A History of Bön

Bön is the indigenous spiritual tradition of Tibet, one of the world’s oldest living
 religions. According to its own traditional records, it has a history of around at least 9,000 years. In ancient times, this tradition permeated the major part of Central Asia including much of the Himalayas, and over this long history, it has experienced fluctuating fortunes.

Bön holds a wealth of ancient wisdom which formed the cultural base not only of Tibet but also other ancient kingdoms in the area. Although the borders and political systems of these countries have changed many times throughout history, this underlying culture can clearly be seen over a large part of the Himalayan region, forming a strong spiritual foundation for the social structure and identity of these peoples, the source of their inner peace, and the key to social harmony.

Bön is not only rich in spiritual teachings of inner science; it also carries a tremendous body of practical knowledge which can help people in their daily lives and enhance their welfare and well being.  The Bön texts contain many volumes detailing the importance of living harmoniously within the natural environment and how to rectify imbalances; including sciences such as astrology, metaphysics, prognostics, and geomancy. Tibetan medicine, now recognized as a valuable system of traditional medicine, is rooted in the extremely detailed and methodical Bön manuscripts and practices.


Today scholars and practitioners from many countries of the world feel drawn to Bön principles because of its richness of profound ancient knowledge and its unique spiritual practices for awakening the individual to nature and the meaning of life.

Tibetans in Exile

During the fifteen years of 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 outflux 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, approximately six thousand monasteries were demolished during 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 Bönpos 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”, Bönpos fled the oppression into India and Nepal and Bhutan, hoping to restore the integrity of their native cultural heritage and their spiritual practices.

The Bönpos, followers of the ancient Bön 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 Bönpos 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 Bön religion, which was subsumed and adopted by the Tibetan Buddhist followers. Bön has a rich and vibrant monastic tradition and lay yogic practitioners, which is the core of the Bön communities and social structures.

Recovery and Renewal

Although many Bönpos were scattered in various parts of their host countries and their traditions became diluted, two main Bönpo settlements were established in India and Nepal.

The Tibetan Bönpo settlement in Dolanji, Himachal Pradesh has become a strong Bönpo community and the centerpiece of the community is the establishment of Menri Monastery, the seat of the head of the Bön 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 Bönpo monastery in Central Tibet and has become the focal point for Bönpos in exile. The Abbot is His Holiness Lungtok Dawa Dargye Rinpoche, who is considered the head of the Bön religion and lineage holder of Bön.

In 1987, Triten Norbutse became the second Bönpo monastery founded in Kathmandu, Nepal by H.E. Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, the previous senior teacher of the Menri Monastery in Tibet, and of the newly established Menri Monastery in India.

Triten Norbutse met the needs of the indigenous Bönpo communities of the highland in Nepal as well as the many exiled Bönpo communities. It also became an inspiration to the Bönpos of Tibet, a source of refuge and religious education in lieu of the lack of religious freedom within Chinese occupied Tibet.

The Yungdrung Bön Academy of Higher studies, established by H.E. Lopön Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche in Trinten Norbutse Monastery produced the first class of Geshe monks in 2001 and every two years since there has been a graduating geshe class.


The trained Geshes from the two major Bönpo monasteries outside of Tibet, Menri and Trinten Norbutse, are encouraged to return to their local Bönpo 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 Bönpo population and serving as anchor points for the continuance and reestablishment of the developing Bönpo communities and perpetuating their ancient heritage.

The main mission is to underscore these initiatives by the Bönpo monasteries to promote the preservation of Bön culture and religion while creating educational, medical and welfare opportunities for the disenfranchised Tibetan Bön people.