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Bhuddism in bhutan

Bhutan Snowman Trek: Buddhism in Bhutan

Blog and pho­tos by Deana Zalbado 

Around Paro, the cap­i­tal Thim­phu, and sur­round­ing areas, we can’t pass a tem­ple with­out my want­i­ng to explore it. I’m gath­er­ing sto­ries and look­ing for inter­est­ing out-of-way places to build into future trips…and Bhutan does not dis­ap­point. Dark rooms are paint­ed with winged wrath­ful deities to pro­tect the land from dis­ease. Cen­turies-old wood­en lad­ders have steps worn smooth and slop­ing in the mid­dle from thou­sands of feet climb­ing to high­er altar rooms. Leg­ends abound of evil spir­its sub­ju­gat­ed by Bud­dhist mas­ters, and yes, some­times they involve Tantric sex.

In remote monas­ter­ies, I meet young boys who chose at age 12 to leave their fam­i­lies and become monks. I meet a her­mit who has left behind home, work, and world­ly life to com­plete 100,000 pros­tra­tions (which will take more than 3 years of a few hun­dred per day). A monk stops our car because he is help­ing a cater­pil­lar in the mid­dle of the road onto a leaf so that he can put it out of harm’s way. Young and old, they pos­sess a seri­ous­ness in their clar­i­ty and devo­tion to spir­i­tu­al prac­tice that impress­es me.

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Spir­i­tu­al devo­tion is not lim­it­ed to monas­tics. Thou­sands of peo­ple turn up for a 3‑month read­ing of the Buddha’s teach­ings at the foot of a giant Bud­dha stat­ue on a hill. A local polit­i­cal leader makes the 5 hour round-trip hike three times every month to a for­est tem­ple to make offer­ings at the altar of a pow­er­ful fem­i­nine deity. Vil­lagers donate their labor to rebuild a local tem­ple destroyed in the 2011 earth­quake (which did seri­ous dam­age to his­toric tem­ples across the coun­try). By labor, I mean they spend months haul­ing 60-pound sacks of dirt up three flights of stairs to pound into rammed earth walls or take turns pro­vid­ing food and cook­ing for the 30+ peo­ple work­ing on any giv­en day. A woman who was diag­nosed with a seri­ous heart prob­lem at age 60 came to live near the monastery where she has chant­ed mantras and spun a prayer wheel for the last 20 years. A check-up last year shows no heart problem.

Spir­i­tu­al prac­tice per­vades every part of life here. Rich and poor, edu­cat­ed and not, most peo­ple offer a lit­tle of every meal to the deities or recite a prayer before eat­ing (and I fit right in, as I make my own offer­ing of grat­i­tude before every meal). Homes are blessed annu­al­ly by monks. Prayer flags are strung on high passes.

Some of the best parts of Bhutan can’t be cap­tured in a pho­to (although the pic­turesque coun­try and self-pos­sessed pop­u­lace cer­tain­ly lend them­selves to pho­tos). Every tem­ple pro­hibits pic­tures inside, every per­son prac­tices in their own way, but Bud­dhism is part of the dai­ly fab­ric of life in Bhutan.

2020 Dates: Sep­tem­ber 30-Octo­ber 28

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