Le’u

Buddhism was introduced to Tibet in the 7th century CE and became the official national religion in the 8th. A small percentage of Tibetans are followers of a religion called Bön, which its adherents (Bönpos) and Buddhists alike consider to be the country’s indigenous faith. Bön came to acquire many Buddhist features but retained a strand of more archaic traditions. Since there is no evidence that these traditions were actually called Bön prior to the establishment of Buddhism, we refer to them collectively as Tibetan Pagan religion. Until now, all we knew about this religion came from a small number of early (mainly 8-11th c.) manuscripts from the Silk Road, a small cache from southern Tibet, and some ritual narratives in the literature of “reformed” Bön. This situation changed dramatically in 2005 with the discovery of a large number of manuscripts constituting the ritual repertoire of a class of priests, called Leyu, in the Sino-Tibetan borderlands. Although facsimiles of some 35,000 folios of these manuscripts have now been, or are due shortly to be, published in China, very few people have worked on them owing to difficulties of script, language and the concepts conveyed. Preliminary investigations suggest that these texts contain genuinely archaic non-Buddhist rituals and narratives closely resembling those of the early sources that are already known.