Origin of Bön

The Bonpos maintain that Bön originated in the land of Olmo Lun-gring ('Olmo-lung-ring), a part of a larger country called Tazig (rTag-gzigs). 'Ol symbolizes the unborn; Mo the undiminishing; Lung the prophetic words of Tonpa Shenrab (sTon-pa gShen-rab) the founder of Bön; and Ring his everlasting com-passion. Olmo Lungring constitutes one third of the existing world and is situated to the west of Tibet. It is described as an eight-petalled lotus under a sky which appears like an eight-spoked wheel. In the centre rises Mount Yung-drung Gutseg (gYung-drung dgu-brtsegs), "Pyr-amid of Nine Svastikas". The svas-tika is the symbol of permanence and indestrucability. The nine svas-tikas piled up represent the Nine ways of Bön. At the base of Mount Yungdrung spring four rivers, flowing towards the four cardinal directions. The mountain is surrounded by temples, cities and parks. To the south is the palace Barpo Sogye (Bar-po so-brgyad) where Tonpa Shenrab was born. To the west and north are the palaces in which lived the wives and children of Tonpa Shenrab. A temple named Shampo Lhatse(sham-po Iha-rtse) is to the east. The complex of places, rivers and parks with Mount Yungdrung in the centre constitutes the inner region (Nang-gling) of Olmo Lun-gring. The intermediate region (Bar-gling) consists of twelve cities, four of which are towards the cardinal directions. The third region includes the outer land (mTha'-gling). These three regions are encircled by an ocean and again by a range of snowy mountains. The access to Olmo Lungring is gained by the so called arrow way (mDa'-lam). Before his visit to Tibet, Tonpa Shenrab shot an arrow thus creating a passage through the mountain range.

This very sophisticated description of Olmo Lungring has been tentatively related by some scholars to different geographical locations. Some see it as a description of Mount Kailash (Mt Ti-se) and the four great rivers that spring from its base; China being the land to the east, India to the south, Or-gyan to the west and Khotan to the north. To other scholars the description seems to resemble the geography of the Middle East and Persia in the time of Cyrus the Great. To a believing Bonpo the question of the geographic identification of Olmo Lungring does not come so much to the foreground as does its symbology which is clearly made use of to indicate the supramundane origin of his religion. Symbolic descriptions which combine history geography and mythology are well known phenomena in ancient scriptures. The description of the universe with Mount Meru supporting the sky and the four Chief Continents to the four cardinal points and this earth as the southern continent (jambudvipa) is another similar example.
Dr. Tadeusz Skorupski, Excerpt from "Kailash", Vol. VIII, Nos. 1 & 2, 1981