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Ancient Tibetan Bonpo Shamanism - Page 4
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Ancient Tibetan Bonpo Shamanism
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The Lama, whether Buddhist or Bonpo, is also profoundly engaged in healing practice. Many Lamas have been specifically trained in the practice of Tibetan medicine at a monastic college. Moreover, the most common ritual performed by Tibetan Lamas at the popular level is the tse-wang (tshe-dbang) or "long life empowerment", a kind of psychic healing that invokes and channels healing energy into the participants in the ceremony, whether they are ill or not. In many ways, the Lama and the Ngagpa have usurped in Tibetan society the archaic function of the shaman, and after the introduction of Buddhism into Tibet, many cultural figures such as Guru Padmasambhava and the famous yogi Milarepa, have been assimilated to the archetype of the First Shaman. Thus it came about that the archaic shamanic techniques of the Palaeolithic have now been absorbed into the high spiritual and intellectual culture of both Buddhism and Bon in Tibet. This may be seen, for example, in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, where the Lama or the Ngakpa functions as as a psychopomp or guide for the perilous journey of the individual soul through the Bardo experience leading to a new rebirth. Or again, with the practice of the Chod rite, using visualization, as well as chanting and dancing to the accompaniment of the shaman's drum, the practitioner gains mastery over the spirits through offering to them the flesh of one's own body. In many ways this Chod ritual recapitulates the initiatory experience of shamanic initiation, with its motifs of dismemberment and resurrection. The practice of the Chod is said to be particularly effective in preventing the spread of plagues and infectious diseases. Both of these traditional Tibetan practices, the Bardo rituals and the Chod rite, represent a journey from fragmentation to psychic wholeness.

Thus, in Tibetan culture, we find a harmonious integration of the archaic techniques of altered states of consciousness deriving from a primordial North Asian shamanism with the highly sophisticated psychic sciences of Buddhism and Bon. Now that we are on the threshold of the twenty-first century, our urban-industrial technology and rampant unrestrained commercialism threaten to devastate our natural environment world-wide, imperiling the very survival of the human race on this planet. It is this author's belief that the ancient wisdom and profound psychic sciences of Tibet, which emphasize living in a harmonious relationship with the natural environment, as well as with other human beings, will have a profound contribution to make to evolving a new type of global civilization that is both humane and wise.

Copyright © 1989 by John Myrdhin Reynolds
Vidyadhara Institute, Berkeley, California