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Bon and the so-called Indigenous and Archaic Traditions

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Directors (permanent members) : Jean-Luc Achard (CNRS), Charles Ramble (EPHE)

Post-doctoral members : Xiaoqing He, Alexander Smith

Collaborators : Kurt Keutzer (Berkeley University, USA), Gerd Manusch (Naldjor Institute, München, Allemagne), Henk Blezer (University of Leiden, Netherlands), Centre for Interdisciplinary Research and Documentation of Inner and South Asian Cultural History (CIRDIS, University of Vienna).

Bon is a pre-Buddhist tradition theoretically dating back to the Imperial period and considerably influenced by the various Buddhist schools that were disseminated throughout Tibet from the 8th to 11th century. This influence shaped the current monastic form of Bon and, to a certain extent, its lay form as well. The outcome of the present program will be the release of a collection of works pertaining to the various fields of speciality of the program’s researchers.

1. Texts of the rDzogs chen Tradition

The rDzogs chen teachings feature in the earliest spiritual traditions of Tibet —Bon and the rNying ma school of Buddhism. The research will rely on ancient texts and as well as on more recent and contemporary works. Participants include : Kurt Keutzer (University of Berkeley, USA) and Gerd Manusch, director of the Naldjor Institute (Munich, Germany) who will oversee several of the publications, and Henk Blezer (University of Leiden, Netherlands). All the researchers involved have already published works on rDzogs chen Bonpo and are among the very few specialists in this field.

2. Biographies and Works of Bon Masters

Jean-Luc Achard will pursue and complete his work on the biographies of Bon masters for the Rubin Museum ( with the masters of the A khrid and Zhang zhung snyan rgyud cycles. In parallel, he will also initiate a series of catalogues on the works of the Bon gsar tradition, starting with an annotated catalogue of the gSung’bum by dBra ston Pandita (1897-1959). Depending on their availability, the works of Kun grol grags pa (1700- ?) and gSang snags gling pa (1864-1959 ?) will also feature in annotated catalogues following the model Jean-Luc Achard used in his Bon po Hidden Treasures (Brill, 2004) and Enlightened Rainbows (Brill 2008).

3. Texts, Art and Performance in Bon Rituals

This project will examine Bon rituals from three different perspectives : literary, artistic and performative. For the literary aspect, a corpus of texts will be selected for study, and its content rendered accessible through reproduction, paraphrase and translation. A compilation of ritual texts consisting of 890 folios subdivided into one hundred sections will constitute the core corpus although other canonical and non-canonical material will also be included. The second aspect will focus on ritual art, namely butter and flour sculptures known as tormas. The third aspect deals with ritual performance. Charles Ramble will examine the activities of the priest and his assistant(s), the participation of non-specialists (patrons, patients etc.). The project will be conducted in collaboration with the Art History Department of Vienna University and more specifically with the Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Documentation of Inner and South Asian Cultural History (CIRDIS) that will provide the necessary IT and human resources. The project’s development will be accessible online via a website featuring images and texts accompanied by video recordings.

4. International Conference on the Gesar Epic

An international conference on the Tibetan and Central Asian epic Gesar of Ling, in memory of M.R.A Stein, organized by Charles Ramble and Mathew Kaptstein in collaboration with the EPHE and the Collège de France, will be held in 2014.