Bhutan as a state has undergone dramatic changes in less than a decade. We have transited to democratic constitutional monarchy in a most peaceful manner under the glorious reign of His Majesty The Fourth King and His Majesty The King.
Generally, it is quite difficult to remain optimistic in the midst of high youth unemployment, breakdown in traditional family values, undesirable politics, so on and so forth. However, if there is one thing I am optimistic about, that has to be the propitious future of Buddhism, particularly in Bhutan.
Formidable challenges our millennials and youth faces
Perhaps, millennials and youths of Bhutan are confronting the biggest challenges that were unknown to generations before them. This, of course, is not to negate the hardships our forefathers went through in their times. They had their own share of trials and tribulations. However, the nature of challenges are significantly different. Bluntly put, hardships of generations before us were mostly physical. Our country remained isolated from rest of the world (Thanks to Himalayas in the north and thick forests of the south) and everyone engaged in farming. Their needs were minimal and hence were emotionally content.
On the other hand, millennials and the youth of this era have to confront challenges which are mostly psychological in nature. The world has shrunk into a global village. Our youths are no longer immune from the impacts of global trends like Hollywood, Korean waves, so on and so forth. No wonder we have many k-pop fans in Bhutan. What is worrisome is the fact that they are increasing in numbers.
Youth unemployment in Bhutan is a serious issue. A labour force survey on employment states that while the national unemployment rate in the country saw a decrease of 0.1 percent from 2.6 percent in 2014 to 2.5 percent in 2015, youth (15-24 years) unemployment increased from 9.4 percent in 2014 to 10.7 in 2015. As per the report there are some 4,504 unemployed youth in the country.
In contemporary world, economic insecurity is often the starting point of all other problems. Once you fail to mint money, you slowly get isolated from others. Your self-esteem diminishes and it gets lot easier to go astray. This is happening in Bhutan at present. We have most productive people (youths) of the nation engaging in drugs, burglary and other activities forbidden by law.
Buddhism will not necessarily solve the problem of youth unemployment. Economy has to figure it out. However, Buddhism can help our millennials and youths approach such circumstances in a difficult time.
Millennials and youths are mainly sceptics
Youth these days are confident, investigative and skeptical. Their mind unlike our ancestors is not trained to obey or conform to the system. This I think is a true asset of our country. Also, this is good news for Buddhism. Buddha in kalama sutra spoke as follows;
“Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.”
Another issue which I would like to address is that of “Trulku system” in Vajrayana Buddhism. I am not sure if I can say much since Buddhist masters have said that it is time for changes in how we raise and educate our trulkus.
Buddhism in Bhutan is predominantly a ritual unless you go to Buddhist colleges. We are definitely not doing justice to Buddhism by confining it to rituals.
Predominantly ritualistic form of Buddhism in Bhutan is already under attack from millennials and youths. They don’t enjoy praying even for a day not to mention weeks and months of retreats. They may probably suffer from depression if they are put into 3 months retreat. This is also a good condition for Buddhism to thrive in Bhutan. With need, our millennials will come with a more practical form of Buddhism that serves them. And, I am optimistic that it will evolve for the better.
Profundity of Buddhism
Buddhism is deep and profound. This profoundness and deepness will challenge our millennials and youths to give serious thoughts on Buddhism as they become more and more learned. The important principles of Buddhism such as the law of cause and effect, theory of dependent arising and concept of impermanence are not only profound and true but timeless. Einstein thus said;
“The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal god and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual and a meaningful unity.Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.”
In addition to aforementioned principles, Buddhism introduces the combined method of Bodhichitta (skillful way) and Wisdom to realize one’s own nature. Rongzom Chokyi Zangpo, one among the most important Buddhist scholars of all time said, “The invariable definition of Buddhism is wisdom and compassion. No other explanation can fully express the core of Buddhism”.
Precious Guru, the bridge.
The role of spiritual master undoubtedly is significant in realizing things that I have discussed above. Otherwise, it will remain as a fantasy no matter how optimistic and achievable. However, just having a spiritual guide is not enough. The spiritual guide himself must possess all the qualities which he ought to have. Furthermore, as the time demands, spiritual masters must have the skillful means of imparting the doctrine. Old-fashioned, outdated and conservative approach doesn’t work anymore. Having said that, I am not imploring our spiritual masters to go astray. Tathagata himself approved of changing and introducing new methods of teaching in accordance with time and environment. This, as many masters pointed out, is one of the biggest strengths of Buddhism.
I had a good fortune of serving my Lama Thubten Dorji, chief abbot of Dongag Woesel Dargayling Monastery, khengkhomshar. He once said as follows;
Bhutan is the last Buddhist kingdom in the world. As our constitution mandates, Vajrayana Buddhism is our state religion.
Therefore, Bhutan as a nation have the obligation to remain Buddhist forever, and present it to the world as gift.”
The writer is a final year student at Kyung Hee University in the department of Political Science and Diplomacy.