Bhutan: gracious, mystical

Writer Dianne Shiner shares an excerpt of her meditations on Bhutan, published in the collection Second Journeys, following her visit to Bhutan with us.

In the opening tea circle at the start of our two weeks of travel in Bhutan our leader Karma Dorji welcomed us to Bhutan by saying that “Buddhism is the air we breathe.”

Indeed, every day, we experienced the freshness of a culture still immersed in a lively and shared sense of the holy. The sheer lightheartedness of the Bhutanese people manifested in easy smiles and twinkling eyes. Early in the trip, I witnessed our hotel clerk being berated by a dissatisfied guest.

Never have I seen a young man with such gracious boundaries; he was neither stressed nor defensive nor obeisant. I came to find that this odd combination of amusement and respect was indeed the cultural norm, whether with children or with the wizened. Even government policy is deeply informed by an authentic religious view.

Gray and wizened, an elderly Bhutanese man looks at the world from his window

For example, their spectacular Himalayan peaks will never be scaled, and thus never [potentially] be trashed, by mountain climbing expeditions, because villagers asked the government to protect the sanctity of the peaks, the home of the deities, from intrusion. National parks and biological corridors comprise over 40 percent of the country, preserving Bhutan’s amazing biodiversity. Economic development is intended to be slow, sustainable, and balanced by priorities in art, education, health care, and ecology (some of the measurable goals of concrete Gross National Happiness). The Dzongs (magnificent fortresses) equally house each district’s monastic body and government offices. Prayer and devotion punctuate the day whether in golden rice fields, domestic temples, numerous monasteries, or casual businesses. Even the one and only golf course asks that you circle and apologize to a tree if your ball should strike it!

As early as 1904, Max Weber (in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism) was writing about the disenchantment of a secularized world, as opposed to traditional society where, for Weber, “the world remains a great enchanted garden.”

For a brief 18 days in Bhutan, we were invited to reenter that garden of everyday mysticism, and to return home changed by its vigor and delight.

Dianne Shiner, was the Executive Director of Lutheran Social Services, Holden Village, and the Whidbey Institute at Chinook before her retirement. A longer piece of writing from her trip with us appeared in the book Journeys Outward, Journeys Inward: Travel & Transformation, edited by Penelope Stuart Bourk & Bolton Anthony and published by Second Journey Publications.

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