How does a lawyer, an engineer, a journalist, a social thinker, and a former member of parliament communicate, let alone agree or disagree on ideas and ideals embodied in a lofty document like the Constitution of Bhutan? The answer we arrived at is through the idea of a Constitutional Equation of the GNH. In other words, by using the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in our everyday language as His Majesty the King commanded on the 113th National Day address on education reform. 

At the Institute of Happiness (IOH), a think tank and a policy research institute based in Thimphu,  we have been thinking hard and deep. And in the process of numerous interactions with fellow Bhutanese, we realized that people seemed to be more in quest of a true purpose in life rather than happiness. In the present context, their singular purpose seemed to be answering the nation’s call in the wake of the Royal Kashos. 

The Royal Kasho on education reform commands us to lead our generation in radically rethinking and transforming our education system by pre-empting the developments of the rapidly changing world by restructuring the way we manage our bureaucracy and the public service for transitioning to a knowledge-based and tech-driven economy. In this “We must make STEM subjects part of their (and our) everyday language.” 

With only human resources as our main national asset, the best way to prepare ourselves to integrate and excel in the digitally-driven future is to be STEM-literate and hence think and speak the STEM language. It is also because the STEM language is so precise and accurate that perhaps it is more effective than any other global language. Being precise in our speech not only makes us extremely effective and efficient communicators but also allows us to identify and break down complex social and cultural constructs and challenges into concrete and useful ideas applicable to our day-to-day life. 

This use of STEM language has the potential of radically reforming the way we think, act, and live as a society. For example, our Constitution has 35 articles and 343 sections, which is far too complex for an average person to comprehend. The GNH framework and related literature go into complex pillars, domains, and sub-domains that have little or no relevance to the average Bhutanese. The authors of this short article, therefore, have teamed up to explore the concept of the Constitutional Equation of the GNH so that the contents of the Constitution can be represented in a simple visual graphic to make it easy to remember, especially for our youth.

Article 9, Section 20 of the Constitution calls for the establishment of a GNH society where “The State shall strive to create conditions that will enable the true and sustainable development of a good and compassionate society rooted in Buddhist ethos and universal human values.” 

This also corresponds to the state of boundless and immeasurable love, compassion, kindness, and equanimity—the four elements of “Tshey Me Zhi”. Let’s call this function f(Z) of the Constitutional equation. Among many factors that go into establishing such a state, the first unique factor is on the environment; 

“The Government shall ensure that, in order to conserve the country’s natural resources and to prevent degradation of the ecosystem, a minimum of sixty percent of Bhutan’s total land shall be maintained under forest cover for all time (Article 5, section 3)”. Let’s refer to this section as factor (X>60) in the Constitutional equation. 

The second unique factor is on the social domain, the attainment of life stages as epitomized by the retirement age of the Druk Gyalpo. 

“Upon reaching the age of sixty-five years, the Druk Gyalpo shall step down and hand over the Throne to the Crown Prince or Crown Princess, provided the Royal Heir has come of age.” (Article 2, section 6). Let’s call this the factor (Y<65) of the Constitutional equation.  

What is fascinating about these three sections is that the end f(Z) function is the product of the two factors (X & Y). Factor X represents the environment which is mainly derived from the four elements of nature (earth=sa, water=chu, fire=me, and wind=lung—the elements of the physical and the material science=STEM) also called the “Jungwa bZhi” in Dzongkha. 

Factor Y represents the age limit (even) for the Druk Gyalpo, to abdicate the Golden Throne. This is derived from the four stages of life which is “Phuntshok Dey Zhi”. In the Buddhist culture this can be roughly compared to the learning stage, working stage, the achievement stage, and the final attainment stage (the elements of social science). These two unique inputs provide the conditions for a GNH state that is immeasurable and boundless, also called the “Tshe Mey Zhi” represented by the mathematical symbol of infinity (Z-∞). The Constitutional Equation can thus be represented in the following visual manner even though there is no real mathematical relation derived amongst the factors. 

K4 : f(Z-∞) = f(X>60)+f(Y<65)

(K4 stands for Drukgyel Zhipa’s brilliant crafting of a Constitution with the four elements of physical science and four elements of social science giving rise to the four immeasurable states of GNH). (Table 1)

The same equation can also be shown in the following visual form where the coordinates represent the Article and the Section numbers in the Constitution. For instance, X coordinates (5,3) represents article 5) and section 3). (Table 2)

(Fig 1)While the X factor has catapulted Bhutan’s role in the forefront of a sustainable environment, a less understood but perhaps even more profound factor is where His Majesty Drugyel Zhipa had gone beyond the Constitutional provision by abdicating the throne in 2006, at the prime age of just 51. This act exemplifies the ultimate act of walking the talk or aligning one’s behaviour with the stated values and goals. 

The idea now must be to take this inspiration to the highest level of governance and also inculcate it at the individual and organizational level where such a gap is responsible for a lot of persisting problems. For instance, the gap between vision statements and ground-level implementation often result in profound dichotomies. We have long realized that coordination is extremely important, yet all along we have been operating in silos. We agree that we need to effect reforms and change but no one is willing to take the first step for fear of failure or marginalization. The closer we can reduce these gaps the closer we move towards solving the Constitutional equation of the GNH. 

In this, we look at how sometimes our values, culture, habits, and mindsets—which make up 90% of what we are familiar and comfortable with—deviate from our learned knowledge including our technical skills and the stated goals, which make up less than 10% of what we are familiar with. We examine this through the “tip of the iceberg” concept where what you see is only 10% on the surface (the tip) and the rest is hidden underneath the surface. For this we turn to our GNH survey 2015 which shows that people’s perception on values over 90% trumps their attitude on knowledge at just 10%. A similar equation could be derived from this model of the iceberg to identify which are the factors you can see above the surface and which are the factors submerged under the surface. Hence, the value of the Constitutional equation even in our day-to-day life and the power of using STEM language for reframing and interpreting even a lofty document such as the Constitution.

Contributed by

Kinga Tshering is a former member of Parliament of Bhutan and an engineer.

Sangay Thinley Dorji is a development consultant.

Sonam Tshering is a lawyer.

Gopilal Acharya is a journalist.