Meditation & Health #21- Bhutan: A Heavenly Abode


Meditation & Health No 21 - Table of Contents



Bhutan: A Heavenly Abode

         By Qing Qian & Narom Chea

         Bhutan, as it is known to the outside world, is Druk Yul or the “Land of the Thunder Dragon” to the Bhutanese. Thunder  believed to be the roar of a mythological dragon  and storms often roll through the valleys from the Himalayas. Regarded as an auspicious omen, the Thunder Dragon has long been held as the national symbol.



         Considered a Heavenly abode for its breathtaking views, this secluded Buddhist kingdom is rich in culture and abundant in magnificent landscapes. Located at the foot of the Himalayas and isolated by majestic mountain peaks, Bhutan calls to those who long for tranquil solitude far removed from the hustle and bustle of the workaday world.


Culture of Eternal Peace


        The king of Bhutan, in an effort to preserve arts and traditions, mandated that traditional costume be the official dress code in schools, government buildings, and on formal occasions. Men wear the gho, a knee-length robe tied at the waist by a cloth belt, and women wear the kira, an ankle-length dress clipped at one shoulder and tied at the waist. These costumes are awash in brilliant colors, reflecting the vibrancy and vitality of life in Bhutan.

        Bhutan is a devoutly Buddhist country. Monasteries, fluttering prayer flags, spinning prayer wheels, and shaven-headed monks in deep burgundy and gold robes are common sights, imbuing the landscape with reverence.

         A peaceful, simple place, Bhutan is said to be the only country in the world with no traffic lights, including on the streets of its capital, Thimphu. There aren’t many vehicles, drivers are patient, pedestrians are considerate, and white-gloved policemen direct traffic with grace.

         Many low-rise traditional buildings in Thimphu lend considerable aesthetic charm. However, in the last decade or so, modern architects have attempted to marry the old with the new, constructing contemporary, utilitarian structures. To the Bhutanese way of thinking, buildings are temporal and have to be renewed. What is important is that the ideas and philosophies they represent continue to live in people’s hearts, never to be destroyed.



Shangri-La on Earth


         A visit to one of the most informal, relaxed and friendly capitals in the world requires travel along a winding single-lane road nestled among hillsides dotted with houses and whitewashed temples — before it abruptly takes you onto the only modern expressway for a wild ride past blurred rice paddies.

        Sited atop a mountain at an altitude of 2,500 meters above sea level is a massive bronze statue of Sakyamuni Buddha. Rising 51.5 meters, it is the largest Buddha statue in the world. The Buddha holds an alms bowl in his left hand while his right forms the earth-touching gesture or Bhumyakramana mudra, signifying that one is not affected by evil spirits, worries or troubles in any situation. The statue overlooks Thimphu Valley and can be seen from far-off places. Under the compassionate gaze of the Buddha, one can regain a sense of peace in this troubled world.

        Leisurely strolling down the streets of Thimphu under the clear blue sky, while at the same time soaking in the brilliant view of the distant snowcapped mountains and the crystalline waters of Raidāk River, one cannot help but be overwhelmed with peace, compassion, and gratitude for the gift of a Shangri-La on Earth.


Sacred Cliffside Retreat


       Taktsang Monastery, also known as the Tiger’s Nest, is one of the cultural icons of Bhutan. Renowned for its beauty and uniqueness, the sacred site is precariously located on the edge of a cliff, 900 meters above the Paro Valley.

       Legend has it that during the eighth century, Guru Rinpoche (also known as Guru Padmasambhava) flew on the back of a tigress from Tibet and landed on the cliff. Guru Rinpoche is believed to have brought Buddhism to Bhutan, and he meditated in a cave for 



three years, three months, three weeks, three days, and three hours in order to subdue the evil demons residing in the mountains. It is said that when he departed the cave, he left behind a diamond dorje which was only discovered in the 17th century. The monastery was built at the entrance of the cave to commemorate this.


Every Step of the Journey


        Although respect for Mother Nature has diminished in many parts of the world, it is not so in Bhutan. Viewing the Taktsang Monastery from a distance evokes a deep reverence for Mother Nature and the cosmic world. To view the Taktsang Monastery up close, one has to cross the pine forest and hike the steep cliff for at least two hours; it is a trek that emphasizes the power of the mind over the body. But one’s efforts are rewarded with the awe-inspiring beauty of a pristine environment. Ascending thousands of steps along the primitive trek route is to make a pilgrimage of wonderment set to the flapping sounds of colorful prayer flags. Every step brings one closer to the sacred heritage site — the highest point of a sojourn in Bhutan.

       Within the halls of the Taktsang Monastery, one walks barefoot and in silence. While holding a traditional butter lamp in both hands and basking in its warm ethereal light, a deep sense of respect arises as one comes upon a rendering of the mighty Guru Dorje Drolo, one of the Eight Manifestations of Guru Rinpoche. Further into the cave is the main cavern where the statues of Guru Rinpoche and The Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva are enshrined. Looking out from the balcony of the holy shrine, visitors are overwhelmed by the panoramic view of the Paro Valley, a vista which calls to mind a Divine world beyond Earth.

        Colorful prayer flags adorned with scriptures or inscribed with auspicious symbols carry blessings and prayers to all. The devoted Bhutanese Buddhists believe the sutras on them are released to Heaven and this in turn brings merit to the people who affixed the flags.


Happiness Is Prosperity


        Bhutan is considered by many to be the happiest country in the world. Rather than focusing on Gross Domestic Product, the Bhutanese are renowned for Gross National Happiness (GNH), a phrase coined in the 1970s. The GNH Index includes nine domains, as follows: psychological wellbeing; health; education; time use; cultural diversity and resilience; good governance; community vitality; ecological diversity and resilience; living standards. The index is intended as a holistic reflection of the overall wellness of the population. There is a strong emphasis on living a well-rounded life, rather than blindly pursuing an iteration of worldly “success.”



Meditation & Health No 21 - Table of Contents