religion

It was in the 8th century during the three visits of Guru Rinpoche alias Padmasambhawa that Buddhism began to take firm roots in Bhutan. Till the visit of Guru Rinpoche in the 8th century, the people of Bhutan were practicing animism that they referred to as Bon. His first visit was on his mission to treat the gravely ill Sendha Gyab, the king of Bumthang (central Bhutan) in 746 A.D. His visit led to the propagation of the Nyingmapa (the ancient or the older) school of Tibetan Buddhism.

The second visit was from Tibet across the high frozen passes through Singye Dzong in Lhuntse (northeast Bhutan). From Singye Dzong, Guru, in his wrathful form of Dorji Drolo flew to Taktsang in Paro (western Bhutan) on the back of a tigress, who was actually his consort, Tashi Khyeuden. He meditated there for three months and subdued the demon. Today this place is considered one of the sacred places in Bhutan.

His third visit was not very significant as it was just to put in exile Khikharathoed, the Dog mouth and goat skull king who was anti-Buddhist.

Phajo Drugom Zhigpo's arrival to Bhutan in 1222 is another landmark in the history of Bhutan. He introduced the Drukpa Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. Further his sons also worked in spreading the tradition of Drukpa Kagyu school,especially in western Bhutan. In late 14th Century, lama called Longchen Rabjampa and Terton Pema Lingpa from Nyingma school also contributed to flourish Buddhism and established many monasteries mainly in central Bhutan.

One of the greatest historical figures of Bhutan is Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (Tibetan lama) who came to Bhutan in 1616 after a conflict with the King of Tsang in central Tibet. Besides unifying Bhutan, he also strengthened the Drukpa Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. Today, Drukpa Kagyu school is the state religion of Bhutan. However, people also widely follow Nyingmapa and Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism as well as Hinduism.

Besides Guru Rinpoche, Phajo Drugom Zhigpo, Longchen Rabjampa, Terton Pema Lingpa and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, many other lamas had also contributed to the propagation of Buddhism in Bhutan.

It is a country where Buddhism is still vibrant and alive. The Dzongs, monasteries, stupas, prayer flags, and prayer wheels punctuate the Bhutanese landscape. The chime of ritual bells, sound of gongs, people circumambulating temples and stupas, fluttering prayer flags, red robed monks conducting ritual, among many others are all living case in point to reveal that Buddhism is an essential ingredient of Bhutanese life.
 
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