The Scriptures of the Bön
The Bön scriptures are traditionally divided into two major works:
This collection is divided into four sections. In the catalog, the great scholar Abbot Nyima Tenzin, the sections are as follows:
1. THE CLASS OF SUTRAS
This section comprises texts dealing with monastic discipline (Vinaya), as well as Sutras. The three version biographies of Buddha To¨npa Shenrab are also found in this section. According to this catalog, it consists of 62 volumes.
2. THE CLASS OF “THE HUNDRED THOUSAND”
This section contains the Prajana Paramita texts and it consists of 102 volumes.
3. THE CLASS OF TANTRAS
This section contains the basic tantric texts of Bön. There are eighteen volumes in this section.
4. THE CLASS OF TREASURY
The works in this section expound the system of Dzogchen “Great Perfection”, which contains the highest philosophical doctrines and meditational practices of Bön. The most important text in this section is the Zhang Zhung Nyengyu (the “Oral Transmission of Zhang Zhung”). There are four volumes in this section.
Volumes on ritual and their narratives, and works connected with arts, logic, medicine, and astrology etc. constitute this section. According to the present version of Katen that was published in 1998 in Lhasa, there are over 300 such volumes.
Today several world universities have both major Bön texts in their permanent library collections. Several international academic digital networks also make both of these major works of the Bön religion available worldwide to scholars and practitioners through the development of catalogs, digitalization, and translations.
The Purpose of the Scriptures
Yongdzin Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, regarded as today’s highest spiritual authority of the Bön, describes the purpose of the Bön scriptures:
“As for the essence of the teachings, having relied upon proper conduct and practice, there will arise qualities of a virtuous aspect and these will become the means for exhausting the obscurations which afflict the individual”.
The Bön scriptures offer, like the medical arts, “a proper conduct and practice” as a methodical cure against all obscurations and delusions, whether they are physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual.
The scriptures recount how the “wisdom” of the Buddha Tönpa Shenrab observed the obscurations and suffering in the world and so he decided to be born on earth in order to help all living beings. His “skillful means” against suffering were his teachings about ”enlightenment”, and so all the scriptures have as their meaning his instructions for liberation from suffering.
Ignorance and Enlightenment
All suffering is caused by ignorance. It obscures the natural state of the mind, leading to the appearance of negative emotions such as hatred, desire, jealousy and pride created by grasping at the self. So the central motivation of the Bönpos is the “Thought of Enlightenment” (changchub sem), or to eliminate the suffering of all living beings. Buddha Tönpa Shenrab taught enlightenment is possible for all beings because Buddha-Nature is present within all sentient beings.
Just as the darkness of night fades away as the light of the morning sun penetrates the open space, so also the obscurations of the mind dissolve when the clear discerning “awareness” (rigpa), which dwells in the endless expanse of the natural state of mind, is realized.