From Destruction to Conservancy
Tibetans in Exile
During the fifteen year progressive occupation of the Chinese since 1944 and climaxing with the 1959 uprising against the occupation forces of China, thousands of Tibetans have migrated to the other Himalayan regions. The H.H. The Dalai Lama was forced to immigrate to India, and subsequently was followed by a tremendous out flux of thousands of Tibetans immigrating throughout the Himalayan Region. With the kind support of the Indian government, His Holiness established the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, India.
Following this massive immigration, around six thousands monasteries were demolished in the years of the Chinese government’s “Cultural Revolution”. This was a political initiative to purge religion as a cultural aspect for these indigenous people, who for thousands of years held as a cultural dimension of their lives. This political initiative to dominate the Tibetan people also destroyed the Bonpo monasteries and schools, as well as any cultural, educational and religious community structures and public religious ceremonies. And so, since 1959 and the subsequent purge of the “Cultural Revolution”, Bonpos fled the oppression into India and Nepal and Bhutan, hoping to restore the integrity of their native cultural heritage and their spiritual practices
The Bonpos, the followers of the ancient Bon tradition, continue today to be spread throughout all the regions of Tibet and the Himalayan regions of India, Nepal and Bhutan. They hold their unique tradition with enthusiasm and devotion and which they have done for thousands of years. According to recent Chinese demographic statistics, the Bonpos make up the second largest group of Tibet’s five main religious schools. There is current research to support the fact that it is the Bon religion, which was subsumed and adopted by the Tibetan Buddhist followers. Bon has a rich and vibrant monastic tradition and lay yogic practitioners, which is the core of the Bon communities and social structures.
Recovery and Renewal
Although many Bonpos were scattered in various parts of their host countries and their traditions became diluted, two main Bonpo settlements were established in India and Nepal. The Tibetan Bonpo settlement in Dolanji, Himachal Pradesh has become a strong Bonpo community and the centerpiece of the community is the establishment of Menri Monastery, the seat of the head of the Bon religion. This settlement is home to 96 Tibetan families and the monastery supports to date over 250 monks and students, who are engaged in a full study program leading to the Geshe degree. All this was possible through a generous donation from the Catholic Relief Service in the Vatican, Rome and the dynamic endeavor and leadership of H.E. Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche in 1969. The monastery, Menri, was named in honor of the main Bonpo monastery in Central Tibet and has become the focal point for Bonpos in exile. The Abbot is His Holiness Lungtok Tenpai Nyima Rinpoche, who is considered the head of the Bon religion and lineage holder of Bon.
Then, in 1987 Triten Norbutse became the second Bonpo monastery founded in Kathmandu by H.E. Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, the previous senior teacher of the Menri Monastery in Tibet, and the newly established one in India. This met the needs of the indigenous Bonpo communities of highland in Nepal as well as the many exiled Bonpo communities. It is also an inspiration to the Bonpo of Tibet and a source of refuge and religious education in lieu of the lack of religious freedom now in Chinese occupied Tibet. The Yungdrung Bon Academy of Higher studies, established by H.E. Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche in Trinten Norbutse Monastery has produced the first class of Geshe monks in 2001 and every two years since there has been a graduating class.
The trained Geshes from the two central monasteries outside of Tibet, Menri and Trinten Norbutse, are encouraged to return to the Bonpo communities to become dynamic forces for the spiritual growth, scholarship, and community development. Thanks largely to the financial support and efforts of the devout public and the energy of these young Geshes, the monasteries in Kathmandu, Dolpo, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal are slowly improving the conditions of the refugee Bonpo population and serving as anchor points for the continuance and reestablishment of the developing Bonpo communities and perpetuating their ancient heritage. The main mission is to underscore these initiatives of the Bonpo monasteries to promote the preservation of Bon culture and religion by creating educational, medical and welfare opportunities for the disenfranchised Bon people.