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The Ancient Laws of Bhutan


In 1616, the modern founder of Bhutan, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel arrived from Tibet in Bhutan as prophesized by Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche. Zhabdrung unified Bhutan under one governmental system.

Guru Rinpoche foresaw the building of the Punakha Dzong by "a person named Namgyel (who) will arrive at a hill that looks like an elephant." Before the building of the Punakha Dzong, a Small Dzong or Dzong Chu was built.


According to history, Zhabdrung ordered his architect, Zowe Palep, to sleep in front of a statue of the Buddha at Dzong Chu. From the architect's dream and vision the design for the new and much larger Punakha Dzong came forth. In 1637, the important Punakha Dzong (fort) was built.


Zhabdrung ruled Bhutan for about 35 years. During his rule he established a dual system of government known as Chhosi Nyidhen that was created during his important cloistering and retreat in 1651 at the Punakha Dzong. The dual government system included joint rule by a temporal leader and a Manyahana Buddhist religious leader. Punakha Dzong, due to being in a warmer climate, is still used as the winter resort of the Zhung Dratshang or Central Monk Body and the Je Khenpo or chief monk. Zhabdrung's body is still preserved at the Punakha Dzong.

One important element of Zhabdrung's legacy is the creation and establishment of Bhutan's first legal code. This first legal code, also known as "The Golden Yoke of Legal Edicts" was crafted to prescribe proper conduct by state authorities. No known paper copy (is yet) available of this legal code. However, between Dzong Chu and Punakha Dzongs stands a small house of worship. Etched in large black slates is the only known copy of Zhabdrung's original legal code.


A subsequent update of Bhutan's original legal code known as "The Pure Mirror of the Two-Fold System" referring to religious and temporal law is mentioned in a 1720 text but so far no known copy has been found. A third version and expanded legal code created by the 10th Druk Desi (Regent)--Mipham Wangpo is preserved in an appendix to a 1759 text on the history of Bhutan by the 10th Desi Tenzin Chogyal.

Posted by mgivel 00:25 Archived in Bhutan Tagged educational Comments (0)

The National Memorial Chorten

By Becky

overcast 70 °F

Thimphu’s Memorial Chorten is both a chorten and a temple in one. It occupies a prominent place in the center of the main road near the south entrance of the city proper; traffic splits to go around it. It was built in 1974 to honor the 3rd King, who wanted to construct a chorten to represent the mind of the Buddha,but passed away before starting that project.


On the day I visited, the grounds were filled with people, some next to the large prayer wheels in the garden, some circling the temple (clockwise only) reciting prayers, but most seated, waiting for monks to distribute a rice and vegetable lunch before an address and blessing by the Je Khenpo (the religious head of Bhutan). It was a "Moelam Chenmo," or Great Prayer Festival.




I circled, looking for good photo shots. I had gone up the steps of the temple itself to get a better view, when a young monk, perhaps 12 years old, beckoned me inside. I slipped off my shoes and followed. The ground level contains four shrines, one in each of the four cardinal directions, each with different photographs of the 3rd King. The eastern shrine included a large statue of the historical Buddha. Fruit, food stuffs, and money had been left in offering. Up steep narrow stairs, there are two more levels, each with four more shrines. A huge wooden carving occupies the center of the building, reaching up through all three levels, behind the shrines. The carving displays hundreds of protective deities, some looking pretty wrathful, and scenes from the bardo, the short stage in which the spirit is judged and awaits reincarnation. We circled the second story three times, then stepped out on to the roof over the first level, where we overlooked the crowd. A majority of the people were older, often elderly, and dressed in red or purple, indicating that they were lay clergy or just very devout.


Two tents were set up to cover some of the crowd. The smaller one had chairs for dignitaries.


Back outside, I made sure to complete three circuits of the temple. Shortly after I finish, a few groups of monks hurry around the left side of the building. The Je Khenpo was about to speak. I found a spot in the back and stayed to listen. His speech was all in Dzongka, and he made few gestures, so I didn’t stay long.


Posted by rsherry 10:38 Archived in Bhutan Tagged events Comments (1)

A Hike to Tango Goemba

By Becky

overcast 65 °F

Sunday, Aug. 23, we got a bit of an early start and hiked up to Tango Goemba, a monastery about 12 km north of Thimphu. We started with a drive up the valley, winding through lush pine and oak forests, following the swollen Wang Chu River to a parking area at the base of some small but steep mountains.



On the way, we paused at a giant painting of Guru Rinpoche, who first introduced Buddhism to Bhutan in the 7th century. His golden-skinned portrait is one of the most impressive artworks I’ve seen here. A stream trickles past the huge rock, turning a prayer wheel inside a small building just below.


Mike, Noah and I hiked slowly for about an hour up steep switchbacks.


We met other people on the trail, mostly ordinary Bhutanese going to pray at the temple inside the monastery, but also monks coming and going.


About halfway up, we can see Tango Goemba looming above us.


The Tango Goemba site has had religious significance since the 12th century when was the home of the Lama who brought the Drukpa Kagyupa school of Buddhism to Bhutan. The monastery was built there in the 15th century by Drukpa Kunley ("The Divine Madman" -- look him up). It was extended in the early 18th century and again in the late 19th century, and restored in the mid-1990s. Tango is the highest center of Buddhist learning in the country; almost every Je Khenpo (religious head of Bhutan) completed the 9-year program there. After completing that program, monks traditionally spend 3 years, 3 months and 3 days in mediation at the nearby Cheri Goemba retreat, built in 1619 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the founder or first unifier of Bhutan. It is currently the home of an 11 year old boy believed to be the seventh reincarnation of the fourth desi, or ruler, of Bhutan.



Beside the gorgeous forest, the other highlight of our visit is the gathering of monks for the mid-day prayers. Never have I seen so many monks, in their best robes, gathered in one place.



On our way down, we pass pack ponies carrying supplies to the monastery higher up. All-in-all, a beautiful, peaceful and delightful morning.


As always, you can view more of my photos at https://www.travellerspoint.com/gallery/users/rsherry/

Posted by rsherry 02:13 Archived in Bhutan Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

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