Karla Piacentini, IEM/MPA ’17

J-Term Practica, 201613007363_10154873529899552_8031694299237128405_nApril 19, 2016

Tucked away among the sloping highlands of the Himalayan region is Bhutan, a tranquil country with a population of only 750,000 inhabitants. The Buddhist kingdom has seeped in cultural and historical traditions, but in recent years has been cautiously inching towards modernization and the adoption of democracy. Given this unique immersive learning opportunity, my classmates and I got a first-hand glance at some of the beautiful and complex intricacies that make Bhutan one of the most charming countries in the region. Every detail ranging from the traditional architectural structures to the sacred prayer flags strung about the countryside are intentional. Although seemingly simplistic, these elements are closely linked to longstanding Bhutanese ideals. Despite the multilayered features that make Bhutan so distinctively memorable, I found the notion of commitment to be the most impressionistic.

First of all, a commitment to conserving the environment stands as one of Bhutan’s four pillars of the ‘Gross National Happiness’ philosophy. Sustainable lumbering and farming practices, as well as land and animal protection and conservation, is intricately woven into the Bhutanese psyche. As mandated in its constitution, Bhutan preserves 60% of its land under forest cover. Thanks to a variety of (governmental and non-governmental) agroforestry and conservation associations, together with the inclusion of local populations, responsible approaches to overall nature and wildlife conservation have been established.

Secondly, a commitment to developing cultural resilience, which translates to Bhutan’s capacity of maintaining cultural identities, traditional knowledge and practices, and its ability to overcome contemporary challenges that threaten the indigenous social fabric of the population are of paramount importance. Bhutan is deeply committed to cultural expression, which includes traditional art, music, national dress, language, and even positive attitudes towards death and funeral rights. Furthermore, the implementation of a center for traditional Bhutanese art education, the National Institute of Zorig Chusum, in the capital city, Thimphu, demonstrates a pledge to continue venerable customs that so aptly distinguish Bhutan. The institute currently provides 4 to 6 years of training in Bhutanese traditional art forms.

Lastly and what I consider most importantly, a commitment to Buddhism and spiritual heritage. Spiritual guidance and belief can often be the guiding force of individual existence and the power of religion is no different for the people of Bhutan. Particular characteristics of Buddhism, such as mindfulness and meditation, focus on activities of consciousness including attention and awareness, all of which guide directly to personal well-being. Buddhism is closely linked to existential factors that include encouraging awareness and acceptance of experience, recognition of choices, and assuming responsibility. It also alludes to oneness with nature, protecting sacred lands, and surrounding environments giving way to overall spiritual cohesion.

Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon, beams with a still and empowering light. It’s impressionistic commitment to environmental conservation, cultural preservation, and overall spiritual heritage and cohesion, among a variety of other elements, make this country unique. Despite the varied contemporary challenges facing the country, Bhutan is continually striving to for balance – a balance between tradition and modern materialism that can still move the country and its people towards a prosperous and sustainable future.

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