Bon originated from the earlier Shengshong cultural centre of Nakchu Region in about the 5th century BC. Its founder was said to be a prince of Shengshong Kingdom Tonpa Shenra, meaning 'the Highest Koradji' in Tibetan.
Bon flourished across the whole region of Tibet even after entering Tubo Kingdom (Yarlung Dynasty). The leader of Bon enjoyed an extremely high reputation along with powerful status in the whole society, his responsibilities ranging from organizing ordinary marriages, funerals, and farming, to military affairs and the burial and succession of the King.
Bon was so influential then that even the King may have felt his own power threatened. So after Buddhism was introduced to Tibet, the famous king at that time, Songtsen Gampo (reigned 617 - 650) began to patronize this new religion. Then in 755, Trisong Detsen (reign 742 -798) organized a debate between these two incompatible religions. In the end, the Destsen who had been inclined towards Buddhism declared its victory and forced the followers of Bon to alter or give up their beliefs, or they would be banished to the remote areas. In the late years of the kingdom, Lang Darma (reign 836 - 842) began to forbid the transmission of Buddhism and Bon rebounded after being suppressed for many years. However, the widespread of Buddhism had gradually tarnished the image of Bon and replaced its dominance in Tibet. Under the present policy of religious freedom and equality, the interests in Bon begin to increase.
Sects and religious life
In the beliefs of Bon, all the things in nature, including sky, earth, sun, moon, lightning, thunder, animals and plants, have spirits themselves and worthy of worshipping. Earlier followers only indulged in the activities of divination, prayer, ghost-exorcising, sacrifice and others by sometimes using some supernatural magic, later they absorbed some essence of Buddhist sutras and formed their own classic Dharmas and a series of regulations. According to its development, Bon can be divided into three sects, namely Brdol Bon, Vkhyr Bon and Bsgyur Bon.
Bon and Buddhism
As two different beliefs rooted in one land, Bon and Buddhism had been competing for the upper hand since their beginnings. Nowadays, both of them have extracted some advanced concepts from each other to perfect themselves and tend to coexist harmoniously. As a result, they have some similar religious ceremonies and activities such as reciting sutras, circumambulate Mani Stones and murmuring beads, but the mantras are different and the Bonists follow anti-clockwise while the Buddhists clockwise. Besides, the living Buddha of Bon is born hereditarily, which is quite different from the incarnated Buddha of Buddhism.
The followers of Bon had built many monasteries to hold ceremonies and cultivate themselves calmly. Nearly 100 monasteries still remain in Tibet, where over 3,000 monks live. Most of these are to be found predominately in the Nakchu and Chamdo Region . Among these is the Zezhel Monastery which is located in Chamdo, one of the oldest and largest monasteries of Bon. At the end of every June, an annual grand religious ceremony with dances by sorcerers is held, which always draws an audience. Additionally, every 13th year following the year of the chicken, a grand immortal dance of Bon named 'Heaven and Hell' which illustrates the teachings of kindness and peace is held. It is now only in this monastery that this dance is fully revived. The period from late June to mid August is the best time to visit here.