Imaginary Life

Andrew and Kayla Blanchflower: ON BELONGING

 Andrew and Kayla Blanchflower are the co-founders of Rogue Dwellings, and Andrew is also a contributer to Dark Mountain magazine. As a family they manifest their environmental activism in their way of life, free from land ownership, and through their presence at Standing Rock.

Andrew and Kayla Blacnflower, and their 5 beautiful kids born to tipi living; Rowan, Ayla, Sequoia, Tamarac and Raven inspire others to see how another type of parallel low-impact life is possible where we consume less and live more.

Living in handmade tipis that they teach others to make and travelling in an old school bus, the family invite strangers in for chai and a chat about life with respect for mother nature. Through their voices and sound recordings, listeners can feel a glimpse of how their everyday life also shapes a closeness to each other and how external resilience can in turn create an inner resilience, that also results in a softer impact on mother earth.

Podcast episode 6: ON BELONGING
Introduction:

TANYA’S VOICE:
SOUND: DIEGO INTRO

Welcome to Nordic By Nature, a podcast on ecology today inspired by the Norwegian Philosopher Arne Naess, who coined the term Deep Ecology.

As Naess once wrote, there seems to be no place for PLACE anymore. The things, we need appear like magic into our lives. For that convenience we often have to sacrifice connection and community. We become isolated from each other as we become more dependent on faceless corporations to provide the things we need, rather than people who produce them. Our ecological selves are being separated from the very idea of home. But somehow, the loss of place is felt, on a deeper level, and the longing for home persists.

According to Naess and deep ecology, we need to articulate what it means to belong to a place.

For example,

Number 1. As humans, we are locally and globally connected at all times. Our everyday life patterns and culture interweave with every other living thing. We need to understand this experience if we are to create profound relationships of stewardship for our own lives and the lives of future generations.

Number 2. We must not confuse a place with our own house. We do not own a place. Other humans and non-humans have the right to be part of the ecology of a place.  It is important for us to share our sense of place with others, for that a place to thrive. It does not threaten our own identity or way of life to invite others to share the spaces where we feel we belong.

Number 3. Natural experiences are not commodities to be consumed. A place is a living entity, a collection of interconnected ecosystems. A place has a value independent of the services it provides humans. But humans can be an integral and natural part of an ecosystem.

Number 4. There is Wilderness and there is Countryside. One sees Nature as separate to humankind and the other sees humankind as a Keeper of Nature. Both concepts are human constructs.

Number 5. We need to regain a sense of scale. Places and their ecosystems are being degraded by massive amounts of waste. Microscopic damage is also occurring depleting the soil and our nutrition. We must also conserve the invisible equilibrium on which all life relies.

In this episode ON BELONGING, you will hear from three people who have thought a lot about what ‘home’ means to them and what defines our relationship to a place.

First you will hear the words of Andrew and Kayla Blanchflower, tipi dwellers and makers whose way of the life can be an inspiration to all of us to live lighter. Andrew and Kayla met and fell in love in Oregon in the States, and decided to raise their family with a closer contact to the earth and Mother Nature.

You will then hear the voice of Yvette Neshi Lokotz teacher of hand drumming and making, practitioner of the Medicine Wheel or Sacred Hoop healing, and tribal member of the Potawatomi Nation.

Please listen to this podcast with your headphones.

Andrew Blanchflower, founder of Rogue Dwellings.

Andrew’s Story

My name’s Andrew. I’ve lived in tipis since the early ‘90s. The story goes back to those days in Hulme. We would go up to Saddleworth Moors and graze on mushrooms in the autumn. I think that was my first taste of the system that was bigger than any political system that there is the system that is…I could just call it Mother Earth or Gaia right now….

SOUND: Walking through woodland

We’d come back to Hulme like this low rise six story social housing disaster, which was actually great for squats and young, single people and ….I think I’ve forgotten that time of my life my early growing up until my late teens that there was such a longing and such a missing, like, I remember that when I see people in town these days just with that confusion or that… that kind of “there’s something bigger than this, I know that there’s something bigger than this or just something… that has to be more.”

I remember having these conversations the Shenyen who was then named Martin and it would be like: “What was the most amazing life that you could dream of, that you could imagine+” For Shenyen, it was being an ordained monk in India or Tibet. For me it was living in a tipi.

SOUND: Yorkshire-moors.wav

And then it was like “Okay well can we just, do you want to just try moving towards that and see what happens?” And so that’s what happened, and then I met people that live in a tipi community in Wales of all places and my people that live in tipi he’s in Wales all year round to me was a revelation that people could still actually do that.

And I met some of those people at various festivals, at Glastonbury Festival and various healing gatherings, and they were just making a cup of tea around the fire, and I was just perceiving these people like these amazing epic characters that knew how to just boil kettle in a few minutes.

SOUND: BLESSED BE SONG.m4a
SOUND: 2. ANDREW PENNYWHISTLE.wav

INTRO: KAYLA’S STORY

SOUND: 3. BACKGROUND BIRDS KAYLA.wav

I love the way we met. I think it’s, it’s so romantic. He was playing the penny whistle. There was one evening he was playing in this little town called Ashland in Oregon and at night he was playing his whistle on the street. And I was out for a walk. I was actually quite heartbroken that night. And I was going on a walk with a friend, sort of crying and sharing my, my broken heart. And then we parted ways this friend and I, and I heard this whistle in the distance. It just felt so healing and soothing to me and so I decided I would close my eyes and walk to where that whistle was coming from.

And now here we are. However, many years this is later. This is like almost 20 years later and we have five children. 

On Tipi Life

ANDREW Basically we live in tipis because we can be on the ground around the fire. Like it’s a way of manifest in our elements directly. I can get wood and water, find the spring or a creek or something. There’s like two basics taken care of as far as elements.

KAYLA At the moment everyone’s busy in the shop. All the kids are in there making things; we’re making shoes for the trip, and making backpacks, a travelling lodge and a bag for the travelling lodge, and Ayla is making some gifts. She wants to bring these baby carriers to give to some kids that she knows over there. Yeah. everyone’s really busy using the sewing machines right now and making things for the journey and that’s a lot of fun.

SOUND: 4. WHITE THROATED SPARROW.m4a

KAYLA So we have five children. All of our children were born to living in the tipi.

That’s sort of one of the things that I kind of captivated me about Andy was that he, he lived in a tipi and he had come from a tipi community in Wales, and he knew how to make them, and how, how to live in them in a way that wasn’t like roughing it or camping but quite luxuriously.

The Blanchflower Family

And so all of our children were born to the tipi. Not all of them were born in it. Some were born outside of the tipi or in water, or our firstborn was born in a birth centre. It was a beautiful birth and it was that birth that then set up the rest for us to be pretty strong about just having him and I be there for the births.

So, we had a midwife for our first child and she was a wonderful woman. She’s dear in my heart. I have sought counsel with her throughout all the rest of our children, but not as a regular midwife and she did not attend any more births.

I’m grateful for her and it really helped me get in touch with the wisdom in my bones of just how to how to birth with a lot of love with whatever family was around.

SOUND: 6. AMBIENT LODGE 1.wav &  7. AMBIENT LODGE WATER.wav

On  Tipi Village, from Wales to Oregon

KAYLA It was when we were pregnant with our second child that we wanted to just be somewhere wild where we could feel really comfortable and at home and so we decided to just go to those mountains in the distance, and we set up our lodge, and I don’t know a little while after we set it up maybe some days or so. someone came down and it turned out they were the title holders.

But they loved the Tipi. We made them tea which is what we’ll often do when surprise visitors come. And you know let the fire do its magic on them like it does. They came down and they had tea and they welcomed us and said that they you know they had access to thousands of acres. They opened it up to us. I mean that the short version.

And that’s where the valley the tipi Valley model where Andy came from in Wales had such a strong influence in this little place in Oregon which we ended up calling tipi village.

It’s amazing that those stories, those people, those events, in Wales they’re all of those how far they travelled and how they’re like seeds that floated over and just grew in this other place, and I guess stories do that. They kind of travel like that.

People would come and visit and find out if they wanted to stay for a while or not. It was a pretty organic process because you know, if if people were up for it, fetching wood and water and cooking on a fire, and living with the elements, and dealing with mould and rodents, and you know, rain dripping in and all of these things that have to be dealt with– then they would, you know, they’d make themselves a tipi and rise to it and love it —and

other people would find you know quickly or not so quickly that it wasn’t for them, and so there was no need for any, you know, egos to get involved to say you can be here. You can’t be here. The earth did the sorting out. I guess, maybe.

SOUND: 2b Rattle.wav

ANDREW Tipi Valley in Wales they always had that big lodge that was always open, and it brings so much perspective. If we want new stories new narratives, we can look back to stories that 5000 years old what’s so common in a lot of those folk tales, is the answer to the problem comes from the periphery. It doesn’t come from where we’re looking at the problem. Like it comes a spirit of the lake or an old woman in the roots of the tree or…. But we have to be open to that we have to be at that point. Maybe it’s not going to be until we’re at that point of desperation that we will be open to that and hear it.

SOUND: 8. DINNER BLESSING.wav

On what is home?

Fireplace and FIRE CRACKLING.m4a

Sewing in the workshop tent

KAYLA [00:10:58] What does home mean? These are thinking about these things are really they’re meaningful to me, and we talk about them often in our home. It’s been quite a thread for us because of I guess we kind of considered ourselves as ‘displaced’ which is interesting to say because Andy isn’t from the west of Turtle Island but we made our family there, all the kids were born there this whole village from out of the ground and blossomed there, other children in the community were born there.

For many years we all moved together seasonally. There was a summer grounds and winter grounds and so we’re very connected with a place there.

We moved within a range, a valley, and a mountain range and so we had high elevation camp and we had a low elevation camp.

We often hear that the only place where that’s normal is where you’re at like the Nordic regions is like that that kind of stuff is more widely accepted and known in here. It is a little bit. I mean sometimes we’re in places where we might be a bit more of the freak show. We don’t find so many but enough that we aren’t alone really. Right now, all winter we’ve been living on this beautiful ridge and with three other families.

I mean a community doesn’t need to be a huge amount of people, there’s enough people here where we can bounce off each other and there’s enough, you know, diversity be amongst the different skills between the grown-ups that the kids can like, you know, they go to what’s inspiring for them for input and there’s other children here and they have this wide open wild space to just be in and learn about together.

SOUND: 11. CRACKING FIRE & ROWAN.m4a

On Stories

KAYLA Because I think there is some great power to us knowing the stories of a landscape and feeling how our stories are woven into those stories and then we know our place because we know the land so I feel like home. Place is relevant in talking about home, but I don’t think it’s exclusive to place and I think it could be at least here in the United States, there’s that consciousness of its like its ‘settler colonialism’ that really claims a place and says this is mine.

ANDREW Stories really intimate and woven in with place, like they come from a place and they emerge out of the ground. As far as a new narrative is becoming apparent that a monolithic… a single narrative isn’t really the way forward. It seems like in order to find unity we’re having to kind of decentralise. Someone a few years ago on a radio show was talking about that the only thing that unites us is our uniqueness. Like the thing that unites us does our uniqueness. We’re all different. So the ability to adapt. We’re forgetting how to adapt.

People are forgetting how to write down on paper, through the seduction of convenience, people forget how to feel a bit uncomfortable, and just rise to the occasion. I don’t know what there is to do other than just try and be resilient and adapt.

ANDREW That brings it back to that relationship with place being something more dimensional than mere economics. It is just one single level or dimension of how a holistic relationship to ‘place’ can be.

Rogue Dwelling Tipi in snow

KAYLA I think at that time I might have been very much one to say that home in place were more closely related but then as Tipi village, I mean the story as tragic, and it’s beautiful and it was you know, the land titles shifted hands and that’s a long story.

It was enough for us that push was enough, and we got a school bus real quick and made a quick conversion and got on the road and for the first year I would say we travelled around just traumatized and gutted like we had lost everything that, that meant something to us like the birthplace of our children, and we had such a vision woven in with that place, of a future of a way forward that we were so dedicated to and believed so firmly in.

Tending the land, tending wild plants, returning seasonally, watching it grow, living lightly with a place, as a people, as a community. So then that’s when I think the journey of being separated from place but still maintaining home, began for me personally.

SOUND: NeshiDrumming_6/4/19_2.mp3 (DIEGO Arrangement)

On Standing Rock

KAYLA: And then we kind of heard that call to go to Standing Rock. Well not kind of. It came through really strong. That’s another story. I mean it was quite an incredible direction for us to head in, after having gone through the seven years of tipi village, and being able to be in a bus, with a workshop that made tipis, and we can just pull up to Standing Rock and make shelter and have our home with us. And I think that’s where maybe the journey began to shift for me in realising that home is much bigger than a place because we got there, and it felt like we met our people. I met our people.

And that our people live all around the world, like people were there from so many places, but there was such this common thread that united us. And we kept saying in so many ways it was like we had gone home.

It had such a profound impact on our lives. We were there for a year. It was the land of the paradox for me just the richest place I’ve been.

The spiritual richness was so potent that fire was burning so strong and that’s what kept us there for that long and the poverty and pain that’s there is equally as strong. It’s just the poorest and richest place. And I guess I am speaking beyond our time in camp at Standing Rock because we stayed on further with relatives that we met who live on the various reservations in the Dakotas and lived with them after the camps were closed down in February. We continued on, pitched our lodge with some other people who live between the Pine Ridge Reservation and the Rosebud reservation

On Nature and healing

ANDREW This thing that they pejoratively called the environment as if it’s an issue as if it’s something that needs to be taken care of as if it isn’t the whole of everything. All of life runs through this about out of proportion, I think.

KAYLA We’re all very present. We don’t have anywhere else to be except right at home and with each other. We’d like to say that sometimes it’s kind of like we have seven pairs of eyes were like this one body with all these eyes and all these noses and all these ears just kind of moving through space and time together and and so it feels like we’re that much more aware if we’re in it together taking care of each other paying attention to each other’s bodies. But we heat water on the fire. We have a washtub. That’s how we have baths. The healing journey requires getting sick together.

We’re blessed to have each other to have the family. I send a bit of that good feeling out to those who aren’t as fortunate to have a family container to hold them through their challenging times.

I feel humbled and blessed that we do have that with each other and we have all the time we’re so rich with time so there’s just no hurry or there’s no loss of job money. Getting ill, it has information in there of how to be live even better, how to be more activated in ourselves, maybe.

Our bodies are maps.

On being open

KAYLA With the way we move with in the bus and where we’ve been travelling across the country. It’s sort of been a requirement that we be very open. I mean I guess we could do it in a closed way but I just that’s just not the way we do it. We move really slowly and in a very open way always receiving whatever guests we meet. It’s it’s so curious to me the way a journey can unfold when we go with such open minds and heart.

Especially with technology these days we could really plan our route and plan where we stay and close our reality down so much with all this planning and being so destination bound, and then I think we miss out so much, and so, by being so open, we’re always in contact with so many different kinds of people, which I think grows in our kids a kind of adaptability and some resiliency. and a way to navigate different cultural contexts.

Cosy at home

ANDREW Well the way we’ve done Chai is to serve it straight out of the bus because we have a 1988 Chevy Bluebird school bus like classic American school bus, and that’s what we travel, we carry our whole trip in that which is a tipi and a 28 foot seven-sided tensile tent shop.

So we might just be pulled over in a rest area or in a town and we’ll put a sign up saying “Now serving organic Chai” on the sign is to say. Donations welcome and then we thought it has a poor aesthetic, so we just even scrubbed that off, and people still managed to make donations, and sometimes… sometimes someone wouldn’t leave anything, sometimes… most people leave a couple three dollars to occasionally someone’s left one hundred dollars or bunches of kale or someone’s brought us some venison or Buffalo or whatever.

Hearth living

We pull up in the town and the person who’s got TB poles on the roof is painted brown and it’s got water protective signs on the side and people are curious and often there’s a person in a uniform who’s bold enough to come and talk to us and you know we’ll charm them but. we have to invite everyone in for a cup of tea because if we don’t, if we’re not open, then we’re dangerous and we’re suspicious because we are so different.

And it is curious that there is a longing. People come in and they just smell it. And I don’t know what we smell like anymore, like mostly we just smell like wood smoke, I think, you know we’ll be cooking in there and there was a smell of chai and, time and time again, there’s just that longing for trust.

I think it’s it’s not like there’s no fear there anymore it’s more like a willingness to engage with that fear and maybe that’s what we have to do in order to stop plundering our ecology our environment is just give over and relax and know that there is enough abundance in the world.

Playing and learning skills

SOUND: 10. FIRE COOKING.m4a

Everyday life is our home

KAYLA There’s these threads we have that we bring through wherever we go; the tipi and the fire and all the dailies that are required to keep that functioning and I think those are like it’s kind of the main spokes of the basket. That kind of give it some structure, and some kind of that’s their identity maybe? Maybe it’s maybe it’s like this is what we we are as a family is is what we do. We have our bus and our lodge, and we move seasonally and we don’t claim any one spot but we like to meet lots of people, and love places as we go if it’s planting trees or building labyrinths or developing springs, at different places, or transplanting things, or gathering plant medicines or praying, building sweat lodges.

There’s so there’s so many ways that we engage with the places that we go and love them where we go and then and then we are moving on. But I have to say there is some heartache and sadness about…it’s almost like we have to keep moving because of the way the system is set up.

I’m not entirely like anti…staying in one spot and I don’t. I’m not against that. It’s just not viable unless we do it in this very entitled way. This land ownership thing but tending to a place and loving a place and getting to know the stories of a place and weaving into it, I think that’s profound.I think this is crucial really for a sense of well-being, and for our knowing our own individual place and all of creation.

Even when we look at hunter and gatherer cultures, I don’t think they that people have ever just wandered around that there’s been a purpose. If it’s going for. A certain food that is ready in a certain place with the certain time of year.

When the salmon run or when the maple syrup is flowing, the wild rice is ready.

ANDREW This time last year we were in New Hampshire and we were tapping maple trees where we made 15 gallons of maple syrup and we still have some leftover. It’s that way of just diversifying. From my experience of travelling with indigenous peoples, and indigenous cultures it’s like there’s a resilience woven into those kinds of cultures.

Looking back to the dictionary definition of what Indigenous means, basically emergent from place. If I can emerge from a place like the elements that make my body, that way is to be alive. If I can honour that as much as possible as part of a… like everything else in creation. I am a strand in a multi-dimensional shimmering tapestry of life that is all my relation, which means all my relationships.

Kayla

So, it’s like we have all these relationships not just the physical well I can see and hear and feel and touch around me. But things that make up what is me they the things within me and without me. How does that shimmer in the way that it’s supposed to in the way that all the rest of creation has the potential to do — if I can perceive it like that?

SOUND: REFRAIN OF  2. ANDREW PENNYWHISTLE.wav

KAYLA There’s intention and purpose. It’s not kind of a bumbling about so working with what we have, it’s been beautiful, there’s people here who take care of this place. They said come and be here for the winter. And so we have, we’ve arrived. We’ve been here as fully as we can. This is art we’ve loved this place. And it’s been amazing. Arriving in the fall when it was all going to sleep. And now being here in the spring in this completely new landscape that we don’t know a lot of these plants and trees and they’re all waking up and coming alive and surprising us at every turn. We had no idea. We were surrounded by trees that were going to give off so much colour in the spring. It’s been beautiful to get to know a new place.

It’s been quite an epic and beautiful journey. A lot of it just feeling like it’s a journey of coming more whole, and a lot of weaving.

I think we weave so beautifully together, Andy and I.

Living light means living in harmony with nature, with the least negative impact

END

 

Episode 5: ON HAPPINESS, Transcript

 

Introduction:

DIEGO INTRO SOUND: ICE SOUNDS

Tanya’s Voice:

Welcome to Nordic By Nature, a podcast inspired by the Norwegian Philosopher Arne Naess, who coined the term Deep Ecology.

According to Naess’s interpretation of Spinoza, Happiness is best realised through living life to the full out “in the world”. Other philosophies suggest a life of contemplation is the path to enlightenment, the ultimate happiness. In a way it is this struggle to balance our inner values and desires with our external actions and reactions that makes the search for Happiness, an experiential process rather than a destination.

You will now hear from two guests who have dedicated their careers to understanding the relationship of values to our behaviour, and how our sense of wellbeing has a direct impact the wider world around us.

First, you will hear from Tim Kasser, currently a professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, USA. He has performed extensive research on materialism, values, well-being, and environmental sustainability, among other topics. In 2018, he collaborated with the cartoonist Larry Gonick to create a graphic book, HyperCapitalism: The modern economy, its values, and how to change them.

Then you will hear Dr. Karma Ura, President of the Centre for Bhutan & Gross National Happiness Studies located in Bhutan’s capital city, Thimphu. The Centre has a mandate to research Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness, Culture and History of Bhutan, and policy related studies.

Gross National Happiness offers a framework of criteria for policymaking and all kinds of human activity, including that of companies and corporations.

 

DIEGO SOUND BRIDGE
2 GUESTS VOICES:

TIM KASSER: 22.49 mins total 

TIM INTRO

So, my name is Tim Kasser. I’m Professor of Psychology at Knox College which is in Galesburg Illinois in the United States. And I’ve been studying people’s values and goals and how they relate to well-being and ecological damage and other kinds of things for about 30 years now.

Professor Tim Kasser

At the time that I started to move into the ecological work, I had already been doing a lot of work on people’s values and goals and how they related to their own personal well-being, as well as to some social outcomes. And then a guy named Kirk Brown actually approached me and said “Well what about ecological stuff?”

And so we did a study together right around the year 2000 actually where we began to look at how people’s values and goals related to ecological outcomes, so people’s ecological footprints and their ecological attitudes and behaviours. That really sparked my interest and so I started to do more work in that realm.

From a psychology’s perspective there’s all this focus on well-being but pretty much the focus is on how happy is this person, how not depressed is that person, how you know satisfied with life is this person.

But there’s relatively little comparatively about well-being involves living well in a way that doesn’t damage other people’s opportunity to live well and doesn’t damage other species opportunities to live well and doesn’t damage future generations opportunities to live well.

If we really want to understand well-being, we have to get beyond I guess what you would call the user there or what the psychologist would talk about with regard to personal well-being. And we really need to focus on social and psychological well-being as well. 1.51

Hypercapitalism: The Modern Economy, Its Values, and How to Change Them

One of the major things that you would hear from politicians and others was that we can’t focus too much on the environment because that will decrease people’s well-being because they’ll have to give up X and give up y and give up Z.

And so, what we really tried to do, and we were I think the first people to do was to set out to test that idea. So, is it the case that psychological well-being and ecological well-being are incompatible, or might they actually be compatible?

And so in two studies we measured people’s personal well-being so their life satisfaction their experience of pleasant and unpleasant emotions. And then we also measured their ecological footprints and their ecological attitudes and behaviours and what we found was that actually in both samples personal and ecological well-being were positively correlated. That is, happier people tended to also be living more ecologically sustainable lifestyles.

And I’d say a little bit more about that finding from the Brown Kasser study, but I want to note that two years ago I did a summary of the literature on that, and it turns out that that finding that personal well-being and ecological well-being are positively associated has now been replicated about 15 or 20 times in other samples, cross culturally, with lots of different kinds of measures of well-being, with lots of different ways of measuring environmental behaviour as well.

So, it does seem to be a rather robust relationship that Kirk and I discovered back in 2000.

The other thing that Kirk and I were interested in is what is it that allows personal and ecological well-being to be positively correlated.

What were the psychological mechanisms, if you will, which allow those two things to go in concert with each other.

We looked at three different possibilities all of which had some data to support them. So the first one which was the thing I’d been studying for quite a while was people’s values and what we found was that part of why people who are happy are also living more sustainably is that they focus on values for their own personal growth and their own connection to other people and helping the world.

And they focus less on values like making a lot of money having a lot of possessions having the right image being popular. All those values and encouraged by consumer capitalism. So, one of the reasons that people can be both happy and sustainable is if their values orient them in a certain way.

The natural outcome of a focus on those intrinsic value is we call them instead of the materialistic values is to be happy in the moment, is to live more sustainably.

On Mindfulness

A variable that Kirk had been studying for some time, which is called mindfulness. And so, Kirk was one of the early people in psychology to really look at mindfulness, which is the ability to be with one’s thoughts in the moment in a non-judgemental way.

And so again what we found was that people who were more mindful were also living more sustainably and happier at the same time. So, there’s something about mindfulness which conduces towards both of those kinds of wellbeing outcomes.

Hyper Captialism book illustration

On Lifestyle

And then the third thing we looked at was lifestyle, so probably heard of the idea of downshifting or voluntary simplicity where people decide that they’re going to no longer kind of buy into the normal work and spend lifestyle but instead live a simpler life. And so, in our study we had 400 people 200 of whom were simplify hours and 200 of whom were mainstream Americans. And again, what we found was that those who were voluntary simplify hours were more likely to be both happy and to be living more sustainably.

Now that was actually the weakest of the three factors compared to mindfulness and values but it certainly did seem to matter. So that was essentially what we found and for us that’s a pretty hopeful message because what it suggests is there are things people can do in their own lives their lifestyles with their values with their mental practices which can conducive towards both happiness and sustainability.

And it shows that all those messages telling us that you know we have to sacrifice and give stuff up and that’s going to in order to have a sustainable world that that’s actually doesn’t appear to be true. 6.22

And that’s one of the things we found actually was that all three of those variables we were just talking about were kind of related to each other so people who were more mindful tended to have more intrinsic values and to be less materialistic. And people who were voluntarily simplifying their lives also tended to have more intrinsic values and to be less materialistic.

There’s kind of a grouping of a way of life if you will that I think kind of stems from what people think is important or what people think is not so important that can then lead us to practice our lives in certain ways to make certain choices, which have these real important consequences for people’s own personal well-being, but also for how they treat other people and the planet.

On Intrinsic Values and Nature

The intrinsic values or values for things like your own personal growth for family and for helping the world be a better place. The extrinsic materialistic values are things for money, image, status. And one of the things that we’ve learned in the last 10 or 12 years about those values, is that they stand in a dynamic opposition with each other. They’re in a kind of a tension with each other.

I’ve used the metaphor for a lot of years of a seesaw. You know that children’s playground you know you sit on it one then goes up in the other and goes down. Well the same happens with these values. The more the people focus on those intrinsic values, the less they tend to care about the materialistic values, but the more they care about materialistic values the less they care about the intrinsic values.

So one of the things that we’ve done a lot over the last few years is to do studies where we activate momentarily in people’s minds one or another set of values, and then we see what happens to the other values. So, if we get you thinking about money for example what the research shows is that you’ll care more about money related things and image related things and you will care less about helping other people. But if we get to thinking about intrinsic values, momentarily, then you’ll care about more things like the environment and helping other people, and you’ll care less about things like money and status and power.

What research suggests is that an awareness of nature, probably be one way of activating those intrinsic values of building up that part of the human value system, and getting people more and more focussed on intrinsic values, which is good in and of itself, but it’s also good because what it will do will be to suppress those more materialistic values, because of the way that the human value system is organised.

As you get people thinking about nature and being more and more aware and caring about nature that’s going to build up the intrinsic values which will then suppress the more materialistic values.

And there’s research which actually supports this. There was a study by Neta Weinstein, she exposed people to pictures of nature or pictures of manmade things human made things.

And then she measured how immersed people became in those pictures and then she measured their values afterwards and what she found was that if you gave people pictures of nature and the people became immersed in those then what happened was their intrinsic values went up and they’re materialistic values went down compared to if you showed them pictures of nature and they didn’t get immersed or if you showed them pictures of human made objects.

That makes perfect sense from the value research that we’ve done because essentially she’s kind of activated those more intrinsic values which is going to suppress the more materialistic values.

On WWF Scotland research

WWF Scotland probably 10 or 12 years ago did something called I think was called the Natural Change Project.

There were a lot of different elements to that project but essentially what they did was they found a bunch of kind of leaders in the business political artistic world who didn’t seem actually to care very much about it’s not that they dissed nature or didn’t care about nature but like their lives weren’t organised around trying to improve the environment.

That’s not what they were up to. That wasn’t their main gig. And so for over the next six months or a year or so like that they took these individuals and they did a whole variety of deep eco psychology kinds of interventions which if memory serves culminated with a dawn to dusk so low sitting time in wild nature so people would go out and they would sit down in one spot and basically stay there until it got dark by themselves for you know 12 hours or whatever.

And you know if you read the reports that were coming out of that Natural Change Project and what you found was that as people were reflecting on what all of that experience meant to them they were starting to say it was exactly what we’ve just been talking about, which was that they saw that things like money and status and didn’t really matter to them so much more what they really were more focussed on was things like relationships and things like promoting the community, and things like sustainability.

And then we can expect that if we’ve really shifted people’s values that’s going to have impacts later on in terms of specific behaviours that they engage in for a long, long time.

On Business

We’ve got to intervene with businesses. You know I think there’s just no way around that. The issue of course is that if it’s a publicly traded for profit business, at least here in the United States, that means that it has to place shareholder value and profit as its primary concern.

And as we just talked about with regard to the value conflicts, the more that you’re focussed on profit, the less you’re going to care about the environment. And so when push comes to shove, if it’s about making a choice that helps the environment, or a choice that helps make profit, as long as you’re on this publicly traded for profit corporation model, you’re going to hit that barrier.

My recent book is called hyper capitalism the modern economy, its values and how to change them. It’s a cartoon book actually, and my co-author slash illustrator is a guy named Larry Gonic. Cartoon me is the narrator.

And you know at the beginning of that chapter on business it begins with me saying you know that I used to be very dubious about changes in business you know and I’d kind of given up on that. But I think at this point

I think there’s a lot of excitement in terms of what’s happening in the business arena. There’s a lot of interesting cool models out there about alternative ways to organise businesses so that you don’t hit that barrier around profit. You know so if you look at worker co-ops if you will look at benefit corporations if you look at all kinds of other models you can start to see ways in which big organisations and product can try to focus both on profit and on things like sustainability and social justice.

On Hypercapitalism

You know I think capitalism is a particular economic system and we could talk about what it entails. But I think what’s what happened after World War Two and then especially in the late 70s and early 80s in the in North America and in Europe was there was a real shift towards a more extreme form of capitalism than was in place before you know and I think that that’s when you have globalisation coming in that’s when you have much more pushes towards privatisation you see a huge rise in consumerism at that time because you’ve got kind of modern advertising coming out view all different sorts of media especially the television etc. and then you have a lot of deregulation which occurs in many of these countries as well where government steps back and says go at it business you know how to do whatever you can do to maximise economic growth. And so this fetishism of economic growth and of buying stuff and of moneymaking and profit and all the rest really began an era where I don’t think we were in capitalism anymore. I think we had moved on to a more extreme version of capitalism that by putting all of these materialistic values at the forefront began to suppress even more and more and more values like equality values like caring about the environment et cetera.

And indeed it’s around that time when you start to see work hours go back up you start to see indices of inequality go up you really start to see lack of movement on a lot of environmental issues etc. So. So that’s how we understand hyper capitalism to a term that’s been around invented by somebody else. But it definitely seems apt to start to talk about you know what is the political economic social system that we find ourselves under in much of the world at this point.

On Neoliberalism

If you take a look at neoliberalism its fundamental tenets are tenets of deregulation, privatisation, and globalisation. and that you need to have government back off you need to have things as globalised as possible in terms of production and sales, and you again need to get the government out of the law-making business as much as possible so not regulating businesses. And you need to turn over as many government functions as possible to the private sector supposedly because the private sectors motive for profit will make it more efficient and then give everybody better products and better services.

So I think, fundamentally that’s the idea of neoliberalism.

You know again a lot of that emerges out of the out of the post-World War Two destruction and the Cold War the rise of the Chicago school of thought with regard to economics in particular. I think when you really see it hit home is when Reagan and Thatcher are in charge, early 80s that’s when you start to see neoliberalism become dominant in lots and lots of ways. And that’s when you start to then see the expansion into a hyper capitalist society.

That’s the fundamental faith of neoliberalism, well you know that if you turn things over to the invisible hand of the free market and you get government out of the way then good things will happen to me that is the fundamental faith state of neoliberalism.

But I would argue it is a faith statement.

Don’t get me wrong. Capitalism has been remarkably successful in doing what it sets out to do which is to provide a whole lot of products at relatively cheap prices for a whole lot of people and to create a great deal of wealth by its own terms.

Capitalism has been remarkably successful but if you care about equality or if you care about sustainability or if you care about authenticity and well-being, which are things capitalism doesn’t claim to care about, by the way, then you have to really question capitalism.

And again, here’s where we’re back to that fundamental value dynamic. You know the more and more you focus your lives and organisations and society and political structures around maximising wealth and consumption you’ve activated and encouraged those extrinsic values.

And as a result, you care less and suppress those intrinsic values for things like equality and sustainability and all the rest.

If we can trust all of the data we’re getting we know that things are headed down the wrong road.

And so we can either throw up our hands or we can start to develop alternative models.

Well we have to do is to start developing those alternatives and really work on them and figure them out so that we can try to prevent the bad things from happening. If that’s still possible and if it’s not possible then when the bad things do happen, we can say ‘Hey try this, not that!’

Here is the place where I think that the Nordic nations and then the Northern European nations as well you know Denmark and the Netherlands and Germany have been real leaders, have really pushed to develop these alternative models, to develop alternative practices, to try to try to make some changes at a structural levels and in lifestyle levels, to show it’s possible. And again, I would go back to where we started our conversation a while back. What’s also fascinating is that those are some of the happiest nations in the world. You know so and you can argue about why that is, but that the fact remains that these nations that are moving in these more sustainable ways also in study after study, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland, and the Netherlands, are oftentimes the among the happiest nations in the world.

It’s actually pretty short period of time that we’ve been under globalisation in the scope of human history, right? it’s been 40 years that’s a blip in this course of history.

When people focus on intrinsic values they focus less on materialistic values they’re happier they act in more pro social ways and they live in more ecologically sustainable ways.

Fundamentally at base the solution is actually fairly simple: How do we orient our personal lives our businesses our communities and our governments around intrinsic values rather than extrinsic values?

Because what all the evidence suggests is that if we can do that materialism will become less important people will be happier people will treat each other more nicely and people will treat the planet more nicely.

Now how to get from here to there is a different issue, but at least like with the thing that makes me optimistic is that there is a ‘there’ I can see. There is a ‘there’ that I can see and that I can understand and that makes sense theoretically from what I know as a psychologist. It has empirical data behind it. It actually is very consistent with almost every spiritual and philosophical tradition which has been around in the history of humanity. And there are people doing it now right. There are people who are living these ways now.

If any listener is out there who thinks these ideas are valid. I would encourage you to work at your city level first to get engaged in the city and try to change your city because I think that cities are where people live and so they. They have their experiences there and what happens at cities. If you can make something work at a city, it provides a model that you can say to another city or to a province or to the federal government ‘hey but it worked here, it worked here. Let’s try it at another place and try it in another place.”

Working at that local level is fundamental and our best shot.

End

SOUND BRIDGE TO KARMA URA:

Karma Ura’s Upbeat music. His own composition.

I am Karma Ura, and I’m presently the president of the Centre for Bhutan and Gross National Happiness Studies. It is an autonomous government sponsored think tank, and it is located in Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan.

We have mandate to conduct research on Gross National Happiness, policy background studies and culture.

My background is in economics and philosophy at the master’s level, and PhD in International Development. So, all of my professional life, for some 30 years now, has been devoted to Alternative Development, its indicators and statistics on one side, and Buddhist Philosophy, Literature and Fine Arts, on the other.

Incidentally, I am also a painter and I design artefacts and performances. For example, I designed the 1000 denomination currency for Bhutan. I have painted the murals of a whole temple, and designed a national festival which is held on the 13th December every year.

An 18th century mural of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1651), considered to be the architect of Bhutan.

On Development

The idea of development is usually introduced from outside. It is a frequently based on idea of industrialisation and an expansion of the economy.

Alternative development involves indigenous ideas about how we should transform our societies. If you have certain different ideas about transformation of society, along with different destination goals, that would qualify as alternative development.

Goal, in the context of Bhutan would be happiness of the people.

The goals of development in the case of Bhutan involves nine domains of Gross National Happiness.

Living standard is only one of the nine goals of development. The others are, Health, Education and Living standards; these are fairly well-known ones and followed everywhere else. Slightly new ones are Good Governance, Environment or Ecological Resilience, and Cultural Diversity and Resilience. So that comes to six domains. But the last three domains are on the frontier of development, and these are Psychological Well-being, Community Vitality and Balanced Time Use over 24 hours. We in Bhutan consider these 9 domains of Gross National Happiness as cause and conditions of happiness.

SOUND: 2. SINGING KIDS BHUTAN.wav

On Gross National Happiness- the background

It was first explicitly coined in 1979 by the fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck.

For some time, GNH was realised through legislation and policies of the government, led by him. But In 2008 Bhutan became a parliamentary democracy.

Since then governments have been elected through universal franchise, as you know. Constitution was also adopted, and the constitution obliges the government to pursue a quantitative framework of Gross National Happiness, to guide politicians and bureaucrats to the long-term goals of Gross National Happiness.

In 2006, we adopted the concept of nine domains of Gross National Happiness, and along with it, we were directed by the fifth King of Bhutan to create Gross National Happiness Index. Since then we have had a quantitative framework of Gross National Happiness.

Measuring Happiness?

I think we have to be clear, when we talk about happiness, about how its measurement is laid out, what it measures, and on what the comparative ranking of the nations are based. As you know very well, the Nordic countries come on top in the ranking based on subjective well-being. We need to clarify a lot about international comparison and ranking of nations with regard to happiness. The World Happiness Report, I would like to emphasise, is based on a very narrow measurement of happiness to build international ranking.

Ours is much comprehensive and broader, much more probing about reality, and what human beings are. They need not just income. They need to simultaneously many other aspects included in the nine domains of Gross National Happiness.

In ecological terms the leadership and achievement of Bhutan is quite significant in the world.

Amongst the nine domains of Gross National Happiness, one of them is Ecological Diversity and Resilience. And government of Bhutan has been led by the leadership of the Kings to maintain a very high environmental quality, so that people’s welfare, which is dependent intimately with the quality of the environment, is very high. The contributions of Bhutan to the global climate change and environment or positive vision is unusually high.

At the moment 72 percent of the surface area of Bhutan is forest covered. 52 percent of the country is preserved as protected nature. Bhutan is carbon negative. Most of its energy is supplied by hydroelectricity. So it is green energy. People in their daily life has access to nature.

I think sometimes size and scale impresses people. But the aims that are enshrined the United Nations Global Assessment Report released on 6th May 2019, are all met by Bhutan.

All its ideals, all its goals would have been met by Bhutan in the field of environment, climate change and biodiversity. But Bhutan is small to have a global impact. Nevertheless, what it does on a per capita basis is extremely outstanding.

Bhutan as a country has taken extraordinary burden for the sake of global climate and biodiversity.

SOUND: Bells and Nuns-of-bhutan.wav

Nine domains of Gross National Happiness

The nine domains of Gross National Happiness are Psychological well-being, that is emotional and spiritual aspects of wellbeing. Community Vitality: since we are social by nature, companionship and good relations are at the forefront of well-being. Time use: that means nobody should run out of time to do things that are vital to well-being and happiness. We have to have some freedom over our own time over 24 hours.

Ecological Resilience and Diversity. Cultural Diversity and Resilience. Good Governance. Education, Health and Standard of Living. So, these adds up to the nine domains. I listed them separately but in reality, they are highly interdependent.

And so, it is important to see them in relation to each other rather than in isolation.

I think they – the nine domains – are relevant to any place where there are human beings and other sentient beings.

That would take us into the question of how the indicators are constructed and how the indicators are used as benchmark in national planning in Bhutan.

Poverty is minimal definition of well-being. It is a survival definition of well-being. It’s not really well-being. Happiness is a maximal concept of well-being. It is attainable and achievable.

In Bhutan you know the definition of happiness in terms of nine domains is related to measurement. We construct a single number GNH Index and 33 sub-indicators of GNH. Altogether we use about two hundred and thirty different variables to estimate the GNH index and its 33 sub-indicators. So now you can see the distinction of GNH measurement against poverty and subjective well-being. Both the latter measurements are based on a narrower measure of wellbeing.

To simplify things, if an individual were to achieve a perfect score in GNH index, he or she would have to have one hundred and thirty variables. And in these one hundred and thirty variables are drawn from nine domains of GNH.

I’m very familiar with the World Happiness Report because I am one of its council members. The United Nation’s World Happiness Report, first of all, is an outcome of a Bhutanese initiative. The Government of Bhutan organised a U.N. High Level Expert Meeting in April 2012, in the United Nations, in New York. it made two recommendations at that time. One was that governments around the world should make Happiness and Well-being a focus of their public policy. That was the first recommendation. And the second one was that the United Nations should declare our World Happiness Day. So, both were implemented.

Now as a result of this high-level meeting in the United Nations, World Happiness Report came into being, led by John Helliwell and Jeffrey Sachs.

From measuring to policymaking

One of the characteristics of the GNH index, and its 33 sub indicators, is that It can be disaggregated at any level to the nth variable and nth individual. You can disaggregate the achievements across all domains, demographic variables or gender.

This enables us to then see by using GNH indicators as a sort of lens, where and whether there is a gender difference or discrepancy, or age specific discrepancies, geography specific discrepancies. Theses can be picked up so neatly by the indicators which is based on a national survey conducted every four years.

Social and economic planning is done for five years at a time, so our Gross National Happiness survey is done in fourth year and the results are fed into the five-year plan as benchmarks, targets, and policy focus areas.

We can measure by experiential outcomes such as emotions, health and happiness scores etc. or you can measure by means to happiness.

In terms of happiness, I must say that there is a gender difference in outcome. Women in this country score slightly less though it is not very significant at 95 percent confidence. However, this distinction between men and women, in the attainment of happiness, disappears above 50. The performance on the happiness scale is lower for a woman, if we if we compare women and men below the age of 50.

The important thing to appreciate is that Reproductive Health is playing a negative role.Therefore, the government, taking this finding into account is strengthening maternity and child health. It gave a long maternity leave of one year, out of which 6 months is paid. We have only seven days of paternity leave here. The relegation of domestic chores to women and the social care burden which fall traditionally on women, is one of the big problems in Bhutan.

Introduction of cooking facilities and electricity should help resolve gender discrepancy. Electricity up to 100 units is free for rural areas. Education, health, and so many other essential things, such as water supply, are also free.

Karma Ura welcoming PM of Bhutan to an international conference at the Centre for Bhutan and GNH Studies.

SOUND BRIDGE: KARMA URA’S MUSIC

ON Gross National Happiness Business Certification

Bhutan is a country which escaped colonisation. And it’s one of the very few countries in the world to have been that fortunate.

This means that the continuity of ideas of what a nation should be, or what human beings aspires have not been smashed by any external ideas.

The continuity of institutions and ideas have been able to survive in this country. Bhutan has continued to be a Buddhist and ecological welfare state.

Because of its adherence to Buddhist welfare and ecological state, free market ideas cannot take complete dominance here. And that is why, the global corporations have not been able to intrude very much.

Bhutanese foreign direct investment rules are very strict. Environmental and cultural bars are very high here.

Those who are just hunting for profit cannot find it very easy to come into Bhutan.

Last year, at the direction of the Bhutanese government the Centre for Bhutan and GNH studies developed what you call GNH business certification.

This assessment will be applied to all corporations and businesses in future.

On evolving Corporate Social Responsibility

For a long time, Corporate Social Responsibility was the end all of business. But the shortcomings in CSR is that it does not require businesses much transparency in how they should make money. It is how they dispose a certain small proportion of the profit. After CSR, a new model of business is benefit corporation or B-corp in short. But GNH business certification is much more advanced in my opinion because it applies the nine domains to the workings of corporations in a very explicit way.

GNH index and 33 indicators is designed for governance purpose. For example, derived from Gross National Happiness’s nine domains is the GNH policy screening tool that the government applies to formulate and pass every policy of the government. For example, 15 policies have undergone GNH policy screening out of 22 policies so far. We will do similar assessment now to corporations by using GNH business certification.

As far as Europe is concerned, next year, in late March 2020, we will be having an international conference in Parma, Italy. One day out of three will be devoted to GNH and GNH business certification.

The Centre for Gross National Happiness and Cultural Studies, Bhutan.


On limits to growth

Bhutan also has a very modest tourism policy.

Foremost for us as a society is that nothing should step beyond our environmental-ecological capacity, and our cultural carrying capacity.

Because of those concerns we limit the number of tourists. It is not to maximise profit. It is only an activity that should be consistent with the carrying capacity of the country. A large part of our country is not opened, but the Western side of the country is already receiving tourist number in excess of its carrying capacity, so we are going to slow down tourism there.

We are slowing down. A new policy will come out to slow down tourism and reduce numbers in western part of the Bhutan, in line with our infrastructure capacity, environmental capacity, and cultural capacity. For example, if a Buddhist festival in a village can take only a hundred tourists, we should limit tourists to 100; the input and output in any sector should be limited to the amount of throughput which you can digest. For example,

if the environment cannot digest then we should put a threshold on the number.

On the spectrum of values

The idea of sustainability is really linked to idea of threshold.

We have to have a certain limit in the size of activity, the size of industry, or the size of the sector. We should not let it balloon out of ecological context. Any industry – let us say, food industry or fashion industry can expand and swallow up the whole non-market areas. We should put a distinction between what is good to put on the market and what should be left out of the market.

Many things about culture should be under ‘non market.’ A lot of things about happiness and well-being is dependent on non-market exchange. Not market exchange. 

The reciprocity of time to give social and emotional support, cultural work and social work have a huge value on their own, they do not need to have market exchange value.

The whole sphere of culture and community should be under that kind of non-market relations. Reciprocity rather than transactions in the market. The psychological well-being domain is equally important now with the plague of mental health problems around the world. We need to devise ways in terms of indicators to check on the level of positive emotions across the population, like compassion, generosity, calmness, forgiveness contentment or conversely, we need measure the distribution of negative things like anger, jealousy, fear, sadness. We need to know more about them, because people may be seething with negative emotions although it is not showing up in the GDP.

Politicians will only use hidden negative emotions as another weapon in their hands for polarising the population. Governments need to know the interior world of the citizens – how they feel across the spectrum of negative and positive emotions.

An advance warning mechanism should be found to know the emotional state of the people. If you do not, then the only way to express these latent things will be to vote, which will be seized by polarising politicians. That is not healthy. Before it lands in the lap of radicalising politicians — scientists, psychiatrists, social scientists need to know. Planners need to know so that we can address them.

Karma Ura Walking with Karma Ura & Prime Minister of Bhutan, Dr Lotay.

On Urban Happiness Framework

At this moment we are almost at the end of developing an Urban Happiness framework.

The Probability of being happy or unhappy Is so hugely influenced by whether we live now in urban cities or rural areas.

We have decided to work on urban happiness framework because in the four domains of GNH like psychological wellbeing, culture, ecology and community vitality, we find that urban residents lag behind the rural. They are surging ahead in terms of two domains living standard and education.

Division is emerging in the country between those who live in rural areas and in urban areas. Now we want to reduce this gap. We can assess the current state of city planning, and we can also guide city planning through urban happiness framework. The detail arrangement of the urban planning that is sensitive to well-being and happiness has become urgent, really urgent. It’s a structural issue.

END

CREDITS:

SOUND: KARMA URA’S MUSIC

Tanya Voice:

Thank you for listening to this episode of Nordic By Nature, ON HAPPINESS. You can find more info on our guests and a transcript of this podcast on imaginarylife.net/podcast

We are also on Patreon if you would like to support us with a donation to keep this podcast going into a second series! See www.patreon.com/nordicbynature

The music and sound has been designed by Diego Losa. You can find him on diegolosa.blogspot.com The music you heard with Dr. Karma Ura’s voice was composed by Karma Ura himself.

If you are interested in nature-centred mindfulness please see foundnature.org to read about the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature. You can follow the Foundation on Facebook, and on Contemplation of Nature on Instagram.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on our podcast. Please email me, Tanya, on nordicbynature@gmail.com

END

 

 

Dasho Dr. Karma Ura: ON HAPPINESS

Dasho Dr. Karma Ura is the president of the Centre for Bhutan & GNH Studies located in Bhutan’s capital city, Thimphu. The Centre has a mandate to research Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness, Culture and History of Bhutan, and policy related studies. Gross National Happiness is a term coined by the Fourth King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in the 1970’s.

Centre for Bhutan and Gross National Happiness Studies, Thimphu, Bhutan.

Dr. Karma Ura’s career has spanned development goals, statistics and indicators, and policy applications, as well as Buddhist literature, fine arts and philosophy. As President of the Centre he also directs programs in The Library of Mind, Body and Sound, which brings together the internal and external aspects of well-being and happiness through research, individual practices and policy designs.

Dr. Karma Ura walking with the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Dr Lotay.

Karma Ura has studied to Ph.D level at St. Stephen’s College Delhi, Oxford University, Edinburgh University, and Nagoya University. He has been awarded the ‘Druk Khorlo,’ or Wheel of Dragon Kingdom Award, by His Majesty the King of Bhutan for his contributions to literature and fine arts. Karma Ura is also active as an artist and designer; he has designed numerous artistic artefacts, performances and temple frescoes, and created a national cultural festival that is held every year on December 13th on the scenic mountain pass of Dochula. Karma Ura has shared his expertise on Gross National Happiness across the world.

Dr. Karma Ura at the Centre for Bhutan and Gross National Happiness Studies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transcript Dr. Karma Ura, from Nordic By Nature Podcast ON HAPPINESS.

SOUND BRIDGE TO KARMA URA:

Karma Ura’s Upbeat music. His own composition.

Intro
I am Karma Ura, and I’m presently the president of the Centre for Bhutan and Gross National Happiness Studies. It is an autonomous government sponsored think tank, and it is located in Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan.

We have mandate to conduct research on Gross National Happiness, policy background studies and culture.

My background is in economics and philosophy at the master’s level, and PhD in International Development. So, all of my professional life, for some 30 years now, has been devoted to Alternative Development, its indicators and statistics on one side, and Buddhist Philosophy, Literature and Fine Arts, on the other.

Incidentally, I am also a painter and I design artefacts and performances. For example, I designed the 1000 denomination currency for Bhutan. I have painted the murals of a whole temple, and designed a national festival which is held on the 13th December every year.

An 18th century mural of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1651), considered to be the architect of Bhutan.

On Development

The idea of development is usually introduced from outside. It is a frequently based on idea of industrialisation and an expansion of the economy.

Alternative development involves indigenous ideas about how we should transform our societies. If you have certain different ideas about transformation of society, along with different destination goals, that would qualify as alternative development.

Goal, in the context of Bhutan would be happiness of the people.

The goals of development in the case of Bhutan involves nine domains of Gross National Happiness.

Living standard is only one of the nine goals of development. The others are, Health, Education and Living standards; these are fairly well-known ones and followed everywhere else. Slightly new ones are Good Governance, Environment or Ecological Resilience, and Cultural Diversity and Resilience. So that comes to six domains. But the last three domains are on the frontier of development, and these are Psychological Well-being, Community Vitality and Balanced Time Use over 24 hours. We in Bhutan consider these 9 domains of Gross National Happiness as cause and conditions of happiness.

SOUND: 2. SINGING KIDS BHUTAN.wav

On Gross National Happiness- the background

It was first explicitly coined in 1979 by the fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck.

For some time, GNH was realised through legislation and policies of the government, led by him. But In 2008 Bhutan became a parliamentary democracy.

Since then governments have been elected through universal franchise, as you know. Constitution was also adopted, and the constitution obliges the government to pursue a quantitative framework of Gross National Happiness, to guide politicians and bureaucrats to the long-term goals of Gross National Happiness.

In 2006, we adopted the concept of nine domains of Gross National Happiness, and along with it, we were directed by the fifth King of Bhutan to create Gross National Happiness Index. Since then we have had a quantitative framework of Gross National Happiness.

Measuring Happiness?

I think we have to be clear, when we talk about happiness, about how its measurement is laid out, what it measures, and on what the comparative ranking of the nations are based. As you know very well, the Nordic countries come on top in the ranking based on subjective well-being. We need to clarify a lot about international comparison and ranking of nations with regard to happiness. The World Happiness Report, I would like to emphasise, is based on a very narrow measurement of happiness to build international ranking.

Ours is much comprehensive and broader, much more probing about reality, and what human beings are. They need not just income. They need to simultaneously many other aspects included in the nine domains of Gross National Happiness.

In ecological terms the leadership and achievement of Bhutan is quite significant in the world.

Amongst the nine domains of Gross National Happiness, one of them is Ecological Diversity and Resilience. And government of Bhutan has been led by the leadership of the Kings to maintain a very high environmental quality, so that people’s welfare, which is dependent intimately with the quality of the environment, is very high. The contributions of Bhutan to the global climate change and environment or positive vision is unusually high.

At the moment 72 percent of the surface area of Bhutan is forest covered. 52 percent of the country is preserved as protected nature. Bhutan is carbon negative. Most of its energy is supplied by hydroelectricity. So it is green energy. People in their daily life has access to nature.

I think sometimes size and scale impresses people. But the aims that are enshrined the United Nations Global Assessment Report released on 6th May 2019, are all met by Bhutan.

All its ideals, all its goals would have been met by Bhutan in the field of environment, climate change and biodiversity. But Bhutan is small to have a global impact. Nevertheless, what it does on a per capita basis is extremely outstanding.

Bhutan as a country has taken extraordinary burden for the sake of global climate and biodiversity.

SOUND: Bells and Nuns-of-bhutan.wav

Nine domains of Gross National Happiness

The nine domains of Gross National Happiness are Psychological well-being, that is emotional and spiritual aspects of wellbeing. Community Vitality: since we are social by nature, companionship and good relations are at the forefront of well-being. Time use: that means nobody should run out of time to do things that are vital to well-being and happiness. We have to have some freedom over our own time over 24 hours.

Ecological Resilience and Diversity. Cultural Diversity and Resilience. Good Governance. Education, Health and Standard of Living. So, these adds up to the nine domains. I listed them separately but in reality, they are highly interdependent.

And so, it is important to see them in relation to each other rather than in isolation.

I think they – the nine domains – are relevant to any place where there are human beings and other sentient beings.

That would take us into the question of how the indicators are constructed and how the indicators are used as benchmark in national planning in Bhutan.

Poverty is minimal definition of well-being. It is a survival definition of well-being. It’s not really well-being. Happiness is a maximal concept of well-being. It is attainable and achievable.

In Bhutan you know the definition of happiness in terms of nine domains is related to measurement. We construct a single number GNH Index and 33 sub-indicators of GNH. Altogether we use about two hundred and thirty different variables to estimate the GNH index and its 33 sub-indicators. So now you can see the distinction of GNH measurement against poverty and subjective well-being. Both the latter measurements are based on a narrower measure of wellbeing.

To simplify things, if an individual were to achieve a perfect score in GNH index, he or she would have to have one hundred and thirty variables. And in these one hundred and thirty variables are drawn from nine domains of GNH.

I’m very familiar with the World Happiness Report because I am one of its council members. The United Nation’s World Happiness Report, first of all, is an outcome of a Bhutanese initiative. The Government of Bhutan organised a U.N. High Level Expert Meeting in April 2012, in the United Nations, in New York. it made two recommendations at that time. One was that governments around the world should make Happiness and Well-being a focus of their public policy. That was the first recommendation. And the second one was that the United Nations should declare our World Happiness Day. So, both were implemented.

Now as a result of this high-level meeting in the United Nations, World Happiness Report came into being, led by John Helliwell and Jeffrey Sachs.

From measuring to policymaking

One of the characteristics of the GNH index, and its 33 sub indicators, is that It can be disaggregated at any level to the nth variable and nth individual. You can disaggregate the achievements across all domains, demographic variables or gender.

This enables us to then see by using GNH indicators as a sort of lens, where and whether there is a gender difference or discrepancy, or age specific discrepancies, geography specific discrepancies. Theses can be picked up so neatly by the indicators which is based on a national survey conducted every four years.

Social and economic planning is done for five years at a time, so our Gross National Happiness survey is done in fourth year and the results are fed into the five-year plan as benchmarks, targets, and policy focus areas.

We can measure by experiential outcomes such as emotions, health and happiness scores etc. or you can measure by means to happiness.

In terms of happiness, I must say that there is a gender difference in outcome. Women in this country score slightly less though it is not very significant at 95 percent confidence. However, this distinction between men and women, in the attainment of happiness, disappears above 50. The performance on the happiness scale is lower for a woman, if we if we compare women and men below the age of 50.

The important thing to appreciate is that Reproductive Health is playing a negative role.Therefore, the government, taking this finding into account is strengthening maternity and child health. It gave a long maternity leave of one year, out of which 6 months is paid. We have only seven days of paternity leave here. The relegation of domestic chores to women and the social care burden which fall traditionally on women, is one of the big problems in Bhutan.

Introduction of cooking facilities and electricity should help resolve gender discrepancy. Electricity up to 100 units is free for rural areas. Education, health, and so many other essential things, such as water supply, are also free.

SOUND BRIDGE: KARMA URA’S MUSIC

ON Gross National Happiness Business Certification

Bhutan is a country which escaped colonisation. And it’s one of the very few countries in the world to have been that fortunate.

This means that the continuity of ideas of what a nation should be, or what human beings aspires have not been smashed by any external ideas.

The continuity of institutions and ideas have been able to survive in this country. Bhutan has continued to be a Buddhist and ecological welfare state.

Because of its adherence to Buddhist welfare and ecological state, free market ideas cannot take complete dominance here. And that is why, the global corporations have not been able to intrude very much.

Bhutanese foreign direct investment rules are very strict. Environmental and cultural bars are very high here.

Those who are just hunting for profit cannot find it very easy to come into Bhutan.

Last year, at the direction of the Bhutanese government the Centre for Bhutan and GNH studies developed what you call GNH business certification.

This assessment will be applied to all corporations and businesses in future.

On evolving Corporate Social Responsibility

For a long time, Corporate Social Responsibility was the end all of business. But the shortcomings in CSR is that it does not require businesses much transparency in how they should make money. It is how they dispose a certain small proportion of the profit. After CSR, a new model of business is benefit corporation or B-corp in short. But GNH business certification is much more advanced in my opinion because it applies the nine domains to the workings of corporations in a very explicit way.

GNH index and 33 indicators is designed for governance purpose. For example, derived from Gross National Happiness’s nine domains is the GNH policy screening tool that the government applies to formulate and pass every policy of the government. For example, 15 policies have undergone GNH policy screening out of 22 policies so far. We will do similar assessment now to corporations by using GNH business certification.

As far as Europe is concerned, next year, in late March 2020, we will be having an international conference in Parma, Italy. One day out of three will be devoted to GNH and GNH business certification.

On limits to growth

Bhutan also has a very modest tourism policy.

Foremost for us as a society is that nothing should step beyond our environmental-ecological capacity, and our cultural carrying capacity.

Because of those concerns we limit the number of tourists. It is not to maximise profit. It is only an activity that should be consistent with the carrying capacity of the country. A large part of our country is not opened, but the Western side of the country is already receiving tourist number in excess of its carrying capacity, so we are going to slow down tourism there.

We are slowing down. A new policy will come out to slow down tourism and reduce numbers in western part of the Bhutan, in line with our infrastructure capacity, environmental capacity, and cultural capacity. For example, if a Buddhist festival in a village can take only a hundred tourists, we should limit tourists to 100; the input and output in any sector should be limited to the amount of throughput which you can digest. For example,

if the environment cannot digest then we should put a threshold on the number.

On the spectrum of values

The idea of sustainability is really linked to idea of threshold.

We have to have a certain limit in the size of activity, the size of industry, or the size of the sector. We should not let it balloon out of ecological context. Any industry – let us say, food industry or fashion industry can expand and swallow up the whole non-market areas. We should put a distinction between what is good to put on the market and what should be left out of the market.

Many things about culture should be under ‘non market.’ A lot of things about happiness and well-being is dependent on non-market exchange. Not market exchange. 

The reciprocity of time to give social and emotional support, cultural work and social work have a huge value on their own, they do not need to have market exchange value.

The whole sphere of culture and community should be under that kind of non-market relations. Reciprocity rather than transactions in the market. The psychological well-being domain is equally important now with the plague of mental health problems around the world. We need to devise ways in terms of indicators to check on the level of positive emotions across the population, like compassion, generosity, calmness, forgiveness contentment or conversely, we need measure the distribution of negative things like anger, jealousy, fear, sadness. We need to know more about them, because people may be seething with negative emotions although it is not showing up in the GDP.

Politicians will only use hidden negative emotions as another weapon in their hands for polarising the population. Governments need to know the interior world of the citizens – how they feel across the spectrum of negative and positive emotions.

An advance warning mechanism should be found to know the emotional state of the people. If you do not, then the only way to express these latent things will be to vote, which will be seized by polarising politicians. That is not healthy. Before it lands in the lap of radicalising politicians — scientists, psychiatrists, social scientists need to know. Planners need to know so that we can address them.

Karma Ura Walking with Karma Ura & Prime Minister of Bhutan, Dr Lotay.

On Urban Happiness Framework

At this moment we are almost at the end of developing an Urban Happiness framework.

The Probability of being happy or unhappy Is so hugely influenced by whether we live now in urban cities or rural areas.

We have decided to work on urban happiness framework because in the four domains of GNH like psychological wellbeing, culture, ecology and community vitality, we find that urban residents lag behind the rural. They are surging ahead in terms of two domains living standard and education.

Division is emerging in the country between those who live in rural areas and in urban areas. Now we want to reduce this gap. We can assess the current state of city planning, and we can also guide city planning through urban happiness framework. The detail arrangement of the urban planning that is sensitive to well-being and happiness has become urgent, really urgent. It’s a structural issue.

END

CREDITS:

SOUND: KARMA URA’S MUSIC

Tanya Voice:

Thank you for listening to this episode of Nordic By Nature, ON HAPPINESS. You can find more info on our guests and a transcript of this podcast on imaginarylife.net/podcast

We are also on Patreon if you would like to support us with a donation to keep this podcast going into a second series! See www.patreon.com/nordicbynature

The music and sound has been designed by Diego Losa. You can find him on diegolosa.blogspot.com The music you heard with Dr. Karma Ura’s voice was composed by Karma Ura himself.

If you are interested in nature-centred mindfulness please see foundnature.org to read about the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature. You can follow the Foundation on Facebook, and on Contemplation of Nature on Instagram.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on our podcast. Please email me, Tanya, on nordicbynature@gmail.com

END

Stewardship as a Concept of Self.

How do we view ourselves and our place in the world? A question that every great philosopher has wrestled with throughout time, but also one which we are revisiting in the light of the climate crisis especially amongst a growing movement of deep ecologists who want to revive a new type of ethics, where every human act is potentially an expression of care.

In the case of environment, the circle of ‘otherness’ is more inclusive. As everything is connected, the ‘other’ includes the non-human world as well as our common habitat. The moral right for all living beings to live as a part of our ever-changing ecosystems.

‘Environment’ is much more than the set of resources that mankind needs to survive, and our language itself is limiting our intrinsic view of nature by conceptually separating it from humanity. Suddenly we are asked to grasp the ungraspable- that the planet’s fate is now in the hands of human beings and that time has already run out – the state of emergency is here. Environment is on the front line and entangled with all our global challenges.

The notion of ‘stewardship’ can describe the role of Homo sapiens species in bringing back the environment back to the forefront of care- and our survival as a species, let alone Happiness, depends on it.

To see oneself as a steward is already a huge shift in mindset for most of us brought up in the modern consumer world. It introduces a whole plethora of other notions such as community, interdependence, and interconnectivity. Suddenly we can see the possibilities for protecting the environment in our everyday lives in the actions we make daily, in and out of our homes and workplaces. We feel a growing responsibility with our wallets too- refusing to buy a never-ending pile of stuff or food cultivated at the expense of our environment and global neighbours.

Increasingly, more and more people are interested in what they can do in their own lives, and this is illustrated in the growth of new online communities, connected across social media by hashtags; #zerowaste or #quitplastic being prime examples.

As stewards of our immediate environments we start to think about where our waste goes and the impact on our consumption patterns on the world. The sense of individual encompasses a much more fundamental and primary biological being, that has a natural place in the world. It is clear that consumer society has, by and large, taught us to separate ourselves from this notion of connectedness and live fragmented lives with little integrity between our thoughts and actions.

On one hand we are expected to express our values, while on the other, the only acknowledged expression of those values is through what we consume, i.e. we are only acknowledged as consumers.

Stewardship addresses the fact that we are losing our connection with the natural world very rapidly- and that our leaders and corporations do not have our interests at heart. The structures that drive economy are not in equilibrium with the needs of living beings. The primary domain of our work and life culture in the modern times is shifting further away in terms of physical distance but also in terms of our emotional and intellectual engagement with nature and the resources upon which we rely.

Our language is embedded with consumerism- the default mode is ‘non-organic.’ The things we need appear miraculously without much effort and relatively little cost to our wallets. The cost is elsewhere. Alongside this, technology is driving a new kind of ‘self-sufficiency’ revolution that has create a fake abundance, where we can order almost anything one imagines to our door step via Internet. The need for interaction or communal activities is reduced to a minimum. Most effort is targeted towards increasing the desire for ‘purchasing power’ whilst to oppose these mechanisms and make the ‘right choice’ day in and out seems to weigh heavily on the individual’s time and energy.

Going with the consumer society flow means continuously damaging the environment and cutting off our emotions from the horrors of reality. The more we cut off, the more our emotional intelligence is underdeveloped. We get the social ‘fix’ we need by going online. We get self-esteem from the clothes we wear and the thing we buy. Experiences from TV, internet etc. are cognitively experienced as ‘real’ by the brain. We are satisfied on food without nutrition and relationships without real contact or connection — because it is easy. Our emotions are influenced and that in turn continues to influence our everyday behaviour, as the emotions are the key influencers of action. (Frijda et al. 2000).

Emotions also influence our deeply held beliefs. The problem of poor emotional balance is being further aggravated by the disconnect with nature: external natural surroundings as well as internal human nature of reflection and contemplation, as Mayer et al. (2009) observed in their seminal work on Role of Connectedness to Nature:

“Environmentalists (e.g., Berry, 1997; Leopold, 1949; Orr, 1994) and nature writers (e.g., Louv, 2005; Muir, 1894; Thoreau, 1854) have long maintained that humans derive physical and psychological benefits from spending time in the natural world. The past two decades of research in environmental psychology have supported this contention. Using a variety of methodologies and measures, researchers have shown that exposure to the natural world decreases negative behaviours and states (e.g., aggression, anxiety, depression, illness) and increases positive ones (e.g., affect, health, cognitive capacity). The big picture is clear: Exposure to nature leads to many desirable outcomes.” (See the Health Council of the Netherlands and Dutch Council for Research on Spatial Planning, 2004; van den Berg, 2005; Frumkin, 2001).

Fredrickson et al., (2008) has reviewed recent research in the field of psychology to show how subtle emotions create a transforming impact on oneself.

“A paradox surrounds positive emotions. On one hand, they are fleeting: Like any emotional state, feelings of joy, gratitude, interest, and contentment typically last only a matter of minutes. Moreover, positive emotions are less intense and less attention grabbing than negative emotions (Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer, & Vohs, 2001) and are more diffuse (Ellsworth & Smith, 1988). Yet on the other hand, research indicates that positive emotions contribute to important downstream life outcomes, including friendship development (Waugh & Fredrickson, 2006), marital satisfaction (Harker & Keltner, 2001), higher incomes (Diener, Nickerson, Lucus, & Sandvik, 2002), and better physical health (Doyle, Gentile, & Cohen, 2006; Richman et al., 2005). People who experience frequent positive emotions have even been shown to live longer (Danner, Snowdon, & Friesen, 2001; Moskowitz,2003; Ostir, Markides, Black, & Goodwin, 2000). Indeed, a recent meta-analysis of nearly 300 findings concluded that positive emotions produce success and health as much as they reflect these good outcomes.” (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005)

So, in a way it does not sound so far-fetched to maintain that compassion, self-integrity and care can make a significant contribution in dealing with some of the world’s major problems. An attitude of profiteering and perpetual growth results in environmental destruction, but also emotional and physical violence, drugs, corruption and socially unjust exploitation of other human beings. A mainstream shift in mindset could potentially reduce many of these human-made challenges.

Many societies and communities are recognising this and some of the nations have started to work on ‘Gross Domestic Happiness’ instead of ‘Gross Domestic Product.’

Gross National Happiness is a philosophy that guides the government of Bhutan and has gained traction in New Zealand, Nordic countries and Finland in particular, in recognition that technology and material goods have their limits when it comes to making people happy, and that by reframing happiness, society can also address the constraints of environmental resources. This approach, however, can neither offer a sole solution nor an easy one. There is an urgent need to initiate work on developing tools and techniques to integrate improved connection with external and internal nature in every aspect of our lives, to complement the existing efforts of saving the environment and the humanity. The mindshift has to come from every one of us- as professional and private stewards of future generations.

From extract from a paper The Contemplation of Nature: An Integrated Approach for Resilient Thinking by Ajay Rastogi and Tanya Kim Grassley for the Society for Human Ecology conference in Lisbon, Portugal, via the The Foundation for Contemplation of Nature, Majkhali, India.

Who Should Own the Earth?

Below is the keynote speech ’Who Should Own the Earth?’ by Dasho Dr Karma Ura at the Earth Trusteeship Forum, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, 19-21, July 2019

The Earth Trusteeship Platform offers open, decentralized, ‘multi-polar’ and independent creative space for persons and organisations motivated to exploring Earth Trusteeship as an innovative principle of governance and local and international law, able to match the challenges of the 21st century and the wellbeing of future generations.  

Who Should Own the Earth?
Keynote Address by Dasho Karma Ura, Ph D.
Earth Trusteeship Forum, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand.
19-21 July 2019

The author Peter Barnes raised a penetrating question with his book Who Should Own the Sky (2007). Although we would assume that the sky over our head is owned equally by all of mankind, Barnes suggested that it was owned more by those who used the skies and polluted them more, at the expense of others who do not pollute as much.

The sky over head was also a major political-ecological theme in the European elections in the 1960’s. In 1961, German Chancellor Willy Brandt, a Nobel Laureate, campaigned that “The sky above the Ruhr has to become blue again.”

Today, the sky above most urban spaces look duller, hotter and dirtier, and is almost certainly used and ‘owned’ more by polluters.

The question ‘Who Should Own the Earth?’ is an all-encompassing topic relevant to policy makers, legislators, businesses, academics and technologists, to name but a few. The question is a poignant one precisely because of the rapidly increasing rate of environmental destruction; the present generation is posing a grave threat to future generations through its current political systems and concepts.

In that sense, our generation are adversaries of future generations, rather than their allies, and custodians or trustees of the earth’s resources. And as we received the world’s resources in a better state than we pass them on, our ancestors were trustees of nature, which we so heavily rely on.

The first obvious answer to Who Should Own the Earth? is that it can and should be owned by all those future generations who will be born in the future. If all beings yet to be born own it, it should logically follow that it is equally owned by beings in the present and the past.  Naturally, in sheer terms of relevance, this applies more to present and the future generations. But the power of decision- making is abrogated by the present generation, simply because future generations cannot take part in the decision-making process. If future generations equally own the Earth, they also have a right to be considered in current-day decision making. Our policies and politics need to be able to consider, and make space in our decision-making frameworks, for their voice and their agency.

Current decision-making processes, however, only favour current generations. It is a short-termism that lack clarity when it comes to how we view the future, as its stretches further and further in time. We lack the ability to measure and understand the impact of our decisions on other human beings and sentient beings.

I would go do far as to say that these frameworks are extremely poor or non-existent. The Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen (1961, 1967) is amongst the leading pioneers who have explored the idea of value over time. Social Discount Rates (Karbowski, 2016) or SDR’s are a critical element in cost-benefit analysis when the costs and the benefits differ in their distribution over time. Lower discount rates favour future generations, but it is unclear how low it should be. Rates that are closer to the value of zero will give equal weight to both future generations and the present.

Environmentalist and conservationist-oriented decision makers prefer low discounting rates to be adopted. In a survey of about 200 experts, 75% recommended that a social discount rate of 2% (Drupp et al, 2015) be used. But many current commercial valuation methods use higher discounting rate for infrastructure investments or other assets, thus embedding a bias against future generations.

The second answer to ‘Who Should Own the Earth?’ is that it ought to be owned at every point of time in history by all sentient beings who share the basic preference to live well and happily, whether they be animals or human beings.

As Buddha said, “All that moves on earth are supported by the Earth.” In other words, all that moves on the earth should receive equitable support from the Earth’s resources. Increasingly, however, use of the Earth’s resources is not equitable, whether we consider that in terms of conventional material means such as income and assets, or experiential outcomes of wellbeing and happiness such as psychological wellbeing, ecological resilience, community vitality or balanced time-use in everyday life.

By having a more in depth and holistic system to measure experiential outcomes as well as material means, people in Bhutan should, in course of time, attain a maximum level of happiness and wellbeing that is sustainable for future generations. By managing 52% of the land in Bhutan as protected nature reserves, Bhutan has created a carbon well and protected biodiversity for other sentient beings to fare reasonably well.

The choice of intergenerational resource allocation can be based on various rules such as discounting methods, or legislative-constitutional provisions. Discounting based on market logic, however, does not offer long-term guidance for intergenerational equity. The constitution and legislation is therefore an additional recourse to help define the parameters for intergenerational equity.

In the case of Bhutan, ‘environment’ is defined in the broadest sense of the term, so that it can be entrusted to every Bhutanese citizen for preservation. The Constitution of Bhutan, written under the leadership of our kings, has certain provisions and institutional structures favourable to forest and biological preservation.

For example, the Bhutanese Constitution prescribes a minimum of 60% forest cover. Bhutan currently has 72% forest cover. The country is presently carbon negative.

“Greenhouse Gas emissions will exceed carbon sink after 2030 in business as usual scenario. In the carbon neutral scenario, Bhutan can remain carbon neutral at least until 2050” (Kei Gomi et al, 2019).

Although the Constitution of Bhutan is explicit in terms of forest ratio, it does not specify other resource bases for intergenerational equity, besides saying that Bhutan should “ensure sustainable use of natural resources and maintain intergenerational equity.”

The third answer to ‘Who Should Own the Earth?’ is a traditional-historical Bhutanese one. Traditional Bhutanese beliefs say that mountains, for example, are owned by local Mountain Deities. The current inhabitants in a territory are only transient occupants and users.

In psychoanalytic terms, mountain deities are the personification nature; rivers, clouds, rainfall, snowfall, weather, forests, wildlife and all their other ineffable interrelations are personified by deities. If the Earth is owned by Mountain Deities, who personify nature, then vital parts of nature have rights on their own, like a person.

Human being’s property rights cannot be extended over Nature’s resources, or rivers and springs, just as it would be odd for us claim ownership over clouds and mist. At the most, they can be common to the locality and accessed equally by its inhabitants who are seen more as stewards of the resources they need.

Bhutan has of yet been unable to give explicit rights to any parts of nature, such as legal rights of rivers or mountains, to be undisturbed, in the way Thomas Berry conceptually established in 2001. Traditionally, however, the climbing of a set of snow peaks was not accepted, because they are regarded as the abode of Mountain Deities.

The concept of rights of a place or a natural phenomenon such as a river or mountain, seems to have been recognised traditionally. Bhutanese believed, and most still believe, that lakes- or river-beings (mtsho smanmo, bla tsho) dwell in such water bodies. Sensitive micro-ecologies such as cliffs, marshes, and rich groves are also considered the abodes (gnas khang) of earth deities (gnas bdag zhi bdag) and thus were off limits to be exploited by people.

Unfortunately, the legal rights of Nature’s elements have yet to find its place in modern laws such as the Forest and Nature Conservation Act, Environment Assessment Act, or Biodiversity Act.

The fourth answer to ‘Who Should Own the Earth?’ is that in the contemporary period, in principle, the earth is owned through agreements and laws within and among nations. Part of our collective inheritance, such as air quality, internet connectivity, oceans, or space and so forth are managed within and among nations through regulations, treaties and agreements. States or governments are managers of the great commons of the earth. They are not owners. Owners, as I stated earlier, are all sentient beings of the Earth, who themselves are reproduced in a cycle of birth, death and, perhaps, rebirth, according to Buddhism.

An important endeavor for all states and governments is to think of their afterlife, or legacy, i.e. what we do today has an impact on the infinite future, as opposed to the brevity of present tenures, and we need to help bring birth to policies and laws that listen intently to the voices from the future, through an awakening induced by both science, and the non-dual imagination and compassion of a Bodhisattva, who is here to relieve suffering for all beings.

The fifth answer to ‘Who Should Own the Earth?ä is that, in terms of political economy, the Earth has been increasingly owned and used by the market, commercial corporations, and the owners of capital.  Although all human beings have equal right to the Earth’s three principle resources in terms of source, sink and services, in reality, the polluters, commercial-exploiters and capitalists have hijacked the Earth’s resources.

The rights of labour, the rights to common properties, the rights of the community, which depends on the commons, and the intrinsic value of Nature to exist, have all been diminished respectively by the rights of capitalists, the rights to private properties and the rights of individuals. The rise of market has also led to the abolition of non-market exchange of labour that is a crucial aspect of social support and solidarity.

Corporate and private rights have been privileged increasingly over the rights to the Commons. In an evolutionary context, the inhabitants of the earth have thrived so far because of the richness and abundance of the Commons from which all sentient beings drew. But the great Commons of the earth are being over-exploited on the one hand, and over polluted with toxicities on the other. Corporate and private rights have also, to a lesser extent, been privileged over the rights of the vast majority of human beings and other sentient beings.

An 18th century mural of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1651), considered to be the architect of Bhutan.

In his biography, the monk-founder of Bhutan, Zhabdrung, made an astonishing statement. He wrote that the animals found in Bhutan, like elephants, bears and rhinos, are Bodhisattvas existing to lead all beings to enlightenment, instead of the other way around.

He saw formations of clouds over mountain peaks, and stunning natural beauty and described them in terms of wondrous spiritual symbols. A sense of beauty of nature penetrated him completely, and he was able to see the earth itself as the beginning and end of aesthetic wellbeing.

It seems that these concepts are as valuable today as they ever were and might offer us a way to recover the Earth’s abundance as source of wellbeing for present and future generations.

Keynote speakers at the Earth Trusteeship Forum event