Bhutan Dialogues is a space for critical and civil conversations with thought leaders and changemakers drawing upon their expertise, achievements and inspiration. It aims to invigorate development thinking and refine our ideas and the pursuit of human progress. It is a forum for right speech and mindful listening.

Bhutan Dialogues is led by Loden Foundation and The United Nations in Bhutan. Dr Karma Phuntsho, a thought leader, social worker and the President of Loden Foundation currently serves pro bono as the host for the dialogues.

Why Bhutan Dialogues?

Today is 14 Feb. In this rapidly globalizing world, I am sure that the popular significance of the day is not lost on you. So, thank you for coming here and sparing some of our most precious hours with us, although we may not make good romantic partners for you.

The reason for our choice of 14 Feb is not because it is St Valentines Day, although love and romance could also make a better reason for us to gather and celebrate. We also certainly do not intend to distract you from any romantic dates you may have planned. We hope to finish in time for that.

We were inspired to have the launch today for a very local reason. If you switch on the Druk Zakar apps, you will discover today is one of the most auspicious days in the calendar year. We are observing the Earth Pig year, and today is Water Pig day, and the elemental combination is of two earths. As complicated as it may sound, the domain of the 10th day of the 1st month, Tshechu of the Chotrul Dawa, one of the holiest months, has also began already since this morning. The convergence of these astral, planetary and zodiac positions, make today a very auspicious and positively powerful day to launch a good project.

So, on such an astrologically and spiritually special day, I on behalf of the Loden Foundation and the UN in Bhutsan welcome Your Excellency, Dechen Wangmo, Minister of Health, Your Excellency J B Rai, Minister of Education, former ministers, Lyonpo Om Pradhan and Dorji Wangdi, and distinguished guests to the launch of the online portal of Bhutan Dialogues, and to celebrate the achievements of Bhutan Dialogues in the past one and half year. Today, as we launch the online portal, we will be opening Bhutan Dialogues to a unlimited global audience. It is a big step for us taking us beyond the confines of the UN house in Bhutan to share our stories, conversations and ideas with the rest of the world at the click of a mouse.

While we celebrate the successes of Bhutan Dialogues and launch its online portal which will take Bhutan Dialogues to new heights and to greater reach, it is also time for us to reassess our aims, targets, and needs in a rapidly changing local and global scenario.

It is a time to reflect on our initial motives and aspirations. Why Bhutan Dialogues? Are its objectives and purposes as important as they were couple years ago? Is the mode of our conversations effective? When Gerald Daly of UN in Bhutan and I had our initial meetings to visualize this forum of free, open and civil conversations, we were fully conscious of where we, as individuals, as a nation, as a global community are, in terms of our place and time in the process of development. We were, as we are today, fully aware of the need for deeper reflection on ourselves and our actions, for a thorough discussion of our development policies and practices, and for constant evaluation of our outcomes and results.

To put it in the local Buddhist framework, we were aware that we live in the epoch of degenerate times (སྙིགས་མ་ལྔ་བདོའི་དུས་), when the five degenerate elements surge like rising tides. There is the degenerate time (དུས་སྙིགས་མ་). While the number of hours in our daily schedule have not gone down in quantity, our time with the multitude of distractions and occupations we have, has become much less useful and meaningful, more wasteful and futile, shallow and, and even hollow for some. Our hours, days and weeks flash by without much meainingful achievement.

Such experience of time leads to an overall mode of living which is a degenerate life (ཚེ་སྙིགས་མ་), a hectic, stressful, distracted and often a empty meaningless life.

Such meaningless life then shapes our character and personality, identity and nature of being. We become degenerate beings (སེམས་ཅན་སྙིགས་མ་), low in our moral and spiritual qualities, poor in purpose and meaning, with shallow character or mode of existence.

In such a state, our thoughts, emotions, fears and expectations rage like the strong waves of a sea. We live with the forces of wild degenerate emotions (ཉོན་མོངས་སྙིགས་མ་), and our decisions are increasingly made by our heart and hot blood than reasoning and wisdom.

These thoughts and emotions are mostly fed by the fifth and final element of degeneration, the degenerate views (ལྟ་བ་སྙིགས་མ་). As the Buddha put, we are caught in the thickets of our wrongs views, in the prison of our dogmatic beliefs and shackles of our internal prejudices. The dogmatic attachment to and espousal of these beliefs and views lead to the problems of discrimination, hatred, chauvinism, and supremacism which we see rampant in the world.

A degenerate view is a view which only sees one side of the story, has a partial view of reality, is not open to alternative perspectives and outlooks, is not willing to change and grow, and which defies progress and positive evolution.

With the digital revoluation which we have so excitedly embraced, we hoped to achieve access to truth and the freedom of expression with the open tools of internet and social media. Sadly, this has not come true. With distortion of facts, fake news, and manipulation of information and data by political power houses and corporate commercialisation, we are only confronted with even a greater challenge of screening the enormous deluge of information, of doing fair and honest analyses, and making the right and informed choices.

As a result, we see across the world waves of ill informed and dangerous populism, protectionism, nationalism and parochialism. We truly live, as the Buddha said, in the thicket of views and the wilderness of beliefs. We lack adequate dialogue, discussion and debates to burn the thickets, and look beyond known horizons.

The degenerate views, when coupled with the powerful technological and digital tools we have today, cause far greater damage and destruction than they could ever do in the past. Thus, there is a greater need than before to share ideas, exchange perspectives and discuss issues, so that we refine our understanding of the world, ourselves and the course of human progress, so that we make informed decisions, effective plans and programmes, and useful and sustainable results.

Bhutan Dialogues was concieved and launched almost a year and half ago with the objective of creating such a forum for civil conversations, for mindful listening, right speech, in depth discussions, and cordial debates. We believe in the Bhutanese adage:

(ཕོ་རབ་གཅིག་གི་རིག་པ་བ་ ཕོ་འབྲིང་གསུམ་གྱི་གྲོས་བསྡུར་དགའ་)

The deliberation of three average brains is better than the idea of a lone best brain.

We put into practice the priceless ancient advice of the Buddha that our ideas, words, actions, plans, policies and programmes, like assaying gold by burning, cutting and polishing, must be thoroughly analysed, critically studied and discussed. We try to practice the Buddhist path of realizing through our sustained efforts the Bodhisattva ideals of bringing benefit to both oneself and others, the global agenda of Sustainable Development Goals championed by the UN, and the national goal of Gross National Happiness.

We take inspiration from Krista Tippet and her programme On Being, a public radio show and podcast in the US to conduct better conversations with humility, patience and hospitality, and as she puts it ‘to ask enduring human questions’, to carry out ‘generous listening powered by curiosity’, ‘to approach civility as an adventure, not an exercise in niceness’, and ‘practice a patient view of time’ to seek gradual human transformation.”

Today, the knowledge of the world is literally at out finger tips. What we need urgently today is not a way to provide more knowledge and information but the wisdom to analyse and understand knowledge, to sort and digest knowledge and information in a useful manner, to restrain from producing useless and harmful information.

We need, in summary, what the Bhutanese master called (ཆོས་རབ་རྣམ་འབྱེད་ཀྱི་ཤེས་རབ་), the wisdom to discern things correctly. This, therefore, is the main objective, the spirit, and the ethos of Bhutan Dialogues.

Flying from Guwahati this morning over the Dagala mountain range, I could appreciate the breathtaking splendour and the extent of Dagala mountain. I could also recollect and appreciate the local proverb: (འབྱོག་ལོ་རྒས་ཤི་རུང་ དར་དཀར་ལའི་ཕུ་མཐའ་མ་ཆོདཔ་) a nomad could die from old age without fathoming the expanse of Dagala.

Stuck in our own narrow valleys and views, shut off from other perpectives and perceptions, we cannot appreciate the collosal and complex contours of the Dagala of humanity, its development and progress, the Dagala of the human mind and its potential and prospects. Thus, it is very pertinent that we look at issues holistically from all angles and perspectives, particularly from the opposing side. The Karmapa lama once instructed (ཕ་རི་ལྟ་དགོ་ན་ ཚུར་རི་ནས་ལྟོས་), if one wants to see that mountain, see it from this mountain. This is a forum to which we bring people who have seen from the other side, who have walked their talks, and left a mark. we hope the forum to create a space to see important issues from different and contrasting perspectives.

By creating this space, and inviting thought leaders and development experts, people who hold insight in our pressing issues, have endeavoured to find solutions, and made a difference to shape their world, and by sharing their stories, their ideas and habits, we hope to inspire and inform the youth, which consitutes the major bulk of our population. We hope to stimulate in them curiosity and courage, equip them with new tips and techniques, and expose them to role models and mentors.

It is with the dual goals of refining our understanding of human development and progress, and inspiring and empowering the youth that we have started Bhutan Dialogues, continue it today, and on this auspicious day, launch the online portal.

I wish to thank you once again for joining us in this venture and for your support to make it successful.