A Brief History Bhutan

Bhutan is a small Himalayan Kingdom bordered by India on the south and by the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China on the north and northwest. It comprises land area of 46,500 square kilometers and has a population of 1.3 million. The land lies between latitudes 26 degree 46 N and 28 degrees 10 N and between longitudes 88 degrees 45 E and 92 degrees 10 E. the country has a maximum latitudinal distance of 170 kilometers and a maximum longitudinal distance of 300 kilometers.

The lofty and rugged mountain ranges rendered very difficult and form of communication between one valley and the other. It may be said that the eighteen districts that comprise present-day Bhutan evolved from the history and traditions of the country with the population settled in secluded fertile valleys surrounded and sheltered by the great Himalayan peaks. Living in these isolated valleys which were linked physically to one another only by high mountain passes, the Bhutanese people developed their own customs, traditions and folklore which remained practically untouched over the centuries.

HISTORY: As a result of the rugged inaccessibility of the country and its policy of self-imposed isolation. Bhutan may be the only nation in the world that has remained a sovereign independent country throughout its recorded history, which goes back to the 7th century A D. Though small in size and population Bhutan has always taken pride in its unique national identity and rich cultural and religious heritage. The history of Bhutan is closely linked with the spread of Buddhism in the Himalayas. Buddhist has always played an important role in the history of the country and in the way of life of its people. The great Uddiyana saint Padmasambhava in the 8th century A. D first advanced the growth of Buddhism in Bhutan. He thus laid the foundation of one of the most important and unifying forces that has sustained the Bhutanese people and contributed to the evolution of their unique cultural and religious tradition.

From the 9th Century onwards, many enlightened religious personages played varied roles in the lives of the Bhutanese people and the growth of their distinctive national identity. The numerous famous religious figures have left their marks influenced the history of Buddhism in Bhutan up to the beginning of the 17th century which cannot all be described within the scope of this article. Bhutanese Buddhism derives much from the genius of the following persons, all of whom are unanimously acclaimed as the spiritual ancestors of the Nyingmapa (Old School) and DrukpaKargyupa (New School) schools: BGuruPadmasambhava, LongchenRabjampa,. PhajoDrukgomZhigpo, DorjiLingpa, ChoejhiKungaPaljor, Padma Lingpa, DrukpaKunlay, YongdzinNgagiuWanmgchu and MiphamTenpaiNyima. However, no one has had a greater impact on the history of Buddhism in Bhutan than ZhabdrungNgawangNamgyel (1594-1651 A.D), popularly known as Zhabdrung Rinpoche, of the DrukpaKargyupa School.

ZHABDRUNG NGAWANG NAMGYEL Zhabdrung Rinpoche meaning, "the precious jewel at whose feet on submits", as he is reverently referred to, was not only a great spiritual personality but also a statesman and leader of exceptional ability. He not only successfully crushed several foreign invasions, but in the process, being a great architect and builder, set up a chain of sturdy monastery fortresses called Dzongs which became the centers of religious and civil authority. He brought peace, security and stability to the country by establishing a strong and dynamic administrative system and by codifying a set of strict but fair and just laws of such enduring values based on the Buddhist tradition that they have formed the framework for the present judicial system of Bhutan. He promulgated the Dharma and perpetuated the Buddhist order by establishing the sangha community, which to this day plays a very important role in the country. Indeed, the traditions. Customs and culture of present-day Bhutan all carry the mark and influence of Zhabdrung Rinpoche who is truly considered by all the people to be the founder and father of the Bhutanese nation. The Dual system of administration, which ZhabduringNgawangNsamgyel established, whereby a spiritual leader looked after the clergy and a temporal ruler looked after the affairs of the state, endured till the establishment of hereditary monarchy in 1907.

Although numerous scholar-saints and sages of different traditions of Buddhism appeared in Bhutan from the 9th to the 16th centuries A.D. and established many monasteries throughout the country, the first Sangha was instituted by Zhabdrung Rinpoche with only 30monks in 1620 A.D. when the completed the first monastic centre at Chari dorjidan about 14 kilometres north of Thimphu, the present capital of Bhutan, under the chief abbotship of KhenchenPekarJungne (the first Je Khempoi. e. Sangharaja). On completion of the PunakhaDzong in 1637, the Sangha Community with 6oo monks was shifted to punakha, which continues till now to be the winter residence of the Central Monastic Body to this day, while Thimphu is their summer residence. Subsequently the number of monks increased as and when Dzongs were completed in other parts of the country.

The Bhutanese call their country DrukYul (Land of the Thunder Dragon). The name was derived from a legend- TsangpaGyareYesheDorji, a 12th century saint of the Kargyupa sect of Mahayana Buddhism in its a tantric form, was consecrating a new monastery when he heard thunder in the sky. As popular belief associated thunder with the voice of the dragon (druk), he took this to be an omen and changed the name of his sect to DrukpaKargyupa. As has been seen, it was this sect that ultimately became the State Religion of Bhutan and gave its name to the country.

Today, Bhutan is the only nation in the world where Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism is practiced as the State Religion. From the time when Guru padmasambhava came to Bhutan Buddhism has wielded a profound influence both on the people's way of life as well as on the growth of the country's religion cultural and traditional customs. The presence of religion is evident in every fact of Bhutanese life and Buddhist values that form the basis of Bhutanese society are inculcated in the younger generations from their formative years.

MONASTIC ORGANIZATIONS Having pointed out the truth to the five mendicants, the Buddha said, " A man that stands alone, having decided to obey the truth, may be weak and slip back into his old ways. Therefore, stand ye together, assist one another, and strengthen one another's efforts. Be like unto brothers, one in love, one in holiness, and one in your zeal for the truth. Spread the truth and preach the doctrine in all quarters of the world, so that in the end all living creatures will be citizens of the Kingdom of Righteousness. This is the holy brotherhood; this is the church, the congregation of the saints of the Buddha; this is the sangha that establishes a communion among all those who have taken their refuge in the Buddha."

Based on this concept and in view of the initiatives taken by ZhabdrungNgawangNamgyel in upholding the Buddhist tradition, the sangha has been instituted in Bhutan in the following manner: The Je Khenpo (sangharaja) in the Central Monastic Body, who is responsible for the nation's religious affairs, enjoys a prominent place in the social and cultural life of the people, and is equal in status to the King. He is chose from among the high-ranking monks, and apart from being thoroughly versed in all branches of religious scholarship and practice, must have undergone prolonged meditational experience. The present Je Khenpo is the 69th in succession. His term of office is between 3 and 5 years, and he can be reelected.

He is assisted by four deputies known as Lopon-zhib (Four Masters): DorjiLopon, who not only heads the vajracarya division but also function as Deputy je Knenpo (Upasangharaja) and at the same time is also the chief of the four Masters: YangbiLopon who heads the liturgical division, inclusive of Sacred Dances, Ritual Arts, and Metrical Rhyme, DrabiLopon who heads the lexicographical division that incorporates literature, grammar, lexicon, metrics, prosody, and mantras; and TshenyiLopon, who heads the division of Metaphysics and Logic. The four Masters are equal in rank to ministers in the Government. Other important office bearers are the Umdzay (precentor or chant leader) and the three Kudrungs (prefects), who together are known as Choethrim-Zhi (The four religious administrators). Next in the hierarchy are other junior Lopons such as KilkhorLopon (Master of Graphic or Ritual Arts), DungpiLopon (Master of Trumpets), TormiLopon (Master of Sacrifical Objects), TsipiLopon (Master of Astrology and Astronomy), ChampiLopon (Master of religious Dances) of the 18 sangahCentres, and the principals of the Buddhists Colleges and the meditational centre throughout the Kingdom are done by the Je Khenpo (sangharaja).

Traditionally, the supreme position which the monks occupied in Bhutanese society both as temporal and spiritual rulers, and the privileges that they enjoy, as well as the deep religious habits of the people, all combined to attract to the priestly ranks enormous numbers of recruits, particularly between the 17th and 19th centuries A.D. at the same time, compulsion was also exercised by the priestly government in the shape of the recognized tax of children to be made monks, namely Tsuenthrel, especially during the reign of the fourth Desi, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye (1680-1690). Every family dedicated at least one of its sons to the monastery-usually the first been or favorites son. The other son married in order to continue the family name and inheritance and to be the breadwinner, and many families contributed more that one son, as the youths were eager to join the order. Thus in Bhutan, where children were relatively few, approximately one out of 10 of the population was a monk or upasaka (Choup). Though the compulsory admission of monks has died out with time, many youths in present-day Bhutan, including those who are being educated in modern schools or colleges have shown an eagerness to join the Sangha in large numbers.

The Sangha which currently has strength of about 3893 monks including 1600 monks in the central Monastic Body (Main sangha Centre at PunkhaThimpu) is financed by an annual subsidy from the Government and is the sole arbiter on religious matters. Among the 150 members of the National Assembly (the Kingdom's Parliament), 10 monks are represented for the Sangha including two monks in the Royal advisory council who are also become the member of the Cabinet.

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