BHUTAN – MONKS AND MONASTERIES
Bhutan measures it’s own worth by how happy it’s citizens are. In a way, many countries do that, but not to the same extent that Bhutan does. For Bhutan, it’s an official policy. While most countries have a ‘success’ measurement of GDP, Bhutan measures GNH, the Gross National Happiness.
This is an official way for the government to declare their commitment to build their economy based on Buddhist culture and values, rather than the Western concept of material wealth development. They measure this every year, and learn from the results.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the monasteries spread throughout the country. Monks rank among the happiest citizens in Bhutan, and are treated with great respect by the population and government alike. A visit to this fascinating country would convince you just how true this is.
Monasteries , or Lhakhangs, as they are called in Bhutan, are among the many impressive buildings in the country. Some date back several centuries or more. Dzongs (means fortress) are the most prominent and important building in most villages, and often encompass a monastery in them. Dzongs would most likely be built on a hillside, high above the village, visible to all people no matter where they are.
During my most recent visit there, I think I visited 5 or 6 different monasteries. They got more and more interesting as I went through them. In every case, I would see a wide variety of monks at different ranks. Since monasteries are also schools, there were plenty of young monks. There were also many monks in their early adult years, and just as many senior monks.
At first, it may seem a little awkward to photograph a monk – even a young one. But you needn’t think of it as anything unusual. Sure, the monks in their red robes, chanting and praying, may seem off limits. But they don’t really consider themselves different from others. They are just regular people who happen to be monks, most of whom like to have their picture taken.
Of course, it is best to be polite, and always ask in advance before you photograph a monk (or anyone), particularly if they are identifiable. But you’ll find that in Bhutan, it would be unlikely that you will encounter a monk that won’t allow their photo to be taken. I’ve come across just one, so far. But after I offered a donation to his temple, he was far more willing to be photographed.