Ancient Bhutanese Bon Choid Rituals

Guest post from my uncle in Bhutan on the ancient Bhutanese beliefs and rituals before the arrival of Buddhism in the country. Fascinating reading and to know that in some parts of the country we still see these rituals being performed even today. 

Ancient Bhutanese Bon Choid Rituals

Before the spread of Buddhism in Bhutan, each community worshiped their own territorial deity, both male and female. The deity could be in the form of a stone, tree, cave, marshy land, mountain, rocky cliff, lake, or even a small stream.  Whenever disease or natural calamity struck this community, they worshiped and offered edible food, including slaughtered domestic animals to these deities to seek their protection and help. The designated local practitioners of Bon Choid (Native worshipers), known as Pow (Male) Pamo or Jomo (female) played an important role to help ease the stressed mentality of an individual and that of their community.

However, after the advent of Guru Rinpoche – the second leanage Buddha, all of these malevolent deities were subdued, reformed and indoctrinated with his powerful tantric positive obligations to refrain from inciting fear and the killing of animals and made the believers to worship whenever the protection of the benevolent deities are sought.

Thus to appease the local deities, known as Yul Lha Shibda or Kachong Choechung Sungma,  Guru Rinpoche encouraged the local worshippers to continue with the tradition of Bon Choid to their respective local deities during ritual ceremonies, which are still predominant throughout the kingdom. The ancient practitioners, pao, pamo, and Jomo are still an important part of Bhutanese rural communities. In offerings made to all of the manifestations of all the Buddhas during any rituals, reception, healing ceremonies, pilgrimage, Salem offerings of deep gratitude for their teachings and blessings, which in turn generate positive karma in this life.

For most Bhutanese, in the earlier days, it is an indispensable part of everyday life, both in religion and culture.  In all the holy places in Bhutan from the holiest temples to the lowest farm house shrine room, these rituals give forth their offerings from worshipping to the many Gods and Goddesses that inhabit this holy realm in the Himalayas. In more rare cases these rituals are still used for fumigation, and even exorcism depending on the occasion.

Bon Choid, therefore, is not only an offering to appease the local deities but it forms a medium for visualization of a much greater and multifarious offering. Buddhist literature classifies the recipients of the offering into four categories of guests:

1. The enlightened beings such as Buddhas, who are objects of veneration.

2. The celestial deities such as the Dharma protectors who possess good qualities.

3. The sentient beings of six realms, who are in the cycle of existence and thus worthy of compassion.

4. The evil spirits who cause harm to oneself due to the negative karmic debt accumulated in their previous lifetimes.

Research & Compilation by
Khaling Karma
Uling Dharma Healers
Thimphu, Bhutan


About TYW

I am Tenzin from Devon in England but I am originally from Bhutan. It is a small country in the Himalayas. Famously known as the Land of Gross National Happiness. Tashi Delek!
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