Bayul Dewaling, Bhutan’s Centre for Gross National Happiness, will be situated on 46 acres at an altitude of 2,835 metres in Bumthang’s sacred Choekhor valley in central Bhutan. The blue pine forested site is bounded by the Chamkar River to the west and south and by mountain slopes to the southeast, and sits at the southern entrance of the 4,914 sq km Wangchuck Centennial Park – Bhutan’s largest national park.
The Centre’s purpose is to manifest in living practice Bhutan’s balanced development philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which seeks to integrate equitable and sustainable socio-economic development with environmental conservation, cultural promotion, and good governance.
Thus, the Centre will embody and model the principles of GNH in every aspect of its design, functioning, activity, and human interaction, manifesting simple and sustainable living in harmony with nature and other beings. It will attract Bhutanese from all walks of life to learn and experience how to bring GNH values and practices fully into their daily work and lives and thereby to serve their families, neighbors, and country at large with genuine purpose, compassion, joy, and effectiveness.
Catering to about 300 participants, the Centre will offer educational, leadership, and intercultural programs, meditation practice, nature experiences, entrepreneurial and skills training, work programs, and short courses — all deeply embedded in GNH principles.
The GNH Centre will be developed with donor contribution, but eventually become a self-supporting non-governmental entity with its own board of governors.
The design and construction of the Centre will also embody GNH values. Building design and location will be harmonized with natural site features and ecological principles, using renewable energy, passive solar heating, and a zero waste regime. No motorized vehicles will be on site. Traditional and sustainable building methods such as rammed earth will be used. And by harnessing local skilled labor, sourcing natural local materials, and leveraging local supply chains, the Centre will support the economy of the region and highlight the rich human resources in the Centre’s vicinity.
The design plan draws on several organizational models — using natural site features and a combination of ‘concentrated’ and ‘dispersed’ structures in a village/campus network. A ‘procession’ of structures proceeds from the most outward functions of the community building near the Park headquarters across the river to the more intimate residential and classroom functions. There will be a 150-person meditation hall and small meditation huts, with five open classrooms and small group meeting rooms, a studio and workshop, a sports and assembly field, a range of residential options, a water garden, landscaped gardens like wellness garden, contemplative garden, river walk and informal nature walk garden, trails, and one bridge linking the Centre with the national park.
$7 million in funding is currently sought to realize this dream, which will provide great benefit not only to Bhutan but to a world seeking a viable alternative to the dominant materialist, consumerist model of development. If funding allows, architectural, design, and construction plans will be finalized by August, 2012; construction will begin in the spring of 2013 and during the course of the same year activities will start at the Center; and the GNH Centre will be fully operational by the fall of 2016 -2017 depending on the fund flow.
The writer is Director of the GNH Center in Bumthang