Tonpa Shenrab, Founder of Bon

According to tradition, Bon originated in the land of Olmo Lungring, located in a larger country known as Tazig. Ol symbolizes the unborn; Mo the undiminishing; Lung the prophetic words of Tonpa Shenrab, the founder of Bon; and Ring his everlasting compassion. Olmo Lungring constitutes one-third of the existing world and is situated to the west of Tibet. It is described as an eight-petalled lotus under a sky which appears as an eight-spoked wheel. In the center rises Mount gYung-Drung Gutseg, which symbolizes permanence, indestructibility, and the Nine Ways of Bon. At the base of Mount gYung-Drung spring four rivers flowing towards the four cardinal directions. The mountain is surrounded by temples, cities, and parks. To the south lies the palace Barpo Sogye where Tonpo Shenrab was born. To the west and north are the palaces in which the wives and children of Tonpa Shenrab lived. The temple Shampo Lhatse is to the east. The complex of palaces,rivers, and parks with Mount gYung-Drung in the center constitutes the inner region of Olmo Lungring. The intermediate region consists of twelve cities, four of which are aligned with the cardinal directions. The third region includes what is known as the outer land. These three regions are encircled by an ocean and by a range of snowy mountains. Access to Olmo Lungring is gained by the arrow way, which takes its name from an episode in the life of Tonpa Shenrab who, before visiting Tibet, is said to have shot an arrow to create a passage through a previously impenetrable mountain range.

Some scholars relate this traditional description of Olmo Lungring to Mount Kailash and the four great rivers which spring from its base. Others believe it may refer to the geography of the Middle East and Persia at the time of Cyrus the Great. To the Bonpo, specific geographic identification is less important than the mythological origins of their religion. As Lopon Tenzin Namdak has pointed out, symbolic descriptions which combine history, geography, and mythology are well-known in ancient scriptures.

(Abridged from Tibetan gYung-Drung Bon Monastery in India by Lopon Tenzin Namdak, Dolanji, 1983)

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