Light of Kailash

The Light of Kailash, History of Zhang-zhung and Tibet

by Donatella Rossi
Published by Shang Shung Publication, October 2009

The 'Light of Kailash' is a monumental work of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu about the true origins of the Tibetan Culture. Donatella Rossi has translated these more than one thousand nine hundred pages, written in his characteristic handwriting from Tibetan and soon we will have the possibility to read this well-researched and logic study in western languages.

The manuscript has already been published in China, due to its great popularity. Its publication in western languages promotes a much clearer understanding to scholars and interested people about the Tibetan culture, and contributes, thanks to the eminent insights of the author, to the correct preservation of the rich heritage through which the Land surrounded by snowy mountains brightens our world.

"The 'Light of Kailash' is just like a thunder heralding the grandeur of spring. It illuminates the history of Shang Shung and Tibet, the high land of divine ancestry surrounded by snowy mountains, and it is explaining the truth in a straightforward manner. Namkhai Norbu, a scholar with a vast mind, has blown the conch of the courage of truth, like the sweet song of the cuckoo, to awaken from the sleep of ignorance all the intelligent ones, wherever they might be." — Donatella Rossi.

Chögyal Namkhai Norbu has divided his research on Tibetan the origin of Tibetan culture into three volumes. Quoting dozens of sources—Bonpo, Buddhist, dynastic histories, religious histories, inscriptions, modern anthropological articles, and so on—he demonstrates, in an unprejudiced way, that it is not only possible but also indispensable to reconsider the issue of the true origins of the Tibetan culture.

The first volume of his work mainly deals with the history of the ancient period, that is to say, of Zhang-zhung, its genealogies, the origins of Bon, the royal dynasties, the Zhang-zhung language and culture (gzi and thog lcags, rock inscriptions and carvings, medicine, divination, dreams, diagnostics etc.), the condition of Zhang-zhung gShen-pos (Dran-pa Nam-mkha’ in particular), and of its monarchs (Mu-wer bTsad-po and Lig-mi-skya in particular).

The second volume is focused on the intermediate period, that is to say, Tibet, the origin of the first human clans and tribes, the kings and their royal gShen-pos until the time of gNam-ri Srong-btsan, the royal dynasties until the Dharmaraja Srong-btsan sGam-po, the origin of the Tibetan language, the question of its existence prior to Srong-btsan sGam-po, the twelve lores of Bon, the mythical proclamations (rmang), the castles and residences of the first kings etc.

The third volume researches the later historical period, that is to say, the Tibetan genealogies and their origin according to Buddhist legends, the Qiang population, the three differentiations of Bon promulgated by the Buddhists (see above), their mutual accusations of plagiarism, the Nine Ways of Bon and their teachings, the suppression of Bon by King Khri-srong lDe’u-btsan, the Tibetan dynasties from gNya’-khri bTsan-po until the 45th dynasty of King Khri Darma ’U-dum-btsan, the creation of the Tibetan language and the relevant intervention of Thon-mi Sam-bho-ta, the influence of the Indian and Chinese cultures, and the ten sciences.

Ever since studies on Tibet were initiated in a systematic way in the West, scholars have found themselves facing a unique, complex and multifarious reality of cultural and religious phenomena. In this respect the role played by the Tibetan Buddhist orthodoxy has been a predominant one, as it has dictated to a great extent the way in which such phenomena could be studied and analyzed. We also need to take into account the perception that Tibetans themselves had of their cultural and religious identity, vis-a-vis the great countries of India and China, which in the common Tibetan view contributed enormously to the formation of such an identity. In this sense, Mahayana Buddhism can be considered as a sort of “unifying” factor, not only for those countries but also for the whole of East Asia. The ideals of Mahayana Buddhism, traveling with monks and caravans on the commercial routes, were gradually absorbed and adapted to local circumstances, during a process that lasted for several centuries. The words of the historical Buddha were interpreted by masters, mystics and philosophers, who revealed the profoundness of his teaching, developing currents and schools that still exist nowadays: the Buddhism of Tibet -improperly called Lamaism due to a western cultural superimposition – with his four major schools, Chinese Chan, Korean Buddhism, Japanese Zen and Shingon. Deities have traveled too, and have taken on features and attributes that vary in all these countries (suffice to quote the example of Avalokiteshvara, who became the female deity Guanyin in China, and Kannon in Japan). However, when Buddhism embedded itself in those different cultural realities, it had to deal with already existing religious beliefs, such as Bon, Taoism and Shinto, and had to find a way to acquire the favor of the ruling classes, and of the populace at large. This fact has produced an inevitable exchange at the philosophical and spiritual level which has also contributed to defend and redefine the identity of those autochthonous beliefs (any person familiar with the history of religions would agree on how fascinating and intricate this matter can be). Thus, when Buddhism arrived in Tibet around the 8th century of the Common Era, it underwent the same process. The difference is that, while people in China and Japan did not dismiss their previous beliefs, Tibetans thought it better to start anew, as it were: before Buddhism, Tibet had no language, it had a primitive culture, and so on. This principle, perpetrated by the Buddhist orthodoxy and supported by the monastic establishment of the Yellow School, has damaged the Tibetan culture very much. It has also conditioned the research interests of scholars until a very recent time. It is in fact only from the end of the 1960s, thanks to efforts of Lopon Tenzin Namdak and Prof. David Snellgrove, that we start reading something more specific and amplified about Bon (The Nine Ways of Bon, London Oriental Series, Vol. 18, Oxford University Press, London, 1967). Since then many publications and studies have seen the light, whereby the import of Bon and Zhang-zhung within the Tibetan culture have come to be perceived in a more balanced fashion.
It is within this context that we should contemplate the extraordinary work of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu. The first thing to say about it, is that, in my opinion, it represents a much needed work, mostly for the Tibetan people. It is an eye-opener that redesigns the way in which Tibetan culture and history in general, and the Bon religion in particular have been presented and accepted so far by Tibetan themselves. Let us read a relevant excerpt from the text, where Chögyal Namkhai Norbu quotes the famous dGe-lugs-pa scholar Thu’u-bkwan Blo-bzang Chos-kyi Nyi-ma [1737-1802], who wrote about Bon following almost literally the ideas expressed about the same subject-matter by the much earlier and esteemed scholar/master ’Bri-gung ’Jigs-rten mGon-po [1143-1217]:

“The three [kinds of] Bon that became widespread in Tibet were Revealed Bon [’jol bon], Derived Bon [’khyar bon] and Transformed Bon [bsgyur bon]. The first one: at the time of Khri-lde bTsan-po - the sixth ruler of the dynasty founded by gNya’-khri bTsan-po – in a place called dBus-sam Shang-’on [sic] a thirteen-year-old boy who belonged to the gShen clan was [abducted] by spirits, [and] for thirteen years was taken to all the regions of Tibet. When he was twenty-six he was brought back among the people. Thanks to the power of non human beings, he was able to say which kind of deity or spirit inhabited a given place, which kind of benefit or harm they could do, and which rituals for offerings and for sending ritual objects would be good to perform. Although dynastic histories that cover the period from gNya’-khri bTsan-po to the twenty-sixth dynasty of Khri-rje Thog-btsan do not say anything about Bon, except that it ruled the country, it is evident that the beginning of the diffusion of Bon in Tibet started from there. Nevertheless, the Bonpos of that time - apart from [rituals for] suppressing evil spirits below, rituals to worship the ancestral deities above, and rituals to defend the domestic hearth in the middle - did not have a defined philosophical view. Some religious and dynastic histories say that the diffusion of Bon started from the time of Gri-gum bTsan-po. These [traditions] are also known as Bon of the Cause [and] Black Waters.

The second [transformation], Derived Bon: since the Bonpos of Tibet did not know how to perform funerary practices for the slaying [gri gshin] of King Gri-gum bTsan-po, three Bonpos from Ka-che, Bru-sha and Zhang-zhung were invited in order to perform them. One of them, as a result of the practices of Ge-khod, Khyung and the Fire Deity [Me lha], displayed the powers of walking in the sky riding a drum, handling scorching iron, cutting iron with bird feathers and so on. One of them, by practicing Ju thig, lHa ka [sic] and scapulomancy [sog dmar] divinations, could determine good from bad. One of them knew how to perform various kinds of funerary rituals, such as those for liberating the deceased person from obstacles [gshin po ’dul ba], appease the spirit of the slain [gri ’dul] etc. Before they came, Bon did not have a definite philosophical view; but from then on, a Bonpo philosophical view, which is said to be a mixture derived from extremist Shaivist doctrines, took hold.

The third aspect of Transformed Bon is threefold. The first transformation is said to be the one carried out by Pandita Sham-thabs sNgon-po-can, who mixed the Buddhist teachings with Bonpo ones, concealed them all, and then took them out himself. The second intermediate transformation: at the time of Khri-srong lDe’u-tsan, an edict was emanated according to which the Bonpos had to convert to Buddhism. rGyal-ba’i [sic] Byang-chub was requested to go and listen to the teachings of Rin-chen-mchog, but he refused to do it. Since the king punished him, he got angry, joined the Bonpos, and transformed into Bon some of the Tathagata's teachings. When the king heard that, he ordered to behead all those who had transformed into Bon the teachings of the Tathagata. Since many heads fell, the Bonpos were terrified, and concealed the transformed texts, including incomplete ones, in secret locations. Afterwards, the concealed texts were brought to light, and were said to be Bon[po] treasure texts [gter-ma].
The final, third transformation: after [King] Lang-dar[-ma] [d. 842] suppressed the Buddhadharma, at Nyang-stod, in gTsang, in a Bonpo centre called Dar-yul sGro-lag, a certain gShed-rgur [sic] Klu-dga’ transformed many Buddha’s teachings into Bon: he called the Yum [sic] rGyas-pa, Khams-chen, the Nyi-shu lnga-pa [sic], Khams-chung, the gTan-la phab-pa series, Bon Sutra series, the Five Dharani Series, One Hundred Thousand Black and White Nagas [cycle] [Klu ’bum dkar nag]; he transformed various other Buddhist technical terms and expressions, and after having done so, he concealed the texts in the rock of Tsho-lnga ’Bri’u-chung [sic]. Later on he took them out, pretending to have discovered them. After him, also Khyung-po Bon-zhig and other Bonpos transformed many [Buddhist texts] in the same way.The ’Transformed Bon’ [in its] earlier, intermediate and later [phases] is called White Waters and Bon of the Fruit.

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