The reason why Bhutan is a kingdom infused with deep spirituality
Most Bhutanese grow up listening and reading stories of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Guru Rinpoche. Although hugely influenced by the Tibet and its culture, we have our own cultural identity which is reflected in all the things that we do in our daily life.
During any religious days and special occasions, it is customary and almost routine for Bhutanese to visit temples, monasteries and Lhakhangs in Bhutan. Buddhist cultural essence are deeply rooted and embedded into every Bhutanese and from a very early age, children are introduced to religion through frequent visit to temples and Lhakhangs. It is believed that circuambulating important monuments and spinning the 108 wheels of dharmas not only help to reduce one’s sins but brings inner peace and enhance spiritual beliefs. Such practice is unique to Bhutan and it is one way to spend family time together while teaching children about our culture, heritage, and traditions. It also brings families and community closer spiritually.
Butter lamps, incense sticks, fruits, flowers, milk, whatever one can offer are brought to the temples and Lhakhangs. Prayers are offered for the well-being of all sentient beings, animals, environment, king, country, and people.
Everything we do in our daily lives are connected to spirituality because Bhutanese hold a strong belief in rebirth and karma, which indicates that the more we lead good lives, the closer we are to enlightenment and reincarnation as better living being when we are reborn.
The Bhutanese culture and Buddhist teachings on a whole have moulded people to be contented, peace-loving, non-violent, and amiable. We can find spirituality in our food habits, in relation with our environment, even with the street dogs and the love for our king, country and people.
People in Bhutan love eating meat, but they do not slaughter animals in Bhutan. The meat for consumption is imported from India, its giant neighbour. Lately, people have taken up poultry and fish farming to support themselves. Bhutan is the highest consumer of meat per capita in South Asia. To reduce meat consumption and save the lives of animals, Zhung Dratshang (the Central Monastic body) enforced a law in Bhutan to stop selling meat during auspicious days such as 8th, 15th and 30th; on the 4th day of the 6th month; on the descending day of Lord Buddha and during the whole of 1st and 4th month of the Bhutanese calendar.
Catch-and-release fishing for trout is permitted in Bhutan, though under strict regulations. Fly fishing is strictly for sporting purposes only and not for commercial purposes. Fishing is prohibited on important religious days and also during the 1st and 4th month of the Bhutanese religious lunar calendar. We cannot fish using natural bait and in the vicinity of temples, monasteries, national parks or other protected lands. In Bhutan, it has long been forbidden to fish for mahseer because it is considered sacred in the local culture, the mahseer is also one of eight auspicious signs in Buddhism, representing good luck.
Bhutan is gifted with clean air, beautiful mountains and dense forests. The preservation of environment is grounded in spiritual beliefs. Our visionary monarch, His Majesty the 4th king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck has made it mandatory through a clause in the constitution that Bhutan has to maintain at least 60% forest cover and that the environment must not be compromised for the short-term gain or urbanization.
Traditional and local beliefs promoted the conservation of the environment, where mountains, rivers, forests are recognized as the abodes of gods, goddesses, protective deities. Disturbance or pollution of these sites would result in death, disease or famine. Buddhism and animism reinforced this traditional conservation ethic and promoted values such as respect for all forms of life and giving back to the Earth what one has taken away. This traditional respect for the natural world ensured that Bhutan emerged into the 21st century with an intact natural resource base.
A common sight for any visitor to Bhutan will be the many stray dogs that seem to own the place. Most dogs in Bhutan are “community dogs,” which means they live within a certain territory or neighbourhood and rely somewhat on human charity for survival. They are not considered pets, but are still, cared for by local people in a given location.
Following the fifth king, His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s concerns about street dogs starving during the lockdown due to COVID-19, a mass feeding of the dogs was carried out by Desuups (guardians of peace) in the country. Animals have always been regarded as a sentient beings in Bhutan deserving the same respect as human beings.
King, country and people
A small nation with small population, a king for us is next to God. Our fifth king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is known to the world as the People’s King, he who lives for the welfare of the country and the people. Though we are small democratic nation, the king looks after all the national issues. He is there with the people when any disaster happens in the country or when people are faced with inconveniences, even at an individual level. He will travel to the remotest area in the country, talk to the people, understand their woes and help them in all possible ways. When the country is fighting against COVID-19, he is our superhero protecting the nation from the virus.
People of Bhutan have huge respect and love for the king. You can find the portrait of King and his family in every Bhutanese house you visit. Some keep them in the altar and pray for his long life. We look upon our king as the source of inspiration and model of a Bhutanese citizen.
Even if you are a non-religious person, the influence of deep spirituality that you feel and experience in Bhutan is unmistaken.