Advent of Buddhism in Bhutan

guru_rinpocheThe advent of Buddhism in Bhutan dates back to 8th century, when Guru Padmasambhava, who is regarded as the second Buddha first visited in 746 A.D. Guru Rinpoche (Precious Teacher) is a great historical and religious figure in Bhutan who transformed country into Buddhist land by subduing all local demons and evil spirits. He visited Bhutan for three times and firmly established Mahayana form of Buddhism deeply imbued with the tantric practices. Many religious objects and texts were hidden in the mountains, rocks and lakes of Bhutan with the prophecy to be revealed by the fortunate Tertoens (treasure revealer) in future and spread his teachings. A Nyingma sect of Buddhism was originated from his teachings.

Later in 1224 A.D, another sect of Buddhism came into Bhutan. As per the prophecy of Tsangpa Jarey Yeshi Dorji (1161-1211), Phajo Drugom Zhigpo (1184-1251) from Ralung in Tibet visited Bhutan. Out of three Druks (Jang Druk, Bar Druk and Lho Druk), he brought Bar Druk and laid a firm foundation of Drukpa Kagyud School for the first time in Bhutan. Since then, Drukpa Kagyud Buddhism has flourished extensively in many parts of Bhutan.

zhabdrungIn 1616 A.D, another important religious and political figure Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594-1651) came to Bhutan after a serious feud with Deb Tsangpa of Tibet over the throne of Ralung monastery. He unified Bhutan and instituted numerous religious and political reforms. Existing Kagyud tradition was further strengthened and enriched by establishing numerous monasteries and temples.

Numerous other highly learned and influential lamas of both the Nyingma (old sect) and Kagyud sects from Tibet and other neighboring countries visited Bhutan and established noble family. During the time of first and second king’s reign, many Tibetan scholars were invited to Bhutan and some Bhutanese students were also sent to Tibet to practice Buddhism.

Under Bhutan’s current constitutional framework, freedom of religion is guaranteed, however the Constitution places limits on political activity by religious figures and on proselytism. Any religious institutions and personalities are placed above the politics to keep religion separate from the politics. About 75% of the Bhutanese practice Buddhism and about 25% practice Hinduism. There are a small number of Christians too. However, Kagyud sect of Mahayana Buddhism is the state religion and it is practiced in all the Dzongs.