Future of media and OTT

(Excerpt of my sharing session with Samuh OTT, Thimphu)

I have been asked to share my views on the future of media and technology, and what was in store for the OTT. As a veteran of the Bhutanese media and technology industry, I am often asked these questions

Well, here is my take.

Going back in time, I predicted the decline of the Bhutanese mass media way back in 2006 when everyone thought that with democracy it would be the otherwise. (Check my article in the launch issue of Bhutan Times).

The mass media (print and broadcast), of which I was one of the pioneers, will die – unfortunately – unless the State intervenes with some form of subsidy. While subsidy may be a bad word in a free market, the public service media is necessary to sustain the concept of a nation. Simply put, if we want to stay united as one nation, we better take care of BBS and Kuensel.

The universal mandate of media is to inform, educate and entertain the people. While earlier the role was taken up by the mass media, in the new era it will loosely be divided between the social media, online educational services, and the OTT. This is what they call fragmentation of the audience.

The next big things will be virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) – something that the OTTs may like to take note.

Interestingly there will be a return of the good old radio in the form of podcast – meaning people will just download and listen the audio files at leisure – as passive listening mode and as on-demand-services.

Nation-building does not only mean building hospitals, highways and hydropower. What is more important, according to social scientists, is the concept of nationhood. Radio and TV bring the nation together. In the same song we listen, in the same joke we all laugh, in the same news we celebrate or being concerned about, mass media can keep the minds united.

Now the role of nation building will be played by the OTT and the film industry.

Regulators and naysayers will continue to stand in their way but that’s not just in Bhutan, but everywhere. We faced higher brick walls during our time. But if you believe in what you are doing, if you believe that it is good of the people and country, you keep pushing. You keep changing the boundary. You redefine the borders.

You will face consequences. Be warned. I faced them too. And it was not fun. But past your 50s, your heart will smile at you. Trust me.

You will tell yourself, “You did what you had to do, and not what others wanted you to be.”

#nextbigthing #vr #augmentedreality #podcast #publicservicemedia #radio #tv #ott #visionary

With CEO of Samuh, Nyema Zam

Deities and rituals in Bhutanese Buddhism

I gave a talk on how Bhutanese Buddhism ended up with thousands of deities, divinities, and holy ghosts, and the related ritualistic practices – a supposed departure from the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, whose teachings were only understood as philosophical. And whose works were considered as a major and silent social movement against the caste systems of his period.

In brief, Buddhism first saw a bifurcation in the Second Century to two schools – Theravada and Mahayana, the latter adopting the concept of a supreme god in Adi-Buddha (Dzongkha: དང་པོའི་སངས་རྒྱས།), which was believed to have existed and enlightened eons before the historical Buddha Shakyamuni.

The Theravada school continued to be nontheistic considering the Buddha dharma as a philosophy and moralistic code – based on the Vinaya scriptures that were written right after Gauthama Buddha.

The bifurcation to Theravada and Mahayana was followed by the emergence of Varayana in the Sixth Century, which spread to Bhutan and other Himalayan communities and cultures. Vajrayana embraced the existing pre-Buddhist deities and religious practices in these regions such as Bon and Shamanism. Many of their deities were inducted as dharmapalas (protector deities), or as an emanation of the Buddha.

As Vajrayana evolved from Mahayana it strengthened the concept of premordial Buddha – such as Samantabadra (ཀུན་ཏུ་བཟང་པོ་ Kuntu Zangpo), Vajradhara (རྡོ་རྗེ་འཆང Dorji Chang), and of Bodhisattvas (བྱང་ཆུབ་སེམས་དཔའ་ Jangchu Sempa) – such as Manjushri (འཇམ་དཔལ་དབྱངས་ Jampel Yang) and Tara (རྗེ་བརྩུན་སྒྲོལ་མ། Jetsun Drolma) , which further extended the list of “gods” and divinities.

On the other hand, strict Theravada adherents in countries such as Thailand, Burma, or Sri Lanka, recognise only Buddha Shakyamuni, and no other divinities.

The existence, or the recognition, of the hundreds of deities and divinities entails a long list of rituals – either as appeasements (soelkha-serkem) or as as celebration (tshogkor or tshechu). This is the reason for the countless, or endless, rituals being performed in the private homes, as well as in community temples and national monuments.

Shakyamuni Buddha
Buddha Amitabha – who preceded Buddha Shakyamuni, and who is revered by the Pure Land Buddhism (a Mahayana sect)

NB: The above statements may be bit over-semplified. In practice, there are few concepts that overlap the three schools of Buddhism.

#vajrayana #buddhism #buddha #vajratalks #bhutan #wisdomboard #himalayan #tara #Manjushri #samantrabhadra #tibetanbuddhism #hinayana #theravada #bodhisattva

Dechenphu – Bhutan’s most popular temple

Between school children who are seeking good scores in the forthcoming exams to youth vying for visa for foreign shores, there was a huge crowd at Dechenphu yesterday. Then there were those who were leaving for Australia. Talked to few of them.

Dechenphu is the most popular temple in Bhutan. It registers thousands of visitors every day and a couple of hundred thousands ngultrums in offering. The revenue, supposedly, helps support couple of nearby monasteries.

The deity, Genyen Jakpa Melen, is supposed to be very responsive to any help sought from him, be it to get good grades in school to winning an archery match. He is believed to protect you from obstacles when embarking on a journey.

When I visited this time, there was a long queue extending in the courtyard. Interestingly, not many bothered, or didn’t know, that the small shrine in the courtyard is actually where the deity Jakpa Melen resides, or where he is supposed to have immersed into after being subdued by a 14th century Drukpa lama, Jamyang Kunega Sengye – and is believed to emerge only when an enlightened being appears in the vicinity.

No one was paying respect there and instead everyone was squeezing into the tall temple that I gave up getting inside and instead paid my respect to the deity at this small shrine, and then visited the Guru Sungjoen in the temple above.

If you go to Dechenphu, do not forget to make your offerings at this shrine. Actually if you just do it there, it is as good as getting into the main temple.

#wishfulfillingtemple #dechenphu #thimphu #bhutan #deity

Wangdue Phodrang – Rising from the ashes

The just-consecrated Wangdue Phodrang dzong shines ten years after it was destroyed by fire in 2012. All sacred relics were saved, fortunately.

In its resurrection I see new hopes, old glories and  renewed confidence of what is possibile. And of course, a proud moment for the people of Shar Dargye.

Wangdue Phodrang (དབང་འདུས་ཕོ་བྲང་), which means “fortress of glorious unification”, was built when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel set out to unify the collections of fiefdoms and valley kingdoms that made what is now Bhutan, and what used to be known as Lho Mon – the southern dark lands. Wangdue Dzong, therefore, is important for the unity of the country even now.

The dzong also is the repository of a sacred relic that is believed to be at par with the national treasure – Rangjung Kharsapani – the bone relic of Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorji, which has a self-emanating Avalokiteshvara. Some scholars argue that Wangdue Dzong was not a strategic fort to fend off any invasions from the south, but rather the symbol of a unified Bhutan.

Other than the sanctity, Wangdue Dzong is a beauty – and a sight of relief to weary travellers coming from south and from the east as they head towards Thimphu and Punakha. It stands on a tri-junction of the important East-West and the North-South highways.

#wangduephodrang #bhutan #dzong #fortress #monument #shadargye

No country for men

The villages of Lawa and Lamga in Athang gewog have an intetesting practice. The women are the boss. They decide on matters related to family and community. It is one of last matrilineal communities in Bhutan. At all public meetings, the households are represented by women. They come, they decide and things move.

In the years since I started working in this valley, I have noticed that this tradition has been maintained while it has waned in other nearby communities.

The eldest sister inherits the family house, known as the ma-khim. Literally meaning “mother-house”, the terminology itself indexes to the supremacy of the females. Other sisters, if any, are entitled for a house too and the father (if he wants to be respected as THE man) has to build them.

A man marries into the family as maap (son in-law) and traditionally does not get anything grom his ma-khim. And this practice of entering the home of the wife “empty-handed” also constributes to a less equal status to the wife.

Another interesting fact. There is no concept of pha-zhi (which means father’s farm) as practised in other parts of Bhutan because there was no land holding in the past. Much of the land was on a share-cropping basis.

#lawa #lamga #athang #village

Taking Guru to Rukha

In the 8th century CE Guru Padmasambhava travelled to Bumthang on the invitation of King Sindhu Raja. While the entire route has not been traced on the ground, from the various hagiographic accounts of Guru meeting the forest dwellers and hunters, the valleys of Athang and Rukha present as good candidates where Guru travelled through.

According to Gangtey Rimpoche, the valley has sacred sites blessed by Guru, which attracted high lamas and meditators such as Lhalung Sungtrel Rimpoche as well as Thuksey Trulkus since medieval times. The valley has been referred from those days as Rukha Lingsum and hosts the Lho Tsendengang and the abode of Palden Lhamo.

It is, therefore, appropriate and auspicious to dedicate a temple to the mahaguru Padmasambhava, whose blessed the valley and the country and to whom the Bhutanese owe a lot for the spiritual gift. A temple was built in 2021 to honour the most important teacher in Vajrayana Buddhism.

The 5-feet Guru statue, made of bronze, was sourced from New Delhi and painted and stuffed with sacred scriptures and other divine objects in Paro. The work took one whole year because of the last lockdown and my own out-country travels.

However, all is well now. The main statue of Guru Nangsi Zillnon has been delivered. The plan is to do a complete set of Guru Tshengye (eight manifestations of Guru).

(The 8 manifestations are: Guru Tsokyé Dorje, Guru Shakya Sengé, Guru Nyima Özer, Guru Padmasambhava, Guru Loden Choksé, Guru Pema Gyalpo, Guru Sengé Dradrok, Guru Dorje Drolö. Anyone interested to any of the 8 gurus may contact me directly.)

Practicing gratitude

Practicing gratitude

“Sir, I am calling from RUB. We would like you to do some work for us.”

“No. I am booked. What is the job anyway?”

“It is do the validation of a new program at Royal Thimphu College from 21 to 24.”

“Oh! Ok. If it is RTC.”

I did free myself. And for the past three days I have chaired the validation committee for a new communication degree at the RTC – a required process to provide an independent review to degree programs offered by the constituent colleges of the Royal University of Bhutan.

I also did free myself from prior commitments since RTC and RUB hold a dear place in my heart, as they opened their doors to me when I ventured into my third career – into the academia. I did it to return the favour and not for anything else.

Gratitude is something I have been taught from my childhood days, where growing up in an impoverished family, we had to depend on the kindness and generosity of our community.

As time passed, my life has been blessed with so many people, and institutions, who have helped me, shaped me, and form a big part of my being. One should never lose the humility to say I was helped.

And of course, it was so much fun to talk to the young students, who don’t hold back in terms of what they want, or have got from the college and the programme. It was also nice to work with three of my former colleagues from BBS and from Bhutan Times days – Jigme Thinley, Damber Ghimiry, and Kinley Tshering. It wasn’t fun to go through 262 pages of the document, though, but life, I guess, comes as package.

In all these experiences and young people I see hope for a better future of our country.

#rtc #rub #royalthimphucollege #thimphu #masscomm #university

The Enduring Power of Taktshang

“How many times have you been up?” asks Brian, a visiting surgeon from New York city.

“I don’t remember. All I know is, save for 2020, when everything was shut down, I have been coming up at least twice a year since 1996.” I reply. “And it is always like coming up for the first time.”

Maybe it is the divine powers, but I never get this ‘been-there-done-that’ with Taktshang. Maybe it is the stunning beauty – both natural and man made. Or maybe it is its iconic and celebrity status. I do go up quite often.

This time I walked up with Brian who had blistered soles, a shooting diarrhoea, a headache and giddiness (I think that was altitude sickness) but who was hell-bent on getting up there.

“If you guys have carried up all those timber and cement and boulders, and built that for us, I can pull myself up, even if I have to crawl.”

We laughed. Brian is a guy who makes humour out of everything or always has a way of saying that warms up the world around him. Truly a guy who you would like to hang out with everyday.

So, while you may be doing it again and again, the energy that your travelling companions bring are diffferent. No two trips to Taktshang, therefore, feel the same. Brian made it up there too.

I have many other such inspiring stories.

A Thai woman friend called Penny, who had a stroke the year before, pushed up with the help of two locals we hired. And when she did make it, she said if she died at Taktshang she was ok with it.

Another time it was with an American professor who was so unfit that we were so slow – that an old woman who was leading a blind husband up, overtook us below the cafeteria. We both laughed at our embarrassing performance.

And, philosophically too, if you look closely every trip is different. The weather is different. The sky is different. There is new prayer flag, a new paint job, a new monk caretaker taking you around, a new guy frisking your gho at the entrance. Living your moment means noticing these little things in life, some of which bring you joy.

Some things never change. There is this one enduring constant – the sheer power, blessings and moelam of Taktshang.

#paro #taktshang #tigersnest #bhutan #guru #padmasambhava #prayerflags

The Miracles of Dodeydrak

I made my annual hike to Dodeydrak, which included an overnight stay there.

Dodey-drak takes it names from the myth that the sacred scriptures, Dodey Kezang, is buried inside the rock as a terma.

The holy site was founded by Je Yonten Thayi, the 13th chief abbot of Bhutan, who was guided in his vision to open a replica of the famous Tsari Rongkor of Tibet, after his visit there. A temple was built in 1779 with Buddha Shakymuni as the main statue, and the statues of Buddha of Three Eras (Duesum Sangye).

The main temple also has a statue of deity Zinchen Wangmo who accompanied Yonten Thayi on his return from Tibet. She then became the deity of the places associated with Je Yonten Thayi in Bhutan such a Nalanda and Phajoding.

Aum Zinchen Wangmo is locally famous for helping people in business and in motherhood. In medieval times traders visited and sought help from the deity during their business trips, offering corals and turquoise as gifts on their return.

Deity Zinchen Wangmo

Another piece to look out for at Dodeydrak, which is not mentioned anywhere is the magnificient mural of Avalokiteshvara painted by Je Jamyang Gyeltsen, which is believed to have shed tears when he passed away. The painting almost speaks to you.

The Pema Zang Temple has a beautiful Long Life Trinity (Tshela Namsum) of Tshepamey (Buddha Amitayus), Namgyelma (Unisha Vijaya) and Droljang (Green Tara), plus a corner for the Palden Lhamo (Dharmapala Kaladevi), the place is a go-to if one if having health issues and instability in life. They have helped recover three of my  American friends from life threatening diseases. One was even considered as terminal.

Getting there
Dodeydrak is a 2-hour vertical climb from Jungshina, a quartier in north Thimphu. Another less strenous walk is from Dechencholing Gonpa

#dodeydrak #bhutan #painting #rockwall #chenrizig

The essence of the Divine Madman

First visit since 2019 to Chimi Lhakhang in Punakha. Feeling blessed, and reminded not to be bogged down with social conventions, cultural norms or traditional thinkings and, instead, to practice dharma in its purest form, which are loving-kindness and compassion.

The sacred site is associated to lama Kunga Legpa Zangpo (1455–1529), who is more popularly known as Drukpa Kunley (འབྲུག་པ་ཀུན་ལེགས་) because he was a lama born in the Drukpa Kagyu lineage. He was known for his unconventional ways and wisdom of practicing the dharma, which bordered on being outrageous and profane with excessive sexual overtone. Thus he was known as the Divine Madman, but is one of the most favorite yogis in the history of Tibetan Buddhism.

He wandered looking for best wine and women. He came to Bhutan because he was told the best alcohol and the most beautiful girls were in Bhutan. He urinated in the temples and at solemn spiritual gatherings in the established monastic institutions in Tibet. He disturbed the large religious sermons with his antics and actions that defied basic social normal norms – including one that involved the king-terton Pema Lingpa. He challenged every lama and yogis of his time and defeated them in debates and religious discourses.

Popular legend has it that children and old people loved him. He had gifts for them all the time. They followed him when he showed up in their villages. He had no ego or inhibition of any kind, and people either ran away from him, or chased him away. He was last seen in front of Lhasa Jowo statue, where he left his slippers and his walking stick.

Behind his antics and exploits, and superficial assessments, lies a deeper meaning – of the danger social norms and cultural conventions taking over the true essence of Buddha Dharma. Of people confusing with culture over religion. Drukpa Kunley also decried hypocrisy and inhibitions. He rejected dogmas and decorum of any form. He simply refused to bend to the social order, and instead proposed the spiritial essence of Vajrayana Buddhism – loving kindness and compassion.

He was a bodhisattva. His pees turned into gold drops. He foretold the demise of many lamas. He played pranks on his cousin, Lama Ngawang Chogyel, by reading his materialistic thoughts and embarrased him by announcing them to the public. He helped Bhutanese communities and families get rid of evil spirits and demons. It is believed that he never died and instead dissolved into Lhasa Jowo (Buddha Maitraya) statue by entering through its nose.

Chimi Lhakhang was established by his cousin, the more conventional Lama Ngawang Chogyel, on the spot where Drukpa Kunley tamed the powerful demoness of Dochula. Chimi literally means “No dog” and refers to the demoness who turned into a dog, and which was vanished into the earth by Drukpa Kunley. A stupa now stands on that spot where the dog disappeared.

Chimi Lhakhang has been popularised as a Fertility Temple for its child-bestowing powers to childless couples. I personally know a few foreign couples who became proud parents after visiting here.

#divinemadman #drukpakuenley #chimi #punakha #bhutan #blessed