Religion in Bhutan
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Approximately two-thirds to three-quarters of the population practice Drukpa Kagyupa or Ningmapa Buddhism, both of which are disciplines of Mahayana Buddhism. Approximately one-quarter of the population is ethnic Nepalese and practice Hinduism. Christians, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, and non-religious groups comprise less than 1 percent of the population.
Ethnic Sharchops, descendants of the country’s probable original inhabitants, live in the east. Reportedly, some Sarchops practice Buddhism combined with elements of the Bön tradition whereas others follow Animism and Hinduism. Several Sarchops held high positions in the government, the National Assembly, and the court system.
The government supports both Kagyupa and Nyingmapa Buddhist monasteries. The royal family practices a combination of Nyingmapa and Kagyupa Buddhism, and many citizens believe in the concept of “Kanyin-Zungdrel,” meaning “Kagyupa and Ningmapa as one.”
Hindus, mainly in the South, follow the Shaivite, Vaishnavite, Shakta, Ghanapathi, Puranic, and Vedic schools. Hindu temples exist in Thimphu and southern areas, and Hindus practice their religion in small to medium-sized groups.
Bön, the country’s animist and shamanistic belief system, revolves around the worship of nature and predates Buddhism. Although Bön priests often officiated and included Bön rituals in Buddhist festivals, very few citizens adhere exclusively to this religious group.
Christians are present throughout the country in very small numbers. There was reportedly only one building dedicated to Christian worship in the south, the only area with a sufficiently large congregation to sustain a church; elsewhere, Christian families and individuals practice their religion at home. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) claimed the Government discouraged open worship by large and small gatherings. There were no Christian missionaries in the country. International Christian relief organizations and Roman Catholic Jesuit priests engaged in education and humanitarian activities.
Freedom and regulation of religion
The law provides for freedom of religion; however, the government limited this right in practice by barring non-Buddhist missionaries from entering the country, limiting construction of non-Buddhist religious buildings, and restricting the celebration of some non-Buddhist religious festivals. Mahayana Buddhism is the state religion, although in the southern areas many citizens openly practice Hinduism. The Constitution of 2008 guarantees that “a Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. No person shall be compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement.” Religious institutions and personalities have a duty “to promote the spiritual heritage of the country while also ensuring that religion remains separate from politics” and that religious institutions and personalities remain “above politics.” Reflecting the government’s stated purpose of preserving individuals’ religious and cultural values, the above prohibitive clauses in the Constitution have been interpreted to apply to proselytism and to prohibit religious personalities from voting, respectively.
The Religious Organizations Act of 2007 aims to protect and preserve the spiritual heritage of Bhutan through providing for the registration and administration of religious organizations. To meet those goals, the Act creates the Chhoedey Lhentshog as the regulatory authority on religious organizations. This body regulates, monitors, and keeps records on all religious organizations in Bhutan, which are in turn required to register and maintain specified corporate formalities.
Through 2007, there were no reports of violence associated with pressure to conform to Mahayana beliefs. There were no reports of societal abuse or discrimination based on religious belief or practice.
- ^ a b c d e f g h United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Bhutan: International Religious Freedom Report 2007. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in thepublic domain.
- ^ “The Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan” (PDF). Government of Bhutan. 2008-07-18. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
- ^ a b “Religious Organizations Act of Bhutan 2007” (PDF). Government of Bhutan. 2007-07-31. Retrieved 2011-01-25.
- ^ “Pastor sentenced to 3 yrs in prison”. Bhutan News Service online. Bhutan News Service. 2010-12-12. Retrieved 2011-01-25.
- ^ “Chhoedey Lhentshog Lists Those Who Can Vote – Religious personalities above politics”. Kuensel online. 2010-10-17. Retrieved 2011-01-28.