WHERE RESPECT AND BUDDHISM LEAD TO HAPPINESS by RJ Furth
When Sandy and I told people we were going to visit Bhutan many people mentioned that the nation measures Gross National Happiness rather than Gross National Product. “How do you measure happiness?” we were asked. “Are the people really happy?” was another query. Most seemed skeptical, believing it to be government babble, something to entice tourists. In a world where many seek happiness but few find it, I too traveled to Bhutan with curiosity, hope, and a dash of cynicism. Now, after seven days in Bhutan, I can honestly say that the Bhutanese seem to be truly happy people, a happiness based on respect and Buddhism.
Bhutanese respect their king and the five previous kings, a respect that is mutual. When the current king ascended to the throne after his father’s abdication, he traveled around the country. This Oxford educated king wanted to get to know his people and to show that he was interested in their lives. He ate with them, slept in their simple homes, showed respect for each of them. In turn, the people love and respect their king. They hangs photos of their monarch, the queen, and their young son in houses and shops. The Bhutanese also show respect for historical figures, their history, and each other. They offer warm greetings when they meet on the street. We never heard harsh words or angry gestures. We’re so used to hearing people criticize political leaders, the actions of sports figures, musicians and movie stars, that the lack of criticism and complaints is refreshing. Admittedly, I heard unkind words about some tourists and the dislike of certain nationalities. Bhutanese aren’t saints. They do have likes and dislikes, it’s just that they don’t dwell on them or act rudely because of past experiences.
Buddhism is another major source of Bhutanese happiness. The country (the small part that we visited) is packed with Buddhist temples, monasteries, and dzongs (monastery fortresses). Prayer flags flutter everywhere, prayer wheels are turned by the hands of the devout, by water and air. Bhutanese dress respectfully when visiting temples and other holy sites, many carry prayer beads and offer prayer when they pass a holy site. They refrain from eating meat for the month of March to show respect for life and don’t desecrate their crops with chemical fertilizers, also based on Buddhist teachings. Sandy mentioned that she has never visited a nation in which religion is so pure. The Catholic Italian prime minister Berlusconi threw wild bunga bunga parties and many Italians have abortions and get divorced, not in keeping with their faith. In Myanmar, where all men are supposed to spend a year as monks, Buddhist have been slaughtering Muslim Rohingyas. The United States, which sees itself as a Christian country, executes criminals and sends drones that kill innocent people, actions that would not be sanctioned in the New Testament. My point is not to condemn other nations and people for hypocrisy. Rather, I want to point out that the Bhutanese seem to be happy with their adherence to their faith. They find comfort in Buddhism, don’t seem to suffer from guilt or excessive anger and hostility, they are proud of their peaceful existence.
Sandy and I weren’t in Bhutan very long and we didn’t visit most of the country. We did get a strong sense of happiness from those we met and observed. They have free medical care and free education. They eat simple, healthy meals. There is no ethnic violence nor war with neighbors. They love their king and their religion. By any measure, the Bhutanese are among the happiest people we have ever met.