On December 17th, the 112th National Day of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the Fifth King of Bhutan, shared his sweeping, stirring roadmap for Bhutan’s 21st century in his royal address to the kingdom.
Bhutanese kings have long had the ability to inspire the nation with their words and their actions, their wisdom widely regarded in Bhutan as exemplary and farsighted. Through successive periods in Bhutanese history to the present day, the kings have excelled at their primary responsibility of providing a north star for the nation to follow. They remain above the fray and course-correct, as needed, the ship of the Bhutanese nation from the dangerous shoals of corruption and moral entropy; the coarsening of the national debate; self-interest over national good; the exploitation of natural resources over environmental considerations; social fragmentation, aggression and exclusion over peace, harmony and inclusivity. That is the reason they are justly loved and revered in Bhutan. It is why they are the recipients of the highest national regard and remain the true rulers of the hearts and minds of the people.
Standing in front of the golden seal of Bhutan on Tuesday, with its two emblazoned dragons embracing the eight-spoke wheel that represents the noble eight-fold path taught by the Buddha—Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Contemplation—the handsome young king spoke at the capital's outdoor national stadium, Changlimethang, to a packed audience of attendees, many of whom had camped out the previous night, braving the winter cold, to hear their king speak.
In the stirring, wide-ranging, intimate and entirely extemporaneous royal address to the nation, His Majesty the King shared his vision for how the Bhutanese nation can stay the course and succeed amid the challenges of the 21st century, how the kingdom's youth can be empowered and groomed to fulfill their highest expectations. He also shared the news of a national service initiative beginning 2022, and the surprise happy announcement of a second royal baby on the way.
“The world is going through some of the most rapid changes we have ever seen,” His Majesty said. “We cannot afford to be timid, avoid what we don’t yet understand and hope for the best. Such an attitude will cost us our national objective of self reliance.”
While we have made great progress in our national life, the road in front of us can still be steep, heavy with implications, and hold unseen dangers if we do not prepare adequately for the changes currently underway, according to the king. Nations that understand the tremendous challenges [and opportunities] inherent in the future and promptly respond to them will reap the benefits while those that fail to take advantage of the tremendous potential, or are unable to respond nimbly, will likely find themselves at risk.
That is why we [the Bhutanese people] must join hands and act together as one: individuals, the representatives and officers of the democratically elected government, the private sector and all concerned citizens. We must work together to chart a clear and coherent economic roadmap for the 21st Century. This will enable every [Bhutanese] individual and entity to understand their respective roles and enable them to work toward our common national goals, he said.
Our neighbors, India and China, are experiencing unprecedented economic growth, propelled by technological advances in Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Automation, Big Data, Blockchain, Quantum Computers, and FinTech [such as] Digital Currencies, Digital Wallets, Digital Banking. We have to create economic opportunities for the next generation. It’s time to re-calibrate...ourselves to succeed in a fast-paced world.
As a small nation of 700,000 people, we cannot afford the inefficiencies, the discord, and the resulting time and cost overruns that can hinder the progress of countries far bigger than ours. We must work hard to act with speed, with efficacy, and with clarity. If we act out of love, loyalty and deep concern for the well-being of the country, and shoulder our national responsibilities with the utmost dedication, we should be able to complete in a few months what could take years in other [larger but less unified] countries.
We must strive to be adroit, conscientious, and seize the opportunities that come our way. We must create a clear and unobstructed pathway to progress and prosperity for our country and our people in the new century in which we are living. We must quickly fix any inefficiencies in our system to enable our citizens to work and create and flourish with the greatest convenience. We must create a climate of spaciousness that enables the highest potential of our people to flower, thus enriching the life of the nation.
Above all, we must seize the ability to provide opportunities for our youth, for that is something we have in our own hands. One of our most important national objectives is to empower every single child in Bhutan for success. Bhutan’s future
will be mirrored by the strength and capabilities of our youth. For our children to excel, they must adhere to the highest standards, and have capability, integrity, discipline, 21st century education, unity and solidarity.
The Gyalsung, or National Service, will provide direction and encourage our youth to be strong, independent thinkers, capable of serving the country. It will bring the youth of Bhutan together in a shared experience and act as a common rite of passage, irrespective of their economic or regional backgrounds. With this initiative, we are placing an immense responsibility on the shoulders of our children, and assuming an even greater responsibility ourselves to nurture them and ensure their success, His Majesty said.
With these words expressing his highest aspirations for the nation and the people of Bhutan, His Majesty the King joins the historic tradition established by the First King of Bhutan, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck, when he united the warring clans and chieftains of Bhutan under the dragon throne. More recently, the Great Fourth, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, was an intensely unifying force in the life of the Bhutanese nation. That sacred banner of Bhutan's national identity is now borne aloft by His Majesty the Fifth King of Bhutan.
Even though the Bhutanese system has evolved in recent times to include the kingdom's unique form of parliamentary democracy—at the coaxing, behest and, ultimately, explicit action of their majesties the fourth and fifth kings—no single institution, entity or individual does better at providing a moral compass for the Bhutanese soul than the worthy office of the king. In fact, when visitors to the kingdom wonder aloud why the institution of monarchy should be so deeply revered in Bhutan even as it faces decline in other parts of the world, this is the reason why.
The secret, ultimately, is that there is no secret to the prevailing mystique of Bhutan's kings. There's no magic, no fairy dust, no propaganda machine that props up the mythology. There's only the hard work, the deep dedication, the selfless love, and the duty-bound response to a sacred calling exemplified by the Bhutanese kings that makes their role in national life so special.
In such cynical, reductionist, times, the refined qualities exemplified by the Bhutanese kings are precious reminders of the values we should all seek to share and uphold as members of the collective global human family.
KARMA SINGYE DORJI
Travel Programs Coordinator
Bhutan Himalaya Expeditions
(Photos special to Bhutan Himalaya by Kuenzang Norbu)
Karma is the author of Dreaming of Prayer Flags: Stories and Images from Bhutan.