An almost palatable milky-chai aroma catches the soothing Himalayan breeze as a group of monks congregate upon a quaint cafe roof terrace with steaming white teacups. Below, a Chuba wearing woman adds a Spiritual awareness poster to the multitude of Reiki and Yoga notices already adorning its walls. The Dalai Lama’s Indian home of exile, Dharamshala, is a microcosm of the Tibetan way of life. It beats at its own pace; while the India around it searches for further acceleration.
In 1959, the Dalai Lama completed an enduring fifteen day escape from Lhasa and arrived in India. As one challenge folded, another unveiled itself. A global journey to support the welfare of Tibetans would expose him to the gulf between his ideologies, and the western-world. Witnessing the eternal chase to satiate endless desires that now lays bare in his adoptive home would have provided inspiration for his poem; ‘the paradox of our age’. The essence and simplicity that once embodied his Tibet is becoming harder to find in a world of growing complexity.
"We have bigger houses but smaller families; more conveniences, but less time; We have more degrees, but less sense; more knowledge, but less judgement; more experts, but more problems; more medicines, but less healthiness"
In the sculpture classroom of the Zorig Chusum School of Traditional Arts in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, a poster reads, “If you’re a good human being, then the skills and knowledge you acquire will benefit the whole society. Otherwise it’s like giving a weapon to a child”. One student carefully ushers his paintbrush between the lines of his sketched “four harmonious friends,” a universal Bhutanese image of a bird, rabbit, and monkey standing on each other’s shoulders on the back of a patient elephant, symbolising social and environmental harmony.
Education is not just a means to an end for the Bhutanese; it is an end in itself- to learn how to think. The ornately decorative architecture and the intricately painted murals of the country’s Dzongs and Chortens that are carved and shaded in the classroom, are not ostentatious items of show to portray power or yield monetary gain. Their worth is in preserving culture and tradition, and perpetuating morals.
"We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbour. We build more computers to hold more information to produce more copies than ever, but have less communication; We have become long on quantity, but short on quality. These are times of fast foods but slow digestion; Tall men but short character; Steep profits but shallow relationships. It's a time when there is much in the window, but nothing in the room."
On the path to Chimi Lhakang, the divine fertility temple in Bhutan’s Punakha valley, several workers begin sifting through the rice fields. The cloudless November morning sky allows the sun to radiate freely down upon them though fails to nullify their community spirit and the merry rhythm they have developed to their livelihoods. Bouts of laughter echo from corners of the valley, which ebbs and flows with the motions of the farmers, while a gathering of children titter at the symbolic phalluses lining the temple route.
We may see opportunities to make rice growing faster, picking more efficient and the whole process, more profitable. Yet, from their Himalayan viewpoint, like the Tibetan monks enjoying afternoon tea, the Bhutanese prefer to embrace a life where values are multiplied, and possessions are not.
(Punakha Dzong, Punakha, Bhutan, Image Credit: Tej Parikh)