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A Critical Genealogy of Shamanism in Tibetan Religions - PART II

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PART II: The Pioneers Who Mapped Tibetan Bon as Shamanism


The earliest studies of Tibetan religions by Sarat Chandra Das, L. Austine Waddell, and Charles Bell, at the end of the nineteenth century and into the first few decades of the twentieth, were truly pioneering efforts. These authors were colonial administrators, civil servants, and explorers, who served as functionaries for the British imperial government that sought to exploit the unknown reaches of the world. Their interest in Tibetan religions as amateur Orientalists intersected with their government's colonial interests, particular in their effort to gain control over potential Tibetan subjects. In mapping out Tibet's ancient religious world, they relied on western categories and created comparisons with more familiar religions. As the pre-historic religion of Tibet, Bon was regarded as unmarked territory, which gave these Orientalists license to impose their own names on the primordial tradition: to name the native religion in western terms was to claim it. The labels used by these scholars for identifying this primitive religion varied, but they included "animism," "fetishism," "nature worship," as well as "shamanism." What these seemingly interchangeable categories share is their place in late nineteenth century western discourse about the evolution of religions, lying at the very origins or the earliest stages of religious development in uncivilized cultures. However labeled, this primitive religion was regarded as static and a-historic, incapable of changing or developing on its own. Vestiges of it were thought to still exist in remote areas of Tibet and in tribal border regions, for example among the Lepchas of Sikkim, or the Naxi of Yunnan. It is from their exposure to the beliefs and practices of tribal peoples in their travels that these amateur Orientalists were able to flesh out the features of pre-historic Bon. The isolation of these tribal people was thought to make them living fossils that preserved the indigenous features of "original Bon." The early students of Tibetan religion all accepted that Bon changed once Buddhism came to Tibet from India. Buddhism was regarded as an agent of civilization, and the followers of Bon could not help but feel inferior to these newcomers, with their impressive texts, their profound philosophy, and their soteriology. The Bonpos responded by imitating Buddhism, adopting its symbols and placing their own practices in the service of Buddhist soteriology. In doing so, it is claimed that the Bonpos developed a literary tradition that mimicked Buddhism in form and content. The interaction between the native Bon and Buddhism created some confusion among Orientalists over how to assess their relationship, often described with metaphors of impurity and mixture. However, there is consensus among Orientalists that Buddhism was the more evolved and authentic religion.


Another common tendency found in these early reports and studies of Tibetan religion was to compare foreign Bon with more familiar beliefs and practices. Making sense of the strange in terms of the familiar, these frontier comparativists resorted to analogies between Bon practices and known religions and superstitions. Let us begin by looking at how "Bon" was defined by H. A. Jaeschke in his Tibetan-English Dictionary published in 1881. Bon 1. n. of the early religion of Tibet, concerning which but very imperfect accounts are existing (v. Report of the Royal Bavarian Academy of Science, 13 Jan. 1866); so much is certain, that sorcery was the principle feature of it. When Buddhism became the religion of state, the former was considered heretical and condemnable, and lha chos and bon chos, or shorter chos and bon, were placed in opposition, as with us christianity and paganism (v. Glr [Rgyal rab gsal ba'i me longs] and Mil. (Mi la ras pa rgyud 'bum]; at the present time, both of them seem to exist peaceably side by side, and the primitive religion has not only numerous adherents and convents in Central Tibet, but manifold traces of it may be found still in the creed of the Tibetans today.-2. = bon-po, follower of this religion.[1] There are a few aspects of this definition worthy of comment. First, Jaeschke points out that despite so few reliable western descriptions of early (pre- Buddhist) Bon being available, what can be said with confidence is that its main feature was "sorcery." He does not offer any explanation of what this "sorcery" entails, neither does he cite any Bon practices as examples. This might be asking too much from a dictionary entry, yet Jaeschke himself promises in the Preface of his Dictionary that he will "give a rational account of the development of the values and meanings of words" and offer "accurate and copious illustrations and examples."[2] The simple metonymy (Bon -> sorcery) requires no further explanation because "sorcery" is not meant to describe Bon in any detailed way, or serve an analytic purpose; rather, the term evokes the essential character of Bon: dark, opaque, even sinister.


It seems that Jaeschke uses "sorcery" as an empty placeholder rather than an analytic description of Bon.[3] Its usage evokes a sense of mystery about Bon while placing it at the primitive stage of cultural evolution, more akin to superstition than religion proper. Jaeschke adds, however, that when Buddhism was adopted as Tibet's state religion, the Buddhists condemned Bon as heretical, just as Christians condemned pagan heresies. The tense relationship between chos/bon is described in Tibetan religious literature, and here Jaeschke mentions two well-known Buddhist texts. What is noteworthy is that he accepts without question the Buddhist evaluation of Bon as heterodox. His comparison of Buddhism/Bon to [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]]/paganism is quite telling, and it foretells the Buddhist bias presumed by so many subsequent students of these two religions. "Original" Bon becomes equated with the dark and static native tradition, while Buddhism is likened to the enlightened and uplifting force of missionary [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]]. A Moravian missionary, Jaeschke believed that Indian Buddhism had a civilizing impact on Tibet, for it prepared the Tibetans to accept the higher teachings of [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]]. In fact his dictionary was composed with the intention of disseminating [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]] among the Buddhists in the Tibetan-speaking regions of [[Wikipedia:Central Asia|Central Asia]].[4] Although Jaeschke did not define Bon as "shamanism," his confident characterization of it as a primitive religion represented by its "sorcery" would be accepted by his Orientalist successors. However, many would dispute Jaeschke's claim that primitive Bon continued to be practiced in convents in Tibet. Whereas Jaeschke's definition treats Bon as a flourishing though primitive religion in central Tibet, we shall see in later accounts how Bon becomes marginalized, forced to the Tibetan frontier. The next scholar after Jaeschke to compile a Tibetan-English dictionary was the Bengali Tibetologist, Sarat Chandra Das. While Das was a well respected Bengali Babu, with numerous impressive titles (C.I.E., Fellow of the Royal Society, Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society), he also served as a spy for the British Survey of India and conducted fact-finding missions in Tibet while posing as a Buddhist pilgrim.[5] Equipped with survey tools and a sextant, with a compass secretly stashed inside his prayer wheel, Das visited Tibet twice and managed to reach Lhasa undetected in 1882. The disguise worked for a while, but when the Tibetan authorities in Lhasa grew suspicious of his true identity, they banished him from the country. Das's excursion in Tibet proved not only useful for the British government, but his ethnographic studies of religion, his knowledge of colloquial Tibetan, and his smuggling of important texts out of Tibet, made a lasting impact on Tibetan studies. The contributions of Sarat Chandra Das to the development of Bon studies in particular cannot be underestimated. His very first publication in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal was devoted to "The Bon (Pön) Religion."[6] This article featured an English translation of a short chapter on Bon excerpted from a lengthy text entitled The Crystal Mirror of Doctrinal Systems (Grub mtha' shel gyi me long), a doxography written by the Buddhist scholar Thu'u bkvan Chos kyi nyi ma. Although Das only translated the section on Bon from this encyclopedic work without offering any of his own commentary, its content became the authoritative source for western representations of Bon, at least until quite recently. In addition to this article that we will discuss below, Das later published a Tibetan edition of a Bon history that he had smuggled out of Tibet, a fifteenth century Bon text named by Das as Rgyal rabs Bon gyi 'byung gnas (The Origins of Bon, a Royal Genealogy).[7] This is the first Bon historical text made available to western Tibetologists. While it received some attention from European scholars, the Origins of Bon played a less significant role in shaping how western scholars evaluated Bon than the short chapter that Das had translated earlier from The Crystal Mirror of Doctrinal Systems. Perhaps Sarat Chandra Das's most important scholarly contribution was his Dictionary, which became a standard resource tool for translating Tibetan texts into English.


In it we find the following definition for Bon: Bon 1. The ancient religion of Tibet which was fetishism, demon worship, and propitiation by means of incantations. The word chos which ordinarily means religion is used as the antithesis to bon. Bon now signifies the kind of Shamanism which was followed by Tibetans before the introduction of Buddhism and in certain parts still extant; of this there were three stages, namely: 'dsol bon, 'khyar bon, and bsgyur bon.[8] This definition presents both parallels to and contrasts with Jaeschke's earlier characterization. Both definitions note the opposition between chos/bon, an indigenous Tibetan distinction; but here chos is associated with religion, while we are told that bon is the antithesis of chos, namely "fetishism, demon worship, and propitiation by means of incantations." Das then substitutes the umbrella term "Shamanism" for all of the superstitious practices of the Tibetans before the appearance of Buddhism. The identification of Bon with shamanism receives no further elaboration by Das, just as Jaeschke simply substituted "sorcery" for Bon without any explanation or examples. Shamanism is the single term that Das chooses here and elsewhere for translating Bon.[9] While shamanism is never specified in any detail, Das does add that Bon appeared in three different stages in Tibet, namely 'dsol bon, 'khyar bon, and bsgyur bon, terms that are left untranslated and uncredited to any Tibetan writer. The reader is left with the impression that these three phases of Bon, which Das correlates to the periods of reign of specific "historical king[s] of Tibet," constitute the Bonpo's method of classifying Bon religious development. Yet the source for this three-fold schema of Bon historical development cannot be found in the Origins of Bon, the history Das later published, nor is it used in any Bon history. Instead, we must look to the chapter on Bon found in the Crystal Mirror of Doctrinal Systems (hereafter CMDS) as the source relied upon by Das. For reasons that will become clear, Das accepted the conceit of this doxography that it was a "crystal mirror" that accurately reflects the history of the Bon religion, while any Bon history was of questionable authority. The meaning and content of the three-fold scheme found in the CMDS will be briefly reviewed here, and its appeal to Das and other scholars will be addressed. Thu'u kvan's short chapter on Bon serves as a survey of the religion, but it is certainly contentious, a not so subtle attempt to undermine and delegitimize Bon as an authentic tradition. This becomes apparent once the names for the three stages of Bon are translated properly. According to Thu'u bkvan the first type of Bon to appear in Tibet is brdol Bon, although Das writes this as 'dsol Bon in his Dictionary. In his translation of the CMDS, Das leaves the first phase untranslated as "Jola Bon." This simple transliteration is unsatisfactory. The Tibetan term brdol has a polemical tone to it, meaning the Bon that "erupts" suddenly or "breaks out," like a boil or a pimple that mars the fair white landscape of Tibet. The formula used by Thu'u bkvan to encapsulate this primordial stage of Bon, when it erupted during the reigns of the first seven Tibetan kings, is that it "suppressed the demons below, made offerings to the ancestral gods above, and expelled (impurities) from the household hearth in the middle."[10] Other Buddhist polemicists agree that early Bon was downright barbaric, consisting primarily of black magic, untrustworthy divinations (ju tig), and the suppression of vampires (sri gnon).[11] In fact, the Buddhist descriptions of Bon correspond to some degree with late-nineteenth century stereotypes about primitive magic, sorcery, and demonolatry. By uncritically relying on these polemical images, Das and later scholars have used the generic category of "shamanism" to describe Bon in its earliest manifestations. What is common to both western and Buddhist conceptions of this earliest phase of Bon is their denial of any legitimate development to the tradition: it remains frozen in the past, like a fossil from Tibet's dark ages. The second diffusion is called "erroneous" or "debased Bon" ('khyar Bon) because it required bloody animal sacrifices (sogs dmar). Upon the death of the eighth Tibetan king Gri gum btsan po, three Bon funerary specialists were said to have been invited from Kashmir, Gilgit and Zhang zhung to perform the necessary rites for the king's corpse. In addition to introducing these mortuary rites, they also brought with them new forms of magic and divination, which had not previously been practiced in Tibet. Thu'u bkvanalso notes that the Tibetan Bonpos later developed their philosophical views, which were a mixture of "debased Bon" with the tenets of ⁄aivite heretics (tırthika).[12] This passage is the locus classicus for the diffusionist model of foreign influence on Tibetan Bon. From this initial germ of ⁄aivism the "virus of influence" will spread contagiously in later western scholarship to include Hinduism, Taoism, Manichaenism, Nestorianism, and even Gnosticism as the real source of "deviant Bon." Here we see a pattern often used in the representation of indigenous religions, namely the use of a genealogical model of history. The strange beliefs and practices of Bonpos were said to be derived from more familiar ancient sources outside Tibet, but in the process of their diffusion they became corrupted and mixed ('dres ma), hence "deviant Bon."


The last stage of the dissemination of Bon is called "transformed" or "plagiarized" Bon (bsgyur Bon), which refers to the deceitful appropriation of Buddhist or quasi-Buddhist ideas in Bon texts. Thu'u bkvan identifies three separate occasions when individuals recovered apocryphal texts that were Buddhist in content but were claimed as Bon revelations. These individuals were not always Bonpos themselves, for he mentions specifically a "blue-robed pandita" (pandi ta sham thabs sngon po can) who wrote heretical teachings (chos log) and hid them as "treasure texts" (gter ma), only to reveal them himself and then mix them with Bon.[13] Since these recovered texts were cached ahead of time by the so-called "treasure revealer" (gter ston), these texts are disqualified as fakes, or what we might call "pseudoapocrypha," since they were not genuine revelations but merely heretical teachings or plagiarized Buddhist texts. Here Thu'u bkvan debunks the entire genre of Bon revealed treasure literature, which delegitimizes Bon claims to authenticity and severs their connection to the venerable past. It is easy to see how scholars like Das, who uncritically accepted Thu'u bkvan's presentation of Bon, adopted a dismissive attitude and a suspicious point of view toward Bon literature. Bon texts were never what they claimed to be. At one point in his chapter, Thu'u bkvan apologizes almost parenthetically that he did not himself find a (Bon?) text that explained in detail how Bon spread and what its philosophical positions are; but he relied upon the account given by the "sage of 'Bri gung" for his explanation of how Bon arose during the three periods of dissemination[14] Thu'u bkvan's. acknowledgement of his indebtedness to an earlier Buddhist author went unnoticed by Sarat Chandra Das and later scholars of Bon until quite recently, when Dan Martin showed that the CMDS is almost entirely derivative, a patching together of various earlier Buddhist polemical sources against Bon. By placing the CMDS in the context of early Tibetan polemics and demonstrating its constructed, intertextual character, Martin's research certainly diminished the authoritative status of this chapter on Bon. Today Thu'u bkvan's Crystal Mirror has been cracked, its anti-Bon polemical agenda revealed, and its reliability called into question because of its sectarian motivation and ideological agenda.[15] Nonetheless during the period when Das first introduced this survey of Bon, Thu'u bkvan's critical perspective proved so persuasive that Bon texts were read with suspicion or with disappointment. Das's translation of this work in 1881 coincided with Anton Schiefner's German translation of a Bon Sòtra (Klu 'bum dkar po) entitled über das Bon-po Sòtra "Das weisse Nagahunderttausend."[16] The impact of the CMDS on subsequent scholarship was far greater than that of the Bon Sòtra, this despite the polemical character of the former and the genuine canonical status (in Bon terms) of the latter. While the Bon Sòtra presented a complex cosmogony and a detailed picture of the cthonic spirit (klu) realm, it lacked the encyclopedic scope and simplicity of the CMDS, and its overtly mythic character could hardly compete with the historical narrative set forth by Thu'u bkvan. The simplicity and vagueness of Thu'u bkvan's representation of early Bon especially excited western scholars who were drawn to its seemingly archaic and primitive aspects. The Bon Sòtra, on the other hand, contained far too many themes that were recognizable as Buddhist. One student of Bon noted that when Schiefner's translation of The White Naga Hundred Thousand appeared, "the scientific world was disappointed for it was considered not to be different from a Buddhist Sòtra."[17] That is, the content of the Bon Sòtra was not foreign enough, and it could only have contained what Thu'u bkvan identified as "plagiarized Bon" (bsgyur bon). What scholars were most interested to learn about was "original" or "revealed Bon" in its raw state, when it could be labeled as shamanism. Another early pioneer in the study of Tibetan religion, who followed in the footsteps of Sarat Chandra Das, was a Japanese Buddhist pilgrim and scholar named Ekai Kawaguchi. Like so many other Buddhist pilgrims before him, Kawaguchi left his native Japan for India, Nepal, and Tibet in search of important Mahayana Buddhist texts, with the goal of bringing them back to the libraries of the Japanese Imperial University. Kawaguchi actually studied with Sarat Chandra Das in Darjeeling before setting out for Tibet disguised as a Chinese pilgrim. His Tibetan travelogue, written in a style similar to other travelers' tales about Tibet, emphasizes the exotic and is prone to exaggeration. Even the title of his book Three Years in Tibet is misleading, since he was there for barely two years. Kawaguchi's overall impression of Tibet and its Buddhism was quite unfavorable, and he repeatedly condemns the Buddhist monks he meets for being filthy, for their ignorance of true Buddhism, their greed for meat and sexual pleasure, and worst of all, their cruelty in the punishment of sinners. Filled with hatred, ignorance and greed, how could these Tibetan monks be true Buddhists? What Kawaguchi finds especially repellent in Tibet are married monks who practice the "peculiar and ridiculous form of wedlock" known as polyandry, a perverse practice that he claims has its roots in "Old Bonism." What exactly constitutes "Old Bonism" is never explained by Kawaguchi, other than to mention a few depravities still enjoyed by Tibetans, such as animal sacrifice and the use of intoxicants. For the most part, however, he affirms that Bon "continues to exist only for its name's sake."[18] That is, Bonpos insist upon their distinctive name despite the fact that their doctrines and practices are copied from Buddhism.


He explains that once Tibet adopted Buddhism, the Bonpos borrowed Buddhist teachings and practices and made them their own, hence his label "New Bonism:" In sooth, Buddhism is so deeply ingrained in the country that no other religion can exist in Tibet, unless it be explained by the light of Buddhism. Thus, the Old Bon religion has been greatly modified and has indeed entirely lost its original form and been replaced by the New Bonism, which resembles the Ryu Shinto of Japan, in which the Sun God is interpreted as the incarnation of Buddha; but the Tibetan goes further than the Ryu Shintoist did. By Bon is meant Shinnyo or Truth, or rather the incarnation of Shinnyo, and it is considered to be one branch of Buddhism.[19] It should not surprise us that Kawaguchi, a Buddhist monk, would accept the notion that Bonpos sought to recast their somber religion in the enlightened image of Buddhism, and were so successful at adopting it that their new religion is Bon "in name only." Elsewhere he writes that this religion is, in truth, "only Buddhism under another name."[20] His distinction between "Old" and "New" is meant to unmask the masquerade of Bon, that it merely mimics authentic Buddhism while still claiming the Truth for itself. To name is to claim, and once false names like "Bon" are revealed as empty designations, we see Kawaguchi staking claim to it with more familiar labels. Kawaguchi seems struck by how much New Bonism resembles the syncretic tradition of his native country, Ryu Shinto ("Two-Sided" Shinto). Here Kawaguchi engages in a form of ethnographic comparison that posits an analogy between Bon-Buddhist syntheses in Tibet and the Shinto- Buddhist combinatory patterns in Japan, where native Shinto kami were reinterpreted as Buddha manifestations. Ethnographic comparison does not rely on geographic proximity or any direct historical connections between Japanese and Tibetan religions, as a genealogical model would require, but it relies instead on the travelers' impression of similar features. The traveler uses comparison as a way to link the foreign world he encounters with the familiar world in which his narrative of the other is recounted, and thereby pass from one to another. With an apt metaphor Francois Hartog captures how travelers' comparisons operate: It is a net the [traveling] narrator throws into the waters of otherness. The size of the mesh and the design of the net determine the type and quality of the catch. And hauling in the net is a way of bringing home what is "other" into proximity with what is the "same." Comparison thus has a place in the rhetoric of otherness, operating there as a procedure of translation.[21] The net used by our Japanese traveler here is designed to identify Tibetan patterns of religious synthesis and assimilation. Just as "New Bonism" reinterprets Tibetan indigenous deities as the manifestations of Buddhas and bodhisattvas, so does "Two-Sided Shinto" identify the native Sun Goddess and ancestress of the imperial family (Amaterasu at the Ise Shrine) with the Sun Buddha (Mahavairocana). This comparison between Buddhism/Bon and Buddhism/Shinto might yield considerable fruit were Kawaguchi to consider the esoteric Buddhist themes in Japan and Tibet that enable these combinatory systems to operate.[22]


However, his casual broaching of the comparison reveals no interest in exploring these structural parallels in any sustained manner. What troubles Kawaguchi about the transformation of Old Bon into New Bon is what is lost in the process of assimilation, almost as if the indigenous Bon deities and practices, once robed in Buddhist symbols, become robbed of their distinctiveness. Kawaguchi notes how the Tibetan stubbornly insists that "Bon" represents Truth, or in his own language, "Bon" incarnates "Shinnyo". It is not altogether clear to me what Kawaguchi intends here. It is possible that he wishes to underscore the discontinuity between "Old" and "New", since all that they share is their referent, the empty term "Bon." But if "New" Bon incarnates "Truth," and this singular Truth is identified by Kawaguchi with Shinnyo (Skt. tathata), understood as the very root of Buddhism, then Bon must be seen as an offshoot (or "branch") of Buddhism. Kawaguchi appears to shift from an impressionistic feeling about the similarities between Tibetan and Japanese religions to a genealogical comparison once he locates the real root of Bon ("Shinnyo"). This linguistic sleight-of-hand makes New Bon truly Buddhist, but it leaves Old Bon nowhere. Kawaguchi is certainly not the first outsider to see striking similarities between foreign Bon and his own "native" tradition. We know that the Chinese who encountered Bonpos in eastern Tibet considered them to be Taoists, and some believed that Gshen rab, the founder of Bon, was really Laozi.[23] In return, there were Tibetans who regarded as Bonpos the Chinese Taoists, whose founder Laozi was merely a manifestation of Gshen rab; in fact, Thu'u bkvan himself advances such a claim in his Crystal Mirror of Doctrinal Systems.[24] It should not surprise us that a certain Tibetan Buddhist Lama, who once visited the Ise Shrine in Japan, remarked of the Kaguradance performed there, "It is just like the sacred dance of the Bon religion."[25]


Such comparisons do not shock us since we all need to make the foreign familiar. It is only "natural" for non-Tibetans to see in Bon and in Buddhism a mirror of their own religion as it relates to another.[26] But in seeing these similarities, experienced subjectively like the uncanny feeling of déjà vu, the comparativist often puts forward some objective explanation, as Jonathan Z. Smith points out in his essay "In Comparison a Magic Dwells:" In the vast majority of instances in the history of comparison, this subjective experience is projected as an objective connection through some theory of influence, diffusion, borrowing, or the like. It is a process of working from a psychological association to an historical one; it is to assert that similarity and contiguity have causal effect. But this, to revert to the language of Victorian anthropology, is not science but magic. Smith's sly observation here, that comparative studies as an enterprise bear more resemblance to magic than science, will be more challenging (and embarrassing) for later comparativists who claim their work is "scientific," such as for Helmut Hoffmann and Réne de Nebesky-Wojkowitz, two phenomenologists who produce detailed descriptions of Tibetan Bon shamanism that we will examine shortly. For the Europeans to first encounter Tibetan religion, the Christian missionaries who preceded scholars like Das and Kawaguchi, the similarities they saw between Tibetan religion and their own Christian tradition could only be explained by "magic." More precisely, the eerie resemblances they sensed were regarded as the worst form of "black magic," being the work of the Devil. The mirrorlike images they encountered in Tibet, where monks also wore robes, rosaries and vestments, with sacerdotal mitres on their heads, were understood as demonic plagiarism. The first European Catholic missionaries to gain contact with Tibetan monks frequently observed how familiar they seemed in their dress and ritual performances, with their liturgical chants and baroque ceremonies, altars and images, candles and incense.

Yet these apparent similarities caused them consternation. For the near mirror image they saw before them could only be explained as the work of the Devil, the demonic other incarnate. There is a strong sense of anxiety apparent in the words of the Jesuit Athanasius Kircher, who said of the Tibetan's faith in the Fifth Dalai Lama: Here are plainly evident the wiles of the Devil. To make a mock of holy things and rob God of the honor due unto Him the Evil One has by a trick of his usual cunning caused these barbarians to imitate us, and induced them to pay to a human being the reverence due to God and Jesus Christ alone. He profanes the most holy mysteries of the Catholic Church by forcing these poor wretched creatures to celebrate these mysteries at the place where they keep hideous idols. Because he has observed that Christians call the Pope Father of Fathers, he makes these idolatrous barbarians call that false god Grand Lama or high priest.[27] The Tibetan barbarian's mimicry is deeply menacing to Kircher, who relies on the theory of demonic plagiarism to account for the similarities between Catholicism and Tibetan religion. The idea of demonic plagiarism was invented by Justin Martyr and the early church fathers of the second and third centuries to explain away any apparent correspondences between the Catholic and rival pagan traditions. Since the Catholic Church must of necessity be entirely unique and original, any similar religious practices must be demonic copies. The Devil's wily handiwork knows no geographic boundaries of course, and thus He can coerce the credulous Tibetans to express their devotion towards their pseudo-pontiff, the Dalai Lama. Through this strategy, the Christian missionaries were able to co-opt the purity of origins and assign their Tibetan counter-parts the corrupt state of the derivative. The Tibetan monk becomes most threatening to Catholic missionaries not when seen as utterly other, as a pagan idolater for instance, but when seen as too-much-like-us. Distance between the Tibetan monk and the Catholic missionary can be restored once the other is revealed to be demonic and derivative. Still, the demonic double of the Dalai Lama and of mocking monks unsettles the presence of the belated missionary in Tibet.[28]


The earliest Catholic missionaries were largely ignorant of any real (or imaginary) differences between Tibetan Buddhists and Bonpos.[29] Later Protestant missionaries and amateur Orientalists, including Jaeschke and Das, were well aware of two distinct religious traditions in Tibet. We have seen the invidious distinctions that they made between Buddhism and Tibet's native "pagan" tradition, distinctions that were reinforced by the binary categories and polemical labels used by the Tibetans themselves. During the Victorian period another development can be detected in the western descriptions and evaluations of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon. Protestant missionaries and travelers brought into Tibet a certain amount of polemical baggage from home directed against Catholicism. In particular, the pure "true religion" of Protestantism was contrasted with the "paganopapism" of Roman Catholicism, understood to be a complex of magic, fear, the deification of the dead, and the worship of objects in the forms of icons, statues or relics. What seems ironic, in light of Smith's observation from "In Comparison a Magic Dwells," is how Victorian scholars projected and transposed into Tibet their critique of Roman Catholic magic and superstition, which they found lying at the very core of Bon and lurking in "Lamaism." Their imaginative juxtaposition of Catholic and Tibetan magic and idolatry, of popes and lamas, reveals the mark of their own magical thinking.

The Victorian scholar whose studies of Tibetan religion played a central role in the codification of "Lamaism" as a descriptive category for Tibetan Buddhism was L. Austine Waddell. A British functionary based in Sikkim for ten years, Waddell learned enough Tibetan to read some Buddhist texts, but he confesses that he could not make much sense of the Tantric texts and practices without the assistance of lamas, who were bound to oaths of secrecy. In the preface of his The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism (1895), Waddell describes his ruse to gain the confidence of the local lamas of Sikkim, an act of "participant observation" that established his own ethnographic authority: Realizing the rigid secrecy maintained by the Lamas in regard to their seemingly chaotic rites and symbolism, I felt compelled to purchase a Lamaist temple with its fittings; and prevailed on theofficiating priests to explain to me in full detail the symbolism and the rites as they proceeded. Perceiving how much I was interested, the Lamas were so obliging as to interpret in my favour a prophetic account which exists in their scriptures regarding a Buddhist incarnation in the West. They convinced themselves that I was a reflex of the Western Buddha, Amitabha, and thus they overcame their conscientious scruples, and imparted information freely.... Enjoying in these ways special facilities for penetrating the reserve of Tibetan ritual... I have elicited much information on Lamaist theory and practice which is altogether new.[30] Waddell's strategy of gaining an insider's insight into Tibetan religion differs from that of S. C. Das and Kawaguchi, who both donned a disguise as pilgrims to gain access to Lhasa. Waddell instead remained outside Tibet and played the role of a lay patron by purchasing a Buddhist temple and gaining the lamas' confidence. Waddell's patronage was received by the lamas as the generous act of a pious western layman (sbyin bdag), and they apparently welcomed him as an emanation of Amitabha. Waddell felt no need to disabuse the lamas of their misunderstanding, for he believes that he has been accepted as a genuine "insider," not simply a western Buddhist but the Western Buddha Himself. Viewed by the lamas as a Buddha, Waddell refuses to see his lama informants as true Buddhists. In his opinion, the religion they practice is such a corruption of what he considers the original teachings of the Buddha to be that it is best described as "Lamaism." He maintains an attitude of dismissive contempt towards Tibetan Buddhism and especially towards the "popish" lamas. Yet he also correctly points out that the term "Lamaism" is not used by the Tibetans themselves: The Lamas have no special term for their form of Buddhism. They simply call it "The religion" or "Buddha's religion;" and its professors are "Insiders," or "within the fold" (nang-pa), in contradistinction to the non-Buddhists or "Outsiders" (chi-pa or pyi-'ling [sic.]), the so-called "pe-ling" or foreigners of English writers. And the European term "Lamaism" finds no counterpart in Tibetan.[31] Waddell's observation here reinforces his authority by displaying his knowledge of emic categories. His interpretation of the Insider/Outsider distinction is somewhat idiosyncratic, and perhaps self-serving. The Buddhists of Tibet do identify themselves as "Insiders" (nang pa) and non-Buddhists as "Outsiders" (phyi pa), but those usually designated as "Outsiders" by Buddhist polemicists are Hind "heretics" (mu stegs pa) and the Bonpos, not the "so-called ‘pe-ling' or foreigners of English writers." His gloss suggests that Europeans are the usual targets of Tibetan Buddhists as "Outsiders."


Such a characterization reinforces his own position of authority, as we have already learned that he, an Englishman, was accepted by the lamas as a Buddha, thus an Insider. What he fails to mention is that the Buddhists of Tibet were not the only ones to regard themselves as "Insiders." Bonpos also use this label for themselves, while their Buddhist rivals might be dismissed as Outsiders. Thus the Insider/Outsider distinction in Tibetan is more elusive than Waddell indicates, for its meaning depends entirely upon who is in the position to assign others as outsiders. One can imagine that a Bon monk in Sikkim might dismiss Waddell's description of Tibetan religion as inaccurate and heretical, the work of an Outsider. Waddell's understanding of Bon's impact on the formation of Tibetan Buddhism does help explain why he insists on using the neologism "Lamaism," despite it not being an emic term. He prefers "Lamaism" to "Tibetan Buddhism" because the Tibetans place their faith in Lamas, the sacerdotal priests whose "cults comprise much deep-rooted devil-worship and sorcery," and these practices are of Bon origin. "Lamaism," he opines, "is only thinly and imperfectly varnished over with Buddhist symbolism, beneath which the sinister growth of poly-demonist superstition darkly appears."[32] Here Waddell introduces his own inside/outside distinction: once the historian strips away the thin surface of Lamaism (with its veneer of Buddhist symbolism) he reveals the dark depths of non-Buddhist superstitions, swollen to sinister proportions. Again we hear echoes of the demonic rhetoric used by Waddell's missionary predecessors, although he does not rely on the theory of demonic plagiarism to account for its sinister character. In his opinion, there are two primary sources for the demonic dimension lurking in Lamaism: it originates in part from the primitive paganism of Bon, and in part from Indian Tantrism. We need not review Waddell's historical account of how the rational and ethical teachings of the Buddha, free of all superstition and ritual, gradually degenerated in India with th development of Mahayana ritual, Yogacara mysticism, and debased Tantric demonolatry.[33] Our interest lies in his interpretation of Bon and its impact on Tibetan Buddhism, so we will pick up his historical narrative in the seventh century in Tibet, when Buddhism first came to Tibet. Waddell paints in broad brushstrokes a dark and savage picture of pre-Buddhist Tibet: Tibet emerges from barbaric darkness only with the dawn of Buddhism, in the seventh century of our era.... Up till the seventh century Tibet was inaccessible even to the Chinese. The Tibetans of this prehistoric period are seen, from the few glimpses we have of them in Chinese history about the end of the sixth century, to have been rapacious savages and reputed cannibals, without a written language, and followers of an animistic and devil-dancing or Shamanist religion, the Bön, resembling in many ways the Taoism of China.[34] This image of pre-Buddhist Tibet assumes a Chinese vantagepoint. Tibet is judged as backward and barbaric when seen from the perspective of the civilized Chinese. Waddell seems unconcerned with the possibility of ethnocentrism, or the Chinese propensity to view all of the peoples on their frontiers as barbarian savages. Even his comparison of Bon to Taoism follows an association that the Chinese were apt to make. His characterization of Bon as an "animistic and devil-dancing or Shamanist religion," however, reveals less debt to the Chinese (for whom none of these labels are familiar), than to contemporaries like Sarat Chandra Das. While Das introduced terms like "fetishism" and "demon worship" to describe Bon, only to replace them with the generic "Shamanism," Waddell uses "animistic" and "devil-dancing" in apposition to the Bon "Shamanist religion." None of these terms are ever explained or illustrated with any examples, for their function is less descriptive than evocative of barbarism. Bon "Shamanism" is shorn of any context, either historical or literary, for it is assumed to be static and lacking any literature. This proves to be an effective rhetorical strategy because no interpretive questions arise. Bon Shamanism is treated as self-evident; nothing about it is problematic.

Much like Das and the Buddhist apologists before him, Waddell subscribes to an evolutionary model of Tibetan religious development. He ascribes a positive value to the introduction of ]]Indian Buddhism)] to Tibet, a catalytic event that transformed Tibetan culture from an essentially barbaric state to a more civilized and humane one: The current of Buddhism which runs through its tangled paganism has brought to the Tibetan most of the little civilization which he possesses, and has raised him correspondingly in the scale of humanity, lifting him above a life of wild rapine and selfishness, by setting before him higher aims, by giving milder meanings to his mythology, by discountenancing sacrifice, and by inculcating universal charity and tenderness to all living beings.[35] This passage indicates Waddell's evolutionary theory of Tibetan religion. Indian Buddhism bears the light of civilization to Tibet, while dark and sinister shadows are cast by the native tradition of Bon. For Bon is the source of the savage mythology and the barbaric sacrifices to which he refers, the religion that promoted the life of "wild rapine and selfishness." The shift Waddell describes from barbarism to civilization, from selfishness to compassion, and the discoun-tenancing of bloody sacrifices, can be found in both Buddhist and Bon narratives about the impact of their own religion on Tibet, although Waddell seems under the spell of the Buddhist versions.


I will briefly review some of the themes found in Buddhist narratives in order to illustrate how the images of Tibetan "paganism" found in the scholarship of Waddell and his contemporaries are not fabrications that western scholars alone have invented. For these western pioneers too were charting territory that had already been mapped by Buddhist polemicists. In the Tibetan Buddhist myths that address how and why Tibet converted to the true religion, we find a Buddhist mission civilisatrice expressed in moral and pragmatic terms: the country needed to be tamed, civilized, and in fact totally reconstructed, not simply set on the Buddhist path to enlightenment. Crucial to this project is the creation of a negative image of pre-Buddhist Tibet. It is depicted as an insignificant border region to India, paralyzed by the influence of dark demonic forces, its benighted human inhabitants living in fear, lust, and lawlessness. According to these narratives, pre-Buddhist Tibet is the "land of the cruel ones" (gdug pa can gyi yul), a country "beyond the pale" (mtha' 'khob). The Tibetans themselves are depicted as stupid and savage, with an innate propensity for violence and a thirst for bloody sacrifices as "red-faced flesh-eaters" (sha za gdong dmar).[36] This barbaric state of affairs in Tibet was destined to change upon the arrival of Buddhism, which introduced literacy, a legal system and moral code, a higher standard of living, as well as bringing Buddhist enlightenment to the land of darkness. Buddhist historical narratives tell how Tibet was providentially civilized by Mahayana, when it introduced new spiritual and practical techniques for cultivating the snowy land of Tibet, sowing the seeds of karma, merit, and enlightenment. Tibet's conversion to Buddhism is represented not merely as a "spiritual" event but as a cultural revolution, impacting everything from law and politics, morality and native intelligence. All of these things were of a piece, resulting in the complete reformation of Tibet from a backward, barbaric place to a civilized nation under the rule of enlightened kings. While Waddell's theory of religious evolution in Tibet may mirror Buddhist narratives, his version of "pure" Buddhism departs significantly from the standards of orthodoxy accepted by Tibetan Buddhists. Whereas Tibetan Buddhists maintain the conceit of having inherited Indian Buddhism in all of its richness, culminating in the sophisticated practices of the Vajrayana, Waddell disparages Tantra as a degeneration from Sakyamuni's pure message, a teaching that promoted morality, reason, and agnostic idealism, free of all superstition, sacerdotalism, and sexual perversion. Waddell's Orientalist assessment of Tibetan religions is in no way taken whole cloth from Buddhist apologists, attached as it is to Protestant polemics against the "Catholic" elements in Tibetan Buddhism. He regards the Lamas not as genuine Buddhist monks but as priests (crypto-Catholics), who play upon the credulity and fear of Tibetan lay people by promising them relief from demons if they support the priests' performance of exorcism rituals: A notable feature of Lamaism throughout all of its sects, and decidedly un-Buddhist, is that the Lama is a priest rather than a monk. He assigns himself an indispensable place in the religion and has coined the current saying "Without a Lama in from there is no (approach to) God."

He performs sacerdotal functions on every possible occasion; and a large proportion of the order is almost entirely engaged in this work. And such services are in much demand; for the people are in hopeless bondage to the demons, and not altogether unwilling slaves to their exacting worship.[37] The sensitive reader today is struck by Waddell's sovereign confidence in being able to single out what is truly Buddhist, while dismissing his lama informants as un-Buddhist. For him, true Buddhism can only be found in the texts that record the words of the Buddha, not in the contemporary rituals of Tibetan Lamas, whose practices have become so corrupt and distant from noble Sakyamuni's original teachings.[38] Waddell's attitude of dismissive contempt towards his Tibetan informants is not unknown among scholars today. Sometimes the disdainful scholar is himself a Tibetan Buddhist. The Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa wrote an imperious article that surveyed Bon, wherein he describes in familiar fashion how the Bonpos adopted and adapted Buddhist ideas. In doing so, Trungpa claims that the Bonpos diluted and even forgot their own unique teachings and practices. It is pointless, Trungpa asserts, to ask a contemporary Bonpo about pre-Buddhist Bon beliefs, since he is only familiar with the hodge-podge of Buddhist-Bon ideas found in these late texts.[39] For Trungpa (as for Waddell), the contemporary Tibetan informants who call themselves "Bonpos" are really "outsiders" with regard to the origins of their own tradition. After Waddell published his study of Lamaism in 1895, the next scholar to write a survey of Tibetan religion was Charles Bell in 1931 with The Religion of Tibet.

Like Waddell, Bell was a British colonial administrator and member of the Indian Civil Service, who in 1901 was transferred to Sikkim, where he began his lifelong relationship with Tibet. His career culminated when he became the British Representative in a diplomatic mission to Tibet. Unlike earlier travelers to Tibet like Das or Kawaguchi, who donned a disguise in order to enter Lhasa secretly, Bell went to Tibet as an invited guest and personal friend of the Dalai Lama. His presentation of Tibetan culture and Buddhism is generally more sympathetic than that of his predecessors. He gained access to a large number of Tibetan historical sources, and his discussion of Tibet's history makes generous reference to them. Bell does not cite any Bon histories in The Religion of Tibet, however, and his interpretation and evaluation of Bon has much in common with his predecessors. Here is how he introduces "the old faith" of Bon: Before Buddhism came to Tibet, the religion of the people, known to themselves as P鰊, appears to have been a form of Shamanism or Nature worship. It is over a thousand years since Buddhism established itself, and it is therefore difficult to give direct influence as to the form which Shamanism assumed in Tibet. The Tibetan histories pay but little attention to the pre-Buddhist period, regarding it as unworthy of serious attention. Such few references as there are show a belief in spirits of earth and sky, spirits good and bad, the worshipping of the former, and the propitiation of the latter. Magical tambourines were among the necessary equipment of a professor or priest of this religion, enabling him to travel in the sky.[40] Bell's use of Shamanism here is placed in conjunction with "nature worship," another term used in evolutionary theories of religion to describe the most primitive stage of belief, made popular by Max Müller. Bell is well aware of the scant evidence that survives about Bon, and he suggests that the rise of Buddhism eclipsed the original religion. Compared to earlier descriptions, Bell's characterization of Bon is more specific, mentioning the belief in spirits, their propitiation and veneration; later he adds that some other features of Bon include the exorcism of demons who bring sickness, as well as animal and human sacrifice.[41]


Most notably, Bell mentions the "magical tambourine" used to fly in the sky, and we will see how this drum (phyed rnga) becomes the symbol most often singled out in identifying a Bon shaman, especially in the taxonomies created by phenomenologists of religion. Bell does not limit his characterization of Bon to ritual practices as described in ancient Tibetan and Chinese sources. He also believes that one can gain some insight into ancient Bon by examining the primitive practices found in tribal regions bordering contemporary Tibet, especially in the eastern Himalaya and western China, among the Lepchas, Limbu, the Lolo, Lissu, and Moso tribes. "It is probable that in those rites we have to this day a survival of the Pön is religion but little changed from its life in Tibet two thousand years ago."[42] Bell's suggestion here, that Bon can be found still practiced on the margins of Tibet, among the primitive tribal peoples, was accepted by many of his contemporaries and by later Tibetologists.[43]

Even today many anthropologists continue to study shamans in the Himalayan regions bordering Tibet with the ethnohistorical purpose of reconstructing Tibet's pre-Buddhist religion. The notion that the study of contemporary "primitive" societies will offer insights into the religious orientation of archaic or prehistoric societies was first formulated by Edward Tylor. Most famous for his evolutionary theory of religion that plotted human progress from savagery to civilization, Tylor noted that even today's civilized peoples retain vestiges of the most primitive religious attitudes, such as the animistic belief that the world is pervaded by spiritual beings. Tylor developed his "doctrine of survivals" to account for the persistence of archaic ideas in the present, although he offers little explanation for why the "survivals" have, in fact, survived.[44] The best place to look for these relics of a more primitive age and mental condition would be in the simple tribal societies located on the periphery of the modern civilized world. Tylor's theory of "survivals" informs not only Bell's claim that primitive Bon can be found among Himalayan tribal regions, but it survives too in the work of contemporary anthropologists. It is easy to smile somewhat condescendingly at the missionaries and pioneering Tibetologists, who worried so much about idolatry and demonic plagiarism, and who subscribed to evolutionary theories of Tibetan religion that today seem so outdated. There is an implicit teleology lying behind the scholar's smile of superiority, for it arises from the assumption that we are no longer subject to the biases and naivete that afflicted earlier scholarship. Today, of course, scholars are dubious about the quest for the origins of religion, and evolutionary theories of religious development have fallen out of favor. When reviewing the work of earlier Tibetologists, it is tempting to distance ourselves from that past, and to protest that we don't do that sort of thing now. Yet despite our discomfort with evolutionary models of religion, we have hardly abandoned the conviction that the field of Tibetan studies must advance beyond the errors of the past. By denying the formative influence of past scholarship on the present, we blind ourselves to the historicity of our disciplinary formation, including the constitution of "Bon" as a research subject. The denial of our own on-going entanglement with issues debated by past scholars results from a fantasy that, once the past has been denied, we are now located "on the clean slate of the present, where there is nothing but ‘the real data' to confound us."[45]

This fantasy continues to motivate some scholars of Bon literature today, who distance themselves from earlier students of Tibet, whether for their armchair scholarship, or for their Buddhist biases, or for their ignorance of canonical Bon literature. By disavowing past scholarship, these philologists place themselves on the tabula rasa of the present, where their task is to provide a more historically accurate etymology of the terms found in Bon texts, including "Bon" itself. What remains dubious about this approach is the assumption that the scholar can retrieve the history of Bon or Buddhism from primary sources alone. The pioneering scholars of Buddhism and Bon introduced a number of comparative strategies and historical models that were used by later scholars. For instance, there is a common tendency to shift from analogical comparisons (Bon is like central Asian shamanism, or Tantric Buddhism) to a theory of causality or genealogy (shamanism or Buddhism is the source of Bon). The genealogical model of comparison always establishes a relation of dependence or borrowing, with one religion serving as the more prestigious and pure source, while Bon is consistently designated the later "mixed" tradition. Too, the pioneers that we have reviewed relied on binary categories to distinguish "original" Bon from Buddhism that prove long lasting. These binary distinctions include the association of Buddhism/Bon with adjectives like active/passive, developmental/static, light/dark, and ethical/barbaric. These binarisms derive in part from Buddhist apologetic literature, as well as from a distinction introduced in nineteenth century scholarship between "ethical" and "natural" religion. It is striking, for instance, how many of the pioneering scholars claimed that the most important contribution of Buddhism to Tibet was the ethical doctrine of karma, described as "you reap what you sow."[46] Buddhism civilizes and uplifts the Tibetans because it introduces them to a noble soteriology, ethical teachings based on karma and "charity," and virtues such as tolerance and gentleness. Moreover, it is a missionary religion based upon the dissemination of sacred texts, with a proselytizing ethic and universal orientation that is familiar to western scholars steeped in [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]]. Bon, on the other hand, was represented as strange and sinister. Its shamanism served as the demonic other, the religious matrix of the Tibetan natives. When Indian Buddhism crossed the Himalayan threshold in the seventh century it penetrated the Bon matrix of Tibet, and the product of their intermingling was a bastard child identified as "Lamaism." Lurking behind the image of Lamaism as a corrupted form of Buddhism lies Bon shamanism. Everything about Lamaism that seemed frightening and demonic (antithetical to "pure" Buddhism) was identified as the legacy of primitive Bon. In this historical narrative, Bon shamanism serves the purpose of establishing temporal and cultural distance from the pure origins of Indian Buddhism, marking Bon as the sinister other that is indigenous to Tibet.

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  1. H. A. Jaeschke, A Tibetan-English Dictionary (London, 1881, reprinted by Motilal Banarsidass, 1987), p. 372. The Report of the Royal Bavarian Academy of Science cited by Jaeschke contains an article by Emil Schlagintweit, über die Bon-pa Sekte in Tibet, Heft I. (1866), pp. 1-12. This appears to be the earliest scholarly article written about Bon.
  2. H. A. Jaeschke, A Tibetan-English Dictionary, pp. iii-iv. In a letter written to Sir Henry Yule on the topic of Bon, Jaeschke reiterates that not much is known about this religion other than what Emil Schlagintweit published. "So much seems to be certain that it was the ancient religion of Tibet, before Buddhism penetrated into the country, and that even at later periods it several times gained the ascendancy when the secular power was of a disposition averse to the Lamaistic hierarchy. Another opinion is that the Bon religion was originally a mere fetishism, and related to or identical with Shamanism; this appears to me very probable and easy to reconcile with the former supposition, for it may afterwards, on becoming acquainted with the Chinese doctrine of the ‘Taossé,' have adorned itself with many of its tenets." Sir Henry Yule, The Book of Ser Marco Polo (1870, reprinted in New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1903), p. 324. The parallels between Bon and Taoism were often discussed and debated in the early scholarship on Bon. See note 28 below.
  3. The term "placeholder" is borrowed from Wayne Proudfoot, who uses it to describe how certain terms function in the "ineffable" discourse of mystics. See his Religious Experience (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), pp. 127-129.
  4. H. A. Jaeschke, A Tibetan-English Dictionary, pp. iii. Jaeschke's missionary purpose in compiling his dictionary was hardly unique. His predecessor, Alexander Csomo de Körös, the "Father of Tibetology," noted at the beginning of his Dictionary published in 1834 that "When there shall be more interest taken for Buddhism (which has much in common with the spirit of true [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]]) and for diffusing Christian and European knowledge through the most eastern parts of Asia, the Tibetan Dictionary may be much improved, enlarged, and illustrated by the addition of Sanskrit terms." This is quoted in the Preface of Sarat Chandra Das's Dictionary as the reason for compiling yet another dictionary with more Sanskrit terms. See Sarat Chandra Das, A Tibetan-English Dictionary (Alipore: West Bengal Government Press, 1902; reprinted in Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1992), p. v.
  5. Sarat Chandra Das's exploits as a secret agent for the British government served as a source of inspiration for Rudyard Kipling's novel Kim, in which he was the model for the character Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, the Bengali scholar and spy. More recently the character Hurree Chunder Mookerjee has been immortalized in a novel by the Tibetan writer Jamyang Norbu, The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes (New Delhi: Harper Collins India, 1999), where Mookerjee serves as the traveling companion and sidekick to Sherlock Holmes, who travels incognito to Tibet as the Norwegian explorer Sigerson.
  6. Sarat Chandra Das, "The Bon (P鰊) Religion," Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 50 (1881), pp. 187-205.
  7. Sarat Chandra Das, Gyal Rab Bon-Ke J鹡g Neh (Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, 1915; an earlier edition appeared in Darjeeling in 1900). The Tibetan text also appears in Three Sources for a History of Bon, edited by Khedrup Gyatsho (Dolanji: Tibetan Bon Monastic Centre, 1974), pp. 1-196. The name of this text is misleading, for Das invented it in the absence of the first page of this text. Das reported that these pages were lost, but that he had translated the content of the first page shortly after discovering the work in Tibet. Among Bon historians, this work by Khyung po Blo gros rgyal mtshan is known as Gling gzhi [=Gleng gzhi) bstan pa'i byung khungs. A section of the Gleng gzhi appears in Namkhai Norbu, Zhang Bod Lorgyus: la storia antica dello Zhang Zhung e del Tibet (Napoli: Comunita Dzogchen, 1981), pp. 102-128. Three of the twenty-six sections of this text were translated into German by Berthold Laufer in "über ein tibetisches Geshichtswerk der Bonpo," in T'oung pao Serie II, Vol. II. (1901), pp. 24-44.
  8. Sarat Chandra Das, A Tibetan-English Dictionary, p. 879.
  9. The identification of Bon with Shamanism is also made in Das's preface to the Gyal rab Bon-ke Jung neh (p. 1) where he appends a note: "Bon signifies religion in the terminology of the Bon-po, the early Shaman of Tibet."
  10. Thu'u bkvan Blo zang Chos kyi nyi ma, Thu'u bkvan grub mtha' (Lanzhou, Gansu: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1984), p. 381. Sarat Chandra Das' translation of the same passage is much more dramatic: "The Bonpo of that age were skilled in witchcraft, the performance of mystical rites for suppressing evil spirits and cannibal hobgoblins of the nether region, the invocation of the venerable gods above, and the domestic ceremonies to appease the wrath of malignant spirits of the middle region (Earth) caused by the ‘pollution of the hearth.'" "The Bon (P鰊) Religion" in Tibetan Studies, ed. by Alaka Chattopadhyaya (Calcutta: K. P. Bagchi, 1984), pp. 5-6.
  11. For example, see Shes rab 'byung gnas's polemic against Bon, the Dgongs gcig Yig cha, translated by Dan Martin in Unearthing Bon Treasures (Leiden: Brill, 2001), p. 189.
  12. Thu'u bkvan, Thu'u bkvan grub mtha', p. 381.
  13. Thu'u bkvan, Thu'u bkvan grub mtha', p. 382. Sarat Chandra Das identifies sham thabs sngon po can in his Dictionary (p. 1231) as "a T顁thika Pandit who preached a perverse system of Tantra and used to wear a blue petticoat," and he cites a passage from the Biography of Atisa (Jo bo rje Ati sha'i rnam thar). This passage is translated in his Indian Pandits in the Land of Snows ed. by Nobin Chandra Das (Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press, 1893, reprinted New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1992), p. 56: "A certain heretic priest of the blue robe order has been preaching immorality and obscene doctrine. By admixture of these foreign elements the sacred doctrine of Buddha has been very much debased." This bluerobed Pandit frequently appears in Tibetan polemical literature, sometimes representing the perverse and lustful nature of Bon clerics (who wear blue robes), but at other times representing Buddhist tantrikas gone bad. This emblematic figure appears in a song attributed to Milarepa, when he is debating with a Bon priest and arguing why it is nonsense to believe that Bon is the "elder brother" of Buddhism. Here is an excerpt from Milarepa's song that provides a humorous etiology for the "blue-robed Pandit": "According to more modern sources [sings Milarepa) a very clever Buddhist pandit in the land of India visited the house of a whore. Arising before dawn, he dressed, but by mistake wrapped himself in the woman's skirt instead of his own. Returning to the monastery at dawn, he was seen wearing the blue skirt and expelled from the community. He made his way eventually to Tibet and with hard feelings in this land of exile created a perverse religion and named it Bon." From the Rje tsun Mi la ras pa rdo rje' mgyur druk sogs gsung rgyun thor bu ba 'ga', trans. by Lama Kunga Rimpoche and Brian Cutillo in Drinking the Mountain Stream: New Stories and Songs by Milarepa, (Lotsawa Press, 1978), p. 148.
  14. Thu'u bkvan, Thu'u bkvan grub mtha', p. 389.1-3. The "sage of 'Bri gung" refers to Shes rab 'byung gnas (1187-1241), who wrote an anti-Bon polemical tract entitled the Dgongs gcig Yig cha, translated by Martin in Unearthing Bon Treasures. Thu'u bkvan's indebtedness to Sher rab 'byung gnas was noted by the Bon scholar Dpal ldan Tshul khrims in G.yung drung Bon gyi bstan 'byung (Dolanji: Tibetan Bonpo Monastic Centre, 1972, Vol. 2, p. 535.
  15. Dan Martin, Unearthing Bon Treasures, p. 135 Also see Martin, "Beyond Acceptance and Rejection? The Anti-Bon Polemic Included in the Thirteenth- Century Single Intention (Dgong-gcig Yig-cha) and Its Background in Tibetan Religious History," Journal of Indian Philosophy, 25 (1997), pp. 263-305. Also see my "Cracking the Mirror: A Critical Genealogy of Scholarship on Tibetan Bon and the ‘Canonical' Status of The Crystal Mirror of Doctrinal Systems," The Tibet Journal XXIII.4 (Winter 1998), pp. 92-107.
  16. Anton Schiefner, über das Bon-po Sòtra "Das weisse Naga-hunderttausend," Mémoires de l'Academie de St. Petersbourg, VII. série, Tome 28 no. 1, (St. Petersburg, 1881).
  17. Joseph Francis Rock, The Na-khi Naga Cult and Related Ceremonies (Roma: Istituto Italiano Per Il medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1952), p. 1. The Bon text translated by Schiefner, the White Naga Bon Sòtra, is discussed by William Rockhill in Land of the Lamas (1891) where he notes in a footnote on pages 217-218 that the "Lu-bum karpo" simply substitutes Bon terms for Buddhist words: "This work does not contain any theories or ideas antagonistic to the ordinary teachings of the Buddhists; its cosmogony is purely Buddhist; the same may be said of the ethics and metaphysics."
  18. Ekai Kawaguchi, Three Years in Tibet (Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1909), p. 131. Kawaguchi's comments on polyandry and Bon can be found on p. 373. Kawaguchi's distaste for Tibetans as dirty, aggressive, violent, and promiscuous can be heard echoing in the work of another Japanese scholar Hajime Nakamura, who characterized the Tibetan mentalité in a very similar manner. Like Kawaguchi, Nakamura argued that Tibetan marriage customs (and polyandry in particular) are quite ancient in origin, and their persistence is said to account for the unimportance of family lineage and filial piety. Like Kawaguchi, Nakamura also notes the similar characteristics between Bon and Shinto, "both of which are of shamanistic origin." See Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples (Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1964; reprint, 1985), p. 304, 309, 333.
  19. Ekai Kawaguchi, Three Years in Tibet, p. 562.
  20. Ekai Kawaguchi, Three Years in Tibet, p. 131.
  21. Francois Hartog, The Mirror of Herodotus: The Representation of the Other in the Writing of History trans. by Janet Lloyd (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), p. 225.
  22. Kawaguchi's ethnographic comparison of Buddhist/Bon synthesis in Tibet with Buddhist/Shinto synthesis in Japan could be elevated to a more systematic comparison by examining the use of honji suijaku theory in the esoteric Buddhism of Japan and the use of malas, upya, and emanation bodies (sprul sku) in Tantric Buddhism, especially in the "Universalist" (Ris med) movement.
  23. William Rockhill testifies that the Bonpos in eastern Tibet were usually identified by the Chinese as Taoists, and Gshen rab identified with Laozi, but Rockhill himself dismisses this comparison as superficial. Bon, he argues, bears much more similarity to Buddhism than Taoism in terms of its present doctrine, dress, monasteries, and so on. Rockhill does not go as far as Kawaguchi in identifying Bon and Buddhism, for Bon contains non-Buddhist indigenous theories and practices that antedate Buddhism, and he adds that they are especially proficient in "juggling and magic." See Land of the Lamas, p. 217-218, n. 2. Nonetheless, the views about Bon and Taoism expressed by the Chinese that Rockhill sought to discredit remained quite popular, as noted by Tsung-lien Shen, in his book Tibet and the Tibetans (Stanford University Press, 1953, reprinted in New York, Octagon Books, 1973), p. 37: "Bon-Po, one form of Shamanism, is considered by some scholars to be a Tibetan copy of a later decadent phase of Chinese Taoism. It lacked depth, having, in default of a philosophical base, a mixture of exorcism and primitive worship. However, by borrowing too freely from the abundance of Buddhism, it was not long before Bon-Po lost its own characteristics and became absorbed into its rival." This particular genealogy of "original" Bon sees it as derived from a decadent phase of Chinese Taoism, with very few distinctively Tibetan features except perhaps its mixture of exorcism and primitive worship.
  24. Thu'u bkvan, Thu'u bkvan grub mtha', pp. 412 ff.
  25. Cited in Hajime Nakamura, Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples, p. 333.
  26. The act of comparison is an intellectual operation, and thus the realization of similarity (or difference) is not "natural" or "given," although it might be experienced by the comparativist as such. Jonathan Z. Smith makes this point quite clearly: "In the case of religion, as in the case of any disciplined inquiry, comparison, in its strongest form, brings differences together within the space of the scholar's mind for the scholar's own intellectual reasons. It is the scholar who makes their cohabitation-their ‘sameness'-possible, not ‘natural' affinities or processes of history. Taken in this sense, ‘genealogy' disguises and obscures the scholar's interests and activities allowing the illusion of passive observation (what Nietzsche has termed [[[Wikipedia:Zarathustra|Zarathustra]] 2.15], the ‘myth of the immaculate perception')." See Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]] and the Religions of Late Antiquity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), p. 51 32 Jonathan Z. Smith, Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 22.
  27. Kircher's account of Tibetan religion appears in the appendix to Jan Nieuhof, An Embassy from the East India Company of the United Provinces to the Grand Tartar Chan, Emperor of China, John Ogilby, trans., reprint ed. (Menston: Scholars Press 1972). 40-43. Cited by Donald Lopez in "‘Lamaism' and the Disappearance of Tibet," p. 11. Much of my discussion of demonic plagiarism is borrowed (but not plagiarized!) from this article.
  28. Here I am indebted again to Jonathan Z. Smith who made the following observation in his University lecture in Religion at Arizona State University entitled "Differential Equations: On Constructing the ‘Other." "Rather than the remote "other" being perceived as problematic and/or dangerous, it is the proximate "other", the near neighbor, who is most troublesome. That is to say, while difference or "otherness" may be perceived as LIKE-US or NOT-LIKE-US, it becomes most problematic when it is TOO-MUCH-LIKE-US or when it claims to BE-US." Cited by William Scott Green in "The Difference Religion Makes, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 62.4 (Winter, 1994), p. 1205.
  29. In The Book of Ser Marco Polo (1870), translated and edited by Sir Henry Yule, there is a note written by Yule on Marco Polo's description of a group of extreme ascetics who ate nothing but bran mixed with water and who wore black and blue hemp robes. Yule identifies this as a reference to the Tibetan Bonpos, and he summarizes all that is known about this religion. He mentions a missionary named Rev. Gabriel Durand who visited a Bonpo monastery in Tsodam (Tsaidam?) Eastern Tibet in June 1863. The Rev. Durand wrote, "In this temple are the monstrous idols of the sect of Peunbo; horrid figures, whose features only Satan could have inspired. They are disposed about the enclosure according to their power and their seniority. Above the pagoda is a loft, the nooks of which are crammed with all kinds of diabolical trumpery; little idols of wood or copper, hideous masques of men and animals, superstitious Lama vestments, drums, trumpets of human bones, sacrificial vessels, in short, all the utensils with which the devil's servants in Tibet honour their master." One of the "monstrous idols" he identifies as that of Tamba-Shi-Rob, the great doctor of the sect of the Peunbo," that is, Ston pa Gshen rab. This might be the first clear description of a Bon monastery by a missionary, and in it we see the same rhetoric of the demonic, and demonic plagiarism at work.
  30. Waddell, The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism, pp. viii-ix. For another view of Waddell, see Donald Lopez "Foreigner at the Lama's Feet," Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism Under Colonialism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), pp. 259-263.
  31. Waddell, The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism, pp. 28-9.
  32. Waddell, The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism, p. xi. Also see pages 29-30.
  33. For Waddell's discussion of how the noble and human teachings of ⁄›kyamuni Buddha came to be corrupted with supernaturalism, ritualism, idolatry, metaphysical speculation, and sexual perversion found in Mah›y›na and Tantric Buddhism, see The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism, pp. 5-17. For an analysis of Waddell's historical model of degeneration, see Donald Lopez, "Foreigner at the Lama's Feet," pp. 259-263.
  34. Waddell, The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism, pp. 18-19.
  35. Waddell, The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism, p. 566.
  36. These descriptions of Tibet and the Tibetans all appear in the Bka' thang sde lnga, namely the Lha 'dre bka' thang, the Rgyal po'i bka' thang, the Tsun mo bka' thang, as well as the Mani bka' 'bum. All are quoted by Rolf A. Stein in Tibetan Civilization trans. by J. E. Stapleton Driver (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1972), pp. 40-1. Also see Janet Gyatso, "Down With the Demoness: Reflections on a Feminine Ground in Tibet," Tibet Journal 12.4 (Winter 1987), p. 38.
  37. Waddell, The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism, p. 153.
  38. Waddell's views on Buddhism are very much of his times, a Victorian evaluation based on a textual ideal, as summarized by Philip Almond: "The image of decay, decadence, and degeneration emerged as a result of the possibility of contrasting an ideal textual Buddhism of the past with its contemporary Eastern instances. Simultaneously, this provided an ideological justification for the missionary enterprises of a progressive, thriving [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]] against a Buddhism now debilitated." The British Discovery of Buddhism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 40.
  39. Ch鰃yam Trungpa, "Some Aspects of P鰊," Himalayan Anthropology: The Indo-Tibetan Interface, ed. by James F. Fisher (The Hague: Mouton Publishers, 1978), p. 306. He writes: "The investigation of the P鰊 religion is further complicated by what is called in Tibet "white P鰊," which is what amounts to a P鰊nized Buddhism. In "white P鰊," Buddhism has been adopted basically, but Buddha is called Shenrap, the Buddhist vajra is replaced by an anticlockwise swastika, and the bodhisattva is called yungdrungsempa [yungdrumsems-pa], that is swastikasattva. Where a text mentions "dharma," the word "p鰊" is substituted. There are P鰊 equivalent names for all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, and also for the ten stages of the Bodhisattva Path, that is, the Sanskrit bhumis. The contemporary P鰊 believer is therefore a poor source of information concerning the pure tradition of his religion."
  40. Charles Bell, The Religion of Tibet (Oxford University Press, 1931, reprinted in Delhi by Motilal Banarsidass, 1992), p. 8.
  41. Bell, The Religion of Tibet, p. 10.
  42. Charles Bell, The Religion of Tibet, p. 10. On page 15 he adds; "If one seeks for the nearest approach to the old P鰊ist faith, he will find it among the aboriginal tribes of the eastern Himalaya and western China, and among Tibetan tribes, such as the people of Po in south-eastern Tibet, who live in close contact with these aborigines or in similar surroundings."
  43. Alexandra David-Neel, in her Magic and Mystery in Tibet (originally published as Mystiques et magiciens du Thibet Plon: Paris, 1929, English translation Claude Kendall, New York, 1932, reprinted by Dover 1971), repeatedly states that one can find evidence of Bon, "the shamanist aborigine," still practiced in the remote regions on the frontiers of Tibet. See pp. 36-39. One of the tribes of western China mentioned by Bell, the Mosso, were later studied by Joseph Rock, who found remnants there, and especially in the neighboring Na-khi, of ancient Bon practices. One reason why Rock spent so many years learning to decipher the pictographic texts of the Na-khi is that he believed that their literature was "of purely Bon origin." Drawn to the Na-khi's pictographic script, he was convinced that the texts were Bon fossils, and the Na-khi living remnants of the ancient Bon religion of Shamanism. See Joseph Francis Rock, The Na-khi Naga Cult and Related Ceremonies, (Roma: Istituto Italiano Per Il medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1952). For a critique of Rock's identification of the Na-khi literature and ancient Bon, see Anthony Jackson, "Tibetan Bön Rites in China: A Case of Cultural Diffusion," Himalayan Anthropology: The Indo-Tibetan Interface, ed. by James F. Fisher (The Hague: Mouton Publishers, 1978), pp. 309-325.
  44. Edward Burnett Tylor, Primitive Culture: Researched into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art, and Custom 2 Volumes (London: Murray, 1873, 1874). On this theory of "survivals," see Margaret T. Hogden, The Doctrine of Survivals: A Chapter in the History of Scientific Method in the Study of Man (London: Allenson, 1936).
  45. Tomoko Masuzawa, In Search of Dreamtime: The Quest for the Origin of Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), p. 32.
  46. Ekai Kawaguchi identifies two valuable characteristics in the "creed" of the Tibetans: 1) they recognize the existence of a superhuman being and protector; 2) their belief in the law of cause and effect. Three Years in Tibet, p. 561. Sarat Chandra Das devotes an entire lecture to the "Doctrine of Transmigration" in Indian Pandits in the Land of Snow, where he notes that the interest in causality has so penetrated the Tibetan popular consciousness that "the priesthood has constructed elaborate works on the art of divination, and necromancy, based on astrology." Das's point here seems somewhat critical of the role assumed by the "priests" of "Lamaism." But he also adds that the Lama meditates on the transcendental virtues of the Bodhisattva, and "with indifference, [they] dismiss the doctor and endeavor to become lost in meditation for the purpose of being restored to a higher stage of human existence after death." (pp. 81-2). Waddell generously notes of Lamaism that "notwithstanding its glaring defects, Lamaism has exerted a considerable civilizing influence over the Tibetans. The people are profoundly affected by its benign ethics, and its maxim, "as a man sows he shall reap," has undoubtedly enforced the personal duty of mastery over self in spite of the easier physical aids to piety which are prevalent." The Buddhism of Tibet, p. 154. Thus the individualistic ethical orientation of karma appeals to these writers as a civilizing force on the Tibetans' psyche.