Supporting Bön Communities – The Village of Lubrak

An integral part of the Kalpa approach to the Bön tradition is the support of the communities where there is a long tradition of Bön practice. The Kalpa Group’s involvement with the Nepalese village of Lubrak, close to the border with Tibet, is the first step in an extended programme of support for communities where the Bön religion is at the centre of spiritual and cultural life.

The importance of the village of Lubrak in the Bön tradition is twofold. Firstly, the settlement, established in the early 12th century, is the earliest surviving Bön community in Nepal. The second feature concerns the nature of Lubrak’s priesthood - although it has produced several eminent monks over the course of its long existence, the main inhabitants of Lubrak are families of married tantric priests, who combine their religious activities with farming and trade. There are no monks in the community, 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.

The culture of the village is a highly complex affair in which the canonical Bön religion is intricately interwoven with folk ceremonial. The community represents a vital cultural heritage in which, contrary to monastic usage, liturgical ritual is studied in meditative retreat but intimately reintegrated into daily life. Lubrak is unique even within the tradition of Bönpo canonical ritual. The annual cycle of ceremonies contains liturgical rituals that do not feature in Bön monasteries or communities anywhere else in the world.

Basic ritual practice is learned within the village. For more sophisticated teaching, traditionally young monks would either go to Tibet, or else Tibetan scholars would be invited to reside in the community as instructors. The political situation following 1959 brought an end to this exchange. Since the 1960s, the Bönpo refugees - who represent about 1% of Tibetans in exile - have been rebuilding their tradition in India and training geshes (doctors of philosophy). A number of the latter have now settled in Bönpo communities that for many years have had little contact with Tibetan scholarship. One of these doctors, Yungdrung Gyaltsen, has now come to Lubrak as a teacher and advisor for trainee Bönpo lamas from Lubrak and surrounding areas.

A lama performing rituals in Lubrak
Stupas above the village and the dry riverbed below