Goodness, I just read over everything, and this looks like such a serious blog! You can really tell how unfamiliar I am with the medium! I’ll try to be a bit more personal and entertaining today.
For all you Naropa folks, I wanted to let you know that Jane Carpenter is here, and it is so great to see her. As you may know, Jane was on sabbatical this semester, and came to Bhutan in the late summer (in late July, I think) to work with Royal Bhutan University on developing mindfulness programs for students. She has worked in Paro at the teachers’ college and in Samtse (I hope I have the name right) and has had a wonderful time. She’ll tell more of her adventures after returning, but seeing her here, she seems to have lived in Bhutan for years—calling her Bhutanese friends on her cell, running errands, helping arrange the events, and generally involved in everything. It has been so helpful to us to talk with her about Bhutan. Jane came to Thimphu for the workshop, and is one of the official observers. Val Sanford came as an observer as well, and is staying with Jane.
This was the first full day of the workshop, and we are all beginning to settle into our work together. Ivy Ang, the facilitator, worked very hard today, managing a central group of 50, monitoring the 120 observers and multiple videographers, transcribers, recorders, and staff. I can see that in such an endeavor, the first day of working with such a large group is challenging, especially if people are unfamiliar with large group collaborative work. Some people want to talk all the time, others who have a lot to offer say too little, and keeping everything on track takes discipline, clarity, kindness, and firmness. Ivy was great.
The day began with a short keynote by Vandana Shiva, the renowned Indian eco-feminist, who spoke of the dangers of the force of consumerism and commodification on the ecology and quality of life throughout the world, backed up by powerful statistics about the shocking loss of clean water and access to food even as there are so many more billionaires everywhere. Her main challenge is to the unquestioned goal of “growth” she sees everywhere, which cannot be currently supported without the additional use of fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources. Fantastic! She is amazing, a dynamo of economic and culture critique, backed up by years of research and activism. She is here only for a day, as she is off to Copenhagen. As she said, she had to give up three conferences and rearrange her schedule, but “Copenhagen is completely stuck, and Bhutan is the way forward!” We must invite her to Naropa sometime, she is one of us!
The purpose of the day was to get to know each other and to become familiar with the central objectives of the workshop, preset by our group in the answers we gave to questionnaires months before the workshop. The Prime Minister and Education Minister and most of the Ministry of Education were present for most of the day. What I learned today is how the international participants and the Bhutanese present understand Gross National Happiness. It is really inspiring to me, as it accords so much with Tibetan Buddhist perspectives on happiness, with a modern development twist. It is based on the view that all beings want to be happy and want to avoid suffering—the only problem is that habitually they pursue the opposite, things that bring pain. With clarity, practitioners resist the temptation to seek happiness in material gain, pleasure, power, distractions, or addictions. Instead they have the possibility to cultivate real happiness, both the happiness found in the mind in meditation and the wholesome happiness of community, kindness, peace.
In our little breakout groups today, I happened to find myself working with a group of six to eight Bhutanese as the only foreigner, having vigorous discussions about what a GNH community would look like. I was so struck that these men and women have a strong sense of belonging, compassion, love of community, and wonderful humor. They vigorously interact and refine their thinking, and politely moved freely between Dzongkha and English. What wonderful human beings they are! Several were monastics, the rest lay government officials, teachers, and principals, and they spoke with some formality, but with such intimacy and respect. What is learned is how much they valued care for each other in community as they gave examples of how they respond when a baby is born or someone dies in the community. When the monks travel to Thimphu, where do they stay? When someone graduates from high school, what do they do?
One of the ongoing issues that came up repeatedly had to do with village young people pursuing education outside of the village—where do they go? There are few jobs, and none in the village, unless one is a farmer, artisan, or merchant. How to bring people back to the village is of great concern. I remember my days as a college student at the Gujarat Vidyapith, a Gandhian ashram college, and how it was addressed there as we mixed our studies with agriculture, sanitation work, and spinning, and so I’ve been able to vigorously take part as well. What a wonderful endeavor!
Tonight, about 10 of the international participants were invited to dinner with the Prime Minister and about an equal number of his senior officials. The dinner was held at the posh Taj Hotel, only two years old, in Thimphu. Impeccable in details, fantastic food, no alcohol served at any of our events whatsoever, very interesting conversation. I was sitting across from the PM, and he spoke of such matters as Bhutan’s main crops, the effects of global warming, the skill of the pilots of Druk Air, and his own love of his garden. One fascinating topic was Bhutan’s refusal to let any of their mountains be climbed, with regulations put in place by the Fourth King, and how they have had to negotiate with the Chinese to make sure that no climbers come in from the north. This led me to ask about the Bhutanese view of drala, and he responded with impassioned description of the drala, that many might consider it superstition, but that drala were the underpinnings of Bhutan’s new emphasis on eco-literacy. I continued the conversation with the Education Minister on my left, and he was so surprised to find a western person who also has a deep appreciation of drala, and how this might help develop appreciation for the beauty and sacredness of the natural world