Tibetan Bön: A Reading List

Submitted: Is it alright to ask what sources Tibetan gods come from?

I have to admit I spent a little time trying to figure out if this was a cosmological question (when were these gods born in their mythology, and how, and from what, and what does that mean for the world?) or a scholarly one (what books are you reading about these gods in)? This post is going for the second one, so if you're the submitter and I got it wrong, ping us again and let us know!

An ancient wood painting of a Tibetan deity wearing a leopardskin, dancing in a cloud of fire while pulling decapitated humans from its body

If I had to give Tibetan deities a seriousness rating, it would be: EXTREMELY

When we talk about the Tibetan gods, we're usually referring to the gods of Bön, the major religion native to Tibet. Of course, it's not even close to the only religion in Tibet; Tibetan Buddhism, imported from India and heavily influenced by China and Mongolia, is at least equal to Bön in terms of popularity in Hero's Journey, and there are at least three major strains of Bön itself in addition to folk religious beliefs that aren't as formalized but have nevertheless been around forever.

As you might imagine, it's not the easiest religion to find good information about in the West, in English, while China is still busy trying to demand Tibet stop having religion at all, but here are a few places to start if you want to learn more:

(Links are to WorldCat for those looking for a library copy, but of course you can also go scare one up for purchase if you want to!)

If you're just looking for a place to start, I'd recommend The Diamond Path as a starter and then Bön: Tibet's Ancient Religion and Spirit-Mediums, Sacred Mountains once you've gotten into it, but whatever calls to you as most interesting is probably the way to go. And I can't get out of here without suggesting EVERYBODY read The Epic of Gesar of Ling, the major Tibetan heroic epic and a story shared with a lot of other nearby cultures as well. It's very long - more than 20 times as long as Iliad! - but worth it. The best English translation currently is probably Alai's The Song of King Gesar, but there's an old translation version here (this is the Mongolian Buryat version, though, so you'll see different details and terminology than you would in a Tibetan version!) or check out Li Lianron's fabulous History and the Tibetan Epic Gesar for discussion of how it fits into the northern Asian mythology scene.

We can definitely say that we don't know as much about Bön as we'd like to, either, so we'll all be studying right alongside you!

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