Bhutan’s Saint’s Birthday Celebration

Gyem & David

One of the gifts of today was being allowed to attend a ceremony for the birthday of the patron Saint/Buddha of Bhutan. This yearly event was celebrated, in part, by twenty hours of chanting by the senior monks at an ancient monastery. The deep, deep sound of the chant came from years of training the vocal cords to vibrate unusually slowly. The chant continued as we walked into the sacred chamber. The sound of sixty voices chanting and occasional notes of the long Tibetan horns, drums and other medieval instruments, filled the room.

We sat quietly along the side wall of the chamber, the soles of our feet facing away from the Buddha. We watched, contemplated and followed in our minds the unimaginable tones of the chant of the Buddhist scripture just as it had been done for over four hundred years in this very chamber. The discomfort of my body sitting cross-legged on the wood floor competed moment-by-moment with the soul-expanding joy produced by this sacred ritual. The 470 year old planks of pine flooring looked softer than they felt.

My mind wandered. I was wearing the traditional Bhutanese outfit, a gho, and a temple scarf, the same as every other Bhutanese layman in the room. Gho or no gho, I cannot sit cross-legged for long. Soon after we sat down, Gyem, our sweet Bhutanese guide, quietly came over to me and covered my very white knees, which were sticking out from under my gho. The unintentional disrespect was corrected and all was right. As I again rearranged my position, knees, soles and gho, I marveled at the elegant simplicity of the gho’s design. The folds of a gho form a pouch that opens on the right side and runs across the front, left side and back at waist level.

Young Monks-Bhutanese Monastery

Today, I have stored a hat, two cameras, a wallet and water bottle in this pouch and still had room for lunch for six, though I may have at that point, started to look a bit overweight. Though complicated to put on, it’s remarkably warm and comfortable. It is kilt-length, but looks more like a monk’s robe. It took days to have the nerve to ask Gyem, what I was supposed to wear underneath this gho. At first he said, “Whatever you are comfortable with.” Not much help. I asked what he wore and got a more specific answer.

My mind was suddenly pulled back to the chanting and remained entranced in that sound, though I was somewhat abashed by my gho journey. I may not have the concentration of a senior monk, but I sure do know what gratitude is.


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Having journeyed to the Far East and Asia over 20 times in the past 20 years, I’ve been intrigued and inspired by the ingenuity, craftsmanship, balance and human spirit that have gone into the making of those works I have seen and collected.

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