventitious obscurations that conceal and cloud the presence of the primordial enlightenment which is Kuntu Zanpgo.”

If we remove the mental and physical obscurations from our path, we are able to move beyond the mundane to the highly spiritual, thus bringing about a higher awareness and the ability to dive into the great perfection teaching of Buddha Tonpa Shenrab.

Homage to Kuntu Zangpo
Who is one’s own Self-Awareness
Without obscurations!


Practitioners of the pure Bon “look to a prehistoric Buddha from Tazik (stag-gzig), in Central Asia, as the source of their tradition. The title Tonpa (ston-pa) means ‘teacher’ in the sense of the original founder of a spiritual tradition, who is the source of this revelation. According to Bonpo belief, Tonpa Shenrab was not merely a priest or shaman, but a fully enlightened Buddha (sangs-rgyas)…

The title Shenrab Miwoche means ‘the great human being who is the supreme Shen practioner.’ The ancient word gshen is untranslateble and is sometimes used as a synonym for Bon and Bonpo. Shen was also the name of the clan to which Tonpa Shenrab belonged, that is, dMu-gshen, the celestial Shen. The Shen clan (gshe gdung-rus) continues as one of the principal Bonpo lineages even today. In the early days, transmission of the teachings was often through family lineages.” -Bonpo Dzogchen Teachings.


According to Bon tradition, the world and all physical things within it came into existence from a mystical and celestial “egg”. This tradition is ancient in origin.  Sangpo Bumtrie, the Father of the World and Great Creator Deity, formed the egg and that which hatched from it has been sustained by the Lord Buddha Tonpa Shenrab.

The evil and wicked acts in the world were brought about by the unwholesome desires of human beings.  These desires have brought about serious consequences in the world.  Lord Buddha Tonpa Shenrab manifested himself with the express purpose of relieving the sufferings of all sentient beings.


Tonpa Shenrab was manifested as Chimed Tsugphud (‘…Immortal [Master] with a Top-knot’) in his previous [incarnation], and Sakyamuni Buddha was a disciple of his called Sangwa Dupa…

After that life, during Tonpa Shenrab’s time, Sakyamuni Buddha was again one of his main disciples, named Lhabu Dampa Tobkarpo… [Sakyamuni Buddha] asked his teacher [Buddha Tonpa Shenrab] what could he do to help sentient beings, and Tonpa Shenrab told him that he should help the people in India, who were following religion with the wrong view. For that purpose Tonpa Shenrab gave Lhabu Dampa Tobkarpo [Sakyamuni Buddha] an initiation so that in [the future] …he would not forget the teachings.

Thus, he was born in India as prince of the Sakya clan and taught following the instructions given previously to him by his teacher, Tonpa Shenrab, benefiting many sentient beings.” (Encyclopedia of Monasticism by William M. Johnston, Claire Renkin)


The process of receiving has three aspects, connected with the abbot, the teacher and the witness. The abbot is likened to a golden shrine. The witness is likened to a firm mountain. The teacher is likened to an immaculate crystal ball.

Their freedom from defect is of three kinds: There is no defect in the lustre of a golden shrine. There is no defect in the height of a firm mountain. There is no defect in the light of an immaculate crystal ball. They are free from defects and free from error.

With one’s threefold mind, avoiding the heaps of distractions of body, speech and mind, with the devotion of all three, one should receive initiation with joy, faith and devotion in the presence of the abbot, the teacher and the witness.

One must cut off completely the pervasive influences of teh Three Evils and one will gain the fruit of knowledge of the Three Buddha Bodies. What you promise in the presence of the twitness is not only a promise, but it is a vow. If you break an oath, the good effects are destroyed.

Love, compassion, equanimity, these three, method, manner, practice, these three, must be taken up with a completely pure disposition. (Lord Buddha Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche)


Samanta Bhadra source of all Buddhas and the great bliss

Mawe Senge, the source of wisdom who has overcome forgetfulness

Nyamed Sherab Gyaltsen crown of the Bon tradition of the world

I offer my prayer to you Sherab Gyaltsen.


Namo Lume kyapch’og namkyi chinlap tang
Blessings without error is the excellent refuge,

Namkar getsok druppe nut’u tang
The power of beneficent acts,

Bönnyi nampar dagpe dentop kyi
The power of pure truth, that there is a reality:

Jitar mönpe donkun drup gyurcig
May it be the goal of every prayer.

Tenpe nyingpo sanggye yungdrung bön
Spreading the essence of all the doctrines of the Eternal Bon

Tendzin pönlob shedrup p’elwa tang
Evolving knowledge and practices of his followers, teachers and students.

Tenjin ngat’ang longcho gyepa tang
Increase the wealth and prosperity to those who support the Bon.

Tenpa sit’e bardu ne gyurcig
And do not be delay teachings until the end of time.

K’eypar jetsun nyame lama yi
In particular, the Right Honorable and unsurpassed Lama,

Ringluk t’rulme shenten shen po ling
The system that is without error at Shenpo monastery, where he teaches the doctrine of Shenrab

Dongak nyida sungdrel tenpe ch’og
Excellent teachings of uniting monastic and secret doctrine, as the sun and moon,

Dukun nyamme yungring ne gyurcig
May it never be broken, and may it remain forever.

Denyi dzinkyong pelwe soldzinpe
Ts’ungme lame shape tenpa tang

May the Unparalleled Lama live long,
Supporting, protecting and extending the Bon tradition;

Namdag dude darshing gyepa tang
May its collection continue to grow

Nyenpe drakpe sating k’yab gyurcig
May its glory spread over over all the world!

De la tenne k’anyam drowa kun
May all living beings, innumerable as the sky,

Nemug tr’ugtso rabtu shiwa tang
Live without disease, wars and quarrels,

P’ende kyipe nyima bum sharne
May the hundreds of thousands of suns of happiness, prosperity and peace be upon them,

T’artu’ug dzok sang gyepe trashi sho
T’artu’ug dzok sang gyepe trashi sho

May they all see nothing but good in their path, Perfect Enlightenment!
May they all see nothing but good in their path, Perfect Enlightenment!

Adapted from a prayer composed by Abbot Monastery Norbu Ling – Nyima Tendzin Vanggi Gyalpoy in 1846.


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