You may not have come across Shenrab Miwoche. Outside a smallish circle of cognescenti, he is little-known. Take it from me, though, he is an extremely interesting character. You see, Shenrab Miwoche lived a long long time ago......
Shenrab Miwoche is the enlightened, realised, founding figure of the Bon-Po tradition. The Bons were the pre-Buddhist - we might say indigenous - peoples of Tibet, with their own spiritual/shamanic beliefs and practices, until the Buddhists came along and took over. It is worth remembering that, though less vicious than its Christian and Muslim counterparts, as a mainstream exoteric system, Buddhism too has its imperial, conquistador-type aspect.
The thing is that, according to many of the Bon sources, Shenrab Miwoche lived 18000 years ago. "Ha! Ha!" I can hear the scholars and academics scoff. "That's stupid. In fact, that's ridiculous." True - we have no 'hard facts', no 'hard data', the gold of our modern culture, on Shenrab. But is there anything so special about that? Take Siddhartha Gautama, who became the Buddha of our times. How many sources will tell you that he was born in 563 BCE, and died 80 years later, in 483 BCE? But different traditions have varying - some wildly so - dates for the life of the Buddha. It is a classic case of 'truth', generally recognised 'truth', being a fabrication for the purpose of convenience. We don't really know. It just makes for a neater story.
The same goes for our local buddie, Jesus Christ. His 'story' is well-established, but from what I have gleaned, there is precious little 'hard data' on his life - or indeed whether such a character really roamed the face of this Earth at all.
We know very little about the literal Shenrab Miwoche. But how much do we know about most of what is so easily accepted as 'truth' anyway? Take Syria. Everyone knows about Syria, it seems. Everybody has an opinion, has a view. But how much do you know about Syria really? 'Personal expertise' is a fiction nowadays based upon dodgy youtube videos, facebook posts, 'analysis' by armchair specialists, and that's that. Do you really know anything much about Assad? Does he really like killing and maiming his own kind with chemical weapons, knowingly incurring the wrath of the rest of the world? Most of us know as much about Syria as we do about Shenrab Miwoche. Too many of us still go along with the bad guys (Syria and Russia) against the good guys (USA, NATO, Syrian rebels) fantasy, which is fuelled by the mass of people who have been too lazy spiritually to (in Jungian terminology) integrate their own shadow side, thus leaving it hanging to dry in the outside world, where it is easy meat for the latest story in town. A story which is fed to us through organs of propaganda of whatever political leaning: the BBC, the Telegraph, the Guardian, whatever.
Paradoxically, the modern spurning of myth and of mythological truth in favour of 'hard facts and statistics', the prima materia of our age, renders people especially vulnerable to deception and manipulation. Give them a few 'facts' and they will believe anything that the propaganda machine wants them to.
Where our credulity with Shenrab Miwoche is really stretched to the limit is when we take a look at the details of his life. His story is known mainly through termas, 'hidden treasures' discovered and taken out by accomplished spiritual practitioners called tertons. According to the story related through the termas, his life journey is almost identical with that of the well-known Buddha from 2500 years ago. He was born into a royal family, lived an early life of luxury in a palace, before leaving behind family and friends at the age of 31 in order to live as a renunciate. He died at the age of 82.
Down even to the details of age, this is practically a carbon copy of what you'll find in most 'life stories of the Buddha'. There may be a few hard-headed literalists who will insist that this is the pattern by which all Buddhas live, but that, frankly, is ridiculous. I have little doubt that the original 'life of Shenrab Miwoche' was very different. What we are presented with is a re-invention by Buddhists over the earlier story. It is an early example of what is currently known as 'fake news'.
While there might have been some kind of dancing girls to provide entertainment, there's no way that folk lived in palaces 18000 years ago. Whatever evidence we have suggests that the notion of a renunciate's life is also a far more recent happening. The tale of Shenrab Miwoche has been re-cast in the light of the later arrival of solar cultures and their attendant mythologies: 'Buddha as sun god'. The predominant guise of our current Buddha is as transcendental sun god (see the much-missed Acharya S. for more on this). He appears at a time when solar mentality was taking over as the defining paradigm across the cultures of Asia, Europe, and North Africa, and this shift is transposed onto poor old Shenrab. Our great Bon-po hero issues from a period far before all that, when for sure lunar mythology was more prominent; speculatively, a greater harmony between sun and moon then held firm.
The story also tells us that Shenrab Miwoche led most of his life in what is now the region of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and northern Afghanistan, once upon a time a marvellously fascinating area of our magnificent planet. It was not, however, an ordinary geographical location which tourists can visit, but a hidden location (i.e. existing in another dimension). He visited Tibet only once, but that was enough. A pivotal moment.
There was a time when I considered the study of history as among the more noble pursuits. It was the discovery of truth, and through seeing where we have come from maybe shedding a little light upon who we are today. No longer. Aside from its study by a handful of researchers of high integrity, largely found outside of formal academic institutions, history is among the shadiest and most shifty of subjects. When we are presented with 'historical facts', they have normally passed through a process of filtering, suppression, and often plain destruction of knowledge. 'Reality' as provided by mainstream history is highly selective and selected; its main function is all too often that of tribal propaganda, rather than open education.
It is ironic that, at a time when the amount of information and data on offer is unprecedented, and when the majority of people take this as their baseline for what is real, we actually know so little. I recently met a somewhat troubled somebody who told me straight that he no longer knows what or who to believe. This is by and large the reality today. We need to learn to discern (one of Neil Kramer's favourite words), and to discern fiercely. At the same time, there is a challenge in facing up to the situation, and learning to live in and with this state of unknowing. What is dished up as news, history, reality, truth, is just another case like the story of Shenrab Miwoche.
Images: Top: Tonpa Shenrab Miwoche
Bottom: Ancestor, the Wildwood Tarot. Maybe this is closer to the real Miwoche...