The Bön Village

Map of North Nepal
The village of Lubrak

The red walls of Phuntsoling Gompa in the upper part of Lubrak village

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Even within the rich tradition of Bönpo canonical ritual, Lubrak is uniquely blessed, with an annual cycle of ceremonies containing certain liturgical rituals that are not performed anywhere else. This ritual cycle is currently the focus of a project being conducted by Charles Ramble, a Bön expert from Oxford University, who has been working with the villagers of Lubrak for three decades. Over a four-year period he will collate and document approximately 100 rituals as they are practised in Lubrak, making this the most detailed study to date of the texts and performance of a unique corpus of Bönpo rituals. His research will then be made available in a number of films of key Bönpo rituals, with digital reproductions and English translations of the texts used, which will be made available on a dedicated website. The first of these films, The Dögyab: a Bönpo Exorcism Ceremony from Mustang, Nepal, produced by the Kalpa Group, will receive its premiere at the 12th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies in Vancouver in August 2010.

Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung blesses the children and women of the village

The religious education of the Lubrak lamas, which has facilitated the survival of this complex ritual cycle for many centuries, remains remarkably unchanged. Basic ritual practice is learned within the village, with fathers passing on their knowledge to their eldest sons. This training is accompanied by periods of retreat, either in a nearby cave or in the family chapel. For more advanced religious education, training is received either from a local or visiting lama residing in the village itself, or at a distant religious institution. Since 1959, the political situation in Tibet has meant that it was no longer possible to travel there to receive a religious education. Instead, Bönpo refugees - who represent about 1% of Tibetans in exile - have been rebuilding their tradition in India and Nepal. At present, about ten boys from Lubrak are currently undergoing monastic training or pre-monastic schooling in such institutions.

Within these monastic institutions, the highest scholastic accomplishment is that of the geshe (doctor of philosophy). In recent years, a number of geshes have settled in Bönpo communities that previously had little contact with Tibetan scholarship. One such geshe, Yungdrung Gyaltsen, is recognised as the incarnation of a lama who was once associated with Lubrak. In the 1990s he settled in the community as a teacher and advisor for trainee lamas from Lubrak and surrounding areas. He has also focused on the education of the village women, who traditionally remained illiterate. At their request, he has taught them devotional songs and recitations.

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