The Blessings of Bhutan
Quantity:
192pp. November 2002
The Blessings of Bhutan
Author: Carpenter, Russ and Blyth;
"A captivating and splendid account of a complex nation on the cusp of tradition and modernity. Bhutan is distinctive--from its social structures to its development philosophy of Gross National Happiness. The Blessings of Bhutan is based on extensive travel and interviews. Written in an accessible style, the authors blend narrative about the country's history, religion, arts, and governance with lively personal anecdotes. It is an excellent contribution to the study of contemporary Bhutan that will appeal to laymen and scholars alike." --Karma Ura, Director of the Centre for Bhutan Studies

"The blessings of Bhutan are many, including the appearance of this lyrical account of the country's many unique and fascinating aspects. Because they are among the Westerners most familiar with Bhutanese life, Blyth and Russ are able to penetrate well beyond the Shangri-la myth and show that, while parts of such an otherworldly myth apply, this Himalayan Kingdom is brimful of surprises, contradictions, and modern dilemmas." --K. E. S. Kirby Dorji, writer/editor, United Nations consultant, longtime resident of Bhutan

56 illus., 47 in color


A Latitude 20 Book
"The Carpenters openly adore Bhutan. As countries go, it is obviously one of a kind." --Taipei Times, 30 May 2004

"A captivating and splendid account of a complex nation on the cusp of tradition and modernity. Bhutan is distinctive--from its social structures to its development philosophy of Gross National Happiness. The Blessings of Bhutan is based on extensive travel and interviews. Written in an accessible style, the authors blend narrative about the country's history, religion, arts, and governance with lively personal anecdotes. It is an excellent contribution to the study of contemporary Bhutan that will appeal to laymen and scholars alike." --Karma Ura, Director of the Centre for Bhutan Studies
Author: Carpenter, Russ and Blyth;
Russ and Blyth Carpenter's connection with Bhutan began with a trek and cultural tour in 1996 and quickly expanded into public service projects. They currently lead tours to Bhutan, focusing on the remarkable culture of this unique and independent Buddhist kingdom.

As a new day approaches, the night sky begins to lighten. You sense, but cannot see, the presence of enormous mountains along the horizon. A familiar shape begins to emerge, first wispy and indistinct, and then unmistakable, as the morning light gathers strength: Jichu Drake—the legendary mountain peak of Northwestern Bhutan. Sunlight catches the mountain's uppermost realms, altering them to brilliant gold. Light spreads down snow-covered slopes.

Jichu Drake dominates the horizon now. At this altitude, the terrain is a moonscape, without a sign of living things. The mountain's walls of rock and ice are untouchable and utterly remote from human affairs. Or so they seem.

In reality, Jichu Drake is a dwelling place. A mountain deity, also named Jichu Drake, lives there. Every other mountain peak in Bhutan is inhabited by a deity. In fact, all prominent features of the landscape—including lakes, rivers, and monolithic rocks—are occupied by a dizzying array of spirits. In Bhutan, even the air itself is a spirit world.

The favorite Western term for the Himalayan gods of geography is "sacred landscape." For a change, our terminology may get it right. This is a culture in which unseen forces, associated with the features of the land, are encountered at every turn. In Bhutan, there may be no such thing as an "inanimate object."

In this sketch, we use the term "local deities" to refer to the entire array of spirits connected to the landscape. When we use the phrase "Buddhist deities," we mean the equally huge number of deities that are associated explicitly with formal Buddhist practice and are not usually thought to dwell in any specific geographical feature.

Bhutanese people have coexisted with local deities since the beginning of recorded Himalayan history. You could describe the relationship between people and local deities as love/fear/respect. Local deities are loved because they are the source of daily good fortune and feared because they are also the source of periodic disaster. They are feared because of their capricious nature and, in the case of the uppermost deities, immense power. They are respected because in a risky place like the Himalayas, where human life hangs by a thread, people need all the supernatural help they can get.

When Buddhism arrived in the Himalayas, Buddhist "missionaries" needed to deal with a religion, based on local deities, that was powerful, complex, and pervasive. As opposed to some of the world's other great religions, which seem to have a history of wiping out indigenous practices, Buddhism has generally accommodated traditional beliefs, molding itself into a new school that blends the old and the new. According to Tantric Buddhist beliefs, each of the local deities in the region was confronted by Buddhist forces and "subdued." Indeed, the words "subdue" and "tame" arise over and over in the Tantric Buddhist tradition.

The champion tamer of local deities was a partly historic, partly mythic figure known as Guru Rinpoche. (He is also frequently referred to as "Padmasambhava," his Sanskrit name.) This remarkable man is venerated in Bhutan, and we will have many interesting things to say about him in later sketches. For now, it is enough to know that Guru Rinpoche brought Buddhism to Tibet and Bhutan in the 8th century. According to Buddhist tradition, Guru Rinpoche challenged and subdued one local deity after another, forcing all of them to swear an oath of allegiance to the new religion.




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