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Remarks concerning the Methodology and Symbolism of Bon Pebble Divination

Remarques concernant la méthodologie et le symbolisme de la divination Bon par les petits cailloux
Alexander K. Smith

Résumés

Cet article s’intéresse à l’art de la divination lde’u ‘phrul, un type de divination réalisée au moyen de petits cailloux de l’Himalaya, tel qu’il est pratiqué dans la communauté Bon vivant aux environs du monastère de sMan ri, à proximité de la ville de Solan, dans la région du Sirmour (H.P.) en Inde. Cet article fondé sur des textes portant sur l’art de la divination ainsi que sur une enquête de terrain effectuée durant plusieurs mois à sMan ri, s’intéresse aux pratiques de la divination lde’u ‘phrul et à leur symbolisme.

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Entrées d’index

Géographique :

Inde, Dolanji

Population :

Tibétains, Indiens, Bon po
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Texte intégral

1To my knowledge the American anthropologist Victor Turner (1975) was the first to argue that the symbolism used in divination is markedly different from other forms of ritual discourse. With regard to the field of Tibetan Studies and its growing interest in representations of Bon culture, a conceptualization of the exegetic value of divinatory symbolism is of immense importance. Despite the number of excellent studies on the subject of Tibetan divination practices (Thomas 1957, Macdonald 1971, Ramble 1993, 2008, Walter 1995, Yao 1997, Mortensen 2006, Dotson 2007, to name just a few), it is quite difficult to find a dedicated analysis of the symbolic complexes evoked in the performance of divination. With an eye towards this new and interesting field, the present paper will address a form of pebble divination known as "manifestation of knowledge" (lde’u ‘phrul [pronounced de’u trül]) as it is performed in the contemporary Bon community surrounding sMan ri monastery near Solan, Sirmour District (H.P), India.

  • 1 It is important to note that Chögyal Namkhai Norbu presents a cursory discussion of lde’u ‘phrul i (...)

2The paper will be divided into three sections. First, it will provide a brief ethnographic account of sMan ri monastery and the nearby village, Dolanji. Second, the paper will address the performance of lde’u ‘phrul divination. This analysis will focus upon the divination’s required implements, invocations, and the method of casting. Third, the paper will present a discussion of the divination’s symbolism. It will be shown that lde’u ‘phrul employs a wide range of culturally specific metaphors and symbols in the production of its prognostications. Drawing from a pair of lde’u ‘phrul manuals, the paper will attempt to explicate these symbolic configurations and chart their relationship to well known astrological schemas, such as the ‘nine numerological squares’ (sme ba) and the trigrams (spar kha). Before beginning, however, it is necessary to stress the limited scope of this study, which will only address lde’u ‘phrul performances as observed within a single monastic environment. As such, the paper will avoid any broad sweeping characterizations of pan-Himalayan pebble divination. These would be misleading in that there have been no other scholarly studies on the subject at hand.1 I shall now make a few ethnographic remarks concerning sMan ri monastery so as to put the following study in context.

  • 2 The Bon po settlement of Dolanji is known by a number of different names. In short, the Tibetan na (...)
  • 3 In surveying both Dolanji and sMan ri, I have been able to draw from a thorough census of the regi (...)

3The fieldwork for this paper was conducted at sMan ri monastery over a four month period during the summer and the autumn of 2009. The monastery is roughly fifteen kilometers west of Solan, south of Shimla in the Shiwalik Hills of the lower Himalayas. sMan ri, founded in 1969, is the largest contemporary Bon monastery and is also the seat of H.H. sMan ri khri ‘dzin Lung rtogs bstan pa’i nyi ma, the head of the Bon religion. To the eye, the monastery is a rather large monastic complex of fifteen or sixteen buildings sprawling across the top of a mountain, overlooking the Bon po settlement of Dolanji.2 The monastery provides for one hundred and fifty adult monks and nearly two hundred orphan boys who are in the process of monastic training (Yungdrung Konchok 2008, p. 11). sMan ri also provides facilities for roughly fifty nuns who are housed across the valley. Taking the monastic institution into consideration, I would estimate the population of the area to be, at any particular zenith (during the Tibetan New Year, for example), between seven hundred and eight hundred and, at its lowest points, between four hundred and five hundred children and adults.3

Image 1. sMan ri Monastery as viewed from the valley

Image 1. sMan ri Monastery as viewed from the valley

Photography by Alexander K. Smith, September 2009

  • 4 I am grateful to the Slob dpon ‘Phrin las nyi ma for both his erudition and for his graciousness i (...)

4There are a number of forms of divination practiced in the broader community surrounding sMan ri. The foremost among these are dice divination (sho mo) and rosary divination (‘phreng mo), which are performed either by a specialist or requested from any monk versed in the practice. By and large, however, the most sought after form of divination is a variant of pebble divination referred to as lde’u ‘phrul, of which the foremost specialist in the community is the monastery’s head educator, the sMan ri Slob dpon ‘Phrin las nyi ma.4 It is perhaps of note that the majority of the Slob dpon’s clients are from the local community. However, with the introduction of mobile phones and the recent availability of internet at the monastery, the Slob dpon is receiving a steadily increasing volume of international requests for the performance of divinations. Beyond this, divinations are also requested by members of the monastic community on behalf of their families. As such, the Slob dpon administers to patrons from a number of different countries and different socio-economic backgrounds.

lDe’u ‘phrul Background and Performance

  • 5 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu (1997) argues that the term lde’u ‘phrul is sometimes rendered as rdel drug (...)
  • 6 In my research, I have found that the term "six stones" (rdel drug) appears in a very singular con (...)
  • 7 It is important to note that the orthography of divination manuals is notoriously inconsistent. As (...)
  • 8 The mythological region of Ma sang is often considered to be a location visited by either sTon pa (...)
  • 9 Generally speaking, the Ma sang are considered to be a class of the’u rang deities, which belong t (...)

5The divination practiced by the sMan ri Slob dpon ‘Phrin las nyi ma is called "manifestation of knowledge" (lde’u ‘phrul). It is important to note, however, that the practice also goes by a number of different names. First of all, the divination possesses the phonetically similar spelling of rde’u ‘phrul (magic pebbles). Secondly, it is not uncommon to hear the divination called "six stones" (rdel drug),5 though the appearance of this moniker in writing is quite infrequent and carries a very specific connotation.6 Thirdly, it is commonplace among educated monks to hear the practice referred to as "the pebble divination of the Ma sang" (ma sang rdel mo).7 This title is a likely reference to one of two things: (1) a mythic location where sTon pa gShen rab, the founder of the Bon religion, is said to have conducted teachings on divination;8 (2) a class of semi-divine beings popular in Bon po mythology.9 Finally, the rite is occasionally rendered as "the divination of sMra seng" (sMra seng rdel mo). The term sMra seng is likely a foreshortening of the epithet "lion of speech" (sMra ba’i seng ge), which serves inter alia as an appellation for the Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī, as well as for an emanation of sTon pa gShen rab as a codifier of the first four vehicles of the Bon religion. In any case, for the sake of simplicity and as each of these terms refers to an identical practice, the term lde’u ‘phrul alone will be used in this paper’s discussion of the divination and its auxiliary materials.

6Broadly speaking, lde’u ‘phrul may be understood as a form of cleromantic divination. That is to say, a form of divination that involves the casting of lots, dice, stones, bones, or other mobile elements in order to conduct a divinatory reading. As such, cleromantic practices often utilize an element of chance, which is interpreted as revealing the will and foreknowledge of supernatural forces. lDe’u ‘phrul is also a form of textually oriented cleromancy. Thus, following a casting, the diviner refers to a specific divination text in order to interpret the random patterns formed by the rite’s mobile elements.

  • 10 The presence here of both white and black objects is generally considered to be a necessity for th (...)

7Beyond the appropriate texts, lde’u ‘phrul also requires that one possess either forty-two white pebbles or forty-two beads from a crystal rosary. These objects should be spherical and roughly one centimetre in diameter. In the case of pebbles, a certain number of stones should be painted black. Typically, this number is given as either two of the pebbles or half of the pebbles. This ‘painting black’ is accomplished by drawing small pips upon the objects in question, which are referred to as "eyes" (mig).10 In addition to the stones or crystals, one requires a white felt mat that should be square and roughly twelve to fifteen centimetres across. In the performance of a lde’u ‘phrul casting, following the completion of the preliminary recitations, the pebbles are cast upon the mat and divided into nine piles using a simple process of division and subtraction.

Image 2. The sLob dpon ‘Phrin las nyi ma photographed following a lde’u ‘phrul casting

Image 2. The sLob dpon ‘Phrin las nyi ma photographed following a lde’u ‘phrul casting

Photography by Alexander K. Smith, July 2009
Courtesy of sLob dpon ‘Phrin las nyi ma

8With the exception of telephone requests, the lde’u ‘phrul rites that I have observed proceed in the following fashion. To begin with, a client arrives and petitions the Slob dpon for an audience. The process governing this petition is no more complex than an exchange of formal greetings. Following this, the client is typically expected to produce a small monetary offering to the monastery. Irrespective of the amount, this gift is accepted. The Slob dpon then inquires into the nature of the client’s query. This questioning can proceed for some time until both the specific nature of the client’s question and the circumstances surrounding it are completely divulged. When this conversation reaches its conclusion, the casting is performed.

9To begin a lde’u ‘phrul casting, the Slob dpon first lays out the white mat between himself and his client. The pebbles are then placed in his hand. While holding the stones and reading from a divination text, the Slob dpon will recite a series of invocations that address a wide variety of divinities. As these invocations appear to follow a similar structure, perhaps two examples will suffice to demonstrate their general character.

  • 11 As some of this article’s readership may be from a non-Tibetanist background, English translations (...)
  • 12 The gnod sbyin are equivalent to the Sanskrit yakṣa (Norbu 1997, p. 248; Nebesky-Wojkowitz 1998, p (...)
  • 13 The yul lha and gzhi bdag are two classes of highly localized and ancient territorial deities popu (...)
  • 14 Here, mo translates simply as "the divination". In many contexts, phya denotes "luck, fortune, or (...)
  • 15 It is important to note that this paper presents Tibetan sources in their original, unedited form. (...)
  • 16 sku gsum rdzogs pa’i sangs rgyas dang / kon mchog gsum dang rtsa gsum lha / yid dam phyi nang gsal (...)
  • 17 rlung mkhar gyi nang na bzhugs pa’i rje / mo lha’i rgyal po spyan ‘dren gyis / ye mkhyen ‘phrul rg (...)

The Buddhas of the perfected three bodies. The three jewels and the god of the three roots. The three inner, outer, and secret tutelary deities (yi dam).11 The root lama and the guardian of the precepts... You three: lha, klu, and gnod sbyin.12 The planets and the stars. The fierce gzhi bdag and yul lha.13 Be present now at the phya and the mo.14 You are the lords of omniscience. There is nothing that you do not see or do not know. If any thought can be spared for me, please distinguish the good from the bad. Reveal in detail the beautiful and the ugly, the true and the false. Conduct this divination clearly.1516
Lord who dwells inside the palace of the wind. Magical king of primordial knowledge (ye mkhyen ‘phrul rgyal), by the invitation of the lords of the divination gods, please come ! From the strata of luminous deities, you three: lha, gar, and rten please come ! Thug kar sgra bla, from your precious self-assembled fortress, please come ! The assembly of the three hundred and sixty divination gods, come quickly ! Please be seated upon the white divination mat (lha gzhi dkar po). I pay homage to you. I atone for my sins. I offer you gifts. Act as the divination gods who reveal divinations. Act as witnesses of both good and evil. Please bless these divination stones.17

10In these two examples we see that a number of deities and natural forces are called upon by name to bear witness to the divination. Generally, the listing of these figures is given on a sliding scale, proceeding from enlightened or cosmic forces to highly localized divinities. Once this list is completed, the host of gods and demi-gods is requested to bear witness to the divination and, in some cases, to bless the divination stones (mo rdel). In this sense, the divinities are requested to act as guarantors of the divination’s veracity. Importantly, the divinities do not fulfil this function through their proximity to the proceedings. On the contrary, the assembled divinities are considered to physically dissolve into the divination stones and, by doing so, transfer their own prophetic power to the stones. This process is illustrated in a short but beautiful passage, which provides a commentary to the text’s invocations. The passage reads,

  • 18 de ltar bdar ba’i lha tshogs thams cad mdun gi nam mkha’ gang ba tsam dbyings nas byon te / ‘od du (...)

All of the gods who have been invoked like this, filling up the sky in front of you, descend from pure space. Having dissolved into light, they melt into the pebbles.18

11In the performance of lde’u ‘phrul rites, the dissolution of the deities into the divination stones is symbolized by a rapid succession of breaths that are blown upon the stones following the invocation. This act marks the conclusion of the invocation and the beginning of the casting. It is worth noting that the diffusion of the assembled deities into the divination stones indicates that the diviner does not divine using his own prophetic abilities. On the contrary, the lde’u ‘phrul deities are considered to act directly through the stones themselves. This notion is maintained by the Slob dpon, who describes the process and its implications in the following fashion:

  • 19 It is important to note that the diffusion of power into the divination stones can be considered t (...)

It is their [the deities’] power, not my power. A stone is a stone. A cloth is just a cloth. The most important thing is the deities. People ask me for divination all the time and normally I couldn’t decide what to do. The people, you know, have doubts about what is the correct thing to do. They couldn’t decide the truth for themselves. Instead they ask the lamas, but, a lama does not decide himself. The lama asks the deities to show him the correct results. They ask the divination deities to make it true, to make the correct divination... When a lama does divination with the rdel mo, the answers are in the stones and the gods make them true (Personal communication from the Slob dpon ‘Phrin las nyi ma: September 30, 2009).19

12Following the completion of the requisite invocations, the Slob dpon casts the stones. The method governing the casting proceeds in the following fashion. To begin with, all the stones are placed at the top of the white felt mat and are arranged into a single pile. This pile is then randomly divided into three separate piles that are arranged in a horizontal line across the top of the mat. Stones are now subtracted from these piles exactly four at a time until there are one to four pebbles remaining in each pile. Once this is completed, the stones that had been subtracted are grouped together. These are then randomly divided in the same fashion as the initial pile, forming three piles that run horizontally across the center of the mat. The previous method of subtracting stones four at a time is performed once again. This leaves six piles numbering one to four pebbles each, which are arranged three across and two down. The stones that had been subtracted are again grouped into a single pile and the process of division and subtraction is performed once more. The result leaves one with nine piles each of which contains one to four pebbles. These piles are arranged into a grid three across and three down. The remaining pebbles are then set aside. This method of casting is outlined succinctly in one of our texts:

  • 20 Ling tse is generally rendered as "lattice". In this context, however, the term refers to the nine (...)
  • 21 de nas so sor dpyad pas rde’u bzhi bcu rtsa gnyis yod / tsho gsum gcad la / bzhi bzhir bgrangs / l (...)

There are forty-two pebbles by which to conduct a detailed examination. Cut these into three sections. Calculate as four the four. They are cast upon the nine ling tse.2021

13Once the casting is completed, one may refer to a lde’u ‘phrul manual in order to interpret the numerological patterns formed by the nine piles of stones. Generally speaking, the number of stones in each pile and its location upon the divination mat are taken together as an indication of a particular symbol. As these symbols are integral to the interpretation of a casting, it is necessary to address the symbolic content inherent to each of the nine piles of stones, which I will refer to as the nine sections of the divination grid.

Image 3. The random distribution of pebbles following a lde’u ‘phrul casting

Image 3. The random distribution of pebbles following a lde’u ‘phrul casting

Photography by Alexander K. Smith, July 2009
Courtesy of sLob dpon ‘Phrin las nyi ma

14lDe’u ‘phrul manuals contain a series of passages that ascribe distinguishing characteristics to each of the divination grid’s nine sections. Most importantly, each vertical column of stones in the grid is given a title. Starting from the left side of the grid, the first vertical column is referred to as "the Gods’ Place" (lha sa); the second column is called "the Family Place" (khyim sa); and the third column is referred to as "the Outside Place" (phyi sa). Each of these columns is then ascribed a specific set of values. The Gods’ Place, for example, is understood to represent the masculine or masculine values. The Family Place represents the feminine and the hearth, while the Outside Place is taken to represent possible misfortune.

  • 22 With regard to the ritual significance of "Sky Door" (gnam sgo) and "Earth Door" (sa sgo), see Dol (...)

15Beyond a division into three vertical columns, each of the divination grid’s horizontal rows also bears a title. Simply put, beginning with the top row, these are referred to as the "first" (dang po), the "middle" (bar ma or ‘bring po), and the "last" (tha ma). In this fashion, the upper left section of the grid is given the title "the First Gods’ Place" (lha sa dang po), the bottom right section is "the Last Outside Place" (phyi sa tha ma), and so forth. Finally, the three vertical sections of the Family Place are given a second set of titles: the First Family Place is "the Sky Door" (gnam sgo); the Middle Family Place is "the Heart of the Divination" (mo snying); and the Last Family Place is "the Earth Door" (sa sgo).22 These signifiers are illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Distribution of titles within the divination grid

Figure 1. Distribution of titles within the divination grid

16With the above information and the use of a lde’u ‘phrul manual, it is quite easy to begin an interpretation of the patterns formed by the divination stones. For instance, should one find that there is one stone in the First Gods’ Place, it is a simple matter of locating the corresponding section in the divination text. In this case, one finds:

  • 23 The wer ma are a common class of warrior gods (Karmay 1997, p. 257; Nebesky-Wojkowitz 1998, p. 629 (...)
  • 24 ‘di ru rdel gcig bab pa na / sgra bla wer ma’i mgon skyabs byed / lha srung sgra bla mchod na bzan (...)

If one stone is cast here, one will have the protection of the sound souls (sgra bla) and the wer ma.23 If offerings are given to the wer ma and the tutelary gods (lha srung), the outlook will be positive.24

17Taking this as an example, we see that the general structure of a positive casting indicates a fortuitous outcome and then provides a list of deities that should be propitiated or a set of rituals that should be performed in order to guarantee good fortune in the future. In the case of negative castings, however, the texts tend to provide much more elaborate responses. For example, should there be two stones in the Last Gods’ Place, the passage reads:

  • 25 With regard to the terms phywa and phya, see Karmay 1998, p. 247 n. 9.
  • 26 Chung sri: a type of demon that is considered to prey on children (Norbu 1997, p. 46).
  • 27 According to Norbu (1997, p. 260 n. 21), it was customarily considered inauspicious for a bride to (...)
  • 28 gnyis bab srog phywa dgra phywar ngan /bu tsha dag la chung sri sdang / rta nor rtod phur ‘bud pa’ (...)

If a two is cast here, it is bad for one’s life (srog) phywa and good for the phywa of enemies.25 The chung sri26 will rage against children. It is a sign that the peg tying down one’s horses and livestock will come loose. There is a great likelihood of encountering enemies and thieves. Perform a dgra bla brub. If there is an illness, the child-killing demon will be nearby. Furthermore, a red complexioned woman from the northeast will carry black utensils (spyad nag).27 Repair a damaged road and recite a dhāraṇī for longevity (tshe gzungs)... This is particularly bad for those born in the Ox year.28

18In this sense, negative castings tend to begin with a series of misfortunes and malignant forces that loom in one’s immediate future. These are proceeded by a list of specific ritual activities that one may perform in order to ward off future tribulations.

19In interpreting a lde’u ‘phrul casting, the Slob dpon must gauge the relationship of negative to positive results and contrast these with their relative location within the divination grid. Drawing from the above examples we can see how each individual section of the grid may be understood. However, we have not yet addressed the method through which the dissonant sections of the grid are transformed into a cohesive and ordered narrative. In order to do this, the paper will now turn to a discussion of divinatory symbolism. In particular, it will focus upon a configuration of symbols expounded upon at length in lde’u ‘phrul texts, yet, visually inconspicuous during the rite’s performance.

lDe’u ‘phrul symbolism and methods of interpretation

20As we have seen, lde’u ‘phrul texts organize the nine sections of the divination grid into three vertical columns and three horizontal rows. These form a matrix of nine spaces that are represented by the nine piles of stones. We have also seen that each of these spaces possesses at least one distinguishing title. It was not previously shown, however, that lde’u ‘phrul texts ascribe a further set of six symbols to each of the grid’s nine sections. In short, these symbols are: (1) a deity, (2) a direction, (3) a number, (4) a color, (5) an astrological trigram (spar kha), and (6) an element. For example, in the case of the Middle Gods’ Place, one finds the following entry:

  • 29 dPa’ chen wer ma nyi nya is considered to be a warrior god belonging to the Ye category of deities(...)
  • 30 Ku and bswo are common onomatopoeic terms representing war-cries.
  • 31 In this passage the syllable indicating the relevant trigram is damaged and somewhat difficult to (...)
  • 32 lha sa ‘bring po’i bdag po ni / g.ya’ spang rkyes gcig zer ba de / dpa’i chen wer ma nyi nya yin / (...)

As for the master of the Middle Gods’ Place, he is called g.Ya’ spang skyes gcig. He is dPa’ chen wer ma nyi nya.29 He has a lion’s head and a lynx’s ears. He has feet that are blades and wings that are small razors (cho gri). His feet are vortexes of wind. On his head he wears the great helmet of the sun. On his body, he wears the great armour of the stars. He rides upon the savage tiger of courage in the prime of its life. He resides in the fortress of Khro chu dmu lugs upon the peak of dMu ri de’u dkar. He is commander of all the sound souls (sgra bla). He is surrounded by the myriad armies of the wer ma. They delight in ku and revel in bswo.30 He is the sound soul (sgra bla) of young men in the prime of their lives... The eastern direction, the number three, deep blue, tsin,31 and the wood element.32

21In this example, the Middle Gods’ Place is first described as a martial deity. Following the listing of the deity’s attributes, the text ascribes five symbols to the Middle Gods’ Place: a direction (east), a number (three), a color (deep blue), a trigram (tsin) and an element (wood). Narrated in this fashion, variations of these symbols appear in each section of the divination grid. Rather than belabor the reader with a dense compilation of names and terms, a complete list of these variables and their relative location within the divination grid is presented in Figure 2. Seen in this fashion, it is quite clear that the grid is not composed of an entirely random configuration of symbols. On the contrary, it appears that lde’u ‘phrul texts outline a specific symbolic configuration that is encoded within the secret symbolism of the divination stones.

Figure 2. Illustration of deities, symbols, and characteristics associated with the divination grid

Figure 2. Illustration of deities, symbols, and characteristics associated with the divination grid

22Having presented Figure 2, several aspects of the divination grid are of particular importance. To begin with, it may be noted that Figure 2 bears a certain resemblance to an elementary maṇḍala. The division of the area into nine spaces, the presence of deities in each of these spaces, and the inversion of cardinal and inter-cardinal directions are all, for instance, features common to maṇḍalas found within the Tibetan cultural sphere (Snodgrass 1992, Tucci 1961, Macdonald 1997, Beer 1999, Huber et al. 1999). In addition to this material microcosm, the divination grid contains a number of elements representative of the human condition. The Gods’ Place and the Family Place are taken, for example, to represent the three stages of the human life-cycle: youth, maturity, and old age. Concurrently, the Outside Place is composed of the evils that may afflict an individual during these three stages of life. Taking these factors into consideration, it appears that lde’u ‘phrul texts dictate inter alia the construction of a material representation of the cosmos and of the individual’s life-cycle within it.

23Beyond the symbolic configuration of a microcosm, the attribution of a color, a number, and an element to each of the diagram’s nine sections is also of interest. As illustrated in Figure 3, the distribution of these elements in the divination grid is virtually identical to the arrangement of a particular numerological device encountered in Tibetan astrology: the ‘sme ba square’ (Norbu 1997, pp. 152-156 ; Cornu 2002, pp. 102-125 ; Beer 1999, pp. 121-122). Though this is not the place to venture into a cumbersome discussion of Tibetan astrology, perhaps a few brief remarks concerning the sme ba and their relationship to the trigrams (spar kha) will serve to clarify the symbolic content of the divination grid.

Figure 3. Comparative illustration of the lde'u 'phrul divination grid and the astrological symbolism of the sme ba and spar kha

Figure 3. Comparative illustration of the lde'u 'phrul divination grid and the astrological symbolism of the sme ba and spar kha

24A sme ba square is formed by placing the numbers one to nine along with their correlate colors into a three-by-three grid in which each column (horizontal, vertical, and diagonal) can be added together to produce the sum of fifteen. Numerologically speaking, this grouping possesses a great deal of symmetry: the base of three multiplied by the central five equals fifteen; the number five serves as a midpoint between both one and nine an three and seven; and the central five may be multiplied by the number nine to produce forty-five, which is identical to the sum total of the digits of the sme ba square (Beer 1999, pp. 121-122). Furthermore, taken together with the eight trigrams (spar kha), which may be added to the square’s cardinal and inter-cardinal points, the sme ba form the basis of a number of different methods of astrological calculation, the most common of which is perhaps the one hundred and eighty year cycle (sme ‘khor) and its division into three sixty year groups (sme phreng) (Norbu 1997, Cornu 2002).

  • 33 With respect to the discussion of analytical approaches regarding the study of divination, see Dev (...)

25With the above configurations in mind, it is now possible to make several remarks concerning the overarching structure of lde’u ‘phrul symbolism. This article has shown how, following the performance of a lde’u ‘phrul casting, each pile of stones is understood to possess a particular meaning determined by its number and relative location. In addition to the constellation of meaning present in the divination stones, an analysis of lde’u ‘phrul texts also demonstrates that the divination’s performance involves the creation of a microcosm that encompasses both social and cosmic dimensions. The symbolic representation of this microcosm was then shown to overlap with the sme ba and spar kha, which are combined in the formation of an astrological diagram capable of representing the past, the present, and the future. The simultaneity of these symbolic configurations demonstrates, to say the least, the complexity of the rite’s analytical aspects.33 It also emphasizes the particular expertise of the diviner in his capacity as a bricoleur, brining an ordered and sequential meaning to the simultaneity of the divination’s overdetermined symbolic content.

26The similarity of divinatory diagnosis to bricolage has been well noted (Parkin 1991). As a bricoleur, the practitioner of divination expresses analytical creativity by fashioning a recognizable narrative out of the "debris and chaos" of mixed metaphors, homologies, and culturally specific images (Parkin 1991, p. 183). In its similarity to myth-making, the work of the ritual bricoleur has been compared to that of an artist, creating new works from a sphere of pre-existent imagery and narrative content (Lévi-Strauss 1966). With regard to the interpretation of lde’u ‘phrul, it is now clear that the diviner possesses a vast reservoir of culturally specific symbolism from which to craft the divination’s product: a response to the client’s query.

  • 34 It is important to note that such schemata are not particular to lde’u ‘phrul nor to divinations c (...)

27In its similarity to bricolage, the technique of divinatory interpretation is as much an art as a science. As such, a full exegesis of the diviner’s analytical methods is well beyond the scope of the present paper. Nonetheless, this article has attempted to cast light upon lde’u ‘phrul divination’s content and creative potential. In addition to conducting a study of the divination’s performative dimensions, it has been argued that lde’u ‘phrul texts outline a number of symbolic configurations that provide a temporal, social, and cosmic framework within which to correlate the results of each casting. While such devices are by no means unique to the performance of lde’u ‘phrul,34 their presence demonstrates the richness of divinatory symbolism within the Bon milieu. It is sincerely hoped that such divinatory practices will come to be exposed to academic scrutiny not only into their social dimensions, but also as carriers of culture that preserve the often unarticulated discourse of mythology and symbolism.

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Bibliographie

Works in European languages

Beer, Robert
1999 The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs (Boston, Shambhala Publications, Inc).

Cech, Krystyna
1987 The Social and Religious Identity of the Tibetan Bonpos with Special Reference to a North-west Himalayan Settlement, D.Phil Thesis, University of Oxford.
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2002 Tibetan Astrology (Boston, Shambhala Publications Inc).

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1985 Perspectives on Divination in Contemporary Sub-Saharan Africa, in W. van Binsbergen and M. Schoffeleers. Theoretical Explorations in African Religions (London, KPI/Routledge and Kegan Paul), pp. 50-83.

Dotson, Brandon
2007 Divination and Law in the Tibetan Empire: the Role of Dice in the Legislation of Loans, Interests, Marital Law and Troop Conscription, in Matthew T. Kapstein and Brandon Dotson (eds), Contributions to the Cultural History of Early Tibet (Leiden, Brill), pp. 3-77.

Dollfus, Pascale
1994 ‘Port de la Terre, Porte du Ciel’, un rituel de rançon au Ladakh, in Per Kvaerne (ed), Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 6th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies (Oslo, Norway, The Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture).

Huber, Toni (ed)
1999 Sacred Spaces and Powerful Places in Tibetan Culture: A Collection of Essays (Dharamsala, India, The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives).

Karmay, Samten G.
1998 The Arrow and the Spindle: Studies in History, Myths, Rituals and Beliefs in Tibet (Kathmandu, Mandala Book Point).

Karmay, Samten G.
2007 A Historical Overview of the Bon Religion, in Samten G. Karmay and Jeff Watt (eds), Bon the Magic Word: The Indigenous Religion of Tibet (London, Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd.), pp. 55-82.

Lalou, Marcelle
1958 Fiefs, Poisons et Guérisseurs, JA, Tome CCXL VI-2.

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Macdonald, Ariane and Yoshiro Imaeda
1979 Choix de documents tibétains conservés à la Bibliothèque nationale (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale), vol. II.

Mortensen, Eric
2006 Raven Augury from Tibet to Alaska, in Waldau, Paul and Patton, Kimberly (eds), A Communion of Subjects: Animals in Religion, Science, & Ethics (New York, Columbia University Press), pp. 421-438.

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[1956] 1998 Oracles and Demons of Tibet: The Cult and Iconography of the Tibetan Protective Deities (New Delhi, Paljor Publications).

Norbu, Namkhai
1997 Drung, Deu and Bon: Narrations, Symbolic Languages and the Bon Tradition in Ancient Tibet (Dharamsala, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives).
2009 The Light of Kailash: a History of Zhang Zhung and Tibet, volume I (Merigar, Italy, Shang Shung Publications).

Parkin, David
1982 Straightening the Paths from Wilderness: Simultaneity and Sequencing in Divinatory Speech, in Paideuma 28, pp. 71-83.
1991 Simultaneity and Sequencing in the Oracular Speech of Kenyan Diviners, in Philip M. Peek (ed), African Divination Systems: Ways of Knowing (Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana University Press), pp. 173-190.

Peek, Philip M. (ed)
1991 African Divination Systems: Ways of Knowing (Bloomington, Indiana, Indiana University Press).

Pennick, Nigel
1997 Secret Games of the Gods: Ancient Ritual Systems in Board Games (York Beach, Maine, Samuel Weiser, Inc).

Ramble, Charles
1993 Rule by Play in Southern Mustang, in C. Ramble and M. Brauen (eds), Anthropology of Tibet and the Himalaya (Zurich, Volker-kundemuseum der Universitat Zurich), pp. 287-301.
2009 Playing Dice with the Devil: Two Bonpo Soul-retrieval Texts and Their Interpretation in Mustang, Nepal, in Samten G. Karmay and Donatella Rossi (eds), East and West vol. 59 Nos. 1-4. Bon The Everlasting Relgion of Tibet: Tibetan Studies in Honour of Professor David L. Snellgrove. Papers Presented at the International Conference on Bon 22-27 June 2008, Shenten Dargye Ling, Château de la Modetias, Blou, France, pp. 205- 232.

Snellgrove, David L.
1967 The Nine Ways of Bon (Boulder, Prajna Press).

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1992 The Symbolism of the Stupa (Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited).

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1957 Ancient Folk-Literature from North-Eastern Tibet (Berlin, Akademie-Verlag).

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1961 The Theory and Practice of the Mandala (London, Dover Publications).

Turner, Victor W.
1975 Revelation and Divination in Ndembu Ritual (Ithaca, New York, Cornell University Press).

Walter, Michael
1995 Scapula Cosmogrpahy and Divination in Tibet, in Kailash (http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/kailash/pdf/kailash_18_0304_05.pdf). Last visited: April 2011.

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Yungdrung Konchok
2008 The Bon Religion and the Tibetan Bonpo Foundation in India (Oachghat, India, Tibetan Yungdrung Bon Library).

Works in Tibetan

MSI
Kun grol grags pa. sMra sing rdel mo gsal ba’i me long bzhugs po, in Namdak, Tenzin. 1997 ‘Chi med mgon po tshe dpag med dang ma gshin gnyis kyi sgrub chog mo yig sna tshogs bcas kyi gsung pod: A collection of ritual and divinational texts of the "new" nob (Bon-gsar) tradition chiefly works by Rig-’dzin Kun-grol-grags-pa and Mi-shig-rdo-rje. (New Thobgyal, P.O. Ochghat, H.P., Tibetan Bonpo Monastic Center).

MSA
rJe ‘brug chen po Khro tshang ‘brug lha. Ma sangs ‘phrul gyi rdel mo mngon shes rno gsal gyi sgron me zhe bya ba bzhugs pa legs po.

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Notes

1 It is important to note that Chögyal Namkhai Norbu presents a cursory discussion of lde’u ‘phrul in two of his publications (1997, pp. 25-30; 2009, pp. 192-194). While these works are important contributions to the study of Tibetan culture, they clearly embody an emic presentation of the Bon po ritual milieu.

2 The Bon po settlement of Dolanji is known by a number of different names. In short, the Tibetan name for the settlement is "the New Thob rgyal" (Thob rgyal gsar pa), which refers to the Thob rgyal valley near the historical sMan ri monastery in Tibet (Cech 1987, 1993). According to Cech, "this name was adopted in the hope that the settlement would become the supporting estate of the new sMan ri monastery" (1987, p. 154). The site is also known in Tibetan as "the Solan Settlement" (Solan gzhis chags). However, a number of villagers use a more sectarian idiom in calling the site "the Bon po Settlement" (Bon po gzhis chags). The English name for the settlement is the Tibetan Bon po Foundation, which is the village’s official administrative title. Despite these various appellations, the most pervasive name for the settlement is clearly Dolanji, the original Indian name for the area (Cech 1987, pp. 154-155).

3 In surveying both Dolanji and sMan ri, I have been able to draw from a thorough census of the region that was undertaken by Dr. Krystyna Cech between 1985 and 1987 (Cech 1987, 1993). Despite the time that has elapsed since the publication of Cech’s research, with regard to the demographics of the local population, her study is still tremendously accurate. However, this research was conducted immediately prior to the establishment of a large orphanage in the village, which is referred to as the Bon Children’s Welfare Center (B.C.W.C.). While conducting my most recent research in Autumn of 2009, the B.C.W.C. supported nearly three-hundred children and a large number of staff in local dormitories.

4 I am grateful to the Slob dpon ‘Phrin las nyi ma for both his erudition and for his graciousness in allowing me to repeatedly observe divination sessions during the summer and autumn of 2009. I would also like to thank Professor Charles Ramble for helping me through the difficulties of translation and Dr. Katia Buffetrille for offering me a forum in which to present my work.

5 Chögyal Namkhai Norbu (1997) argues that the term lde’u ‘phrul is sometimes rendered as rdel drug because of an alleged phonetic similarity. He writes, "we can... assume that with the passing of time the pronunciation involuntarily changed and simplified, and [rdel drug] being easy to pronounce and simple to understand, those people who did not know the meaning of the word altered the original spelling, giving rise to the perpetuation of the mistake" (1997, pp. 26-27). Upon reflection, the phonetic dissimilarity of these two terms seems to indicate that Norbu’s argument is a simplification. It is tempting to hypothesize that these two terms may represent the homogenization of previously dissonant pebble divination practices. However, the matter clearly requires further study.

6 In my research, I have found that the term "six stones" (rdel drug) appears in a very singular context within lde’u ‘phrul textual sources. In the analytical sections of the texts at hand, the term is used as a preface to the discussion of certain configurations of stones. For instance, one finds the following passage:
"(1.3.2) six stones like this is highest. For whatever mo is cast, this is excellent".
(132) ‘di ‘dra’i rdel drug rab yin pa’i / ci tab ci yi mo la bzang (MSI, XV).
This passage depicts the horizontal arrangement of three piles of stones numbering one, three, and two as possessing an analytical value that supercedes the symbolic content of each individual pile. In this sense, the term "six stones" is clearly used in the performance of lde’u ‘phrul. Apparently, however, it serves only to characterize the arrangement of particular piles of stones within the divination grid at large.

7 It is important to note that the orthography of divination manuals is notoriously inconsistent. As such, Ma sang rdel mo is often rendered Ma sangs rdel mo.

8 The mythological region of Ma sang is often considered to be a location visited by either sTon pa gShen rab or Confucius (Kong tse ‘phrul gyi rgyal po). During this visit, the figure in question is said to have conducted divinatory teachings on the subject of pebble divination. For example, the following passage presents a Bon po ontology of the dissemination of divinatory traditions.
"In the land of Zhang Zhung he systematized rope divination (ju thig). In the land of China he systematized hydromancy (chu zhags). In the land of Ma sang he systematized pebble divination (rdel mo). And in the land of Ye nyag he systematized scapulomancy (sog mo)".
zhang zhung yul du ju thig gtan la phab / rgya yi yul du cho zhags ba gtan la phab / ma sang gi yul du rdel mo gtan la phab / ye nyag ki yul du sog mo gtan la phab / (MSA, V).

9 Generally speaking, the Ma sang are considered to be a class of the’u rang deities, which belong to the broader category of the gNyan (Nebesky-Wojkowitz 1998, p. 625; Snellgrove 1967, p. 224). According to traditional narratives, the Ma sang are considered to have ruled Tibet during the pre-historical period (Norbu 1997, p. 229 n.63).

10 The presence here of both white and black objects is generally considered to be a necessity for the balancing of negativity and fortune in the divination (Personal communication from the Slob dpon). Also, with regard to the prevalence of dualistic imagery in the Bon tradition, see Karmay 1998, pp. 131-132.

11 As some of this article’s readership may be from a non-Tibetanist background, English translations are generally offered of the gods and demi-gods depicted in the divination texts. It is understood that literal translations of these terms are often simplistic and unsatisfactory. Where possible, additional references for specific terms will be supplied.

12 The gnod sbyin are equivalent to the Sanskrit yakṣa (Norbu 1997, p. 248; Nebesky-Wojkowitz 1998, p. 620).

13 The yul lha and gzhi bdag are two classes of highly localized and ancient territorial deities popular in both Bon and Buddhist traditions (Nebesky-Wojkowitz 1998, p. 387).

14 Here, mo translates simply as "the divination". In many contexts, phya denotes "luck, fortune, or the propensity towards fortune". In this passage, however, it seems to carry the same connotation as one sees in PT 1285 (Lalou 1957, pp. 42, 66, 86, 137) and PT 1047 (Macdonald and Imaeda 1979, pp. 331-349), where the term has been rendered as "prognosis" (Karmay 1998, p. 247). As such, the passage seems to indicate a desire that the deities be present at the "divination" (mo) and the ancillary provision of "prognoses" (phya).

15 It is important to note that this paper presents Tibetan sources in their original, unedited form. In the case of unclear or damaged sections, either a provisional transliteration or the number of missing syllables has been provided in closed brackets.

16 sku gsum rdzogs pa’i sangs rgyas dang / kon mchog gsum dang rtsa gsum lha / yid dam phyi nang gsal gsum dang / tsa rgyud bla ma bka’ skyong dang / dpal mgon ‘gur lha brten ma dang / lha klu gnod sbyin ga zla skar dang / yul lha gzhi bdag drag rtsal can / de ring mo dang phya la dbar / khyed ni thams mkhyen pa’i bdag / mi shes mi mthong gang yang med / bdag la dgongs pa’i dus byung na / bzang ngag gnyis kyis gshan byed la / bden rdzun legs nyes so sor ston / rno mthong mo ‘di gsal bar mdzod / (MSI, pp. ii-iii).

17 rlung mkhar gyi nang na bzhugs pa’i rje / mo lha’i rgyal po spyan ‘dren gyis / ye mkhyen ‘phrul rgyal gshegs su sol / ‘od gsal lha yi phreng nas / lha gar rten gsum gshegs su sol / rang bdus rin chen sku mkhar nas / thug kar sgra bla gshegs su sol / mo lha gsum bgya drug cu’i tshogs / ma thog smyur bar gshegs su sol / lha gzhi dkar po’i gong ‘dir bzhugs / phyag lo sdig bshags [bdran] yon ‘bul / rno mthong ston pa’i mo lha mdzod / bzang ngan ma nor gsal bar mdzod / legs nyes gnyis kyi dpang po mdzod / mo rdel ‘di la byin gyis rlobs / (MSA, p. iv).

18 de ltar bdar ba’i lha tshogs thams cad mdun gi nam mkha’ gang ba tsam dbyings nas byon te / ‘od du zhu nas rde’u la thim pas / (MSA, pp. xii-xiii).

19 It is important to note that the diffusion of power into the divination stones can be considered to place the burden of truth upon the deities in question. This provides lde’u ‘phrul with a natural non-falsifiability by directing any doubts concerning the practice’s veracity to secondary causes, such as the power of the deities and the correct performance of the invocations, rather than to the divination itself.

20 Ling tse is generally rendered as "lattice". In this context, however, the term refers to the nine individual sections of the divination grid.

21 de nas so sor dpyad pas rde’u bzhi bcu rtsa gnyis yod / tsho gsum gcad la / bzhi bzhir bgrangs / ling rtse dgu ru bab pa yin / (MSI, p. iii).

22 With regard to the ritual significance of "Sky Door" (gnam sgo) and "Earth Door" (sa sgo), see Dollfus 1994.

23 The wer ma are a common class of warrior gods (Karmay 1997, p. 257; Nebesky-Wojkowitz 1998, p. 629).

24 ‘di ru rdel gcig bab pa na / sgra bla wer ma’i mgon skyabs byed / lha srung sgra bla mchod na bzang / (MSI, p. iv).

25 With regard to the terms phywa and phya, see Karmay 1998, p. 247 n. 9.

26 Chung sri: a type of demon that is considered to prey on children (Norbu 1997, p. 46).

27 According to Norbu (1997, p. 260 n. 21), it was customarily considered inauspicious for a bride to join her future husband while carrying "black utensils" (spyad nag). The presence of such objects was considered to be an evil omen.

28 gnyis bab srog phywa dgra phywar ngan /bu tsha dag la chung sri sdang / rta nor rtod phur ‘bud pa’i ngo / dgra rkun ngo che dgra bla brub bya / nad pa rang phyogs sri bu gdon / yang na byang shar ‘tshams phyogs nas / mo rigs sha dmar spyad nag / lam ‘phrang bcos shing tshe gzungs ‘don / ... khyed par glang lo pa la ngan / (MSI, vii).

29 dPa’ chen wer ma nyi nya is considered to be a warrior god belonging to the Ye category of deities (Karmay 1997, pp. 256-258)

30 Ku and bswo are common onomatopoeic terms representing war-cries.

31 In this passage the syllable indicating the relevant trigram is damaged and somewhat difficult to read. Based upon its location within the divination grid, however, the syllable is almost certainly tsin, which is aligned with the wood element and the eastern direction (Cornu 2002, p. 112).

32 lha sa ‘bring po’i bdag po ni / g.ya’ spang rkyes gcig zer ba de / dpa’i chen wer ma nyi nya yin / seng ge’i mgo la dbyi yi rna / ral gri’i rkang la chu gri’i gshog / rkang pa rlung gi ‘khor lo can / nyi ma’i rmog chen dbu la gsol / skar ma’i grab chen [ ?] la mnab / dpa’ bo stag rgod dar ma bcibs / dmu ri de’u dkar rtse mo yi / gro chu dmu lugs mkhar la bzhugs / sgra bla yongs kyi dmag dpon yin / wer ma’i [ ?] dmag ‘bum gyis bskor / ku la dga’ zhing bswo la dgyes / skyes bu dar ma’i sgra bla yin / ... shar phyogs sum mthing [zhen] shing khams / (MSA, pp. xvii-xviii).

33 With respect to the discussion of analytical approaches regarding the study of divination, see Devish 1985 and Peek et al. 1991.

34 It is important to note that such schemata are not particular to lde’u ‘phrul nor to divinations conducted within the Bon po milieu. On the contrary, a number of scholars have argued that divination systems often contain material representations of the cosmos and of the place of social institutions within it (Turner 1975, Peet et al. 1991, Parkin 1982).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Image 1. sMan ri Monastery as viewed from the valley
Crédits Photography by Alexander K. Smith, September 2009
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/1872/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 72k
Titre Image 2. The sLob dpon ‘Phrin las nyi ma photographed following a lde’u ‘phrul casting
Crédits Photography by Alexander K. Smith, July 2009Courtesy of sLob dpon ‘Phrin las nyi ma
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/1872/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 72k
Titre Image 3. The random distribution of pebbles following a lde’u ‘phrul casting
Crédits Photography by Alexander K. Smith, July 2009Courtesy of sLob dpon ‘Phrin las nyi ma
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/1872/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 68k
Titre Figure 1. Distribution of titles within the divination grid
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/1872/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 9,9k
Titre Figure 2. Illustration of deities, symbols, and characteristics associated with the divination grid
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/1872/img-5.png
Fichier image/png, 42k
Titre Figure 3. Comparative illustration of the lde'u 'phrul divination grid and the astrological symbolism of the sme ba and spar kha
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/1872/img-6.png
Fichier image/png, 24k
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Référence électronique

Alexander K. Smith, « Remarks concerning the Methodology and Symbolism of Bon Pebble Divination », Études mongoles et sibériennes, centrasiatiques et tibétaines [En ligne], 42 | 2011, mis en ligne le 20 décembre 2011, consulté le 30 mars 2017. URL : http://emscat.revues.org/1872 ; DOI : 10.4000/emscat.1872

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Auteur

Alexander K. Smith

Alexander K. Smith a terminé son M.Phil en tibétain et études himalayennes à l’Université d’Oxford en 2010. Il va commencer son doctorat à l’École Pratique des Hautes Études en 2011 sous la direction de Charles Ramble (D.E., E.P.H.E.).

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