︎Religion, Philosophy, Spirituality   
︎ Ventral Is Golden

Bön is an ancient Tibetan form of Shamanism. Thought to pre-date Buddhist thought, it was forced undergound with serious attempts to eradicate it. Many scholars believe Bön to have been a mixture of Himalayan Shamanism and Buddhist Tantra, along with elements of Mithraism, arriving along the Silk Route from Persia around the 5th Century.

A practitioner of Bön is known as a Bön-po, the rough translation of which is 'invocation', in the sense of invoking the natural world through forms of ecstasy and out of body experience. But over the centuries, with the formalisation of Buddhism, the ecstatic shaman has been replaced by the priestly Lama or ritual expert, and so later Bönpos in Central Tibet also came to fill a role more ritualistic than ecstatic. There exists a parallel here to what occurried in ancient India where the Rishis of the early Vedic period, who communed directly with the celestial gods during their outer body experiences, were later replaced by Brahman priests, experts in the performing of rituals (J Reynolds, 1989).

Arguably this type of geo-political structuring of religion has been a prominent feature within our Western inheritance of Christianity too. As a formalisation of Pagan and Druid animism.
Whether we focus on this phenomena from a microscopic level, or a broad social and political perspective, the result of the process seems to largely bring about the same kind of fallacy; that the current models of thinking that we inherit from our individual cultures are the most progressive, irrespective of the nuances that make such beliefs appropriate for the times that they were held.

A fascinating aspect of Bön Shamanic traditions is the apparent incorporation of contradiction, what the alchemists would have called a 'coincidence of opposites', or what quantum physicists would call Non-locality or the Principle of Uncertainty. Without delving too deeply into the murky world of quantum mechanics, the concept of Non-locality is that two particles can become entangled, insomuch as to affect one would affect the other, even at great distances. Uncertainty is the idea that one cannot accurately determine both the position and the velocity of a particle. As one of the measurements increases in accuracy, the other decreases, thus the result of any measurement is bias towards whatever the observer seeks to find in way of knowledge.

“A fascinating aspect of Bön Shamanic traditions is the apparent incorporation of contradiction, what the alchemists would have called a 'coincidence of opposites', or what quantum physicists would call Non-locality.”
In Bön traditions this contradiction, or ideological trapdoor, was called the Terma (meaning Hidden Treasure). Various forms of teaching, deemed to be either temporarily inapplicable or beyond the understanding of the vanguard at the time, were placed across the Himalayas, buried underground, inside trees or stones, or metaphorically within the minds of the adepts, to be retrieved at later dates by individuals referred to as Tertöns. Some of these hidden treasures were even written in a secret Dakini Script, pertaining to the communication of their often more influential female deities.

The idea of the Terma has in someways helped the Bön and Nyingma (ancient) traditions to remain animated, albeit under the surface of more politically centred religious institutions. It is in this sense that I believe the scientific concepts of entanglement and non-locality were utilised within their spiritual concepts, as a way for the old and the new customs to affect each other over great distances of space and time.

It is only now that our vocabularies are becoming sufficiently enriched enough to understand the nuanced affects that our technological lives are having on our spiritual lives. With the majority of our communications now emanating from the seemingly obscure, telekinetic spirit realms of theosophists such as HP Blavatsky, our personal worlds of electric communication and global connectivity are becoming more congruent with the metaphor of the Lapis Philosophorum, the Philosopher's Stone, as well as the esoteric teachings of the East.

Terence McKenna often talked about Shamanism as a kind of early nanotechnology, a natural technological approach to experiencing and filtering through information in our immediate environments, but instead of using high tech electrical machines made of matter (Smart Phones to mind controlled prosthetics), the machines were made of low tech synaptic electrical impulses, created by the consumption of plant and vegetable materials (such as MAO inhibitors). What was interesting for McKenna, from around 1994 up until the date of his death, was that the high tech world of modern science and the low tech world of the psychedelic shaman were becoming increasingly intertwined.

Between the worlds of modern science and the plant kingdom we rely heavily on certain technologies to articulate their meaning and usefulness to a wider population. McKenna saw one of the key differences of these two worlds being that the psychedelic experience of the low technological world was regulated by the body's metabolism (a kind of internalised censorship), gradually guiding you through a cascade of vegetable psychedelia towards equilibrium. In contrast, the experience of the high technological world, as in Virtual Reality or print, the effects could last indefinitely, effectively using the psyche as a kind of sustainable dream, where the reality being experienced is regulated externally by the programmer who wrote the code for the particular experience.

McKenna once stated, that within our commonly shared psychedelic experience of digital communication "we are going to be able to show each other what we mean, we are going to be able to build hallucinations, and walk through them, discuss them, edit them, and re-edit them." Not only will this be necessary as a historical tool, the process of learning and experiencing the trauma of a collective cultural history will be helpful in incorporating all of its negative effects back into the psyche.

Yungdrung Bön is the official name of the Bön tradition who's symbol is most widely recognised for very different reasons. 'Yung' meaning “the unborn, the absolute, free of any inherent nature,” and 'drung' meaning “constantly arising.”

The symbol of the Yungdrung itself is a left facing swastika (Sanskrit, Sva Asti, meaning 'well-being'). It represents the same sentiments that McKenna spoke of in 1994, of re-editing our hallucinations to reclaim the Terma (hidden treasure) that our digital communication technologies can help reveal.

In terms of shamanic healing, CG Jung described that the technique of curing a sickness was that the sickness itself was evoked by the Shaman (who also represented the Trickster, Healer, Medicine-Man, Artist, Poet, Musician and Doctor) who then, in a sense, becomes the sickness, in order to purify and extricate it from the patient. The Bön initiation cards, or Tsakali (pictured) work in a similar sense, as they are placed in mandalic formation to purify in much the same way as a temple would, by invoking negative spirits in order to then have them protect the sacred space.

We are beginning to notice that the worlds we inhabit, and the tools of cultural inheritance we use to navigate through them, are largely inherited from mindsets suited to somewhat onesided industrial ideologies that seem to place spiritual matters on a lower level of social importance.
In the case of the intellectual and spiritual potential of the Yungdrung (swastika) for example, the Western cultural canon renders it a symbol of persecution and no more. A phenomena that seems strange considering the rise in popularity of the hammer and sickle.

This kind of symbolic one sidedness is not to say that historical or outdated ideologies are inherently bad, but rather a necessary negative that requires our further attention and understanding. They are prompts for us to collectively delve a little deeper. 

In his paper on patterns of propaganda, Adorno stated that one of the basic devices of personalised propaganda (one-sidedness in the same vein as the sustained dream of the virtual reality programmer previously mentioned) is the concept of the ‘Great Little Man’, a person who find his sense of personal authority through subordinating himself to a larger authority, closely related to the current phenomena of the rise of unwanted political leaders.
It is simply not enough to regard this phenomena as a re-emergence of fascism, and to neglect the intricacies that led up to it's appearance - comparisons between Hitler and Trump, to the symbolic meaning of the Yungdrung and the Nazi Swastika being good examples.

As a species with the capacity to be creative, it is our responsibility to acknowledge the relatedness of seemingly disparate traditions, symbols, sciences and technologies (even the ones we oppose) in order to enrich our cultural heritage with the same fascinating contradictions embedded within quantum non-locality and the Hidden Treasures (Terma) of the Bön traditions.

Further Reading ︎
Dakini, Bon Religion
Tsakalis, Met museum
Dongba Rebus Language
Bonpo Mandalas
Terence McKenna Interview, Appreciating Imagination
Ancient Tibetan Bonpo Shamanism, J. Reynolds
Bon background research paper
Non-locality and Entanglement
Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Facist Propaganda, Theodor Adorno, pdf

One of the major texts of Tibetan Buddhism, the Bardo Thödol, is strongly influenced by Bön and may even be of Bön origin with Buddhist overlays. Often mistakenly translated in the West as ‘The Tibetan Book of The Dead’, the Bardo Thödol is more accurately translated as ‘Liberation by Hearing During one’s Existence In-between States’.

As the book should be read aloud, it prepares the mind of both the living and dead for the events that lay ahead.