Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bhutan Joins 'One World' Bandwagon

The world's youngest reigning monarch, His Majesty Jihme Khesar Wangchuk, King of Bhutan gave a speech on his recent state visit to India in which he spoke about globalization, how all countries and peoples depend on each other, how the wealthy must help the poor, how we are all inter-connected and basically all of the "we're one world" stuff everyone has heard before. Oh, how the mighty have fallen...... First, I should make clear that there was nothing inherently wrong with anything that the young King said, I just tend to recoil at the sound of it and it probably hits me all the harder because of the high pedestal I kept Bhutan on for so many years.

In the past, the little Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan was my idea of a monarchial paradise. I've never been there, never been anywhere close to there, but it was my ideal little monarchist Shangri-La in the Himalayas. It was just comforting to know it was there; a country isolated from the outside world, untouched by modernity, where the people loved and were absolutely loyal to their absolute monarch, a very religious country where there was little to no government as we would understand it, no politics, no political parties or factions and no ideologies; just the people and their revered monarch. Now, of course, all of that has changed and it simply breaks my heart.

In recent years, starting with the current King's father, Bhutan embarked on a policy of modernization and openness (yuck!) which included allowing in TV's, the internet, cell phones and the formation of political parties to participate in the democratic process as the King surrendered his absolute authority in preference of a more "modern" constitutional monarchy. This was something handed down from on high, not something the people were clamoring for. The Bhutanese were peaceful, content and while they lived modestly by our standards they were very happy. They seemed perfectly comfortable having as little government as possible and allowing the king to handle national affairs while they concentrated on their own lives. They had to be dragged into democracy kicking and screaming. Now they've started preaching the whole 'we are the world' gospel. Again, nothing actually wrong with what the King said, but hearing it from the King of Bhutan especially makes me want to break down in sobs.

All of these changes were not desired or longed for by the people, they were not needed to save the monarchy from a crisis; Bhutan has long been a peaceful country, no threat to anyone and no bother, content to mind their own business and let the rest of the world stew in its own juices. Now, they seem determined to leave utopia behind them in favor of "progress". Call me a reactionary stick-in-the-mud and you will, but I hold to the old saying that when change is not necessary it is necessary NOT to change. Look at any country in the world you like, it is a fact confirmed by history, that no nation has done well once political parties have taken hold.

So, now Bhutan is anxious to be open to the rest of the world and follow their example. Now, instead of quiet family time they will have soap operas from India on TV. Instead of wearing their traditional clothes they will have American fashions that make everyone look like street bums. Instead of chanting and throat singing they now have ipods stocked with rap "music" rotting their brains out one Bhutanese teen at a time. Instead of a happy, united nation unconcerned with government and unfamiliar with politics they now have competing parties and soon will be able to enjoy the sort of political contests all too familiar in the west, bombarded by accusations from one party that the members of the other party are villains who want to poison the water, make you slaves and who probably eat little puppies for breakfast -vote candidate X!

So, congratulations on joining the rest of the world Bhutan. Soon, you too will be enjoying the full benefits of modernity. Soon they too will have, to quote the late TV series M*A*S*H, "freedom, achievement, hyperacidity, affluence, flatulence, technology, tension, the inalienable right to an early coronary sitting at your desk while plotting to stab your boss in the back." Seriously, I could just sit down and cry, my Shangri-La of Bhutan wants -progress- God forgive them.


  1. I know. It's heartbreaking. Nowhere and no one is safe. You will Progress or else...

  2. The word Progress is just used to Frame the issue and make the Modernist Democratic system seem superior. As I have stated elsewhere in this blog, and elsewhere on the net, the whole thing rest son you accepting not just an Ideolgy, but a Mythos. Yu have to see the world in a chain of Leniar progression, in which primitive tribes gathered, eventually formng family-baed clans, groeing to city-states, then Kingdoms. fter the Kingdom eas created, political systems developed Parliments, and gradually, after we became more highly evolved and enlightened, we dropped Monarchy, aside form a few ceremonial leftovers, and emrbaced the fullness of the superior Democratic Sytem. Invisionin it htis way allows peopel to see Emrbacign Democracy as advancing, becomign better.

    The same sort of Mythos exists when they speak fo Revolution to create Democracy, in that it is an excitign time of peril in which ur brave Republican Heroes fought the evils of Mnarichal rule to achieve Freedom. By depicting Monarhcy as Tyranny and those hwo oppose it as Freedom Fighters, we see it as a classic struggle of good VS Evil, and centrign aroudn individual freedom and rights, as pposed ot blind sumbission to arbitrary authority.

    Most in the modern world today actulaly think that living under a Monarhcy with power is the same as living in tyranny. Only a Democracy can make us free. In fact, they think Freedom IS Democracy. Never midn how much pwoer you have over your own life, its all about being able t elect whoever we want to rule us, and shaping Govenrment by popular whim.

    In Bhutan it is no different. Granted, no actual revolution happened, btu I woudl bet you good money that when this event is discused it will be discussed in terms of Reovlution. They will just say it was a bloodless one, but still couh it it he same language. AGain, tis part of the Mythos.

    And their is a lot pr pressure to accept this Mythos.

  3. APOLOGIES: A comment posted by Jorge (I think -didn't get a good look) was accidentally deleted. I've been having a spamming plague today and yesterday and the comment was deleted by mistake. If you'd like to post it again, feel free, just wanted you to know the deletion was not intentional.

  4. The analysis is brilliant. Thanks; in the 80s, I used to follow everything about Bhutan and enjoyed reading about how its monarch kept life so pure of outside influence.
    I always mentioned Bhutan when asked where I would like to go next.
    However, all those special excursions were not a good value, paying the huge price to travel all that way for just one rather restricted week.
    But I still remember that there were stars in my eyes every time I opened a rare destinations travel brochure to the Bhutan page. The others on my wish list were Silk Route countries, most of which I visited on my own, but always longed to return to.
    Now, Bhutan evokes no longer even slight interest, thanks to this bombshell news-!
    [What Buddhist demon got to the current King to make him opt for the wrong Path?]
    What happened to the previous monarch? He would be 53 about. Has he departed this world to another plane of existence?

  5. In the past tourism was quite restricted, probably wise since, though I like to visit places the same as everyone, it does tend to ruin destinations. I always said that I liked the Forbidden City of Hue in Vietnam better under the harsher, more isolated days when the place was neglected but still had more of a haunting grandeur to it; which it still does but the tourism has hit like a plague. I don't know if I would have visited Bhutan if I could have -the reality might have clashed with my ideal and I enjoyed that enough.

    As to the Buddhist demon, I don't know, but he must have some Christian, Muslim, etc cousins because it's been happening all over the world. A difference is that in most other cases the monarch feels constrained by some force (the law, tradition, "the system" claiming to be the people etc) but in Bhutan none of that was the case and the people were quite dubious and fearful about the changes when they were announced. They were perfectly happy with the way things were. The King even wrote it into law that he could be impeached! Tell me that won't come back to bite in the future. As far as I know former King Jigme Singye is doing fine, he abdicated in favor of his son, perhaps wanting a new, younger face to go with the new, younger Bhutan. I don't understand it, and probably never will.

  6. He abdicated? What a surprise.
    Thanks for the evocative picture of the Forbidden City of Hue.
    I hate to say I had never heard of it.
    I can relate to what you mean, though.
    And yes, the demons are multiplying.
    There are plenty of atheist, etc. ones too, which are some of the most dangerous

  7. P.S. to clarify: Oh, I see. I did not mean to disparage Buddhism in any way.
    Rather, I was thinking of the images of the demons one sees in thangkas, for example, of Green Tara reigning supreme over demons of jealousy, or Manjushri defeating those of ignorance with a sword of wisdom and knowledge. The infernal little beings are dramatically depicted in Buddhist art: that's what I meant by 'Buddhist demons'!

    Of course for Bhutan, it was better to highly restrict the country as a tourist destination. But for a potential visitor, it was not pleasant to HAVE to go on a tour, and then to see only one monastery during that week.
    I would have wanted to investigate more.

    I have made memorable visits to monasteries in Darjeeling, West Bengal, and Ulan Baator, Mongolia. Those were fascinating even more because I was by myself, not on a tour, and I was able to observe the real piety.

    Speaking of the former Queen of British hill stations, if you haven't already, what about a writeup some day on Hope Cooke. That was where the American traveler met her husband, the Chogyal of Sikkim. That is, until India ruthlessly annexed the Kingdom in a little known episode, but well explained in her autobiography.

  8. I don't have her on my list yet, but I'm sure I will, I'm at least passingly familiar with her story. I saw an interview with her not too long ago. As for the Buddhists, I doubt any would take offense other than the western "New Age" Buddhists who think that Buddhism has no demons or god or gods or hell or anything like that. If you've been to the "Great Monastery" (Urga) you know quite a few Buddhists believe in many saints, demons and have a hell for almost every variety of infraction. Those who think otherwise, in my experience, are those who don't know terribly much about Buddhism but latch on to it because they think it is the religion that isn't *really* a religion. But, Sikkim, hopefully will get to that in the future. I think I did list Queen Hope in my post on American royalty and I do have a small video on Royal Sikkim that will be posted here in its turn.

  9. Thanks regarding Queen Hope and the video on poor Sikkim.
    Where did you see her interview? I wasn't sure she was even still alive.

    In that post, I was in fact trying to think of a way to distinguish the admirable traditional Mongolian and Tibetan Buddhists from the corny American "buddhist" mania, which I dismiss with nothing but scorn for the same reasons you gave. In fact, I think some sort of demons are at work on those false Western "buddhists" to implant such obvious untruths.
    I can't even speak about religion with any people who believe that way, as they are synthetic copies of the devout peoples practising traditional Buddhism as it was handed down by their forefathers.

    Yes! Religions with a deep piety for some version of Saints, and sharp awareness of the existence of Hell, in whatever image they see it, have a great appeal for me as authentic and admirable.
    Another factor is a valid chain of transmission of wisdom and teachings from holy teacher to disciple or student. This dynamic appears in Buddhism [guru - chela], Sufism [Pir or Sheikh - murid], Orthodoxy [Elder/Starets - disciple], and a bit in Catholicism with the monastic path of obedience to one's Superior.

    Don't forget that it was Persian Zoroastrianism which originally gave the world the ideas of Heaven and Hell, Angels, the devil, and much else.

    Several thousands of years later, Iranians are sharply conscious of these concepts. When my purse was stolen in the holy shrine city of Mashhad, strangers came up in the street to console me with such words as: "Don't worry, those Ali Babas are going to burn in Hell!" - showing their deep awareness of a fiery punishment in the afterlife awaiting many sinners.

    Can you imagine the take of an American "buddhist" if the same situation took place here? They barely will acknowledge the basis of Buddhism, the law of karma, except perhaps superficially. Otherwise, they might have to take responsibility for their actions. So they could not offer anything of substance to say.
    Let alone to conjure up colorful images showing their unquestioningly devout belief as the Iranians did!

  10. I don't recall the channel, it was a New York-based show but I may be falling into my Dad's habit of recalling things as being recent that were not quite so.

    I've gotten a sharp look at the differences in what westerners think of Buddhism and the real think, especially in about the last 12 years. My godmother is a Buddhist and she certainly does not fit the mold as to what most American "buddhists" think of the religion.

    1. I think the problem is many people nowadays seem to think that Hinduism, or Paganism, hold some hidden truth (not on their own merits, but people seem to think they do because they're different from mainstream religion). I've known people from all religions: most of my family is Protestant Christian, but some Catholics are present as well, and I made good friends with a Muslim woman from Indonesia. Most people, I've found, are good people no matter what faith they are. But I've also met "Buddhists", and neo-heathens, etc, who don't actually believe in their stated religion. They simply say the are in order to individualize themselves. I don't say this with any enmity to Buddhists, or anyone else. But when people pretend to have faith in something they don't, then they corrupt the faith.


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