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Flight of the Bön Monks

War, Persecution, and the Salvation of Tibet's Oldest Religion

Foreword by Dalai Lama
Published by Destiny Books
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

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About The Book

An inside account of the Chinese invasion of Tibet told through the voices of three persecuted monks

• 2024 International Book Award Nonfiction - Creative Category

• Shares the true story of three monks’ heroic escape from occupied Tibet and the subsequent rebirth of the Bön religion in exile

• Introduces Bön, Tibet’s oldest religion, and a traditional way of life extinguished by foreign occupation

• Reveals details of the 1950 Chinese invasion of Tibet and the exodus of thousands of Tibetans to neighboring countries

Providing an inside view into the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the tenets of Bön, one of the world’s oldest but least known religions, this book chronicles the true story of three Bön monks who heroically escaped occupied Tibet and went on to rebuild their culture through incredible resilience, determination, and passion. After taking his vows to become a Bön monk and completing a pilgrimage around 22,000-foot Mount Kailash, the holiest mountain in Tibet, Tenzin Namdak envisions a life of quiet contemplation at Menri, Bön’s mother monastery. Instead, he finds himself fleeing for his life across the highest and most difficult terrain on the planet.

After Tenzin’s escape party is ambushed and he is severely wounded, Tenzin is taken to a concentration camp, where he overcomes his nearly fatal wound before making an arduous escape from Tibet over the daunting Himalayas.

The other two monks, lifelong friends Samten Karmay and Sangye Tenzin, witness Tibet’s capital explode in a violent insurrection against Chinese rule. Escaping to Nepal, they worry about the survival of the Bön religion and begin collecting scattered works of Bön scripture. A chance meeting with British scholar David Snellgrove brings the three monks together and dramatically changes their lives. Tenzin founds a Bön settlement in exile in India, Sangye is chosen as the thirty-third Menri Trizen, Bön’s highest office, and together the three monks help rebuild the nearly extinct Bön religion. Aside from the escape of the Dalai Lama, no other escape from Tibet has been so consequential for so many.

About The Authors

Harvey Rice is a journalist with more than 40 years of experience, working at both U.S. newspapers and international news agencies. He lives in Galveston, Texas

Jackie Cole has studied Bön for more than two decades and has taken many retreats with the main characters of the book, who have given their blessings and permission to share their story. She lives in Galveston, Texas.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Destiny Books (February 27, 2024)
  • Length: 296 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781644118580

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Raves and Reviews

Flight of the Bön Monks is a magnificent achievement on many levels. Cole and Rice have not only preserved a vital piece of neglected history, but they present this enthralling tale—virtually unknown in the West—in the form of a riveting adventure story as thrilling as any Jack London ever wrote. I fell in love with the heroic Bön monks, the luminous religion they risked their lives to save, and the book that recounts their inspiring story.”

– Sarah Bird, Texas Literary Hall of Fame inductee and author of Last Dance on the Starlight Pier

“This book presents the fascinating life stories of three Bön monks, Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, Samten Karmay, and Sangye Tenzin, who later became the thirty-third abbot of Menri Monstery, the seat of the Bön religion, the oldest religion of Tibet. The book, however, is much more than stories about their courage and resilience while escaping from war-ravaged Tibet. It is also a highly valuable historical record of the survival and development of Bön in exile. Being an old religion with a small number of followers, Bön has been shrouded in mystery, legends, and misunderstanding. In China, Bön was traditionally referred to as the ‘black religion’ due to the popular belief that its followers covered their heads with black cloth. Fortunately, through careful and meticulous research, the two authors recorded a new chapter of the ancient Bön religion and present it to general readers in a smooth and catching writing style. Reading this book helped me to better understand Bön religion and enriched my knowledge of the Tibetan diaspora. I am grateful to the authors and congratulate them for a book well written and work well done.”

– Jianglin Li, author of Tibet in Agony and When the Iron Bird Flies

“With six decades of going on adventures to wild places, I’m often asked if I have a favorite. The answer is easy—it’s the remote, high Changthang Plateau. Flight of the Bön Monks will take you there.”

– Rick Ridgeway, author of The Big Open: On Foot Across Tibet’s Chang Tang

Flight of the Bön Monks is a riveting tale, skillfully layered with despair, adventure, terror, and hope, but ultimately a story of human triumph. This emotionally powerful book isn’t just a chronicle of courage, it is a poignant reminder of why Tibet needs to stay in our collective conscience.”

– Eliot Pattison, author of the Inspector Shan series and the Bone Rattler series

“Before Buddhism came to Tibet, the indigenous Bön culture had flourished for millennia, and much of what we know today as Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism has been directly influenced by that culture. So when the Chinese decided that it was in their best interests to eradicate religion from the Tibetan plateau, the Bön suffered every bit as grievously as the Buddhists. Flight of the Bön Monks tells the remarkable story of bravery confronted by darkness; it outlines the escape from Tibet of several of the most senior and important Bön monks and how they have courageously kept their religion alive even though they were so rudely expelled from their native land. A story for our troubled times that needs to be told and needs to be read.”

– Will Johnson, author of Breathing through the Whole Body and The Sailfish and the Sacred Mountain

"For all its impressive scholarly scrupulousness, the book reads like a dramatic novel, filled with suspense and captivating tales of astonishing heroism. Many times, Tenzin Namdak nearly died carrying the reliquary to safety—he was shot and imprisoned and still refused to surrender his mission. It is heartbreaking to consider the moral predicament of the many monks who were spiritually committed to non-violence but were compelled to betrayed their vows to defend themselves, their religion, and the people they loved most. Rice and Cole should be credited for their own efforts to keep the Bön religion alive, and to do so in a way that is as dramatically consuming as it is intellectually edifying. A remarkable work of historical insight and dramatic power."

– Kirkus Reviews

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