On our way up, we see a graceful tree adorned with breathtaking flowers.  We are so rapt with its beauty and the desire to pluck the flowers intoxicate and manipulate our minds.  If there are small children with us, especially little adorable girls, first they would pester us to pluck those flowers for them and then we might even indulge by tucking one or two by their ears or hair.  We may have never dreamt or aspired to be a tree but, suddenly we give in to an urge to bear some flowers.

The path we are treading is a jalam (path for hundreds) where many people walk hither thither.  Since people are basically the same in how our minds work, and because many have walked past this ornament tree giving in to such tendency, the tree is naked and ugly on our way down.  The grace and beauty of this tree is now only a story.  Nobody even notices this tree now and those that saw and relished the beautiful sight and praised the tree earlier, lament wistfully.  Until next spring, everyone who walks this path shall not be lucky to behold and find joy in this beauty.  That is, if we have prayed for and protected this tree or it survives on its own to bloom again.

The main point I am driving at is that we must consciously reckon that many have walked this path before us.  If we are seeing these beautiful flowers, it is because those that walked past before us have not even touched them.  They have only beheld, savoured the beauty, praised nature and maybe shot with a camera and left, quietly satisfied.  They did not make it a story and that is the sole reason, we are able to adore the same beauty, not because we are the chosen ones with superpowers to see what is invisible.  The conclusion or lesson is only one.  We too must do our part – let the beauty stand to gratify and inspire those that shall walk after us.

This narrative is analogous to many life situations.  They were once best of friends, but now fierce rivals.  He was a competent and promising officer, but got into corruption. This kid used to be a bright student, but drug abuse has spoiled him.  He was a fine sportsman, but alcohol ruined his career.  She was admired by everyone for her lissome body, but has now lost herself to regular gluttony.  This place used to be all rice fields, but now it is a jungle of buildings.  There are many such examples.

However, the matter I wish to highlight is pertaining to how we manage or dis-manage our wastes, particularly careless littering.  After a while, the grandeur of fine pillars of buildings along the streets and sparkly lamp posts are smeared with dirty spittle and lime.  Those same wandering hands and dripping lips have defiled and blemished the well-polished and spotless stairs and walls of a grand building too.  The urinals are clogged with cigarette butts and other nibbles unconsciously and carelessly spitted out.  Elsewhere in nature, a green and clean picnic spot so heavenly, worthy of evocating gods and angels to, is desecrated recklessly with plastics, bottles, and glasses.   Even the sophisticatedly strong windshields of vehicles have failed to stop the flying litters that have cluttered and choked the roadsides.  It is such a regretful sight even the rivers and streams cannot cope with the amount of rubbish we dump to maintain their own elegance, despite possessing the strength to cleanse everything else. Even an empty public spot within the neighbourhood is not spared from this ugly tendency.

So, where are we going wrong?  Who is to blame – government, parents, teachers, businesses? Why are we leaving our own dirt and mess to be cleaned by other people?  Why do we not remember and realize that if the place is clean, it is because those that went there before us maintained it pristine?  They did not leave their trash for others to clean.  If we are the first ones to discover this beautiful grassy plot of ground, why are we the first to begrime it?  What makes us so comfortable leaving our dirty trace?  Why are we being hypocrites by only keeping our homes clean, not the environment and surroundings?  Even if the place is already polluted, that does not make a valid reason to leave our own waste.  Throughout our lives, not a single person has advised us to follow bad examples and those wandering plastic bags, food wrappers, and bottles are bad examples.  If we were dogs, we would be sniffing the stench of extremely irresponsible and unpatriotic people.

What do we do now going forward?  How do we encourage owning our garbage?  I have observed that most people do not like to be told.  I have seen and heard people say ‘We know. Who are you?” which is already a yellow card.  So, it would be a bad idea to send government monitors after each one whenever people picnicked, trekked or took a joy ride.  It can cause much dent in the government’s exchequer too without producing results as desired.  So, the only way forward is for everyone to internalize this external impasse.

I wish to suggest broadening our understanding of what home means.  Instead of home being that space within the four walls or ‘where the heart is’, why not start thinking as the place where our feet stand! This is everywhere we go to.  The place may be a neatly-swept street, a winding foot trail filled with the fresh smell of the earth, a lovely picnic spot in the middle of lush green forest, a flat and wide river bank, etc.  We may not do the hard work to pick up those rubbish others have left behind, but let us not downgrade the place from ugly to atrocious.  It is indisputably best if we can clean up wholly which I am sure the divine force recording our life’s minutes will ensure that it is recognized and rewarded at one point.  At all times, let us keep our minds and hands connected to maintain their grip on containers being held though the contents may be already digesting or disrupting inside.  Some may call it mindfulness.

A small arithmetic would be inspiring before I conclude, I thought.  In a community of a hundred people, if everyone picked up one piece of rubbish every day and did not throw one, the place would be cleaner and more pleasant by two hundred pieces of rubbish.  Only by not throwing one, the place would be cleaner by a hundred pieces of trash every day.  Imagine the resultant spectacle!  Imagine the resultant fragrance!

I am a bit hesitant that the chances are quite high that those reading this humble piece of mine, are the ones who do not need telling.  So, the purpose of writing it is already lost.  Yet, we could be inspired by the meaning and insight of a Bhutanese adage ‘matters of importance be repeated’ and let us repeat to ourselves and to others.  Let us be reminded that this issue is worrying even the golden throne.  We could do a little more than just sing and dance.  Suffice it to say for now that “by failing to consider the consequences of our behaviour and ignoring our civic duties, we would fail the ideals upon which our country has been built” – Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen.

Let’s maintain the beauty for everyone to behold, not trample it to a story.  The beholders may be our own children who shall sojourn.  It could be ourselves going back, or coming back bearing another name or carrying another form in our next lives.

Contributed by

Namgay Wangchuk 

BOB, Thimphu