Friday, February 29, 2008

GNH: Bhutan's Unique Development Philosophy

GNH: Bhutan's Unique Development Philosophy

Here is an English version of the talk on Gross National Happiness (GNH) I gave in Japanese on 17th Feb. 2007 in Tokushima, Japan. Today, GNH has become so overused and misused that some people are fed up of it. Yet, there are some curious to know more about GNH, but are daunted by the countless professional papers on GNH you find on the CBS website. So for the sake of all such people, I am putting here my talk on GNH which highlights its background, basic principles and what it promises to do for Bhutan and the world in a simple and straight-forward way.

Presented By: Cigay on 17 Feb. 2007
Organized By: Tokushima Prefecture International Association (TOPIA), Japan.

1. Greeting

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much for coming despite your busy schedules. I am also grateful to TOPIA (Tokushima prefecture International Association) for organizing this talk. I am very happy to spend this afternoon with you and talk about Bhutan and Gross National Happiness (GNH).

2. What is GNH?

Many of you must be wondering what GNH is. GNH is Bhutan's unique development philosophy that seeks to take into account the non-material aspects of development and find a balance between material prosperity and spiritual wellbeing. GNH is deeply rooted in Bhutan's traditional socio-economic thought, though it gained prominence after our fourth King propounded "Gross national Happiness is more important than the Gross National product".

Conventional development philosophy places too much emphasis on economic development. In the process, some more important aspects of our life are left out. GNH does not reject economic development as being unimportant. However, in a GNH economy, economic development is seen only as a means to achieve higher ends, and not as an end in itself.

GNH is not a new concept for Bhutan. It lies deeply rooted in our culture. However, the world has only recently started paying attention to GNH. Obviously, some people are beginning to ask questions about where the present madness about increasing production and consumption and environmental degradation is finally going to finally lead us all to.

3. What is happiness?

GNH seeks to maximize happiness of the people. But what is happiness? According to Richard Layard, Director and founder of Center for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, happiness is feeling good -enjoying life and feeling it is wonderful. And unhappiness is feeling bad and wishing things were different. Further I would like to add that happiness is not the satisfaction of whatever irrational wishes you might blindly attempt to enjoy. Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy - a joy without penalty or guilt.

Recent researchers like Richard Layard suggest that happiness can be measured and compared across people, and that public policy should be centered on increasing the happiness of people.

4. Why does happiness matter?

Why does happiness matter? It matters because it is something that every one of us wants to have. It is in our inborn nature to want to be happy. Early researchers like Bentham argued that all actions in the end are driven by our desire to feel good.

A development policy centered on happiness rather than the one on economic returns may seem out of place, even as a discussion topic for some people. But that is exactly what Bhutan has been following as a development philosophy until now and it is determined to continue to do so. Let me show you a video clip of our present Home Minister, Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley talking about GNH at the International Conference on GNH, held in Bhutan in 2003.

5. Why was Bhutan in a position to adopt GNH as a policy?

GNH is quite different from the conventional development approach followed by other countries. How did Bhutan come to adopt it?

While Bhutan's isolation and independence provided the environment to enable the development of a distinct concept, the substance was determined by the traditional culture and socio-economic system which are deeply embedded in Buddhist philosophy. In the Buddhist belief, the goal of every aspect of life is not seen in the multiplication of material wants, but in non-attachment, contentment and purification of the mind.

6. Brief historical background of Bhutan.

Now, I would like to give you a brief historical background of Bhutan so that you can understand what I am talking about more clearly.

First of all, let me show you where Bhutan is located on the globe. It is a small country, about the size of Kyushu, located between China and India.

Hidden in the folds of the Himalayas, Bhutan did not have much to do with the rest of the world until very recently. Neither the First World War, nor the Second World War had any direct impact on Bhutan.

It is of enormous pride to all Bhutanese that their country was never colonized. It was this relative isolation that helped Bhutan develop its own unique culture and political institutions, which we are today able adapt it and carry it into the present generation on our own terms.

Bhutan was a loose conglomeration of many semi-independent valleys ruled by different local lords. Local culture and traditions evolved around the principles of Buddhism which arrived in the 8th century. There are still temples dating back to that time.

Bhutan was united for the first time under a central authority by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in the beginning of 17th Century. From then on, Bhutan came to be known as 'Drukyul' meaning 'the land of the thunder dragon'. Even today, we call our country 'Druk' or 'Drukyul' in Bhutanese instead of 'Bhutan' just as Japanese call their country 'Nihon' instead of 'Japan'. The dragon, whose color is white, holding jewels in its claws, forms the principal symbol on our national flag and it signifies strength, purity and prosperity.

After Zhabdrung's demise around mid 17th century, Bhutan went through an era marked by civil strife until the end of 19th century. By then, one of the regional lords from central Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck, had emerged as the most powerful man in whole of Bhutan, having defeated all his enemies. As the people were too tired of the civil wars, they pledged their loyalty to him and made him the first hereditary king of Bhutan in 1907. That is how monarchy started in Bhutan. Since then, Bhutan has been blessed with an unprecedented era of peace, happiness and development. The present King is the fifth in line of the Wangchuck dynasty.

In Bhutan, we respect and love our King very much. In turn, we have been very lucky to have had very good and caring kings who always put the welfare of the people and the security of the country first. Under the guidance of such kings, we have been lucky to have had a fairly good system of governance.

Until 1959, Bhutan was almost totally isolated from the rest of the world. With the changing geopolitical scenario in the north, Bhutan began to develop its relations with India from 1959, and then began the modern development process of building a network of roads and modern schools in the country.

Yet Bhutan did not totally shed off its isolation, and it continued in some form until 1974 when the first tourists arrived in the country following the coronation of the fourth King of Bhutan.

This historical background clearly highlights why Bhutan was able to develop and nurture its own traditional development approach centering on the happiness of the people. Today, in terms of economic development, Bhutan is completely different country from what it was just 30 years ago. Roads, electricity, schools, television, Internet and even cellular phones have reached the most remote parts of the country. Yet, we have not lost our traditional culture and values which guide us and give us our identity.

7. Four policy areas of GNH in Bhutan

Bhutan has identified four broad policy areas for the enhancement of GNH. They are as follows:

a. Sustaiable and equitable socio economic development

As I pointed out earlier, GNH does not consider economic development as unimportant. In fact, it is very important for people who live in poverty. Researchers have observed that at the subsistence level, increase in income has a direct relation with the increase in happiness. But the same is not true after crossing a certain level of income as the following graph of income and happiness in the US will show.

Source: Richard Layard, Lionel Robbins Memorial Lectures 2003,

While GNH considers economic development as important to end material poverty, the economic development activities to be chosen will not be evaluated based on the economic returns alone. The nature of economic activities chosen is as important as their results. Hence, an economic activity will not be undertaken even if there is a promise of huge financial gain, if it is going to cause damage to health, environment and culture of the people.

b. Conservation of environment

A healthy natural environment is very important for our health and happiness. In Bhutan, we are a mountainous country with 72% of our land area under forest cover. And 26% of it is turned into protected areas or wildlife sanctuaries. Our people have always lived close to nature in close harmony. In Buddhism, we have a strong belief in interdependence. We humans are not a superior creature, but only a link in the whole chain of living beings who depend on one other. As such, we have always had an inherent respect for nature. Thus, it is seen that Bhutan had a traditional conservation ethic dating decades before the global furor on environmental movements started.

c. Preservation and promotion of culture

From our culture, we derive our identity and values. If we do not preserve and promote our culture, it will be swept away by other cultures very easily as we are a small nation with a very small population. If that happens, our people will have no access to their own culture. As a result, they would not have their identity, and as an individual, they would not be as happy as they could be.

Today, we are proud to show our cultures to the world. Bhutan's unique architecture and 13 traditional crafts are well-preserved and practiced to this day.

d. Promotion of good governance

To be happy, our people need a guarantee of fairness and equality. Under the wise guidance of our dynamic Kings, Bhutan has focused on putting people at the centre-stage of decision making and improving transparency and accountability in the government institutions.

Our King has guided our government to be attentive to the needs of the people even when the people seem quite satisfied with their lives. For instance, to ensure a secure future for Bhutan, His Majesty the previous King has initiated changes to usher in democracy in 2008 even though people did not demand it.

8. Bhutan and GNH

Although Bhutan is one of the least developed countries, there is no extreme poverty in Bhutan. Bhutan has been ranked the 8th happiest nation in the world and the happiest in Asia in 2006 by Analytic Social Psychologist Adrian White, University of Leicester, UK, in his map of World Happiness.

Source: BBC News,

Bhutan is the last surviving Himalayan Buddhist Kingdom. Buddhism forms part of the daily life of the people. Old people are respected and looked after by their children. Bhutan also boasts a rich and vibrant living culture. In order to give you a good idea of life in Bhutan, I would like to now show you a short video of a festival and a folk dance of Bhutan.

Bhutan has high potential for tourism industry. However, it is very cautious about the adverse effects of tourism on environment and culture, seen in other developing countries. Therefore, Bhutan promotes high value, low impact tourism. It charges all tourists a fixed daily rate of around 200 US dollars which includes meals, accommodation and guided tours.

Bhutan's concept of GNH has been strongly reflected in all its five-year plans for economic development. Since the start of the first five year plan 1961, it has come a long way.

Today, many remote areas of Bhutan are linked by roads. They have their own schools and clinics, piped water supply and in some cases, access to mobile phones, television and the Internet too. Health care is free, and education is free in government schools up to the university level. Bhutan is definitely changing very fast, but we are determined not to forget traditional culture and values at the same time.

9. Conclusion

In conclusion, I would like to state that GNH is a balanced and holistic approach to development. I do not know if there is a need to measure GNH, but since the world is obsessed with figures, Bhutan is currently undertaking an exercise to develop a GNH index. As Bhutan has shown, GNH is a practical approach, not a utopian quest. It can find application not only in Bhutan, but also in other countries that are willing to give it a try. GNH may not only make the world a happier place to live in, but also save it from the environmental disaster that the conventional models of economic development are leading us to. GNH may truly serve as the development philosophy of the twenty first century for a secure and peaceful world.
Posted on on 17 Feb 2007 by Cigay

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Radio and I: A Thank You Note to BBS

One hot sunny autumn day about twenty six years ago, I, then a kid of six or seven years, was helping my parents harvest paddy at a place called Yomdi, located at the confluence of Jekang drang and Gamri chhu in upper Trashigang.

The paddy was golden ripe. Their sweet aroma filled the air. Women joked as they cut the rice stems. Men seemed inexhaustible as each tried to display his prowess in front of the ladies beating the grains out of the straw.

But nothing drew my curiosity as much as the black little box hanging from the crooked pole of our farm-hut. It hummed out song after song of beautiful Bhutanese music. They called it “Redriwa” (Radio).

Ajang Neten, who was a vagabond of sort, and had traveled to all places like ‘Gudama’, ‘Phuntsholing’ and ‘Thingphu’, was the proud owner of the “redriwa”.

Harvest here always was like a celebration and a picnic as this place was located away from the village, by the riverside. A mood of festivity hung above and around us, like the scent from an overly perfumed lady in a packed bus. There was something about the simplicity, the satisfaction and the contentment that the farmers felt at this time.

Better news was in store for me that night. My father had decided to buy the “redriwa” from Ajang Neten. I was so excited that we could listen to the ‘redriwa’ everyday at our home now.

It was not until two or three years later that I went to school for the first time. Coming home for my holidays one day, I was for the first time able to spell out the letters “PHILLIPS” written on the radio. “Phillips sho redriwa nangkai ang dangpa gila dang na” (Phillips is no. 1 among radios)” I had heard adults talk before.

Over the next many years, this radio was the only source of information and entertainment when I was in my village for my holidays, until I left for my studies to Australia in 1996.

When I was lonely, BBS broadcasts gave me company. When I was ignorant, the BBS news and announcements gave me information. When I was down, the songs that BBS played uplifted my spirits. And so I grew up listening to the BBS.

This week, when I found out that BBS had started broadcasting through the Internet, I checked it out immediately. This time, BBS seems to have gone online quite seriously. The quality is good.

Today, as I sit here in my apartment in Japan, and listen to the same music at the beginning of BBS Dzongkha and Sharchop news that I used to listen to as a child eating oranges with my mother by the fireside, and as a boy rounding up the cows with my brothers, and as a young man chopping firewood with my father in that far-flung home village of mine, nostalgia overwhelms me.

BBS, you remind me that you and I have come a long way. Thank you.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Those simple things in life which really matter

Yesterday was Sunday, but the day was far from being sunny. Gushes of wind banging on my window panes now and then cautioned me to stay indoors. But I had to get a haircut. Reluctantly, I ventured out on my bicycle for my favorite saloon.

After a chilling ride in the wind for 30 minutes, I arrived at the place where the saloon used to be housed. But today, a sign in Japanese on the window read: “Tenanto boshu chu” (Looking for tenants). The saloon had closed down. Probably, the business in a small town is not as easy as it seems.

However, the McDonalds next door was doing a brisk business. I went in for my favorite burger and coffee. Munching on my burger and sipping my coffee, I remembered that a friend had told me two years ago that he used to get his hair-cut at a saloon run by a disabled man not so far from there. “I go there, you know, to help the guy,” he had told me. I decided to go there.

Recollecting the faint direction that my friend had described to me about the saloon, I continued pedaling away on my bicycle. A lone fat lady was waiting at a bus stop. Fat people are rare in Japan – most people in this country are slim and fit. They owe it to their food which they proudly claim is the healthiest cuisine in the world.

“Kono atari ni sanpatsuya san ga aru to kikimashita ga, doko ni arun desho ka?” ( I have heard there is a saloon around here. Where could it be?)” I ventured to ask the fat lady.

The lady seemed surprised, and even a bit startled, to be confronted by a foreigner – probably her first time. Although some foreigners take it to be racism or even undue pride of the Japanese, the reluctance of some Japanese to communicate with foreigners is nothing but their uncertainty about how to interact with a foreigner. Being an island country, they had been isolated from the rest of the world for a long time, and even today, there are people who have never talked or interacted with a foreigner here.

After making some awkward gesture, she said that she was sorry that she didn’t know about the location of the saloon.

I continued on my ride. After going about 300 meters, the sign of a saloon greeted me. It looked trendy, but there were no sign of customers. Hesitantly, I opened the door to enter. A pretty lady was talking to a man in suit. The lady looked anything, but disabled.

So I asked (of course in Japanese), “Is there any other saloon around here?”
“There is one about 200 meters from here towards the right.” She replied.
“Oh thank you. I am looking for that saloon.” I said and made my way out.

And there it was. The saloon I was looking for. It was very clean, nice and well equipped as any other saloon in Japan is. Two ladies, a child and a young man sat at the waiting lounge. A man was busy giving haircut to a customer. None of the people in the room looked disabled. So I wondered again if I was at the right place.

To figure out, I wanted to strike up some conversation with those who seemed to be waiting. “Could I get a haircut here?” I asked them. Everybody replied to me only in sign language indicating that I should ask the man who was now busy giving a haircut.

I had expected someone with a broken leg, but I then figured out that the man was actually deaf and could not speak.

When he had finished with his customer, he came to me and tried to communicate with me using sign language. But he found out that I was not good at it. So he brought a white board and wrote something in Japanese which was too difficult for me to read. I showed him my student card and foreigner’s registration card to introduce myself and put him at ease.
“Do you know Japanese?” He wrote on the white board.
“Yes, little bit.” I wrote.
“So you are from Bhutan?” he wrote.
“Yes, I am” I wrote back.
“Why did you come to Japan?” he wrote.
“I came to study at university here.” I wrote
“SUBARASHII” (that is wonderful), he wrote.

He then showed me some pictures of models for me to choose the style. I made my choice. He began his work and gave me a very professional service.

I thanked him for the service and paid him.

While passing me the change, he wrote to me on the white board, “Are you married?”
“Yes. How about you?” I wrote back.
“Yes. I have three kids.” He wrote with a very proud and happy smile lighting up his face.
“SUBARASHII” I wrote back.

On a closer look, the little boy with the beautiful lady at the corner of the waiting lounge looked very much like him. The lady was looking at us and smiling. Probably she was his wife, and the cute little boy his youngest son.

I made my last Japanese style “thank you” bow and made my way towards the door. The little boy was smiling at me and waving me good bye. His father and mother were smiling at each other. They seemed very happy, though the little boy’s father had been robbed of the precious ability to hear and speak.

“The most challenged people are often the people who know how to value those simple, yet the most profound things in life,” I thought riding my old bicycle back to my apartment.

It was not a bad idea to go out on windy Sunday after all.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

A Poem in Sharchopkha


When you lose your purse

Yesterday morning, my next door neighbor knocked on my door, looking pale-faced.

“Can I borrow 100 yen to take shower? I have lost my purse.” He asked. (We need to insert a 100 Yen coin for hot water).

Slipping 100 Yen into his hands, I enquired where he lost his wallet.

“It might have fallen down between here and the 24 Hour-open Supermarket last night. I went to search for it now and even asked the staff at the supermarket, but they have not found it.” He answered.

“Did you have money in it?” I asked.

“Yes. I had 40,000 yen (around 350 dollars) in it.” He answered.

“That is not a small amount. You better go to the police station as soon as possible. Normally Japanese give it to the police if they find lost things like purse.” I suggested.

“Yes, I will be going there after taking shower.” He said.

Later, when I was in my lab, I saw him online on msn messenger. We chatted.

Me: Hey man, did you go to the police station?

He: Yepe

Me: Did you get your wallet?

He: Yepe (^-^)

Me: That is great. I am so happy to hear that.

He: Japanese people are great. Nothing lost. All money is intact.

Me: I am really impressed. This is something good about Japan.

He: Yeah. Me too.

In Japan, if you lose your purse, there is a very high chance that you will get it back. Last year, there was an English lady who said she lost her purse thrice in Japan and thrice she got it back.

Then there is my 78-year old retired doctor friend whose failing memory made him lose his wallet two times, each time with around 1,000 dollars in it, and twice he got it back. He says, “Japanese are educated to return the things that they find to the rightful owner from when they are very young. One day, one of my granddaughters had found a 100 yen coin and taken it to the police. Apparently baffled, but not to discourage the child from doing the right thing, the police officer had received it, but he had given her 100 yen from his own pocket as a token of thanks.”

On the other hand, in Bhutan, there is a kind of silent belief that if you find something, it is yours to keep. I think this belief needs to be changed. A kind of re-education in this regard is necessary

I lost my wallet once in Bhutan and never got it back. Money aside, the pain of re-making the driver’s license and the bank card was too much. If we learn the trait of returning found things to the rightful owner or to the police, it will make our society much better. That may be one of the traits expected of a GNH society. What do you think?

Private musings

Yesterday, an article in Japan Times really got me thinking. Should children born through artificial insemination be told who their real father is? Or is ignorance really bliss in such matters?

Conceiving children through artificial insemination by donor, or AID, is undertaken by couples who cannot have children due to the male partner’s problems. This technology, like using surrogate mothers, can bless an otherwise childless couple with a child. But it has raised many questions regarding whether the child should be told the whole truth, and whether the identity of the sperm donors should be kept secret.

According to Japan Times, “Japan had its first AID baby in 1949 when a girl was born at Keio University Hospital in Tokyo. More than 10,000 babies have reportedly been born via this method at Keio and other hospitals since then, but details have been kept secret, including the names of the sperm donors.

“One woman in her 20s who asked not to be named said her mother told her five years ago she was an AID baby. She learned the truth when she was distraught about whether she would suffer from the same illness that her father had, which was hereditary.

She said her mother's acknowledgment cleared up why her father did not have much interest in her, and her own feeling that she was somehow different from the rest of the relatives.

A doctor in his 30s said he learned from a blood test five years ago while in medical school that his father's blood was not in his veins. "My parents are my present parents. I don't consider the donor my father," he said, while admitting he would still like to find the person. "I'd feel completely different if I'd known about my background when I was a child and met the donor."

Now with cloning a possibility and further advances in biotechnology, we might face more moral dilemmas in the future. It seems, science and life do not make good partners, but then, what about the childless couples who really want to have a child?

Going to a completely different topic, just a few minutes ago, I read an interesting news on the Tibetan website A writer claims that Tenzing Norgay was a Tibetan. I had read years ago how Tenzin Norgay, after his triumphant conquest of the Everest, traveled around with two passports – one Indian and one Nepali passport, because both countries claimed he was their citizen. Had Tibet been independent, he would have probably traveled with three passports.

I guess the famous Sharchokpa song “Rang thur dasur drag ne (if you are successful), god kan ja tong sho na (Thousands flock to you), dasur zhen than de ne (In case, you are a failure), god kan ogai sho lay (who will look at you?)” rings true always.

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