Saturday, July 29, 2006

A daughter's love

At 11, Patti was a kind little girl who liked to play with her friends, and above all loved her parents. One day, she was playing with her father when he suddenly collapsed with a heart attack.
Patti was shocked. But she held her father's limping hands with her little fingers and called her mother. Among tears, she kept calling, "Father! Father! Please get well".
Patti's father Chet Szuber had a weak heart. She often saw her father sitting exhaustedly on the sofa. She felt sad to see him like that.
"Come and see what I have drawn", she asked her father one day as she arrived from school. It was the picture of her father. He leaped to his feet, and laughed heartily and played with her.
Besides the love of his caring wife Jean, it was the unconditional and innocent love of her daughter that gave him the strength to live.
Over the years, he rejoiced in seeing Patti grow taller and prettier. But his heart condition was becoming worse. He had massive heart attacks. He grew weaker and had to undergo repeated bypass surgeries.
Patti kept saying, "Father, please don't die".
"When I grow up, I will become a nurse to take care of you. Please promise me that you will not die."
He promised to live. And Indeed Patti too became a nurse as she promised. She cared for him. A loving daughter as she always was.
But by then, her father had to undergo his third bypass surgery. The doctor said to him, "This was your last chance. We cannot do any more bypass surgery if you have another heart attack."
He was very sad to hear this. But Patti cheered him up saying, "Father, you can still live if you have a heart transplant. All we need is to find a donor."
On the following New Year, she wrote in her card to her father, "A new healthy heart", with a big drawing of a heart.
Patti was now 22. It was spring and she wanted to take a trip to the mountains with her friends. She said good bye to her parents and went. It was going to be a long drive.
In the middle of the night, the phone in Mr Szuber's house rang. Jean Szuber picked up the phone warily.
"Hello, is this Mr Szuber's house?"
"Yes."
"Your daughter Patti had been in a bad car accident. She is in a hospital in Knoxville."
Jean cried. She didn't know how to break the news to her husband as she was afraid that he might collapse due to his weak heart.
Among sobs, she told her husband that Patti had been in a small traffic accident in Knoxville.
When they reached Knoxville, Patti was literally dead except for the breathing from the Life Support Machine.
Her father cried holding her unconscious body, "You are the one who asked me to promise to live. Please don't die before me".
The doctors explained that she had no chance of reviving.
As Jean and Chet Szuber tried to recover themselves from the shock in another room, a woman approached them.
"As Patti has no chance to live anyway, you can have her heart," the lady said to Mr. Szuber. Patti had signed an organ donor card months earlier which would make it possible.
Chet Szuber turned it down immediately. He had never considered it or thought about it. It sounded ridiculous.
But moments later, he felt something that he could not explain. He could feel Patti pleading with him to accept her gift deep in his mind. He knew it. And at last he decided to accept her daughter's gift.
Heart transplant was a highly delicate and risky operation at that time. It still is. But thanks to the unconditional love and the prayers that Patti's spirit might have said as she watched the operation from above, the transplant surgery went successfully.
Today, more than 10 years down the line, Chet Szuber at 67 is healthy and strong. He runs a berry farm, Christmas tree farm and keeps a special place set aside: Patti's Park. And with every beat of her heart in his chest, he remembers Patti.
- Written for the web by Cigay. (A True story I wanted to share with you all).

Friday, July 28, 2006

Who I am!

I watch the flowers bloom,
I watch the seasons change.
I watch the children grow,
And the men busy on the go.

I watch the rolling mountains,
I watch the rivers flow.
I roam the deserted villages,
I roam the bustling cities.

I am constantly on the move,
But I am not in hurry.
My passion lies in the arts,
And beauty is what I seek.

I work not for money,
I never worry about time.
I desire not power or praise,
I am indifferent to blame.

Wisdom is what I am after,
I read not for crafty knowledge.
I write for joy, not for fame,
I paint for pleasure, not for dollars,

I sing to express, not to please,
I watch to enjoy, not to judge,
I seek the good in all I see,
I am an artist, wandering free.

By Cigay (27 May 2006)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Love on the Internet

John's Japanese girlfriend of two years had just said goodbye. She had found another man. Living in Japan was hard enough for a foreigner. But this latest incident made it harder for poor John. That was when he turned to the Internet for solace.

From the comfort of his bedroom, he exchanged emails and chatted with girls from far and wide. But one of them, Maria, caught his attention more than the others.
Maria: What would you give me if I come to meet you?
John: A kiss....LOL. But seriously I would wait for you at the airport with flowers.
Maria: You are not yet my boyfriend. But anyway, you seem to be a very romantic man.
John: I am. Each exchange of email and photograph fuelled the fire in John's broken heart.

In two days, they began to call each other "honey". They were new online lovers.

John adored her sexy and seductive figure. He thought that her figure matched a model's and that her beauty could put a Miss Universe to shame. Besides, her unrestrained expression of her hunger for love and romance sent his head reeling into various sexual fantasies.

John: Love, I am dying to meet you.
Maria: Me too. I love you so much. I am ready to come to meet you.
John: Really? I will be so happy if you can really come.
Maria: But my salary in my country is not big. Maybe I cannot pay for the air ticket.
John: Do not worry about it. Money is no measure of my love for you. I'll pay.
Maria: Really?? I am so happy. Let's meet as soon as possible. I can't wait.

His ex. girlfriend seemed like a distant memory now. He was busy making plans to meet Maria and to take her to different places. He thought about taking her to the same "Love Hotel" where he had taken his ex. girl friend to. He chuckled to himself at the thought.

It had been barely two weeks since they first met online. But plans were already ready for their meeting. He sent her 2000 dollars, his month's salary from his English teaching job.

Saturday, 17 June 2006. At the arrival hall of Narita International Airport, Tokyo, stood an anxious John, dressed in his best casuals. He held a bouquet of flowers, especially ordered from the best florist in Tokyo.

He looked at his watch often. The Russian Airline flight SU 0569 was due at 10:00 am Japan time. He was nervous. He dreaded his first meeting with his beautiful girlfriend as much as he looked forward to it.The flight landed on time. All passengers exited the arrivals gate. John waited and waited. There he stood like an object of mockery, flowers in his hand.

Maria never appeared.She had just needed the money.

The roadside dreams

Somewhere near Thrumsingla, by the side of the road to Mongar, there is a small lonely hut. Chhimi was born in this hut one cold autumn night. At that time of the year, even the nomadic herders had started to migrate downwards for fear of cold, but her parents, being road-workers (Gyelyong Lemi) had to stay on here to clear a roadblock caused by a recent mudslide.
"Ungee...ungeee...." her first cry echoed far and wide among the forlorn landscape, announcing her arrival in this selfish world. Her father said a small prayer in his heart, invoking the mountain deities to protect his little princess. He had conducted the delivery himself. Hardly any vehicles passed through that place at night. It was a silent night, except for her cry.
When his wife complained of abdominal pain that evening, he had waited for someone to give them a lift to Mongar hospital. But all cars paid no heed to his request, and sped by proudly along the very road that he helped to keep open. What an irony of life!
But he did not complain. He never did. A sincere man, he worked hard. He and his wife each earned Nu. 3,000 a month. That was enough for their life on the roadside. Whether they were happy or not, I am not sure. Contented, they were.
Days rolled into months and months rolled into years. Chhimi grew up sleeping or playing under the shade of trees and rocks, as her parents carried on their work on the road.
"Look, how beautiful our daughter is growing up to be." He said to his wife one Sunday as they sat outside listening to BBS broadcast on an old transistor radio, their prized possession."Yes, soon it will be time to send her to school." She replied."She should live a better life than ours." They agreed and continued to watch her play.
But as it often happens, some dreams are hard to be realized and they remain just a dream forever.
When Chhimi was five, they had to move to a more remote place. The next year, a new baby was born to her parents. And the next place that they had to move to did not have a school nearby. In the midst of such circumstances, Chhimi's time to go to school just went past like a speeding train. There was no next train.
Her childhood saw her babysitting her younger sister, collecting water and firewood for the hut, and then at 12, joining her parents on the road-works.
Nobody thought it strange that a child should waste her learning years by the roadside. Most of the children of road-workers did not attend school. It was normal. This ensures another generation of laborers for our roads.
Today, Chhimi is 17 years old. She got married last year with a man who also works on the road. She is pregnant with her first child. Will she have the luxury to give birth in a hospital? Will her child ever get to go to school? These are just some of the questions that came to my mind as I watched her pregnant body making effort to break endless heaps of stones in the hot sun by the roadside.

Understanding beyond differences

If there is one thing that I have learnt by living in different countries and meeting different people, it is the fact that people love themselves and their own country and culture first and foremost. It is well and fine as long as it does not carry the connotation of feeling superior as Dale Carnegie says "Each nation feels superior to other nations. That breeds patriotism - and wars". Of course we Bhutanese are no exception. We are very proud of our country, our culture and king. Therefore, sometimes, how the others view us may even shock us.
I had the opportunity to travel and live in some counrties like Australia and Japan. In general, Japanese have much better understanding and appreciation of our country. When I was in Australia, I was often asked, "Bhutan, I think I have heard of it. Where is it?" Then their next question would almost always be, "what do you produce and export?" The image formed of us was invariably an impoverished country. Maybe we cannot blame them though because we may not be any the better if we were in their shoes. And there is no problem as long as they do not utter derogatory remarks.
Even the people from countries plagued by perennial problems of poverty, corruption, terrorism and famine would never accept that another country is better than theirs. They may be vying to go to America, but that is only to make money. They may accept that they have certain problems to deal with, but ultimately, deep in their hearts, they will always believe they are great people of a great land with a great culture. This understanding is invaluable in an international environment.
Lack of proper understanding of others give rise to prejudices and stereotyping. For instance, in the past, some Bhutanese parents used to advice their kids thus: "You may marry anybody. But don't marry an Indian or Tibetan". This advice has the connotation of a feeling of superiority over our closest neighbors, India and Tibet. Such attitudes exist in any society as it is a part of human nature. A friend from Inner Mongolia told me that even now, they would consider it too low for them to marry a Han Chinese girl. The feeling of superiority between countries is an extension of such communal feelings.
This goes on to explain why there exists discrimination based on ethnicity. The other day, I read in Japan Times that a black man residing in Kyoto sued a Japanese shopkeeper for racial discrimination, but unfortunately lost. The shopkeeper had reportedly shouted at the black man in Japanese, "Get out of my shop. I hate black man." The court dismissed his case because the judge believed the black man knew too little Japanese to understand what the shopkeeper might have said.
Such attitudes are bred by ignorance and narrow-mindedness. However, it is indeed good that people of different linguistic groups live together peacefully in Bhutan. This should be further encouraged and cherished.
The gist of my post is that when everyone understands that all people love themselves and their own country and culture first and everyone approaches the other people with this understanding and respect, there would be much less misunderstanding and disharmony. It is easy to understand, but probably a little bit too hard to apply. Because people tend to think one's own is the best, and they dont stop there; they also think what belongs to others is no good.

Those were the best days

My first day at school was actually a night. The sun set well before my brother and I reached my school. On that first night and over the many following nights in the cold and dark dormitory, I always dreamt of my mother and my home and cried.
Over the next many days, months and years, I ate many kilos of 'bong kharang' (wheat), 'broomsha mom' (pumpkin broth), ran barefoot, kicked 'baktang ball' (ball stitched from rags) and dreamt of becoming a 'drung-yig' (clerk).
One day, a man from a nearby village came to sell his mangoes at our school. The sweet tantalizing smell of the ripened mangoes filled the air titillating our nostrils. But money, most of us had none.
Few boys wanted to buy. Others crowded in expecting a little share from them. In the commotion that ensued, one of the boys tripped the bamboo basket. The mangoes rolled on the ground.
The boys picked up what they could and ran in all directions. Not to be outdone, the man ran after one of the boys. His name was Karma Damchu. When he was nearly caught, he threw the mango back at the man's face hurting an eye.
That day, the man went home with an empty basket, empty pocket and a swollen eye.
But back at the dormitory that night, words spread that the mango seller was an infamous 'Ngan pa' (black magician).
"Karma Damchu would soon die by vomitting blood" the little boys whispered in unison.
Scared, Karma Damchu ran away to his home and came back to school only after a month. I think he is still alive.
The next few years saw me going farther away having to travel by bus, for my high school studies. I no longer ran barefoot or kicked 'baktang ball'. I wore black 'naughty boy shoes' now and ate 'Ngera Khu' (Indian rice) and 'Joktang mom' (potato broth).
And even fish and meat was served occasionally.
But one had to be careful when fish or meat was served; as one of my friends recalls, "Once during dinner with fish on the menu, lights went off when we were doing 'Tomchhoe' (prayer before dining). When the lights came back, my fish was gone from my plate. From that time on, I used to cover my plate with both hands when meat was served and lights went off."
A Few years down saw me going abroad to study and then landing me a job as an engineer. But nothing comes close to those days of walking barefoot, kicking the 'baktang ball' or dining on 'Joktang mom'.

"Oh when I look back now
The summer seemed to last forever
And if I had the choice
Yeah I'd always wanna be there
Those were the best days of my life"

So sang Bryan Adams.

Where prayerflags flutter

Monasteries and temples dot the mountain slopes, prayer-flags adorn the hilltops and chortens line the ancient footpaths.
You are right if you think I am talking about Bhutan. But the same description also applies to Sikkim, Mustang, Tawang, Ladakh and Tibet.
They were also Buddhist Kingdoms like Bhutan in the past. How did they lose their independence? And how did Bhutan survive?
Tawang, along with the ancient kingdoms of Ladakh and Sikkim are now parts of India. The ancient kingdom of Mustang is a part of Nepal while Tibet is a part of China. Although they have lost their sovereignty, most of the people of these places still follow Tibetan Buddhism, read the same scriptures that we read, attend festivals of masked dances, circumbulate the chortens and monasteries, and their temples look like temples in Bhutan.
Let us have a brief look at the interesting history of these ancient Buddhist kingdoms:
1. Ladakh:
Ladakh was an independent Buddhist country for nearly 900 years from the middle of 10th century. It attained its greatest glory in the 17th century during the reign of the famous king Sengge Namgyal.
As Ladakh prospered, it attracted the covetous attention of Gulab Singh, the ruler of Jammu in the early 19th century, who sent his general Zorawar Singh to invade Ladakh in 1834 AD. The war ended only with the emergence of British power in northern India when Ladakh, together with the neighbouring province of Baltistan, was incorporated into the newly created state of Jammu & Kashmir by the British.
There are ancient Buddhist rock engravings all over the region, even in the areas like Dras and the lower Suru Valley which today are inhabited by an exclusively Muslim. Many villages are crowned with a Gompa or monastery. 2. Mustang:
According to legend, before Guru Padmasambhava could complete the construction of Tibet's oldest monastery, Samye, he had to build the temple in Lo Ghekar in Mustang. By the fourteenth century the great warrior Ame Pal became the ruler of Mustang and ushered in Mustang's golden age, which lasted for the next 200 years. Ame Pal built the majority of the capital city of Lo Manthang, including the palace and the four great temples in Lo Manthang.
Lama Ngorchen Kunga Sangpo of the Sakya sect of Buddhism in Tibet, came to Mustang numerous times in his lifetime at the invitation of Ame Pal and helped Mustang enter an age of spiritual enlightenment, resulting in the building of the many temples and monasteries that dot the place to this day.
The kingdom of Jumla to the southwest (south of the Himalaya in present day Nepal) attacked Mustang many times until it finally took over Mustang in 1740. But in 1780, Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha (Nepal) conquered Jumla and laid claim to Mustang.
Mustang remained subjugate to the Shah dynasty through to the Chinese occupation of Tibet and ultimately became an official part of Nepal.
3. Sikkim:
Under the Namgyal Chogyal-Dynasty from 1642 up until 1975 Sikkim was a Buddhist kingdom. In 1835 the king of Sikkim was forced to gift Darjeeling to the British. At the same time Sikkim was made Britain's protectorate.
In Darjeeling the British actively encouraged Nepalese immigration. They were used as work force to plant the first tea garden and made Darjeeling a resort for the Birtish in India.
When India became independent in 1947, it took over the protectorate from the British.
In 1973, the bureaucrats mostly belonging to the Nepalese settlers in Sikkim planned to overthrow the monarchy and bring it to an end. India increased its influence and in 1975 India annexed Sikkim as its 22nd state.
4. Tawang:
The modern history of Tawang starts with the building of Tawang monastery by Merag Lama Lodre Gyatso in 1681 in accordance with the wishes of the fifth Dalai Lama Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso. Tawang means "chosen by horse". It was so named because when Merag Lama was praying for divine guidance for choosing a site for the monastery, his horse had gone missing and was found on the hilltop which is the location of the present monastery. Tawang monastery is also called Gaden Namgyal Lhatse.
Tawang then came under direct control from Tibet until February 12, 1951, when Major R Khating of the Indian Army evicted Tibetan administrators. Chinese troops occupied Tawang during the Sino-Indian war of 1962. However, Tawang returned to the control of India after the voluntary withdrawal of Chinese troops.
Tibetan Buddhism is widely followed in Tawang, Bomdila and West Kameng areas of Arunachal Pradesh.
5. Tibet:
Tibet covers an area many times the size of Bhutan to our north. Tibetans attacked Bhutan both during the reign of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal as well as after his death. All assaults were successfully thwarted by the Bhutanese, and an armistice was signed in 1759.
Although Tibet was a strong empire between the 7th and 10th centuries, it was loosely controlled from Beijing from time to time in its entire history. Therefore, China maintains that Tibet was a part it from historical times. In 1950, the People's Liberation Army of Mao Tsetung entered Tibet, crushing the Tibetan army. In 1951, the People's Republic of China imposed a treaty called "Seventeen-Point Plan for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet" on the Tibetan Government under the terms of which Tibet was declared to be a part of China.
The 14th Dalai Lama H.H. Tenzin Gyatso fled to India and formed a government in exile at Dharamsala, in northern India, from where he still campaigns for free Tibet.
Conclusion:
However great those kingdoms were once, unfortunately they lost their independence in the end. Perhaps, it is a manifestation of the impermanence of all things as taught by Buddhism.
Bhutan owes much of her good fortune not only to her skilful leaders, but also to some extent to its luck and strategic location.
Indeed, Bhutan was very fortunate to be blessed with able leaders that steered the country along the right course throughout its history. Besides the Zhabdrung and the hereditary monarchs, there were also some great Desis and Penlops.
In a time of political apprehension and cunning British maneuvers at the door-steps of Bhutan, the Bhutanese managed to safeguard its sovereignty keeping the powerful British at the right distance.
Since then, Bhutan has come further becoming a member of the United Nations, establishing diplomatic relations with various countries and getting itself recognized as a respectable member in the international comity of nations.
Where others fell, Bhutan stood steady. Today, Bhutan, the last surviving Mayana Buddhist kingdom, not only stands firm, but is set to move forward into a new era of peace and development.

Buddhism: searching within

1. INTRODUCTION
In this age of information technology we are lambasted by myriads of information daily. Sometimes, this extra information makes us more confused than we already are. I think Spirituality is one area where our confusion centers, especially because clear answers to some of our doubts have not been readily available despite the fact that Buddhism forms a part of our daily life.
I am not one qualified enough to do this, but I would like to humbly make a feeble attempt to compile and share some information on Buddhism with the sole hope that it may clear some doubts of confused minds like me, and generate further interest in the dharma.
2. WE WHO SEARCH WITHIN FOR TRUTH
We call our religion 'Nangpai chhoe'. 'Nang' in Tibetan or Bhutanese (including almost all dialects) means 'Inside' or 'within'. 'Pa' indicate the followers. 'Chhoe' means dharma, and in Tibetan it also carries the meaning 'to reform'. "We are called 'Nangpa' because we search within our own minds, rather than outside for the truth" thus explained H.H. Sogyal Rinpochhe some years back in Sydney where I was lucky enough to attend a talk.
Buddhism is a way of moral, spiritual and intellectual training leading to the complete freedom of mind. Indeed, Buddhism looks inwards, investigating and analyzing the mind, which is the fore-runner of all actions good and bad.
There are many sects and branches of Buddhism, but there exists no disharmony between them as all practitioners believe in the same teachings of the Buddha.
The fundamental teaching of the Buddha is: "the avoidance of evil, the cultivation of good, and the purification of one’s mind".
3. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A BUDDHA?
Buddhism was revealed to the world by Gautama Buddha, a fully enlightened and compassionate teacher some 2500 years ago.
According to H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama, "The fully enlightened Buddha, the Compassionate One, has a body with thirty-two major and eighty minor features and a faculty of speech with sixty enlightening characteristics. Furthermore, his mind is free from all disturbing emotions and attitudes and from all obscurations, such that he always has non-conceptual straightforward cognition of voidness and, simultaneously, of all phenomena exactly as they are."
Buddhism teaches that any one of us can be a Buddha if we practice diligently, over many lifetimes if required, and ultimately attain all the qualities of an enlightened being. Buddhism does not place a man and his destiny under the arbitrary control of any unknown external agency or supreme power. One's salvation depends only on one's own effort and actions.
4. WHAT IS TIBETAN BUDDHISM?
The branch of Mahayana Buddhism that is practiced in Bhutan is often referred to as 'Tibetan Buddhism'. According to wikipedia, "It is a multifaceted and integrated teaching, naturally implementing methods for all human-condition levels: Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana (Tantric Path) and Ati Yoga (Dzogchen)."
How does Buddhism practiced in other countries relate to Tibetan Buddhism?
To answer this question, let me quote H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama again. He says, "The way we Tibetans practice is excellent. We have a basis of ethical discipline, on top of which we have the Mahayana practice of love and compassion. Then, at the peak, we have the practice of tantra, and this is of all four of its classes. In fact, we Tibetans are the only Buddhists who practice the entire path of the Buddha’s teachings and this on the basis of one person practicing it all.
In Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka, for instance, they have only the ethical discipline part and lack the Mahayana as well as the tantras. In Japan, Korea, and some other places where there is Mahayana, they have the tantras, but only the first three classes: kriya, charya and yoga. They have nothing of anuttarayoga tantra, the fourth class. Some places have a view of voidness, but only that of the Chittamatra system or that of the Yogachara-Svatantrika system of Madhyamaka and not the Prasangika-Madhyamaka view. Some places seem to have Mahayana with no basis of discipline and others even try to have Tantrayana with both of the other two missing. It is only among us Tibetans that we have the full, entire path and practice incorporated into one person. And this person needs to be each of us ourselves."
So the Buddhism practiced in Bhutan comprises of the full, entire path. We are lucky to be born in a place where to embark on such a great journey is just a simple matter of making a decision and finding the right master. Yet the fear that one may not be able to stick to one's resolution pulls one back from embarking on such a journey. It is often said that to be a successful practitioner, you would have to have accumulated merit by being a good practitioner for several lifetimes before or have the enormous will power (like Jetsun Milarepa) to keep apparently-pleasurable distractions at bay. Maybe that is the reason why some monks marry and leave monastic life after many years being in it even though they are past 40 or 50.
5. ORIGIN OF TIBETAN BUDDHISM
No doubt it is a complete path, but how did Tibetan Buddhism begin?
During the second century AD, certain Buddhist scriptures arrived in Tibet during the reign of Thothori Nyantsen, the 28th king of Tibet. But it did not have much influence and the form was certainly not what we have today.
And also during the rule of Songtsen Gampo (604・50 AD), the thirty-third king of the Yarlung Dynasty of Tibet, one of his ministers Thonmi Sambhota is believed to have invented the Tibetan script and his Nepalese princess Bhrikuti and his Chinese princess Wencheng believed to have brought Buddhism to Tibet. These stories are included in such medieval romances as the Mani Kabum, and historiographies such as the Gyalrab selwai melong, but are said to be lacking concrete historical evidence.
The most important event in the advent of Buddhism in Tibet was the arrival of the great tantric mystic Guru Padmasambhava (or Guru Rinpochhe) in 774 AD from India at the invitation of King Trisong Detsen. the 38th King of Tibet, who ruled from 755 until 797 AD.
According to tradition, Padmasambhava was incarnated as an eight year old child appearing in a lotus blossom floating in Lake Dhanakosha, located in Swat in present-day Pakistan. He was an extra-ordinary person. His ability to memorize and comprehend esoteric texts in a single hearing established his reputation as a master above all others.
Later, transiting various heavens and hells, he developed miraculous powers. His fame reached Trisong Deutson whose kingdom was beset by evil deities. The king invited Padmasambhava to Tibet where he used his tantric powers to subdue the evil deities he encountered along the way.
In Tibet he founded the first monastery in the country Samye Gompa, initiated the first monks, and introduced the people to the practice of Tantric Buddhism.
Led by Vairotsana (or Berotsana), the great and unequalled Tibetan translator, many Buddhist texts were translated from the Sanskrit to Tibetan for the first time. Volumes of Kanjur and Tenjur we see stacked up in temples today were probably translated from Sanskrit at that time. Vairotsana's chief disciples were Yudra Ningpo, Sangtong Yeshe Lama, Pang Gen Sangye Gonpo, Jnana Kumara of Nyag and Lady Yeshe Dronma. Buddhism was brought into Bhutan by Guru Padmasambhava as well and arrived around the same time. In Bhutan he is associated with the famous Taktshang or "Tiger's Nest" monastery in Paro. He flew there from Tibet on the back of his consort, Yeshe Tsogyal, who he transformed into a flying tigress for the trip. Later he traveled to Bumthang to subdue a powerful deity at the invitation of the local king. Padmasambhava's body imprint can be found in the wall of a cave at Kurje Lhakhang today.
Tibetan Buddhism exerted a strong influence from the 11th century AD among the peoples of Central Asia, especially in Mongolia and Manchuria. And today, there are thousands of followers in Europe and America too.
6. SIGNIFICANCE OF RITUALS IN TIBETAN BUDDHISM
In common with Mahayana schools, Tibetan Buddhism believes in a Pantheon of Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and Dharmapala, also known as Dharma protectors.
Tantric practitioners make use of special rituals and objects to aid in their practice. They use certain hand gestures (mudras) and chant mantras. They may construct special cosmic diagrams known as mandalas which assist in inner spiritual development.
A lama may make use of a dorje, which represents method or compassion, along with a drilbu which represents wisdom. A ritual dagger or phurpa is symbolically used to kill demons, thus releasing them to a better rebirth.
Most of the rituals come from Tantric Buddhism. Laypersons gain merit by performing rituals such as food and flower offerings, water offerings, religious pilgrimages, chanting prayers or lighting butter lamps. Some rituals are conducted to appease the local deities or other harmful spirits. The person conducting such rituals and offerings pray that the merit accumulated by this conduct may benefit all sentient beings. Established over centuries by great masters as aids to spiritual development, such rituals are not without efficacy. The peace of mind that settles on you after you conduct one is immeasurable. Besides, such rituals not only foster closer relationship between the laity and clergy, but also make the practice more vibrant and tangible thus forming a part of our culture. There lies the value of such rituals.
7. CONCLUSION
My article was an attempt to explain briefly some basics about the form of Buddhism that we practice in Bhutan, mostly historical, to quench the thirst of some enquiring mind. In that end, I hope it helped to answer some questions.
My limited understanding of the dharma does not render me competent enough to expound anything on the teachings. If I have misrepresented anything here, I beg your forgiveness. Please correct me.
There are opportunities for you to become a practitioner even as a layperson doing a govt. or private job. If you have an access to a learned and open monk or a Lama, it would be better to ask any doubts you have to them.
We should not be discouraged when we see trulkus, monks or Gomchhens engage in acts that seem to us to be unbecoming of them. It may be that we are too obscured to understand their actions properly. Or it may be their human weaknesses which they have not been able to overcome that lead them to act that way. However, the Dharma is always free from faults and our belief should never falter. Some of my friends find the rituals unnecessary and a waste. I believe that it has its place and worth as I have explained above. And its efficacy, established over centuries is not to be doubted. However, not engaging in rituals is not a problem at all if one follows the basic tenets of Buddhism such as the 'Gewachu' (ten virtues) and does not engage in 'Migewachu' (ten non virtues).
Simply understanding a very small portion of Buddha's message on suffering, impermanence and desires gives one an immense sense of serene happiness. Have you had such experience?
But Buddhism is not everybody's piece of cake. One needs to listen to the great masters, read, discuss with knowledgeable friends, reflect and meditate on it. It is so deep and profound that understanding or explaining it is not as easy as a faith-based monotheistic religion like Christianity.
Lastly, let us all remember what the Buddha said to his disciples before he passed into Nirvana: “All conditioned things are subject to dissolution. Strive on with diligence.”
8. REFERENCES AND OTHER USEFUL LINKS
1. Buddhist Spirtuality, Edited by Takeuchi Yoshinori, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi, 1994.
2. Gems of Buddhist Wisdom, Buddhist Missionary Society, Kuala Lumpur, 1996. (free book)
3. The Gift of Well Being-Joy, Sorrow and Renunciation on the Buddha’s way Ajahn Munindo, River Publications, UK. (free book)
4. A Short Commentary on Thirty-Seven Bodhisattva Practices, H.H the 14th Dalai Lama, Downloaded on 12 May 2006 from the website: http://www.berzinarchives.com/sutra/sutra_level_3/
short_commentary_37_bodhisattva_practices_2.html
5. English translation of Gyalse Laglen or the Thirty Seven Bodhisattva Practices, downloaded on 12 May 2006 from: http://www.garchen.net/resources/37practices.pdf
6. Tibetan Text of Gyalse Laglen, downloaded on 12 May 2006 from: http://lotsawahouse.org/sitebuildercontent/
sitebuilderfiles/37practicestib.pdf
7. About Vairotsana, downloaded on 12 May 2006 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vairotsana
8. About King Sontsen Gampo, downloaded on 12 May 2006 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Songtsen_Gampo
9. About King Trisong Detsen, downloaded on 12 May 2006 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Trisong_Deutsen
10. About Tibetan Buddhism, downloaded on 12 May 2006 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibetan_Buddhism
11. About Guru Padmasambhava, downloaded on 12 May 2006 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Padmasambhava

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Life on the other side of chasm

Night fell and darkness engulfed Khengri village. Somewhere in the distance, a lone jackal howled.

Fire crackled in the old mud oven in Yeshi's house. Water had been boiling in the soot-stained aluminium pot for sometime now without rice. Rag-clad children waited around the mud oven, their hollow eyes fixed on the pot.

"Mother, we are hungry!" cried the children.
"Where is the five-kilo rice I bought yesterday?" her husband Kencho demanded.
"Someone might have stolen it when we were away. It is not there." she cried in dismay.

One thing led to another. Negative energy built up. Kencho began to hit her as usual. It is true that economic hardships sometimes lead to family discord.

But he hit her harder this time. She collapsed on the uneven floor of her old hut.

As usual, he then went to sleep outside guarding the maize field from wild animals.

Children cuddled up against each other in the corner of the house. They went to sleep without dinner.

A dark morning dawned. Thunder roared, clouds fumed and July rain showered hard and heavy. A few drops even trickled through the roof as usual.

Yeshi tried to get up. But she couldn't. She cried. How could a mother lie down when her children were hungry?

Life had never been easy for Kencho and Yeshi. In the scorching summer sun as well as the thundering monsoon rain, they toiled. But half of what their infertile terrain could yield went to the wild animals.

Prices had increased. Money was hard to come by in a remote village. So much so that five kilograms of rice meant so much to them!

Especially July is a hard time when the previous year's grain is exhausted and this year's crop is just growing.

Kencho regretted. He took her to hospital. But her battered body couldn't hold any longer.

The court gave him 'one-year imprisonment' for the beating in the absence of a concrete proof that his beating caused the death. But that leaves the children without a father too for a year.

Children had long before dropped out of school. Half-clad and barefoot, they run errands for others to feed their own little stomachs. And the cycle of poverty will continue. Theirs is a different Bhutan from that we know. The chasm deepens.

To expect is to be unhappy

To expect is to be unhappy. How many times would we have saved ourselves from unnecessary heartaches if only we didn't expect something from others?

We may be a parent, a lover, a friend, a wife, a husband, a brother or a sister. We all suffer disappointments because we expected something from the other person. If we analyse carefully, we will be able to reduce or eliminate the expectations with deeper understanding of the other person or his/her circumstances. Our heart will be filled with happiness when there is less or no expectations to yearn for.

When people give something to others, they often expect to receive something in return sooner or later. When this does not happen, the giver becomes disappointed. If only we could give with no expectations, we would all be happy.

When we love, we expect to be loved. How many heartaches could be saved if only we knew how to love and not expect to be loved?

Friends and lovers,
Brothers and sisters,
When you give, give with all your heart;
But do not expect anything in return.
To expect is to be unhappy.
Do not expect and be happy.

One of these days

One of these days, I have been thinking. Age has drawn new lines on my face and made veins visible on my hands. Lovers have come and gone, friends made and forgotten.

One of these days, I have been thinking. Time has moved fast. Grasslands have become buildings. Girls have become mothers. A 1990's baby girl now flaunts in mini-skirt holding the hands of a lover. It is a sure sign for me. That less than a decade is left for me to be forty.

One of these days, I am thinking. Only the goodness gives us happiness. Materialism leads to selfishness. Selfishness leads to pettiness. What is the use of being petty when we have to leave everything behind one day?

One of these days, I have been thinking. Many a spring has given way to summer and autumn. But spring always followed again. The nature's cycle never ends. But our age is a one-way journey. Forever moving forward, never stopping. When it stops, that will be the end.

One of these days, I have been thinking. I am not worrying. I am just thinking and smiling. How great is the beauty of change and impermanence!

The noise over Nathula

The ancient silk route from Lhasa to Kalimpong ran through it, Jawaharlal Nehru crossed it on his historic journey to Bhutan in 1958, the Indian and the Chinese troops fought over it in 1962 and today the Indian Army and Chinese Border Guards face each other almost at breathing distance over it. But come 6 July 2006, it is set to formally open for trade between China and India after 44 years of closure.
This is the story of Nathula Pass, which is located at 56 kilometers east of Gangtok, Sikkim and 52 kilometers from Yatung, Tibet. There are roads leading to Nathula from both sides of the International Border. And Bhutan-China border is not so far from it too.
In Sikkim and Siliguri, there was a lot of hue and cry over it. Chief Minister of Sikkim, Mr. Pawan Kumar Chamling is positive that it will open up a lot of opportunities for Sikkim. "Employment opportunities will also grow and side by side hotels, restaurants and transportation. Multi-opportunities are there after opening of this trade route," he said.
And Nasscom President Kiran Karnik was quoted as saying, "With the opening of Nathula Pass as the China trade develops, that would be the staging point for Siliguri because that is going to be the central hub where things would be coming and then distributed all across the country. Siliguri itself will develop as a city and town".
Nathula pass has the potential to serve as a tourist corridor too.
But whatever the hue and cry, this is also one of China's relentless efforts in flooding new markets with 'Made in China' products to keep fuelling its enormous growth. San Francisco to Sapporo and Santiago, the stores are full of them. And slowly, they may fill the shops in Bhutan too if you believe they have not already done so. Anyway, this is no problem for us as we do not have any domestic manufacturers.
Initially, 29 items for export from India and 15 items for export from China have been agreed upon. Traders with a 'trade pass' can ply their wares between Serethang (Sikkim) and Renqinggang (Tibet), a distance of about eight kilometers from Nathula. The trade will be open for four months a year from June 1 to September 30 as heavy snow will make trading impossible in winter.
Although Bhutan remains a silent observer in this, we have more to gain than lose. First of all, as India and Bhutan has an open border, Bhutanese traders will have easier access to Chinese goods via India. This will add more choice and variety for the Bhutanese customers.
Secondly, though the idea may seem a bit far-fetched, this also opens up the possibility of a limited direct trade link between China and Bhutan in the future after considering all the pros and cons. Today, Bhutanese traders travel to Kathmandu and Bangkok to purchase their wares. And most of the wares that the Bhutanese traders buy from Kathmandu are Chinese products. A direct trade link with China will make the prices more customer-friendly.
Trades aside, Nathula may also serve the wider political and military interests of the Chinese. Of late, China has been strengthening its presence in the Himalayas. The recent opening of the Qinghai—Lhasa railroad and the new Nyingchi Airport in Tibet will not only boost the new trade through Nathula, but also bolster its military capabilities in the region. Nathula pass will also provide China easy access to the Bay of Bengal.
The growing military capabilities of China on its northern border may be a cause for concern for India. In the 1962 border war, the Chinese unilaterally declared a ceasefire on November 21, 1962, after defeating India in Aksai Chin. Aksai Chin remains in Chinese control today. It is believed that the Chinese withdrew unilaterally because of the approaching winter as well as the prospects of not being able to reach supplies to its troops due to poor transportation links in Tibet at that time.
However, opening of Nathula pass is probably thought of as a win-win situation for both India and China. Accepting Nathula as the Indian trade point was Beijing's first step towards fully recognising Sikkim as an integral part of India. But, despite seeming gestures of friendship, there is still deep-rooted mistrust between our two giant neighbors ranging from the suspicion on the 17th Karamapa Orgen Trinley Dorji as a Chinese spy to Chinese involvement in making Pakistan a nuclear power. There is no magic to erase the distrust overnight. But the right tension between our giant neighbors is just what we need as it is said, "Only when the strings are stretched just right, all music is in tune".

Zhabdrung's miracle tree

As the road from Trashigang to Bartsham coils upwards from Menchhakorkang to Mugtangkhar, there is an old fig tree (chongma shing) just above one of the zigzags. It was under the shade of this tree that Zhabdrung is believed to have taken a brief rest, some half a century or more years ago. True to the reverence accorded to it by the local people, this tree recently demonstrated a miracle.
The tree is covered with khadar (white silk scarves) and some currency notes offered by the believers. Some scarves are very old. They might have been offered many years ago. Below it, some rocks have been piled up to make a small level place. Otherwise, it is an ordinary old fig tree, half neglected and half revered. It is surrounded by chir pine trees and lemon grass on all sides.
This tree miraculously escaped being burnt during the last horrendous forest fire in Bartsham which occurred in March 2006. The fire had burnt all the nearby shrubs and grasses and even the high foliage of the pine tree standing just next to it. There were no manmade firebreaks to protect it and the fire had burnt the fallen leaves and grasses right up to its base. But the fig tree and all its khadar has survived the fire intact.
I traveled between Trashigang and Bartsham many times soon after that dreadful forest fire and I have seen this miraculous tree myself. Each time I passed by that tree, I told myself that I would carry my digital camera the next time to take a photograph of it. But I always forgot to carry the digital camera. On the day I was returning to Thimphu, it was already nearly dark and was getting late to reach Mongar as I passed by that tree. So again, I could not take the picture I so much wanted. It might be the wish of the Zhabdrung that the picture of this sacred tree be not publicized. So I am happy anyway.
As much as I believe in science as an engineer, I wonder at such wondrous occurences. Once at Gomkora, on the auspicious 10th day of second month of Bhutanese calendar sometime in 1993, I also witnessed the dripping of holy water (drupchhu) from the big dry rock lying near the Gomkora Lhakhang on a dry sunny day.
In any case, if you happen to be traveling to Bartsham, do not miss the opportunity to give yourself a serene and tranquil break from the humdrum journey by taking a short rest under the very tree where Zhabdrung also once sat so many years ago. It may reward you with a great peace(piece) of mind.

I'll be there with you still

Long after the shine in your eyes have faded,
Long after your beauty has given way to wrinkles,
I will be there with you still,
To cherish the far greater beauty that you hold inside.

Long after your legs have lost their strength,
Long after your hands can grasp no more,
I will be there with you still,
To be your hands and legs when you need.

Long after your wit has withered,
Long after people find you uninteresting,
I will be there with you still,
To be amused by your jokes just the way it used to be.

Long after your tongue has lost its power
Long after saliva has deserted your throat,
I will be there with you still,
To speak for you and understand your silence.

Long after the last relative have forsaken you,
Long after your last friend has said 'Good Bye'
I will be there with you still,
To enjoy your company just like our first day.

Bhutanese calendar

Ever wondered why our New Year normally falls around the same time as Chinese New Year? Or why there was so much fuss about the approaching of Lo Nag (Lo=year, Nag =black) or black years of 2006 and 2007?
2006 has come and so has the Chinese New Year. But this time, the Bhutanese Losar (Lo=Year Sar=New) is still almost a month away. According to Bhutanese calendar, our Losar falls on 28 Feb. 2006. This year will be the year of the Fire Dog.
Bhutanese calendar is very similar to the Tibetan calendar. In fact, it is almost an exact copy of the latter. However, this should not give rise to the thinking that Bhutan must have been a part of Tibet sometime in its history. Along with Buddhism, Bhutan received many arts and sciences from Tibet, but history clearly shows that Bhutan was never under the control of Tibetan Kings or chiefs like Sikkim, Ladakh, Mustang and Tawang which were at one time or the other controlled from Tibet. However, this is not my point for this article. My point is whether Tibetan calendar is totally based on the Chinese calendar as our New Year usually falls almost on the same day as the Chinese New Year and we have the same 12 animals that represent different years. I found out that it is not exactly true.
In my search to find an answer, I asked my brother who has studied Bhutanese/Tibetan astrology and did further research on my own. This led me to understand that Tibetan calendar is not derived purely from Chinese calendar, but it is derived from a combination of Indian, Chinese, the local Bon religion, and the Buddhist Kalachakra tantra. Tibetan 'Naktsi' astrology has mainly Chinese origins, and the 'Kartsi' astrology has Indian origins. (Note: Nak for JaNag or China and Kar for Jagar or India). Although it is based on all these origins, Tibetan astrology and astronomy has developed into a unique and advanced science deserving especial place of its own. It correctly predicts solar and lunar eclipses and even claims it can predict earthquakes.
Tibetan calendar works with a 360-day lunar year and cycles of 60 and 180 years. Five elements: wood, metal [or iron], air, fire, and water rotate among 12 animal signs to produce 60-year units. Hence, the name "Fire dog" for the coming year. As a year is longer than 360 days, some days are doubled, and others are skipped. To make the calendar fit the observations, occasionally even an extra month is introduced. For instance, in 2005, we had an additional ninth month. That is why, this time, our new year is delayed by one month.
In Tibetan astrology, the Five Individual Forces (La - vitality, Sok - life potential, Lu - bodily health, Wangthang - personal power, and Lungta - wind horse) or energies within a person are adapted from ancient Tibetan beliefs. The nine Magic Squares or Mewas, cycles of 12 and 60 years, the twelve Animals, the five elements etc. came from the Chinese. It is believed that Princess Wen-Cheng brought Tang's calendar to Tibet in the seventh century. There are other aspects of Indian origin too.
In fact, there are also different Tibetan calendar systems with minor differences. However, the most popular one is called the Phukluk based on an astrological treatise called The Oral Teachings of Pundarika (Tib. pad- dkar zhal-lung) by Phukpa Lhundrub Gyatso.
While Tibetan calendar and Bhutanese calendar are principally the same, one major difference any laymen can see is that the naming convention of the days of the week is moved backward by one day in the Bhutanese calendar. For example, "Za Nyima" means Sunday in Tibetan calendar while it means Saturday in Bhutanese calendar. Besides, there are some differences as to which month or day is doubled or skipped. However, even in Bhutan, for important astrological calculations, the astrologers still use the Tibetan calendar as they think that the Tibetan calendar is more authentic than the Bhutanese calendar. The people in the villages call the Bhutanese calendar "Semtokhapa" and Tibetan calendar "Khunyipa". This is because the Bhutanese calendar was probably developed by the erstwhile Rigzhung Institute in Semtokha, Bhutan.
Days, months and even years may be classified as auspicious or inauspicious based on the position of celestial bodies. During the inauspicious period, it is believed that one should avoid starting any important work, journey, wedding etc. Every month, the 2nd, 8th, 14th, 20th and 26th days are considered not good for travel as they are known as "Ta shi Ga chhag" (broken saddle, dead horse) days. Some months may be inauspiccious and are called "Da Nag" (balck month). Sometimes, even a year may be inauspicious. For instance, the years 2006 and 2007 are inauspicious and are called "Lo Nag" (Black Year). Often there are remedial rituals if you have no choice but to begin something even during the black period.
In Bhutan, astrology is taken very seriously. It is a normal practice to consult astrologers before marriage, beginning of a long journey, important project or construction etc. As the years 2006 and 2007 are black (inauspicious) years or "Lo Nag" according to Bhutanese astrology, a record number of weddings took place in 2005 as the couples tied the knot ahead of the two inauspicious years. Kuensel (the national newspaper) also reported that the offices issuing clearances for constructions were bogged down by the record number of applications as the people hurried to start constructions ahead of the "Lo Nag".
"Lo-Nag" is not really an uncommon phenomenon. However, in my opinion, this time, people actually over-reacted following the government's lead in inaugurating a large number of projects and constructions ahead of the Lo-Nag.
Now that the "Lo Nag" has come, it would do no harm to be prepared and be careful whether you are a believer or not. However, if something bad happens despite that, you can always blame the "Lo Nag"!
You can get yourself a copy of Bhutanese calendar from: http://www.kuenselonline.com/calendar.pdf

On my father's loss

I would like to thank this blogging community for all your condolences and solidarity on my tragic bereavement. I am currently in Japan, and waiting to come home soon. I would like to share a few thoughts with you all.
I was only recently in Bhutan. I came back to Japan for my studies on 28th March. On 29th, I reported to my university and my professor.
That night, I didn't have any premonition, but I was just feeling lazy and lonely. To keep myself occupied, I started writing my last article "A daughter's love" for this blog. I had just finished it when my phone rang.
I heard the terrible news. I could not believe it. I thought it was a dream. This couldn't be true. I prayed. Alone in my room far away from home.
The next day I called home again. Then I called my professor for permission to go home again, and then made my flight reservations. I am waiting to fly home on 4th April.
"Human life is impermanent. It is certain that we will die, but it is only not certain when. What has happened cannot be undone. So please be strong and take care of yourself in a foreign land. We will do what needs to be done here." thus my two elder brothers consoled me. Their words made it a little easier to bear the tragedy.
However, what pains me most now is that my father worked so hard to make our life a little better than his own; but we the children could not give him anything in return. And now it is too late. Dear friends, please don't let it happen to you.
Every father works hard for his children but I feel that it was a little extra-ordinary in my father's case. As he had inherited only a small land in the main village, he started with barely anything but a piece of untilled land at a place called Menchhari on the periphery of the main village of Bartsham. He tilled it, made his own piped water supply from a long distance, constructed a house, cultivated some cash crops, went to sell them himself, reared cows, and cut wood for other's house constructions to bring up seven children and send four of us to school.
Above all, he instilled in all of us a sense of responsibility, honesty, hard work and integrity. It is his advices, encouragement and example that has made us complete our education and lead honest, and more comfortable life than he could ever live. All the money that he earned was through his sweat. He would wake up early and work till dark, with only little short rests. When he was at home, he would either make ropes or stitch clothes on his old sewing machine. Because of this, I used to read books and study hard in school thinking that even if I worked half as hard as my parents did at home, I would do quite well.
When I traveled with him, he would tell me stories of his life and Buddhism, and give me advices to lead a life of honesty and integrity. Often, we would see him risen very early and reciting "kathang dipa" (prayer of life story of Guru Rinpochhe) from his memory before starting his day. His understanding of Buddhism was also profound. He had also built a small Mani Dungkhor near our house to turn during leisure.
Our village Menchhari used to have at least 10 to 12 households few years ago. Of late, most of these households had moved away to the towns or near roads and my parents used to be the only permanent dwellers there. We (children) asked them to come and live with us many times, but we could not prevail as they always insisted that they were happier there.
But now, I heard that the forest fire which took away my father's life has also burnt the entire pipe bringing water to Menchhari, the village where I ran free, shot arrows during Losar and grew up. With my father gone, it seems that the village is also set to once more return to the domain of the jungles. It is sad, but I take solace in the fact that this is how the cycle of existence must continue as Buddhism teaches.
My father always lived for his children. Some years ago, he helped in the construction of the house for my eldest brother, who is the Gup in my village now. Then he helped build a small house for my younger sister who lives in the village too. This year, he was going to help build a house for my elder sister. He also solely supported four of us until the end of our higher education.
The last time I talked with him on the telephone, he asked me about the job of my youngest sister. I told him that her job as an engineer in a Government Department is secure and respectable. I hope that gave him a little satisfaction.
Our father has left us, but he will always live in us (his children). But I regret that I could have done a little more for him than what little I had done. Now it is too late for me. So dear readers, please don't wait too long to return love to your parents as best as you can, and don't make the same mistake that I did.

Going for masters?

For most Bhutanese graduates who have been working for more than one year, their minds are set on 'masters'.
With the RCSC's PCS riveting more on qualification in the absence of other reliable measures of a civil servant's capacity, it becomes more urgent.
What are the scholarships? Which are the countries? What are the gains? Let me try to dispel some myths and bring some reality to the fore.
The objectives of a masters program is a broad one. Bachelors degree provided us the foundation, but the masters degree is to further develop us intellectually and let us see (more deeply?) the bigger picture of our chosen profession vis-a-vis our work in our society. Sometimes, our masters research may lead to a new invention or a theory, which may bring us as well as our country wide acclaim in the international arena.
Having some years of work experience before doing masters always help you in your practical analyses.
Masters is often research-oriented. That may be one of the reasons why some students whose bachelors degree didn't give them much opportunities for research and analysis find it more difficult than others. Normally, a student has to undertake research on a topic in a particular field and write a thesis at the end of the course.
Wherever one does his/her masters, in India, Japan or the USA, if he/she is a diligent student with love for learning, I bet one will gain deeper knowledge and understanding of one's profession, understand research techniques, understand intellectual property, get to know qualified and famous persons in one's field, and understand better the practical applications of one's studies. And as a result make him/her a better educated human being who can serve his/her country better.
For instance, doing masters in Japan has the advantage of having the facility to experiment with the latest technology in the lab, well-equipped state-of-the-art campus, supportive and intelligent professors and fellow-students, conducive environment for studies and an exposure to how one of the most industrially advanced countries manages to keep itself ahead of others technologically. There is much to gain here for a thinking student.
The course is well-structured and research-oriented. You are allowed to write your reports and do your exams in English. Yet, the only disadvantage that you face sometimes is the language problem when some technical terms in Japanese are too hard to understand. But if you are ready to work hard, this too may not be an unmountable barrier.
There are many open scholarships that you can apply for at anytime. They are world bank scholarship, ADB scholarship, Japanese Govt. Monbusho scholarship - university recommended one not the one through RCSC, Japanese Govt. JICA scholarship for masters, Nuffic (Netherlands) scholarship etc. Also you can ask RCSC or the Department of Human Resources under the Ministry of Labour to get info on other open scholarships such as for Korea, Thailand, US, Singapore, Malaysia etc. Besides, there are scholarships offered directly by universities. You should visit specific university websites to apply for them. I call these scholarships 'open' because anybody who meets the criteria can apply for them unlike those scholarships given from Govt. budget in some departments.
You can get information online on how to apply for these scholarships. A simple Internet search can get you started. I have given some links at the end of this article. If you have the time and effort to search and then apply with all required documents, you may be on your way to your masters in your dream country soon.
On which country to choose, it may be better to go to an English speaking country like the US, Australia, Canada or England as there would not be any language barrier for you. But again, if you come to Japan, you have the added advantage of being able to speak, read and write in a new language, Japanese, besides getting your masters degree. Really, it is true that the culture of a people is wrapped in its language. How much of an amazing culture it unravels before you when you understand a foreign language is incredible! So it is up to you to choose. If you have the choice, that is.
Depending on the scholarship and the country, you may also be able to save some money too. Anyway, unless you have other sources such as income from part-time work, saving money from stipend may in most instances, may not go more than enable you to buy an 'Alto VX' loan-free when you get back home. After all, the stipend is calculated by the sponsoring agencies to be just enough to lead a life of normal standard in that country.
Now, how much a 'masters degree' is valued may depend on the country. For instance, in Australia, masters degree did not have much of an edge over bachelors degree for gainful employment, when I was down there some years ago. But here in Japan, most students have to continue into masters right after getting their bachelors degree to get a good job.
And in Bhutan, it definitely counts; with the RCSC's PCS and the half-literate folks who say, "wai, kho di masters ya chap tsha yi lo me na. Zai..therebari mi di khep imay ma re."
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------Links to scholarship websites:
1. Nuffic: http://www.nuffic.net/common.asp?id=733
2. Monbusho: http://www.studyjapan.go.jp/en/index.html
3. ADB: http://www.adb.org/JSP/default.asp
4. Worldbank: http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE
/EXTERNAL/WBI/EXTWBISFP/0,,menu
PK:551559~pagePK:64168427~piPK
:64168435~theSitePK:551553,00.html

Of boring speeches

Summer heat had overtaken the cool spring breeze. It was unbearably hot as we waited for the chief guest to arrive. It was the foundation day of our school.
A big red car arrived. It would have to be the chief guest. Cars were rare those days in that part of the country.
"At last!" we cried in our hearts.
"Lam Neten", the boy next to me whispered.
"Is Neten his name?"
"No, it is his position or the title", he told me.
At that time, it seemed strange to me that "Neten" should be a title for a Lam.
Anyway, he looked impressive. Tall and a little bald, shaven head and moon-faced, he cut a perfect figure for a Lama in his immaculate tetsi-shamtha (monk dress).
For us, nothing mattered. We just hoped that his speech would be short.
Slowly and dignified, he rose. Carefully, he took out his paper; then cleared his throat. Then he looked at us for what seemed to be ages.
A girl fainted due to heat and was taken away.
Then he began.
"Zam med sa Zam chab, chhu med sa chhu thhen,.....lhayul sakha babbab zum....." He went on just as others chief guests used to say.
"Where others took hundreds of years, our country has achieved within a few decades." He continued.
Then came a flurry of excessive praise, quotations and proverbs which overshadowed the actual meaning of what he wanted to convey.
"We are a unique country blessed by the 'konchhosum' with a lot of natural resources. Other countries envy us..." for another few minutes.
We love our country and our beloved king, but excessive and lengthy praises simply borders more on flattery than on show of sincere appreciation.
By the time he finished, few more students had fainted. The rest of us were also totally sun burnt and exhausted.
It was a long speech. But it was the same old wine. He was eloquent, but failed to make any point. But what he did not fail at was to grace the house of his much loved adopted sister, a village beauty, who lived in a village next to our school.
Later, that unmarried girl gave birth to a child. It was a well-known little secret that the baby was Lam Neten’s and that he had owned up to it privately.
His little fling was only human. Let us forget it. But what bores me is that speeches of our bureaucrats and elected leaders have't changed a bit from that of the Lam Neten's. Lost in the verbosity of cliches such as Gross National Happiness (GNH), excessive praises, similes and proverbs, they fail to make any real point.
The old wine of baseless rhetoric has long lost its appeal. We would like to hear about the solutions to real issues such as the widening rich-poor gap, corruption, increasing crime and unemployment. It is time for a new wine of rhetoric.

Reflecting from afar

Reflecting on our country from afar, variety of things come to my mind - some good and some not so good. We have a lot to offer to the world, but at that same time, we have a lot to learn from the world outside.
Let me highlight some of my reflections.
Most of the world seems to be consumed in globalization, but Bhutan has managed to remain a unique country of rich tradition and pristine natural environment. We appreciate this uniqueness more profoundly as we look at ourselves from a distance.
How lucky are we to have a well-preserved environment, a rich cultural heritage, a benevolent King and a peaceful society! Our unique culture and tradition does not only give us a sense of belongingness, but also identifies us as a sovereign country located between two giants in the world.
However, the huge cultural influence of Indian TV soap and cinema on our people should be a cause for concern. One foreigner returning home after a 20-day stay in Bhutan remarked to me, "I was surprised to see that my Bhutanese host family watched Indian TV serials daily and could even understand the language. I felt like I was in India sometimes."
What seems like a harmless entertainment may have a negative influence in the long run. We need to counter such influence by encouraging our own television and entertainment industry to grow and become more vibrant.
We feel grateful to our founding fathers of education for their foresight to introduce English as the medium of instruction in our schools, while not neglecting our own national language. For a small country like Bhutan, we would be deprived of almost all modern information if we did not understand English.
But English is just a tool for our needs, not a part of our culture. There is more pride in using our own language among ourselves. So there lies the importance of Dzongkha. To foreigners, it might look absurd if two Bhutanese speak with each other in English in front of them as if we had no language of our own. We also see some of our shortcomings more clearly looking from a distance. For example, we are so careless when it comes to keeping our surroundings and public toilets clean. We need to be a little more careful in disposing off our wastes in proper places after consuming potato chips, sweets or soft drinks. Public toilets, be it in the towns, schools or in the offices are grossly neglected. It gives a very bad impression to visitors. A little more effort by way of employing more cleaners or having permanent water supply can remove this eyesore. Often, our simple folks are not treated properly by our civil servants. In developed countries, the staffs of public offices are very polite. What will it take for our civil servants to realize that serving the public, irrespective of their positions in society, is doing their job, not doing a personal favour?
Corruption is now showing its ugly face in our society. It is amazing how many corrupt practices are committed or condoned using the cliché “we are a small society”. For instance, we let a contractor who has done a poor job go because he is a friend’s uncle. We cannot hurt a friend’s sentiment because ours “is a small society” and we may run into him or have to ask for his favour any time. The connectedness in Bhutanese society is so strong that it is not just used for good purposes, but also for many corrupt practices. Yes, ours is a small society; so can we afford to let it be destroyed by the cancer of corruption?
We have a construction boom now, but the quality of civil works undertaken by our contractors is appalling in most cases. Cracks appear no sooner than they are completed. Issues are raised but things continue to happen the same way. Can we let a nation suffer with unsafe and substandard infrastructure for the sake of a few businessmen’s profits?
We have many good things to offer to the outside world, but at the same time, we have a lot to learn from them too. Are we ready to learn? Are we ready to do away with the annoying habit of entering a living room without taking off our shoes or slippers? Are we ready to work hard honestly and stop looking for an easy way out by engaging in fronting and other corrupt practices to get what we want? Let us preserve the good that we have, shed our shortcomings, learn more from others and work hard with honesty for ourselves and our country as we move into the future.

Igniting creativity

Traditionally, individual creativity was discouraged in our culture. No names of authors can be found on famous 'namthars', nor names of painters of famous 'thangkas'. Has it something to do with why we lack creativity?
There is one industry that badly needs creativity. And that is the music and entertainment industry. But sadly, most of our movies are based on existing Hollywood and Bollywood productions either in their story line or presentation. And most of our modern songs are either copied from Tibetan, Hindi or Nepali songs.
I like Bhutanese as well as Tibetan music, and I listen to them both. Many Bhutanese who do not listen to Tibetan songs will be surprised to know that most of the tunes of our modern songs actually come directly from Tibetan songs. I found that at least the tunes of Mr. Kezang Dorji (blind singer) are his own. I do not mean to downplay the role of our gifted singers in promoting our culture, but they would be even greater artists than they are now if they were more original.
And what of creativity in writing? Our society and our villages have a lot of things to write about. Yet, we have very few books written by Bhutanese.
Our lack of creativity may have something to do with our education system. Our schools have great teachers who teach children how to be good people and how to say "Lasola". They explain the text books very well too. On the other hand, the exercises to make children think, analyse and do things on their own are few or missing. Children are expected not to question the teachers or what is written in the text books.
This education system should change. Home-works on topics that require the children to explore the environment and community on their own and make their own analysis should be encouraged. Such home-works should have no right or wrong answers, just their own analysis and conclusions. This will not only make the learning interesting for the children, but gift Bhutan with original thinkers and creative artists somewhere down the line.

Lest our dreams shatter

Civil servants want more salary, chimis want their travel and daily allowances increased and contractors and public officials want to cheat the government where possible. But at this very second, some people somewhere in the land of the Gross National Happiness are worrying about how to buy the next bag of rice or how to pay this month's rent. Elsewhere, some jobless youths, disillusioned with the indifference of our society to their needs, are beginning to walk the wrong paths.
We Bhutanese, wanted and we still want to do things differently. Don't we live in the land of gross national happiness? The priorities that we have set are different too compared to another country's. And I dreamt and still do dream of a Bhutan of peace, equality and justice where every individual will have an opportunity to realize his/her full potential and live a respectable life.
Bhutan's agricultural society did not have much social disparities. Wealth was more or less equally distributed. And access to food, shelter and clothing was not a problem.
Today, shelter is a big problem for many an urban poor. For example, in Phuentsholing, many Bhutanese people live across the border in India as they cannot afford the high rents within the Bhutan border. Or did you give a thought to how much the squatters of Thimphu would have suffered when their homes were demolished last time? BBS also recently reported the plight of about 125 families squatting on govt. and private lands in Samdrup Jongkhar. As the Govt. will be demolishing their huts soon, some of them are thinking of living across the border in India too.
The hardships faced by the rural poor are even greater than that of the urban poor. Some of them cannot even send their children to school. These are people left behind by modern development in Bhutan and there are many of them. According to Kuenselonline's article "Trade-off crucial to reduce poverty?" of June 16, 2006, a recent poverty report revealed that 31.7 percent of the Bhutanese population lived below the national poverty line of Nu. 740.36 a month. Of that, 38.3 percent were in the rural areas and 4.2 percent in the urban areas. And according to Agriculture Marketing and Enterprise Promotional Programme (AMEPP) about 48 percent of the people in eastern Bhutan live in poverty.
We were once proud to say that Bhutan is a country with not-much social disparities. But we cannot say that anymore. Looking at the way things are going, I see only one direction in which we are headed. We may end up to be just another third world country like our neighbours Nepal or India, with big difference between the rich and poor, high crime rates and unemployment, squalid suburbs and endless corruption. I am no doomsayer, but that is what we are headed for unless we change the course from now on.
Our country relies heavily on foreign aid and revenues from hydroelectricity. Both these sources do not benefit the poor directly. For instance, civil servants may benefit by way of increased salaries when Tala brings in more revenue. And private sector may benefit too by getting contracts in the development works. However, our farmers, who form the majority of Bhutanese, will benefit very little from it.
We must explore alternative sources of income. Taking advantage of the cheap electricity, manufacturing industries maybe further encouraged. Farm based businesses and products should be promoted to benefit the farmers. Nurturing the development of IT professionals and export of IT products and services could also be one of the industries to develop for a landlocked country. Tourism should be further promoted and tailored to benefit the rural communities more directly. For instance, rules may be made so that certain percentage of the tourist dollar goes directly to the community that the tourist visits.
Today, we are facing two of the biggest problems of our society: the growing gap between the few rich and the many poor, and the rising unemployment of our youth. According to Kuensel, "It is expected that by the end of the 10th Five Year Plan in 2012, more than 63,000 youths will enter the labour market. The unemployment rate has increased from 1.4 percent in 1998 to 3.1 percent in 2005." These two problems will have the potential to cause social unrests and instability. It is the business of every Bhutanese to think about these problems and suggest solutions before it is too late.
Like a diamond among the rocks, let Bhutan shine from the vast Himalayas.

How we interpret things

How we interpret what we read, see or hear depends very much on our preconceived ideas, what you want to hear or see and the angle from which you look at it. Failing to look at it from different perspectives gives it a narrow and lopsided view.
In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Cicero says to Casca: "Men may construe things after their fashion, Clean from the purpose of the things themselves." The world has undergone a major transformation from the age of Shakespeare, but the nature of man has not changed at all. Men indeed interpret things in their own ways, clean from the actual meaning.
This is all well and fine until we meet a fanatic who thinks that his interpretation is the only right one. Such a man is blind to other people's views and he would not be persuaded to look at the issue from a different angle. We have to be aware. Such men exist at every level of our society.
Our idea of the person who said or did something also determines how we interpret what he said or did. An insignificant person might have a great idea, but there will be few takers. On the other hand, even a bad deed by a famous person could be seen as virtuous as Casca says of Brutus "That which would appear offence in us, His countenance, like richest alchemy, Will change to virtue and to worthiness". If only we could learn to separate the doer and the action!
In a TV show, a group of people were shown the map of Africa upside down. They were asked to identify it. Nobody could. It looked so different and strange. As soon as it was put in the right position, everybody bursted out "Africa". This clearly shows that looking even at everyday common things from a different angle will give you a whole new outlook and perspective.
Only by looking at the same thing from different angles will we get a balanced perspective on any issue.

Taking it personally

It is okay to discuss matters of public concern in the National Assembly, but the problem arises when the person raising the issue, or the one responding, puts a personal undertone to the issue.
In Bhutan, it is very common to see bosses and colleagues take it personally if you raise an issue of common concern that has some connection to them. It is an old habit and old habits die hard.
We have not yet learnt to separate our official and private lives. As a minister or representative, it is his or her duty to speak for the people and debate on important matters; and in doing so, all those engaged in the debate should understand that they are arguing in their official capacities, but personally they should harbor no hard feelings.
For instance, the debate on the allotment of vehicles to ministers' spouses is an issue that demands public discussion, but it could have been conducted in a more cordial manner.
When personal ill-will rides on the public issue, debates and discussion do not achieve their intended results.
It is a sign of oncoming changes that people expressed their views more openly. How much better it would be if our esteemed NA members also learn to speak with 'malice towards none' and listen without prejudices!

National Assembly and Bhutanese Society

Today, Bhutanese society has undergone major changes. Clearly, two levels of middle class have emerged - the upper middle class who own a lot of property and wealth such as lands, buildings and businesses in Bhutan and the lower middle class which is composed of educated, financially independent, office-going people.
It is unfortunate that the members of the National Assembly are mostly half-literate unexposed villagers while the so-called lower-middle-class of educated, well-traveled, well-read, office-going people who constitute most of the urban-dwellers is ill-represented in the NA.
I do not mean to belittle all respected memebrs. There are very capable ones too. But many are too timid or too ignorant to even raise a single issue in the whole session.
Rather than laugh at their half-baked rhetoric and lament at their sometimes stupid decisions, some of the educated people from this maruti-driving class should become members of the NA to actively take part in the discussions affecting all Bhutanese.
Come 2008, this much-needed change might come. The educated class probably cannot bear to be taken for a ride any more. Their hands will itch for a touch on the steering wheel. Otherwise, we may see ourselves laughing at the same jokes they occasionally serve us today

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Left with no choice?

As the sun sets, many men and women crowd the numerous bars in Thimphu. Around a corner table in one substandard hotel-cum-bar, two men sit with a beautiful teenage girl. Sipping beer and whisky, they talk and laugh, and occasionally, the men touch her mischievously. She does not seem to mind it. Later, she retires to a room in the hotel. One of the men follows her.
Scenes such as the one described above are repeated in hotels and bars around Thimphu. With rising unemployment and rural-urban migration, unofficial prostitution, regular or part-time, is on the rise in the major towns in Bhutan.
Watching TV, reading magazines, living in a city, looking at rich people wear good clothes and drive nice cars; money seems to hold the key to all things good and beautiful. When the impression that "if only I had more money, everything will be great" takes hold of a young girl's mind, especially one who has no job or good family support, she is driven into what seems to be the easiest way to make money.
Bhutan is not an exception in this. From Lhasa to Tokyo, sex trade flourishes. It was sad to read in a recent news article that many Tibetan girls work as prostitutes in the pink parlors that now dot the streets of the holy Lhasa.
Even in developed Japan, teenage prostitution is an issue that catches much public attention. In a practice known as 'enjo kosai' (assisted dating), teenage student girls meet up with older working men for sex for money. Japan Times recently reported that even girls from decent families engage in this kind of prostitution just to make easy money to buy designer clothes and expensive gadgets they are after.
Today, all the developed countries survive and thrive on stocks, shares, bonds and stock markets supported by various companies and big corporate entities. That is how the modern societies make a living. And developing countries are fast following suit. This is the age of global capitalism in the realm of which money is the King. In the face of all evils that money worship gives rise to, is there a way by which we can save our young girls from treading the path to self-destruction?
As we develop further, the situation may only get worse unless we take timely precautions. Safe sex practices and condom use must be encouraged and made popular among them. Legalizing sex trade is out of the question. It should never happen. Nor will a drive to clamp it down with police force be successful in the long run. We have to study the factors that drive these women into the trade and take measures to help them make a decent living as well as prevent other women from being driven into the trade. By ignoring it, the problem, which is small now, will only become bigger.

Honorable Dzongdag

The Dasho Dzongdag or the honorable district administrator was a big man in those days.
When he looked, people hung their heads low. When he spoke, they obeyed. His visit to a village had to be a grand celebration.
So it was on this day in a remote village in Eastern Bhutan. It was an archery match between the Dzongkhag (district administration) team and the Gewog (block) team.
The archery match was exciting. But what embarrassed the overly courteous village hosts most was that, even by lunch time, the Dasho had hit no kareys despite his wielding the best compound bow imported from the USA.
As always, the Gup (village head) had made elaborate preparations to impress the Dasho. He knew what the Dasho liked. So he had prepared a fine selection of Ara, and local beauties who danced and sang as the archery match progressed.
But the Dasho's eyes frequently drifted to a tall slender teenage girl sitting among the ranks of the audience. Her long silky hair was tied to an innocent ponytail at the back of her shapely head. Her budding beauty was unmistakable.
Many would have agreed that she was still a child, but for the Dasho who was from the old school of thought, "anyone above the age of 13 is an adult", had no second thoughts about her adulthood. At least for the purpose he was used to thinking of.
By evening tea break, a little Ara-intoxicated Dasho was beginning to think of his night ahead. His wife lived in Thimphu taking care of their properties which, I believe they had a lot.
He gestured to the Gup. In a second, he was standing before him. Shoulders tucked up, head hung low, back bent.
"Aya demi bum ga mo?" (Who is that girl?), he asked in Dzongkha."Dasho, phama nyamchung ga wagtsa gila la. Oma lobdra nangka gila la" (She is daughter of simple parents and she is a student now), the Gup answered in Sharchhop.
"Tama nga be sa khisho ma-re" (Bring her to see me later).
"Laso la, Dasho". (Yes, I understood. I will do as you desire, Dasho).
Using a mix of threat and cajoling, the girl was persuaded to agree that she would visit the Dasho's residence at the district headquarters the next day with her mother.
The next day, the Dasho and his retinue returned in the morning. In the evening, he sent his driver to pick up the mother and daughter from the nearest road head.
That night, a shrill scream woke up the old lady. It was her daughter's voice and came from one of the rooms in the Dasho's house.
It pained her. She could not go back to sleep after that. But neither could she go and stop the most villainous act being done to her still-a-kid daughter in one of the rooms near by.
A week later, there was a letter on the Dasho's table from the RCSC. Had someone complained about his misdeeds? He opened it with a little fear.
The letter read as follows:
"You have been promoted to a higher rank for your outstanding service to the People of Bhutan. Congratulations. Proceed to Thimphu as soon as possible."