History and Culture

The Drukpa Kagyupa school of Buddhism became established with the arrival of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the founder of Bhutan, in 1616. Political history is closely tied to religious history (Wikipedia). In the modern era, King Ugyen Wangchuck negotiated a 1910 treaty with British India, that it would not interfere with Bhutan’s internal affairs since it is a separate nation of its own.

In 1972, Jigme Signye Wangchuck ascended to the throne as the Fourth King of Bhutan, at age 16. During his reign, Bhutan emerged from isolation, in its own unique way. The King emphasized modern education, decentralization of government, the development of hydroelectricity and tourism, and improvements in rural developments. His strongest contribution, internationally, was through the overarching development philosophy of “Gross National Happiness” (GNH), which recognizes there are many dimensions to development, and that economic goals alone are not sufficient.

With a new constitution for the country in progress, the Fourth King abdicated in favor of his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who became the Fifth and current King (also known as the Druk Gyalpo) in December 2006.  In July 2008, after almost seven years of planning, a new constitution was enacted, providing for a bicameral legislature, judicial and executive branches of government.

The Je Khenpo heads the Zhung Dratshang, or “Commission for the Monastic Affairs of Bhutan”, part of the Drukpa Kagyu Buddhist tradition, which complements the secular institutions of government. This “monk body” is based on the Vajrayana tradition, established in 1620 by Zhabdrung Rinpoche Ngawang Tenzin Namgyel, know as the “Father of the Nation” of Bhutan. A recent article noted there were 7,373 monks, 275 nuns, and 461 Gomchens (non-monastics) registered with the Central Monastic Body. There are additional (total 1,221) nuns residing in various nunneries in Bhutan, not all of which are associated with the monk body of Zhung Dratshang.

What is certain is that the philosophy of GNH is so well entrenched that all political parties will want to adhere to it in good faith. As such, Bhutan is expected to continue to inspire a growing section of the global society with its unique development paradigm based on equitable and sustainable growth.