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The Positive Impact on Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and Maintaining Gross National Happiness Phun-tshogs-bkra-shis, Mkhan-po between 2005-06 and 2005-08

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 The Positive Impact on Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
Khenpo Phuntsok Tashi*
Dhammapiti sukham seti vippasannena cetasa
Ariyappavedite dhamme sad ramati pandito.
Happily he lives who drinks of the dharma
--From the Dhammapada
Everything that exists does so with a dependence on
combining factors. Happiness or freedom from suffering and
the causes of suffering is no exception to this rule even
though it is a non-material object or state of mind. In fact,
happiness entirely depends upon the several positive causes
and conditions that arise from both the grosser and subtler
levels of mind, and it cannot be transferred from one person
to another.
Happiness must be cultivated through right effort and an
understanding of the causes and conditions which lead to
happiness. This cannot be accomplished in a vacuum and
requires a dependence upon the kindness of fellow sentient
beings for this attainment. Sometimes as a part of this
dependence, our happiness or positive state of mind is
fostered by the help from a spiritual friend, someone who has
experience in the cultivation and maintenance of this mental
state. Such a friend or guide can give good direction and
advice on how to attain this goal of Gross National Happiness.
The gomchen or lay priest community is a unique source for
Director, National Museum of Bhutan, Paro
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
this type of consultation. It has been a traditional spiritual
and cultural support for the Mahayana-oriented Bhutan. As
the country increasingly faces the challenges, the gomchens
will play an ever greater role in promoting the Gross National
The Buddhist doctrine guarantees that anyone can
successfully bring about transformation through right effort,
right motivation, and an understanding of causes and
conditions arising dependently. Freedom from suffering is
assured if one follows the correct path and holds the correct
view, but this is something that one needs to be taught. The
knowledge leading to such transformation does not come
spontaneously out of nowhere. Fortunately, gomchen is
qualified to impart this knowledge for purifying karmas to the
lay people. If they can learn from him, then they will be able
to eliminate the obstacle forming ignorance and turn negative
circumstances into better ones for themselves and others.
This benefits the overall well-being and happiness of the
community and results in fewer negative circumstances to
disturb the communal mind.
Because the gomchens are foremost dharma teachers with
several lay practitioner in communities that are positively
effected by their spiritual teachings and services, the
gomchens are clearly in a special position to exert a beneficial
influence on the peoples interactions with, and attitudes
towards the four basic pillars of GNH such as (1) economic
self-reliance, (2) cultural promotion, (3) environmental
preservation, and (4) good governance.
In this presentation regarding the gomchen's role in
promoting GNH, some key background information
concerning the gomchen tradition will be discussed, followed
by demonstration of gomchen's role in effecting the four
pillars of GNH.
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
Gomchen Overview
In Bhutan, there are three primary types of dharma
practitioners: monks, nuns, and gomchen. Monks and nuns
stay in a monastic community, whereas the gomchen is free
to stay either in a monastery or in a village. The gomchen is
also permitted to marry and start a family and live within the
lay community where he can serve as a spiritual support for
the society.
Gomchens Role
Gomchen means "great meditator". This is a title, which refers
to the lay priests in Bhutan, but in other Himalayan regions,
the lay priests are referred to as Ngagpa which means "tantric
practitioner". So the "great meditators" of Bhutan have played
a big role for centuries in promoting and rnarntarning the
spiritual well-being of their communities. The role of gomchen
is similar to that of monks and nuns in the ways that they are
helpful to others, but they have an extended role that goes
beyond what a monk or nun can usually do within a lay
community. The main difference between a gomchen and the
monks and nuns has to do with ordination and the fact that
gomchens can choose the family life for themselves while still
acting as spiritual guide for others. A familiarity with family
life on the part of gomchen opens many possibilities for the
gomchen to serve their particular lay communities in ways
that are not common for monks and nuns.
While the gomchen observes the five precepts and is trained
in all arts of ritual, Buddhist philosophy, meditation,
astrology, and medicine, his capacity is mainly that of
dharma teacher to the lay community.
It is the gomchen who provides teachings and instruction on
dharma practice to the lay community and can open the
minds of people to the attainment of greater happiness in
their lives through the study and realizations of certain
Buddhist principles. Because gomchens are educated dharma
teachers with right motivation to assist others, they are well
respected and highly regarded in their communities.  Many
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people come to them for advice in regards to a full range of
issues. The gomchen advises and provides spiritual services
on almost any aspect for life, including education, family
relations, marriage, birth, death, business, healing, and even
farming from planting to harvest.
When people are successful because of the gomchen's wise
and meaningful advice which is rooted in dharma, this
promotes faith in the Buddhist principles and culture and
further enhances the societal structure in which the gomchen
can serve a useful purpose. For example, someone could
become ill or have a sick family member who needs the
healing service of the gomchen. They request the service from
the gomchen in particular because they feel a need for a
spiritual type of healing. So if gomchen does a special puja for
them and the sick become well, then people develop even
more faith in the Buddhist principle that all obstacles are
temporary and are capable of being transformed through a
spiritual means. Thus, more conviction is developed
concerning the Buddhist doctrine which contends that all
suffering is due to dependently arising causes and conditions
which are later experienced as karmic circumstances.
So when the gomchen shares his spiritual understanding and
abilities with members of the community, and educates them
in the dharmic approach to life's challenges, not only does
their faith in the gomchen increase, but their faith in their
own ability to change increases.
After witnessing the example of the healing gomchen, some
might ponder the following thought; "If gomchen is following
dharma and is motivated by pure bodhicitta to help others
and he can effect a positive change, then why can't I also
learn how to do this?"
Education and Training
The gomchen tradition was started in Bhutan during the 8th
century when Guru Rinpoche introduced vajrayana
Buddhism into Bhutan. Guru Rinpoche was himself a fully
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
enlightened being, unsurpassed teacher of dharma, and a
gomchen as well. He was able to reach into the minds of
countless scores of lay people and successfully turn their
hearts and minds toward dharma practice. He had an
assistant named Haminatha from central Bhutan and he was
a student of the Guru and was the first official gomchen, and
Khandrom Monmo Trashi Kheudren was the first female
gomchen. So the gomchen tradition actually begins at this
point in history.
Under Guru Rinpoche's guidance, gomchen Haminatha
accompanied Guru Rinpoche to Tibet. Being highly skilled
and trained in all the arts, Haminatha helped construct the
Guru Rinpoches treasure boxes that were used to guard
precious dharma texts and objects.
As a result, generations of gomchens were trained in the
same arts such as painting, calligraphy, etc. In addition to
the arts, the young gomchens were trained in astrology,
medicine, sacred dance, and drawing mandala. They develop
competency in all ritual arts and spend years becoming
competent at using ritual instruments such as short and long
trumpet, vajra and bell, drum and cymbal. Then they learn
how to set altar and make tormas.
There are two ways that a young gomchen can train for this
path. One way is to study individually as a student of an
older established reliable gomchen who can direct their minds
to successfully train in all areas of the gomchen path. In this
case, the youngster is like an apprentice and learns directly
from the master who can lead him through the training from
start to finish. Many children of established gomchens train
this way directly from the father and assist him in rituals as
he goes to different villages to meet their requests. The fathers
teach their children all arts of ritual, the Buddhist texts, mind
training and meditation.
If a parent is a non-gomchen, then they can bring their child
to   a relative  who  is  a gomchen to  request  the  gomchen
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education and training, or they can request a non-relative
senior gomchen to take their child as a novice gomchen for
individual training.
The other way that gomchen can receive training is by being
enrolled in a monastery school. Many parents see this as a
good choice for their son's education since the parents see the
gomchen path as highly regarded since it honours the
dharma and is a path which is able to provide a good living
for their child in later adult years. It is an appealing choice for
education since every aspect of the gomchen path provides
ample opportunities for the accumulation of merit and
helping the mother sentient beings. So many parents have a
desire to see their child focused on this spiritual type of
education which is a departure from the ordinary education
which is more focused on worldly concerns.
The focus of the gomchen education is mind training and
training in bodhicitta, so their children will learn how to be
non-violent, disciplined, compassionate, and contented. This
type of education is designed to promote confidence and a
positive responsible attitude towards self and others in the
society. This pleases the parents and makes them very happy
to know that the correct causes and conditions are being
sown for the happiness of their children. Parents want good
things for their children and the gomchen path leads to
higher rebirths through the lifelong commitment to dharma
practice and meritorious action in the form of communal
service. This alone gives the parents much peace of mind, and
they are happy to know that their child is on a noble and
highly respected path.
The parents are also aware that if the child enrols in initial
monastic training for gomchen path, he will certainly learn
how to read and write as this is a requirement for studying
sutras and writing calligraphy and poetry. In fact, later, the
gomchen will be reciting the Buddha's canon in the homes of
villagers as a part of rituals. So there is a firm emphasis
placed on reading in the gomchen's education. Each gomchen
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
is required to read within one day, a volume of text that
contains five to six hundred folios. So the parents then feel
confident that gomchen training will result in a high level of
literacy for their child.
Since the gomchen path is the path of meditation and
imparting the dharma to others, from an early age, gomchens
are educated and trained in the Buddhist principles. They
study from the three following sutra texts: Shantideva's
Bodhicharyavatara, Chandrakirti's Madhyamika, and
Vasubhndu's Abidharmakosh They gain a thorough
knowledge of these texts and as well as others, but their main
training is in tantric practice and in training the mind.
Mind training is taught from the beginning step by step. This
is a particular focus of the gomchen education since it
promotes happiness as a result of dispelling ignorance and
therefore eliminating the afflictive emotions and misguided
desires which are negative causes and conditions that lead to
more suffering within cyclic existence. So mind training is
required for every individual to bring happiness for them and
What is the purpose of mind training for gomchen?
Gomchens train for enlightenment because they are
motivated to serve the benefit of all sentient beings. In this
way, they cannot afford to have any afflictive emotions
causing disturbance for themselves and others. They must
have realizations of peace and equanimity by disciplining the
mind. After they have learned to be thoroughly calm and
content, and have had certain spiritual realizations, then the
gomchen will pass this technique on to others who also wish
to learn the mind science of peace and happiness.
Gomchen knows that this mind training is a means by which
happiness can be attained, and they are glad and feel
fortunate to be in a position to teach these same techniques
to the lay community. The gomchen's motivation is to assist
others to become enlightened and this includes all sentient
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beings having the true un-fabricated happiness that does not
come from transitory material attachments. Those types of
attachments to the material grosser levels of relative
existence, even if seemingly very pleasurable for a moment,
will ultimately lead to suffering due to their impermanent
nature. So gomchen wants to pass on the techniques of
lasting contentment to others after he has practiced them and
knew them so thoroughly. He can teach the same techniques
to others who are interested to learn.
What makes the gomchen training special is that the
gomchen is not training for his own personal happiness and
acquisition of material objects. Many ordinary careers train in
just this way with an emphasis on competition.
Unfortunately, one person "wins" while another has to "lose"
because of the others bid to 'get ahead' or 'go up' in the world.
Most people feel that this is the way to effectively improve
their life circumstance.
The gomchen's goal is the opposite of this view: he always
puts the countless mother sentient beings first before him
and then tends to their needs for peace of mind and ultimate
spiritual well being. If the beings are struggling to make a
living, he advises them and does pujas for their increased
good fortunes and removal of hindrances.
Gomchen trained in how to alter weather patterns will even
go into retreat during the summer in order to make prayers
for farmers to bring rains if the farmers think that this is
needed for yielding better crops. Then gomchen can also stop
the rains if the farmers make this request. If the lay people
want instruction in meditation, gomchen is there to show
them the way into this path.
So gomchen can serve a multitude of external and internal
needs of the people with a focus on the fulfilment of their
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
A part of the gomchen training is to do Ngondro practice. This
is done in order to purify physical and mental obscurations.
And then the gomchens go into retreat for one year so they
can do the tantric practices that will help purify their own
karmas so they can be better benefactors to their
communities. The gomchen knows that his responsibility to
others happiness depends upon his own enlightenment for
the sake of all sentient beings. By engaging in tantric
practices and doing the retreats, he will further purify his
awareness so he can improve his service to others.
Tantric Practices
There are two tantric practices that gomchen train in. The
first one is called kerim. This is the part of deity yoga that
focuses on seeing oneself as the deity and transforming ones
ordinary consciousness and sense of identity into that of the
particular deity. This type of meditation helps the practitioner
overcome the feelings of being simply 'ordinary' and aids in
extracting more of his potential for enlightenment. The second
practice is dzogrim. Here, the practitioner sees himself as the
deity but practices no attachment to the deity form. Instead,
he is realizing the emptiness within the deity form.
These two practices then serve as a means by which the
practitioner can attain an inseparable unity of method and
wisdom. If the mind can realize the emptiness of the deity
while maintaining the form, then this serves as the eventual
cause for the omniscient mind. So if the gomchen can train in
this way by doing retreats, then he will attain some spiritual
realizations that will make him a better dharma teachers for
others to follow. He will want to teach the methods for
enlightenment to others, so it is imperative for him to do
intensive practices that can quickly result in the omniscient
mind of buddhahood.
The gomchen's practice of doing retreat and performing
rituals are for the happiness of all sentient beings. Here the
gomchen education differs vastly from the modern
mainstream education.  Senior gomchens always encourage
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
and give advice to the younger gomchens about how to be
devoted to happiness for not only for the local people and
town areas, but also for all mother sentient beings. So
gomchen understands very well that he has a responsibility to
be a good example in the mind of society. The countless
sentient beings are an object of devotion for gomchen and he
sees that through them there is a source to accumulate merit.
Because of the kindness of these sentient beings, he is able to
serve their need for happiness.
So a high gomchen is sometimes a lama or rinpoche to whom
people can come for the instructions on the path of
enlightenment. They know that he is always there to help
them further their spiritual realizations on the path of
enlightenment, and this causes a feeling of devotion on the
part of the lay people. In this way, the gomchen can be a sort
of refuge for the lay people because they will regard gomchen
as a protector of their happiness and spiritual well being.
When people know that the gomchen is there to serve them
with the pure heart of bodhicitta, then this automatically
relaxes the communal mind and creates an atmosphere of
Gomchen as Consultant
Gomchens have always been a consultant and counsellor for
the lay people. It is a well established fact that in Bhutan,
before the modern education system, the gomchen was
usually the most educated person in a town or village, and
was needed for a variety of services. Gomchens had to be a
sort of "jack-of-all-trades" and fulfil a variety of requests.
Today just as in the past, students, farmers, business people,
civil servants, and various others come to the gomchen for
help and advice. They are searching for some understanding
where their karmas are leading. They will ask for the
invocation of luck if they are feeling unlucky. They will ask for
relationship advice if a couple is having some obstacle. If they
are in business, they will request some type of divination to
see where their fortunes are heading. There are countless
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
requests and reasons. So the gomchen becomes a consultant
for persons from the full range of society.
When he gives a divination or imparts some wise and helpful
advice, then people usually relax because they trust that the
gomchen has some special insight due to his spiritual
realizations and constant maintenance of the meditation life
path. This trust puts the lay people automatically at ease and
promotes their happy states of mind.
Gomchens can do predictions for a person or use clairvoyance
to see what career path, business activity, or relationship best
suits them. In doing so, he can help them make a better
choices for themselves in life and thereby avoiding more
suffering. The gomchen can also advise specific spiritual
practices for persons which will help them avoid hindrances
and eliminate more negative states of mind.
This advice from the gomchen increases the lay person's faith
in rnarntarning dharmic practices and meritorious activities
when they see for themselves that what the gomchen has
advised has indeed helped them with given karmic
circumstances. Then people return to the gomchen again and
again for advice because he is helpful to them. This is
evidenced by the fact that in Bhutan, people usually want to
get counselling from a high gomchen before embarking upon
any important life matter.
Gomchens are also in a unique position when it comes to
giving advice to the lay people regarding family matters since
many gomchens are married with family. Parents who have
difficulties or concerns about their children will find a
sympathetic and able advisor in a gomchen who has his own
children. He will have a clearer understanding of how the
parent feels because he too is a parent and familiar with some
ofthe karmic challenges ofthe family life.
The lay people who need spiritual advice in the way of
relationships will also find an able counsellor in the gomchen
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who is married and is familiar with the psychology of
marriage relationships in particular. Because the gomchen is
married, the persons needing advice in this area will feel more
relaxed in seeking advice from him. They will feel more
comfortable approaching him for advice because they know
that he understands some of the karmic challenges with
The gomchen is often a meditator for other people and serves
in this role without bias since his intention to help comes
from pure bodhicitta.
Female Gomchens
The gomchen's wife and family life can make the lay people
feel at ease. The gomchen's wife is the female counterpart of
the gomchen and therefore is also a type of gomchen too. The
gomchen wife plays an important role in supporting the
gomchen and his spiritual work for the community. In doing
so, she is developing spiritually through the ways that she
helps maintain the spiritual focus of her family. The female
gomchen raises her children according to Buddhist principles
and encourages them to engage in spiritual practices and to
gain a spiritual education. She is also engaging in dharma
practices and performs pujas with her husband. Then the
female gomchen will also do retreats and meditation in
addition to all the household matters such as cooking,
cleaning, etc. So she is a good example of how a person can
run a household, raise children, help her partner and still do
several dharma practices. She maintains a home that has a
foundation in dharma.
All this is possible due to the female gomchen's devotion to
service and maintaining the spiritual well being of the family.
She is an example of action bodhicitta in that she is
constantly generous in granting the wishes of others and in
rnarntaining her commitment to dharma practice and in
supporting the gomchen lama as he tends to the various
needs of the community.
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
The female gomchen receives training from her husband and
becomes proficient in chanting, performing ritual, and
meditation. She is frequently the motivating force giving an
early education to her children in how to read and write
Buddhist text. So she is an example of the positive state of
mind which comes as a result of commitment to dharma and
can inspire many of the lay persons to keep doing their own
dharma practices.
When they see how busy the female gomchen is, but how she
still manages to do dharma practice, then they feel that they
too can make dharma practice a natural flow within the
structure of their own home lives. She gives them inspiration
through her life example and shows how a mother can play a
key role in integrating dharma into the lives of her children
from a very early age. In this way, she is responsible for
promoting the earliest gomchen training for her children
because she knows very well that they can live to serve others
happiness as in life through a commitment to boundless
bodhicitta and through living to impart dharma teachings and
services to the whole community.
When the gomchen takes on novices for training, then the
female gomchen has added duties regarding the novices since
the gomchen lama is now responsible for the food and shelter
of the novices. So the female gomchen engages in the work of
supporting the novices as they get education from the senior
gomchen. She is providing a positive structure for their
learning and is doing so because she believes it will help
maintain the well being of the community to have highly
trained gomchens. So as a part of service to the community,
she serves the needs of the novice gomchens as well.
The Importance of Retreat
Retreat is a key part of mind training for dharma
practitioners and an integral to the life of gomchens. They
usually do retreat for a short period of time in the summer
while farmers are working in the fields. During the retreat
they dedicate merit to the welfare of local people and for all
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
sentient beings. Gomchens divide the day and night into six
periods during which they fully dedicate to peace and
happiness of the people.
As a part of their daily routine, every morning the gomchens
perform purification prayers to counter any defilement that
might have occurred as a result of the persons working in the
fields. Gomchens try to negotiate with local spirits for
cooperation by making prayer for the sake of peoples
happiness. Therefore, in direct conscious ways as well as
those more subtle consciousness, the material and
psychological well being of the community is being served by
the gomchen's pure intention to help, and by the very power
of his prayers. The community appreciates this effort and
pure intention on the part of the gomchen to maintain good
conditions for them as they farm, so they bring offerings to
provide for basic needs during the gomchen's retreat. In doing
this, a harmonious mutual symbiosis is attained. Because the
gomchen is being helped by those he is helping, the gomchen
makes even more intense efforts to bring about favourable
conditions on behalf of others. So both the gomchen and the
community he is serving become even more contented
through their faith in the dharma.
For gomchens, the life purpose is to become enlightened for
the sake of all mother sentient beings. So the retreats serve a
purpose in allowing the gomchen an opportunity to become
more detached to outer appearances of reality and gain
spiritual power and insight as a result of tantric meditation
practices. The retreats motivate the gomchen to put more
effort into achievement of supreme happiness because of the
resultant realizations and spiritual developments that emerge
during the retreat time.
There are many stages of doing retreat. The first retreat is
called Ngondro. This is a preliminary practice which starts
from the point of going for refuge to the three jewels to
engaging  in guruyoga.   It  is  a  complete  training  for  both
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
physical and mental purification and is a year long
Then the next stage is a three year retreat which focuses on
the three roots: lama, yidam, and khandro. After completing
this retreat, the gomchen will be authorized to lead the major
ceremony. The three year retreat is highly desirable
undertaking because it is an opportunity for one to gain
profound experiences of spiritual insight and develop more
spiritual power based upon wisdom realizing emptiness and
the pure awareness. After this retreat even an ordinary
gomchen will be able to give teachings to people and will be
able to show others the correct path to enlightenment.
Retreat centers for gomchen are typically found in the high
mountains and solitary places. These are locations that are
difficult for most people to traverse easily. The location choice
is in accord with a religious text which asserts that retreat
place should be located at least one mile from the village and
town preferably in an elevated place such as a mountain.
Only then does the location meet the requirement for gonpa
which means 'solitary place'.
Retreat Etiquette
In keeping with the requirement of having the retreat in a
solitary place, there are certain retreat etiquettes and
disciplines to be observed by both the retreatants and
nonretreatants. For example, when people pass nearby a
retreat area, they should be mindful about this and make
efforts not to see the gomchen in retreat. Visitors are not
allowed to enter beyond the certain place. However, if
someone wants to leave offering items for the gomchen, he is
advised to leave at this at the entrance with a message that
the offering items come from a certain persons. Names of
deceased can also be left so the merit can be dedicated for
Being able to make offerings to the gomchen retreatants who
are seriously on the path to full enlightenment fulfils the need
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for the accumulation of merit on the part of the lay people
and promotes their happiness. For them, the offering is the
aspiration to do far reaching positive actions. By having the
gomchen there to accept such an offering, their wish has been
actualized. Similarly, the gomchen retreatant feels fulfilled in
being able to use this life in a very appropriate way and not
wasting the rare opportunity of a precious human life. Both
gomchens and lay people enjoy happiness by acknowledging
themselves to be the luckiest ones amongst millions of
human beings because they recognize the preciousness in
this life and do not want to waste the opportunities for
spiritual realizations and the dedication of accumulated
During the retreat, gomchens are not allowed to cut their
hair, nails, or shave off moustache and beards because the
whole body is transformed into certain deity. They are only
allowed to meet three people for entire retreat. These being
their root lama who is the guiding teacher during the retreat,
a food carrier and a doctor.
Communication with these three people is done by writing on
a slate to convey the message or by talking at a particular
time depending on how the gomchen retreatant and the root
lama have set the rules at the beginning of the retreat. Some
retreat persons prefer not to speak for entire three years.
What is the reason for this silence? It is because ordinary
speech is being transformed into divine speech of a specific
deity. Also, the ordinary body and mind are also transformed
into the deity's body and mind. This is in accord with specific
deity tantric practices that are being used to purify the
gomchens body, speech, and mind. Therefore, the retreatant's
body is generally not allowed to be shown to other people
unless those people are themselves blessed.
During retreat time, gomchens enjoy genuine happiness and
bliss without attachment by practicing the dharma. Moreover,
the gomchens fully dedicate their realizations and prayers to
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
the happiness of all mother sentient beings in the three
When the lay people witness the blissful transformation of the
gomchens mind due to doing retreats, the lay people get
inspired to renounce the mind of attachment and have fewer
destructive self-grasping worldly desires. They realize through
the example of gomchen retreatants, that true happiness and
contentment cannot be attained through an attachment to
wealth and the accumulation of materials. So they seek to
have the same happiness that gomchens are experiencing by
listening the dharma teachings and instructions for practicing
as directed by the gomchens.
Ceremony is one of the most important activities in the life of
gomchens. That is why gomchens are trained from an early
age in the practice and theory of a wide variety of ritual arts
and performance. The four different types of pujas they are
trained fall into the four categories of peace, increase, power,
and subduing. The most popular request from the lay people
is to perform pujas promoting their happiness and success.
People strongly believe in invoking luck and becoming
successful by means of performing pujas. An individual needs
so many outer conditions and circumstances to be met in
order to attain what is perceived to be happiness, that in
addition to material accumulation, people are still seeking
spiritual help to attain more of whatever object they feel will
bring them the most happiness and success. This is because
people's desire has no limit, and they are always searching for
the means to become satisfied.
By invoking the pujas, people may feel that a positive cause
and condition has been set into action through the gomchen's
prayers and this has the effect of making people feel more
comfortable, more psychologically balanced. They feel more
contented because although they had a desire, it was directed
through a dharmic action and resulted in the accumulation of
more merit. Some positive spiritual force was put into action
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
through the ritual and prayers done by the gomchen on their
There is such a demand for these pujas that sometimes trains
of gomchens travel in the morning into huge towns and
village communities because every available gomchen has
been invited by a household. For the entire day, the
gomchens are engaged in performing pujas in that particular
household in order to bring peace and happiness by
dispelling any obstacle and negative force.
Gomchens also try to help others through an effort to prolong
the life by invoking the long life Buddha through performing
puja. Similarly, if people become sick, gomchens are invited
to perform Medicine Buddha puja. If households lack
economic resources, then gomchens will perform the God of
Wealth puja in those houses in order to invoke the blessing
for increased material resources.
If there has been a loss of earth blessing which results in
infertile soil which will not yield crops, the gomchens insert
holy vases underneath the earth in order for the soil to
produce abundant of crops.
Gomchens can also control evil spirits that may be haunting
and causing disturbances. To keep the evil spirits from
harming others, the gomchen uses methods to subdue them
and expel them from the location of disturbance and
emancipate them into the sphere of dharmakaya.
Gomchens also perform a public service by conducting
funerals for the lay population. They can aid in directing the
consciousness of the deceased during the intermediate state
to the pure land. In the vajrayana tradition, it is known that
the consciousness of the deceased wanders in the
intermediate state for 21 days and is like a feather being
blown about by the force of karma. But here in this
intermediate state there is a special chance to realize the pure
primordial wisdom or clear light mind.
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
If the consciousness is able to realize this pure state even for
a brief second, there is a chance that the consciousness of
the deceased can go on to a higher rebirth. The gomchen is
experienced with the subtle stages of consciousness during
the intermediate state and can help direct the consciousness
during its transit from one phase to another. During the time
when a person is sick and about to die, rinpoches and
gomchens usually try to direct the consciousness onto the
correct route through prayers and the transference of
consciousness. If the enlightened lamas spiritual power and
strong intention conjoin with the faith of the deceased
person's consciousness at the correct exact moment, then the
consciousness of the deceased is able to realize the
dharmakaya nature, the pure primordial wisdom which is
beyond life and death. If this occurs, then the mind of the
deceased becomes a Buddha who can manifest anytime and
anywhere in accordance with the wishes of the sentient
beings. This consciousness has become a wish fulfilling jewel
for all others, and the gomchens and rinpoches who facilitate
this outcome accumulate great merit which they use to
continue benefiting others.
The surviving relatives and friends of the deceased feel very
relieved that the gomchen can offer this service to their loved
ones for whom they have affection and attachment. After
gomchen has finished with the prayers and ritual, the
surviving relatives and friends naturally feel a loss and
saddened, but they also feel contented knowing that they did
their best to help the consciousness of the deceased gain a
higher rebirth. This thought alone helps them maintain some
small happiness even amidst their loss.
Gomchens also lead the public ceremonies like festivals and
weddings in the villages and towns. During the festivals,
gomchens entertain the community by demonstrating many
variety of sacred dances. In some villages, the lay people
sponsor the conduction of prayers for world peace, like the
annual one billion times recitation of the six-syllable mantra
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
"Om Mani Padme Hum" and recitation of the Vajra Guru
mantra. In some instances, villages sponsor the fasting prayer
and rituals in spring in order to make confession because
they may have taken the lives of insects and worms, and
other sentient beings during the summer farming work. It
relieves the minds of the farmers to know that they can make
a confession and have prayers done by gomchen on their
behalf in order to alleviate any possible ill karmic effects due
to the negative action of taking life. By conducting the pujas
and doing these types of prayers, the gomchen is able to help
lessen the guilty burden on the mind. This helps to unstress
the emotions of those who may have unintentionally harmed
an animal while trying to make a living ploughing a field.
In addition to the summer retreats and prayers, the gomchen
also do winter pujas in Bhutan when there is more leisure
time for farmers and other laypersons. During this time, the
gomchen devotes much time to the publics need for religious
ceremonies such as Tshog Bum puja or the hundred
thousand offerings of tshog, and to Nyungney or the fasting,
as well as the Zhingdrub or actualization of pureland
ceremony. People from all sections of the community come for
these ceremonies conducted by gomchen. Many elderly people
will come to recite the six syllable mantra and during the
session, they will observe the five precepts. The ceremonies
can last for a week or more.
The community gathers at a local temple or builds a
temporary shelter for the pujas ceremony. The atmosphere is
alive with socializing and shared sense of purpose in invoking
the puja. This pulls the community together in a united effort
to do a dharma practice that will benefit all sentient beings
and invoke blessings for the entire community. This cohesion
due to a shared desire to do dharma practice knits the
community together even tighter and creates an atmosphere
of happiness in joining together to do meritorious actions
being lead by the gomchen lama.
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
The head gomchen will give teachings during the winter on
various Buddhist philosophical topics and practices including
such topics as the laws of cause and effect and dependently
arising conditions, the significance of puja, how to develop
the inspirational bodhicitta mind for the benefit of all sentient
beings, and transformation of consciousness through the
tantric method of deity visualization, and the benefits of
virtuous practice. At the end of the pujas and teachings, the
merit is dedicated, and some lay persons hearts are so moved
that they even become gomchens after realizing the benefits of
a spiritual life.
The pujas and teachings are happy events where the minds of
lay people can be turned towards the dharma and the
virtuous activities. Sometimes people feel so happy and
privileged when they realize the preciousness of their human
life and their access the triple gem, that they will cry from joy
when they receive the teachings from the gomchen lama. The
teachings and subsequent realizations become a basis for the
sober contentment of their minds. This has a further impact
on their society because there is less crime and destruction
where the minds of people are at peace. The quality of life
automatically improves when the people feel contented, and
the presence of the gomchen lama working on the behalf of
the community provides the means for this to be maintained
through his constant commitment to ceremonies and
Dharma Teaching
Gomchens also give teachings after they come out of retreats.
At the conclusion of the retreat, it is typical for the lay
community to receive teachings from the gomchen. The lay
people have an interest for these post-retreat teachings
because several of them are also doing ngondro practice and
guru yoga in addition to their daily work. Many lay people do
not know how to read the religious texts, so they are
appreciative if the gomchen can give them instructions
regarding the visualization of deities. So lay people try to seek
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
a gomchen lama as their spiritual guide, one who has
completed the three year retreat.
After this retreat, the gomchen lama has merited some
spiritual authority and can give public teachings. Even if the
gomchen lama is not well versed in Buddhist canon, he still
retains spiritual authority due to his realizations and spiritual
powers. What is truly necessary for the gomchen to be an
authentic spiritual guide is that he has the genuine pure
bodhicitta in his heart. Then he can lead others through the
path of liberation by communicating his actualized
compassion and Buddha nature. This is the main reason that
Bhutanese people develop and maintain respect for gomchen
because he has the correct motivation and spiritual means by
which to lead them to the experience of peace and happiness
in their own minds. If the lay people have faith in this, then
they will be able to use gomchen to help them develop a deep
respect for the Mahayana tradition and its methods for
developing the special insight of wisdom realizing emptiness.
Step by step, the gomchen lamas can lead the student's
minds towards the actual realization ofthe primordial state.
Gomchens teach the lay community that there is a method
for becoming free from the negative conditions of the cyclic
existence, and this is appealing to the community when they
have many hardships or challenges to face in their lives. It
routes their minds in a positive direction to know that there is
a means by which one can become free from samsara and
that the gomchen has promised to help them accomplish this.
This is the primary purpose of the gomchen-lama' s life: to
help free others from suffering through external acts of
compassion and kindness while simultaneously using the
subtler methods of giving mind training directions and
transmissions to his lay students.
For this type of instruction, gomchens are more easily
available than the high lamas and rinpoches who live in the
monastic community. To get a teaching from a rinpoche or
lama   in   the   monk   community,   one   have   to   go   to   the
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
monastery to make an appointment and submit a request for
the teaching. The gomchen, on the other hand, lives within
the lay community and is a constant presence so it is easier
to go directly to him. Then he will give some oral teachings or
transmissions directly to them. If the gomchen has regular
students and sees them all the time, he is also familiar with
where the student is with his/her practice and realizations
and can help them direct their minds through the best
methods that are suitable for them. Because the gomchen is
immediately available and an integral part of the lay
community, he can efficiently dispense the spiritual teachings
that people need and would otherwise find difficult or
impossible to obtain. When the lay community knows that the
gomchen lama is a spiritual constant in their community and
that they can always go to him for teachings and
transmissions, then people feel hopeful that they can make
unlimited progress with their dharma practice and will not
have a limited approach to how much spiritual progress they
will be able to make in their lifetime. It boosts their
enthusiasm for dharma practice, and decreases their worry,
to know that there will not be a stop line drawn for their
spiritual studies and practices. They will feel happy knowing
that there is lamas who can help them become enlightened,
perhaps within this very lifetime.
The Practice of Generosity
Usually gomchens come out from their summer retreat
beginning of October and start going for alms for a few weeks
if they stay in the villages. Normally gomchens go around the
village from house to house making prayers for the different
households. Then the householders give a donation to the
gomchen in appreciation for the beneficial prayers. The
householder's donation is typically some portion of grain.
Then the gomchen also makes a prayer in gratitude for the
householder's kindness and generosity. Both the gomchens
and monks do this type of right livelihood. They do not
compete or demand for something, but accept whatever is
freely given and are satisfied with it.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
By going for alms, the gomchens allow the householder to let
go of the self-grasping attachment to material objects. This
opportunity allows the householder to develop more
bodhicitta and perfect the meritorious action of generosity. So
the gomchen is able to make a right livelihood and the
householders are able to accumulate more merit by
supporting gomchen as he also supports their wish for more
happiness for their households.
In the Mahayana tradition, there is a special emphasis placed
upon the Six Paramitas, or Six Perfections. The Perfection of
generosity is one of these. It is important that Buddhists
practise the perfection of generosity, moral or ethical
discipline, and concentration. In Pali, these are respectively
referred to as dhana, shila, and samadhi. According to
Theravada doctrine, it is imperative for every Buddhist to
practice this trinity if one is to become liberated from the
samsaric world. But it must be noted that this type of
liberation is the self liberation from the suffering of samsara.
For the full enlightenment to occur, it is necessary for the
practice of this trinity to be motivated by the desire to benefit
the countless mother sentient beings.
The generosity that is being taught by the gomchen clearly
falls into the category of perfecting this quality for the sake of
all sentient mother beings because he is motivated to lead
others to the full enlightenment while simultaneously
improving their immediate living conditions. By allowing the
householders to give donation, he is helping them to secure a
better karmic condition for themselves which may manifest in
this lifetime as more wealth, or may occur in the following
lifetime as a more comfortable living circumstance. So
gomchen cares for the comfort of lay populace and has an
empathetic understanding of their living conditions and
knows how to help the lay persons transform this concern
into something positive they are wishing for. Gomchen is just
there at the doorstep of each household, aiding the lay
community to literally opening their own door to a positive
transformation of living circumstances.
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
What is the most generous act that one being can do for
another? Perhaps it is showing them the way to attain a true
state of contentment free from all suffering. This is what
Buddha Shakymuni taught and therefore, is the focus of the
gomchen's life purpose since he is a dharma teacher. His
main objective is to help to lead the minds of people into a
better state of awareness, and ultimately to enlightenment.
Performing this service is his life commitment to all sentient
beings, and he knows that the dharma is the only correct
means to accomplish this end. All other methods for trying to
establish lasting happiness fail due to some basic
misperception about reality. So he tries to educate the people
of his community about the causes and conditions that lead
to happiness and ultimately enlightenment because he is
committed to their spiritual health.
The gomchen lama is familiar with inner nature of the mind,
and how the mind works. This insight comes from his
meditation practice as a spiritual realization. He knows full
well what some people may not be completely aware of; that
self-grasping desires are difficult to eliminate but they must
be dispelled if peaceful happy states of mind are to prevail.
The self-grasping desires are dependent upon ignorance not
only about the impermanence of self, but also about the
dependently arising causes and conditions. This ignorance
must be uprooted through mind training and the
development of ultimate bodhicitta if the goal of
enlightenment is to be attained.
So gomchen, by doing pujas and external acts which lead
peoples minds into a communal contentedness is really
offering people a chance to accumulate merit that will
positively direct their own causes and conditions into a
manifestation of happiness. By constantly offering chances
for the accumulation of merit, the gomchen is helping to
habituate the minds of his lay community towards benefiting
others, not just persons in their own villages and towns, but
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
all mother sentient being, and being less self-grasping which
is a root cause for suffering and the repeated cyclic rebirths.
As the minds of people get more and more habituated towards
the virtuous dharma activities and developing bodhicitta, they
naturally feel better because the fetters of self-grasping
loosen. The self-grasping cannot stand up to the strength of
bodhicitta because self-grasping is a temporary, ignorant
contaminated state while ultimate bodhicitta is pure and
Then, because they do dharma activities and feel better, they
want to engage in even more dharma practice because their
minds are being habituated towards the spiritual means of
If they ask the gomchen for further teachings in mind training
and he gives them transmissions, the self-grasping mind may
fall away more quickly and the person will experience fewer
and fewer afflictive emotions over time. This is very good for
the community of people feel motivated to do this spiritual
work with the gomchen lama because it means that there will
be a less afflictions in the society. The atmosphere becomes
less aggressive and competitive when many members of the
community are practicing at least an inspirational bodhicitta.
This improves the quality of life for everyone when the
majority of persons in a community want to practice
bodhicitta. But this is why the gomchen is living in the
community in the first place. His purpose is to assist in the
happiness of others by teaching them how to develop the
bodhicitta which will help liberate the mind.
How many other societies in the world have someone whose
sole occupation and ambition is to serve the complete
happiness and well being of others with the purest intention
born of bodhi mind? Maybe there really aren't so many who
want to do this type of job, but this is the gomchen's job, and
it is the most fortunate and auspicious endeavour!
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
Gomchens Influence on the Four Pillars of GNH
In Bhutan, the gomchen is an integral part of every
community and serves as a spiritual constant since his
dharma service extends to all areas of life within the given
communities. There are gomchens in every village and town
throughout the country and thus their influence is far
reaching. This influence of the gomchen as a spiritual guide
promotes and helps to maintain the four basic pillars of GNH
as shown in the following areas of economic self-reliance,
environmental preservation, cultural promotion, and good
Economic Self-Reliance
In the area of economic self-reliance, the gomchen, being a
dharma teacher, is himself an example of right livelihood and
can give training and advice in this direction. Right livelihood
is directly related to the topic of economic self-reliance
because the causes and conditions stemming from one's
choice of work can lead to either happy or miserable
circumstances. For example, a prevalence of corrupt
occupations will result in turmoil and disturbance for the
environment and the society, and this will immediately
undermine the spiritual well-being of the entire group
because society is an interdependent entity. Its happiness as
a whole rests upon the shoulders of all the individuals who
form it.
According to the Dhammapada, right livelihood is in line with
benefiting others and decreasing that which is harmful. This
means that the right livelihood is to be directed at improving
conditions for others while simultaneously providing for the
basic living requirements that support the human physical
existence. But happiness is related to more than just taking
care of the needs of the human body. If this were true, then
happiness would be an empirical state and have little to do
with the nature of the mind and the human ability to use
effort to transform the ignorant states into a clearer
perception of reality.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
So what can help bring about a positive state of mind in
career or economic development? Desire must be examined. It
is what drives us to want things, including happiness. It is
the desire that must be correctly routed if a positive result is
to emerge. If there is too much self-grasping at the root of
anything, including economic self-reliance, then a state of
suffering will follow from any dharmic action. For example,
someone may want to make money because he needs it but,
is unwilling to put the welfare of others first. He is attached to
the idea of making money and this is what is directing his
choices at the moment. It is as if the desire for money has
taken over his concern for others and completely obscured
his ability to see the preciousness of other sentient beings.
During the moment of obscuration, he might believe that
selling drugs would be a fine way to accomplish his wish for
more money. Perhaps it could provide him a lot of cash very
fast. Maybe he is thinking along these lines, but if he chose to
take this action, the consequences for himself and society
would be very negative. Besides being illegal and potentially
resulting in his imprisonment, someone could get sick or die
as a result of the drug sellers selfish focus on only making
money without regard for the well-being of other sentient
If others are harmed in process of making livelihood, it is
because one is not practicing bodhicitta and putting the well-
being of others first. Since right livelihood means much more
than just making money and acquiring material possessions,
happiness coming from right livelihood implies much more
than just providing for the needs of the physical body alone.
The truth is that everyone wants a comfortable life and
happiness. This is a deep desire, but in order to obtain the
opposite of a miserable life, one must engage in the virtuous
acts that will positively formulate the correct causes and
conditions leading to this happy state. Of course, all of this
positive activity can be directed by the mind, and this is the
truest form of self-reliance in that one must train ones own
mind in the direction of virtuous choices in relation to one's
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
economic viability in order to obtain an occupation which is
in line with the dharma. This type of occupation will at the
very least have a positive state of mind as one of its many
The gomchen lama can advise others as to the right livelihood
and best use of their own talents and skills to attain this. He
can in fact, use his special insight to give guidance as to what
area of occupation would yield the best result for an
individual. If a person has faith in this advice from the
gomchen lama, then he/she can bring a spiritual view into
their daily lives, and their attitudes towards work change. If
the gomchen lamas students gain spiritual values and
appreciation for right livelihood, then they can work in the
world in such a way as to put their spiritual values into
action in their given vocations. If there is an emphasis on
bodhicitta in the workplace because this is an integral
practice of right livelihood, then the workplace also becomes
less competitive and aggressive. There are fewer afflictive
emotions to disrupt the work in progress and this promotes a
more efficient work place. For example, if something goes
wrong, the employees maybe less likely to fight amongst
themselves or with their employers because this is a self-
grasping behaviour not in line with practicing bodhicitta
which is an inseparable part of right livelihood.
Since the spiritual life occurs here and now in reality and
everyone has to make a living, it is reasonable that if more
employees try to bring spiritual values to the work place,
instead of a competitive "cut throat" attitude, and actually use
their occupations as a means for their dharma practice, the
result will be a more pleasant atmosphere for work. If
someone is competent at his/her work and also carries a
pleasant cooperative attitude of bodhicitta, they are probably
more likely to get more job opportunities such as promotion
because their employers realize that they are easier to get
along with, less egotistical, and have better attitudes towards
their work than the most. The selection of the correct right
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
livelihood and spiritual guidance by the gomchen lama can
help lead to this result.
Also, a senior gomchen can directly train others in right
livelihood and economic self-reliance by training them to be
gomchens. When senior gomchens are training the novices,
they are helping them to obtain literacy skills as well as those
in the arts and in the area of medicine and healing. Later, a
high level of skill and competence in any one of these areas
alone would be a cause for employment and means by which
one could become economically self-reliant. But in reality,
economic self-reliance starts very soon in the life of even a
novice gomchen. Some of them can even support themselves
after a year into the training because they assist the senior
gomchen when he goes to various houses to conduct pujas.
The householders then give a donation to the novice because
he helped conduct the puja. In this way, the young novice can
begin providing for his own basic needs while being taught by
the senior gomchen. This builds confidence and self-esteem
on the part of the young novice who is able to get training, do
virtuous actions to benefit others happiness and to be in a
position to support his own economic needs. So from very
early on, gomchen novices are fortunate: they have the benefit
of a direct simultaneous economic and spiritual development.
This is a reason that several poor parents used to send their
children to the gomchen community. They knew their
children would be able to do well economically and train in a
noble, respected dharmic path.
So not only is the gomchen a living example of right
livelihood, but also a shinning example of economic self-
reliance. This is a good role model to pay attention to because
as markets get more competitive and consumerism covers the
planet, Bhutan is more exposed to outer modern influences.
Sometimes these influences seem very good on the surface
because they offer immediate access to a more luxurious
lifestyle with increasing material goods, but if the intention to
acquire these goods is linked with a self-grasping attitude and
very little bodhicitta, any happiness from them is temporary
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
and will quickly wear off, leaving the person to still want
more. Buddha Shakyamuni spoke at Jetvana grove and
verified this when he said that, "Even a rain of gold could not
satisfy your desires—for the smallest taste of enjoyment leads
to the suffering of more desire. A truly wise person
understands this." (Dhammapada).
By practicing right livelihood, the correct view is kept in line
with bodhicitta and leads to greater awareness about wanting
happiness for all, not for just one. Promoting the happiness of
others while rnaintaining economic self-reliance, is the best
way to approach one's work. This is why the gomchens are
successful and bring happiness to countless others: they are
motivated by the pure bodhicitta and wish to share this same
key to success with others.
Environmental Preservation
A gomchen lama has a lifestyle with few needs beyond the
basics because he is on this spiritual path of meditation, and
service to others needs. Therefore, his demands from the
environment are very little. In fact, as a part-time retreatant,
he is very much in partnership with the earth and the
elements. His spiritual occupation and objectives are in
harmony with the natural flow of seasonal changes. For
example, in summer, the gomchen must do a retreat in order
to intensify his spiritual powers in order to do pujas and
prayers that help others while they are working in the fields.
He prays for their negativities to be dissolved so that their
work in the fields will be successful. Then if the farmers need
rain and have a strong faith in the gomchen, the gomchen
can help produce this much needed rain. The gomchen serves
as a spiritual link between them and the environment. Also,
when soils in the fields are no longer fertile and seemed to
have run out of the power to produce crops, the gomchen
does rituals and buries a blessing vase under the soils in
order to restore the power to grow crops. All of this is being
done with the motivation of pure bodhicitta and so gomchen
is able to accomplish miracles in the environment. When
ordinary people witness what the gomchen has been able to
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
accomplish in this way, they have respect for him and also
become aware of how sensitive the environment is.
The environment is alive and responds favourably to
bodhicitta. This is why an enlightened gomchen lama can
direct weather and restore blessings to the soil. He
understands the true state of phenomenon and can use his
pure bodhicitta to implement a change on the grosser levels of
matter in order to benefit others. But this ability to
manipulate weather in the service of sentient beings requires
a clear and thorough understanding of the workings of
phenomenon, spiritual powers coming from realizations, and
an extremely strong and pure bodhicitta.
Gomchen lamas extend bodhicitta to all mother sentient
beings because they are devoted to the full enlightenment of
the countless beings, and this is what the gomchen lamas
teach to their students because this is what the Buddha
taught. The gomchen lama's devotion extends to all areas of
the environment and the sentient beings who dwell there.
Even the tiniest insect has the gomchens full bodhicitta heart
devoted to its liberation from samsara. This tiniest insect is to
be cherished and held dear because even he has the Buddha-
nature and a wish for happiness. There is awareness even in
the mind of an ant. If one observes an ant, one will see that
the ant struggles for food and will often try to carry a huge
load on his back. He carries this to his home he has made for
himself because he must also be protected from the elements.
In his home are other ants, and they form a community of
beings there who all want to be fed and protected. While they
are simply trying to survive, they are desiring to be free from
hunger, harsh weather conditions; in short, they are trying to
counter their suffering with actions that bring about a desired
result. This proves that the ants have an awareness and are
also striving for liberation from their karmic conditions even
though they are confined to the animal realm and have no
conscious realization of reasons for their present life within
the   animal   realm.   What   is   important   is   that   they   have
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
Buddha nature that will be actualized at some point during
their rebirths.
This is why gomchen lamas and other dharma practitioners
have respect for the life in the environment. Wherever there is
life, there is Buddha nature and the forests and rivers are full
of this potential for enlightenment. The gomchen lama
imparts this value of respect and care for the environment
which has a myriad of interdependent layers. If one layer of
the ecosystem is disturbed, then other dependent layers will
suffer. This is a fact that can be seen in the world today in
other places where deforestation has taken place and toxic
chemicals have been poured into the sky and water. Many
sentient beings have died and suffered immensely due to the
desire that have been allowed to obscure the precious
bodhicitta. It is only through mindfulness, intelligence and
kindness, that the environment will be preserved and
maintained as clean and beautiful. Bhutan is a hopeful
example of such a clean well preserved place, a "pureland" to
all who come to visit, especially to those who are coming from
developed countries. They see Bhutan with amazement and
are deeply impressed. It seems almost impossible to their
minds that the earth could be so unpolluted here, but then
again, Bhutan is also the only Buddhist country in the world,
and the centuries old spiritual values of Mahayana Buddhism
are deeply rooted within the culture and minds of Bhutanese
Another way that the gomchen lamas help promote the
preservation of the environment is by doing their retreats in
solitary places. For the retreats to occur, the environment
must be very pure and undisturbed. Because Bhutan has a
strong gomchen tradition, there is a constant influx of
gomchen for meditation retreats, and many of them must do
the three year retreats. This means that the areas where
gomchens do their retreats should be regarded as holy places
and maintained with this view. This assures that the
gomchen retreat places will always preserve the land around
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
the retreat location because they must be kept pure and free
from the disturbance of modern progress.
If too much land is compromised in the way of modern
development, this will also compromise the lifestyle of
gomchen as well because the tantric retreats require a
specified environment that is far from any urbanized place
with an abundance of worldly activities and concerns. If
gomchens are not able to do successful retreats, then they
will not be able to have the types of spiritual realizations that
will benefit the happiness of the others who depend upon
their services for pujas, prayers and advice. So the
preservation of the gomchen tradition and the preservation of
the environment in Bhutan are inextricably linked due to the
constant need for retreats.
Cultural Promotion
Bhutan has an indisputably unique culture: this is the one
and only Buddhist country in the world. High regard for the
Buddhist spiritual tradition has been a hallmark of Bhutan,
and the country's cultural identity rests upon this as its
foundation. The gomchens play an enormous role in
enriching the countries cultural promotion due to their
training in all the arts, ranging from calligraphy, poetry,
astrology, and thangka painting to the ritual arts of puja
ceremony, torma-making, and sacred dance, only to name a
What distinguishes gomchen the most, however, is the
constant conducting of pujas. They have a seemingly endless
stream of requests from lay people for this service. The lay
people often go to the gomchens for this service rather than
going to the monastery because the gomchen lives in their
community and is therefore readily available. Getting a monk
to do the puja might take a week. Because people know that
the gomchen is readily available to them and is motivated to
do service for them, they sometimes arrive at his house even
in the middle of the night and ask him to come do a ceremony
or prayers right away. Sometimes when a person is dying they
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
need the gomchen lama to attend to the person to help the
dying person with the transference of consciousness. Of
course, the gomchen is happy to do this, to be "on call"
because he is motivated by pure bodhicitta to help all
sentient beings.
The other type of puja that gomchen lamas do quite often is
called Ka-go. This is a specialized type of puja for driving evil
spirits away from the places which are causing a disturbance.
The reason that gomchens are busy with this is because they
have the correct tantric background for providing this service,
and most of the regular monks do not. High lamas have the
ability to provide this service, but are not always so accessible
if they are in monasteries while almost every gomchen knows
how to do Ka-go and are easier to access.
To perform this subduing type of puja, the gomchen lama will
do prayers and communicate with the spirit. The gomchen
tells the evil spirit to quit harming the persons in that
environment, to be compassionate and use bodhicitta and
that the spirit could have a better rebirth if he stops doing
this or even become enlightened in the next lifetime. This is a
reasonable way to speak with the spirit because it is a
sentient being endowed with Buddha nature, but still
suffering within samsara. Even this evil spirit craves
happiness just like any other sentient being and is probably
acting in very destructive ways due to the intensity of its
If the spirit does not respond to reasoning because it is
suffering from too many obscurations, the gomchen lama will
resort to a tantric practice to expel it. This method
implements chag-jah, ngag-dah, and lha-gom which are hand
mudra, mantra, and deity meditation respectively. The third
element of the method, lha-gom, is very powerful and highly
effective because it is the transformation of the gomchen lama
into a wrathful deity form. This wrathful form maybe
Yamantaka, Vajrapani, or whichever specific yidam the
gomchen wants to use for this purpose. The wrathful deity is
used in this case because the evil spirit needs a form it can
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
perceive. When the gomchen transforms himself into the
yidam, this is seen by the spirit. For example, if Yamantaka
appears, the evil spirit sees the wrathful deity with all his
weapons of compassion. At this point, the evil spirit is sent
into the dharmakaya by the gomchen lama. This is how the
gomchen lama can handle two cases at once: he can relieve
the suffering of those who have been disturbed by the evil
spirit and also relieve the suffering of the evil spirit as well.
This is a satisfying outcome because the gomchen lama
respected both parties equally and treated them both with
In addition to providing puja services, the gomchen lama
promotes culture by being a dharma teacher and giving mind
training and empowerments to several lay people. By doing
this, he is helping to keep the Buddhist spiritual values
flourishing in Bhutan. This is essential to Bhutanese identity
because Buddhist spiritual values are woven into every aspect
of life. The gomchen lama is a cultural symbol of these values
because he is on the path of enlightenment and this is what
motivates him to continue with his immeasurable service to
all sentient beings. Wherever there is a gomchen lama,
bodhicitta abounds and the potential for enlightenment can
be actualized if the student is ready for the transformation of
Good Governance
For Bhutan, good governance is possible due to the fact that
Bhutan is a country whose cultural foundation rests upon a
solid base of Mahayana Buddhism. The basis of the
Mahayana vehicle is ethical conduct fuelled by bodhicitta,
and the moral virtues are attended to by a mindfulness
stemming from a motivation to help all mother sentient
beings. This same quality of mindfulness is integral to good
governance as seen in the qualities of honesty, accountability,
efficiency, and reliability. These four qualities are in line with
the teachings of the Buddha who gave a code of moral
discipline for all those seeking at least liberation from
suffering. In the Mahayana vehicle, it is imperative that moral
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
discipline be accompanied by the practice of bodhicitta
because liberation from suffering is not just for ones self but
for all the mother sentient beings. In this way, bodhicitta
keeps the moral discipline glued in place because the desire
for virtuous conduct, and positive outcome for all comes
straight from the hearts indestructible drop. Good governance
should come from the heart because this is where the wisdom
mind rests.
Honesty is necessary for good governance and should be at
the base. It is the direct opposite of lying, cheating, and
stealing. If these negative actions are occurring, then society
is harmed along with the perpetrator of such misconduct. It is
a situation where everyone loses ultimately. Society loses
something material in various forms such as embezzlement,
misuse of funds, fraudulent contracts, deliberate
misinformation, or withholding information. But society is
also damaged in an immaterial way due to loss of trust and
peace of mind. This results in scepticism or the state of mind
where there is always doubt. This is the most damaging.
While the material loss may be restored, stolen money
returned, or lies confessed and apologies made, it is much
harder, almost impossible, for the doubt to be erased from
people's minds. Their peace of mind has been destroyed, and
this is the opposite of promoting happiness.
Of course the perpetrator has several negative consequences.
If he is caught, he could be punished by the law, even
imprisoned and fined. Or if not indicted by the law, at the
least, his name and face become a public disgrace, and an
object of embarrassment to those whom he represents. The
name of his region and the title of his government position
will then be associated with misconduct. In short, there will
be a stain on his name, his region, and his post.
The stain also extends further. Each action forms an imprrnt-
a type of karmic identifier in the mental continuum. This will
yield a negative result if the imprint stems from a non-
virtuous action and the doer of the misdeed will experience
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
suffering as a result. So whether or not the perpetrator of the
non-virtuous action ever gets "caught" and his misdeeds
become public ally known, he will still suffer from the
negative impact of his own misdeed. The karma may ripen in
the next life in the form of far less favourable circumstances
than the ones in which he found himself when he chose to
perpetrate the negative acts. So he can "go out of the frying
pan and into the fire" quickly without a conscious realization
of what has just happened. In this way, his self-grasping
desire towards whatever the attractive temporary gain was,
not only failed to serve others but failed to serve himself as
well. This is why it is so important to practice bodhicitta as a
support for ethical conduct. It is the precious bodhicitta
which puts other sentient beings' happiness first before ones
own misguided self-grasping desires. Bodhicitta is a means by
which the selfish desires can be restrained, reduced, and
even dissolved. Only by habituating one's mind to feeling very
close to others and recognizing their innate Buddha nature,
can mindfulness be maintained regarding the best service
towards others' happiness.
The quality of being accountable is key to good governance as
well as honesty, which is actually a part of accountability.
Honesty is inseparable from accountability because in order
to be responsible, one must be able to clearly distinguish
between "right" and "wrong", to think rationally, and be
willing to be answerable. Being answerable means that
decisions are being made which will have a result and that
there are factors involved which must be carefully examined
so as not to have some undesirable, or negative outcome.
Maintaining a mindfulness and constant bodhicitta is
important for policy-makers because they are the ones who
are making decisions on behalf of others, and their choices
have an impact on the tangible and intangible well-being of
the public.
Efficiency is another desirable quality which is also linked to
accountability. When decisions are being made, and the
factors   are   being   examined,   there   should   be   a   careful
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
consideration of what resources are being consumed during
this process. The desire, of course, is for a maximum result
with a minimum waste. Time and money are two resources
that will be subject to this scrutiny. If too much time or
money is being wasted, then this is a misuse of those
resources, and it is similar to stealing because the loss
cannot be recouped. If one were to approach efficiency with
mindfulness, however, one would be careful about these
resources not being abused or stolen because it means that
somewhere, someone is being negatively affected. If the
funding for policy projects come from taxing the public sector,
then the public will suffer due to delay in the policies that are
supposed to benefit them. Also, if a policy plan is not properly
structured and correctly executed, then this is not equitable.
The public deserves to get a fair return for its efforts to
comply with government rules. If this does not happen, then
there is some gain at the expense of others whose happiness
is supposed to be served by the policies. But a mindful
efficient policy-maker would not want this type of loss to
occur because it indicates a lack of concern for others within
the very system that is established to promote a good
standard of living for others. A policy-maker motivated by
bodhicitta would want to use great care with the public
resources and be a guardian for the well-being ofthe people.
If the people know that their policy-makers have a concern for
the use of their resources and are motivated to serve them
unselfishly, then this is what makes the public to have faith
in those who would govern them. So reliability, or
trustworthiness, is a quality of good governance that
embodies the other three good qualities and further connotes
that there is steadfastness and integrity involved. If people
feel that their government has a stable system which
efficiently executes beneficial policies, and that the policymakers structuring these policies are honest, wise and
accountable, and have their best interests at heart, then the
populace will feel very content and proud of their government.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
Bhutan is a country that already has a good governance in
many ways, and there is a true concern for the tangible and
intangible happiness of the people. So far, it is the only
country in the world that has developed a government
programme, Gross National Happiness (GNH), that considers
human happiness to be a relevant factor in governance. But
this is not so surprising given the fact that Bhutan is strong
in Mahayana Buddhism, and that this vehicle of Buddhism
expounds an ethical concern for all mother sentient beings.
The gomchen lamas' role in promoting good governance is
very basic: he gives the dharma teachings that lay down the
spiritual values for a predominantly Mahayana Buddhist
culture. By giving teachings on bodhicitta to the lay persons
in his community, he is helping to foster an aspiration to
perform virtuous acts and accumulate merit then dedicate it
for the well-being of all mother sentient beings. The gomchen
lama promotes kindness and compassion for others every
time he gives a teaching and transmission. If his students
have faith and are devoted to doing their dharma practices,
they will develop an increase in wisdom and have special
insights into the true nature of reality. The more spiritual
realizations that the students have, the more they are able to
understand that there is no possibility of enlightenment
without the boundless quality of precious bodhicitta. So
bodhicitta becomes a spiritual value integrated into the
cultural mind of a community wherever a gomchen lama is
living and serving others needs for happiness.
Since many gomchen lamas live with lay communities across
Bhutan, there is likelihood that some of his students will
become leaders and policy-makers. If this happens they will
carry their dharma practice politics. They may regard their
political positions as wonderful opportunities to benefit others
well-being on a large scale, and regard themselves as
instruments for others' happiness.
The political life, if properly motivated by bodhicitta for
others, can almost manifest miracles. This is due to the pure
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
boundless quality of an awakened heart. Money and power,
however, are limited and subject to impermanence. They
cannot be relied upon to solve all the problems of a society,
and they do little to provide the causes and conditions for any
true lasting happiness. If money and power alone could do
this and solve many problems of a society, then the more
developed countries would have very few problems. But the
opposite appears to be the case. In fact, nowadays, some of
the western countries want to study Bhutan's programme of
GNH in order to understand why there is a lack of satisfaction
in their own societies. They want to find out what is
"missing", and why a less developed country such as Bhutan
enjoys a greater happiness than more economically advanced
countries do.
Maybe what is missing is the awakened heart. Under the
dynamic leadership of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the
GNH programme grew out of a concern for the physical,
mental and spiritual well being for the Bhutanese people. The
programme is an example of mindfulness in action and
embodies the Buddhist principle of bodhicitta which is taught
by rinpoches and gomchen lamas. Where there is a lama,
there is a teaching on bodhicitta. Fortunately for Bhutan,
there are still several lamas across the country and their
teachings can be felt in the fabric ofthe culture.
Because the numbers of gomchen lamas are strong in the lay
communities of the present day, their influence of dharma
teachings and spiritual services are still tightly woven into the
texture of Bhutan's Buddhist culture. The gomchen lamas
still impart the teachings of the Buddha today exactly as they
have always done for centuries. Their awakened hearts have
been reliable and withstood the test of time. Some may
wonder just how a gomchen lama can fit into a modern
sophisticated world with all its progress. Some may look at
him and think that the gomchen lama is like an antique,
something to be associated with Bhutan's cultural past more
than with its future. But this is not the case.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
Nowadays, samsara may look different because it involves
more technological advances, more modern progress, and
more sophisticated advertisements that pull on the desires of
human beings, but this is still just the same old samsara,
and the gomchen lama still has the same job. He will
continue on with his enlightenment for the sake of all
sentient beings and try to turn them all towards freedom from
suffering. This is his purpose in life and what he has vowed to
do with his true awakened heart. Such a pure devotion to the
happiness of all mother sentient beings must have an
influence on the GNH of Bhutan because the programme and
the gomchen lama meet on a common ground of bodhicitta,
the source of both relative and ultimate happiness.
May bodhicitta, precious and sublime,
Arise where it has not yet come to be;
And where it has arisen may it never fail
But grow and flourish more and more.
--One of the great Himalayan meditators on happiness.
Keith. Dowman, (1999) The Divine Mad man, California: Dawn
Horse Press
H.H The Dalai Lama (1999) The Hearts ofthe Buddha's Path
Ralston Saul. John, (2002) On Equilibrium, Penguin, Canada.
W. Burns. George and Street. Helen, (2003) Standing without
Shoes:    Creating    Happiness,     Relieving    Depression,
Enhancing life
Rinpoche.  Paltrul (1994)   Words of My Perfect Teacher, New
Delhi: Vistaar Publication
Lama. H.H The Dalai, The Art of Happiness
Rinpoche. Sogyal, (1992) Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.
Kinga.  Sonam, et al (eds) (1999)  Gross National Happiness,
the Center for Bhutan Studies.
 The Positive Impact of Gomchen Tradition on Achieving and
Maintaining Gross National Happiness
Powdyl. T.S (1988) "Gross National Happiness, A Tribute", in
Gross National Happiness, Kinga. Sonam, et al (eds)
(1999), the Center for Bhutan Studies.
Phontsok Tashi. Khenpo (2003) "The Role of Buddhism in
Achieving Gross National Happiness", in Gross National
Happiness, Karma Ura and Galay (eds), Thimphu, The
Centre for Bhutan Studies
H.H The Dalai Lama, Kindness, Clarity, and Insight
Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, Delhi.
Surya Das. Lama, Awakening the Buddha Within, Broadway


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