The Great Chain on Urantia (Preface, page 2 of 2)


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In 1940 there are no roads in Bhutan. The population of this small country at this time is around seven hundred thousand. The capital is Punakha for most of the year, ceding the privilege to higher and cooler Thimphu forty miles west, in the summer.

What look like towns and cities on a map are really population centers of a unique type. Each one is essentially a huge fort or dzong, housing several thousand people. What we call Paro is actually the Paro Dzong, with three thousand occupants, and a surrounding valley sprinkled with the freehold homes of another thousand peasant farmers, the tre-ba.

Although the dzongs have come to be home to an increasing number of civil servants, they are still basically religious or monastic centers, where hundreds and hundreds of monks live and take their training. The monks are Buddhist; lamas are monks who are considered incarnations.

Women do not sleep in any dzong.

There are also separate monasteries as such, called gompas, scattered about the whole country in the most unlikely places. A rocky windswept cliff face, or a lush green valley, are equally likely to boast a colossal or a modest gompa, or monastery.

Bhutan is an absolute monarchy. At this time it has no postal service and no monetary system. The Indian rupee is used by a very few privileged persons who have limited contact with the outside world. For anyone from the outside to travel or trade in Bhutan, he must be invited by the king or queen, and trading would be in kind, as is the whole economy. Taxes and any other form of obligation are all paid in kind.

Everyone from the King on down wears the same basic costume, a ko for the men, and a kira for the women. Each is a robe, fastened in the middle with a belt, and for the kira, secured at the shoulder by one or two clasps. Unlike Tibetans, the vast majority of northern Bhutanese men and women wear their hair quite short. Exceptions are the nomadic herders, whose summer residence is the only center resembling a village, and the people of Laya, a community close to Tibet.

This same majority falls into three groups. The tre-ba (a short glossary for unfamiliar terms is appended at the end of this book) are the home and land-owning peasants who pay tribute to the King by way of the nearest dzong.

The tra-ba, who own homes but not land, farm for the monasteries, and pay most of their crop to the landlord monastery.

The third non-monastic group to live throughout the land is civil servants, all of whom are primarily elected, though some are appointed by the king on the basis of merit, to higher posts. To this privilege are attached no significant material benefits; the trading stock in the whole country is social status. And one's status is decided, first by one's peers, and then by the king.

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