Book Reviews

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Tibet’s Ancient Religion Bön

Christoph Baumer

(Translated from German by
Michael Kohn
2002, 200pp., colour plates throughout, 31 x 23 cm., Hardbound.

ISBN-10: 974-524-011-7 $60.00
ISBN-13: 978-974-524-011-7

Tibet’s Ancient Religion Bön

Book review from Oriental Art Magazine (Vol. XLIX No. 2, 2003)

This is another volume by a leading modern day explorer of Central Asia, Tibet and China whose investigative journeys into Tibet have resulted in a collection of photographs and research material on the ancient religion of Bon. Bon was a religion widespread in Tibet in ancient times, marked by shamanistic practices and a distinct cult of the dead. It was superceded in the 8th century by the advent of Buddhism, but strains of a reformed Bön school has managed to assert itself through to the present times, as seen in some of the traditions kept alive at a few monasteries and in popular Tibetan beliefs seen through the use of prayer flags, spirit traps, temple and mountain circumambulations, death and marriage rites, oracle techniques and many other religious rituals.
   The book explores secluded monasteries and sacred sites of communities that still practise Bön and traces the subject from its origins and how the myths and practices reflected themselves in Tibetan cultural values and rituals. The author provides an introduction and unfolds the subject chronologically by discussing Bön and the culture of Tibet; the physical origin of the world and human beings; the mythical root of Bön, Bön in the kingdom of Shangshung and early Tibet, Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche, the founder of Bön, Bön and Buddhism, the revival of Buddhism; the revival of Bön, the present pantheon of Bön and Bön in modern times.
   The author’s skillfully executed photographic illustrations (with the exception of several on loan) and research and substantial bibliographical notes support each of the aspects examined of this ancient religion. He also provides a useful chronology of Tibetan history from 250 million BC up to 1997 divided into Early History; The Pugyel Tibetan Kings of Yarlung and the Second Diffusion of Buddhism and the leadership of the Dalai Lama. The index is usefully categorized into geographical terms, deities, persons, dynasties, nations and animals; and general terms.
   Christoph Baumer is a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society who has made several important discoveries in the fields of archaeology and art history from his travels into the Central Asia Silk Route and the Taklamakan Desert. He has published many articles on his findings and authored a book entitled Southern Silk Road In the Footsteps of Sir Aurel Stein and Sven Hedin.

[Read a review from the Asian Philosophy Magazine] [More Orchid Press Reviews]