Bhutan, the last authentic Buddhist country in the Himalayas, is one of the poorest countries in the world, with approximately 790 000 inhabitants and a GDP of approximately 2 billion USD. The step into parliamentary democracy as a constitutional monarchy has been completed at the same time as the coronation of the 5th King, H.M. Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck in 2008.
Bhutan has set a benchmark in the world with its development concept of "Gross National Happiness" and the firmly interwoven special orientation towards sustainability. It has entered the discussion about contemporary social and environmental policy concepts i.e. in the German Parliament and in the United Nations
In essence, it says that the development should not be driven by the fetish growth of the Gross National Product, which is particularly widespread in the West, but primarily by the increase of the Gross National Happiness. This revolutionary development concept of the "Gross National Happiness" (GNH) was formulated for the first time by the 19-year-old 4th king H.M. Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1979, 5 years after his coronation in 1974. At that time, Bhutan was a poor agricultural country, with an extremely low educational level.
When the king repeatedly declared the collective happiness of his people to his supreme goal, this is to be understood against the background of Buddhism and the maxim already contained in the legal code of Bhutan of 1779:
"If the government is not able to create happiness for the people, there is no reason for it to exist!"
The Gross National Happiness is even embedded in the Bhutanese Constitution under Article 9(2):
“The State shall strive to promote those conditions that will
enable the pursuit of Gross National Happiness”.
Furthermore Buddhism is mentioned in the constitution as the base of orientation.
Buddhism is the spiritual heritage of Bhutan, which promotes the principles and values of peace, non-violance, compassion and tolerance (Article 3(1) of the constitution).
The concept of Gross National Happiness is understood only correctly by few in the West. The Bhutanese Center for Bhutan Studies sums it up:
“Most educational systems, all over the world, are implicitly penetrated by the predominant economic ideology. As a consequence, competition is more valued than collaboration; one-sided intellectual knowledge is more rewarded than social, ethical, emotional, relational, artistic and spiritual skills.”
In the Journal BHUTAN (2012) A Short Guide to GNH Index it is said:
“In the GNH Index, unlike certain concepts of happiness in current western literature, happiness is itself multidimensional, not measured only by subjective well-being, and not focused narrowly on happiness that begins and ends with oneself; being concerned for and with only oneself. The pursuit of happiness is collective, though it can be experienced deeply personally.” …..”Gross National Happiness (GNH) measures the quality of a country in a more holistic way than does GNP and believes that the beneficial development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occurs side by side to complement and reinforce each other.”
In order to make us more comfortable in the West with the meaning of Happiness in the sense of GNH, Happiness is often explained with contentment in Bhutan. I prefer "resting satisfaction, serenity, compassion" in the highest degree also "bliss" as opposed to material, external happiness.
In the Upanishads it is declared: SAT CHIT ANANDA. I would translate and interpret: BEING CONSCIOUSNESS BLISS. If we are with all our consciousness focused on the Being, then bliss may arise.
“There is a reality even prior to heaven and earth;
Indeed, it has no form, much less a name;
Eyes fail to see it; It has no voice for ears to detect;
To call it Mind or Buddha violates its nature,
For it then becomes like a visionary flower in the air;
It is not Mind, nor Buddha;
Absolutely quiet, and yet illuminating in a mysterious way,
It allows itself to be perceived only by the clear-eyed.
It is Dharma truly beyond form and sound;
It is Tao having nothing to do with words.
Wishing to entice the blind,
The Buddha has playfully let words escape his golden mouth;
Heaven and earth are ever since filled with entangling briars.
O my good worthy friends gathered here,
If you desire to listen to the thunderous voice of the Dharma,
Exhaust your words, empty your thoughts,
For then you may come to recognize this One Essence”.
One cannot explain this reality with words or make it understandable to others with words, one can only experience it. After 40 years of ZEN meditation, I can personally confirm this. Happiness in Bhutan has its sources in the spiritual dimension of life.
To harmonize this spiritual experience with the outer materialistic goals is our life task, the meaning of our life. "Transparency for immanent transcendence" as Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, my most important teacher, always emphasized.
For these spiritual experiences Bhutan offers a fertile ground. Therefore, one should travel to Bhutan and learn to dwell in the HERE and NOW. This practice of mindfulness is the gateway to any kind of meditation. However, this is then followed by the practice of letting go, which may lead to serenity.
In order to make gross happiness understandable for us in the West, I too have now succumbed to the temptation to explain this kind of happiness in my own words. One can always only set impulses for the healing of the suffering human being of the modernity and postmodernity. That is what I try to achieve as an author and speaker and now as Honorary Consul.
Four priority pillars were defined for the transfer of the Gross National Happiness from an ideal concept into a realistic development policy:
- socio-economic development
- preservation of cultural heritage
- protection of the environment,
- good governance
In 2010 and 2015 surveys about GNH were conducted on the basis of the following nine domains:
1) Psychological well-being
4) Time use and balance
5) Cultural diversity and resilience
6) Good governance
7) Community vitality
8) Ecological diversity and resilience
9) Living standards
The results 2010: https://ophi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/GNH_and_GNH_index_2012.pdf
From 2010 to 2015 the percentage of lucky people has increased from 41% to 43,4%.
The result: Despite poverty and often harsh living conditions, 41% of people call themselves happy. Men are happier than women, young are happier than older, educated happier than uneducated, unemployed more fortunate than workers and peasants, singles happier than married. People are particularly satisfied with their health, nature, their psychological condition, their social life.
Obviously not all Bhutanese are happy. However what is crucial, is that the government listens to the citizens and is pursuing a policy that makes people happier in the Bhutanese sense. Well, the progress may look small, but it is important that the trend of improvement goes steadily up.The powerful GNH Commission examines all government measures for its compatibility with the maxims of GNH.
The Honorable Prime Minister of Bhutan, Tshering Tobgay, explained in 2015 what GNH means for him:
“We are balancing growth carefully with social development, environmental sustainability and cultural preservation; all within the frame of good governance. We call this holistic approach to the development of GNH. We will improve the happiness and well-being of our people … Our King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck made it very simple for us to understand GNH when he says: ‘GNH simply means development with values!’”
They - the Bhutanians - are the world's most likely climate heroes, confirmed by international media and experts. Sustainability in Bhutan goes far beyond our definition, which comes from the forestry and aims more at preserving the status quo.
For Hans-Peter Dürr, the Heisenberg scholar and quantum physicist, this definition was too static, too limited. Under sustainability, he understood a dynamic postulate: "Make The living more lively." It is precisely this active shaping into the future that can be found in Bhutan. It applies not only to environmental protection. It is derived from the four pillars and nine domains of Gross National Happiness and applies to all these areas.
PM Tshering Tobgay has driven the program with enthusiasm and personal commitment. "We are not" carbon neutral ", we are" carbon negative "and promise to remain at least" carbon neutral "in the long term."
The law stipulates that at least 60% of the 72% forest area in Bhutan must be kept. Bhutan has contributed nothing to the warming of the climate, but suffers, in particular, from the consequences of the glacier melting. Hydropower and biomass power plants are further expanded, electric vehicles are being promoted, paper is reduced, trees are planted. Free of charge are health care and education. Green Public Procurement (GPP) is taken seriously. The country is one of the few "Diversity Hot Spots" in the world and cooperates very successfully with the WWF. Tourism is restricted for ecological reasons. Unfortunately, in the near future, Bhutan will not have the funds to take all environmental protection measures that are additionally needed. The previous PM was therefore fully committed to the initiative of the King "Bhutan for LIFE". He was requesting similar programs in other countries.
Now, what is the todays Honorable Prime Minister Lotay Tshering telling us about Happiness and the GNH?
"When we say Gross National Happiness, it is not the celebrative 'Ha ha -- Ho ho' kind of happiness that we look for in life," Lotay explained. "It only means contentment, control of your mind, control of wants in your life. Don't be jealous with others, be happy with what you have, be compassionate, be a society where you can be more than happy to share.”
"Our king rightly calls Gross National Happiness as development with values," Lotay continues. "If the policy does not have a good amount of happiness index, if the policy is not every environment friendly, if the policy will not be able to ensure that it will result in the well-being of Bhutanese, that policy will never be approved in the country." (CNN Sept. 13, 2019)
“When the Fourth King took over soon after, he came with the profound development philosophy of Gross National Happiness in as early as 1972.
As the term “GNH” became more pronounced over the years, the world appreciated its relevance in the sustainable and holistic format as opposed to the conventional GDP growth.
I am happy to see this concept reflected in Secretary General’s “Our Common Agenda” report,…”.
“Despite being a small developing nation, as a GNH country, we always believe in global peace and harmony. Bhutan joined the peacekeeping fraternity in 2014. Since then, our involvement with UN Peace Keeping has grown.
(Statement by His Excellency Dr Lotay Tshering, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bhutan at the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (General Debate), September 25, 2021, New York)
In the following article, the daily newspaper KUENSEL discusses the central statements of His Majesty the King's speech, which he delivered on the occasion of the 114th National Day. In it, SM the King is unusually frank about the country's problems.
An honest approach to GNH is important to me. One should not only praise this concept in Bhutan, but also talk about critical issues and problems in the country and thus point out the potential for improvement. H.M the King has done that. He is pushing the pace because the holistic understanding of happiness is a prerequisite for peace in the life of the individual and for peace in the world. He makes it very clear:
"There cannot be enduring peace, prosperity, equality and brotherhood in this world if our aims are so separate and divergent, if we do not accept that in the end we are people, all alike, sharing the Earth among ourselves and also with other sentient beings, all of whom have an equal role and stake in the state of this planet and its players." .
His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck
In times of Ukraine war, this realization is especially timely.
Therefore, we can all learn from Bhutan.
Relevance for Germany
Our conception of happiness is almost exclusively based on external happiness, as many studies show. But as a source of our economic and sustained action in the world, inner spiritual growth leading to mindfulness, serenity, compassion, congruence, harmony, love, understanding, ethics and morality is little in demand. The fascinating philosophy of Gross National Happiness should be - and could be- the basis for an urgently needed change of consciousness and politics in our hectic and sicken information- and industrial society.
Sustainability could also experience enhancement and reform in Germany. Because humans are obliged, if they intervene in nature and affect all beings, not only to preserve the status quo, but to let the Living become more lively. Then and only then does one acts sustainably, not because he has to, but because he cannot do otherwise. Bhutan gives us an example!