Twenty-five years ago this day, His Holiness the Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Chhoeda became the 70th Je Khenpo. At 41 then, His Holiness was one of the youngest Je Khenpos in the history of the country.
Bhutanese around the country and beyond are offering prayers and well wishes to the Je Khenpo as His Holiness completes a significant milestone. His Holiness is the longest-serving Je Khenpo of Bhutan.
As the nation pause to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of His Holiness, it is not the numbers that Bhutanese remember of His Holiness’s reign on the spiritual throne, but also the reforms and initiatives, how His Holiness struck the chords of spirituality with the devotees, through his detailed and spontaneous teachings.
It would be difficult to capture the initiatives and reforms of His Holiness the Je Khenpo in a newspaper editorial, but today, if we ask anybody, the first thing that comes to mind about His Holiness is the initiation of the annual Moenlam Chhenmo that is conducted in every dzongkhag. Many remember how His Holiness put “being religious” into context through his teachings. One advice was reminding the devotees that it was not the size of the contribution, but the size of the heart (intention and prayers) that mattered.
Highly respected and considered as the beacon for the progressive evolution of the monastic life, generations of Bhutanese know His Holiness Trulku Jigme Chhoeda for the many changes within the clergy besides strengthening and consolidating the teachings of the Dharma and the religious institutions by establishing monastic schools, shedras, drubdeys and meditation centres across the country.
His Holiness is remembered by many, especially the poor, for his first initiative, some say an enlightened initiative, when he limited offerings made to the clergy at cremations ceremonies soon after he became the Je Khenpo. This was soon followed by the ban on serving elaborate meals and drinks at the duthroe (crematorium) and finally banning meat at the duthroe and lochhoes (annual rituals). The initiatives came as a huge relief, both in terms of finance and social pressure to the poor who sometimes remained indebted after a family member expired.
Exemplifying the compassionate leader that His Holiness is, the initiatives eased the burden of cremation ceremony, which largely was raised by social pressure, not logic. Another reform was the ban of sale of meat during auspicious days and months of the Bhutanese calendar to save animal lives. Under His Holiness’s initiative, the dratsang established a Mithrub Lhakhang at the Thimphu crematorium to ease the burden on the bereaved family of not finding monks and a place to complete the funeral rites. It is one of the busiest places today.
Another simple, yet profound change was the recent initiative of His Holiness in banning the elaborate decorations of funeral pyres. The richer the member of the deceased, the higher and more elaborate the pyre became. The duthroe is a place that reminds us of our impermanence. Yet the choice of dhar, height and size, decoration of the pyre differentiates the status of the deceased and the bereaved family. His Holiness’s initiative is welcomed. In today’s context, it has made cremation more meaningful, economically and environmentally friendly.
As we celebrate the silver jubilee of His Holiness the Je Khenpo and offer our heartfelt wishes, a greater blessing on the auspicious occasion would be to follow these simple and practical initiatives of His Holiness The Je Khenpo.