During my schooldays, through college and university, national service and induction into civil service, there were mainly two dominant and deeply emotional preoccupations that defined my generation – The King and The Country. We knew no other reality. Bhutan was a deeply spiritual, inward-looking, innocent country, and jealously protective of its ancient heritage and sovereign self, yet with its eyes cast forward to find its place in the expanding universe beyond.
The prevailing spirit of the time, or zeitgeist as the Germans call it, was patriotism, serving the King, working for the Country, and nation-building in the purest sense of the term. It didn’t matter in what capacity we would serve. There was youthful excitement, fiery passion, and genuine drive to complete our studies and join the national effort at the earliest.
We followed the world-embracing development vision of our young King, tracked the progress of Gross National Happiness as our new-found North Star, and tried to understand and internalise the royal call for self-sufficiency and self-reliance with their critical implications on the long-term collective well-being and security of our beloved nation.
In so many beautiful ways, Bhutan still remains that magical dream-land, forever blessed by the divine, a rare gem of bountiful Nature’s wondrous paradise, secured and nurtured by generations of our enlightened Wangchuck Kings. For a world that is sorely bereft of a vision that beckons and edifies, Druk Yul may be the last oasis of peace and hope that yet calls for constant care and sustained nurture for her to bloom and blossom to reach her destined culmination.
This precious Jewel of the Himalayas has it all – a sovereign space of our dear Planet Earth, the benefit of stability and constancy ensured by the radiant light of the sacred throne, the gift of spiritual well-being secured by a succession of incarnate beings and accomplished masters, and the devotion and loyalty of generations of deeply patriotic citizens, against the backdrop of genuine goodwill and generous support of well-meaning friends around the world.
But, these our precious gifts, these wholesome fruits of dedicated hard work, can never be taken for granted. Successive generations receive these blessings by right and responsibility. We need to keep our vigil, protect these gifts and pass them on to generations who will follow us. Nation-building is an ongoing, inter-generational call that takes the genius and industry of all citizens by right and responsibility.
At a time when the feverish rush of globalisation and clamour for democracy were still in their nascent stage and obsession with the nation’s relative place in the competitive league table was not as strong, countries around the world, including our own, had the generosity of space and leisureliness of pace to look inward and draw up the general contours of their objective expression befitting the integrity of their heritage and the dreams of their people.
Notwithstanding its many benefits, one of the supreme ironies of globalisation is the gradual standardisation of nations’ uniqueness and the narrowing of people’s general outlook relative to the collective well-being of the country. Likewise, an obvious downside of democracy is the loosening of discipline, particularly self-discipline, which is the strongest safeguard against populist tendencies and pedestrian expediencies. We need to watch out!
As our Druk Yul reaches a defining moment in its evolution as an independent, sovereign, and democratic, modern state under the wise stewardship of our visionary People’s King, it may be instructive for us, the fortunate citizens of this our precious home of myriad blessings, to reflect on what really constitutes the galvanising spirit of our time, the dominant preoccupations of the moment, and the way in which we relate to our country.
In essence, we need to ask ourselves, individually and collectively, what are those vital points where we, as citizens, meet and identify with the nation – emotionally, psychologically, spiritually and morally beyond the constitutional provisions that define one’s citizenship including one’s rights and duties? We ought to listen to our inner voice, the voice of our conscience, and ask “What truly are my priorities in relation to my country’s priorities?”
His Majesty, our visionary Druk Gyalpo, has reminded us time and again of the critical need to cultivate EXCELLENCE and INTEGRITY in everything we do, just as our revered Drukgyal Zhipa desires that every Bhutanese be a PROFESSIONAL, that is one who does to the best of his or her ability what one has to do. For these profound messages to be the defining spirit of the time though, citizens must cultivate excellence, demonstrate integrity and build professionalism as a shared national commitment.
In times of national crises, we have shown that we can all come together spontaneously as a family under the care and protection of our Bodhisattava Kings, as we did during the difficult period of the global pandemic, for instance, and manifest our finest virtues as humans and as Bhutanese, to address the threats to our collective well-being. It was a moment when Bhutan was at her best despite the anxiety and uncertainty unleashed by the invisible enemy.
And, it is always most heartening to watch the milling multitudes who congregate at the grand prayers ceremonies presided over by His Holiness Je-Khen Rinpoche and renew their faith in the divine as an act of self-purification and for the well-being of all sentient beings in all realms. We come together in our prayers and in our devotion as a family, as a community, and as a nation against the vast backdrop of the sea of common humanity.
As the nation comes together to celebrate important occasions in the life of our country, such as our National Day, we hold our breath and wait for His Majesty’s all-embracing Royal Address to the Nation. We become one in body, speech and mind and merge our individual ‘I’ with the collective ‘We’. A united nation follows the defining milestones in the life of our country as enshrined in Druk Gyalpo’s edifying Royal Address.
How do we capture and internalise the power and purpose of these moments and make them our guide in our daily lives and bring them to bear on the making of our nation as a function of our conscious decision and action? How do we make the temper of the moment the character of the age? These, and more, are questions that we need to reflect on as we look to the future as a people and as a nation.
There was a time when Bhutanese youth going abroad for studies or training would invariably yearn to return home and help in nation-building with their newly-acquired knowledge and skills. Our scholars would win the admiration of their host-institutions and host-nations for their dedication to their country and its development. Most still do. Yet, many others would now be keeping their ears tuned in to the call of the beyond for whatever reason!
As fortunate as we are on multiple counts, we are only so big as a nation, and we are only so many as a people. That is the reason that, as a fading specimen of a retreating generation, I worry about the widening gap between our dream as a nation and our actions as a people. We need all our citizens – men, women and children – to do their part in the building of our nation.
Obviously, I cannot expect everybody to make the kind of sacrifices that I have made to remain true to my ideals in relation to the sovereign ideals of our country. It is not easy to go through long and dreary nights of anguish and keep hope and stay positive especially when your goodwill and trust crash on the crass pragmatism of lawless individuals and callous institutions.
No country is perfect, but this is no reason for complacency. Giving up is easy, but it is not an option. That is why above and beyond everything else, I remain positive and keep my faith in the goodness and promise of our precious Druk Yul. It has been a rare honour to invest my entire life and efforts in the well-being of my beloved country. Many of my fellow-citizens with better credentials and mightier wherewithal could do a lot more…
We have a great opportunity to build an extraordinary nation in the vision of our far-sighted Monarchs and befitting the rich heritage of our country and the aspirations of our people. We enjoy the good fortune of having extraordinary Kings to inspire us and to guide the destiny of our beloved Druk Yul. And, all Bhutanese genuinely love and deeply care for our most treasured Tsawa-Sum.
But, we need to be extraordinary citizens befitting the leadership of our peerless Kings and the infinite blessings of our beloved country. We need to measure up, rekindle that galvanising passion, and brighten the glow in our children’s eyes as we forge a shared destiny and follow the clear light that shines from the golden throne.
May the Guardian Deities of our beloved country bless and watch over our precious Tsawa-Sum forever…
Thakur S Powdyel, former Minister of Education.