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Bhutanese Public Policy in the 'Century of Interdependence' Hershock, Peter D. 2004-12

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 Bhutanese Public Policy in the 'Century of Interdependence'
Peter D. Hershock'
The 21st century promises to be the "century of
interdependence." Yet, growing interdependence is no
guarantee or either greater equity of sustainable and just
development. In order to insure that increasing
interdependence leads to extending and deepening public
good, public policy must appropriately respond to and
coordinate the complex dynamics that characterize 21st
century social, economic, political, and cultural realities.
This position paper proposes forging a coordinative approach
to public policy that is systematically informed by Buddhist
conceptual resources and that is consonant with the Royal
Bhutanese Government's commitments to sustainably
enhancing personal, communal, and national happiness.
Such an approach would alloy the differing strengths and
insights afforded by Bhutan's various ministries and
knowledge communities under an analytically forceful, yet
unifying policy aim. In particular, it would orient public policy
toward building personal, communal, and national capacities
for contributing freely and skillfully in directing the process of
integration into global systems toward the consolidation of
public good.
The key indices of this coordinative approach to public policy
are poverty alleviation and enhanced diversity.
The preliminary implications of this coordinative approach to
public policy will be briefly examined with reference to a
single crucial policy domain: education.
*   Coordinator,   Summer   and   Outreach   Programs,   Asian   Studies
Development Program, East-West Center, Hawaii
 I. Imperatives for a New Approach to Public Policy
The 21st century is poised to be known as the "century of
interdependence." The rate and scale of changes taking place
with present-day patterns of globalization are historically
unprecedented, bringing about systems of interdependence
that at once open and integrate societies worldwide. These
systems are increasingly not only complicated, but complex.
Complicated systems resist predictive analysis and overt
management because of the sheer quantity of variables
involved. Given time and resources, however, the behavior of
complicated systems can be (within accepted statistical
parameters) accurately predicted and managed. By contrast,
complex systems exhibit behaviors that in principle (and not
simply in practice) could not be unanticipated. Complex
systems do not simply aggregate the characteristics of
previously existing relational systems (or sub-systems). They
represent qualitatively distinct orders that are greater (or
other) than the summed characteristics of their component
parts. Complex systems generate novel behaviors by virtue of
their recursive structure, by means of which histories of the
situational outcomes of their own behaviors feed-forward into
shaping future behavior. Coherently responding to complex
systems and complex change thus involves commitment to
coordinated trajectories of innovation.
A major consequence of this complex process of opening and
integration has been a shrinking of possibilities for safely and
effectively externalizing the costs of growth and development.
Contrary to common fears, globalization has not resulted in
worldwide homogeneity. Instead, it has sharpened differences,
especially with respect to the desired outcomes, opportunity
domains and cost distributions of rapid change and
deepening interdependence. In spite of increasing
institutionally-mediated cooperation, robust normative
consensus remains elusive and social, economic and political
conflict remains acute. Indeed, a global transition is now
underway from an era in which social, economic and political
troubles could effectively be treated as problems that can be
 solved independently, to an era in which independent
solutions have rapidly compounding, ironic consequences,
giving rise to predicaments that express competing and often
contrary goods and interests.
Problems can be solved within agreed upon horizons of
factual relevance, without challenging or contravening
existing norms and values. By contrast, predicaments force
confronting disparities in the meaning and limits of relevance
and can only be interactively resolved, through the
negotiation of shared goods, interests, and commitments.
Together, the emergence of complex social, economic and
political patterns of interdependence and the shift from
problems to predicaments pose the need to go beyond factual
cooperation to meaningful coordination in articulating,
realizing, and sustaining public good. Globally, public policy
has yet to systematically respond to and meet this need. In
large part, this can be seen as a legacy of the historical
dominance of rational choice theory and realism in modern
governance practices, and their impact on policy-making.
Rational choice sets limits to cooperation based on the
assumption of ultimately disparate interests held by
essentially independent agents. Competition is structurally
basic to rational choice theory. Realism asserts the ultimate
objectivity of the context for decision-making and the
subservience of values to power in effecting change.
Overtly peaceful and secure co-existence and co-operation are
clearly preferable to outright conflict. But based on the
assumption of essentially competing values and interests, coexistence and cooperation at best result in the tolerance of
difference. Global realities now command going beyond mere
tolerance to the harmonization of differences through
patterns of diverse interdependence that promote self-
sustaining mutual contribution. This is possible only on the
basis of deep and fully coordinating consensus on the
meaning of shared welfare.
 Where change is relatively slow and interdependence
relatively weak, the failure of public policy to meet needs for
meaningful coordination may only result in negligible
compromises of public good. But where change is rapid and
emerging interdependence strong, resulting compromises of
public good can be both widely evident and severe.
In the U.S., for example, where the effects of globally opening
and integrating societies are arguably most mature, public
policy has demonstrated troubling impotence with respect to
stemming the erosion of public good. The U.S. Census
Bureau estimates that 20% of all American children and 13%
of the general population live in poverty, with 35% of the
population dropping below the poverty line at some point
during each year. Roughly 28% of all Americans have no
health insurance, while for minorities this can be as high as
45%. In China, where economic growth has been at record
levels since market liberalization, income disparity is now
also near a global high and environmental degradation
globally threatening. Worldwide, the World Health
Organization recently affirmed that depression is the single
most important factor in morbidity and early mortality for
women in the developed world (and is projected to be such for
all developing and developed societies by 2010). Insofar as
depression is most strongly correlated with an experienced
absence of opportunities and abilities to contribute to one's
own welfare, this is a scathing indictment of the failure of
public policy to coordinate social, economic, political and
cultural dynamics in such a way as to insure meaningful lives
and livelihood for all.
In the absence of an overarching policy aim capable of
coordinating policy formation and implementation across
sectors and, ultimately, across societies, public policy will be
increasingly prone to generating ironic consequences and
deflecting growing interdependence from contributing to and
consolidating public good.
 II. Forging a Coordinative Policy Paradigm
The presuppositions that underlie dominant approaches to
public policy work against the attainment of meaningful
coordination in the form of robust social, economic, political,
and cultural diversity. It is now relatively common for
knowledge communities in various sectors of society to affirm
that the driving conditions for troubling developments within
a given sector often lie outside that sector. Nevertheless, there
is little effort to comprehensively coordinate policies across
sectors. Troubling developments within sectors are most
commonly treated as problems that can be factually
addressed and solved without reference to the dynamics,
norms, and patterns of interest proper to other sectors.
Solutions in one sector thus tend ironically to result in the
proliferation of problems in other sectors and, finally to
deepening predicaments with respect to both the means and
ends of continuing change.
Where this becomes apparent, it is most common for the
goods proper to one sector to be subordinated to those of
another. This may result in rationally cooperative policies, but
not in the robust coordination needed to resolve predicaments
of the depth and scale as those arising with 21st century
patterns of global interdependence.
A. Buddhism as Resource
Buddhism offers a promising body of resources for addressing
complex change and meeting the need for meaningfully
coordinated public policy. 1 This is especially true in
predominantly Buddhist societies. But much as the concepts
and methods of Western science and democratic governance
have global relevance, the concepts and practices proper to
Buddhism can be seen as having widespread and particularly
timely salience in a world of increasingly complex, meaning-
sensitive interdependence.
The root practices of Buddhism aim at developing keen and
caring insight into the interdependence of all things for the
 purpose of enabling sentient beings to author liberation from
trouble and suffering (dukkha). Buddhist insight into the
nature of interdependence stresses how values-intentions-
actions (karma) shape and orient the patterns of outcomes
and opportunities that structure the dynamics of
interdependence. It is the engagement with interdependence
as both dynamic and dramatic (or value- and intention-laden)
that underlies the particular promise of Buddhism as a body
of resources for crafting coordinative public policy in light of
complex and predicament prone realities.
Recent developments in ecological systems theory and
complexity theory also promise much in the way of resources
suited to framing policy in an increasingly interdependent
world. These theories do not, however, provide a sufficiently
robust account of the role of values and intentions in shaping
situational dynamics, treating interdependence as an
essentially factual, rather than dramatic, phenomenon. To
the extent that complexity theory recognizes the possibility of
"downward causation" and hence the role of history and
values in shaping systemic change, it perhaps comes as close
as possible to Buddhist approaches to interdependence
within the purview of realist commitments to the ultimately
objective (rather than non-dual) nature of reality.
Contrary to purely factual approaches to understanding
interdependence, Buddhist insight into interdependence is
coeval with insight into the moral complexion of change. In
Buddhist terms, understanding implies responsibility. This
alliance of the real and the moral assumes particular force in
light of the Buddhist teaching that, for the purpose of
resolving trouble or suffering (dukkha), all things be seen as
impermanent. Seeing all things as impermanent is to see that
whether a situation can be changed is not ultimately in
question, but only in what direction change is occurring, in
accordance with what values-intentions-actions.
In traditional terms, interdependence is most often
represented    as    directed    toward    either     samsara    (the
 persistence, if not intensification, of dukkha) or nirvana (the
meaningful and liberating resolution of dukkha). Seeing all
things and situations as dynamically interdependent is also
to see them as mutually altering. It is to see that each thing
contributes to the meaning of all other things and that
revising the meaning of all things and all situations is thus
always possible. No situation is intractable. Given the further
insight that all things are empty (sunya) of any essential
essence, even the most troubling outcome is also an
opportunity for liberating engagement.
It is the function of Buddhist practice, most broadly
understood, to establish and systematically cultivate the
values-intentions-actions needed to realize wisdom (prajna),
attentive mastery (samadhi) and moral clarity (sila), for the
purpose of resolving trouble and suffering. In widely accepted
Buddhist terms, wisdom grows out of caring and skilled
insight into and engagement with interdependence. Attentive
mastery develops as sustained, focused, and yet flexible
attunement to situational dynamics. Moral clarity arises with
mature appreciation of the currents of value-intention-action
shaping a given situation and how to direct these currents
toward liberating interdependence.
Wisdom, attentive mastery and moral clarity are both means
and ends of Buddhist practice. They can also be seen key
dimensions for coordinating public policy and public good in
the context of complex change and strong interdependence.
This coordinative function can be illustrated in terms of
traditionally cited outcomes of sustained and well-directed
Buddhist practice. First, deepening practice is said to result
in both the rise of kusala dhamma or wholesome and
virtuosic eventualities and the demise of those that are
akusala or unwholesome and unskilled. Conduct that is
kusala is not just "good enough" or factually sufficient; it is
good to the point of excellence. Maturing practice means
skillful excellence in attending to things, as they have come to
be (yathabhutam), as opportunities for realizing liberating
patterns of relationship.  Secondly, those faring well on the
 path of Buddhist practice are said to suffuse their situation
with compassion, loving-kindness, equanimity, and joy in the
good fortune of others—relational qualities that harmonize
and aptly direct situational dynamics away from conflicts of
interest and disparate perceptions of the good toward
immediately and profoundly shared welfare.
Importantly, the relational qualities fostered by Buddhist
practice are not represented as merely subjective or even
inter-subjective attainments. Ultimately, they are situational
transformations. This follows from the fact that dukkha arises
through particular patterns of conditions. The trouble and
suffering to be resolved by Buddhist practice are results of
blocked and/or errant patterns of relationship. Buddhist
practice finally means exercising skillful and transformative
insight into relational dynamics, appreciating and
contributing to all that comes to be, as it comes to be, in
order to change the way things are changing. Buddhist
practice involves the ongoing orientation of complex change.
Policy guided by rational choice and realism valorize freedoms
of choice and independence or autonomy. The benefits of this
in situations of acute inequity or injustice are undeniable.
But as stressed by the teachings of no-self (anatta), emptiness
(sunyata) and interdependence, valorizing autonomy is
eventually conducive to further and deepening dukkha. It
restricts caring insight into interdependence; works against
diversity or realizing robust, self-sustaining contributions to
shared welfare; and favors blindness with respect to the ironic
consequences of self-interested choice.
Policy formulated in keeping with the commitments of
Buddhist practice subordinates freedoms of choice to relating
freely, fostering patterns of relationship that culminate in
appreciative and contributory virtuosity directed toward
increasingly refined and meaningfully shared public good.
This means going beyond simply solving problems within
particular horizons of factual relevance. It means
systematically   confronting   and   resolving   predicaments   as
 they arise, most fundamentally by activating the emptiness
(sunyata) of all things, their capacity for limitless mutual
relevance. Public policy shaped according to the dynamics of
Buddhist practice does not reject circumstances, as they have
come to be, but rather works with and through them to reveal
their ultimately opportune nature.
B. Alloying Buddhist Practice and Gross National Happiness in
Bhutanese Public Policy
The ultimate aim of policy formulated in keeping with
Buddhist practice is to enhance personal, local and national
capacities for relating freely and demonstrating virtuosity in
resolving trouble or suffering (dukkha), however they should
arise. But for this ultimate aim to be realized, it must have
real-world traction in all the activity domains of contemporary
In Buddhism, ultimate truth (paramartha) is said to be
expressible only in terms of conventional realities (samvritti).
Likewise, ultimate policy aims can only be realized by way of
conventional practices, even if these practices cannot by
themselves generate ultimate policy aims. For ultimate aims
to have real-world traction, they must be embodied in real-
world practices. Ultimate public good should not be seen,
then, as a transcendent ideal above and beyond concrete,
societal circumstances, but as expressed directly in these
circumstances as their core disposition or meaning.
Policy-making must work with existing and emerging
interdependencies as patterns of outcomes and opportunities
shaped by consistently sustained systems of values-
intentions-actions. Thus, policy making must be guided by
research that is attentive to the factual dynamics addressed
by the social sciences, but also by humanistic research that
is attentive to currents of meaning and alternative
interpretations of factual dynamics. In both cases, research
must be guided by the overall commitment to elicit resources
within the conventional situation for expressing ultimate
policy aims.  This is only possible on the basis of a fully
 coordinative approach to the making of policy.
Significant progress in this direction has been made in
Bhutan through the inspired challenge posed by His Majesty,
King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, to orient development
activities toward increasing Gross National Happiness. By
stating that Gross National Happiness (GNH) will be more
important than Gross National Product (GNP), His Majesty
explicitly subordinated quantitative to qualitative criteria for
policy evaluation, and implicitly called for a fully coordinated
approach to policy formulation and implementation.
The 5th 5-Year Plan anticipated the need for coordinated
public policy by departing from the emphasis of prior 5-Year
Plans on sector divided objectives to emphasize cross-sectoral
aims. In addition, from this time forward, Bhutanese
planning has been more visionary in aspiration, stressing the
need for proactive policies in keeping with such broad values
as sustainability, consolidating and conserving cultural
identity, and decentralization. From the 6th 5-Year Plan
onward, GNH has served as an umbrella for identifying
emerging, proactive concerns and commitments related to
environmental and cultural conservation, good governance,
and equitable economic development.
To date, however, GNH has lacked the kind of traction needed
to drive development practices and to establish clear
trajectories for policy formation and innovation. Fully and
effectively operationalizing GNH has become an objective of
both ministries and knowledge communities and led, in 2004,
to the hosting of an international conference on that theme by
the Centre for Bhutan Studies.
At the same time, there have been limited, but promising
efforts to infuse policy formulation and institutional
development with Buddhist concepts and traditional
Bhutanese values. Perhaps the most fully articulated of these
efforts is that undertaken by the Judiciary. Efforts have been
made  to  use  traditional  Buddhist  teachings  and  texts  to
 inform not only the spatial practices of the courts (though the
incorporation of specifically Buddhist architectural and
iconographic elements), but also to ground jurisprudence
practices in Buddhist textual traditions. Recently, Buddhist
training (one year-long) for judicial professionals has been
undertaken and efforts are ongoing to establish the
compatibility of contemporary judicial institutions with
Buddhist traditions.
Thus far, however, Buddhist concepts and teachings have
mostly been marshaled only to mitigate the untoward effects
of modernization and to qualify externally-derived institutions.
They have not been systematically mobilized to critically
assess existing institutional paradigms. Nor have they been
used innovatively to articulate distinctively Buddhist and/ or
Bhutanese institutional paradigms suited to contemporary
Truly Bhutanese paradigms for public policy and public good
can be developed by alloying the conceptual resources and
aims of Buddhist practice with the visionary development aim
of enhancing Gross National Happiness. Doing so would
enable all ministries and knowledge communities to
undertake systematic revisions of their own structures and
practices to activate an analytically forceful and coordinated
approach to realizing and sustaining public good. The crucial
first step in such an effort to skillfully alloy public policy and
public good is to develop a conception of happiness that is
sufficiently clear and resolute to enjoy decisive traction in the
complex world of contemporary realities.
Much debate has taken place regarding the nature,
measurability, and institutional implications of happiness. In
the absence of a highly resolved, consensual definition of
happiness, operationalizing GNH is unlikely to advance
beyond the ambit of inspirational rhetoric and cosmetic
adjustments to policy. A certain ambiguity in the nature and
meaning of happiness is to be appreciated in deference to the
multiplicity of perspectives within Bhutan. But the real world
 traction needed to resolve the complex predicaments
associated with rapidly opening and integrating societies
cannot be expected of a vague conception of happiness.
A clear working definition of happiness as a public good can
be derived from the traditional location of happiness (sukkha)
in the maturation process of Buddhist practice. In the early
Buddhist canon, the causes and conditions of the arising and
resolution of dukkha are described with unparalleled
thoroughness and clarity. Happiness (sukkha) appropriately
appears most often in descriptions of the process of
awakening or liberation. This process originates with
mindfulness, which brings wisdom, which brings tireless
energy, joy, a tranquil body, happiness, attentive mastery,
and equanimity, compassion, loving-kindness, and joy in the
good fortune of others.2 Happiness arises as a pivotal phase
in a process of increasingly refined and highly attuned
presence and relational enhancement. The ultimate meaning
of happiness is an environment suffused with relationships
focused on the realization of clear and abiding mutual welfare.
In terms of personal practice, happiness links bodily
tranquility or the absence of stress with attentive mastery or
the capacity for freely, flexibly, and yet concentratedly
attending to one's situation, as it comes to be, the result of
which is transformative and liberating emotional maturity.
Happiness comes with mindfully expressing caring insight
into the interdependence of all things in zealously skillful
attentive action. Happiness is appreciation turning to
Dukkha is ultimately a function of disrupted and disoriented
relationships that are personal and communal, but also
national and global in scope. Dukkha means relationships
that are devaluing, that resist meaningful participation, and
that thus erode diversity or the presence of self-sustaining
patterns of mutual contribution to shared welfare. To the
extent that the process of Buddhist practice resolves dukkha,
happiness or sukkha can seen as a pivotal occurrence in
 personally, locally, nationally, and globally opening and
revising the meaning of relationships to bring about resolutely
liberating and enriching interdependence. In terms useful for
public policy, then, happiness arises then as the alleviation of
poverty through enhanced diversity.
C. Poverty Alleviation and Diversity as Indices of Personal,
Communal and National Happiness
The Buddhist canon supports seeing poverty as the result of
akusala or unskilled and unwholesome patterns of attention
and relationship that bring about the proliferation of
blockages or impediments to relating freely.3 Poverty marks
an erosion of the attentive and environmental resources
needed, in any given situation, to orient that situation toward
the resolution of trouble or suffering. Contrary to widely
prevalent understandings, poverty does not primarily consist
in the presence of lacks or wants. Rather, poverty marks the
closure of contributory possibilities.
In circumstances or societies where material needs are poorly
met, material lack and want can assume tragic prominence.
But, simple lack and need alone are insufficient conditions for
poverty. Poverty arises when the poor are unable to do
anything effective to meet their material needs. Material
conditions like drought or global economic downturns can
contribute to this inability. But much more crucial is the
ignorance—or severely restricted appreciation—of the poor by
those not yet poor. This ignorance effectively denies the value
(or potential for offering) of the poor and blocks their ability to
contribute as needed to their own and others' welfare. In
societies where material needs are comfortably met, and
where at least modest contributions to factual welfare are
open to all, trouble and suffering more commonly pivot on
inabilities to contribute in ways experienced as truly
meaningful. Here, poverty takes the generic form of
depression. In all societies, however, poverty means forcible
isolation from the possibility of offering or contribution.
Poverty alleviation means realizing and sustaining patterns of
 interdependence that enhance the capacity of individuals,
communities, and nations for relating freely in contributing to
one another's welfare. This means taking seriously the
relational locus of poverty, resisting the temptation to identify
poverty with the poor, and seeing it instead as a breakdown of
full and liberating mutuality. Poverty alleviation necessarily
entails systemic change driven by clear and resolute insight
into the values and intentions that have been shaping and
directing interdependence toward a troubling erosion of
mutual and equitable contributions to shared welfare. Ending
poverty means realizing heightened diversity.
Diversity is often misused as a synonym for variety or
multiplicity. In ecological terms, diversity measures the
resilience of a self-sustaining ecosystem and is tied directly to
the extent and depth of interdependencies by means of which
individual species convert situational resources in ways that
contribute to one another's welfare. Indeed, individual species
are or come to be as a complex function of what they mean to
one another. These meaningful interdependencies are the
basis of which ecosystems arise and are able to respond to
stress. Ecological diversity is not a function of numbers of
fundamentally competing species, but of the density and
depth of contributory relationships.
A Buddhist conception of diversity can be derived from the
concept of emptiness (sunyata). Given that all things have no
essential nature, arising in complex interdependence and
interpenetration, each thing can be seen as a nexus of
contributions from and to all other things. Diversity arises
with self-sustaining systems of relationships through which
each thing appreciates or draws out the value of their
situation as a whole, for the benefit of all others. Each thing
ultimately is what it means for all other things. Insofar as all
things are empty (sunya), they are all ultimately the same.
But they are the same precisely because of how each uniquely
expresses the contributory force of all others. Thus, diversity
in this Buddhist sense implies equity, but not strict equality.
Heightened diversity means heightened equity in the maximal
 appreciation of situational resources, relating freely in
mutually beneficial contribution to shared welfare.
Poverty alleviation and heightened diversity can be seen as
key indices of increasing personal, communal and national
happiness. Together, they index the tranquility of the "body
politic" and the opening of new and meaningful possibilities
for relating freely in the focused and flexibly attentive
realization of truly common goods.
III. Coordinating Happiness and Public Policy: Some
Concrete Issues
If indexed by poverty alleviation and diversity, and interpreted
in broadly Buddhist terms, happiness can effectively
coordinate policy-making across all sectors of society. This
coordination means, first of all, arriving at definitions of each
policy domain that are consonant with both Buddhist
teachings and contemporary realities. This would require
innovative interpretations of Buddhist texts and concepts, as
well as detailed understanding of grassroots realities and
trends, and would reflect both social scientific and
humanistic research undertaken by individual ministries and
knowledge communities.
This research would be informed by a succinct, but rich
working definition of happiness as a quality of enriching
relational development. The discussion of Buddhist happiness
presented in this paper can be seen as a synopsis of such a
working definition. Included in this working definition would
be concise definitions of poverty alleviation and diversity: the
key indices of personal, communal and national happiness.
The working definition would constrain the process of policy
domain definition, but in ways that should bring about a
convergence of concerns and creativity among the agencies
Representatives of drafting agencies would meet in committee
to jointly clarify the definitions of each policy domain and
would use these clarified definitions to further inform the
 working definition of happiness as an ecological whole
synthesizing the domain definitions. The imperative of this
recursive process would be to insure that the pivotal values-
intentions-actions shaping each of the policy domains are
brought into mutually beneficial relationship. This will insure
the diversity of the working concept of happiness,
contributing substantially to its real-world traction and
resilience under conditions of accelerating opening and
integration of Bhutanese society into global patterns of
It is imperative that these policy domain definitions be drafted
in light of both national and global dynamics. That is, they
must be sensitive to global trends affecting the interplay of
different activity domains. In Buddhist terms, they should
include incisive, deeply historical analyses of the karma
(values-intentions-actions) that have been and continue to
drive global practices associated with each policy domain. In
some cases, emerging contemporary realities may recommend
a shift of previously existing institutional boundaries and
associated policy domains.
This working concept of happiness would differ in several
specific ways from "gross national happiness." GNH is often
described as resting on four pillars: the promotion of
environmental conservation, cultural preservation, equitable
economic development, and good governance. The broad and
encompassing nature of these four developmental domains
has the merit of including virtually all development activities
under the rubric of GNH. Nevertheless, they map only
imprecisely onto existing institutional structures for making
and implementing public policy. More importantly, GNH
seemingly rests on an insulating "glass ceiling" supported by
these four development pillars. GNH is thus often seen as
corollary result of development activity, but not as an
analytically forceful driver of that activity.
By deriving a robust working concept of happiness through
the coordinated input of all relevant policy-making agencies,
 GNH will gain functional specificity and complexity. At the
same time, the recursive nature of this process insures that
the structure and meaning of these agencies will both be
informed by and inform the working concept of happiness.
Additionally, this working concept would emphasize the
complex relational nature of happiness. As indexed by poverty
alleviation and diversity, happiness necessarily links all levels
of relationship from the personal, communal, regional, and
national to the global. This makes explicit the Buddhist
realization that truly liberating happiness is never merely
'mine' or 'yours,' but irreducibly 'ours.'
GNH is a rhetorically powerful idea that contrasts powerfully
from the more common development measure of GNP. But by
implicitly focusing on the national level, the term raises
immediate questions of categorical relevance and
measurement. Given that happiness consists of a quality and
direction of relationship, the concept of nation involved in
GNH should also be glossed in fully relational terms as a
responsive interface merging local with regional and global
patterns of relationship. In this sense, the nation is empty
(sunya) of any essence and consists of characteristic ways of
relating the local and the global. This character-driven
operational definition of nation is consistent with GNH
emphases on religious and cultural identity, as well as the
continued eminence of monarchial leadership. But by
positioning the nation as a negotiator of smoothly and
properly oriented patterns of interdependence among the local
and the global, the nation is also represented as the leading
edge of growing or intrinsically developing Bhutanese identity.
A. Toward a Coordinative Bhutanese Education Paradigm
Education recommends itself as an exemplary policy domain
for illustrating the initial phases of crafting public policy in
terms consonant with a coordinative conception of happiness.
Presently, education in Bhutan is carried out in three distinct
settings, composing a cooperative approach reaching
equivalently  distinct parts  of Bhutanese  society:   monastic
 education; modern education; and, Dzongkha medium
education. These educational streams are intended to serve
different populations in Bhutan, and have comparatively
independent aims. Together, they aim to insure the
development of competencies needed in a society opening to
and integrating with global dynamics.
The monastic stream is the traditional form of education in
Bhutan and has the well-defined aim of preserving Bhutan's
rich religious traditions. Modern education, originally
formulated on European and post-colonial Indian models, is
essentially structured according to a now globally standard,
competency-oriented education paradigm. Its original intent
was to foster Bhutanese self-reliance in terms of technical
and professional expertise. Dzongkha medium education
developed as an alternative to the modern stream as a way of
reaching populations whose needs were not well-served by
modern or monastic education models, and for the purpose of
preserving Bhutanese cultural traditions. Recently,
boundaries between these educational streams have become
somewhat porous, with religious and cultural elements being
infused into the modern stream and with the monk body
undertaking limited social-educational outreach (related, for
example to HIV/AIDS awareness). Nevertheless, as attested
by the perceived, continued need for the innovative and
insightful capstone program for Graduates Orientation, there
is a clear lack of confidence that the mainstream modern
education programs adequately prepare students to
participate in and guide Bhutan's further opening and
integration into the global community.
Although the last decade has seen a policy shift toward
"wholesome education" attentive to the needs of students as
whole persons, education in Bhutan remains practically
wedded to a globally dominant educational paradigm focused
on inculcating standardized competencies in all graduating
students. While the call for educating whole persons
evidences recognition of the shortfalls of this paradigm, it
does not go beyond asserting the need to balance mental,
 emotional and physical education. The relationship among
"wholesome education," the three distinct formal streams of
education in Bhutan, and happiness as an overall
development aim is at best vague. To date, happiness has had
little, analytically forceful traction in driving or directing
educational change.
The following brief comments on education are offered as an
illustration of how each policy domain might undertake a
revision of its own structures and practices in accordance
with a coordinative policy aim of happiness, as outlined
The globally dominant educational paradigm can be
characterized as orienting education toward engendering
individual and collective competencies that embody highly
context-dependent abilities to take part in reproducing (and
incrementally extending) contemporary norms and practices.
This paradigm is increasingly misaligned with contemporary
realities, as outlined earlier in this position paper. These
realities practically command a shift toward educational
practices suited to engendering virtuosity in improvising
context-revising, anticipatory norms and practices. Such a
paradigm would not center on preserving or modestly
reforming abilities to fit into current and anticipated social,
economic, political and cultural conditions, but rather on
cultivating the complex sensibilities and skills need to
virtuosically accommodate and direct conditions that could
not have been anticipated.
Educational systems aimed at fostering the acquisition of
presently relevant skills and knowledge are suitable only in
the context of relatively slow and predictable change. They are
ill-suited for responding to the imperatives and opportunities
of rapid change and global diversity. In effect, competency-
biased education contributes to significant friction between
available attentive and responsive resources and changing
realities and needs, and can introduce considerable drag in
the overall pattern of societal development.
 The complex and accelerating change characteristic of 21st
century patterns of interdependence suggest the merits of a
shift away from a focus on objective knowledge and
competencies to an educational paradigm focused on
relational maturity and exemplary skills in shared meaning-
making. Buddhist education, in its broadest terms, offers a
coherent model for undertaking such a paradigm shift.
The central aim of Buddhist education or training is the
expression of relational virtuosity in resolving trouble or
suffering (dukkha). Because dukkha announces relational
disruption or discord, and because values-intentions-actions
(karma) play a pivotal role in shaping relationships, the
liberating virtuosity aimed at in Buddhist education implies
consummate skill in negotiating and revising the meaning of
a given situation, for the purpose of enabling all participants
to contribute freely to the realization of truly shared welfare.
This skill, because of the changing nature of all situations,
necessarily implies fully realized excellence in improvisation.
In sum, Buddhist education is not primarily or substantially
preparation for problem-solving, but rather training in
liberating predicament-resolution.
Virtuosity serves to bridge the traditional (and in the
dominant model of education, firmly segregated) categories of
knowledge and wisdom. Virtuosity is an expression of
situationally specific contributory genius—an utterly fluid
and skillfully productive power of live engagement. But more
than that, virtuosity connotes a stunningly graceful capacity
for dramatic immediacy and innovation. Virtuosity is relating
freely within situation-specific limitations to bring about a
coordinated appreciation of all that is present. In Buddhist
terms, virtuosity is emptiness expressed as liberative action.
The means and ends of Buddhist training or education, in the
very broadest sense, have been wisdom, attentive mastery
and moral clarity. As educational aims, caring and effective
insight    into    interdependence,    focused    and   yet    flexible
 awareness, and clarity of response in dramatically or morally
complex situations force a reconfiguration of curricula that
takes relationships as primary. This marks a significant shift
away from curricula focused on building individual cognitive,
emotional and physical competencies. The "whole person"
educated in competency-focused curricula is a person in
substantial isolation from others and the demands of complex
realities. Indeed, in keeping with the Buddhist teaching of no-
self—that is, the irreducible relationality of persons—the
identification of independent cognitive, emotional, and
physical abilities must be seen as ontologically prejudiced
and counterproductive. Curricula focused on relational
virtuosity will, at the very least, center on coordinating
activities that bring students together in the shared
realization of complex ends. They would also introduce
students to the full range of activity domains comprised in
and informing Bhutanese society. These would run the gamut
from parenting activities through home-making, trade work,
technical and professional activity, and both secular and
sacred leadership. Stress would be placed on revealing
interdependencies and hands-on experience.
According to such a paradigm, educational progress will not
be measured or determined strictly or even primarily in terms
of what is known, but in terms of how students are present—
bodily, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The more highly
educated persons and communities become, the more readily,
relevantly, and responsibly they will be able and inclined to
demonstrate truly appreciative and contributory virtuosity.
Education can be measured, then, in terms of personally and
communally achieved and sustained happiness in the
relational terms outlined above.
The particulars of effecting such a shift of educational
paradigms must vary from locale to locale. Moreover, such a
shift is not a one-time event, but rather the initiation of
commitment to a particular trajectory of ongoing and ever-
expanding innovations. In the case of Bhutan, a central
concern   will   be   to   break   with   the   educational   aim   of
 "preserving" Bhutanese culture in segregated curricula.
Preservation is equivalent to sterilization and forestalls
further growth and evolution. Education focused on virtuosity
is simultaneously committed to cultivating creativity and
responsibility. Education in Bhutan should further the
growth of cultural and religious traditions in complex
interplay with contemporary realities. This means conserving
tradition, but also improvising through tradition to respond to
contemporary needs and to continuously revise what is meant
by shared welfare and public good.
Education practices aimed at cultivating appreciative and
contributory virtuosity need not eschew science any more
than they need be in tension with the conservation of cultural
and religion traditions. But such practices would radically
reframe priorities within curricula to reflect a commitment to
promoting mindful and energetic attunement to relationships
and interdependencies in such a way that student (as well as
teacher, parent, and social) stress is reduced. Only on the
basis of tranquil students and student bodies will they be
able to go beyond cooperation in a spirit of competition to
true coordination in concentrated attention to the possibilities
for infusing all Bhutanese environments with equanimity,
compassion, loving-kindness and joy in the good fortune of
Education practiced along these lines will change the way all
social, economic, political, cultural, and spiritual activity is
undertaken and understood. As such, it would play a crucial
part in driving all development activities toward engendering
greater happiness in all the complex interdependencies
linking the personal, the communal, the national and the
1 It should be noted that this position paper attempts to present
Buddhist practice and concepts in a generally useful manner, with
minimal appeal to particular Buddhist traditions. This "generic"
formulation of Buddhism recommends itself in the present context
due to the finally global ambit of policy coordination. Apologies are,
 nevertheless, extended in advance for any loss of interpretative
precision and depth pursuant to this presentation of Buddhism in
general terms.
2 For an illustrative passage, see Majjhima Nikaya 118.29ff.
3 See, for example, the Cakkavatti-Sihanda, Ina, and Sakkapanha
4 A more substantial paper discussing the revision of educational
practices based on Buddhist insights into contemporary realities is
available from the author on request. Similar treatments are
available on health and environmental policy.


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