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From Bhakti to Bon

Festschrift for Per Kvrne

Edited by

Hanna Havnevik
Charles Ramble

Contents

Acknowledgements ............................................................................ xi
editorial note ..................................................................................... xii
Tabula Gratulatoria ........................................................................... xiii
HAnnA HAvnevikindologist, tibetologist
and Historian of Religions: the Academic
Career of Per kvrne.......................................................................... 1
Rinzin tHARgyAlA Poem Written in Honour of
Professor Per kvrne on his 70th Birthday......................................... 19
JeAn-luC ACHARdles enseignements de lA khrid
selon g.yor po Me dpal (11341169) et leurs
dveloppements ultrieurs................................................................. 21
AgAtA BAReJA-stARzyskAA Bonpo text on the
Propitiation of serpent deities
(Klu bum dkar po) in Mongolian...................................................... 39
CHRistoPHeR i. BeCkWitH And MiCHAel l. WAlteRdating
and Characterization of the Old Tibetan Annals
and the Chronicle ............................................................................... 53
yAel BentoRWomen on the Way to enlightenment..................... 89
dAniel BeRounskyA dialogue between
the Priest and the deer....................................................................... 97
Henk BlezeRnotes on an unidentified thangka
of the Black-Cloak Mahkla............................................................113
kAtiA BuffetRillesome Remarks on Bya rung
kha shor and other Buddhist replicas in A mdo................................. 133
CAtHy CAntWell And RoB MAyeRthe Winged
and the fanged ..................................................................................153

viii

TaBlE oF ConTEnTs

geoff CHilds And nAMgyAl CHoeduPfrom


servant (g.yog mo) to disciple (slob ma): Modernity,
Migration, and evolving life Course options
for Buddhist nuns .............................................................................171
MiCHelA CleMentethe literary Work of lHa btsun
Rin chen rnam rgyal..........................................................................185
elenA de Rossi filiBeCk disegni di strumenti
Magici (zor) da un Manoscritto trovato a lamayuru...................... 201
Heidi fJeld And Benedikte v. lindskogontological
separation in a state of Continuity: exploring tibetan
and Mongolian domestic space .......................................................209
AMy HelleRthree early Bonpo thangka
and their Consecration inscriptions .................................................225
nAtHAn W. Hillsome tibetan first-Person Plural
inclusive Pronouns............................................................................241
tHeResiA HofeRBodies in Balance and Biographies of
objects: the Art of tibetan Medicine............................................. 249
toni HuBeRdescent, tutelaries and Ancestors. transmission
among Autonomous, Bon Ritual specialists in eastern
Bhutan and the Mon-yul Corridor.................................................... 271
MAttHeW t. kAPsteinDohs and gray texts:
Reflections on a song Attributed to kha...................................... 291
sAMten g. kARMAythe Protector deities
of a Bonpo funeral Rite....................................................................303
eRBeRto lo BueA Zhabs-brtan Ceremony
Performed in a rnying-ma Household at Jawalakhel,
lalitpur, nepal (1986).......................................................................325
dAn MARtinyak snot: Padampas Animal Metaphors
and the Question of indian-ness (theirs and His)............................337
kAtsuMi MiMAkirMa bya kha bab (the River flowing from
the Mouth of a Peacock)traditions, indian and tibetan,
Buddhist and Bon, Concerning the four great Rivers.....................351

TaBlE oF ConTEnTs

sAul MullARdReading ethnic Conflict in


sikkimese History: the Case of the Assassination
of Chancellor Bho lod.......................................................................367
giACoMellA oRofinoA note on two theogonic
Myths found in a Bon Magic Ritual ............................................... 381
fRAnoise PoMMARetMen Have titles, Women
Have Property. A note on the History of Wangdu
Choling, Bumthang, Bhutan..............................................................395
CHARles RAMBlefearless dawn, Bloodless demon:
literary and iconographic Manifestations
of a little-known Bonpo Protector ..................................................409
ulRike RoesleRthe vinaya of the Bon tradition........................431
DonaTElla Rossi alcune Riflessioni sullinterrelazione
fra la semantica e la Divinazione.....................................................449
niColA sCHneideRfemale incarnation lineages:
some Remarks on their features and functions in tibet................ 463
MonA sCHReMPfspider, soul, and
Healing in eastern Bhutan................................................................481
PeR sRensen And olle QvARnstRMCoveted
Relic: the khasarpai idol of Bhutan..............................................497
BRigitte steinMAnnde la Polysmie du terme Bon:
une Perspective Anthropologique .................................................... 513
Axel kRistiAn stRMrgyud smad Monastery in india:
A Remarkable Case of institutional transmigration.....................525
HelgA ueBACHtwo indian loanwords in
old tibetan: Men-tri and Phra-men................................................ 543
RoBeRto vitAliPopulations and Rivers of stag-gzig
(from an Account of the late g.yung-drung
Bon literature)................................................................................. 551
list of Contributors.......................................................................... 565

aCKnowlEDGEmEnTs
The editors wish to thank The institute for Comparative Research in
Human Culture, oslo, and the Department of Culture studies and
oriental languages, University of oslo, for their generous contribution
to the cost of producing this volume. we are grateful to anna Filigenzi
and alice Travers for proof-reading the contributions in italian and
French. The layout of the book was done by Kemi Tsewang. For reasons beyond the editors control it was necessary to impose a limit on
the length of the contributions. in some cases these constraints created
additional work for the authors, and we appreciate their understanding
in complying with our request.

EDiToRial noTE
a certain latitude has been allowed for the presentation of Tibetan
terms: we have accommodated authors preferences concerning phonetic rendering, hyphenation and transliteration (notably with regard to the
capitalisation of root or initial letters of names).

TaBUla GRaTUlaToRia

Jean-luc achard, Paris


arne Bugge amundsen,
Fredrikstad
anders Hymark andersen,
Copenhagen
stockton andrews, Cambridge,
mass.
anthony and marie-laure aris,
london
agata Bareja-starzynska, warsaw
Robert Barnett, new York
Christopher i. Beckwith,
Bloomington
lubos Belka, Brno
Yael Bentor, Jerusalem
Per-arne Berglie, stockholm
Daniel Berounsky, Prague
Gza Bethlenfalvy, Budapest
Henk Blezer, leiden
anne-marie Blondeau, Paris
Trine Bro, Copenhagen
Tone and Per morten Bryhn, oslo
Katia Buffetrille, Paris
anne Burchardi, Copenhagen
Harald Bckman, oslo
Kari Elisabeth Brresen, oslo
Cathy Cantwell, oford
Thupten Kunga Chashab, warsaw
Geoff Childs, st. louis
namgyal Choedup, st. louis
michela Clemente, Cambridge,
UK
Hildegard Diemberger,
Cambridge, UK

Brandon Dotson, munich


franz-karl ehrhard, Munich
Halvor eifring, oslo
elena de Rossi filibeck, Rome
Heidi fjeld, oslo
Marietta kind furger, zrich
ingvild slid gilhus, Bergen
Harmandeep k. gill, oslo
laura giuliano, Rome
Janet gyatso and Charles
Hallisey, Cambridge, Mass.
urban Hammar, uppsala
Mette Halskov Hansen and koen
Wellens, oslo
Clare Harris, oxford
Hege Haugen, oslo
Hanna Havnevik and Rolf sanne,
oslo
Amy Heller, Paris
isabelle Henrion-dourcy,
Montreal
nathan W. Hill, london
sigurd Hjelde, oslo
theresia Hofer, oxford
Astrid Hovden, oslo
toni Huber, Berlin
guri Haaland and Johan ulsaker,
trondheim
Jon Jerstad, oslo
vidar sheim Johansen og tor
kessel, oslo
eivind kahrs and sudeshna
guha, Cambridge, uk

iv

TaBUla GRaTUlaToRia

Matthew t. kapstein, Paris and


Chicago
samten g. karmay, Paris
Mimaki katsumi, kyoto
shild kols, oslo
ingunn kvistery, oslo
elisabeth kvrne, Aurdal
ingeborg kvrne and Arne
vestb, oslo
Jon kvrne, oslo
Marilyn and Jon lauglo, oslo
Cecilia leslie, oslo
Benedikte v. lindskog, oslo
erberto lo Bue, Bologna
dan Martin, Jerusalem
Mara Matta, Rome
Petra Maurer, Munich
Robert Mayer, Cambridge, uk
Martine Mazaudon and Boyd
Michailovsky, Paris
Marek Mejor, Warsaw
saul Mullard, kristiansand and
Paris
svein and kirsten Mnnesland,
oslo
kjersti and Paul nome, oslo
giacomella orofino, naples
stefano Piano, torino
franoise Pommaret, Paris and
thimphu, Bhutan
olle Qvarnstrm, lund
Charles Ramble, Paris
ulrike Roesler, oxford

veronika Ronge, Bonn


donatella Rossi, Rome
nicola schneider, Paris
Mona schrempf, london
Peter schwieger, Bonn
tadeusz skorupski, tring, uk
elliot sperling, Bloomington
ernst steinkellner, vienna
Brigitte steinmann, lille
nora stene, oslo
Axel strm, oslo
Hiroyuki suzuki, oslo
Rune svarverud, oslo
Wera sther, oslo
Per srensen, leipzig
tsuguhito takeuchi, kobe
mark J. Teeuwen, oslo
antonio Terrone and sarah
Jacoby, Evanston, illinois
Rinzin Thargyal, oslo
Berit Thorbjrnsrud, oslo
lasse Thoresen and Britt
strandlie Thoresen, oslo
Vladimir Tikhonov, oslo
Helga Uebach, munich
lillian Christin Ulveland, oslo
inger K. Vasstveit, oslo
Roberto Vitali, Dharamsala
Kari Vogt, oslo
michael l. walter, Bloomington
Jon and Tone s. wetlesen, oslo
Unni wikan and Fredrik Barth,
oslo
Claus Peter Zoller, oslo

TaBUla GRaTUlaToRia

insTiTUTions
The institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture, oslo
Department of Culture studies and oriental languages, University of
oslo
ludwig-mamilians-Universitt, mnchen
mongolian and Tibetan studies Program, Department of Turkish
studies and inner asian Peoples, Faculty of oriental studies,
University of warsaw
Universitt Bonninstitut fr orient- und asienwissenschaften,
abteilung fr mongolistik und Tibetstudien

A NOTE ON TWO THEOGONIC MYTHS


FOUND IN A BON MAGIC RITUAL
Giacomella Orofino
In the religious literature of the Tibetan Bon tradition1 there are very interesting theogonic or cosmogonic narratives, mythical accounts, apotropaic and exorcistic rituals that are rarely found in mainstream Buddhist Tibetan literary traditions and that have generally been considered
by the followers of the Bon school as a heritage of the archaic cultural
milieu of indigenous pre-Buddhist Tibet.
The study of this early lore is far from complete, due to the huge bulk
of the material, which was absorbed, reframed and reformulated in the
later systematized Bon literature. Per Kvrne is one of the first scholars to have studied this interesting material in detail in his pioneering
works, and I am very honoured to contribute to this volume, in homage
to his masterful achievements.
From among the large number of Bon texts I would like to focus
on the theogonic myths of a particularly interesting magical ritual belonging to the dbal chu cycle of practices which, according to tradition,
originated in prehistoric Zhang zhung.2 According to the later systematization of the Bon doctrines found in the 14th-century treatise of the gZi
brjid, this cycle belongs to the Phrul gshen theg pa,3 the Vehicle of
Magic Power which contains the rituals of the black arts for subduing
and destroying ones enemies.
This apotropaic ritual is still practised among the Tibetan people.4
Lopn Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, one of the most important living ex1
Naming the Tibetan non-Buddhist religion before the 11th century is quite problematic, as discussed by Sam van Schaik in a recent paper (2013). By the term Bon I
refer to the post-11th century Tibetan religious school. On the origin of Bon see also
the interesting discussion in Blezer, Kalsang Norbu and Rath 2013 and in Blezer 2013.
2
Whether the western kingdom of Zhang zhung was the original place of the Bon
doctrines, as stated by tradition, or rather a literary trope used in the Bon identity construction discourse, is a theme much discussed in recent academic research. For the
different positions, cf. Bellezza 2008 and Blezer 2011.
3
For the doxographic division of the Bon doctrines, see Snellgrove 1967: 121.
4
A parallel ritual is described in des Jardins 2009: 199.

382

GIACOMELLA OROFINO

ponents of the Bon School, informed me that the dbal chu rite is traditionally prescribed to prevent and control the calamities which, according to popular beliefs, might occur to a family in the case of the birth of
an illegitimate child. The ritual is performed for four to seven days and
at the end, to test the power gained by the recitation of the mantras, one
of the officiants has to plunge a butter effigy of a garua (Tib. khyung),
the mythical bird, into the dbal zangs, a ritual cauldron filled with boiling water. Then the officiant, with his bare hands, has to take it out. If
the butter effigy has not melted, it means that the magical powers will
work and the officiant can sprinkle the boiling water (dbal chu) with
juniper twigs in every corner of the house to purify all contaminations.5
The dbal chu practices are classified and prescribed in the Phrul
gshen theg pa as actions in the threefold subdivision of veneration
(bsnyen pa), accomplishment (bsgrub pa) and actions (las sbyor).
Although its categorization conforms to the Buddhist tantric systems,
we can detect different (indigenous?) languages and ideas.
The magical actions (las sbyor) are included in the 12 tantras of
the Magic Net of Ferocity (brngag pa sgyu phrul dra bai rgyud)
which are divided into outer, inner and secret series: 1) the four tantras
of mKha gying dBal, 2) the four tantras of dBal gsas drag po, and 3)
the four tantras of the Sphere of Action (las kyi thig le).6
In the titles of the first and second series of these tantras, the word
dbal reappears. This is the name of a class of archaic warrior divinities,
belonging to the pantheon of Zhang zhung gods. Its feminine form dbal
mo denotes a class of powerful flesh-eating goddesses7 who also, as
Henk Blezer notes in a comparative study of their corresponding wrathful Buddhist deities, belong to a genre of origin myths found in several
Bon cosmological or theogonic treatises.8
The term dbal also has the connotation of burning, boiling,
blazing, incandescent as well as infuriated, powerful and
cutting and recurs in Bon ritual literature as a substantive meaning
special wrathful power, magic blazing missile, sharp blade or
summit.

See also the description given in Norbu 1994: 45254.


Cf. Snellgrove 1967: 108109.
7
ibid.: 304, see also Karmay 2013.
8
Cf. Blezer 2000.
6

A NOTE ON TWO THEOGONIC RITUALS

383

The rTog joms dbal chen wer spungs kyi gzhung, a gter ma by Bon
zhig Blo gros rGyal mtshan (12/13th century?), provides a mythical account of the origin of the dbal chu rite.9
As in most Bon rituals, the archetypal events that precede the original performance of the rite are invoked in order to reactivate the power
of the magical action and bestow on the ritual ceremony the dynamic,
wondrous qualities of the primordial setting. The origin of the ritual
represents a sort of sacred prototype that has to be repeated each time
the ritual is performed.
The structure of the narrative follows this pattern:

i) During the time of the first aeon (skal pa), when the power of g.Yung
drung Bon was great, the power of the kings became widespread and the
Bon masters (gyer spungs) protected the lives of the kings.
ii) From the immense space of darkness (mun pai klong dkyil) the demon Delusion that spreads heavily (gti mug lji la bar ba)10 riding the
musk deer,11 the deer of the hearth, cried to the thirteen demons of the
hearth (thab dre) and devils of scorched substances (gzhob sri) that it
was necessary to destroy the worlds of men and deities.
iii) The demon Anger with nine heads (zhe sdang mgo dgu) riding the
bird of incest (nal bya), the Tibetan snow cock (gong dkar),12 leading the
13 demons of rancour (khon dre) and vow-breaking devils, declared
that it was necessary to destroy the worlds of men and deities.
iv) The demon Desire of the black mountain pass (dod chags ri yol
nag po) riding the Tibetan blue bear (dom sha rgya bo)13 and leading the
13 demons of brown bears (dom dre) and devils of darkness, declared
that it was necessary to destroy the worlds of men and deities.
v) So the demons of existence (srid pai dre) and the evil spirits of astrological art (gtsug lag gdon)14 became widespread. The human gener-

9
This gter ma test was published in India, see Namdak 1973: 120. See also Norbu
1994: 45254.
10
Spelled gti smug in the Tibetan text, ibid.: 2.
11
Lat. Moschus moschiferus, the Siberian musk deer, found in the mountain forest
of Northeast Asia and on the Tibetan plateau. It prefers altitudes of over 2600 m. It is
hunted for its musk gland and for this reason is classified as an endangered species by
the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
12
Lat. Tetraogallus tibetanus is a bird of the pheasant family (Phasianidae) found in
the high altitude region of the Western Himalayas and on the Tibetan plateau.
13
Lat. Ursus arctos pruinosus is one of the rarest subspecies of the brown bear
found on the eastern Tibetan plateau; it is also known as the Himalayan blue bear, or
Himalayan snow bear. Cf. Lydekker 1897: 426.
14
The word gtsug lag has been discussed by Stein who lists several meanings,
among which are wisdom, art, science; he suggests that it was already a part of
the Tibetan religious vocabulary before it was employed to translate the Sanskrit word
ra (Stein 1985; see also Hahn 1997). A very interesting observation was posted in

384

GIACOMELLA OROFINO

ations were about to be exterminated, epidemics and losses struck livestock, and contamination arose.
vi) The Bon master gShen was worried. At that moment the Zhang zhung
king sTag rna offered the Bon master Bya ru gShen a precious white
crystal vase, asking him to find a remedy.
vii) Then the great Bon master prepared the ritual vase for the water purification, but the white and black existential phenomena did not separate
(srid pa dkar nag ma skyes). He performed an exorcism of the negativities of the astrological art (gtsug lag sel), but it had no effect on either the
spirits or the deities. He cast the mantric magic weapons (zor), but could
not subjugate either the devils or the spirits.
viii) Then the great Bon master, playing the drum and the flat bell
(gshang)15 and shouting bswo and he asked for help from the deities and
from gShen rab. Suddenly, from the matrix of space (nam mkhai dbyings
rum) three precious eggs arose, flew into space and fell back down onto
the top of the snow-laden Soul Mountain (bla ri gangs dkar).
ix) The eggs naturally hatched. When the red copper egg hatched a red
blazing man (dbal gyi mi pho dmar po) appeared emanating magical, incandescent sparks (dbal gyi tsha tsha). When the blue metal egg hatched
a in blue blazing man (dbal gyi mi pho sngon po) appeared wearing a
dazzling blue coat. And when the white crystal egg hatched a white blazing man (dbal gyi mi pho dkar po) appeared with nine heads and eighteen
arms. From the three men 360 emanations manifested.
x) Then the Bon master called upon the three blazing men (dbal mi gsum)
for help and on the eighth day of the first month of each of the four seasons, on the white altar (lha gzhi dkar po), he sprinkled three measures of
blazing barley (dbal nas), having the yak, the sheep and the goat effigies
as support for the sacrifice. On the right side of the altar he placed the
ritual offering (gtor ma) for the three supports of the three white deities,
at the centre the gtor ma of the three great dbal men, on the left side the
expanded chest-shaped gtor ma (brang rgyas)16 and the gtor ma of the
offerings of the five senses, and in the front the gtor ma of the ambrosia
feast offering. In the middle he placed the boiling blazing cauldron (dbal
zangs), subduer of the demons, into which he poured water from snow,
slate rock and rain. Then he prepared the blazing heart (dbal snying) with
the five precious substances and the 360 dbal yaks. With precious wood
2007 by van Schaik on his blog earlytibet.com: Buddhism and Bn II: What is tsuglag? Here he comments on one of the Dunhuang mss (IOL Tib J 339) which mentions
two kinds of gtsug lag: the right gtsug lag which corresponds to Buddhism itself and the
wrong gtsug lag which refers to astrological and divinatory sciences (http://earlytibet.
com/2007/07/31/buddhism-and-bon-ii/, consulted 25 January 2013).
15
The gshang is a musical instrument used by the Bonpos as a substitute for the
Buddhist bell (ghaa). It looks like a small cymbal equipped with a clapper, cf. Helffer
1981.
16
On the word brang rgyas, see Martin 2013: 160 ff.

A NOTE ON TWO THEOGONIC RITUALS

385

sticks he fashioned the nest of the glorious subjugator eagle (zil gnon
khyung).
He then prepared the nine different weapons of existence (srid pai mtshon cha).
He collected the 13 poisons of existence and so all the poisons were
purified.
He collected the 13 different types of blood of existence and so all the
contaminated hands were purified.
He collected the 13 substances of existence, and so all the bodies were
purified.
He collected the 13 incenses of existence, and everything inside and outside was purified.
Then the great Bon master played the precious, well-adorned drum and
flat bell and entered into the profound meditative state of the great blazing ferocious deity (dbal chen khro bo).

Another interesting myth about the origin of the dbal chu rite can be
found in the dBal shel rgyung dkar poi sgrub pa dzwo dmar glang chen
gying ba.17 This myth describes the creation of the boiling cauldron
(dbal zangs) which represents, as seen above, the focus of the dbal chu
ritual.
Again the narration follows a very widespread structuring of the Bon
theogonical mythographies.
1) In the pristine land of Zhang zhung, the blazing power of the sTa sgo
mountain and the foam of the great lake Manasarovar were united with
a miraculous wind. Then a light arose from the snow and a ray glowed
from the rock and they shone on the lake, giving origin to three eggs that
emerged from the water.
2) The largest dbal egg hatched in the dimension of space and from its
shell the great continent of the blazing cauldron (dbal zangs) came into
being.
From the albumen that spilled onto the ground the blazing water of the
oceans (dbal chui rgya mtsho) was produced.
From the intermediate membrane the dbal rocks and dbal mountains
came into being.
From the yolk, the father Shel rdung dkar po and the mother Dzwo lcam
thang mo came into being.
3) The middle dbal egg hatched in the intermediate space (bar snang)
and from its shell the face of the sun of the boiling blazing cauldron (dbal
zangs khol mo) came into being.
From the albumen that spilled onto the ground the boiling blazing water
was produced.

17

In Namdak 1973: 33114. Cf. Norbu 1994: 45455.

386

GIACOMELLA OROFINO

From the intermediate membrane the greenish Ar mo rock was produced.


From the yolk the father Ge khod Dam rgyal and the mother Rlung za
sMan gcig were born.
The smallest dbal egg hatched by breaking itself against the waves of
the lake, and from its shell the face of the moon of the boiling blazing
cauldron came into being.
From the albumen that spilled onto the ground the boiling blazing water
was produced.
From the intermediate membrane the nine dbal weapons were produced:
the sword (ral gri) that slaughters by itself, the hammer (tho ba) that
beats by itself, the iron ball (thu lum) that rolls by itself, the ax (sta
ri) that hews by itself, the lance (mdung mo)that pierces by itself,
the hook (lcags kyu) that catches by itself, the claw (spar shad) that
tears by itself, the sling (sna thod) that hurls by itself, the bow (mda
gzhu) that fires arrows by itself.

From the yolk the fierce dbal eagle was born, its right wing bursting with
flames, its left wing boiling over with blazing water, and from the vase
of its body all wishes fell like rain. In this way the dbal lake took form
inside the boiling cauldron.

The texts examined contain a variety of elements, some of which are


clearly Buddhist interpolations. This is a very common pattern found
in Bon literature, where Buddhist symbols, imagery and ideas are assimilated and integrated into the literary corpus, although with formal
variants that differentiate the narrative from the mainstream Buddhist
tradition. On the other hand, there are some other elements that show
definite anti-syncretistic tendencies.
Altogether these ritual texts are marvellous examples of the stratification of diverse elements contributing to delineate a religious literature
with specific, clearly recognizable features.
Let us select for our analysis some noteworthy points:
1) The original perfection is broken by the irruption of three demons
that bear the names of the three defilements (klea): delusion, aversion
and attachment (moha, rga and dvesa) of Buddhist Mahyna literature but while these are allegorically associated with a pig, a bird and a
snake in Buddhist iconography, here the three symbols are substituted
with animals more in keeping with Tibetan fauna: a Siberian musk deer,
a Tibetan snow cock and a Tibetan blue bear. Of particular interest is
the fact that, although the basic Buddhist metaphor remains unchanged,
its figures are transformed in order to differentiate the text from the

A NOTE ON TWO THEOGONIC RITUALS

387

mainstream tradition and place it in a more indigenous Tibetan Bon


context.18
2) Another noteworthy element is found in the origin story of the
dbal chu magical ritual, which narrates that the rite was performed for
the first time by gShen rab because three different apotropaic rituals,
respectively a lustral rite, an exorcism and a violent black magic rite
had been ineffectual for restoring the initial order and driving away the
demonic forces. In the description of the lustral rite mention is made of
the separation of white from black phenomena. The dualistic scheme of
the opposition between white and black phenomena is a recurring image in Bon texts and gave rise to a theory, formerly widespread among
scholars, that Bon literature reflected some archaic Iranian influences.
In 1987 Per Kvrne19 questioned this assumption on the grounds that it
was too general and elusive, and in some cases based on misinterpretation of the Tibetan texts. In several Bon cosmogonies he analysed, the
dualistic opposition was related to non-existence that preceded existence, without any moral connotation of a good/evil opposition.
In this case, however, the white and black phenomena do have a
moral connotation, symbolizing the good and evil forces that should
be separated in order to avoid global catastrophe. The impossibility of
separating them by means of an already-known lustral rite of purification provides the mythical justification for establishing the new, more
powerful and efficacious magical rite of the dbal chu.
Nevertheless, here too, as in all other Bon origination myths, it is impossible to contextualize the transmission lines exactly and to trace the
historical period of presumable Iranian or Manichean influences evoked
by the dualistic motifs of black and white, light and darkness and good
and evil. And I think Per Kvrne was absolutely right in pointing out
that serious consideration should be given to the possibility that Tibetan
cosmogonic myths were influenced by Indian or Chinese traditions of
a dualistic kind.20
It seems to me, in any case, that this black and white metaphor
functions as a distinctive, reiterated tpos in a literature that, although
modelled on the Buddhist tantras, aims at differentiating itself, with the
inclusion of easily recognizable figures of speech that have an evident
18

For a description of a different Bon version of the bhavacakra, see Kvrne 1981.
See Kvrne 1987.
20
ibid.: 166.
19

388

GIACOMELLA OROFINO

connotation of otherness. In other words, in this text the dualistic


metaphor functions as a sort of easily recognizable landmark that contributes to the creation of a specific rhetoric, tending to emphasize the
alterity of this narrative from mainstream Buddhist traditions, in contrast to which the identity of Bon literature is constructed.
Whether these elements are the result of archaic or later influences
and contaminations is undetectable: their precise origins are no longer
traceable since Bon literature is quite late and stratified; in this case, for
instance, we are confronted with a post-12th-century gter ma text.
3) In these mythic tales, as in many other Bon ritual texts, we notice
the motif of the cosmic eggs, which also represents a recurring trope of
Bon theogonies and cosmogonies. As Samten Karmay has observed,
this imagery is widespread in Bon literature and le nombre des ufs,
leur couleur, leur forme et leur taille ainsi que leur manire dclore,
sont aussi varis que le nombre des textes.21 Moreover, in the second
text we find the theme of the universe, in this case the mandalic universe of the dbal chu magical rite, together with its constituents and
deities, gradually arising from the inner parts of the cosmic eggs when
these had emerged from the primordial water. The sequence of the narration is very consistent with many other Bonpo cosmogonies known
to us: from the primordial water the cosmic eggs emerge and from their
components the various parts of the universe come into being.
The cosmic egg mythologems represent characteristic Bon themes,
as they do not belong to early Buddhist Indian cosmogonies;22 neither
are they attested in the Indian Vajrayna esoteric literature,23 nor in the
later Tibetan Buddhist treatises. They are, however, found in Tibetan
folk narratives and in the chronicles of ancient, pre-dynastic times.24
21

Cfr. Karmay 1986: 84.


For an in-depth examination of Buddhist cosmogonies, see Koetzli 1983.
23
An essential and clear cosmogony of Vajrayna esoteric Buddhism is synthesized in four verses of ryadevas Svdhihnaprabheda (1821) quoted by Nropa
in his commentary on the Sekoddea, a text belonging to the literary cycle of the
Klacakratantra and translated into Italian by Gnoli and Orofino 1994: 27374.
24
A detailed analysis of the Bon cosmogonies in Tibetan literature was made by
Claudia Seele (1995) in her unpublished master thesis where she examined a great
number of sources in which the cosmic egg motif appears. Among her sources are some
Buddhist chronicles and encyclopedic treatises, such as: the Nyang ral chos byung
(12th cent.), the lDeu chos byung (13th cent.), the Rlangs po ti bse ru (14th cent.), the
bShad mdzod yid bzhin nor bu (15th cent.) and the Grub mtha shel gyi me long (18th
cent.), which refer to some egg theogonies belonging to local or folkloric pre-Buddhist
traditions. I am indebted to Per Kvrne for kindly providing me with a photocopy of
this study.
22

A NOTE ON TWO THEOGONIC RITUALS

389

It should be noted, however, that in many Bon treatises where this


imagery appears at least two different patterns emerge: the primordial
egg from which the entire universe flow and that of many eggs which
generate men with superhuman powers, or gods, or spirits and so forth,
as in the case analysed here.
Although they seem to be a later distinctively Bon reworking, these
motifs betray a similarity with egg generative myths attested in many
of Tibets neighbouring cultures.
In the second text analysed here, the association with the Vedic and
later Hindu cosmogonic symbolism is not implausible.
The motif of the cosmic eggs emerging from water recalls the Vedic
myth of the golden germ (hirayagarbha) which is born in water.25 In
the later Indian cosmogonic legends the golden germ becomes a golden
egg emerging from water containing the universe, from which Brahma,
the progenitor of the world, was born (brahma).26
Besides the possibility of western Indian influences, consideration
must be given to a very similar creation myth which also exists in Chinese literature. We refer to that of Pan-ku, the universal creator, generated by an egg. The first version of this myth appeared in the work of
Xu Zheng in the third century AD.27
Other similar traditions are attested in mythographic cosmogonies
throughout northern Asia, among the Yakut and the Naxi, who, though
now settled in Yunnan Province, originated in northeastern Tibet, as
well as in the stories handed down from the Tangut of Central Asia and
the Tamang of Nepal and so forth.28
Egg generative theogonic myths are widespread in numerous archaic oral traditions.29 The study of the global diffusion of myths can be
25
Among the many translations and studies on the Rgveda creation hymn (x.129),
see Gonda 1966; Maurer 1975; Collins 1975.
26
See for example the Mnava-Dharmastra I, 5, in Olivelle 2005.
27
On the origin of the Pan-ku myth, see Girardot 1983: 193, who, despite the fact
that he perceives possible influences of Indian texts in the first form of the Pan-ku myth
dealing with the cosmic man Purusa-Prajapatis self-sacrifice, he concludes, owing to
its analogy with earlier Chinese cosmological thought, that this myth cannot be considered to have originated exclusively from foreign contacts. Furthermore, Birrell (1993:
2934) suggests a foreign influence hypothesis, conjecturing that the Pan-ku myth may
derive from the Tibetan peoples of the southwestern region, where the author of the first
Chinese compilation lived during the era of the Three Kingdoms. See also Vitiello 1984
and Kalinowsky 1996.
28
Cf. Blezer 2000: 130 ff.
29
As lo Walk (2000: 148) has pointed out, their areas of diffusion can be divided
into four broad parts: 1) the Balto-Finnic region; 2) the eastern Mediterranean lands; 3)

390

GIACOMELLA OROFINO

helpful in reconstructing ancient and prehistoric movements of peoples


and ideas. However, since we are concerned here with early theogonies
described in stratified later medieval literature, the long-range cultural
linkages are very difficult, if not impossible, to trace. We need to bear
in mind that here we are dealing with traditions that assign fundamental
importance to oral transmission, and there is no reason to categorically exclude the possibility that these ideas could have been transmitted
orally from ancient times on the Tibetan plateau.
As mentioned above, the narrative structure of the origin myths
found in the dbal chu ritual texts can be considered a leitmotif, a recurring element in the cosmogonies and theogonies of Bon literature.
This aspect has already been noted extensively by Western scholars
who have dealt with the problem of its convergence with the mythical
traditions of neighbouring civilisations.30 And not only Western scholars have noticed these parallels. Several Tibetan scholastic authors from
as long ago as the 12th century have recognized the differences between
the Bonpo accounts of origins and the Buddhist narrations. Tibetan
scholars have attributed the Bonpo versions to Iranic or a Hindu influences,31 thereby supporting accusations of heresy. In Tibet discussions
of such problems were complicated by sectarian differences rooted in
the social and political history of the various religious schools.
This leads us to reflect on the motivations that the protagonists of
the Bon school had after the 12th century to form a literature that would
be religiously authoritative, and so equipped with all the requisites for
competing with the Buddhist schools that were elaborating their literary
canons during this time. But the Bonpos simultaneously needed to elaborate a non-Buddhist tradition with its own raison dtre, employing
markedly different elements that would be recognizable as indigenous
and originating in ancestral times.
The skillful combination of all these factors led to the creation of an
extremely fascinating literary corpus containing a wealth of elements
of different origins, some endogenous, others exogenous, but with its
own inner coherence and poetics. The development of this literature
South Asia (China, Tibet, Indo-China, India); and 4) the Malay Archipelago, Oceania,
and Australia.
30
It is sufficient to mention the analyses by Tucci 1949: 73031 and Tucci [1970]
1980: 214; Macdonald 1959: 438; Stein [1962] 1972: 19495; Haarh 1969: 318; Hoffmann 1975: 103ff.; Karmay 1975: 194; Blondeau 1976: 313; Kvrne 1981a and 1987;
and more recently by Blezer 2000: 130ff. and Bellezza 2008: 557 ff.
31
Cf. Karmay 1986: 84.

A NOTE ON TWO THEOGONIC RITUALS

391

gave birth to a religious tradition that, while not part of the Buddhist
mainstream schools, and existing on the margins of the theocratic power which was gradually coming into being in post-12th-century Tibet,
has played an important role in the intellectual, religious and literary
history of that civilization.
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