BUDDHISM: CONNECTING BHUTAN TO INDIA
The Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked country sandwiched between two Asian powers—India and China. While traditionally Bhutan had been identified as “the Land of Buddha”, of late, it has managed to carve out a unique space and recognition for itself as “the land of Gross National Happiness (GNH)”. The political structure of Bhutan follows the familial model, King as father knows best, the leader must be obeyed and the individual sacrifices for the collective good, articulated on the basis of Tsa-wa-sum (King, Country and People). The roots of all such values lie in the deep understanding of the philosophy of Buddhism.
In this modern age marked by consumerism and capitalism, Bhutan’s emphasis for deeper, philosophical, intangible products based on Gross National Happiness (GNH), values, cultural ties, indigenous knowledge, sustainable development, humanitarian assistance, health and happiness is closely linked to traditional Indian values. The relationship between India and Bhutan is ‘unique’ and ‘special’ in such a way that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid his first foreign visit to Bhutan after taking over in 2014 calling it a ‘natural choice.’
The early history of Bhutan is strongly connected with Buddhist religion and mythology. Buddhism in Bhutan reached from India in the 8th century BC through the great Indian saint, Swami Padmasambhava. The ancient teacher is regarded as the founder of Tibetan Buddhism and is credited with spreading the Buddha’s message throughout the Himalayan region such as Bhutan, Tibet, Mongolia and other nations. He is popularly known as the Second Buddha or Rinpoche, who introduced Buddhism in all aspects of Bhutanese life. There are many significant pilgrimage sites linked with him, such as Tiger’s Nest monastery, where he meditated.
Buddhism and its spread from India to Bhutan has made the relationship between India and Bhutan very unique. Both the countries share deep historical, spiritual and cultural ties dating back to centuries and these manifest in one form or the other. Bhutanese recognise India not only as a strong neighbor but also as an ancient State where Buddhism originated with its message of peace, tolerance, and compassion in global politics. Bhutan’s relations with India are not based on particularly narrow commercial ties but on the cultural and spiritual bond. India is viewed as the land of eight pithas with Bodh Gaya as the spiritual center. The value of Bodh Gaya for Buddhism is such that it is venerated as “the center of the world.” Foreign Minister of Bhutan, Dr Tandi Dorji, has eloquently described Bhutan’s relationship with India, “As the close bonds of friendship we enjoy today, have roots in our deep religious and spiritual connection.” Prominent Bhutanese philosopher, Dasho Karma Ura, who conceptualized the idea of Gross National Happiness, noted that “teachings of Buddhism provide deeper content for relations between the two sides. Diplomacy has come too much in the foreground but in fact, it is this that is far more fundamental than strategic interest.”
The Bhutan government looks towards India very positively and has pursued an affirmative foreign policy approach due to “mythical commonality” between both the nations. As a result, both sides have made sincere attempts to expand and foster bilateral ties and have given due consideration to each others’ concerns and interests. The Indo-Bhutan relationship is not solely based on government-to-government engagement but also based on people-to-people interaction that makes the ties between the two nations very strong.