Buddhism is the prominent religion/philosophy in modern Bhutan. It was brought to Bhutan in 746 CE by Guru Rinpoche, the man regarded there as a second Buddha. Before this time, the predominant belief system was animism, where individual deities control different aspects of nature.

photos M. Noonan

Over time, these two belief systems merged, and most people in Bhutan today follow Tantric Buddhism in which belief in deities associated with nature complement those associated with Buddhism. For example, while we were traveling in central Bhutan, we came upon a landslide that had washed out the only road connecting two cities. Many of the people we encountered explained this as having been caused by a deity that inhabited a tree further down that same hillside. That deity was assumed to have been unhappy since the local people had been recently constructing a new temple devoted to another deity.

                                                 photo M. Noonan

In the sixteen hundreds, numerous fortresses (called dzongs) were built around the country. These dzongs were used to guard against invasions. Built of stone and pounded mud, the dzongs are still very imposing structures that epitomize the beautiful architecture of Bhutan. Elaborate painting and intricate carvings decorate these dzongs. In modern times, the Bhutanese dzongs are no longer used for military purposes, but still play a central role as training sites for Buddhist monks.


                                  photo M. Noonan

Until recently, most Buddhist families sent one of their sons to the monastery to become a monk. This would occur when they were quite young -- around the age of six. These boys were obliged to train at the monasteries for most of the year, and were allowed to return home for only one month each summer. Later on, when they reached their teen years, such boys would be able to live outside the monastery for a short period of time. At this point, the boys were given the choice of returning to the monastic life or remaining with their families in town. Today, that tradition is changing, and parents are increasingly allowing their children to join a monastery only of their own volition.

Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.