The longest journey is the journey inward”. So said the second Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold, Swedish economist, author and diplomat. And, there comes a time in the life of a nation and a people which beckons them to travel deep inward and face the moment of truth. For Bhutan, the God-blessed Jewel of the Himalayas, one such moment is December the Seventeenth, our National Day. 

One hundred and sixteen years ago today, forty-eight high dignitaries including His Holiness the Je-Khenpo and Lopens, Zhung Lhengyes, Nyikems, Chipzhons of Punakha, Trashichhodzong, Wangduephodrang, Trongsa, and Rinpung, and representatives of the people of eight regions, convened in the Palace of Bliss in Punakha on December 17, 1907, signed the historic Genja and installed the first hereditary King of the Wangchuck Dynasty, Gongser Ugyen Wangchuck, thus ending years of civil strife and laying the foundation of a unified country under one ruler. 

It was a moment of supreme significance for Bhutan, marking as it did the solemnisation of a sacred covenant between the state and sovereign, sovereign and citizens, citizens and state. It was more. The historic moment signalled a declaration of trust, a testament of faith, an allegiance to the sovereign soul of the nation.

The contract came into force at a moment in calendar-time, but it is a pledge for all-time. Therefore, it calls for renewal generation after generation till the end of time and the nation abides. The historical document was writ small on material-paper, but it is etched large in the deep psyche of the Bhutanese people as an affirmation of timeless loyalty. It is substance addressing the soul.

Since the formal signing and sealing of the monumental Genja, the forward march of Bhutan has been a continuous chronicle of conscious consolidation, deepening of the sense of nationhood, securing and strengthening of the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and initiation of the all-round development of the country against the backdrop of its ancient culture and following its unique vision of human and societal progress as a dynamic, forward-looking modern state, a proud member of the global family of nations. 

Each successive Monarch has displayed extraordinary vision and leadership and made the sacred institution of Monarchy a precious symbol of Druk Yul’s life-force, a vital instrument of national unity, and an essential factor of constancy and stability against the vagaries of change and uncertainty. Our enlightened Monarchs have each matched the call of the moment and led our country forward, despite occasional challenges, compounded by the constraints of a tiny landlocked country with scarce resources and a small population. 

Today, Bhutan stands on the robust foundations of a rich and ancient culture fortified by the blessings of some of the greatest spiritual traditions of humanity, a rapidly expanding network of modern service delivery infrastructure, a confident social and economic development trajectory, a passionate commitment to the integrity of our Mother Nature, and a fervent desire to make its own contribution to the advancement of global peace and human well-being.

Bhutan’s holistic development vision of Gross National Happiness has been celebrated around the world as a most profound message calling on the need to harmonise the material needs of human beings with the deepest yearnings of their soul. Ringing out of the hallowed halls of the United Nations General Assembly, this compelling vision of sustainable progress has inspired many nations and thought-leaders around the world to reflect on the real purpose of development and the goal of life and throws into sharp relief the limitations of the highly utilitarian and reductionistic conventional model measured by Gross Domestic Product.

As Bhutan’s enlightened environment protection policies emanating from the far-sighted vision of our great leaders have been acknowledged by statesmen and scholars who are struck by our mindful constitutional stipulations and our positively disproportionate per capita contribution to the well-being of our planet and all its co-inhabitants that call the sea, the land and the sky their home. 

The country’s holistic education pathways have been greatly admired by academics, educators and educational thought leaders around the world with some awakened policy-makers likening the Green Schools model as Sanjeevani to cure the ailments of modern education while others describe it as the best knowledge gift from Bhutan. This unique endeavour to restore the core function of Education as the Noble Sector for public good has been hailed as a significant contribution to global education thought.

Bhutan was the first, and perhaps the only, country in the region to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), for Education and for the social sectors by 2012, and is on course to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At the same time, the artistic creativity of Bhutan’s Oscar-level filmic genius has been receiving growing acclaim around the cinematic world. 

As an eloquent testimony of the country’s remarkable development journey through the decades since the launch of our first five year plan in the early 1960s, Bhutan has crossed an important milestone and moved from the Least Developed Country status to the Developing Country category on the strength of its having fulfilled all the relevant criteria established by the United Nations. This success underscores the added importance of working towards being able to stand on our own feet in keeping with the long-term royal wish of revered Drukgyal Zhipa, Bhutan’s King of Destiny.  

As we celebrate this joyous moment of having gained a special place in the league-table, we pay our tributes to the vision of our enlightened Kings and the sustained hard work of many dedicated Bhutanese leaders and citizens as indeed the generous support of our development partners whose sustained contributions over the decades have brought us to this moment of pride for our country and our fellow-citizens. It is also a call for us to move out of our comfort zone and measure up to the challenges that accompany this much-anticipated graduation. 

Beyond the formal process of crossing the universal threshold based on our outstanding progress on the social, economic and ecological frontiers, there are other significant criteria that as a country and as a people we have entrusted unto ourselves in faithful adherence to our holistic development vision of Gyalyong Gakid Pelzom, as gifted to Bhutan and the world by His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Therefore, the euphoria of formal graduation must be tempered with the imperative of realism. 

What is more? As we move ahead, we need to realise that there are other levels of graduation that transcend the objective criteria set out by the assessing bodies to realise the full benefit of this precious opportunity. In many ways, Bhutan has long graduated in many vital areas unlike many developed countries that are still grappling with securing the most basic principles – upholding the sanctity of life and securing the dignity of the human person and of all life-forms.

As we celebrate the auspicious occasion of our historic 116th National Day, let’s remember that we have to graduate from our lower levels of self-centredness and divisive impulses and anchor our being to the higher orders of our nation’s long-term well-being. We need to graduate from our self-degrading prejudices to ever greater levels of human excellence and flourishing befitting the all-embracing vision of our beloved Monarchs and the hallowed traditions of our dear country.

Recipients of the noble pathways shown by our enlightened Monarchs, we are already on the right path. We need to graduate from the vice of complacency and mediocrity and achieve ever higher levels of integrity and responsibility through body, speech and mind and match our role with its soul. 

Druk Yul, ‘our most precious treasure in the world’, as enshrined in the royal address of His Majesty our beloved People’s King, calls up the best in each one of us as we welcome the royal vision of a brave new Bhutan.

May the Guardian Deities of our blessed nation watch over our precious Tsawa-Sum forever… 

Contributed by

Thakur S Powdyel

Former Minister of Education

Author: As I Am, So Is My Nation