World of Worldly Gods
The Persistence and Transformation of Shamanic Bon in Buddhist Bhutan
- ISBN: 9780197669860
- Published By: Oxford University Press
- Published: June 2023
In World of Worldly Gods, Kelzang T. Tashi offers the first comprehensive examination of the tenacity of Shamanic Bon practices, as they are lived and contested in the presence of an invalidating force: Buddhism. Through a rich ethnography of Goleng and nearby villages in central Bhutan, Tashi investigates why people, despite shifting contexts, continue to practice and engage with Bon, a religious practice that has survived over a millennium of impatience from a dominant Buddhist ecclesiastical structure. Against the backdrop of long-standing debates around practices unsystematically identified as 'bon', this book reframes the often stale and scholastic debates by providing a clear and succinct statement on how these practices should be conceived in the region.
Tashi argues that the reasons for the tenacity of Bon practices and beliefs amid censures by the Buddhist priests are manifold and complex. While a significant reason for the persistence of Bon is the recency of formal Buddhist institutions in Goleng, he demonstrates that Bon beliefs are so deeply embedded in village social life that some Buddhists paradoxically feel it necessary to reach some kind of accommodation with Bon priests. Through an analysis of the relationship between Shamanic Bon and Buddhism, and the contemporary dynamics of Bhutanese society, this book tackles the longstanding concern of anthropology: cultural persistence and change. It discusses the mutual accommodation and attempted amalgamation of Buddhism and Bon, and offers fresh perspectives on the central distinguishing features of Great and Little Traditions.