It was a revelation of Bhutan at her best. Druk Yul marked a true GNH-moment. The nation looked to the future with hope and reassurance. The moment, majesty, and message shone forth in sublime unison and rare splendour as an expectant nation came together to celebrate the 116th anniversary of our historic National Day on December 17, 2023 at the legends-filled Changlingmithang Stadium.
There were broad hints and general intimations making their rounds for a considerable length of time in recent months that the principal theme of His Majesty’s Royal Address to the Nation this year would be the Gelephu Megacity project. And, so it was. As our Druk Gyalpo laid out the grand vision of a city with no peer or precedent hitherto, the apparent discordance began to dissolve and give way to the concordance of a dreamscape befitting the spirit of a Vajrayana universe where science and spirituality meet and tradition and innovation frolic together.
The pervading sense of relief and reassurance was palpable as His Majesty explained, in a language at once direct, and at once profound and compelling, the imperative to seize the opportunity thrown into our hands by the warrant of time and the call of the future. As every piece of the jigsaw fell beautifully into place, the vision of a city like no other started taking shape right before our eyes. And, with Bjarke Ingels Group sharing the haunting vistas of a city with a soul, the space between dream and reality begins to dissolve, gradually.
I have had the rare privilege of serving as a member of the International Jury tasked to judge the final ten candidate cities, out of 20 selected from thousands from around the world, the under the auspices of the Well-being Cities Foundation, and of visiting the top-winner. The initial glimpses of our Vajrayana City eloquently promise to set Gelephu confidently apart and to neatly stand out!
Mindfulness is supposed to be the defining feature of the novel project. My biggest source of comfort comes from the fact that our megacity will arise in faithful deference to the unique Bhutanese ethos shaped by the country’s profound wisdom traditions, its reverence for the preciousness of all life, and its commitment to the all-embracing holistic vision of gyalyong gakid pelzom.
Beckoned by a royal vision and propelled by necessity, the Gelephu Megacity holds the potential of fulfilling our long-term national vision of self-sufficiency and self-reliance, prosperity and well-being, with critical implications on the country’s integrity and sovereignty. As a bold national project, the fruits of the megacity are expected to reach every corner of the country and help uplift all sections of our citizenry as all national projects ought to do.
The Megacity’s strongest defence against any possible vagaries of corrosive politics that could derail a well-intentioned project that visited the ill-fated Sherig Dongkhyer, for instance, is the personal involvement of His Majesty The King from conception to completion, augmented by the important proviso that the City will be governed as a Special Administrative Region with broad and enabling stipulations.
As the giant mental leap of the morning gradually made way to the soul-filling musical performances of the evening, prayers and patriotism merged together and music and love boomed to the vast expanse of Thimphu’s evening-sky at Changlingmithang. With the galvanising spirit of the day invoking the power of the mind and calling up the affections of the heart, hands are the only other element that need to be engaged to realise our shared vision.
Even as mesmerising images of the edifying address of His Majesty The King and the touching tributes of our gifted artists continue to feature in the social media, the underlying message of the incredible Royal Address CANNOT and MUST NOT be missed.
For me, our futuristic Druk Gyalpo’s Royal Address went far beyond Gelephu or the Megacity, or the awards and recognitions to outstanding Heart-Sons of Bhutan – Druk Thukseys, and the Sovereign’s fatherly Greetings to His Citizens, at home and abroad. There was something bigger and profounder. The historic 116th edition of our National Day stands out among His Majesty’s clearest call to the nationhood of Bhutan. The King addressed the sovereign-core of the country and what safeguards its sanctity and integrity.
A nation is more than a function of its physical space or material symbols and endowments or indeed its infrastructure and service delivery institutions and arrangements. There is more to a nation than meets the eyes. The objective or the outer life of the nation is fed and nourished by a deep inner soul-self that often lies unnoticed or unrecognised but that inhabits its subjective being and serves as the country’s vital life-force.
Divested of its inner life and its undivided integral self, the outer life of a nation can diminish, impoverish and atrophy over time. This explains why it is important for succeeding generations of a nation’s citizens to discover and to honour and to safeguard its inner life – the sacred fire that burns inside the heart of the nation.
The most poignant reminder of the collective self of the nation comes out in The Sovereign’s Royal Addresses such as those on important occasions like the National Day – an unconditional reaching out to the loneliest of hearts in the remotest of hamlets and the farthest corners of the globe and calling the citizens home as members of the same family, citizens of the same country, loved and cared for by the same King.
Therefore, the celebration of the National Day is not merely an occasion to mark a moment in history but to bear witness to the self-evident truth that the nation is bigger than us and our individual selves, and that it falls upon us – each member of the society – to rise above the murky pool of self-interest and self-degrading prejudices to match the sublime call of our Beloved King.
At these intense moments, Bhutan and the Bhutanese become one, the outer and the inner achieve a rare harmony even as the nation’s collective conscious peaks to the citizens’ felt-experience. And, this is the way we build and keep our nation together – in our dreams, in our thoughts and in our actions – as an article of faith and declaration of mutual allegiance.
As I closely and prayerfully followed the text and the sub-text of the profound message of His Majesty’s National Day Address, I felt the calming impact on an anxious nation at a consequential cross-roads, sensed the restoration of a shared purpose, and the healing of festering wounds. It was a call from the sacred heart of a noble King on behalf of the sovereign-soul of a precious nation.
Even as we wait for the mind-baffling contours of the Mindfulness City to translate into reality in the Gelephu Special Administrative Region, it will be in the fitness of things to already start cultivating much-needed mindfulness in all other regions and public institutions as indeed in our interpersonal relationships. After all, our cherished Smart City will be a reflection of the best that we wish for ourselves as a nation and as a people as much as we wish it to be an inspiration to the world beyond.
Founded on the sublime vision of our far-sighted Bodhisattava King, conceived as a happy confluence between idealism and pragmatism, our very own Well-being City could be a test-case for our country’s ultimate wish for a state in which a monk is reading the holy Scriptures while his food is being cooked by laser-beams.
Uniquely privileged by the generosity of Mother Nature, blessed by the oldest spiritual traditions of humanity, and led forward by the enlightened vision of our extraordinary Kings, Bhutan has the rare opportunity to be a true Mindfulness Nation as a whole. But, for that to happen, every single Bhutanese, each man, woman and child, ought to think mindfully, act mindfully and live mindfully.
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Thakur S Powdyel
Former Minister of Education
Author: Right of Vision and Occasional Views.