What did we learn from 12 days in Bhutan?

The first thing that struck us when arriving in Bhutan was its national flag: bright orange and yellow with a white dragon on it. The colors represent the fruitful coexistence and interdependency of the civic or secular world (yellow) and the religious or spiritual world (orange). For us, the white dragon represents purity and nature; this special trinity we came to explore.

Bhutan is slightly smaller than Switzerland and has 700,000 inhabitants. Bhutan was blessed with a series of benevolent kings; its fourth king introduced a couple of break through ideas in the country: 

  • Instead of GDP Bhutan tries to maximize Gross National Happiness (GNH)
  • The GNH is managed along 9 domains (Living standards, Education, Health, Environment, Community Vitality, Time-use, Psychological well-being, Good Governance, Cultural resilience and promotion) and measured along 72 performance indicators
  • >Bhutan is CO2 neutral, in fact it is CO2 negative, i.e. it serves as a CO2 sink; per constitution the surface covered by forests can never fall below 60%
  • Smoking is banned, tobacco products can not be sold in Bhutan
  • The fourth king married four sisters on the same day; king and queens have a total of 10 children (some of you might recall my blog about human nature and the thoughts on monogamy)
  • The fourth king ‘imposed’ democracy on the Bhutanese and since 2008 Bhutan is a constitutional democratic monarchy, with a parliament and the king as head of state. He is quoted ‘monarchy is not the best form of government because a king is chosen by birth and not by merit’.
  • In November 2008 he crowned his son to be the fifth king of Bhutan.

And his son continues the journey with a strong commitment to make Bhutan a very special place: ‘As the king of a Buddhist nation, my duty is not only to ensure your happiness today but to create the fertile ground from which you may gain the fruits of spiritual pursuit and attain good karma’. 

During our visits of temples and Dzongs (the fortresses where the spiritual and secular powers collaborate) we were exposed to a series of spiritual concepts that made us think and brought interesting discussions to the family.

There are five poisons to our mind:

  • Anger, represented by the snake or the bull (blue)
  • Desire, represented by the rooster (red)
  • Jealousy, no animal (green)
  • Pride, represented by the tiger (yellow)
  • Ignorance, represented by the pig (white)

In typical mandalas picturing the wheel of life you can find the snake, rooster and pig in the center.

Please reflect on how often these poisons affect your mind?
And what are the implications?

The 8 lucky signs:

Buddhism teaches eight symbols on the way towards enlightenment; they are both meant as an offering to Buddha and a teaching for those on their way. Those lucky signs are:

  • The conch, representing the beautiful, deep, melodious, interpenetrating and pervasive sound of the dharma
  • Two golden fish, symbolizing the auspiciousness of all sentient beings in a state of fearlessness without danger
  • The vase, representing health, longevity, wealth, prosperity, wisdom and the phenomenon of space
  • The lotus flower, representing the primordial purity of body, speech, and mind, floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire
  • The wheel of law, for Buddha’s teachings
  • The parasol, the protection of beings from harmful forces and illness
  • The victory banner, representing the Buddha's victory over the four māras, or hindrances in the path of enlightenment. These hindrances are pride, desire, disturbing emotions, and the fear of death
  • The endless knot, representing endless compassion. It is a symbol of the ultimate unity of everything. Moreover, it represents the intertwining of wisdom and compassion, the mutual dependence of religious doctrine and secular affairs, the union of wisdom and method. It really left me thinking…

Another intriguing concept found in many temples is around how we choose our religion. Buddhists believe one should choose a religion that is like:

  • A mountain: stable, firm and solid
  • Running Water: always in motion, never stops
  • A bird: no boundaries, freedom
  • A deer: doesn't harm anybody
  • An old man: long life, lasting
  • A tree: bringing wishes and fruit

And finally, one of Bhutan’s favorite fables is around the 4 friends. In the local Dzongka language the story is Thuenpa Puen Shi (Cooperation, Relation, Four) and illustrates the concept of teamwork:

  • The bird found a seed and planted it
  • The rabbit watered the plant
  • The monkey provided dung to fertilize it
  • The elephant protected the tree

When the fruit grew high in the tree, the four friends stood on each other’s back building a tower and eventually harvested the fruit.

The question to you: are you building teams of elephants or of different friends?

I wish you all a great continuation of your own personal journey.
With compassion,