Tuesday, December 28, 2021

A Forgotten Essay

I found this essay in my email inbox today while cleaning up my Gmail account. I wrote it in 2015 for an essay competition titled, “Complementarities between Buddhism and Hinduism practised in Bhutan”. And I didn't win it, not even the consolation prizes. This is what every aspiring writer goes through, I knew it then. 

But still, this particular story gives me some meaning of life and it portrays my belief, my journey, my inner voice, and my identity. So to say, I feel a lot of pain just to discard it forever and this piece of my heart will remain here, on my blog. Here it is:

                        His Majesty The King grants Dashain Tika. PC Kuensel

I was born Hindu in Southern Bhutan. Ever since my birth, I was brought up as a typical Hindu child worshipping Hindu gods and goddesses, practising the rites and rituals, and ardently following Hindu customs. In fact, I have practised and enjoyed my faith independently and freely.  

Bhutan, however, is deeply a Buddhist kingdom where the majority of the people practise the Drukpa Kagyudpa tradition of Mahayana Buddhism. Since my school days, I was often introduced to the teachings of Buddha and Buddhist spiritual practices. I have visited and prayed in many Buddhist monasteries and also actively attended the rituals and ceremonies. 

Surprisingly, my parents and the Hindu community never objected to me from doing so; neither did it affect my faith. Moreover, I didn’t feel any indications of discrimination or imposition of Drukpa Kagyudpa beliefs on me. Instead, it provided me an opportunity to enhance my worldview and knowledge on spirituality and respect for religion. Similarly, my Buddhist friends attended my family rituals and ceremonies and they always enjoyed and appreciated being involved. 

In our society, the way these two religions are practised uniquely complements each other by sharing a sacred relationship and respect. They show a great deal of kindness and respect to each other’s faith and culture by exhibiting religious tolerance and a non-judgmental attitude. 

This is attributed to numerous complementarities between these two Dharmic traditions are practised in Bhutan. Firstly, it’s the ideologies and religious practices of the two religions; secondly, our country’s policies and development; thirdly, our beloved Fourth and Fifth Druk Gyalpo’s unwavering support; and lastly, the social harmony and respect. 

From a very early age, Buddhist and Hindu traditions peacefully co-existed for each other sharing parallel beliefs and ideologies and Bhutan is one particular nation where these two Dharmas have continued to flourish complementing and extending favors to one another. In their teachings, both religions retain the centrality of dharma and it forms a basis for beliefs and practices. Also, both emphasize righteousness and compassion to all sentient beings and it is the virtue on which the religions are based upon. 

Furthermore, they share several common practices of rites such as the purification, consecration and baby showering rites, and prayers for ancestors and deceased. Interestingly, in Bhutan, it is common to see Buddhist monks performing some of these rites in Hindu families and vice versa. 

Both Buddhists and Hindus living in Bhutan believe in astrology. On a regular basis, they follow the practice of calculating auspicious dates for important events like marriages, starting a new business, agricultural activities, etc. Being Hindu myself, I have referred to Buddhist Zakar on several occasions and it helped me a lot. I have seen many Buddhists seeking help from Hindu astrologers too.  

The practitioners of these two religions see karma as the main causative factor behind rebirth in the world and they share similar views on Samsara and reincarnation. Therefore, we see the Buddhist and Hindu practitioners undergoing the spiritual practices of mediation, yoga, and concentration to attain enlightenment.  

A series of government policies aiming at systematic harmonization of the religions and cultural cohesion are being enacted and enforced in Bhutan. The Hindu Dharma Samudaya of Bhutan (HDSB) legally represents the Bhutanese Hindus, which constitute a quarter of Bhutan’s population and is registered with the Chhoedey Lhentshog (as provisioned in Religious Organizations Act of Bhutan 2007). Moreover, the Commission is represented by an eminent Hindu Pundit.  

This clearly indicates the policies and law enforcement of our government are not only designed toward freedom and protection of religious identity for Hindus in Bhutan, but the Royal Government of Bhutan is already recognizing the complementarities between these two religions and the importance of Hinduism and its religious practices for the growth of spiritual heritage of Bhutan. 

Even in the democratic setting of our government, at least two elected Hindu representatives have been appointed every time as the Ministers who represent Lhotshams in the cabinet. This particular practice truly demonstrates that the followers of Buddhism and Hinduism can work together even in the country’s highest political setting without disapproval and discredit. 

Several worshipping establishments were developed for the Hindus. In Thimphu, a permanent Hindu Temple was constructed recently. The consecration of the temple was conducted in the presence of Je Khenpo, the Chief Abbot of the Central Monastic Body of Bhutan, and both Buddhist and Hindu ceremonies were held. 

Instead of feeling threatened by the existence of Hinduism in Bhutan, the Buddhists have extended many favors to the development of Hinduism and one can understand it when the Je Khenpo consecrated the Hindu Temple. Also, the Sivalaya Mandir in Samtse was constructed under the command of His Majesty the King.  

The Hindus celebrate different festivals and most importantly, Dashain has been declared a national holiday in Bhutan since 1980. Every year, His Majesty the King of Bhutan, the Buddhist King, celebrates the Dashain with the Hindu community by receiving Tikka from Hindu Pundit. 

In 2011, the Druk Gyalpo and Gyaltsuen came to the Durga Mandir in Thimphu after the marriage proceedings in Punakha and the royal couple underwent the Hindu marriage ceremony. This shows that there is a great level of complementary between Buddhism and Hinduism practices and the Druk Gyalpo himself continues to revere Hinduism by being the real patron of religious tolerance. 

Lastly, the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan states, “Buddhism is the spiritual heritage of Bhutan…” However, a book titled, ‘The Constitution of Bhutan-Principles and philosophies’ by Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye explains that, “It doesn’t compel people of other faith towards conversion to a monolith faith…Rather, our spiritual heritage is simply based on our history, traditions and beliefs.” Truly said, in Bhutan, Hinduism shares many significant complementarities with Buddhism and it only supplements our cultural diversity, enhances the growth of social harmony among the people, and enriches our spiritual heritage.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Of My Longingness

There's a deep longingness in me. 

Oh, sometimes I feel it aloud in my heart, reverberating like I just felt it now. 

That I should leave behind everything and go with my family to a faraway place. 

There, I would own a small house and lead a simple, quiet life. 

There, I would raise cattle and grow my own foods. 

There, I would read a lot of books and write my own stories. 

There, my wife and I would nurture my daughter well, so that she would become a good human. 

There, I would volunteer in a community school and impart my knowledge to the village children. 

This is my longingness, and ah, it's so simple!


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Travel to Trongsa

Last winter, I had traveled to Trongsa—to the land of the longest Dzong in Bhutan. So to say, all along my way, I was simply awestruck by the stunning landscapes, villages, the sky, people, and community schools. After every turning, or mountain, I was screaming and running to take pictures. 


The supposed to be five-hour-long drive took me almost seven hours to reach my destination. And you know why. 


That day, I was passing by a paradise!

Pic: Pelela
Pic: Rukubji
Pic: Pelela

Pic: Rukubji
Pic: Community Primary School
Pic: Yak

Pic: Trongsa Dzong 
Pic: Trongsa Dzong

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Let’s Fall In Love with Writing

So much of the time I had spent at Bhutan Children’s Writeshop on January 22, 2020, at Changangkha MSS in Thimphu, this group of aspiring young writers was brimming with enthusiasm and desire . . . to learn from me. All about writing. 


And after quite a long time, oh goodness, I realized and felt it deep that I was in my rightful place, a little haven of the lovers of words, and where I was simply doing the right thing.


They, many of them, nudged me and said, “Sir, I read your book, ‘In Love with Butterflies and Other Stories’. And I loved it.” 


A handful of others added, “I have your book at home. It’s nice.” And their “parents”, “brother”, and “sister” also loved the stories. So my co-writer, Sonam Tashi will also be happy to hear this. Some of them have also read my blog stories, Instagram and Facebook updates. 


Such a blissful moment! At least for me!


As I interacted with them, I understood that there are bubbling writers in each of them, wanting to tell their own stories to the world. And while doing a writing activity, I was almost shrieking with excitement on my discovery. Their choice of words, their expression, their thoughts, and their aspirations that they have penned were surprising, astonishing. 


So, what this team of Bhutan Children’s Writeshop—fourteen team members and seven volunteers, mostly teachers on vacation—doing is remarkable, something to be admired and applauded. It’s a non-profit initiative that brings together children during the winter vacations to inspire budding writers. Volume 1, with the theme ‘Let’s fall in love with writing’, held from Jan 20-23, 2020 had hosted 83 children from 40 different schools. 


And as I walked out of the hall, after my session, I couldn't help myself from dreaming . . . I was holding beautiful books by these children in my hands!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Sporadic Sojourn

It was all because of one thing. One special thing though. My friend, Sonam’s wedding. And it was last week. In Phuentsholing.

We called it “Sporadic Sojourn”. For it truly was.  

We were five. Chencho Thinley, Karma T Samdrup, Pema, Sonam Tashi and I. The two days were breathtaking, enriching voyage. We put in the best hotel in town, dined together, drank leisurely, swam in the pool, walked around the streets, and drank chai and ate momo.  
We have been friends since our college days at Sherubtse—to put it more accurately, since the year 2005. It has been fourteen years now. Oh goodness, I can’t believe it; time flies. However, this sojourn was long pending; we wanted to go vacationing in Bangkok.

All along this sojourn, we laughed and made another memorable memory. We teased each other, poking at our weaknesses, silly deeds, and unusual behaviors. We justified that we can have fun in mid-thirties too. The fourteen years has changed nothing in us. Being employed and started earning, now married and fathers, and traveling abroad haven’t transformed us. Not even an inch. We are still the same old bunch of silly boys (Sorry, I should have said, ‘men’), except for our round healthy physiques and thinning hairlines. 

Meanwhile, we rode to Amochhu Bridge through the dusty road just to see and walk across that long suspension bridge beside the new, modern one. In the end, it was all worth it. It was tizzy, a simply fascinating experience being in the air, high up, just marching on the long iron bridge that swings as the afternoon wind blows. We were kids, running and frightening one another.  

We rode further up, towards a hill, Ngawang Ramtey, where tall green trees and cardamom plants surround it. Smiling school children and village folks along the road greeted us. Monkeys were jumping around, and goats grazing graciously. On the hill, next to a small stream, we sat and breathed fresh air. And we were all relaxed, reenergized. It inspired some of us to start spiritual, philosophical conversations. 

The sky was clear, deep blue. That’s what we valued the most about the day. And right there, right then I discovered that all of us have still changed; in fact, the last fourteen years have metamorphosed us. A lot.

We have become rooted, sober, soft, little wise, and hugely responsible. We like less about noise, crowds, dramas, phonies, and vanities. So to say, we appreciate more about love, spiritualism, literature, the Mother Nature, family, and friendship. And for the remaining sojourn, these were the heartbeats of our conversations.

And if you still wonder what has kept this friendship for the last fourteen years and is still going strong, it's all this!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Between Thimphu and Paro

I hadn’t explored much of the places along the highway between Thimphu and Paro. Usually, it was like… travelling straight to Paro, or back to the capital. However, last weekend, on my way to Paro, I stopped at several locations along the road, and I must tell you, I was pleasantly surprised. 

There are so many beautiful hills, villages filled with gorgeous chortens, prayer flags, human settlements, and cattle feeding around freely. And I couldn't stop myself from climbing the hills, up and down, and taking random pictures. Some of the pictures are here. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Rays of Hope

There's so much in the winter lights.
I see beauty; 
And indefinitely, 
Infinite thin rays of hope.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Resurrection of the Wangdue Dzong

Picture: Wangduephodrang Dzong

December of 2004 was the first time that I saw the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong in my life. Indeed, that winter was my first ever travel to the western Bhutan from Bumthang with my school friend, Thochu. 

As we entered Wangdue valley, my eyes so automatically, naturally feasted on the giant Dzong, as if my eyes and the fortress were like a piece of metal and magnet. And so to say, I was completely awestricken; my heart skipped a few beats. 

Then, I craned my neck from the window of bus to look attentively, carefully at the majestic Dzong built in 1638 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. The fortress sat on the commanding view of the valleys below, on top of a high ridge and between two rivers - one small fast flowing river and another big gentle river.

Surrounded by green trees and mud walls, it was a massive stunning structure with impressive elaborated paintings. The Dzong had illuminated the entire valley of Wangdue Phodrang with its position, power, symbolism and glory. It was like the moon in the sky.

How could the people of the fifteenth century build such structure? I wondered, as the bus ran down the hill from the Wangdue town and then on the bridge over Punatshangchhu. It was so majestic; it was so beautiful.

Then, unfortunately, in June 2012, a disaster rocked the Dzong. A deadly fire virtually razed it to the ground. My heart broke watching the news on the television; in fact, the entire nation grieved.

After that, every time I travelled to Wangdue or other places via Wangdue, I felt hollowness deep inside me. On a few occasions, I just took its pictures and looked at them feeling more aggrieved, agony. It seemed like, to me, something was missing, something was not right. The valley looked bruised, feeble. It just shed darkness in my heart…like a moonless night.

And last weekend, I visited Wangduephodrang. I was surprised - a pleasant surprise though. The Dzong has been rebuilt, substantially. I could see most of structure its being erected. And the good news is that it is targeted to be complete by 2021.

Out there, on the hill, I saw a handful of birds flying. It could be the ravens. And it could be perhaps sent by Zhabdrung to again bless the valley. Camera in my hand, as I looked at the Dzong, I could see its treasure being reinstated, its former glory being restored and its history being lived on.

Ah, my heart again was filled with joy and I could feel something auspicious about everything. Because there is the moon again.