Those of us who were at the National Day celebration ground in Samste or who watched it on the national television must have seen our 70thJe Khenpo, His Holiness Trulku Jigme Chhoedra.

A diminutive figure always bending lower than even the most reverent people who throng to him in droves. He epitomises humility.  To those who know our Je Khenpo as a teacher and as a leader, he is a single-minded person in the pursuit of furthering the benefits of Buddha Dharma, of inspiring the truest and most authentic practices toward ultimate liberation.

His Holiness is known as a strict disciplinarian. In his unpublished book, From the Ocean of Compassion, by Rinzin Wangchuk, Trulku Jigme Chhoedra is the Kurtoe Dophug (the Rock from Kurtoe), a reference to his unwavering attitude towards correct monastic discipline and conduct. His Holiness is a poet, a composer, a strict administrator, and a consecrator of public spaces, a philosopher deeply concerned for the welfare of the people.

But it is his reforms in the monastic body with implication far beyond the dratshangthat Bhutanese will remember the 70thJe Khenpo of Bhutan. In his 22 years as the Je Khenpo, His Holiness has brought about many reforms in the dratshang.

To the average Bhutanese, the greatest reform was stopping the practice of offering Chhangep, Phuechha, Soeja and Soetsho(offerings in cash or kind) from the bereaved families when they perform cremation ceremony. This has come as a huge relief to the rural population and the poorer sections of the society, for whom the final rites for family members became a social and economic burden.

It is said that the practice of offering cash and material indebted the poor. There are stories of people who sold or killed their oxen or borrowed cash and kind to complete the funeral rites. The practice left the bereaved family members in debt. If death is the leveller, the initiatives have ensured equality at the crematorium.

This was followed by banning the serving of meat and alcohol at the cremation ground and banning of import of meat during auspicious months. Because of His Holiness’s initiatives, the average citizen can cremate their family members with dignity. They need not worry of not finding monks, arrange buffet or places to complete the funeral rites, an important ritual that comforts the bereaved family members.

Throughout his reign as the Je Khenpo, His Holiness is engaged in spreading the Buddha Dharma, taking it to the people. There is no count of Moenlam Chenmos and oral transmissions, His Holiness conducted. Of late, through his initiative, the dratshang is making religion relevant to the youth with the choeshey programmes in schools and institutions.

His Holiness is duly recognised for his lifetime service to the nation by His Majesty The King, on behalf of the people of Bhutan, on December 17 with the conferring of the highest civilian decoration, the Order of The Druk Gyolpo. The joy was shared most by the people.