by Joshua Liberman, The Tao of Photography
It’s likely that every spiritual traveler is eventually confronted with one fundamental question, either from friends, or family, or from within: Why?
Why spend valuable time and hard-earned resources trudging through a jungle, trekking to high mountain monasteries, or sequestered in ashrams as a “vacation?” Especially when options like beach resorts and Mai Tais are available?
The easy answer: Experience.
True, an umbrella drink on the beach is also an experience, one that definitely has a place for the weary cultural traveler. But for spiritual seekers in a modern world there is a longing to get away from daily pressure and stress to find quietude in a faraway land, returning home with a powerful lesson that we can apply to our daily lives.
There are few experiences greater than spiritual travel that give us the opportunity to learn and grow while experiencing deep, rich cultures steeped in tradition and wisdom. And the lessons these cultures have for us often bring meaning and insight into our modern lives long after we return home.
Take the Kingdom of Bhutan, for instance: while their religious culture of Mahayana Buddhism is ancient, they are also the youngest Democracy on earth. In 2008, the 4th King Wangchuck gave democracy to their people to protect their people from the potential of a future corrupt monarch. But possibly the most progressive development to come from this much-loved Bhutanese king occurred in 1972, when he proclaimed, “Gross National Happiness is more important than GDP. The understanding of what makes people happy is vital to our society.”
And so was born the enlightened political concept of Gross National Happiness.
So what we can learn from GHN? Why is it that over 30,000 spiritual travelers are drawn to this tiny Himalayan Kingdom every year?
After all, what is all this seeking, searching, praying, and meditating all about if not greater happiness? In a society filled with technology, social networking, striving, longing, traffic, and a morass of pressures on every level, who isn’t looking for just a little extra happiness to make life more tolerable?
But for a spiritual traveler seeking the source of Bhutanese happiness, we sometimes find ourselves at a loss to understand exactly what is at the source.
Personally, I discovered more questions than answers in my search for the source of Bhutanese happiness. That is, until I realized, the confusion lies within me. Perhaps it’s my Western upbringing? The belief that happiness is a thing, something to be pursued. Or maybe it’s the American ideal of happiness made popular by Mickey and his “Happiest Place on Earth?”
In the end, the source of happiness in Bhutanese culture eluded this humble spiritual traveler, until I realized what I was really looking for, what I really found when I visited Bhutan, boiled down to a very different word: Contentment.
To be kind to a guest, to live in balance with nature, to laugh heartily with friends and family, to take time to just be… it only takes a short time immersed in the culture of Bhutan, and the spiritual traveler can see the value of bringing a bit of Gross National Happiness home to share. That is truly an idea worth spreading.