Friday, June 10, 2016

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

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


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

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Seven Things that Make Bhutan Truly Unique and Special

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

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

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

1. The last surviving independent Buddhist Kingdom in the Himalayas

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

2. Deeply spiritual but in an unintrusive way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Blessed with benevolent monarchs

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

7. Free healthcare and education

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

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

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