'ol Mo Lung Ring

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'ol mo lung ring

General Information

NameÖlmo Lungring
Transliteration form'ol mo lung ring
PronunciationÖlmo Lungring
Etymologyclover - female - valley - distant. It's not clear how the first two syllables go together, but the latter two are clearly the condensed form of lung pa ring po, "distant valley." Dictionaries list 'ol mo as a type of medicinal plant, but this is likely a more modern definition, irrelevant to the original place name. 'ol mo could be a proper name, with the whole name stringing together to mean "The Distant Valley of Ölmo."
Source of informationThe Treasury of Good Sayings (Karmay, 1972),
Spatial LocationUnknown
NationAllegedly Takzik (stag gzig), somewhere in modern-day Kashmir, Pakistan, Iran, or Afghanistan, though sometimes described as being part of Zhang Zhung or a general description for the area around Mt. Kailash
Cultural locationVaried
Location's languagePossibly Pungyik (spung yig), a native Takzik language

The land of Ölmo Lungring is one of the most mysterious geographies of Tibetan history. Its mythical status among Bönpos (as a type of Pure Land) and non-Bönpos alike suggests that it not be included in so empirical an exercise as this, but devout Bönpos have long maintained that it is a real place as well, the birthplace of Shenrab Miwo (gshen rab mi bo) and of Bön itself. Most descriptions place it in the distant west, beyond the boundaries of the Zhang Zhung kingdom of West Tibet, in the historical region of Takzik, or modern-day Iran or Afghanistan. Other descriptions place it in the immediate vicinity of Mt. Kailash, otherwise known to the Bönpos as Yungdrung Gutsek (g.yung drung dgu brtsegs). In Samten Karmay's edited and translated version of The Treasury of Good Sayings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972, p. xxx), the actual boundaries of Ölmo Lungring are given as Khyunglung Ngülkhar (khyung lung dngul mkhar) to Dangra Khyungdzong (dang ra khyung rdzong) in the east, to Tsang (gtsang) in the south, and Kashmir to the west, thus inscribing it in the center of Zhang Zhung itself, around Mt. Kailash. On this same page, Karmay suggests that Trisong Detsen (khri srong lde btsan) offered the land of Ölmo Lungring to the Bönpos as a concession at a reconciliation feast after the second persecution of Bön, and that many people think this is the origin of the place in Bön history. The reality, according to him, is that the Bönpos forgot the details of Ölmo Lungring during the protracted persecutions and only remembered it, centuries later, as the place where their culture once flourished. Without more concrete details as to its location, they placed it in Takzik in an attempt to remove it from the stain of Tibetan imperial activity, and to render it compatible with an elevation to mythical status.

If it did not actually exist as described, why was it located as far away as modern-day Iran? There are many possible explanations. One is that the Zhang Zhung kingdom allegedly came from the east, from the modern Chinese mainland (Baumer 2002). A sense of what we defined in our culture as "manifest destiny" drew them ever further west, to the extent that such a vector illimitably promised good fortune and better circumstances. When they settled in West Tibet, and later mythologized their origins, they turned to the valorized direction instead of the one that had presumably featured less favorable circumstances, whence they had escaped. Another explanation is that the treasure excavation period in Tibet, when Bönpos possibly defined their origins, was a time when their rival tradition, Buddhism, was looking to India for legitimation. Subscribing to this extra-cultural means of authenticity but wanting to be distinct from their rivals, and not seeing anything different or unknown or powerful to the well-charted east, they looked to the unknown, mysterious, powerful west. Then again, we don't know for sure that the Bönpos came from the east. It's certainly possible they came from the west. There are intriguing vestiges of Arabic language and iconography in Tibetan culture that might have ancient origins.

There are maps available of Zhang Zhung/Ölmo Lungring (Martin, 1999), but they are likely recent and drawn from textual descriptions in available sources.


Much of the information about Ölmo Lungring comes originally from the Bönpo source, the Dodü (mdo 'dus), the earliest biography of Shenrab Miwo, a treasure text discovered in the 11th century. To varying degrees, the following scholars, especially Karmay and Martin, have relied on this source, directly or indirectly, for their information. I took only a small sample of sources, of course, as nearly every work on Bön mentions Ölmo Lungring in some form or another.

Baumer, Christopher. 2002. Bon: Tibet’s Ancient Religion. Trumbull, CT: Weatherhill.

Karmay, Samten G., ed. 1972. The Treasury of Good Sayings: A Tibetan History of Bon. London: Oxford University Press.

Kvaerne, Per. 2001. The Bon Religion of Tibet. London: Serindia.

Martin, Dan. 1999. "‘Ol-mo-lung-ring, the Original Holy Place." In Sacred Spaces and Powerful Places, 1999, edited by Toni Huber, Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, pp. 258-301.

Martin, Dan. 2001. Unearthing Bön Treasures. Boston: Brill.