Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bon, Zoroastrianism & Dualism

(Suggested prior reading: Iranian-Aryan Connections with Western Tibet. Also see God, Time and Creation in Zoroastrianism and Dual, Duality & Dualism. Definitions)

The ancient Bon religion that survives primarily as a minority religion in Tibet today, has some interesting connections with Zoroastrianism, the pre-Zoroastrian Aryan religion of ancient Indo-Iranians, as well as the now extinct branch of Zoroastrianism, Zurvanism. Bon's theological dualism finds connections with Zurvanism, while its philosophical dualism finds connections with Zoroastrianism. In Zurvanism, the first creative principle that embodied time and space give rise to the duality of light and darkness otherwise associated with a beneficent and destructive spirit respectively.

Bon doctrine and practice appear to have evolved greatly during the past thousand years and it is at times difficult to distinguish some of Bon's original teachings from its more modern borrowings from Buddhism, Hindu Saivism (Shiva worship) and even possibly Islam. Amongst several possibilities that exist regarding Aryan influence on Bon, there exists the possibility that Bon could have adopted its dualism doctrine in Central Asia from the early Indo-Iranians, or that the doctrine could have been brought over later by Iranians (including Sogdians) who fled to Tibet following the Islamic invasion. However, since Bon's dualism doctrine appears older and fairly distinct from Buddhist or Hindu theology and cosmology, the former possibility has the better claim.

The Bon dualism doctrine is as follows:

A creator is responsible for the creation of existence. The creator is variously named sNang ba 'od ldan, Kun snang khyab pa, and Khri khug rgyal po.

This creator God of the universe, Yang dag rgyal po, existed when there was no Sun, Moon or seasons but only non-being with the potentiality of being (srid).

In a striking resemblance to Zoroastrian theology and cosmology, Bon makes allusion to what existed in this state of non-being: light (or more correctly, what we can only describe as a type of light). Zoroastrianism would describe the essence of God as a pure spiritual light - light being the only physical simile to describe an indescribable spiritual state beyond human comprehension.

The potentiality of existence was actualized by the creator imparting to it an essential nature and thereby causing being to manifest itself in various aspects of the universe, namely, the world of appearance, this existence, snang srid.

All of existence exists because of an essential inherent nature - the concept being similar to the Zoroastrian Fravashi. This inherent nature imparts inherent properties that are manifest when a flame rises, a river descends and in creatures' instincts.

Existence has three phases:
1. Inactive being (byed mkan la mi ltos) that has existed since eternity (ye srid).
2. Active being (byed byas srid).
3. Differentiated being (rgyu mtshan gyi srid) which through material causes unfolded itself.

(Compare with The Process of Becoming at our page God, Time and Creation in Zoroastrianism.)

Differentiation is where the duality of existence arises. Both Zoroastrianism and Bon would hold that duality is a fundamental aspect of this universal existence - that without existential duality there would be no cosmos. However, the argument in Zoroastrianism is whether there was a differentiation from an undifferentiated state of being, or whether the duality of existence was uncreated, that is, duality was and is. There is enough material to fuel both sides of the argument. When orthodox Zoroastrianism adopted the latter position, Zurvanism arose to postulate the former position. Proponents of both positions read into the words of Zarathushtra support for their stand. [It is of great regret that most translations and interpretations of Zarathushtra's texts are heavily influenced by the bias and prior positions of writers or by proponents of positions.] Bon adopts the former position, namely, that an undifferentiated primordial state of being was differentiated in the process of creation or in the manifestation of this physical existence.

In the process of differentiation, there came into existence light (representing positivity) and darkness (or a not-light representing negation), and two entities representing creative, physical and existential principles: being and not-being, one radiant, Od zer ldam, and the other dark, Myal ba nag po. The bright entity named sNang srid sems can yod pa dga' ba'i bdag po, caused goodness, peace and joy. The dark entity caused evil, violence and grief. From the dark creature emerged demons, constellations, drought, pestilence and misfortune. The personification of philosophical concepts resulted in most aspects of the duality of being characterized as gods and demons.

There is some suggestion in the Bon texts that the principal of darkness preceded the principle of light or that at one point darkness gained ascendancy over light for the faith in lha (divine beings?) ceased. When the principle of light gained ascendancy, the faith in lha was restored and the struggle against demons commenced.

Let us take a moment to compare the words of Zarathushtra in the now famous, seminal and oft quoted verses, his hymns or gathas:

30.3 Now the two mainyu (spiritual entities) primordial
who were twin well-working, became
In thought and word and deed
separate, the better and the bad
And of these two the wise do rightly choose
but not so those in ignorance.

30.4 And now when the two mainyu together
foregathered, they produced
Being and not-being
which ultimately became in life
The baseness of the dregvant
and the ashavan's highest mind.

[Verses 30.1-30.4 and their translations by K. E. Eduljee can be found at Scripture Selections. Reading all the verses can help provide context.]

In reading the verses, it is not too difficult to assume equations, one being that the existential differentiated mainyu that were manifested as being and not-being were correspondingly and ultimately manifested as qualities of the mind: the highest mind and baseness. This latter equation is not necessarily so. For one thing, the order of the mind is reversed in Gatha 30.4. This author reads in the gathas that the duality of the mind is an outcome of the nature of existential duality but that one aspect of being does not necessarily manifest itself with a corresponding aspect of the mind and therefore an aspect of the ethical dichotomy: right and not-right. In other words, right is not a manifestation of being and neither is not-right a manifestation of not-being. Both, however, are manifestations of the dual nature of existential being.

If this writer may be permitted a further development; various existential aspects have an intrinsic twin aspect of negation: the element of being has an intrinsic dual opposite, not-being. These aspects do not however have attached intrinsic values of good and bad, or right and wrong. Being is not intrinsically good and not-being is not intrinsically bad. They are both "twin, well-working" (cf. the Gatha verses 30.3 & 4 quoted above) in the vastness of an inorganic cosmos.

Values are judgments placed on an existential element's positive and negative aspects in the microcosm of the human mind and perhaps in the minds of all creatures that have feelings. Beneficence or harm to a human being, a creature, their respective communities and the environment, can be a determinant of the value of good or bad placed on an aspect of the element.

The Impermanence of Spiritual and Temporal Existential Duality
Zoroastrianism does not see existential duality continuing without end. It sees the goal of existence as rising to a state of holistic perfection exemplified by the destruction of evil. Such a condition leads to a scenario where there is no ageing, no death, no fear and no violence. All forms of existential duality including light and darkness would cease to exist.

The absence of ageing could be said to assume that time itself will stand still bring to an end the regime of zravanahe daregho khvadhatahe - time of long dominion, time that can be measured. Perhaps, what will remain is zravanahe akarnahe - time infinite, unbounded and immeasurable - the form of time that existed before the institution of zravanahe daregho khvadhatahe. The existential space-time continuum of vayu-zravanahe will cease to exist.

One could therefore postulate that in one interpretation of Zoroastrian philosophy, existence rose from a unity and will end in a unity - duality having been the interim means for creation to have manifested itself and for humanity to progress from a state of imperfection to perfection.

[» Ref: The Religions of Tibet By Giuseppe Tucci, Geoffrey Samuel]

Duality & Dualism pages of this blog:
» Dual, Duality & Dualism. Definitions
» The Two - Ta Mainyu
» Yin-Yang Dualism. Development of the Concept
» Yin-Yang in Daoism / Taoism. The Daodejing by Laozi. Zhuangzi
» Plutarch. His Work, Duality and the Soul

Also see:
» God, Time and Creation in Zoroastrianism.

No comments:

Post a Comment