Sunday, February 24, 2019

Teachings on Bardo By His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche


The following article on the 'Teachings on Bardo by H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche' ( https://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Dudjom_Rinpoche )  was copied from the magazine of the 30th Nyingma Monlam Chhenmo held at Bodh Gaya in January 2019. I got a copy of the magazine when I was in Bodhgaya during the event. The text was copy-typed by Ms Deki Tshomo, whole Bhutan Topper in the Arts stream in BCSE Exams in 2019, while interning with us at Thimphu TechPark Ltd. in February 2019. 
I decided to put this text online as this version of the teaching was not yet available through online Google search, and was particularly motivated to do so after I attended an inspiring teaching (oral transmission (lung) and explanation (khrid) on the same subject by Dungse Garab Rinpoche at the RIM Hall on the afternoon of 17th February 2019. The big RIM Hall was packed to capacity. 
May it benefit all sentient beings!



 Pictures above (Courtesy of Mr Langa Dorji, Bhutan Soul Tours & Travel) and video (courtesy of Dudjom Dharma House Kuantan Facebook Page)  are from the teachings given by Dungse Garab Rinpoche on 17th Feb. 2019.

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Teachings on Bardo

By His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche


This is a teaching on the intermediate states that His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje (1904-87) gave to his disciples when he was bestowing the empowerments of the thousand Buddhas during the Sadhana of Avalokitesvara.
The Buddha condensed all his teachings into those on the six intermediate states and taught accordingly. Generally, the Buddha taught many vast and profound teachings. Each teaching contains unfathomable pith instructions. But if one were to practice all those teachings and accomplish them in this lifetime, one must gain the understanding of the six bardos.
Bardo (Skt: antrabhava) means abiding in the middle without falling to either side. The six bardos are as follows:
1.    Kyeney bardo: The natural bardo from birth to death.
2.    Milam bardo: The deluded bardo of dreams.
3.    Samten bardo: The self-appearing bardo of meditative concentration.
4.    Chikhai bardo: The bardo at the time of death where there is suffering.
5.    Chonyi bardo: The luminous bardo of dharmata.
6.    Sidpai bardo: The karmic bardo of becoming.

Kyeney Bardo

The kyeney bardo is the intermediate state from birth to death. Just now we all are in this state. As it is said, “Alas! When the kyeney bardo appears to me, may I avoid indolence as life is short.” At this moment, if we seriously think about how many years have passed from the time of our birth and how many are left, then we know that there is no freedom to live, as we all have to die.

There is no time to stay idle. If we waste our lives by staying distracted and lazy, then our lives will come to an end, and at that time there is nothing further we can do, and at that time there is nothing we can do either. Therefore, starting now, practise the dharma which is beneficial at the time of death without letting time pass in laziness and distraction.

Though we can’t do whatever we want, at least practise the Dharma as much as you can. At the time of kyeney bardo, make aspiration to go to the higher realms in the future lives. Avoid even the smallest non-virtuous deed and accomplish even the smallest virtuous deed.

The present is uncertain. So, you must act in such a way that even if you were to die tomorrow, you would not have any regrets.

Milam Bardo

The milam bardo is the intermediate state from the time we fall asleep till we wake up the next day. The duration may differ but it is like death. The five senses - of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch dissolve into kunzhi (the base of all senses which is neutral in nature) and then we fall asleep. During that time, it’s similar to death even though we are sleeping. Everything goes dark and we don’t even see dreams. This is called “falling under the spell of kunzhi.”

Generally, when we fall under the spell of kunzhi and go to sleep, the karmic wind of ignorance gives rise to clinging. In this way we dream of desirable objects, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangible objects as is they were real.

In reality these things are neither present in our dreams nor is our mind wandering near them. Though our mind does not move from our body, we are deluded by its appearances. This results in the rise of delusion and we experience dreams. We see things like we see them during the daytime and we dream about all sort of desirable things as if they were real, the whole night long. So these are said to be like the illusions in a magic show. This is the reason why ordinary people accept dreams as being unreal and waking appearances as being real.

However, Buddhists believe both appearance in dreams and those in the day time are the same: both of them are unreal, changing, impermanent, and deceiving. They are both devoid of an intrinsic nature. For example, if we look at what we have achieved since our birth - the things that we did and where we have achieved them - we cannot actually grasp them.

If we search for the things that we have done in our lifetimes, we cannot show even a single one of them. Though the compounded phenomena that appear are unstable and impermanent by nature, we don’t understand this; rather, we apprehend them as being truly existent and permanent.

We think, “This is mine and this alone is true.” This becomes the cause for us to wander in the cyclic existence. Hence, by any means possible, we must recognize the appearances of dreams to be delusions. We must pray to our Gurus and Triple Gem every day.

We must be able to recognise all appearances to be dream-like. Even in our dreams, we must be able to accumulate virtue. Similarly, practise different ways to recognise the nature of dreams. If we practice in this way, we will see waking appearances and dreams to be of the same nature, and this will boost our spiritual practice. It is said that this practice is also really helpful in clearing obstacles that threaten our lives.

Samten Bardo

The samten bardo is the intermediate state from the time one enters nyamzhag (the  meditative state) till one arises out of it. During this state, there are no ordinary delusions but there are some appearances like that of the kyeney bardo. At that time of nyamzhag, one’s mind should remain like a pure sky or an ocean without waves. Otherwise if you get distracted by coarse discursive thoughts like those of a bandit, or subtle discursive thoughts that are like a tangled thread, then you can’t remain in meditative concentration. Thus, yogis should be mindful without allowing discursive thoughts, and strive mindfully to ascertain unbreakable concentration.

Milam bardo and samten bardo are subdivisions of the kyeney bardo. Their practices are no different than those of keyney bardo. Their time duration are also like that of kyeney bardo. These practices should be practised during keyney bardo. So, these are in fact no different from kyeney bardo.

Chikhai Bardo.

Suppose that tomorrow you catch a disease that you are unable to get cured either through treatment or through ritual. It’s certain that you are going to die. Now all the unnecessary actions you have engaged in, all the things that you have done from your birth till now, are of no benefit to you. Those material achievements won’t follow you after your death.

You don’t have the power to take even a single thread with you, even though you may possess wealth the size of Mount Meru. You are left only with your karmic actions because now the time has come for you to leave your pampered body. The only thing that follows you is the karma of the virtuous and non-virtuous deeds that you have accumulated so far. Aside from that, the karmic actions that you have not created won’t follow you.

If one has prastised phowa (transference of consciousness) according to the essential instructions and made oneself proficient in that practice, one will not have regret at the time of death, and one can then be one’s own greatest benefactor. If one is able to go to the Pure Land according to one’s wish, then one can be considered to be an excellent practitioner. One of the main purposes of practising Dharma is to be of benefit at the time of death. This is said to be the wisest way to die.

Even if one is an ordinary person, it is said that the crucial moment of greatest significance arrives at the moment of death. Since this moment is of great purpose, we should make supplications to our precious guru. We should cut off craving for objects we possessed, like our house, wealth and so on, by offering them to our precious guru and reminding ourselves that being attached to those objects drags us down into samsara.

Make strong supplications to your precious guru, requesting him not to let you suffer in pain at the time of death, and to protect you from the suffering of lower realms after death. If you are able to practise phowa very seriously and if you are able to transfer your consciousness to the pure realms, then that would be wonderful.

Even if you are unable to do this, if there are fellow practitioners who can do phowa for you, then that can also help. However, if you can practise the method that would be helpful at that critical time, you would not fear death at all. This also fall under kyeney bardo.

How should we practise at the time of death? Our body came into existence through the union of our parents and is formed by the five elements. At the time of its disintegration, the five elements separate one by one and subsequently dissolve into one another. Physical heat dissolves into fire, flesh dissolves into earth, blood into water and so on. After all five elements have dissolved, then our breath ceases but the inner breath still remains. When the inner breaths is about to cease, our father’s white essential drop located at the crown of our head descend, and our mother’s red component located at the navel ascends. When these two meets at the heart, the inner breath stops.

Right after the inner breath ceases, our consciousness leaves our body. At that time, the consciousness of some of those who have no spiritual experience will wander for long time. For those noble beings who have spiritual experience, within a few moments, their consciousness becomes inseparable from the sky-like nature. The sky-like nature then becomes inseparable from the luminous nature.

The fruition of the meditation practice is that when the inner breath ceases, it dissolves into the luminous nature, and then a clear sky like nature appears. When that occurs, if one recognises this luminous nature, then one is instantly liberated. This union of emptiness and luminosity is like the meeting of a mother and child.  Recognising this is  the main cause for what we call the thukdam (meditative experience after death). There is no other thukdam than this. If one recognises this nature then it is like the meeting of the mother-like luminous ultimate nature and child-like luminous nature of one’s mind. Through this we gain stability in the generation and completion phases, thereby attaining liberation.

If one has no spiritual experience, then one will become unconscious and then arise from that at once. After waking up from this unconscious state, many dreadful appearances will arise. Then one will enter the fifth bardo, the chonyi bardo. One will hear dreadful sounds and see rays of light and peaceful and wrathful deities, which are no different from Buddha Samantabhadra who embodies the five kayas and eight signs. When these appear, one who doesn’t have meditative experience will become frightened. As soon as one gets frightened, the luminous nature will disappear. After that, chonyi bardo and chikhai bardo will appear together.

In brief, when we die, the five elements separate and our mind dissolves into its sky-like nature and become unconscious under the spell of kunzhi. After that, there appears a clear sky-like nature and a luminous nature. Those who don’t have meditative experience will not recognize this luminous nature and if it’s not recognized, this appearance will not remain for long. Those who have meditative experience will be able to recognize the inseparability of the mother-like and child-like luminous nature.

The most important thing at that time of chikhai bardo is that before the disintegration of the five elements, when you are about to die, abandon all attachment to this life. At the moment of death, there is no other refuge other than the Triple Gem. Therefore pray to the Triple Gem and your root guru, the essence of Triple Gem, thinking that he is the only one who is your principal guide at the critical time of bardo. Furthermore, arouse regret and confess whatever non-virtuous deeds you may have done in this life, and beyond that make genuine aspirations like, “May I attain liberation right after my death.”

If you die undistractedly, having formed such an aspiration, then this is helpful in attaining liberation. If this is not possible, then a Dharma practitioner who has great integrity and is close with dying person can help by introducing the disintegration process of the five elements and offering the advice to remember the guru. It would also be beneficial just to recite the bardo prayers and so on. For example, when a sick person falls on the ground, he can only stand up with someone’s help; similarly, if a dharma friend of dying person introduces the appearances and makes inspirational prayers, this will be helpful.

Buddhas are compassionate and if we make aspirational prayers by whispering their names- like Sangay Drimed Rinchen Tsuktor Chen, Amitabha, Buddha Shakyamuni or others - it is said that just hearing these names will dispel the suffering of hell. If the dying person is able to make aspirational prayers when we whisper the names of the Buddhas, then just remembering those names will protect him or her from the lower realms. This is like having a protector at the time of death, so it is important and will be beneficial.

In short, when we die, we become unconscious, and then we wake up from that unconscious state. After waking up, we don’t recognise the luminous nature. So, that disappears and then the appearances of chonyi bardo arise.


Chonyi Bardo

During the chonyi bardo, the peaceful and wrathful deities appear in the form of dreadful sounds, dangerous cliffs and infinite rays of light. Fear arises in us due to our being incapable of recognizing them as the self-appearing display of the nature of our mind. We see these things as terrifying, and then lose faith that such appearances are pure. After this, our consciousness leaves our body through one of the organs. This is the time when our body and consciousness separate. After that the consciousness is no longer in our body. We won’t have a complex human body then; rather, we will only have a subtle body of light. Because of this we won’t see the light of the sun or moon.

We will possess our own luminosity, which seems to appear from our mind, and by which we can see our way forward. However, those who are wandering in the sidpai bardo can see each other and hear their sounds too.

In the sidpai bardo, our consciousness is free to reach any destination instantly, just by thinking of that place. However, we cannot enter a mother’s womb or Bodhgaya.

We will be endowed with worldly omniscience by which we can read the thoughts of human beings. We can see who is utilising our wealth, what kinds of rituals are being performed for our well-being, and what kinds of thoughts people are harboring about us and others. However, ordinary human beings can’t see us. We will be surrounded by other beings of that state. We will experience the suffering of hunger, thirst, cold, heat and so on, all together.

The beings who wander in this bardo are those who have neither accumulated great virtuous deed nor great non-virtuous deeds. Those who have accumulated great non-virtuous deeds will go to lower realms after their death. Those beings who have accumulated great virtuous deeds will also no wander in sidpai bardo because as soon as they die, they will go to the higher realms. Apart from these two, ordinary people like us have no option but to enter the sidpai bardo.   


Sidpai Bardo

During the sidpai bardo, there is nothing other than suffering. The only thing you can carry with you is the merit accumulated from making offerings to the Triple Gem, giving to poor people, constructing mandalas of the peaceful and wrathful deities, performing rituals for the dead, conferring empowerments, liberating beings and so on. If you accumulated great virtue, then like a group of people can pull up a person who is about to fall from a cliff, similarly one can protect suffering beings and help them attain enlightenment. For this reason we must perform virtuous deeds for benefiting the dead after their demise.

The way to perform virtuous deed is this: For twenty-one days from the day of their death, they will feel and think like a living human. After twenty-one days, their behavior will resemble that of their next birth. So the 21st day and the 49th day after their death are considered to very important days to perform rituals for them.

Within those days, even if they were to fall in lower realms, if we can accumulate great virtuous deeds for them, then through the compassion of the Triple Gem we will be able to pull them up.

If we cannot help them in those days, they will fall into the lower realms. It’s not that the Triple Gem doesn’t have compassion for them but this occurs due to their karmic actions. They will fall and until their negative karma is exhausted, we cannot pull them up. Therefore, it is really important to accumulate virtuous deeds for them during the days after their death.

A Dharma practitioner who has spiritual experience will know that he is going to die and he is going to go through the bardo. At that moment, he will remember his root guru and his root wisdom deity. He will then make aspirations.

There are some who have the ability to take birth in Amitabha’s pure realm, or those of Zangdok Palri, Ngonpar Gawa, or others.

There are also other great lamas who can summon the consciousness of the dead and give them Dharma teachings and empowerments. This will either lead those who have died to pure realms, or if not at least help them take rebirth as humans. This is all because of their own karma and aspirations.

The critical time to create karma and to make aspirations is during kyeney bardo; this is really important. This is the root of all other bardos and it decide our fate in those other bardos. If we don’t want to wander in other bardos, then we should strive to benefit others and ourselves in this kyeney bardo.

The End.


H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche.




Friday, June 10, 2016

Gist of my speech to Rinchen High School Students on Wednesday, 4th May 2016

Good afternoon, my dear young friends.
It gives me great pleasure to be here with you to speak a few words at the invitation of your respected Principal who was my classmate, and is my friend. Your school’s Wednesday guest lecture program is a noble initiative as you get to listen to different perspectives shared by people with various backgrounds and experiences. I want to try and make my points as relevant to you as possible so that the time you spend listening to me is not wasted. I will make only three points today. Consider them as reminders or suggestions.
Point No. 1. All of you here are studying in Classes 11 and 12. Do you know what it means to be in Classes 11 and 12? You may not be fully aware, but Classes 11 and 12 are the most critical times of your student life. How you do in Class 12 makes the biggest difference in the life of a young person. This is because, in our context, marks obtained in class 12 final examinations basically decide to a very large extent, what you become in your future life. All the Govt. scholarships are given based on the ranking in your class 12 marks. The lower ranked you are, the less chance you have to qualify for a Govt. scholarship to study in a college. Even if you think your parents can afford it, you may not get admission in a good college without good marks. I know that the Exams and marks do not measure all the talents and qualities that you have as a human being. But what to do? Since we have no other objective way to assess your capabilities, the education system relies on the examination marks. So, we better give it due importance at least at this stage in your life. Just the other day, I got a call from a relative’s daughter requesting me to find a job for her as she had not qualified for any scholarship after Class 12. I asked her to come and see me. She came with a bunch of certificates and marksheets. Shuffling through them, I became very sad. She had done extremely well in Class X scoring high marks in all the subjects like 90% in mathematics. But here she was standing helpless in front of me because she had done so poorly when it mattered the most - Class 12 Exams. Therefore, the key takeaway from my point No. 1 is to cut down on all your other activities and focus on studies at least when you are in Class 11 and Class 12. Wake up early. How many of you wake up before 5 am and study? How many before 6 am? How many before 7 am? Those who wake up late, make it a point to wake up before 6 am from tomorrow and study. Just this one year for those who are in Class 12. This is what I did too and benefited – so I am not preaching what I have not practised. This will pay off well in the future. I feel my reminder is timely since you still have about 6 or 7 months before the final examinations at the end of the year. It is better to start before it is too late. Point No. 2. Each human being is gifted with different sets of skills and talents. Someone may be good at art while some may be good at mathematics. Some may be good at music and dance while some may be good at language and literature. Nobody is better than anybody. Accordingly, each person has different passion and interests in life. So, it is important for you to recognize your strengths and passion, and focus on it early on. You must have heard about the young designer who designed the Bhutanese traditional dress that Princess Kate, Duchess of Cambridge wore during her recent visit to Bhutan. She has passion in designing and she seems to be doing very well. Likewise, I have heard of a skilled Thangka painter who has hard time meeting the demands from Buddhists in Taiwan and Hongkong. Therefore, finding your talent and building on it is very important while studying to do well in the exam at the same time. Point No. 3 The last point, but not the least, is about the importance of being independent. What I have observed, from my own experience itself, is that we, Bhutanese youths, are over-dependent on our parents, teachers or relatives. It is important for us to try to be independent from early on as that prepares you to understand and face life well. How many of you do your own cooking and washing? How many of you help at home in cleaning and other chores? How many of you try to do your homework in time and without too much assistance from parents or friends? One example I always give is my own experience in the first year of my college in Australia. I got scholarship to study engineering in Australia in 1996 after class 12. In my first year there, I found that I had the strongest tendency to immediately look for help from teachers or instructors whenever we faced some difficulty in solving problems in the lab. Australian students tried and found solutions by themselves. Since you don’t always have parents and teachers with you in real life to help you with every problem you face, it is important to try to be like those Australian students – try and find the solutions yourself. In short, try to be more independent from now.

Conclusion

At the start, I told you that I would make 3 points and I have made them. Let me recap in short:
Point one: How you do in Class 12 Exams have the biggest impact on your future direction of your life. So, study seriously, at least in Classes 11 and 12.
Point two: Try to identify your talents and passion, and build on them. That may be the key to your success in future life.
Point three: Try to be independent from young as that prepares you to face the real life as an adult in the future.
I hope you will remember them and try to apply them. This should make some positive difference in your life. With this I will end my talk for today. Thank you and Tashidelek.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Seven Things that Make Bhutan Truly Unique and Special


Bhutan, the birthplace of the principle of Gross National Happiness, is often perceived as one of the happiest places on earth. However, like any other country, Bhutan has its share of problems and challenges. So, Bhutan may not really be the happiest place on earth.

Yet, Bhutan is definitely a country like no other. It has no traffic lights or McDonalds, but make no mistake - Bhutan has fully embraced modernity with almost all modern amenities that make life convenient available in its most major cities and towns. But that is not one of the seven things in my list that make Bhutan unique and special.



The seven things that make Bhutan really unique and especial in my opinion are as follows.

1. The last surviving independent Buddhist Kingdom in the Himalayas

The Himalayas at one point of time had quite a few independent Buddhist Kingdoms from Tibet in the north, Ladakh in the West, and Mustang in the middle to Sikkim and Bhutan in the east. These kingdoms shared the same kind of religion and had cultural similarities, although each also had its distinct traditions and customs. Today, Bhutan is the only independent Buddhist Kingdom in the Himalayas, and is therefore the last bastion of this unique Himalayan Buddhist culture.
Thanks to the importance given by our leaders to the preservation of our culture and traditions, we still have most of them intact today. The fact that Bhutan was never colonized also ensured that the continuity of our cultural heritage was never broken or disturbed from the past till today. So, Bhutanese have great pride in their culture and identity.

2. Deeply spiritual but in an unintrusive way

Bhutan is a deeply spiritual country with temples, monasteries, chortens and prayer flags everywhere. You see people circumabulating the Chortens or temples.  Yet, this deeply pervading spirituality has an unintrusive character as the focus of spirituality in Buddhism is on taming one’s own mind rather than believing that this is the only right religion and others should convert to it. So everyone feels welcome and become self-reflective on their own spirituality when they are here. There simply is no need to fear that someone may judge his or her beliefs and try to convert him or her.
As one of the most respected reincarnate Lamas from Bhutan, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche says, there may be many places in the world that are more beautiful than Bhutan, but what makes Bhutan really special is this pervading but unintrusive spirituality that you can feel here.

3. Land of one of the most flexible and tolerant people

I do not want to sound like blowing one’s own trumpet, but many visitors to Bhutan are impressed by the open and friendly nature of the Bhutanese people. Bhutanese are generally very flexible and tolerant people. After living overseas, I have been surprised to observe Bhutanese’s nonchalant attitude towards some issues on which others would fervently debate and pass judgment. For instance, Bhutanese do not make much fuss over issues of sexuality, divorce or relationships with the opposite sex before marriage. Recently, there were cases of gay and lesbian people coming on national television and talking about their sexual orientation. Nobody seemed to be bothered much about it or pass a moral judgment. I think it is this kind of moral flexibility and tolerance that make Bhutanese generally a happy and accommodating lot.
This attitude may have to do with our Buddhist conditioning. While theistic religions enforces external moral rules supposedly passed down by God, the Buddhist view is that there are no moral absolutes.
"There are no moral absolutes in Buddhism and it is recognized that ethical decision-making involves a complex nexus of causes and conditions. …..When making moral choices, individuals are advised to examine their motivation--whether aversion, attachment, ignorance, wisdom, or compassion--and to weigh the consequences of their actions in light of the Buddha's teachings”, says Karma Lekshe Tsomo, a Buddhist nun and professor of Buddhist philosophy at the University of San Diego.

4. A land of rich natural bio-diversity and pristine environment

The Bhutanese have always had a deep respect for its natural environment and have lived in harmony with nature for centuries. This is reflected in our architecture, way of life and our policies. Today, Bhutan boasts of a rich biodiversity and pristine environment with some of the last remaining unclimbed mountain peaks in the world. Even when the planned modern economic development started in the early sixties, our Kings have been wise and far-sighted enough not to trade our pristine natural environment for short term economic gains. Hence, today, we have more than 70 percent of our land under forest cover and 26 percent under protected areas. As our Prime Minister has claimed in his now famous Ted Talk, we are not only carbon neutral, but the only carbon negative country in the world. On top of this, our constitution requires that a minimum of 60 percent of Bhutan's total land should be maintained as forest for all times.

5. A place where people hesitate even to kill mosquitoes and cockroaches

Bhutan may be the only country where most people would hesitate or refrain from killing even mosquitoes and cockroaches. Normally, Bhutanese people would normally take pains to catch the cockroaches and houseflies and safely throw away outside rather than crush them and kill them.
This is because of Buddhists’ aversion towards killing or taking life. All lives are valued in Bhutanese belief, even that of an insect like mosquito or cockroach. Says Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche,  "..even today in the modern day Bhutan, I am sure, before one of the modern Bhutanese and he maybe not even a, you know, sort of a proper Buddhist practicing Buddhist but before he kills a cockroach in his fridge, he thinks twice, right? .. And that is such a unique thing that we in Bhutan have and this is something we have to really cultivate".

6. Blessed with benevolent monarchs

With the first King of Bhutan enthroned unanimously by the people of Bhutan in 1907, Bhutan was a late entrant among countries that adopted monarchy. However, Bhutan definitely gained a lot from the monarchical system as it was blessed with benevolent monarchs who worked tirelessly for the welfare of their people. Bhutanese monarchs have provided exemplary leadership and have transformed the country into a modern progressive nation in a matter of just about 100 years. Their praises are sung not just by Bhutanese, but by the world at large because their accomplishments are big though our country is small. The present King of Bhutan, His Majesty the Fifth Druk Gyalpo, is popularly known as the People’s King because of his deep love and concern for the welfare of his people. The people of Bhutan have been blessed to have such great leaders.

7. Free healthcare and education

In Bhutan, the Government provides free healthcare and education. The healthcare is totally free within the country. Even for referrals outside, the Government bears the cost of travel as well as treatment if the treatment is not available within the country. This is as good as saying that all Bhutanese have comprehensive health insurance by default. Education is free for all students up to Class X. Beyond class X too, education is free in Government high schools and colleges if the students are able to score more than the required cut-off marks in their Class X or Class XII examinations.

To conclude, I feel that we, the Bhutanese, should deeply value the abovementioned seven things and not lose them in order for us to remain a unique, special and happy country in this turbulent world.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Significance of Japanese Tea Ceremony

Significance of Japanese Tea Ceremony: Peace Through a Cup of Tea

Most JICA trainees and other visitors to Japan would have had the opportunity to participate in a Tea Ceremony. To take part in a Tea Ceremony is considered a privilege and Japanese hosts often go out of their way to organize a tea ceremony for their guests. But the foreigners, with little understanding of the actual significance of Tea Ceremony, often end up complaining about the ordeal of sitting on the floor in traditional Japanese style and following endless etiquette.



Understood in the right perspective, participating in a Tea Ceremony can be a very enriching experience. Tea Ceremony is known as Sado which literally means ‘the Way of the Tea’. It can be a lifelong pursuit for those aspiring to master the art, but in
very simple terms, the main aim of Tea Ceremony is to, for a moment, forget all disturbing thoughts, and cherish the encounter between hosts and guests in a relaxed, calm, peaceful and tranquil atmosphere over a cup of tea.

The ceremony itself consists of a traditional ritual in which powdered green tea called matcha is ceremonially prepared by a skilled practitioner and served to a small group of guests in a tranquil setting. The Great Tea Master of the sixteenth century, Sen Rikyu, identified the spirit of Tea Ceremony with four basic principles of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.

The austere setting of the tea room, the prescribed method of handling utensils and preparing the tea, the tea master’s manners and the guests’ etiquette are all set to enhance these four basic principles, as Okakura Tenshin mentions in “the Book of Tea”:
“Not a color to disturb the tone of the room, not a sound to mar the rhythm of things, not a gesture to obtrude on the harmony, not a word to break the unity of the surroundings, all movements to be performed simply and naturally – such were the aims of the tea ceremony.”

Tea is a very special beverage that has gained universal appeal. Tea originated in China long time ago and was introduced into Japan by Buddhist monks in the ninth century. It was not until the seventeenth century that tea drinking spread in Europe. There are many kinds of tea, but they all come from mainly two varieties of the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis and Camellia assamica.

Coming back to the Tea Ceremony, one of its key objectives is to value human encounters. Each encounter is unique and must be cherished. In the words of Tea Master Soshitsu Sen XV, “Encounters are extremely vital for human beings. Particularly, encounters through a bowl of tea enable us to communicate heart-to-heart with people who are new to us, in the same way that we can with old acquaintances, by means of our showing each other empathy and consideration.”

However, for the more serious practitioners, Tea Ceremony is also a way to discipline oneself and acquire fresh perspectives on life such as nurturing the ability to face hardships with composure.

Last year at the local Toast Master’s club, I listened to a Japanese man, who in his speech talked about how his late aunt, a Tea Ceremony enthusiast, requested her attendants to conduct Tea Ceremony by her bedside in the hospital, and how it helped her to face her agonizing sickness with serenity until her last breath.

Tea Master Soshitsu Sen XV has made spreading the message of peace through Tea Ceremony his life’s mission. He says, “I have toured the world for more than fifty years with the goal ‘Peace through sharing a bowl of tea.’ This peace can be spread by offering a bowl of tea to another.”

Now that we have understood a little bit about the significance of the Tea Ceremony, we may be able to enjoy it better if we have a chance to participate in it in future. But meanwhile, even when we drink tea at home, would it not be nice to enjoy it in the spirit of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility? Tea Ceremony is a message of love and peace. Let us understand this message and spread it further.


Written by Tshering Cigay Dorji in 2007, when he was studying in Tokushima University, Japan, for his Masters degree in Engineering.

This article first appeared in the JICA Alumni Association of Bhutan’s Annual Magazine in 2007.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Will Elected Political Dynasties Emerge in Bhutan?

Will Elected Political Dynasties Emerge in Bhutan?
By Tshering Cigay Dorji (Ph.D)
Published in Drukpa, November 2010 Issue on Politics

Elected political dynasties are common in democracies around the world: the Kennedys and the Bushes of the USA, the Aquinos of the Phillipines, the Nehru-Gandhis of India, the Bhuttos of Pakistan, the Bandaranaikes of Sri Lanka, and the Koiralas of Nepal. Are such political dynasties a boon or a curse? What factors lead to the formation of political dynasties? Will elected political dynasties appear in democratic Bhutan too? tshering cigay dorji (Ph.D) explores these questions


Some argue that certain families are gifted with aptitude and talent for public offi ce and that their hold on power is not due to their relatives occupying positions of authority. But the popular feeling as portrayed by the media is that political dynasties are self-perpetuating and somewhat undemocratic.


A study on political dynasties in the US published by Ernesto Dal Bo and others in the Review of Economic Studies in 2009 concluded that political power in the United States is “selfperpetuating, and that the presence of political dynasties does not merely refl ect differences in ability across families.” They found that legislators who enjoy longer tenures are signifi – cantly more likely to have relatives entering Congress later. They also found that the Senate has a greater share of dynastic politicians than the House (13.5% versus 7.7%) and this difference persists (see Figure 1).





In Japan too, political dynasties are a common feature of the political landscape. As a student there from 2005 to 2010, I learnt that fi ve of the six prime ministers that held offi ce were from powerful political families.

Junichiro Koizumi, the 56th PM, was a third-generation politician. His father, Junya Koizumi, was director general of the Japan Defense Agency and a member of the Diet (Japanese Parliament). His grandfather, Koizumi Matajiro, was Minister of Posts and Telecommunications. The 57th PM, Shinzo Abe’s grandfather, Kan Abe, and father, Shintaro Abe, were both politicians. Abe’s mother, Yoko Kishi, is the daughter of Nobusuke Kishi, PM of Japan from 1957 to 1960. The 58th PM Yasuo Fukuda’s father, Takeo Fukuda, was PM from 1976 to 1978. The 59th PM, Taro Aso’s mother was former PM Shigeru Yoshida’s daughter, and his current wife is the third daughter of another former PM, Zenko Suzuki. During Aso’s premiership, it was also said that four of 18 Cabinet posts had gone to politicians with fathers or grandfathers who were PMs, and ten cabinet ministers were the children of former Liberal Democratic Party parliamentarians.

The 60th PM, Yukio Hatoyama’s paternal great-grandfather, Kazuo Hatoyama, was speaker of the House of Representatives of the Diet of Japan from 1896 to 1897 and his paternal grandfather, Ichiro Hatoyama, served as PM in addition to being a founder and the first President of the Liberal Democratic Party in 1956. His father, Iichiro Hatoyama, served as Foreign Minister.

As the above examples from the US and Japan show, political dynasties exist even in industrialized nations. However, there is some difference between the political dynasties that exist in countries where the rule of law and open competition are well established, and those countries where the rule of law is weaker. A column by Isagani Cruz in the Philippine daily, Inquirer, mentions that “certain families so controlled their constituents – by guns or gold or, in some cases, merit – as to be able to retain political power, to the exclusion of other candidates. By transferring elective positions among themselves, from one relative to another, often regardless of qualifications, they are able to prevent other citizens, including the more qualified ones, from enjoying equal access to opportunities for public service.”

Realizing this to be happening, the Republic of the Philippines has kept a provision for legislation to prohibit political dynasties in their constitution. Section 26 of Article II says, “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.” However, there have been no efforts made by Congress to legislate on this constitutional provision so far. The provision has remained a toothless tiger.

Last June, Senator Benigno Aquino III was elected to become the 15th President of Phillipines. Aquino is a fourth-generation politician. His great-grandfather, Servillano “Mianong” Aquino, served as a delegate to the Malolos Congress. His grandfather, Benigno Aquino Sr., held several legislative positions from 1919-44. And his parents were former President Corazon Aquino and former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. He replaced the 14th President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is herself a daughter of the 9th President, Diosdado Macapagal.


Our nook of the woods has seen its fair share of political dynasties. Nepal’s late PM G.P. Koirala’s two other brothers were PMs too. In Sri Lanka, President Chandrika Kumaratunga was the daughter of two former PMs. Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina is daughter of President Mujibur Rahman, and former PM Khaleda Zia, is widow of President Ziaur Rahman. India’s Nehru family now spans four generations. Late Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto was the daughter of PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. After her assassination, her 22-year old son, Bilawal Zardari Bhutto was appointed chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party.

What factors lead to the emergence of political dynasties? It may be difficult to unravel the complex interplay of various causes and conditions, but three major factors given in an IPS article titled Political Dynasties Know No Boundaries seem to be convincing:

“First, access to the political system in most countries is costly in terms of money and only those who can afford the time, money, resources and have the requisite connections find an entry into what is often an exclusive if not closed club.

“Then there are those who are respected for rendering services to their country during crucial periods, such as an independence struggle — hence, their legitimacy is unquestioned and widely accepted.

“Finally, there are those whose leadership is etched in the popular imagination, and for people to identify with such a charismatic leader comes almost automatically.”

In this light, does it seem likely that elected political dynasties will crop up in Bhutan too? Will they arise also at the level of local governments, as in major municipalities in the Philippines where the lucrative position of mayor is held by political dynasties?

Bhutanese attach a lot of importance to ancestry when aspiring for high positions in public offi ce, though many people from humble backgrounds have risen to high positions in the civil service in the past. This is refl ected in sayings such as Pha zang gi bu, ghi zang gi shub (Son of a noble father, sheath of a fi ne sword) and Zhenm thog khar kayn, chhu yang jye gi jay (Put a commoner in high position and he will even measure water with a jye, a container for measuring grain). So it was not rare for political candidates to evoke their noble ancestry, real or imagined, during the 2008 elections. Going by this bent in the Bhutanese psyche, coupled with the cost of politicking, it seems likely that we too will have elected political dynasties in the future at the central and the local levels.

However, political dynasties are not inherently nocuous. Their hold on power may be justifi ed as long as it is gained through fair and open competition, and without using undue advantage of connections, as unlikely as that possibility seems.

The good news for us here in Bhutan is that political dynasties will not be able to misuse their power as much as their counterparts in other countries, thanks to the unique system of government enshrined in our constitution. Our beloved King provides the required check and balance, and looks after the welfare of the weak and the underprivileged. And no dynasty, however infl uential, can override the authority of the Druk Gyalpo.

How anonymous are you online?

They Don’t Know Me, Or Do They?
By Tshering Cigay Dorji (Ph.D)
Published in Drukpa, December 2010 Issue on Media


Today, many Bhutanese make various anonymous comments in online forums ranging from kuenselonline.com to bhutantimes. com. One of the things that may be on minds of many of these online posters is if their real identity be found out.

Tracking the real identity of an anonymous poster may not be straightforward but it is nonetheless possible. First of all, your computer is identified by a unique IP address. That IP address may not be visible to the forum readers, but it is recorded in the log file of the website you visit. This can be viewed by the administrators of the website.


So, the first possibility for tracking the anonymous poster is that the government or the aggrieved party could ask the website administrator to release the details of the IP address of the poster either directly or through a court order. Once the web administrator releases the IP address, the search can be narrowed down to a particular locality or organization. Once that is done, it would not be too difficult to pinpoint the person.

Now, if it so happens that the website administrators refuse to divulge the IP addresses, another way to find out the poster’s whereabouts is to lure him to click on a particular link by sending him a private message. There are sites on the internet that provide such services. One such site is http:// shivampatel.net/trace/.

The anonymous posters have one more weapon in their arsenal, proxy servers – a server that retrieves web pages for you, providing only its own identity to the sites it visits. That means if you connect to bhutantimes. com using a proxy server and make a post, the bhutantimes.com website would record the IP address of the proxy server and not your real IP address. Hence, even the administrators of bhutantimes.com would not be able to identify your real IP address. But, the proxy server would still record the details of your IP address. So, if the proxy server releases your IP address, you could again be tracked.

Another point of concern for anonymous posters is the ISP logs, the records maintained about your online activity by your local Internet Service Provider. Some ISPs record the details of different websites visited by an internet user. Even the anonymous proxy servers cannot circumvent this. One way suggested to overcome this is to use a DNS server other than the one given by your ISP, provided that the ISP allows it.

The trackers have another analytical tool in their hand these days. Many people make public comments and posts under their real identity in their personal blogs and Facebook pages. But they post anonymously on online forums like bhutantimes.com. Using sophisticated data mining tools, or even by simple analysis, it would not be very difficult to connect the anonymous posts to a real person. In recent years, there are also software tools for ‘authorship profiling’ which can identify an anonymous author by automatically analyzing the diction and syntax of anonymous posts and comparing with the sample texts written by suspected people.

In short, there is no such thing as ‘anonymity’ on the web. It just depends on what extent the trackers are willing to go in order to track you. If they are not so serious about pursuing you, you could escape anonymously. But if they are willing to go to any extent in uncovering your identity, there are enough footprints you have left online and tools in their hands to track you. All I can suggest for you to make it a little more difficult to be tracked is to use the anonymous proxy servers (use carefully as some free proxy servers may not be authentic), change your DNS servers if possible, change usernames often, and not write similar posts under your real name in personal blogs and Facebook pages.


The writer has a doctorate in computer engineering from Tokushima University, Japan

Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Every Rose Has Its Thorn
By Tshering Cigay Dorji
Published in Drukpa, December 2010 Issue on Media

Beware the hype of social networking, says Tshering Cigay Dorji, for behind the glitz lies a plethora of unsavory ill-effects and insidious design

Most of the internet-literate Bhutanese have now embraced Facebook, Twitter, blogs or online forums to interact with other people. These internetbased applications of social interaction constitute what is broadly termed as the ‘social media’.

In his e-book titled What is Social Media?, Antony Mayfield describes the following as basic forms of social media: (1) Social networks like Facebook and MySpace, (2) Blogs, (3) Wikis, (4) Podcasts, (5) Forums, (6) Content Communities like Flickr and Youtube, and (7) Microblogging like Twitter.

Why have the social media caught on the imagination of the people at such lightening speed? According to Mayfield, “A good way to think about social media is that all of this is actually just about being human beings. Sharing ideas, cooperating and collaborating to create art, thinking and commerce, vigorous debate and discourse, finding people who might be good friends, allies and lovers – it’s what our species has built several civilizations on. That’s why it is spreading so quickly, not because it’s great shiny, whizzy new technology, but because it lets us be ourselves – only more so.”

Notwithstanding all the hype, the convenience, the empowerment of the voiceless, and the attraction surrounding the social media, there are also some unsavory aspects that need to be understood before plunging ourselves headlong into the social media ocean.

Zero Privacy

Most of us have divulged too much private information about ourselves through the social media sites. Many of us even fail to update and manage the privacy settings provided by the sites leaving our private information searchable and viewable by anyone. For example, when I was studying abroad, an African colleague once bragged about his sexual adventures showing an email on his mobile phone which read, “Hi, I am drinking at a bar in your neighborhood tonight. Can I come and spend the night with you?” I couldn’t help notice the familiar family name of the sender. So, I entered the name into the ‘google’ search engine, which led me to her Facebook page and her identity as none other than the young daughter of an acquaintance.

However, making the privacy settings tight on your profile can only encapsulate your private data at the superficial level from public search engines and other users not connected to you. Not only are our private data completely accessible to the administrators of the social media sites, but we also leave enough digital footprints online for someone who is tech-savvy or hell-bent on tracking us to track us.

Nicholas Carr in his bestseller The Big Switch says, “Most of us assume that we are anonymous when we go about our business online. We treat the internet not only as a shopping mall and a library but as a personal diary and even a confessional. Through the sites we visit and searches we make, we disclose details not only about our job, hobbies, families, politics and health but also about our secrets, fantasies, obsessions, peccadilloes and even, in the most extreme cases, our crimes. But our sense of anonymity is largely an illusion. Detailed information about everything we do online is routinely gathered, stored in corporate or governmental databases, and connected to our real identities, either explicitly through our user names, our credit card numbers, and the IP addresses automatically assigned to our computers or implicitly through our searching and surfing histories.”

In July 2006, AOL had released a report containing keywords entered into its search engines by 657,000 subscribers over a three-month period. The data had been “anonymized” by replacing the names with numbers and removing other identifying information. Three New York Times journalists took a close look at a set of keywords entered by one subscriber known only as “4417749”, and tracked down the real person behind it who happened to be Thelma Arnold, a 62-year old widow living in Lilburn, Georgia.

“As online databases proliferate and analytical technologies advance, it becomes ever easier to use the ‘World Wide Computer’ to ‘mine’ personal information,” says Carr. The loss of privacy is the price we pay for the convenience of social media.

Technology of Control

Internet in general and the social media in particular has been hyped as technology of emancipation. It gives us a lot of freedom to express ourselves and find information on almost any topic imaginable. However, computer systems in general are not technologies of liberation but technologies of control. As the industrial revolution progressed, the ability to process ever-increasing information could not keep up with the ability to process matter and energy. This made it difficult for companies to manage and control their operations effectively. The computer was born out of this necessity.

It is true that the internet or social media put enormous power into the hands of an individual, but it puts even more power into the hands of companies, organizations, institutions and governments. All our online activities like tweeting, searching, commenting, blogging, chatting, clicking and browsing are recorded for analysis in some big databases around the world. Software programs can analyze these records and make out what motivates us, what we believe in, what we like, what we don’t like, what we would buy, how we would react to a certain stimuli, etc. In short, the people behind these software programs could know more about us than we know about ourselves. This could give them immense power to control us.

Governments have realized that the social media tools would not pose as much threat as initially feared. “While the Net offers people a new medium for discovering information and voicing opinions, it also provides bureaucrats with a powerful new tool for monitoring speech, identifying dissidents and disseminating propaganda. In a country like China, anyone who assumes that he can act anonymously on the Web opens himself to dangers far beyond embarrassment,” writes Carr.

Integrator or Divider?

An article titled Global Village or Cyber-Balkans? by Eric Brynjolfsson and Marshall Van Alstyne seriously questioned the na├»ve assumption that social media tools have integrating effects. Since there are “limits to how much information we can process and how many people we can communicate with,” we naturally tend to filter out information we don’t agree with and form online communities with like-minded people. Thus online communities could end up being less diverse and more polarized than communities in the real world. A study of the political blogosphere by Matthew Hindman found that the “vast majority of readers tend to stay within the bounds of either the liberal or the conservative sphere.”

Studies have shown that discussions among liked-minded people produce “ideological amplification.” That means people’s views become more extreme and more entrenched as they discuss issues with other people who hold the same or similar views. It is feared that the formation of online communities by like-minded individuals would “in the worst cases, plant the roots of extremism and even fanaticism and terrorism.”

Relationship Maker or Breaker?

According to The Telegraph, research by a British divorce center called Divorce-Online claims about 20 percent of all divorce documents include some type of reference to Facebook. But the statistic may not be confined to Britain alone. According to USA Today, “66 percent of the lawyers surveyed cited Facebook indiscretions as the source of online evidence, MySpace followed with 15 percent, followed by Twitter at five percent.”

Social networking sites like Facebook have made it very easy for reuniting with old friends and making new ones. This has also tempted individuals to flirt and cheat on their partners. It is especially true for people who have some problems in their marriage. “The popularity of the Friends Reunited website several years ago was also blamed for a surge in divorces as bored husbands and wives used it to contact old flames and first loves,” according to The Telegraph.

Time Waster

Engaging in social media activities could take up a lot of time and it could even make you addicted. Therefore, it is important to ask ourselves what it is that we want to achieve by participating in such sites. The time we spend on social media sites could be spent on more productive activities.

According to a study by The Oxygen Media Insights Group, “57 percent of the women polled said they communicate with people more online than they do face to face, and 39 percent called themselves Facebook addicts. Moreover 34% of those between 18 and 34 said that checking Facebook is the first thing they do in the morning – even before brushing their teeth or using the bathroom.”

However, social media sites could be useful if you are a politician with an agenda to reach out to the people, a researcher connecting with other researchers, a marketing officer or a salesman, or an individual with the need to keep in touch with friends and family separated by distance. The bottom line is that “to use social media effectively, just be sure that you aren’t putting more effort in than the result you’re getting” as the bestselling author of Getting Things Done, Ready for Anything, David Allen says.

Signing Out

It is important to realize the unsavory aspects of social media behind all the hype generated in recent years. No doubt, social media as tools could be useful in many ways in our lives. They empower the voiceless, and bring immediacy and transparency to journalism. But, at the same time, they take away our privacy, make some of us addicted, break marriages, and put immense power into the hands of corporate and government institutions.