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On the Canon Bönpo of the Collège
de France Institute of Tibetan Studies

Jean-Luc Achard
p. 108-109
Cet article est une traduction de :
à propos du Canon Bönpo de l’Institut d’études tibétaines du Collège de France

Notes de la rédaction

Source: La lettre, no. 39, March 2015

Texte intégral

1Like the Tibetan Buddhist Canon, the Bonpo Canon is comprised of two complementary collections: the Kangyur (bka’ ‘gyur), which contains teachings attributed to the Buddha Tonpa Shenrab (sTon pa gshen rab); and the Tengyur (brTen ‘gyur) which, in theory, contains commentaries on these teachings, as well as whole cycles of additional instructions, biographies, rituals, etc. This double Canon long remained an elusive object of modern Tibetology.

The Kangyur of Welkhyung Gompa shortly after its rediscovery

2The first mention of it, for example by the Russian scholar George Roerich (1902-1960), left researchers at the time more than sceptical. Later references to it made by some travellers in western Tibet at the turn of the twentieth century – with some even claiming to have seen the Canon with their own eyes – also failed to dispel the doubts of specialists working on the Bon at the time. It was not until the end of the eighties for a version of the Bonpo Kangyur to make an “official” appearance in the Nyarong region (eastern Tibet, currently the province of Sichuan). This version was prepared by Mongyal Lhasay (sMon rgyal lha sras, 1938–), a leading figure of the Bonsar movement, based on the manuscripts brought back from the Nagchukha region (Nag chu kha, eastern Tibet) by the great tertön [the revealer of treasures] Sang-ngak Lingpa (gSang sngags gling pa, 1865-1959?) to his monastery in Welkhyung Gompa (Dbal khyung dgon pa). Sang-ngak Lingpa is one of the key figures in the history of the Bonpo Kangyur. He spent whole years collecting “reading authorizations” (lung) from the qualified patriarchs, so as to be able to initiate a movement of full and more or less regular transmission of the Kangyur, similar to traditional Buddhist practise. In the Hor region, he met Gagya Tendar (ga rgya bstan dar) who gave him a complete copy of the Kangyur, which Sang-ngak Lingpa took back to the monastery in Welkhyung Gompa.

3The entire collection was perfectly preserved, thanks to it being hidden in a cave near the monastery throughout the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Its hiding place was kept a secret for decades; some people even paid with their lives for refusing to reveal its exact location. The discovery was eventually made official around 1989-1990, and the collection was immediately reprinted at Mongyal Lhasay’s initiative. It was at last possible to say that the elusive object did indeed exist. In 1992, the Collège de France acquired a copy of this version, printed on brown paper in 192 volumes thanks to Anne-Marie Blondeau, who was then head of the Institute of Tibetan studies, through Prof. Per Kvaerne of the Centre for Advanced Studies of the University of Oslo. According to Lopon Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, over ten versions of the Bonpo Kangyur have since resurfaced. One of them (in 178 volumes) was recently scanned and digitized at the Menri monastery in exile; this digital version should be available in coming years.

Bon is considered to be Tibet’s autochthonous religious tradition.

A distinction is made between:

1. The Old Bon (Bon rnying),
which dates back to the pre-dynastic era and has disappeared

2. The Eternal Bon (g.Yung drung Bon), which is the classical Bon tradition (from the tenth to the eleventh century)

3. The New Bon or Bonsar (Bon gsar), which is a late syncretic movement dating back to the fourteenth century and is highly active in eastern Tibet.

4The history of the Bonpo Tengyur is yet more complex. To my knowledge, while there are at least three editions of it, none of them is printed in conformity with the official catalogues of the Tengyur compiled between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The first one is comprised of 300 volumes; the second of 325 volumes (the edition owned by the Collège de France); and the third of 333 volumes. Each of them includes a considerable number of texts that strictly speaking do not belong to the Tengyur, to the extent that some prefer to call that body of texts bKa’ brten, in other words a mix of the Kangyur and Tengyur. Note also that each of these versions contains an impressive number of texts belonging to the late Bonsar tradition, which should theoretically not be the case.

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Table des illustrations

Légende The Kangyur of Welkhyung Gompa shortly after its rediscovery
Fichier image/png, 7,8M
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Référence électronique

Jean-Luc Achard, « On the Canon Bönpo of the Collège
de France Institute of Tibetan Studies
 », La lettre du Collège de France [En ligne], 9 | 2015, mis en ligne le 29 septembre 2015, consulté le 12 décembre 2017. URL :

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Jean-Luc Achard


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