At the request of editor Dasho Kinley Dorji, Editor in Chief, Kuensel, Thimphu, Bhutan
I recently toured Bhutan. And it was a long-held dream for me. Some 40 years earlier, in teaching classes on design, calligraphy and illustration to support tuition in college, I referenced some imagery from Bhutan in our exploration of design strategy. The idea of the power of writing, in prayer wheels, as a device of spiritual magnitude was part of that study — the wheel turns, the prayers unfold, visions emanate, dreams emerge, answers are found. There is profound power in that concept — and I’ll never forget that time, nor my firsthand experience of seeing this in Bhutan, finally, after all these years.
The beauty of this premise is well found, everywhere, in Bhutan; the wheel of prayer — it’s at the heart of the spirit of this amazing land. And that’s what I came looking for — to find the spirit of the people and the vision of this explication in every detail of their lives. And this can be found in the simple, honest character of the food, the music, poetic refrains, mysticism, the deeply enriched and symbolically profound nature of the arts, the potent structures of the dzong and the stable siting and earthbound permanence of the villages. While there are surely plenty of examples of the power inherent in the cultures of the Himalayas, these characteristics are distinct to Bhutan.
But what I noted in the experience of being there — digging deep into the culture, the homes, the people, the vistas and temple compounds with my guide Tsewang Nidup — I sensed that ever-present fascination with the west, modern culture. And it’s surely inescapable, the drive to modernize is indomitable.
There are components to this action that are, as well, permanently capable of disabling the spirit of Bhutan. Isn’t it always so that the grass is greener on the other side? But the challenge is that exposure to the ravenous character of “the other side” is hardly green. In fact, it’s capable of draining the verdant greenery of the landscape of the spirit of what lies in the manifold valleys and mountains — as well as the intrinsic, discrete qualities of this mountainous fortress of beauty. Why, the fortress? It’s that Bhutan has the potential of being unique in the world of cultures that are increasingly selfsame — they are all after the same “other side” of technology, global commerce, product diffusions and the hungry gravity of dissipation of ethnic and anthropological certainty.
What I believe, and what’s been proven in the decades of work that I’ve been involved with in creating strategies for messages and visualizations for organizations, is that there is potential of the story, Bhutan’s heart full and spiritual story, that can lie at the center, the courage of the strengthening evolution of this country — its spirituality, its communities and movements to slowly fold in the character of the engaged world. What I believe, in advancing the nature of Bhutan’s national happiness indices, is that creating — evolving — the spiritual character of the story, Bhutan’s story, will aid in stabilizing direction, but avoiding the travails that have beset so many other countries. Once virginal, Bhutan’s quiet legacy — the transgressions of the industrial rapacity will completely eradicate the very heart of Bhutan. And this travesty has happened over and over again — in that quest by emerging nations to find “the other side”, where the grass is supposedly more lushly fertile.
What I reference is national pride of the deep character of Bhutan and its people — the jeweled lotus of the spirit of Vajrayana Buddhism and the power that infuses virtually every detail of living there. And what story is there, that is something that speaks to the pride of culture — and the strength of it. This spirituality is something powerful, and empowering, given the profound depth of the character that permeates all things Bhutanese.
What my sense is that there needs to be a balance in surveying the power of the western magnetism coupled with the beauty of this visionary story that reaches back centuries into the furthest ranges of the Himalaya. The story is about heart and soul, and one that is contained within a uniquely mountain locked visage.
That heart full character should be allowed to carefully manifest itself in the consideration of every new development strategy — architecture, city planning, marketing presentation, revelation of cultural experiences and the pursuit of new tourist options. What is the story of Bhutan that can be held by the Bhutanese, and thereby purveyed to the visitor? It is one of authenticity, care in maintaining that solidly held vitality, deeply envisioned spirituality and how these elements might told as a story that is embraced by the Bhutanese themselves, as their treasure — and part of the brand, the fire, of the country in expressing itself to the outside world.
You, the visitor, go there, to Bhutan, because of these things — and this is held to be the hearth, the warming potency of the draw. Once this is drawn, as a line of spirit, a story, it should be held as the same empowerment that is found in Dasho Kinley Dorji’s positioning of gross national happiness. That story permeates everything. That story is part of the marketing of the country, the spirit of all development and planning, the definition of tourist offerings, the incipient power of the draw — the line, drawn, that is part demarcation of the boundary, part the power of the consciousness of the beautiful people that emanate that especial character that will continue to enchant the world.
Let me know if there’s a way that I might help that vision stabilize and emerge in strength…
tsg | n y c + s e a t t l e
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