Happiness is also watching the pride in the eyes of the Bhutanese when they see their one and only CHOPPER wandering around in the sky.
Previously they had to rent one from Nepal or India if needed and this chopper has become a hero of the kingdom. One of its first missions was to transport teachers in remote mountain parts of Bhutan impossible to accede by road in winter which allowed the school year there to start for the first time on the same date as in the other parts of Bhutan.
Happiness is looking into the beautiful almond shaped, long lashed eyes of STUPAS (a kind of huge bells representing the mind of Buddha in the symbolic form of his throne, body and head which are in the middle of almost all roundabouts) and TRUCKS in Bhutan. Yes, stupas and trucks have eyes there!
Some stupas even have three eyes and the third one is called the wisdom eye or the one looking at the inside spiritual world (the other two are looking at the outside material world). The eyes of the stupa symbolize the all-seeing ability of the Buddha.
The eyes on the trucks have a more earthy purpose - watching out the road and ensuring the safety and auspiciousness of the truck, the driver, the trip and everyone the truck encounters! Some trucks also have their own little names as well as “Good luck”, “Welcome” and other greeting words written on them.
Happiness is discovering every day a different kind of FLOWER, like the 29 native rhododendrons,
or a new BIRD more colourful than the previous one like the Himalayan monal belonging to the pheasant family with a brilliant rainbow-like plumage,
or an ANIMAL you have never seen before as the strange (and particularly ugly, let us be honest) national animal called takin which is a mixture of a goat head and a cow body,
as well as watching the cows and their babies walk along the road completely free and independent, or the yaks slowly digesting their high-altitude lunch under the prayer flags of the stunning Himalayan mountain passes.
Happiness is being blessed by an atsara (a Buddhist wise master who is subduing evil thoughts by mocking at worldly things), a man disguised as a clown and entertaining the spectators at the local tshechu (a religious FESTIVAL) and enjoying the colourful and graceful DANCES of the masked monks chasing the evil spirits and welcoming the spring, after you have visited a couple of local houses and had more than a couple of cups of rice wine.
You congratulate yourself later for the number of cups as the wine definitely helps you to survive the freezing air at 3,000 meters keeping you warm for the whole day of the festival.
There are many festivals in Bhutan, including strange ones as one in November where men dance completely naked except of course their masks!
Happiness is listening to local LEGENDS describing fierce magic creatures as the famous nagas (snakes) living under the stones on which Bhutanese write mantras to please them, sea monsters and zombies, as well as magic lamps which continue to burn after having been brought out of a lake and flying tigers as the one Guru Rinpoche used to fly to the Tiger’s Nest monastery, one of the main holly places in Bhutan built literally on the rock at 2,800 meters!
Happiness is listening to Bhutanese MUSIC sang by Bhutanese guys in the car during the long hours spent on the snaky long Bhutanese roads. Their language is so melodic and in addition it is unique (even though they share the same alphabet with Tibet).
Happiness is not to smell any cigarettes as tobacco is forbidden in Bhutan – it is a LUNGS-CLEAN country!
Happiness is to know that men and women are equal! Sometimes it is a little bit shocking to see women on the road raising heavy stones and carrying out construction works but this is how EQUALITY should work. Also, when a man gets married, it is usual for him to go into the house of his wife if she owns a property, but the opposite is also possible. Bhutanese believe that men and women working together is the most efficient way possible as the man represents the method and the woman represents the wisdom. Therefore the two of them together symbolize perfection.
Happiness is admiring the fairytale ARCHITECTURE of richly decorated Bhutanese houses (made from wood in the west and stone in the east), dzhongs (initially built as fortresses and now monasteries and administrative offices) and temples and discovering something new even after the 100th house, the 10th dzhong…no, they are never the same!
Entering a dzhong is like opening the cover of your great grand-mother’s chest which has been closed for many years and discovering unheard-of treasures.
Every dzhong has its guardian painted each time in a different way at each of the four entrances facing respectively north, east, south and west.
It also has its specific painting of the wheel of life or the circle of reincarnation which represents the quintessence of the universe. The wheel has six parts - the three good parts representing the realms of the gods, the knights and the humans, and the three bad parts representing the animals, the hungry ghosts and the sinners suffering in hell. In the middle of the circle you can see the rooster, the snake and the pig representing the sins preventing the humans from being reborn as humans or at least in one of the other good parts of the wheel - these are the envy, pride, ignorance, hatred and greed.
Humans are the only ones who can control their destiny, who can fight against sins in order to remain humans and even go out of the circle by reaching nirvana (enlightment) as Buddha did many centuries ago.
Why is the gods’ realm not the best option in the circle? The reason is that the gods seem to have everything – wine, food, gold and beautiful clothes but at the same time they do not need anything, they do not have any purpose and therefore they somehow miss something.
We cannot get rid of the sins but must turn them in our favour, we cannot get rid of our enemies but we need to find a way and get used to live with them.
Rebirth and nirvana are very serious topics in Bhutanese life. In an interview of a monk on the national television one spectator asked a question which summaries everything important to Bhutanese: ‘Is there a shortcut to nirvana?’ Yes, it was a very real and serious question…
Reincarnation is also the reason Bhutanese do not kill animals as one of them can actually be your great, great grand-father who committed many sins and reincarnated as a yak! When Bhutanese die, they are cremated and their ashes are scattered in the rivers. There are no graves and all their objects like clothes are also burnt, which is explained by the belief of impermanence of everything on earth.
Happiness is that whoever you are and whatever your religion, sexual orientation or race, you will be accepted in Bhutan and will not suffer by prejudice or be judged in any way. One of the greatest qualities of Bhutanese people is their TOLERANCE.
When the HIV appeared, there was at first a shock but then very quickly people adapted and accepted. Children of unmarried couples are not prejudiced in any way compared to children of married ones.
Sometimes due to the long distances and the narrow mountain roads, mothers only learn that their sons got married and even had a child once they visit in a couple of years and introduce their family and this is perfectly fine! Things will however change with TV, mobile phones and internet, which will make the poor mothers more aware of the life of their sons!
Happiness is watching the weird movements of the policeman in the middle of the biggest roundabout of the capital Thimphu guiding the cars because there are NO TRAFFIC LIGHTS in Bhutan!
Happiness is all of the above and much more but happiness could be summarized in a simple truth, in a simple sentence which exists in many religions and philosophies and sounds so obviously logical that one can ask himself why he had not thought of it earlier: ‘The past is a history, the future is a mystery and the present is a gift.’ Yes, time is the only thing we cannot recycle…We need to live in the present and enjoy every moment of the present.
Also, do not forget that life is a circle, happiness and sorrow are alternating, and sorrow cannot last forever… The sun always shows up after the clouds from behind the grayness of the horizon. So, never give up because nothing is impossible - it is just a question of doing it or not. Do not get disturbed by trouble, be quiet in the joy and do not cry in the sorrow, as wrote one of my favorite Greek lyric poet Archilochus who lived in the 7th century BC.
Happiness is not when everything in your life is perfect because such a search for happiness is fruitless and makes us prisoners of the future and daydreamers of a life which will never become reality. Happiness is when, even though everything is not perfect, or worse - everything is full of issues and grievance in your mind, you are able to find even one tiny thing which makes you happy and enjoy it with all your senses.
And finally, do not forget Buddha’s words that everything is an illusion and an invention of our minds - not everything your mind tells you is sorrow is such in reality, and the awareness of it brings you closer to enlightenment, to nirvana, to happiness! Do not stop looking into yourself, into your soul, into your heart. Do not ever stop searching for happiness! But then do not expect too much and happiness, your own happiness will just show up from around the corner when you expect it less because happiness is what happens when you are making other plans, thanks John Lennon, man, you are a genius!
Realising that we have to fully live in the present (forget about the past and not get anxious for the future) and take all we can from each moment, and also think of the happiness of the humankind beyond our “selfish” one closed the circle of our search for happiness. Have you found yours?
Many thanks for the contribution of Lobsang Nima, the most amazing guide ever!
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