Window to 'truth,' the Bhutanese way
On location to cover the ongoing SAARC summit, Sheela Bhatt strolls through the valleys of this tranquil wonderland called Thimphu; and meets an interesting monk amidst ethereal surroundings.
In Bhutan invariably you will come across young people who have studied in India. I met a government employee Namkha (meaning sky) and Chungku, who accompanied Indian journalists to the 'stupas' build in memory of the Bhutanese soldiers who died in 2003 while fighting the United Liberation Front of Asom extremists, on request of the Indian government, near Dochula pass.
Namkha is a graduated in statistics from a college in Coimbatore, courtesy of a scholarship from the Indian government. A dozen smart young boys and girls are looking after the Indian media delegation covering the ongoing South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Summit.
Many of them have studied in India. They look towards India as the great destination for education. On arrival in Coimbatore, Namkha was shocked when on her first day in college her class teacher taught in Tamil.
She says, "India is important for us. Whatever I am today is due to an Indian education."
Namkha speaks good English, she is confident and she speaks with conviction, "We Bhutanese are liberal. We don't have extreme views on anything. When I was in India, I understood the value of my country."
While gossiping about small and big things of her life in Thimpu, I asked her, "Do you believe in astrology?"
She said, "Why not?" I requested her to take me to her family astrologer.
She took me to a far away hill from my hotel. Bhutan's capital Thimphu is settled in a sprawling valley. To commute within the city, one has to literally move up and down from one hill to another, both horizontally and vertically. She took me to an apartment in a two-storey building.
Photographs: Sheela Bhatt
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Image: Namkha and Chungku, who escorted the Indian media delegation in Thimphu
A massage to the tiring urban nerves
The beauty of Thimphu lies in people and government's love for traditional architecture for their houses. Every other new house has beautiful dragons and animals, clouds and flower patterns and various tantric Buddhist logos painted on it with help of organic colours.
These paintings and the liberal use of wood (70 per cent of Bhutan is under forest cover) gives our bruised and tired urban nerves a soothing massage. On the second floor of the finely painted traditional building, I saw a crowd. Most houses in Bhutan have lots of curtains inside and outside the house. Curtains divided the front room, where people were waiting for the astrologer.
Namkha's astrologer's name is Ugyen. She informed me he is a monk.
Ugyen was sitting straight with his legs covered. In a small room, on one side he sat, and on the other side the place of worship was set up. Fruit juice, imported biscuits, milk, sweets and fruits were scattered. These gifts were given to Ugyen by his followers. I asked him if I can tape our conversation. He spoke in English with fine accent, "First I would like to know what all you want to know."
I said I would like to know about people in Bhutan and their life and issues through his eyes.
He said, "If you don't tape I will be frank with you."
I readily agreed. Namkha's friend Dechen was also with us. She was overwhelmed that she could reach to the astrologer monk. She looked at him as if he was God.
He was a Bhutanese monk but married with a child.
Image: A traditional Bhutanese home
'I am a garbage box. I am a magician'
Ugyen spoke carefully and with lots of compassion and wisdom.
He belongs to Zhengang in central Bhutan. His parents were 'innocent farmers.' Ugyen was two years old when his mother died and his father married again and left the village. Ugyen went to college but didn't finish his studies because he got interested in Buddhism.
Bhutanese follow the Mahayana branch of Buddhism. But, Ugyen learnt Mahayana's branch Vrajayana way to enlightenment. In search of knowledge, he traveled first to Sikkim and then to Mysore in India. At Punakha in Sikkim, the 17th generation of Lama Jekhempo taught him what he wanted. Vrajayana has got lots of tantric ways of rituals. In Mysore, Penor Rinpoche taught him more details.
Ugyen is just 33 and has quite a following in the town. He says, "I learnt through my gurus that everything is linked to the nature of your mind. Know your mind to know your problems."
He says a government servant came to him saying that he is hard working and loyal, but his senior is not recognising his talent nor promoting him. He was feeling frustrated. Ugyen said, "I am a garbage box. I am an answer machine. Some people, also, say I am God. I am a magician. People keep asking questions. I told the government servant, 'look at yourself, first. Know yourself, first'." Ugyen said.
A businessman from Thimpu came to him with his lover. He said he wanted to leave his wife and marry his lover. Ugyen changed his attitude to his wife and next time, he came with his wife for blessings.
Ugyen says everyday he gets many women suffering from domestic violence, sickness and also gets many cases of divorces and marital discord. In most cases he tells his followers, "Every pain in life is a manifestation of emptiness. Address your emptiness."
Ugyen says, "We Bhutanese are born Buddhists, but we just prostrate when we see monks because we want blessings. We should get real understanding of the religion."
He says anger is the worst human emotion. He says most of the followers face problems because they get angry and refused to analyse their mind.
Image: Ugyen, at his residence
'Don't forget to free some birds in Delhi'
After a while our conversation turned to astrology. He said Bhutanese like to consult astrologers every time they change jobs, do a big business, travel, change the houses and also, they like to consult astrologers in marriage and deaths and births.
Ugyen notes, "I have told my followers that I am not a astrologer. I am a Buddhist monk, only but still they crowd my house."
He went on to say that some five years back, a Christian missionary wanted him to change his religion. But, he refused because they were offering, 'monetary benefits.' Ugyen said, "In Bhutan, we are struggling with Christians missionaries. They want to convert us to Christianity."
As I was leaving, I had a doubt. This young monk was all the time sitting in same position.
I asked, "Are you alright? Are you healthy?"
His answer shocked me.
He said, "I have diabetes. I have two cysts in my kidney. I have tonsils. My teeth are decaying. I have acute ulcer. I have muscular deficiency that has crippled my legs. I must be a hunter in past life. I can't walk; I can't go to toilet without help. But, I know how to tackle my sickness. I have to be compassionate. I have to remain calm and kind. I am happy."
He added with steady eyes, "I am fire and I am water. I am carrying pain and I am happy."
"I am ready for death because death is part of change. Change is the reality of man's life. We are all dying... every single second. I won't feel sad when death comes."
The young Buddhist in an unknown town told three women -- Namkha, Dechen and myself, "Permanence is against the law of nature, so why feel pain when change comes?"
While winding up, he looked into his voluminous grantha after knowing my birth date. He predicted a few good things, and then noted that the next year will be difficult for me.
I said, "Will see as it comes."
To this he replied, "I have a solution. Why don't you free some caged pigeons? Free some goats and sheep from slaughterhouses and send back captured fish into the river. You will be alright in 2011."
Then we greeted each other and left. Namkha told me, "Bhutanese people deeply believe in freeing animals, birds and fishes. Don't forget to free some birds in New Delhi."
Image: The place of worship in Ugyen's home