His Holiness the Je Khenpo, the most senior Buddhist monastic in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, on 3 March conferred master’s degrees on 30 monks, who represent the first cohort from Bhutan’s post-graduate program in Buddhist studies.
The monks, graduates of the Tago Institute for Advanced Vajrayana Studies, established in 2020 to nurture the growth of Vajrayana-based education in the kingdom, received their graduation certificates in a ceremony held at Tashichho Dzong in the capital Thimphu. The dzong, a Buddhist monastery and fortress, is the traditional seat of Bhutan’s civil government.
Among the 30 graduating monks on Friday, 31-year-old Phub Namgay and 30-year-old Choki Dorji said they felt honored and blessed to receive their certificates, and expressed hope that they would be able to contribute to the propagation of the Buddhadharma.
“We are truly honored and blessed to receive our certificates from His Holiness the Je Khenpo, in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, Her Royal Highness Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck, and Vairochana Rinpoche [Ngawang Jigme Jigten Wangchuck],” said Phub Namgay. “Initially, there were some challenges while starting the course but due to the blessings of the Triple Gem and the combined effort of the teachers and the students, we were able to successfully overcome all the challenges.” (BBS)
“After receiving lots of Vajrayana teachings and learning this important practice, I hope to spread my knowledge as much as possible,” said Choki Dorji. “While traveling to other places if we could share about such studies [with] other people, we would be able to make them understand the importance of the Vajrayana tradition” (BBS)
Most of the monks are expected to go on to undertake a traditional three-year meditation retreat, while some will become teachers themselves.
During the graduation ceremony, the Je Khenpo also launched a book titled The Essence of the Teachings of Accomplished Vidhyadharas, which includes research contributed by the graduate monks.
Je khenpo is title given to the chief abbot of the Zhung Dratshang (the Central Monastic Body), the most senior Buddhist monastic in Bhutan and the nation’s spiritual head. The Je Khenpo is the chairman of the Dratshang Lhentshog (Council for Religious Affairs), which oversees the Zhung Dratshang, assisted by five Lopen Lhengyes (minister-ranking masters). His Holiness Je Thrizur was je khenpo from 1986–90. The office is currently held by the 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra, who has occupied the position since 1996.
‘‘In Vajrayana Buddhism, we have a choice [of path] to get enlightenment. If we cannot get enlightened from one method, we have other methods to get enlightened,” said Gyalsey Trulku Jigme Tenzin Wangpo, president of the Tago Institute for Advanced Vajarayana Studies. “Therefore, this practice has the ability to make its practitioners attain enlightenment in one lifetime. Secondly, it is important to learn Vajrayana tradition to know the way of conducting religious rituals.” (BBS)
Remote, landlocked, and perched in the rarified air of the eastern Himalaya, the Kingdom of Bhutan, sandwiched between two political and economic heavy hitters India and China, is the world’s last remaining Vajrayana Buddhist country. The ancient spiritual tradition is embedded in the very consciousness and culture of this remote land, where it has flourished with an unbroken history that dates back to its introduction from Tibet by Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, in the eighth century.
Almost 75 per cent of Bhutan’s population of some 770,000 people identify as Buddhists, according to the Washington, DC-based Pew Research Center, with Hindus accounting for the majority of the remaining 25 per cent. Most of Bhutan’s Buddhists follow either the Drukpa Kagyu or the Nyingma schools of Vajrayana Buddhism. Bhutan held its first elections as a constitutional monarchy in 2008.
Tago Institute for Advanced Vajrayana Studies (Facebook)
HH the Je Khenpo confers MA in Buddhist Studies to first homegrown-graduate monks (BBS)
Bhutan has 30 monks with Master of Arts in Buddhist Studies (The Print)
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