GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (41)

– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

As we have already said, Shabdrung Rinpoche established himself in Bhutan in 1616 as a political refugee from Tibet, and in the space of a decade manages to unify the entire western region. With him comes law and order to this remote Himalayan area. As biographer Tsang Khenchen puts it, “every type of robbery, banditry, and other malicious behavior is repressed,” including disrespect, lack of compassion, and ingratitude. Thus, “the country has become peaceful and prosperous.”

The political model adopted by Shabdrung associated religion with the state. It was, however, necessary to fulfill a task: to communicate with the people.

Lord of a vast heritage (monasteries and estates) accumulated since the time of his ancestor Tsangpa Gyare, the monarch promulgates a code of behavior for the monks who accompanied him or who resided with him – literate people, therefore. We know, thanks to the biography written by Khenchen, that after the establishment of his government Shabdrung receives gifts of gratitude from all parts of the kingdom. At the time, neighboring states were contacted through official letters carried by emissaries on horseback or on foot. There are several references to similar communications between Shabdrung and rulers of India and Tibet. Within borders, however, personal written communication was impracticable, since all ordinary citizens were illiterate.

In an effort to fill this gap, Shabdrung spends his time moving from one settlement to another, from camp to camp, talking to his subjects after giving them blessings and lectures on religion. It was in this context that Cabral and Cacela met him in 1627, the Portuguese having traveled with the monk-king more than two months before arriving at the monastery of Changri.

This form of face-to-face communication was also very limited geographically. Shabdrung’s journeys did not go beyond the western part of the kingdom. Messages destined for other parts of the kingdom were carried by the most diverse types of bequests.

Another form of public communication very common was the inscriptions on stone poles or carved on oratory walls called mani dangrim, some of them long before the arrival of Shabdrung. Very common in the kingdoms that shared the Tibet region, they were associated with the chortens (pagan funerary monuments).