Bhutan — An Oasis of Happiness

March 28, 2003

The Obsidians were treated to an out-of-the-ordinary account of travel to a foreign country by Russ and Blyth Carpenter. This was more than the usual travelogue, being in large part a philosophical account of the unique mores of the Bhutanese. One can perhaps better understand Bhutan by learning that the ruler of this Tibetan kingdom has said that he is more concerned with increasing the country’s Gross National Happiness than the Gross National Product! Russ hoped we wouldn’t mind his repeating some that he had told and shown in two previous talks on Bhutan, but it was rewarding to renew acquaintance with this unique land and people. The rugged Himalayan topography is stunning, the art and architecture distinctive, and the people gentle and free of Western hang-ups.

Hydroelectric power plants produce Bhutan’s primary export of electricity. Copious flow of water down the precipitous slopes of the Himalayas is harnessed directly from turbines without the need of dams. Elegant temples have been built on the sheer face of mountains that appear to be a challenge just to climb!

A major part of Russ’s presentation concerned the religious (Buddhist) tenets of the Bhutanese, which Russ and Blyth (although not having become Buddhists) have found to profoundly influence their beliefs concerning one’s relationship to the environment. Unlike the “linear” life to afterlife nature of Western religions, Buddhist belief is “circular” wherein all life is effectively interconnected in a never ending process. This leads to the Bhutanese firm belief that they are stewards of the environment for future generations. Could this have been the inspiration for James Lovelock’s “Gaia” theory that treats the earth as one living organism?

The Carpenters have written a just published book, “The Blessing of Bhutan” (University Press of Hawaii, 2002). Russ and Blyth read to us excerpts from the book that, it became apparent, deserves wide readership.

Bep Fontana

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