Monday, May 31, 2010

Lone bangchu represents Bhutan at Exhibition in Japan

There is an exhibition titled “Himalayas: People’s life and Nature” taking place at a museum in Tokushima, Japan. It started on 29th April and will go on till 6th June, 2010.

I visited the exhibition on 8th May and I was happy to see a bangchu(Bhutanese bamboo-made lunch box) on display. But I was surprised to see the label informing the visitors that it was from Nepal.

I thought it was a mistake because I had not seen Nepalese using bangchu or even selling it in souvenir shops when I visited Kathmandu in 2007. So I came home and called a Japanese lady who has known both Nepal and Bhutan for a long time. She said, “I have seen some Tibetans in Nepal using bangchu when I visited in the 1960s, but I heard it came from Bhutan via barter trades in Kalimpong and Darjeeling.”

“Bangchu is a unique Bhutanese handicraft which you should take better care of. I have heard that some of the unique Bhutanese textile designs have already been patented by other countries.” She added.

I then carried out an online research on the various bamboo products from Nepal, India, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam etc. to find out if any other country makes bangchu. It is amazing that the simple bamboo has given rise to so many products of different shapes, sizes and uses in different countries. However, I did not see any product from other countries that closely resembled our bangchu.

“We should really be grateful to the people of Kheng and Thrimshing-Kangpara (two places in Bhutan where bangchu is produced) for this unique invention” I thought. A little more research revealed that bangchu is made from a bamboo locally known in Khengkha as yula, and in Sharchop as ringshu. Its scientific name is Neomicrocalamus andropogonifolius. According to a bamboo specialist, "Scrambling species such as Neomicrocalamus andropogonifolius provide strong, flexible weaving material of the highest quality, widely used in cottage handicraft industries." Studies mention that it is found mainly in central and eastern Bhutan, and in Nepal (known locally as langma) and Nagaland (known locally as kevva). But Nepalese and Nagas do not make bangchu although they use it for making other products.

Armed with this information, I called the person in charge of the exhibition the very next day. After introducing myself, I said, “I am really sorry to trouble you, but I think the bamboo-made lunch-box on display is from Bhutan and not from Nepal. I am not really concerned about it as a Bhutanese, but I think it is important not to misinform the visitors.”

He wholeheartedly thanked me for the information. He promised that he would correct the information and also said that he would write to the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka from where the items had been borrowed.

A friend from Okinawa visited me this week and I went to the exhibition again with him. This time, I saw another label put near the bangchu explaining that it is a “product of Bhutan” with a handwritten subtext that says “Bhutan is also a country in the Himalayas”. It is the only mention of Bhutan in the whole exhibition.
While Bhutan has become more popular in Japan thanks to GNH and TV programs on Bhutan that are aired now and then, I still sometimes meet Japanese who have never heard of Bhutan.

Our handicrafts are not only a means of livelihood for our rural people, but a representation of our history and culture. They assert our identity while attracting the interest and curiosity of foreigners. They are our precious legacies which should be nurtured, protected, promoted and passed on to our future generations. Mechanisms to protect them through national or international patents should be explored, while taking all the measures to improve their quality.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Basis of Bhutanese Values

What are the values that guide a Bhutanese man/woman?

The answer probably lies in:
(1)following the principle of mutual sincerity and loyalty in relationships (tha dam tshig) whether it is between the ruler and subjects, husband and wife, parents and children, or between friends,
(2)following the principle of cause and effect (las rju 'bras) - the belief in the relation between cause and effect of actions.
(3)having loving kindness and compassion (byams pa dang sning rje) for all sentient beings
(4)following the sixteen pure rules for worldly conduct (mi chos gtsang ma bcu drug)
(5)restraining oneself from the three poisons (dug gsum), and
(6)restraining from the ten misdeeds (mi dge ba bcu).

I do not mean that the Bhutanese live up to these values/ideals to the letter in their daily lives, but it can be said that these values/ideals form the foundation of Bhutanese social values.

The sixteen pure rules for worldly conduct (mi chos gtsang ma bcu drug) are said to have been propagated by the Tibetan King Songtsan Gampo in the seventh century. These sixteen rules form the basis of conduct for Buddhists who lead worldly life. They are as follows:

1. Respect for the triple gem – Buddha, Dharma and Sanga (lha dkon mchog gsum la mos gus bskyed pa).
2. Seeking and following the dharma (dam pa'i chos btsal zhing bsgrub pa).
3. Repay one’s gratitude to parents (pha ma la drin lan 'jal ba).
4. Respect for the good qualities of other people (yon tan can la zhe mthong yod pa)
5. Respect for the elders and people in higher positions (rigs mtho ba dang rgan par bkur sti che ba),
6. To be able to benefit the one’s hometown and neighbours (yul mi khyim mtses la phan 'dogs pa),
7. To be honest and modest (bka' drang zhing sems chung ba),
8. To keep good relationship with one’s relatives (nye du mdza' bshes la gzhung ring ba),
9. To follow and keep company with good people (ya rabs kyi rjes snyeg cing phyi thag ring ba),
10. To know one’s moderation with food and wealth (zas nor la tshod 'dzin pa),
11. To seek and show gratitude to people who have helped you in the past (sngar drin can gyi mi rtsad gcod pa),
12. To repay debts in time and not to cheat on weights and measures (bu lon dus su 'jal zhing bre srang la gyo med pa),
13. Not to be jealous of others’ good fortunes (kun la phrag dog chung ba),
14. Not indulge in harmful gossips and have self-control (ngan pa'i gros la mi nyan zhing rang tshugs 'dzin pa),
15. To be polite and speak less (ngag 'jam zhing smra ba nyung ba),
16. To have endurance and to be broad-minded (theg pa che zhing blo khog yangs pa ste bcu drug)

In addition "the 'three poisons' (dug gsum) and the ten misdeeds (mi dge ba bcu), also contain practical injunctions for the daily lives of the religion's adherents, promising karmic consequences for observance and breach."

The three poisons are:
(1) desire,
(2) anger, and
(3) ignorance.

The ten misdeeds consist of three physical misdeeds, four verbal misdeeds and three mental misdeeds. The physical misdeeds are:
(1) killing,
(2) taking what is not given, and
(3) engaging in sexual misconduct.
The verbal misdeeds are:
(4) lying,
(5) uttering divisive talk,
(6) harsh words, and
(7) gossiping.
The mental misdeeds are:
(8) harboring covetousness,
(9) ill-will, and
(10) wrong views.

1. Rangjung Yeshe Tibetan-English Dictionary of Buddhist Culture,

2. Fernanda Pirie, Secular morality, village law, and Buddhism in Tibetan societies, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, March 2006.

Monday, May 17, 2010

2 kinds of Happiness

"The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven." - John Miltom

According to Sogyal Rinpoche, "there are two kinds of happiness: one based on material comfort and pleasures; the other on inner contentment and peace."

Rinpoche further adds, "Material happiness is often very expensive and doesn’t satisfy us. Whereas, if it’s based on deeper inner peace and contentment, then even when you face difficulties, you can overcome them.

"Buddha said all fear and anxiety come from an untamed mind. If you were to ask what is the essence of the teachings of Buddha, it is to tame, to transform, to conquer this mind of ours, because it is the root of everything, it is the creator of happiness, of suffering, of samsara, of nirvana.

"So, if you know how to use the mind well, it can be the most wonderful thing. Or it can be your worst enemy as, I think, John Milton said, “The mind is its own place and, in itself, can make heaven of hell, and a hell of heaven.” The most important thing is to work with the mind, as great masters have said, it’s foolish to go looking for happiness outside, because you’ll have no control. When you transform your mind, your perception and experience transform, even appearances transform. Because happiness is not something that exists objectively, it’s subject to one’s experience. No matter what the circumstance are, you’ll be able to cope."

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Unbeaten by the rain

"If in the east there’s a sick child
He goes there and nurses him
If in the west there is a tired mother
He goes there and carries bundles of rice for her
If in the south there’s someone dying
He goes there to tell him not to be afraid,
If in the north there’s a quarrel or a lawsuit
He goes there to tell them it’s not worth it.
When there's drought, he sheds tears of sympathy
When the summer's cold, he feels the farmers’ pain
Everyone calls him a fool
He is not praised
He is not blamed either
Such a person,
I want to be."

The above is an excerpt from a famous Japanese poem "Ame ni mo makezu" which I prefer to translate as "Unbeaten by the rain". It was written by Miyazawa Kenji.

Almost every Japanese knows this poem because it is taught in school. It is said that students have to memorize this poem. It is a beautiful poem about altruism and self-sacrifice.

The first few lines of the poem read thus in Japanese:

ame ni mo makezu
kaze ni mo makezu
yuki ni mo natsu no atsusa ni mo makenu
jōbu na karada wo mochi
yoku wa naku
kesshite ikarazu
itsu mo shizuka ni waratte iru

Which may be translated as:

Unbeaten by the rain
Unbeaten by the wind
Unbeaten by the snow or summer's heat
with a strong body
unfettered by desires
never losing temper
Always smiling quietly

I liked it the first time I read it. It is not difficult for Bhutanese to understand what the poet wants to convey because it has direct resonance with the Buddhist way of thinking.

There are many translations of the poem.

Here is a translation by Hiroaki Sato and Burton Watson from the book "From the Country of Eight Islands":

Neither yielding to rain

nor yielding to wind

yielding neither to

snow nor to summer heat

with a stout body

like that

without greed

never getting angry

always smiling quiet-


eating one and a half pieces of brown rice

and bean paste and a bit of

vegetables a day

in everything

not taking oneself

into account

looking listening understanding well

and not forgetting

living in the shadow of pine trees in a field

in a small

hut thatched with miscanthus

if in the east there’s a

sick child

going and nursing


if in the west there is a tired mother

going and for her


bundles of rice

if in the south

there’s someone



and saying

you don’t have to be


if in the north

there’s a quarrel

or a lawsuit

saying it’s not worth it

stop it

in a drought

shedding tears

in a cold summer

pacing back and forth lost


a good-for-nothing

by everyone

neither praised

nor thought a pain


like that

is what I want

to be

About the Poet:

"Miyazawa Kenji has transcended the generations to become one of Japan's most read and best loved authors. Born over a hundred years ago in 1896 in Iwate Prefecture, he was only 37 at the time of his death. Kenji's literary works received scant attention during his lifetime and only two books were published before his passing: a collection of children's tales entitled "The Restaurant of Many Orders" and the first section of his most famous work of poetry, "Spring and Ashura." The remainder of the great number of children's stories and poems that he left behind was edited and published only posthumously, after which the richness and depth of his art finally gained wide recognition." - from


We were talking of smiles yesterday. Here is a quotation which you may like.

“There are hundreds of languages in the world, but a smile speaks them all.”

I don't know who said it. But it reminds me of my late father who once told me how amazing it is that there are so many peoples with different cultures and languages in this world, but all of them can communicate with a smile.

The smile holds almost the same meaning for the iPod-wielding mini-skirt wearing girls of Tokyo as well as the bow-wielding half-naked tribesmen of the tropical jungles of Papua New Guinea. Isn't it amazing?

16 Practical Suggestions to Tackle Thimphu’s Water Problem for the Immediate to Long-term

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