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Gross National Happiness

daya dissanayake

For anyone in search of a people who could be considered as true followers of the Buddha Dhamma, this is the place to come to. They appear to have conquered their Tanha, or may be they do not know what it is to be greedy, and to suffer from envy. People wear the same style of dress. The houses we see even in the city, all look alike. They have the same design, the same looks, and no one seems to be flouting their wealth and power. Even the king lives in a small house, though it is surrounded by a high wall and a large garden. There must be much bigger houses belonging to commoners. It is believed to be a country where there are more Buddhist Monks, than their army and police combined.

Happiness is perhaps a very poor translation of the word 'Dekid' which could be described as tranquility or peace. It could have come from classical Tibetan. The ancient Greek word Eudaimonia could come somewhat close to the concept, as the stoics believed that virtue is sufficient for happiness. Cleanthes of Assos had clarified it as "living in agreement with nature". The word used in the Tripitak is Sukha. The Nepalese and Tibetans also use the word Sukha.

Very recently we in Sri Lanka celebrated a New Year, one of the New Years in our country. We shall celebrate a New Year in April once again. Everyone wished everyone else a Happy New Year. Yet there was a difference, because the Sinhala Greeting was 'Subha Nawa Wasarak Veva', meaning an 'auspicious' new year, which conveys something different from happiness. Then on the Wesak (Buddha Poornima) day, also we wish each other 'Happy Wesak', where the happiness intended would be different, and in Sinhala we wish 'Subha' or 'Preethi' Wesak.

Happiness has many meanings, many interpretations. How many of us would have paused for a moment to consider what was the kind of happiness we wished each other? Happiness could be interpreted in so many ways. For a few people it could mean the achievement of material wealth. Happiness is a word which has been very seriously abused for the past several centuries, ever since man's greed took control of all industry and business. Since then man's mind has been totally brainwashed to believe that it is the material wealth which brings happiness. Happiness has become a commodity, like all natural resources, so much so, that the head of a multinational giant had boldly stated that even 'Water is not a human right'.

Unhappiness is what we see, hear and feel, every day, every minute through all the media and all the advertisements, direct and indirect. We are made to believe that happiness can be purchased, that it has a price, measured in rupees or dollars. We try to purchase merit, believing it could bring us happiness. We are made to envy our neighbours' material wealth and prosperity, we are made to compete with one another, to out do everyone, to gain wealth by any means. We are made into the most selfish animals on Mother Earth. And we are never satisfied with what we have.

The Fourth Dragon King of Bhutan, Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck has reminded us that "the rich are not always happy while the happy generally considered themselves rich."

It is the land where they measure the Gross National Happiness, instead of Gross National Product. It is the Royal Kingdom of Bhutan. "The 1729 legal code, which dates from the unification of Bhutan, declared that “if the Government can not create happiness (dekid) for its people, there is no purpose for the Government to exist.” In 1972, the 4th King declared Gross National Happiness to be more important than Gross National Product, and from this time onward, the country oriented its national policy and development plans towards Gross National Happiness (or GNH). The Constitution of Bhutan (2008, Article 9) directs the State “to promote those conditions that will enable the pursuit of Gross National Happiness."

"Gross National Happiness (GNH) measures the quality of a country in a more holistic way [than GNP] and believes that the beneficial development of human society takes place when

material and spiritual development occurs side by side to complement and reinforce each other." (http://www.educatingforgnh.com)

This concept of happiness has become a part of their life, their culture, their business and their aim. We see it in their faces, in their speech, and in the way they treated friends and strangers. Even in the tourist shops, we did not meet any trader pressing you to buy unwanted products at inflated prices. They were as courteous as we could expect from traders.

"We know that true abiding happiness cannot exist while others suffer, and comes only from serving others, living in harmony with nature, and realizing our innate wisdom and the true and brilliant nature of our own minds." (Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley)

The Bhutanese are happy to live in this Royal Kingdom, the young men here believe that they do not need the western democracy. They believe that democracy divides people. They believe that democracy creates conflicts, and hatred and would lead to greed for power and wealth.

Yet is it necessary to measure happiness, even if it was possible? If there is true happiness, there would never be a need to measure it, and the very attempt to measure could create unhappiness.

We read in the Dhammapada, Sukhavagga,

"197. Happy indeed we live, friendly amidst the hostile. Amidst hostile men we dwell free from hatred.

198. Happy indeed we live, friendly amidst the afflicted (by craving). Amidst afflicted men we dwell free from affliction.

199. Happy indeed we live, free from avarice amidst the avaricious. Amidst the avaricious men we dwell free from avarice.

200. Happy indeed we live, we who possess nothing. Feeders on joy we shall be, like the Radiant Gods."

(translated from the Pali by Acharya Buddharakkhita)

In the Anguttara Nikaya there are several Sutta where Sukha (translated as Happiness) is mentioned.

"There's nothing so conducive to happiness as a mind that has been tamed." Adanta Sutta.

In the Anana Sutta Buddha explains to Anathapindika of the four kinds of happiness. 1. The Bliss of having (righteous wealth righteously gained), 2. bliss of making use of wealth (in a good cause) 3.

The bliss of debtlessness (owing no debt in any form to anyone), 4. The bliss of blamelessness.

In the Ittha Sutta, "It's not fitting for the disciple of the noble ones who desires happiness to pray for it or to delight in doing so. Instead, the disciple of the noble ones who desires happiness should follow the path of practice leading to happiness. In so doing, he will attain happiness, either human or divine."

Pariyesana Sutta (Anguttara Nikaya) offers advise for the four noble searches for happiness, is by seeking undefiled, unsurpassed rest from the yoke of aging, illness, death and defilement.

It is not the kind of happiness we need, what the world needs, and what our future generations need. But happiness cannot be pursued. In Bhutan it is there with the people, in most other countries, almost all mankind have lost it long ago. Bhutan is also at risk today, because of the influence from the rest of the world, and pressure groups in their own country who are beginning to talk of another kind of 'development', the development which always means destruction, destruction of all the human and humane values developed by man through the ages.

It is what we consider as civilization which has chased away human happiness, which has turned cultural values upside down, and has turned culture against nature. Yet so far Bhutan has been able to retain their ancient cultural values. One reason for this could be that barbarians from Europe who invaded our countries and destroyed our culture and our human values, did not come into this country. Their false values of material wealth and violence did not affect the people in this country. We should all hope and pray that the Bhutanese people are able to preserve their ideology and pass it on for the future generations.

Let us also hope that the multinational business octopus would not engulf and suck their happiness off, using the advertising demon to create greed and envy among the people. Let us hope they would not change their values and their tastes, and let us hope they will try to remain equal by continuing to wear the gho and the kira, so that all of them not only remain equal but also appear equal, just as their houses are. Let them preserve their values, which reminds me of what a young girl in Thimphu told us. She had taken her parents, who are from a far off village, for a dinner at one of the new restaurants. After the dinner her mother had told her, that what the girl had spent on their one meal would have been sufficient for them to live at least for one month, and eating more enjoyable and nourishing food. Let them not give up their traditional food and medicine, let them not forget their ancient folklore, let them not fall prey to all the imports that are now flooding the market.

Let them not disturb their natural environment. Let them continue with their run-of-the-river hydropower projects which do not harm their environment, let them leave all mineral resources where they belong, under the earth and under the natural ecosystem. Let them not pursue unhappiness through 'development' and 'progress'.

True Happiness could be achieved if only we could all 'Be Peaceful and Useful', useful for all life in this Multiverse (Universe and all other Universes).

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