The Bön Village

The village of Lubrak is about two hours' walk north of Jomsom, the headquarters of Mustang district in northern Nepal. The region’s dramatic landscape is hinted at in the village’s name – “the crag (brak) of the serpent-spirits (lu)” – deriving from the pale striations on the deeply scored cliffs across from the village. A small settlement of just sixteen households, Lubrak clings to the hillside on the southern bank of the Panda Khola, one of many small tributaries that flow into the mighty Kali Gandaki river as it plunges through the world’s deepest gorge.

Lubrak is one of the nineteen settlements that form the old political enclave known as Baragaon. Sometimes referred to as Lower Mustang, Baragaon embraces a clutch of villages strung along the Kali Gandaki and its branch valleys, dominated by steep, barren hills and snow-capped peaks. Lubrak is now the sole Bönpo village within this enclave.

The importance of the village of Lubrak within the wider Bön tradition is twofold. First, the settlement, established in the early 12th century, is the earliest surviving Bön community in Nepal: its original temple, Gongphu Gompa, was built above the cave where Lubrak’s founder meditated. The second feature concerns the nature of Lubrak's priesthood. There are no monks in the community, but only married householder-lamas. The eldest son in each household becomes a lama, and inherits religious responsibilities along with his secular status as head of a family. Thus Lubrak represents a vital cultural heritage in which, contrary to monastic usage, liturgical ritual is studied in meditative retreat and then intimately reintegrated into daily life, which is further interwoven with folk ceremonial.

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