Accepted Paper:

From religious minority to the source of indigenousness: the changing position of Bon religion among Tibetan culture  


Kengo Konishi (Otani University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper deals with the manner in which the religious minority in the Tibetans maintains their position. Evaluated as the source of indigenousness under socio-cultural changes from the mid-20th century, they aim to reconfirm their own values while seeking a symbiosis with major Buddhists.

Paper long abstract:

In the Tibetan plateau, the socioeconomic system based on Tibetan Buddhism was constructed after the diffusion of Buddhism from India in the 7th century. Since then, the presence of Bon religion, which is believed to be spread in ancient Tibet, has diminished. The followers of Bon religion called Bonpo have been reduced to a religious minority within Tibetan ethnic group. Their beliefs and rituals had been often regarded as "primitive", not only by major Tibetan Buddhists but also by Western scholars until the middle of 20th century.

However, the position of Bon religion has considerably changed since the late 20th century, along with the transnational diffusion of Tibetan culture and the governance by China. This paper deals with the manner in which Bonpo maintain their position in the contemporary contexts.

The discourse that evaluates Bon religion as "indigenous source of Tibetan culture" has been constructed by two factors: one is the development of Tibetology in which Western and Tibetan scholars collaborated to indicate historical and cultural importance of the Bon, the other is the Chinese official's tendency to define Bon as the "ethnic culture" of the Tibetans while considering Buddhism as a "foreign religion".

The changing position of Bon has influenced the self-orientation of Bonpo. On the one hand, they assert their uniqueness and authenticity by recalling its history and universality. On the other hand, they advocate the compatibility of the Bon with Buddhism, by emphasizing common values such as enlightenment and altruism in order to avoid sectarianism.

Panel P138
Religious practices in transition: ethnographical and theoretical studies of religions in multiethnic and/or multicultural situations