Buddhism was introduced in Bhutan in the 7th century by Guru Padma Sambhava. In the centuries that followed, Bhutan was home to many sages and saints including the great saints-scholars like Longchen Ramjam, also known as Kuenkhen Longchen Ramjam, (1308-1363). Various schools of Buddhism in Bhutan assimilated other earlier practices and beliefs. The aspirations towards enlightenment and the belief in the innate goodness of human beings are widely shared among Buddhists and majority of the Bhutanese are Buddhists. The less common Hindu religion as practiced by Southern Bhutanese has many common saints and divinities with Vajrayana, the school of Buddhism prevalent in Bhutan.
Buddhism has a significant influence on the values of the Bhutanese and has shaped the institutions, organizations, arts, drama, architecture, literature and social structure. Bhutan’s culture, as in other societies, is continually adapting itself in the face of development.
The importance of religious institutions continues in present day Bhutan, as signified by the strength of the monk body, which number about 5000 in Dratshangs or Rabdeys and are supported by the state. This figure takes into account only those monks who are part of the formal monastic structure supported by the state and excludes those who are not part of the state sponsored Dratshangs. The Rabdeys are based mainly in dzongs. Each Rabdey is headed by a Lam Neten who is appointed by His Holiness the Je Khenpo (Head Abbot), the elected Head of the Central Monk Body. The present Je Khempo is the 70th incumbent. His Holiness the Je Khenpo is the chairman of the nine-member Dratshang Lhentshog. Monks continue to play an important role in the daily lives of the people in performing religious ceremonies, and in promoting and preserving traditional scholarship. They are also actively involved in the process of development while constantly renewing their relevance to society in times of change.
The philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) is aimed at balancing the material gains with spiritual development and is one of the basic tenets of Buddhism. GNH follows the middle path and promotes sustainable growth that will provide food and social security to a family while maintaining the harmony and balance between nature and man. GNH promotes happiness of a family without sacrificing the overall happiness of other sentient beings that are sacred to our life and livelihood. Buddhism is a way of life for us and it is through Buddhism that we learn to live a better life with our environment.