I took a few steps back, unscrewed the flashlight to enlarge the aperture, and looked at the whole relief sculpture on the spirit screen.
Among the various depictions of gods and Buddhas in Tibet, thangkas(1) were the most classic. The creative contents of thangka came from strict religious classics, which had very detailed records of the deities. Some of these gods and Buddhas came from religions in Nepal and India, some were mountain gods native to Tibet, and a large number of gods came from a culture that we were all unfamiliar with.
This kind of culture originated from the Stone Age. A large number of rituals involving killing and offering sacrifices spread in the primitive Bon religion, which had a profound impact on the secret practices of using flesh, blood, and human bones.
I won’t give an in-depth introduction to Bonism here, but just know that it began to emerge in the Stone Age. While the ancient Xiangxiong Kingdom developed here, countless branches of the Bon religion were evolving in Tibet. Before the emergence of New Bon, the primitive Bon religion embraced the various primitive tribes’ customs of killing and offering sacrifices and worshiping countless ancient gods. There were so many kinds of ancient gods that a complex system was formed, which resulted in a full range of pan-god worship such as the sky, the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, thunder and lightning, hail, mountains and rivers, soil and rocks, vegetation, animals, etc. And since the primitive people believed so strongly in witchcraft, Bonism had extremely mysterious rituals and secret techniques. You could still see some of the most primitive Bon murals on the rock walls in many caves in Tibet today. The ancient Bon texts were called “A Hundred Thousand Dragon Scriptures”, which were very amazing.
Later, these ancient gods were mixed in with various religions, and many of them appeared in thangka patterns and murals. But the Bon gods weren’t solitary gods, and each of the main ones had a huge system of accompanying gods that included concubines, guardians, and servants, all of whom numbered in the tens of thousands.
I’d probably need around thirty thousand words to explain the logic behind it, so I’ll just stop here and focus on talking about the relief sculpture.
First of all, I had never seen this particular deity before so I didn’t know whether it was a god or a Buddha statue. All of the gods and Buddhas were later integrated into one being, but the one here was clearly fictitious. The owner of the tomb put his own visage on the head god’s face, which symbolized that he had become a god.(3)
But the design of this head god was very interesting. Many Tibetan deities rode lions, elephants, and malevolent spirits, but the most impressive one I had seen so far was King Yama riding a female corpse.
This god, however, had an ugly expression on its face that was full of anger. It also had three faces and a black Qilin under its feet.
In fact, this god wasn’t riding the Qilin, but trampling it into submission. It was the exact same logic as stepping on a malevolent spirit. The head god was usually in one of two positions: trampling things in conquest or riding. Based on what I was seeing here, this one had to be conquering.
From a detailed perspective, it seemed as if the details in this relief sculpture all came from the Tibetan Treasure God (there’s no need for you to understand). The Treasure God usually rode a lion, but the one here was replaced with a Qilin.
There was another clear feature next to this head god that could prove my theory. There were eight people herding horses, all of whom were three-faced weirdos. This was also a characteristic feature of the Treasure God. This showed the famous eight horse owners’ evolution to the eight companion gods of the head god.
There were a lot of corpses eating human flesh on the portion of the relief sculpture under the Qilin. The whole scene was a huge human flesh banquet. I could also see three skeletons sitting in three different directions. They all had fins in their ears and were watching the whole banquet.
This was a prototype of the Tibetan tomb god “Lord Shituolin”.(4) Although the image was terrifying, it was considered a great god, but the one here had changed from two to three. It was obvious from this relief sculpture that they had been portrayed as evil gods.
Traditionally, the Tibetan people called the celestial burial site Corpse Country, Corpse City, or Corpse Forest. So, the place where the corpses were densely located was called the “land of practicing Dharma”, which was also the place where the head god lived.
This all meant that the Corpse Country banquet we were in just now had no place in the Taoist system, but the relief was alluding to a primitive concept of “Corpse Forest”. It was the habitat of the gods and the place where mortals went after they shed their impure flesh after death. In order to understand that the human body was only a material thing, the ancients expressed their inner essence by eating human flesh.
There were also countless black servants behind these companion gods, which was very common to see in Tibetan murals. They were servants of the head god, and usually numbered around twenty to thirty thousand people.
Fatty and I exchanged a look. In the ancient Bon books and complicated religious archives, all of the gods had detailed records that recorded the configuration of their whole system. When I first saw it, I felt that the ancients were casual in their estimates. And since there were a billion servants of many great gods, I basically thought that they were just boasting.
But for believers, these numbers couldn’t be lost, and it was obvious that this fictional god had clearly inherited this style.
But the most frightening thing was that this wasn’t just a symbol on the relief sculpture. I believed that the designer of this mausoleum had designed the representation on this relief to match that of reality.
The three-faced corpse and the shadow with fins in its ears were two different kinds of things, which was something that I really hadn’t expected. But at this time, the confusion in my heart had finally cleared away.
I couldn’t help but yawn as I said to Fatty, “You know that there’s definitely one more thing in the next part of the process. Do you know what it is?”
“What is it?”
“Corpses,” I said. “This is primitive Bonism worship. Corpses are used as raw materials for all the secret methods, so the next thing we’ll be seeing is countless corpses.”
(3) The main god (or head god) is also known as the king of the gods. As polytheistic systems evolved, there was a tendency for one deity to achieve preeminence as king of the gods. There was also a tendency for the kings of the gods to assume more and more importance, syncretistically assuming the attributes and functions of lesser divinities, who come to be seen as aspects of the single supreme deity. Info here. This is basically what Wu Xie was talking about when he said the Bon gods/Buddhas merged into one.
(4) Shituolin (尸陀林) is also known as “Cool Grove”. It’s a forest burial method that leaves the corpse exposed on like a steep bank in the woods (I think).
This was an information heavy chapter so I hope it made sense. I did the best I could _(:3 」∠)_