We are not free of darker feelings and views just because we espouse a spiritual view or lifestyle.
The Chinese New Years celebration, their own version of the day of the dead ritual, has its origin in Bon. The new year for Bon is the same as the Chinese New Year, and their lunar calendar arose from it.
The people of the lowlands were more fractured, while the tribes of the Tibetan mountain range were more unified, so they had what would amount to the only real “medicine society.” To use a Native American term, there was a sharing of shamanistic practices among them, and when Tantrism entered Tibet they took it right up. The idea of actions having immediate spiritual impact, and the responsibility to act on spiritual matters made perfect sense to them. Where they differed was on the view of the mind.
Do other Tantric traditions have their basis in Bon? Ah, Tantrism was foreign to Bon, but was accepted. And Tantrism is more than Tantric sex, which is what comes to most peoples minds. Tantrism is of Indian origin, and tantra means roughly tapestry. It was a sort of a grass roots body of beliefs arising outside of the normal “clericy”, focusing more on karmic principles and transcendence by engagement rather than austerity. A Tantric monk is sort of an oxymoron from how people understand the word monk.
The Bon view of the mind is more reflected in esoteric Taoism these days. They use the chakra system of India, but they believe the body to be the literal abode of “gods/spirits”, and if you fall ill it’s because one of these consciousnesses has been disrespected. To rectify that, the offended spirit had to be shown formal respect, and given offerings. This would latter become Taoist alchemy, though less restricted in exactly what is made as an “offering”, or what was seen as the literal agent of improvement.
If the spirits are in the body would they indulge the body somehow in the offering? Yes, and they didn’t see each spirit as liking the same things. A feast? Feasting in a sense, yes, or dance, or even mantras. Basically let the spirit hear what it wants to hear. Soothing and calming, and they reported healing. A similar aspect was in Indian mysticism where they describe Shiva uniting with Shakti essentially, and this may explain some modern difficulties people have. You would gain the desired state when the spirit decided you would. It could be asked for, but not forced to happen. So that was their reason for communing with spirits, which formal Buddhism neither acknowledges nor refutes. Essentially like the practice of sitting on a monasteries doorstep until you were accepted, you had to sit with the spirits in Bon.
The early Bon was a different form of practice than the modern? The modern is basically hybrid Buddhism, but Bon was always very pragmatic. When the Tibetan priest/kings decided that Buddhism was to be their faith, the practitioners of Bon just kept it out of the political arena, because it wasn’t an “affront to their religion.” It was their world view, and they didn’t quit it despite the change in regime policy.
It is still a very common Chinese view, the “pragmatic” view of religion. You believe what works for you, what makes sense. Many Chinese Buddhists follow other religious practices as well, even Christianity. If anything the closest parallel to Bon is Jainism. The idea that you are first responsible for your own spirit, but that there are other spirits also, and they should be shown respect also. In Jainism and Bon there is a strong concept similar to western thought, “sympathy for the devil” for lack of a better phrase. They both acknowledge dark spirits, angry gods, etc, but they aren’t enemies. Nor can they be enemies of the order, and are as capable of finding peace or acting evilly as humans are, but not being the cause of human evil.
Your thoughts are welcome. Be well friends.