GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (40)

– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

In absolute contrast, and in a glazed shop window, to the visitor’s gaze is displayed a huge book of sixty-pounds, the equivalent in paper of a soccer field. Its pages contain a selection of color photos from different parts of the country. “It took four liters of ink to print it,” notes Dargye. “It’s the biggest book in the world, a Guinness record.” Of the 500 printed copies, “distributed on all continents,” Bhutan has kept only three copies. Well, in this domain, and in the likeness of what happens to the imbecile competition between concrete towers that arrogantly insist on hurting the firmament (otherwise they would not have the name of skyscrapers, would they?) it is expected that such a title will also be claimed by other nations.

Once mentioned the “greatness,” let’s go to what matters. That is to say: the history compendium that makes mention of the Portuguese priests based on the chronicles of the time compiled in Lho’i chos’ byung, the history of Bhutan, completed in 1759 by Tenzin Choegyal (1700-1767), the tenth Jey Khenpo, also known as Dharma Raja, a religious honorific title so often mentioned by Cacela when referring to the king of Central Tibet. This work gives us the true picture of the existing social chaos in Bhutan before the arrival of Shabdrung Rinpoche and, thanks to him, the restoration of the rule of law and social peace. Sporadic but violent episodes of civil war in the central plateau of Tibet throughout the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, aggravated by recurrent invasions of the thirsty Mongol hordes, would lead the local monks to search distant and secluded places where peace and tranquility prevailed, the so called “hidden kingdoms” that would capture the collective imagination of future generations.

However, after arriving in that distant south, the scene they encountered was far from idyllic. The region was inhabited by uncivilized, rude and highly aggressive people. As the only weapon of defense, the monks were left with Buddhism, which, as it became widespread, would slowly mitigate the most barbaric instincts of those people. The assault on Cabral and Cacela was, however, a vivid proof that the precepts preached by this religion were still far from being refined.

The famous lama Lorepa came to the region of Bumthang in 1248 and encountered people who were – as he put it – “authentic beasts, wild and temperamental; people who enjoyed to eat meat and make animal sacrifices.” A hundred years later, Tibetan monk Choeje Barawa, fleeing from his civil war-torn Utsang homeland, describes the panorama in the following verses of a religious song that would celebrate him: “The mighty (families) are now all thieves / There is no hope for supporters of peace and happiness / Prison, beatings, torture! Oh, what else will happen?” In addition to the proverbial “big fish eats small fish,” the monk reports that “angry men took up arms to kill each other” and that “to go from the top of a village to the bottom” it was necessary to take an escort. The monk Barawa concludes: “The rich have robbed the poor of their houses and scarce possessions and forced them into involuntary servitude.”   

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