The World’s First 100% Organic Nation?
Heaven on earth? This country wants to cover its land with organic farms, to achieve “Gross National Happiness”
Emily Main | Rodale | 07 September 2012
The tiny Himalayan country of Bhutan serves as home to just 738,000 people—about the population of Alaska. But this tiny landlocked nation is on track to make one of the biggest pro-organic moves in the world.
At the June 2012 Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, the kingdom’s prime minister, Jigmi Thinley, announced plans to convert all his nation’s agricultural land to organic farms with, he said in his speech, “the ‘raised in Bhutan’ label synonymous with ‘organically grown.'”
The country is already well on its way to organic: Two thirds of Bhutanese citizens are farmers, and many of them are organic by default, unable to afford the synthetic fertilizers and pesticides required in chemical farming. Very few of the farms are actually certified as organic, but the country has sent a number of farmers to India to study at food activist Vanadana Shiva’s organic training farm, and has asked consultants from Shiva’s farm to educate its local extension specialists so they, in turn, are better prepared to help farmers convert to organic.
Greater profits and self-sufficiency are two of the major driving forces behind the move, Thinley added in his address. Bhutan currently imports more food than it can produce, which means farmers are losing out on a valuable revenue stream. And neighboring India is experiencing “exponential growth” in demand for organic food, a demand, he said, that isn’t likely to taper off anytime soon.
Then there’s the issue of clean water. A third of Bhutan’s citizens get their water from rural sources, which can easily become polluted by chemical fertilizers, and 6 in 10 children living in rural areas do suffer from health problems that can be traced back to polluted, unsanitary water.
But the move to convert all Bhutan’s farms to organic is driven as much by those factors as it is by a desire to achieve “Gross National Happiness,” a term Bhutan’s fourth king coined three decades ago as a more important measure of success than gross national product. “The main reason why we would like to motivate rural living is because we are convinced that it is on the farm that people can find happiness amid vital communities boosted by the necessity of interdependence, active spiritual life, and daily communion with nature and other living beings,” he said.
Bhutan and Bon’s Mad Saint or Divine Madman’s Flaming Thunderbolt of Wisdom
Bhutan (Dzongkha: tr ʼbrug-yul, “Druk Yul”), officially the Kingdom of Bhutan, is a landlocked state in South Asia, located at the eastern end of the Himalayas and bordered to the south, east and west by the Republic of India and to the north by the People’s Republic of China. Bhutan is separated from the nearby country of Nepal to the west by the Indian state of Sikkim, and from Bangladesh to the south by the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal.
Bhutan existed as a patchwork of minor warring fiefdoms until the early 17th century, when the area was unified by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, who fled religious persecution in Tibet and cultivated a separate Bhutanese identity.
The Eastern Himalayas have been identified as a global biodiversity hotspot and counted among the 234 globally outstanding ecoregions of the world in a comprehensive analysis of global biodiversity undertaken by WWF between 1995 and 1997.
Bhutan is seen as a model for proactive conservation initiatives. The Kingdom has received international acclaim for its commitment to the maintenance of its biodiversity. This is reflected in the decision to maintain at least sixty percent of the land area under forest cover, to designate more than 40% of its territory as national parks, reserves and other protected areas, and most recently to identify a further nine percent of land area as biodiversity corridors linking the protected areas. Environmental conservation has been placed at the core of the nation’s development strategy, the middle path. It is not treated as a sector but rather as a set of concerns that must be mainstreamed in Bhutan’s overall approach to development planning and to be buttressed by the force of law.
Although Bhutan’s natural heritage is still largely intact, the Government has said that it cannot be taken for granted and that conservation of the natural environment must be considered one of the challenges that will need to be addressed in the years ahead.
Pressures on the natural environment are already evident and will be fuelled by a complex array of forces. They include population pressures, agricultural modernisation, poaching, hydro-power development, mineral extraction, industrialisation, urbanisation, sewage and waste disposal, tourism, competition for available land road construction and the provision of other physical infrastructure associated with social and economic development.
Policy implementation needs to be continually improved. Sustainable rural livelihoods that do not rely solely upon natural resource use need to be developed and supported, and there needs to be far wider understanding of the environmental threats that come hand in hand with development, to ensure the future of Bhutan’s rich and diverse environment.
In practice, the overlap of these extensive protected lands with populated areas has led to mutual habitat encroachment. Protected wildlife has entered agricultural areas, trampling crops and killing livestock. In response, Bhutan has implemented an insurance scheme, begun constructing solar powered alarm fences, watch towers, and search lights, and has provided fodder and salt licks outside human settlement areas to encourage animals to stay away.
Bön, the country’s animist and shamanistic belief system, revolves around the worship of nature and predates Buddhism. Although Bön priests often officiated and included Bön rituals in Buddhist festivals, very few citizens adhere exclusively to this religious group.
Before the introduction of Buddhism in Bhutan, Bön religion was prevalent in Bhutan. Some scholars assert that it was imported from Tibet and India, perhaps in the eighth century when Padmasambhava introduced his lineagues of Buddhism, tantrism and mysticism into Tibet and the Himalaya. Some scholars hold that Bön doctrine became so strongly reinvigorated in Bhutan by Buddhism that by the eleventh century it reasserted itself as an independent school. Bön continues to be practiced in modern Bhutan.
Scofield (1976: p. 669), one of the first western journalists into Bhutan, outlined that:
One Sunday I watched the monks shape an elaborate offering of dough and colored butter and put it atop a roof…as a treat for the ravens. “All living things are sacred,” a monk explained, “but especially the ravens. They spend their days repeating one of our holy syllables, ‘Ah! Ah! Ah!'” Killing a raven, he informed me, would be as great a sin as slaughtering a thousand monks…
The dough offering is what is known as a torma. The sacred syllable ‘Ah’, the first letter and sound of the Sanskrit and Tibetan languages, is a bija mantra about which volumes have been written in Hinduism, Tantra, Bon and Vajrayana Buddhist doctrine. Raven are sacred in many traditions and for many peoples.
Bön Phallus Paintings in Bhutan
Phallus paintings in Bhutan are esoteric symbols, which have their origins in the Chimi Lhakhang monastery near Punakha, the former capital of Bhutan. The village monastery was built in honour of Lama Drukpa Kunley who lived in the 15-16th century and who was popularly known as the “Mad Saint” or “Divine Madman” for his unorthodox ways of teaching, which amounted to being bizarre and shocking. These explicit paintings, though embarrassing to many urbanites now (this folk culture is now informally discouraged in urban centres), can be seen painted on the walls of houses and buildings throughout Bhutan, particularly in villages, and are credited as Kunley’s creations. Traditionally symbols of an erect penis in Bhutan have been intended to drive away the evil eye and malicious gossip.
While the history of use of phallus symbols is traced to Drukpa Kunley, the studies carried out at the Center of Bhutan Studies (CBS) have inferred that the phallus was an integral part of Bön tradition (an unorthodox form of religion), an animistic and shamanistic religion, which existed in Bhutan before Buddhism became the state religion. In Bonism, phallus was integral to all Bon rituals. Dasho Lam Sanga, a former principal of the Institute of Language and Culture Studies (ILCS), while stating that there are no written documents on it, elaborates: “But the worship of the phallus was believed to be in practice even before the arrival of Guru Rimpoche and Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal …What we know about it is what we heard from our forefathers.
The phallic symbols are, however, generally not depicted in community temples and dzongs, which are most revered places of worship where lamas or Buddhist monks reside and who have adopted celibate lifestyle and pursue divine ideals. However, rural and ordinary houses continue to display them.
Madman from Kyishodruk’s Thunderbolt of Flaming Wisdom
The often mentioned origin of the symbolic phallus is as a legacy of the popular Bhutanese saint Lama Drukpa Kunley (1455–1529). Kunley migrated from Tibet, was trained in Ralung Monastery in Tibet, and belonged to the period of Pema Lingpa and was his disciple. He was a crazy saint who extensively travelled in Bhutan, who was fond of women and wine, and adopted blasphemous and unorthodox ways of teaching Buddhism. His sexual exploits included his hosts and promoters. He was utterly devoid of all social conventions and called himself the “Madman from Kyishodruk.” His intention was to shock the clergy who were uppity and prudish in their behaviour and teachings of Buddhism. However, his ways appealed to the common man. It was he who propagated the legend of painting phalluses on walls and flying hanging phalluses from roof tops of houses to drive away evil spirits and subdue demonesses.
He is, therefore, also called the “fertility saint”, as the Chime Lakhang monastery he built is visited by not only Bhutanese women but also people from the United States and Japan. Kunley’s organ, as painted, is called the “Thunderbolt of Flaming Wisdom” as it unnerved demons and demonesses and subdued them. It is also said that he is “perhaps the only saint in the religions of the world who is almost exclusively identified with phallus and its creative power”. It is for this reason that his phallus, as a symbol, is depicted in paintings on the walls of the houses, and he is shown in thangka paintings holding a “wooden stick with penis head”.
The mad saint lived in a place known as Lobesa, close to the present day Chimi Lhakhang monastery, to drive away demonesses and protect the local people. According to the legend, he used to hit the evil forces with his penis (or cohabited with them) and turn them into protective deities. The Chimi Lhakhang monastery was built in the mad saint’s honour by his cousin on a hillock (this hillock was called by Kunley as woman’s breast) in a valley for the good deeds done to his people by subduing the evil forces and demonesses with his “magic thunderbolt of wisdom”. It was built in 1499 with a square plan and a golden spire. It is approached from the Yowakha village, and all the houses on the way are painted with phallic symbols.
As a witness, the monastery now houses several wooden phalluses including a silver handled phallus (the Lama’s Thunderbolt) which the mad saint is supposed to have brought from Tibet. This is now frequently used by the current Lama of the monastery to hit women on the head, as a blessing to beget children. The monastery is also enshrined with a statue of Lama Kunley with his pet dog Sachi. Images of Zhabdrung, Sakyamuni Buddha and Chenresig are also deified in the monastery. Women who come to the monastery seeking blessings of children by getting hit on the head by the presiding Lama with wooden and bone phalluses, also get the name of the child to be born chosen by picking bamboo slips placed in the altar inscribed with names of boys and girls. It is also said that the small chorten at the altar was made by Kunley himself.
It is also argued by social science researchers that the phallus is a representation of “Worldly illusion of desires”, and it is said that as a symbol of power and fertility of the animists of the Bön religion, the phallus’s representation got enmeshed with Buddhism in Bhutan.