The Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan and the policy of secularism
The Central Monastic Body left its summer residence Thimphu on 16th November morning for Punakha where it will reside for the next six months. His Holiness the Jhe Khenpo and around 30 monks with the Relics halted for the might at Thinleygang monastery (half way between Thimphu and Punakha) in symbolic exercise of the traditional procession route. The majority of the monks along with venerable Lopens would have moved few days earlier for Punakha. The actual journey that took around 3 days in the olden days is now completed in less than 3 hours. Even then the Monk Body is keeping the tradition alive by making a halt midway.
The Council of Ministers led by the Prime Minister, the Speaker of National Assembly and the Chairman of the National Council assembled at the Tashicho Dzong to offer their respects and to receive blessings from the Relics and His Holiness the Jhe Khenpo. On 17th November, the Monk Body formally entered the Punakha Dzong its winter residence in Chipdrel ceremony procession and was welcomed by many devotees and officials. Since Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal introduced the winter and summer change of residence in the 17th century, the Central Monastic Body has been faithfully keeping up the tradition.
Buddhism was the religion of the State until the introduction of the Constitution of Bhutan in 2008. Under of ideology of secularism, the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan disowned its state religion and in so doing may have symbolically diluted its allegiance to the Deities of the nation. Buddhism is physically represented by the Central Monastic Body headed by His Holiness Jhe Khenpo and the religion is inseparable from the Deities that protect it. Till very recently Buddhism was the centre of governance. It also remains as the way of life for all Bhutanese except for the Hindu immigrants who mostly populate the southern part of Bhutan during later part of the last century. The Central Monastic Body is the repository of Bhutan’s culture, tradition and history. It is the father and mother of almost every social, cultural and philosophical thoughts and practices of a Bhutanese. This state religion of many centuries is what has given the Bhutanese sovereignty an exclusive independent feature that is absolutely unique only to Bhutan. Under the philosophical approach of Secularism policy of the Constitutional Democracy, Bhutan as a distinctive sovereign Country may have won international accolades for its secularism but may perhaps have lost its spiritual soul of Buddhism. Even when Buddhism was the state religion, the practitioners of other religions were not banned. Hinduism and Buddhism share many similarities and there were Jesuit priests educating Bhutanese youths in the schools of Bhutan.
Today the State still shoulders the constitutional responsibility for the up keep of the Dratsang and the maintenance of all holy and blessed monasteries, temples and even chortens. However, the national objective for so doing is totally different. Previously the nation up held the Buddhist religion as being the supreme above all, today it is for the preservation of historical culture. Buddhism is no more the officially recognised Faith and Inspiration of the nation. The nation may still perform all the religious rites and up keep the Central Monastic Body, all the temples and still pray to the deities yet politically the Buddhist religion is no more recognised as the foremost national source of Inspiration, Faith and Belief. This could have created an invisible line of divide between the Deities and the Bhutanese people as a political nation. Could there be a correlation between this possibility of bridge of faith and the endless natural calamities that the nation suffered since day one of the new democratic government and the secular State?
Politically right, left, centre or whatever may be but in terms of leyjumdrey and thadhamtsi that most Bhutanese so freely advocate, the new political system may have caused an unforgivable grievance to the centuries of Buddhist Saints, Leaders and Institutes that nurtured, developed and preserved Bhutan the Buddhist kingdom. A broken faith cannot be mended by material support. Once a nation has displaced its Religion and the Deities as State Faith, praying to it in times of crises and calamites may be equitable to beseeching the force that has been declared obsolete and therefore rendered ineffective. It is a food for thought!!