Bronze figure of a Bon deity, perhaps ghsa-lha'od-dkar
19th century AD
The Bon religion is descended from the ancient beliefs of Tibet that predate the arrival of Buddhism in the eighth century. The early Bon religion was primarily a royal cult, which involved animal sacrifices. Though much influenced by Buddhism over the centuries, Bon is generally critical of Buddhism and its creed. The interaction between Bon and Buddhism in Tibet led to changes in both religions. Buddhism absorbed some Bon deities, and Bon priests adopted monastic practices and started writing Bon texts. Padmasambhava, who introduced Tantric Buddhism to Tibet in the eighth century, is credited with turning many of the earlier Tibetan deities into the protectors of Buddhism.
Bon deities came to be depicted very similarly to Buddhist images, and Bon and Buddhist Tibetan images are often difficult to distinguish to the casual observer. Very much like a Buddhist image, this figure sits in the meditation posture with his hands in his lap. However, we can identify him as a Bon deity, by the use of the Tibetan letter 'a' on the chest, and the use of the svastika symbol on the flower-head by the right shoulder. 'A' is the final letter of the Tibetan alphabet, inherent in all the consonants. It is a phonetic symbol of Primeval or Absolute Reality.
P. Kvaerne, The Bon religion of Tibet (London, Serindia Publications, 1995)
R. Fisher, Art of Tibet (Thames and Hudson, 1997)
Asia OA 1980.3-26.1