Lessons From the Land of Happiness – Bhutan

#1. Sameness breeds Contentment

As we sit by the Wangchu Riverside at Terma Linka, in Thimphu, under a silvery moon with colored flags flapping in the chilly breeze, many interesting insights sprout in my awareness about the happiness quotient of this place. I love the way the Bhutanese people all dress the same way. When no one needs to stand out and be seen as different, life becomes a lot easier and much less

Bhutan prayer flags by the river

complicated. The sameness in their dress code symbolically reminds me of how we are all similar in our struggles, our needs, our desires & hopes. Here everyone blends in. No one seems to be competing or showing off that they are bigger or better than others. This unspoken message, subtly etched in their national dress code, which they so proudly sport, is the first remarkable thing that struck me as a secret to happiness. Perhaps, letting go of the need to stand apart, allows humility to permeate our consciousness.

#2. Sharing multiplies Happiness

Meet Pema, our kind-hearted & spirited local guide and friend. As she insisted on walking us back to our hotel through the endless Que of SUV’s parked along the incline to our hotel last night, we found ourselves in the midst of a grand Bhutanese wedding.

With Pema

Walking through the crooning band, (which I was told by Pema is the youngest & most happening band in Bhutan today), we were completely taken by surprise when the bride’s mother came up to us and insisted we partake of the celebrations.

We drank, and laughed and mingled with the warmth of the local people. As we excused ourselves, Pema urged us to have another drink (which we kindly refused). “We Bhutanese people love to share all we have. We feel good about it”, she informed us.
Ah, so that’s secret number 2. When you share your blessings and abundance with others, the fountain of happiness gushes forth with greater vigour.

#3. Giving back, Completes you

One look at the unfinished canvas lying discretely in a corner, I knew there was something special about Kama Wangdi. National honor of merit holder, Kama uses his art to convey Buddhist philosophy and Dharma teachings. His wind horse representation introduced me to the idea underlying prayer flags that use the power of wind to carry prayers and positive affirmations to God.

But his incredible work is not what sets him apart. His purity of thought does. He teaches many young students how to paint and helps them pursue their dreams, even lending money from his meagre means. Why do you help them, I asked. “I don’t help them, he laughed, they help me to be a better man by accepting my assistance, he said humbly. My mother always told me to give back to others, what I received from life.”

Artiste Kama

Kama’s words struck a chord in my heart. To believe that the opportunity to help others is a blessing you have received from life, is a truly masterful way to make your life purposeful. Kama taught me the 3rd secret to happiness today. And when I said, yes we must all give back what we have an abundance of, Kama looked at me and smiled. My wife says that if you must give, give what you love.

Those words left an echo in my heart. And I think they deserve a standing applause, because that kind of giving is what love is all about. With those beautiful words on my mind, I can now dream about a perfect world filled with compassion and driven by peace.

#4. No high, no low, Liberates you

Driving to Punakha , the old winter capital of Bhutan , to visit the Dzong which is built at the confluence where the male river Pochu flows into the female river Mochu, we stop enroute for a hearty meal at one of the oldest hotels in the region. Colonel very graciously met us there and drove us on to the Dzong, a sacred sanctuary where all royal weddings and coronations take place.

zong bhutan

Karma Tshering, a happy natured and well travelled man, we learnt in conversation, also happens to be the uncle of the present Queen. Taken by surprise by his unassuming simplicity, we asked how he deals with this complex situation, considering his key task is to attend to the protection and needs of the royal family among other things.

Karma laughed heartily as we waited with bated breath to hear his answer. It’s quite simple, he said. When I’m on duty, my niece is simply the Queen and I bow to her, follow her command and do as I’m told. But in the evenings, when I ask her over home, she is simply my family and I’m her uncle.

That struck me as the powerful 4th secret of happiness. When you let go of self importance in relationships, and surrender to the demands of the role you play in that moment, you can be free of expectations of who you are and how people must treat you. Letting go of the perceptions of high and low, one is liberated of the idea of how things must be. Then there is only joy in whatever one does.

#5. No pain, no Gain

After meeting with a shut door for three days in a row, I arrived at Rimpoche Thamched Khenpa’s door, one last time, hoping to get lucky before I left Themphu for Paro to fly back to Delhi. Apparently he had been informed by the owner of the adjacent cafe that we had been looking for him these past few days, so he summoned us in without much delay.

Soaked in the blessings of that morning’s unexpected rain and my endless curiosity, I muttered, I’m here to ask just three questions Rimpoche. As he listened intently, Pema, my guide, translated our exchange.
What is happiness?
When your mind is at peace, your body is also at peace. That state we can call happiness, he said.

Rimpoche Thamched Khenpa

How can we find freedom from disturbing emotions?
By practicing the religious teachings (spiritual practices) and following the instructions of your root teacher or guru.
But for the people of the world, who have no guru, what is the one thing they must do?
They must practice compassion.

That then is my third question, how must we practice compassion?
Follow the four principles.
1. If someone troubles you, bothers or irritates you, don’t react. Let it go. Simply tell yourself, he is ignorant. 2. See everyone with an equal eye. No one is inferior to you. No one is superior. 3. Be kind to all. When you see a beggar, think that he may have been my parent in a previous life. 4. Feel genuinely happy when other people succeed. If you practice these four teachings, regularly, compassion will grow in your mind.

Happiness cannot be copy pasted from another source. It has to be home grown in your personal experience, through regular and diligent practice. So what are we all waiting for? Let’s get started friends. It’s never too late to embark on a journey to happiness. And who knows, we might reach the gates of Nirvana if we are truly committed to the practice.


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