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Buddhist Bhutan Bans Clergy from Voting in Elections

posted by aroan

(RNS) Officials in Buddhist-majority Bhutan have barred Hindu and Buddhist clergy from voting in upcoming elections in order to keep a clear distinction between religion and politics.
The landlocked Himalayan nation considers Mahayana Buddhism the state religion and funds a large monastic community, but also requires religion to be above politics.
The country’s regulatory authority on religious organizations is now busy identifying Buddhist and Hindu clergy who should be barred from voting.
Phurpa Dorji, the senior coordinator for the eight-member chhoedey lhentshog regulatory body, said the list of religious figures who should be above politics was yet to be finalized. The members have met four times since April 2009, and more meetings are being planned.
Dorji said the ban existed in Bhutan’s first democratic elections two years ago, but there was ambiguity at the time on who could vote and who could not.
The Bhutan Youth Development Fund, a non-profit group that sponsors monks who do not receive government assistance, estimates that almost 10 percent of the population is part of the monastic system.
Around 75 percent of the less than 700,000 Bhutanese are Buddhist.
Another 22 percent are Hindus, the only other officially recognized religion.
Since the 17th century, Bhutan has followed a dual system of governance, known as the Chhoe-sid-nyi, which splits the government powers into a religious branch headed by a chief abbot (known as Je Khenpo), and an administrative branch headed by the king (now headed by the prime minister).
Until now, the clergy had the right to vote. The Chhoe-sid-nyi is “unified in the person of” and upheld by the sacrosanct but impeachable king, who has to be a Buddhist, according to the 2008 constitution.
The constitution also mandates that parliament conclude all sessions with Buddhist prayers, and requires religious institutions and figures to promote the Buddhist spiritual heritage “while also ensuring that religion remains separate from politics in Bhutan.”
– Vishal Arora
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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posted September 29, 2010 at 3:58 pm

10% of the country are part of the monastic system, that’s a lot of monks.

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posted September 29, 2010 at 6:39 pm

If I recall, though, ck, in Theravadin countries, most men go through a basic monastic training. I think it’s sort of a rite of passage event into adulthood. Sort of like how most Catholic boys go through a time of being an altar boy. Though I can’t even begin to think of how I can back this up, I could have sworn that I once read an article to that effect.

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posted September 30, 2010 at 5:48 pm

I wonder if there is an advantage of who eats what level of comfort that brings.

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posted September 30, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Good questions, cknuck. Here’s the Wikipedia article on Bhutan.

Bhutan used to be one of the most isolated countries in the world. Developments including direct international flights, the Internet, mobile phone networks, and cable television have increasingly modernized the urban areas of the country. Bhutan balanced modernization with its ancient culture and traditions under the guiding philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH). Fervent protection of the environment has been a top priority. The government takes great measures to preserve the nation’s traditional culture, identity and the environment. In 2006, Business Week magazine rated Bhutan the happiest country in Asia and the eighth-happiest in the world, citing a global survey conducted by the University of Leicester in 2006 called the “World Map of Happiness”

I like that idea of measuring Gross National Happiness and trying to keep it high.

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posted September 30, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Another paragraph from the Wikipedia article:

In a response to accusations in 1987 by a journalist from UK’s Financial Times that the pace of development in Bhutan was slow, the King said that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.”[29] This statement appears to have presaged recent findings by western economic psychologists, including 2002 Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, that question the link between levels of income and happiness. The statement signaled his commitment to building an economy that is appropriate for Bhutan’s culture and people, based on Buddhist spiritual values, and has served as a unifying vision for the economy. In a survey in 2005, 45 percent of Bhutanese reported being very happy, 52 percent reported being happy and only three percent reported not being happy. Based on this data, the Happy Planet Index estimates that the average level of life satisfaction in Bhutan is within the top 10 percent of nations worldwide, and certainly higher than other nations with similar levels of GDP per capita.

That is the kind of thinking we all could profit from and which may turn out to be necessary to keep earth habitable.

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