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The Founder of Bon, the Birth of a Myth

In this dissertation, the life account is constructed of of the founder of Bon Religion, Shenrab Miwo.

Kalsang Gurung
31 May 2011
Full text in Leiden University Repository

In this dissertation, I have focused on the construction of the life account of the founder of Bon Religion, Shenrab Miwo. I try to answer some key questions such as, who was Shenrab Miwo and why is he considered to have been the founder of Bon? How did the hagiography of Shenrab Miwo emerge and how did this contribute toward the development of Bon?

Shenrab Miwo was designated as the founder of Bon probably during the second spread of Buddhism in Tibet, starting the 10th–11th century AD. In order to compete with the Buddhist claim that their religion was founded by the Buddha Śākyamuni, Bonpos began to claim that their religion was founded by Shenrab Miwo, and that it was much older than Buddhism. The Bonpos began to formalize their religion by appropriating Buddhist literature and adjusting it for their own purposes.

The choice of Shenrab Miwo as the founder of Bon was first canonized with the creation of the mDo ’dus. Its basic narrative patterns are based on proto-narratives, such as still extant in Tibetan Dunhuang documents, on Tibetan translations of legends of the life of the Buddha, and other textual fragments that existed in Tibet at that time, and are most likely also based on stories that were passed down orally.

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