September 11, 2014 – Day 10 – Thimphu, Bhutan

_BCF4176 _BCF4180 _BCF4189 _BCF4175 _BCF4185 _BCF4202 _BCF4210 _BCF4213 _BCF4220 _BCF4234 DSC_3578 DSC_3582 DSC_3587 DSC_3588 DSC_3591 DSC_3594 DSC_3596 DSC_3604 DSC_3605 DSC_3614 DSC_3622 _BCF4269 _BCF4279 _BCF4285 _BCF4298 _BCF4338 _BCF4371 _BCF4383 _BCF4411 _BCF4438 _BCF4444 _BCF4457 _BCF4465 _BCF4469 _BCF4473Today was a very nice day just a little cooler. Nothing a light jacket couldn’t fix. We were all excited because Russ was finally going to join up with us. He was in Katmandu, Nepal, this morning and would be flying into Bhutan mid-day.

We started off our day by going to Thimphu’s post office and had stamps made with our individual photographs! This was a lot of fun. What a great idea, we each had our photo taken standing in front of their official emblem and they printed out a sheet of stamps for us. We all bought post cards to mail back home to our families and friends just to put our personal stamps on them. I loved this idea, we should adopt it in Canada! I bet more people would mail letters if they could put their personalized stamp on the envelope.

Next we went to an art school. We watched a class of boys who were carving wooden squares approximately 12 inches square. They would carve a beautiful design of a bird, flower or dragon inside the square. Each square would take about one week to carve. These squares were then sold in a Handicraft store across the street. Tourists as well as locals bought the squares to hang on their walls for decoration. Profits from the sale of the handicrafts were used to support the art school.

There were many plaques with inspirational quotes on the walls of this school, which I loved. One said “If you have never failed, you have never tried anything new”. Another said “Albert Einstein, wasn’t able to speak until he was 4 years of age and his teacher said he would not amount to much”. Another, “Michael Jordan, after being cut from high school basketball, went home, locked himself in his room and cried”. “Walt Disney, was fired from his newspaper job for lacking imagination and having no original ideas”.

We toured a classroom where women were sewing the traditional boots worn in Bhutan. At the same time, men were sitting on the floor painting designs on paper for practise. They would paint the patterns over and over again using different brush strokes and techniques until it became automatic. They also used graph paper and a compass, to draw out their designs, making sure that their paintings would be to scale. When they had mastered the practise techniques, they could then move on to paint actual Tankas. A Tanka (Thanka) is a religious painting, painted on cloth to be hung up on a wall. Usually the Tanka would tell a story, like Buddha’s Wheel of Life or the Four Friends. Many Tankas were used in monasteries for religious ceremonies as well as used in individuals homes. All Tankas were original paintings by different artists, there was no such thing as a print of an original.

There was a common painting of an old man who Buddhists believed lived to be 500 years old. Many Bhutanese people had this painting in their homes because it represented longevity. Another famous painting the Bhutanese had in their homes was the “Four Friends” painting. This was a painting of an elephant, a monkey, a rabbit and a peacock, all sitting one on top of the other. The story is that the bird brought a seed and the rabbit ploughed up the field and planted the seed, the monkey watered and looked after the seed while the elephant protected it from enemies. Then a large fruit tree bloomed but the tree grew so large that the fruit was too high for the animals to pick the fruit. However, when the monkey jumped up on the elephant’s back and the rabbit stood on top of the monkey and the bird on top of the rabbit, The fruit could be picked and shared by everybody. This painting represented family, friendship, trust and cooperation. Many locals kept this painting in their home to remind them that their family relationships should be strong.

Another classroom had young ladies weaving fabric for their traditional dress, called Gho for men and Kira for women. The next classroom had sculptures, which I thought were amazing. They actually used paper pieces mixed in with the clay to add strength. Each subject was sculpted in layers. First the form, then the body, then the clothing and last the tools held by the God they were sculpting. To add another layer, clay mixed with paper was dabbed on to the base and smoothed over with a wet brush. Very interesting and very difficult! It took three months to do one sculpture of a sitting Buddha and five years to be certified as a sculptor.

Russ finally connected up with us during lunch at our hotel around 1:30 p.m. He surprised us because he had grown a beard while he was on Dave’s yacht going through the North West Passage. I was sure happy to see him! But I couldn’t resist playing a trick on him. The hotel had a street dog named Blue who was around 6 months of age, with two bright blue eyes. I had asked the hotel staff to put Blue in my room and when Russ and I walked up to our room to put away his luggage, they were just putting Blue into our room. I told Russ I was very sorry, that I had to break my promise to him about not bringing any more dogs home because Blue was so special! Well Russ just kept saying “Oh no Ellen, not another dog!” I was surprised that he didn’t even get that mad. I think I actually could have brought Blue home. But lucky for Russ, even I couldn’t handle another dog at this time. Russ was relieved when he found out it was a joke and he agreed the dog was pretty cute. He even played with Blue for awhile before we joined the others.

We had to leave the hotel in the afternoon to register our cars again at another Bhutanese check point. For some reason the official spoke to Jon and myself only, even though all six of us were in his office. It ended up that Jon and I were registered as the official drivers instead of Russ and me. Oh well why fight bureaucracy?

At 3 p.m. we had an appointment to visit the Trashi Chho Dzong. This was a special privilege because visitors were only allowed to visit the Dzong after working hours and we were visiting during working hours. To enter the Dzong everyone had to be dressed formally. This meant closed shoes, long-sleeved shirts and long pants for our men. We women had to dress modestly and be covered as well. Citizens of Bhutan had to be dressed traditionally, that meant the men had to wear a Gho. The Gho was a short coat dress worn with knee socks and dress shoes. On top of their Gho, men wore a shawl over their shoulders. The colour of the shawl indicated the rank of the man. The women wore a Kira, which was a long skirt made from one piece of fabric and folded much like a sari only it was from the waist down with a pleat on one side. A belt or velcro held the skirt up. No need to hem because it was just folded at the waist to the desired length. A jacket was worn on top with large cuffs and a pin to close the jacket as no buttons or snaps were used. Women also wore a scarf over their shoulder only it was a narrow scarf woven in bright colours, draped down the front and back over one shoulder. We really liked the women’s Kira and all bought one to wear to our dinner with the Prince that night.

Our first stop inside the Dzong was at the temple, called Goemba in Bhutanese. All religious buildings in Bhutan have a red band painted below the roof line, called a khemar. Circular brass plates or mirrors representing the sun are placed on the red band. There were prayer wheels on the outer walls and people walked around the temple clockwise turning the wheels. Inside the wheels were prayers written out on paper scrolls and you were deemed to have received the prayer by spinning the wheel. At the entry there were murals painted on the walls of the four guardian kings. Inside the temple were three thrones at the back wall, the current King (K5) sat in the centre with the Fourth King (K5’s father) on the left and the leader of the Monks on the right of K5. Behind these three thrones was a huge statue of the present Buddha. This temple was used for important meetings and ceremonies. On each side of the temple along the walls and behind glass walls were 1,000 small statues of Buddha sitting on shelves.

Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan and the Dzong was used for all of the administrative government offices on one side and all the religious offices on the other side. It was a large fortress originally built in the 17th Century. It was destroyed by fire most likely from the oil candles used and rebuilt in 1962 by King 4, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. The Dzong was built in traditional Bhutanese fashion with no nails or blueprints. It had high walls for protection of the official offices for both government and religion. The two, religion and government are closely linked in Bhutan, as shown in their flag. The top colour being yellow for royalty and the bottom red for religion. In the middle is a white dragon representing Bhuttan. We had tea and cookies in the office of The Secretary of Home Affairs. Unfortunately the Minister was not in the capital and his assistant filled in for him.

The highlight of our day (other than Russ joining up with us) was dinner at the palace of the princess Chimi, the eldest daughter of King 4. She was not in the country but her husband, the Dasho Sangay was our host. He was an extremely charming man, not to mention very handsome and interesting.

The Dasho has two sons, the first being the first Royal grandchild who was 8 years old and the second son was four and a half years old. Sangay has several businesses in Bhutan, one being the construction of 5 first class hotels, called Six Senses. The Dasho and his wife the princess went to Columbia University together in New York City.

Sangay’s father sent him to India to attend a British private school in India at the age of 8 years old. He asked his father why he sent him to India to go to school because it was very tough for him. His father replied if you can survive in India you can survive anywhere in the world! Sangay said even though it was hard it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for him. As 82% of their trade in Bhutan was with India he can now just pick up the phone and call someone through the contacts he had known from India.

The Dasho Sangay, gave us an intimate lecture on Bhutan, a small country (kingdom) of just over 700,000 people, that was sandwiched between two giant countries, China in the north and India in the south. They survived partly because of their geography, as they were located on the eastern side of the Himalayan Mountain range, the highest mountains in the world. If invaded the Bhutanese could go to the mountain passes and shoot down at their enemy, protecting their independence. After all it is much easier to shoot down than shoot up!

They also built Dzongs in each city, which are huge forts that protected the local community if invaded. The Tibetans actually invaded Bhutan 7 times unsuccessfully in the 1600’s. Tibet wanted to invade Bhutan because Tibet did not have fertile land like Bhutan and because a Tibetan Lama fled Tibet taking a religious relic with him into Bhutan. In the late 1800’s the British East India Company was based in Calcutta and they explored the possibility of invading Bhutan, unsuccessfully due to the mountainous terrain of Bhutan, evan though they did seize the Assam region, which was the flatland of Bhutan and today was considered to be part of India.

When the first King of Bhutan was coronated in 1907 he was knighted as the Knight Commander of the British Empire. Bhutan continued to have a good relationship with Britain. In 1947 when India received their independence from Britain, the Indian Prime Minister came to Bhutan to meet with the 3rd King and they signed a treaty making them allies with each other. India needs the power they receive from Bhutan’s hydro power plants and Bhutan needs India’s protection from China.

In 1974, the 3rd King of the Wangchuk Dynasty passed away in Kenya, during a hunting safari, which made his son who was 16 years of age their 4th king. In 1976 a team from the world bank came to Bhutan and they did a SWAT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, alliances and threats) with the emphasis on the gross domestic products (GDP) of Bhutan. But the king said I want to do something different and put emphasis on the GNH – gross national happiness of my people.

The world bank replied that you can do that in your house but not at the state level, to which the king, who was a teenager at the time, replied “in Bhutan GNH is going to be more important than GDP”. He said that during my reign I am going to work towards increasing my people’s happiness.

GNH as a state policy aims at striking a balance between the material, emotional and spiritual development. It is broken into 4 main pillars: sustainable economic growth; preservation and promotion of the environment; preservation and promotion of their culture; good governance. How is it implemented? Through the Gross National Happiness Commission. Any government planned project has to be approved by this Committee by passing the GNH stress test.

GNH is measured by suicide rates, crime rates, access to health care and education, (basic healthcare is free), time spent with family, density of trees to the population and how many places of retreat are there, such as the number of Buddhist temples.

Dasho Sangay, used tourism in Bhutan as an example. Yes, Bhutan could open up their tourism because the demand was there and it would increase their GDP but as a small nation of only 700,000 people what would happen if suddenly millions of people came to Bhutan? Would the increase in tourism add stress and change the culture of the Bhutanese? Would this pass their GNH stress test? No, so at the moment the cost to visit Bhutan was very expensive, which limited the tourism numbers and kept the Bhutanese culture and GNH intact.

After our Q & A, the Dasho had us sit in his back yard for some entertainment of traditional dances and music. It was magical and he explained what the dances were all about as we drank wine from Napa Valley and had appetizers. Later we entered his dining room to have a traditional dinner with his brother, who was also very handsome and charming.

September 10, 2014 – Day 9 – Thimphu, Bhutan

DSC_3540 DSC_3551 DSC_3558 DSC_3560 DSC_3565 DSC_3572 DSC_3577Today was a Wednesday and it was our first cool day since we began our journey on August 30th. We were going to explore Thimphu today. We stopped to visit the Tashichho Dzong translated into the Fortress of Glorious Religion. Every Dzong and Monastery has a Cupola with a golden roof and the locals call it a canopy.

We visited a small monastery that was built in the 12th Century. There was a larger monastery just below the one we visited built in the 16th Century because the population of the monks grew and they required a larger facility. But at this time the ceremony was being performed in the smaller temple. We all filed into the temple and sat on the floor where we were all blessed in a ceremony. First water was poured on our heads, then we were served tea and crackers. The water, tea and crackers had all been blessed. The whole time we were eating there was a circle of monks chanting and playing their instruments, long horns (called a telescopic trumpet), small horns (called a flute), drums and bells. When the long horns are played the monks blow a continuous stream of air into them. Somehow they can suck air into their lungs and keep blowing out into their horns. The horns were very difficult to play and took a long time to master. On the small horn, looked something like a clarinet, there was a young monk around 10 years of age and he was learning by watching an older monk beside him. When the older monk changed his fingering the younger monk would copy.

Then we paraded through the monk circle to the head monk where he blessed us and draped a white prayer scarf around our necks. He also gave us each an envelope with three different coloured strings (the colours used were the 5 colours of the prayer flags, red, yellow, green, blue and white) and three seeds. All of these were blessed and were now holy. The seeds we were to eat for our health and the strings were to be worn. Most of us braided our strings before wearing them around our necks.

Another interesting thing done by the monks was the twisting of their hands during the chants. They would interlock their hands back to back and their thumbs held down their baby fingers and their index fingers held down their middle fingers, leaving the two ring fingers sticking up which they placed back to back. This was the position used when offering a Mandela prayer, which was offering of food or water. Try it, not very easy to do.

The monks at this monastery moved to a different monastery for the winter. Thimphu was 2,320 meters above sea level and it had a colder winter than the lower elevations in Bhutan. The dogs at this monastery did not look healthy, they had mange. I tried to explain to the monks that they needed attention because mange was contagious. Even some of the monks looked like they had mange on their heads from touching the dogs. Do not know if they took me serious or not?

Next we visited a museum of a farmhouse. I have already described these previously but I did learn about their bathtubs here. The Bhutan baths were located outside of the farmhouse made of wood and sunk into the ground. It was sectioned off with one large chamber to house the bather and a smaller section to hold hot rocks and water. The divider would have holes in it near the top to allow the heated water to flow into the bath chamber. A helper would keep adding heated rocks and water into the small section to keep the water warm for the bather.

Another common feature on Bhutanese homes was a decoration of a man’s penus either hanging from the corners of the roof or hung over the doorway. The penus protected the house from evil spirits and also made the family members fertile. After all the more children a farmer had the more hands to help the farmer. More on this subject later.

The girls visited a different monastery in the afternoon while the boys went golfing. We girls went to the monastery to have our horoscope read by a monk. They take astrology very seriously here in Bhutan.

I was told that in my past life I was a serpent under the water. Serpents were the protective Dieties of lakes, oceans and rivers. Next, I was told that I loved sleeping! I was thinking that the monk was correct there because I am always tired from lack of sleep. I was also told that I was stubborn, that I never backed down or gave up from a challenge. Mary, my sister-in-law, said that was very true. Then I was told that I had a birthmark on the bottom half of my body. This was true if I counted my moles. The monk then said I would be a bird in my next life unless I did lots of good in this life then I would come back as a child of a wealthy family in the West. My best day was Saturday, Tuesday should be my donation day and Wednesday was my bad day (whatever that meant).

Jaz, our guide went on to explain that In the Buddhist Wheel of Life, the human life was the best because we have control to make decisions and decide if we act good or bad. After our death during our judgement time the good and bad deeds will be weighed against each other and if the good out weighs the bad, then we will be reincarnated as a person again. If not we could come back as an animal or one of the other sections in the wheel of life.

Back at our hotel a Monk gave a talk to us about Buddhism. He was born in Tibet and recognized as a reincarnated Lama when he was 2 1/2 years old. At age 5 or 6 he was taken away from his family to live at a monastery. He remained in Tibet until age 20. He left Tibet the same time as the Deli Lama in 1959 because of all the turmoil with the Chinese Government. Eventually he came to Bhutan to work for the Bhutan government. This Lama had lived in Bhutan for the last 40 years and had acquired his Bhutanese Citizenship 20 years ago. He has visited Tibet 13 times, since leaving and feels very lucky to have been able to do that. His first visit was in 1991. Today, he was a retired Lama (Lama Emiritus) who had travelled the world speaking on Buddhism. He also founded the National Library, National Archives and National Museum of Bhutan. For the last 32 years he headed these three institutions.

He introduced Buddhism to us in a simple way by describing the basic philosophy and some historical events of Buddhism. He said that Buddhism was a religion with reason and the basic Buddhist philosophy was interdependency. They believe nothing is singular or permanent, everything is interdependent to each other. They believe in rebirth, reincarnation, past life and future life. Buddhism is not the only religion that believes in reincarnation all major Asian religions believe in reincarnation, like Hinduism and Jainism. The practise of Buddhism is on different levels. The basic theme of Buddhism is non-violence, not to harm living beings. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to attain freedom, wisdom and compassion, through enlightenment for one and all.

Buddha was born 2,642 years ago, which made Buddhism 2,607 years old. This was the date accepted by all the Buddhist practitioners in the world. There are two main divisions (or traditions) of Buddhism – Mahayana, northern Buddhism (practised in Bhutan, Nepal, Mongolia, China, Japan, Korea & Tibet) and Vajrayana, southern Buddhism (practised in Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, etc.). Buddha gave 84,000 different teachings during his life. All of his teachings can be summarized into three major traditions, Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. Buddhism came to Tibet, Bhutan and the Himalayan area in the 7th Century, in 641.

Buddha was born to a Royal Family in India but today his birthplace is said to be in Nepal due to India’s borders changing. He was married and had one son when he renounced the world and left the palace at age 29. After 6 years of meditation he became Buddha. Buddha means “awakened one” in other words he overcame all negative thoughts and understood the good things in life. But he claimed to be just a human being like everyone else! The only difference was he knew certain things. He said “I can be your guide or I can be a physician to you and help to solve your problems”.

Buddha also said that all people were equal in status. Because up to then Hinduism was the main religion and they had a cast system. If you were born in the lowest cast you were stuck there, could not go to school or participate in the religious ceremonies. Therefore, the concept of everyone being equal was new.

Buddhists can also eat meat. Because Buddha said if someone prepares food for you it cannot be refused. As long as the animal was not killed for the Buddhist specifically and they did not see the killing, then the Buddhist could eat meat.
In Bhutan, the food is prepared in the monasteries for the monks and they do not serve meat. But the monks can eat meat if they are out and someone prepares a meal with meat.

Buddha started with the 4 noble truths, simply; 1) there is suffering in this world, the major sufferings, which we all have to face, are birth, old age, sickness and death; 2) the cause (or origin) of the suffering, which is not equal to everybody, is the result of Karma from your past life; 3) how to escape (or cease) the suffering; 4) the path leading to the cessation of suffering, called the noble eightfold path: A) Moral Conduct: of right speech, right action and right livelihood; B) Mental Development: of right effort, right mindfulness and right meditation; C) Wisdom: of right thoughts and right understanding. To live a good life you must practise the opposite of the eightfold path.

Buddhists try to help others and to definitely not harm others. They also believe there is no certainty. Mahayana Buddhists in Bhutan, practise for the sake of others not just for ourselves. Ego is the human’s main problem. Dharma means to shape or teach the mind. Every religions have the same objectivity. Buddha just uses a different transportation to reach the same destination. Buddha said do not follow my teachings blindly, but test them. Like refined gold, we burn it, cut it and rub it before accepting it as real gold.

In a modern sense Buddhism can be used three ways 1) as a religion, 2) as a philosophy and 3) as a science. Buddhism as a religion consists of do’s and don’ts, for practising Buddhists, as a philosophy for non-religious people and as a science for researchers looking at the mind and the possibility of rebirth. Buddhists believe that the mind (or mental awareness) is our sixth sense and it is continuous, the mind leaves the body at death and is an energy force, which is reborn again and again. How we lived in our past life affects our present life and how we live today affects our future life.

Buddhists also believe that Meditation clears the mind from negative thoughts and allows you to be as it is. For example our mind is like a glass of dirty water; let the glass sit and the dirt settles to the bottom allowing the water to be clear again, similar to our minds becoming clear with less negative clutter after meditating. Shake the water up and the water becomes muddy again. If you use your mind for anger or bad thoughts and never meditate to clear your thoughts, your mind will become clouded like the dirty water. Another example is when a person is angry the mind is like frozen water, hard and cold. Meditating is like taking the frozen water out of the freezer and allowing the ice to thaw to become clear water again.

In the 17th Century, Bhutan was unified by a Tibetan Monk. Today there were over 2,000 Buddhist temples and monasteries. With approximately 10,000 monks supported by the government. When we toured the monasteries we noticed many young monks, and I asked the Lama at what age did the boys go into the monastery to be trained as monks. He replied that they did not have a specific age but they used a test. As long as the boy (or girl) could chase a crow away, they would be old enough to enter the monastery. Because if the child only crawled, the crow would not fly away and that person would be too young.

Full ordination to become a monk was around age 20 and the person would have to want to become a monk for life. If a young man did not want to be ordinated he could leave the monastery and get married, have a family and still work as a lay person for the temple. He would be paid to play an instrument and chant out the ceremonies only he would not be dressed in the red and orange uniform of a monk.

Monasteries have a Council with an Abbot and a Disciplinary Master. The Councils administer the Monasteries. Buddhists believe that the current Dali Lama is reincarnated from the God of Compassion. The Dali Lama was not allowed to visit Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet but many people flocked to see him in India. China puts too much pressure on those countries for them to allow the Dali Lama into Bhutan. In Tibet the Chinese government has cameras in the monasteries to keep an eye on the monks, said this Lama.

It was a very interesting lecture and the Lama did a Q & A afterwards. What was suppose to be an hour turned into 2 1/2 hours. He was a very knowledgeable and nice man.

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