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My First Paper presentation during International Seminar.

                     Buddhist studies in Bhutan, it’s past and present.
                                                                                                             Pema Wangchuk.
                                                                                            Department of Indo-Tibetan Studies,
                                                                                                        Visva-Bharati University,

The name 'Bhutan' appears to derive from the Sanskrit 'Bhotant' meaning 'the end of Tibet' or from 'Bhu-uttan' meaning 'high land'. Though known as Bhutan to the outside world, the Bhutanese ourselves refer to our country as Druk Yul or the Land of the Thunder Dragon. 'Druk' means 'Dragon' and extending from the predominant Drukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.  The princely Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked country, about 300 km long and 150 km wide encompassing an area of 46,500 square kilometers. Located between longitude 88045' and 92010' East and latitudes 26040' and 28015' North in the Eastern Himalayas, it is bounded by India in South and South-West and Tibetan autonomous region of China in the North and North-West respectively. Virtually the entire country is mountainous, and ranges in elevation from 100m along the Indian border to the 7,554m Kulha Gangri peak on the Tibetan border.
Mahayana Buddhism is the state religion of Bhutan. Approximately two-thirds to three-quarters of the population practice Drukpa Kagyupa or Ningmapa Buddhism, both of which are disciplines of Mahayana Buddhism. Approximately one-quarter of the population is ethnic Nepalese and practice Hinduism. Christians, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, and non-religious groups comprise less than 1 percent of the population.

The introduction of Buddhism occurred in the seventh century A.D., when Tibetan king Srongtsen Gampo (reigned A.D. 627-49) built Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro and Jampa Lhakhang in Bumthang in central Bhutan. They are Bhutan's most important religious sites and symbols of Buddhism's arrival. Tradition records that these temples were part of a greater scheme chosen by the seventh century Tibetan King Srongtsen Gampo to tame a huge female demon extending her body over the whole land, creating numerous obstacles to the spread of Buddhism. He is said to have magically multiplied himself, sending his emanations to build 108 temples in one day on each of her joints, thus pinning her down and immobilizing her. Of these, 13 were the most important: the Lhasa Jokhang was constructed on the heart of the female demon; four temples, "the four great horn suppressors", were built in central Tibet; four temples, "the temples to tame the border", were built farther away, of which Jampa Lhakhang is on the left knee of the female demon; finally four more temples, "the temples to tame the area beyond the border", were built on the extremities of the Tibetan sphere of influence, of which Kyichu Lhakhang is on the left sole of the female demon.

The founding father and prominent figure in Bhutanese Buddhism was Padmasambhava - Guru Rinpoche, "the precious master". In 747 A.D., a Buddhist saint, Padmasambhava (known in Bhutan as Guru Rimpoche and sometimes referred to as the Second Buddha), came to Bhutan from India on the invitation of one of the local kings[1]. After reportedly subduing eight classes of demons and converting the king, the major growth of Buddhism in Bhutan began with his arrival in the eighth century. Born in the Swat province of what is now Pakistan, he became a Buddhist tantric master and brought numerous teachings to Tibet and throughout the Himalayan Buddhist world. His wisdom laid the firm foundation for spread of Buddhism in Bhutan, where he traveled fairly extensively, left countless stories about his subduing of local demons and deities, and was the founding inspiration for many sacred sites, notably Taktsang Lhakhang in Paro and Kurje Lhakhang in Bumthang. Guru Rinpoche is widely revered as the second Buddha, and his followers, later known as Nyingmapas, "the ancients", or the "old sect" or Red Hat sect of Mahayana Buddhism.
Following this initial impetus, Buddhist belief steadily spread throughout the land achieving a degree of hegemony. The ninth and tenth centuries were a period of political turmoil in Tibet, and marked the almost total disappearance of Buddhism in the region. It was only in the eleventh century that there was a renaissance, and what is called "the period of the second diffusion of Buddhism" commenced. Numerous competing schools arrived in Bhutan, founding monasteries, gathering followers and gaining both spiritual and temporal authority in respective parts of the country. Of these, the Drukpa Kapyupas and the Nyingmapas were to achieve some ascendancy. The Drukpa Kagyupa School was introduced to Bhutan by Phajo Drukgom Shingpo (1184-1251), who was instrumental in achieving initial dominance in the west, and whose descendants solidified both spiritual and temporal power. The Nyingmapa School had been present in Bhutan since the time of Guru Rinpoche, and gradually widened their sphere of influence in the central and eastern regions through a series of significant figures and emerging religious nobility descended from the families of important saints.
The period up to the seventeenth century was a time of Buddhist dissemination, as Bhutan became a sanctuary for the "three jewels" - the Buddha, the Dharma (his teachings) and the Sangha (his followers). This was epitomized by the presence of figures possessing the power to inspire both local leaders and the popular masses. Longchen Rabjampa (1308-1363), the greatest Nyingmapa philosopher, chose exile in central Bhutan following a dispute with his Tibetan master. Dorje Lingpa (1346-1405), one of the foremost Tibetan tertons or treasure revealers, settled in Bumthang. However, the figures that are most recalled are probably Drukpa Kunley (1455-1529) and Pema Lingpa (1450-1521). And the 17th century prominent figure of Bhutan Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel[2] (1594-1651)

Although numerous scholar-saints appeared between 10th to 17th centuries, none of them could establish formal monk community and Buddhist studies centre in Bhutan. It was Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594-1651), the founder of the Bhutanese Nationhood, who for the first time instituted the Buddhist Centre for Sangha in Bhutan in the 17th century. The general structure of Sangha Buddhist Centre at present draws continuity from the one established in the 17th century by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. At the head of the Central Monastic Body is the supreme abbot known as Je Khenpo, equal in rank to His Majesty the King in the civil office. The present Je Khenpo, Trulku Jigme Choeda is the 70th the line and elected to office in 1996. He is assisted by four acharyas who are masters in specialized religious disciplines. They are equal in rank to government ministers. Below them are preceptors and three prefects, and many junior acharyas which are not considered here. The monastic community in a district is headed by an abbot known as Lam Neten. And Buddhist colleges and Meditation Centre are headed by principals and meditation masters.

More than 3000 Temples, monasteries, stupas and sacred places are sprinkled all over the Bhutanese landscape. No wonder that the chime of bells from the prayer wheels, echoes of ritual trumpets and booms of ritual drums are melodies that treats the Bhutanese ears. These religious structures and sacred sites are soaked in myths, legends and history. And, it is exactly these elements behind each sacred place that makes it distinct, extraordinary and revered. As of now there are a total of 20 registered Sangha Buddhist Centre (Dzong)[3] in 20 district of Bhutan with 19 primary-cum-junior high and high schools attached to them, 13 Buddhist Colleges, 27 Meditation Centre, and 214 Lay-monk Centre (Upasaka Centre) and 13 Nunneries. There is a higher secondary school which was aimed to provide Buddhist Studies with modern education and the only University called Institute of Language and Culture studies which offer Buddhist philosophy course with the modern education. At present there are more than 20,000 monks, nuns and lay-monk. In the modern system of school education system there is two or three Buddhist Philosophy subject, meditation class and it is a mandatory subject.  

The Royal University of Bhutan, ILCS offers a two-year certificate course and innovative Degree programmes in Bhutanese Language and Literature (BLL) and Bhutanese & Himalayan Studies (BHS). MA and PhD programmes will be offered at a later stage. The Royal University of Bhutan desired to have different centers established in different colleges and institutes across the Kingdom and to establish a Center for Buddhist studies. In coming future the Institute of Language and Culture studies have a plan to organized seminars on Buddhism and invite international scholars to give lectures on Buddhism. ILCS have two centres, the Centre for History and Culture and the Centre for Buddhist Studies; which form the core of the research and documentation activity in order to give scope for the research scholars and the student in Buddhist studies.
For the rightly educated Buddhist, there remains no place for remorse. He is balanced, virtuous, mindful, ardent and modest. With the Buddhist education, it becomes easier for him to handle and solve any day to day problems. He develops as a perfect social being, capable of generating social harmony, spiritual calm and mutual understanding; thereby bringing goodwill, peace and harmony to society. He is in possession of the capacity to mould himself as he likes by directing his activities in the right direction. Thus Buddhist education is not only an indispensable aspect of the path to the Buddhist highest spiritual goal but also a way to live in harmony with the world. Today, many education systems in the world are paying due attention to the development of a culture where a man is taught to put the concerns of others before his own need. The innate goodness of beings is fostered through proper education and understanding. This can only be achieved through Buddhist education. A Buddhist values system which is already recognized in many organizations such as UNESCO, RED-CROSS, WHO and so on. Therefore all the religious institute and monasteries are well cared and given full support by the Royal Government of Bhutan. His Majesty also gives much more important to the Buddhist studies in the country as Buddhist studies is the only values through every means of possible so that daily thinking of the people is affected and peace is prevailed on earth.

Tashi Delek!

[1]His first visit took place in 746 A.D when he was invited to Bhutan to recover the life force of Sendha Gyap the ruler of Bumthang. Sendha Gyap who lost in one of the family feuds was forced to live in exile with his retinue in Bumthang. He had a war with Naoche, the king of Duars area and one of his sons was killed in a battle. Sendha was upset and he desecrated all the abodes of the local tutelary deity, Shelging Karpo of Bumthang. Sheging Karpo as a act of revenge he took away the life focrce of Sendha and fell ill and was at the point of dying. Then the mission was sent to Nepal (Guru was miditating at this time here) to invite him to Bhutan. Then Guru through his supernatural powers converted to Garuda and subdued Shelging Karpo and bounded by an oath to protect Buddhism. King's life force was thus recovered and offered back to him. He made a peace between Sindha and Naoche and returned back to Nepal.

[2] He unified the country – Bhutan as one nation and ruled the country from 1616 – 1651 A.D. He introduced
dual system of administration whereby a spiritual leader looked after the clergy and a temporal ruler looked
after the affairs of the state. This system endured till the establishment of hereditary monarchy in 1907.
[3] The Word Dzong loosely translated means a fortress. For over three hundred years they have built on strategic points mostly on mountain spurs to serve as an effective defence against an attack or invasion. Dzongs were first built in Bhutan in 12th century by Lam Gyalwa Lhanangpa, an important leader of Lhapa Kagyud. The Dzongs built before Shabdrung were used as monasteries. It was only from the time of Shabdrung in 17th century that the Dzongs were built in such a way that they played a signaficant role in the history of Bhutan. They not only served as an effective defence but also became the centres of religious and cultural activities.


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