OK. Let me get this off my chest. It is not anything important, but since there are no interesting selfies to upload and nothing exciting happening this week, apart from my routine online meetings, let me take the opportunity to share this.
It pertains to my social and spiritual works such as building temples and chortens in places like in Athang Rukha and Lamga – and in Kheng Kikhar There are many questions and comments that my friends, family and countrymen have posed. Some out of genuine concerns for me (They think I might go penniless one day), some out of curiosity (Is he trying to lay the ground works for a future in politics?) and some, I wouldn’t exclude, out of pure envy (Where does he get the money from?). We are all unenlightened souls. I understand.
So why do I do what I do? How I do it? Meaning how I fund these things. And why don’t I invest in building assets, like doing a multi-storied castles, like everyone else?
It is age
First, as I have mentioned before, life rolls out like a video game – in stages. As you play the game of life, you pass on to the next level every couple of years, where you face new challenges, meet new opportunities and embrace new roles. I must say that I had my share of fame and fortune, for which I am forever indebted to my clan and my country. I had my share of dreams and disappointments too. And in many of the opportunities that were laid out for me, I excelled. In some, I failed, to be honest.
All these are now behind me, though. As Bhutanese, having zoomed past the age of 50 (I also turned a grandfather recently), one normally engages in spiritual pursuits and takes a slower pace with life. That’s exactly what I am doing. There was time, in my younger days, when I worked like there was no tomorrow – or like I was going to live forever. I must be one of the few government employees who spent many nights in office, go home for breakfast and shower and come back to work. I am not making this up. Ask anyone I worked with back then. And when I look back, I am proud because I covered more ground than others. Having a Japanese wife helped, for sure. Now, of course, I need to sleep on time.
Work and balance
Second, I still work, by the way. But I do what I love and, to paraphrase Confucius, I don’t feel that I am “working” because I have chosen a third career that I love – teaching. Almost everything I do is online and can be done from anywhere – and I have been doing that even before COVID-19. Simply put, I still have an income.
Third, it is about practicing some degree of contentment – tsham tshay in Bhutanese – a balance in one’s life. How much does one really need? How long do you want to cling to power? How much do you want to accumulate? As I said, I had my time. I had my share. I even tasted power. Now, my life is minimalistic. No Prados. No buildings. No silk ghos or designer wears. I rarely buy new clothes anyway. And thanks to the coronavirus, no foreign travels either. So most of my earnings can go into my social and spiritual works. And here I must thank my wife for not only letting me do this, but also for doing her share of work and donating and contributing generously to spiritual and social causes, from time to time.
My late mother used to say that every child is born with a soenam (fortune/destiny/merit). As they grow up they will have their dreams. Help them to fulfil theirs – and do not impose yours on them. Most important give them a well-rounded education – and not leave them with just properties. The Chinese actor, Jackie Chan, once said, with good education, your children will build their own fortune. With bad or no education they will sell away yours.
And also, you should not use your children as an excuse to be greedy yourself, or to accumulate wealth (typical of Asian parents).
One of my teachers tells me that being human is the best chance to get closer to enlightenment – whatever that is. Of course, you can be reborn to continue, but there is no guarantee that you will be human again. What if your rebirth is as a mosquito? Or as hungry ghost? You don’t have to be a monk to be religious, either. In fact, the Bhutanese word for charity, or social work, is gyelwa, which means “enlightenment” or “realisation”. And so if you want to get out of this samsara – you can also do it by embracing some social works. Many characterise these things as “giving back” to the society. For me, it is just being a good human being.
One compelling reason why you should be altruistic, and be more human, is because you are a Bhutanese. I am not saying it is a national requirement. What I mean is, as a Bhutanese you have the luxury to be selfless and to be generous. Not all nationalities can do that, you know? For example, if you are an American, you have to keep a good bank balance in case you get sick. Health care in many countries costs you an entire fortune. In Bhutan it is free. Elsewhere, you could also go homeless if you forget to insure your house and a fire or an earthquake brings it to the ground. In Bhutan, if you are landless or handicapped, or you lose your house to a misfortune, you can appeal to the King. My grandfather, Gyeltshen, did after we lost ours in 1978. Furthermore, in case you go broke or hungry you can always call up a family member. The social safety net here is huge – and perhaps THE best in the world. And I pray that it remains that way because being a Bhutanese allows you to be the best human being.
As you dwell in this human realm, one should not miss the chance to do some gyelwa. As a donkey you can still do it, but, I guess, it will be little more difficult. And as Bhutanese, under our King, remember, we have the luxury to be selfless, generous, and compassionate. You don’t need much, either. You can do a lot with very little. It is more about pouring your heart too and less about money.
Again, I don’t want to sound patronising or paternalistic. We all do what makes us happy. Life and happiness are subjective. One could also be fine driving around a Prado, while dreaming of owning another multi-storied building – or be still overwhelmed with power or patang. It is one’s personal choice – one’s way of life..
As for me, I have chosen to put them all behind me. And embrace this stage of my life – of being little more human – and being little more Bhutanese. And may be as productive a citizen as ever.