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Two new books launched at Mountain Echoes

The scholarly tomes are by a pair of distinguished researchers, doctors Yoshiro Imaeda and Lopen Karma Phuntsho

Litfest: Two new books on Bhutan were launched at the Mountain Echoes literary festival, yesterday.

The two books are: The Successors of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel: Hereditary Heirs and Reincarnation by (Dr) Yoshiro Imaeda, a well known scholar of Bhutan; and Mipham’s Dialetics and the Debates on Emptiness (To be, not to be or neither) by (Dr) Lopen Karma Phuntsho, another leading expert on the country.

Dr Imaeda’s book offers a “compelling and holistic portrayal of this highly accomplished religious master and shrewd political leader,” according to press release by the Thimphu publishing house, Riyang Books. “The book’s emphasis is on the battles over succession and political machinations that followed his death and ultimately set the course for the next two centuries,” it is pointed out.

Dr Imaeda’s book was launched by the prime minister, Tshering Tobgay.

The Successors of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel: Hereditary Heirs and Reincarnation
(Photos courtesy Upasana Dahal)

Born in 1947 and educated in Japan, Dr Imaeda pursued research on Buddhism in France, where he is currently the director of research at the national centre for scientific research in Paris.  He worked as an advisor to the national library of Bhutan from 1981-90.

(Dr) Lopen Karma Phuntsho’s book is described as a “comprehensive introduction to the concept of emptiness, a highly technical but very central topic in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism,” in the publisher’s press release.

The book examines the critique of the Gelukpa interpretation of emptiness by the leading Nyingma philosopher, Mipham (1846-1912). “For the first time, a major understanding of emptiness, variant to the Gelukpa interpretation that has become dominant in both Tibet and the West, is revealed in English.”

(Dr) Lopen Karma Phuntsho, who also launched another book, History of Bhutan, earlier this year, has been working as a researcher at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) since 2003.  He is also a founding member of the Loden foundation, an NGO that promotes education and entrepreneurship.  Trained as a khenpo, he also pursued a DPhil in oriental studies at the Balliol college, Oxford.

His book was launched by Buddhist nun, Ani Choying, also a participant at the literary festival.

A revised version of Dr Imaeda’s memoir Enchanted by Bhutan was also launched at the event.  The book is a personal account of his experiences spanning a period of 30 years, beginning from 1978.

Following the book launch, the two authors then sat down for a Mountain Echoes session, where they discussed their writing, their journeys as scholars, and the state and future of historical research and scholarship in Bhutan.

During the session, Dr Yoshiro Imaeda pointed out that his latest book, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel: Hereditary Heirs and Reincarnation is actually a simpler and more accessible version of his thesis, written in French, completed in 1987.  He said the new book is the result of recognising the need to share the thesis with the Bhutanese general public.  Dr Imaeda said that there was little scholarship on Bhutan, and that he wanted to contribute to it.

Dr Imaeda also pointed out that the lack of Bhutanese research and scholarship on their own history, besides Lopen Karma Phuntsho’s History of Bhutan, was “lamentable”.  He expressed hope that more scholars like the lopen would emerge, able to interpret and use both written and oral sources, as well as Choekyi, Dzongkha, and English texts. “Then there’s a future for Bhutanese scholarship,” he said.

Lopen Karma asked Dr Imaeda to provide a comment on the declining Choekyi and Dzongkha literacy in Bhutan.  Switching to Dzongkha, as requested by Lopen Karma, Dr Imaeda said that it could be observed that schools in Bhutan are English-oriented, with Dzongkha limited to a language role.  He said that, as Choekyi and Dzongkha are the people’s roots, it is not advisable to ignore it in such a way.

Responding to a participant’s request for a suggestion on how to solve not only the younger but older generation’s difficulty understanding today’s Dzongkha, Dr Imaeda said the issue fell outside his purview and is a national issue for Bhutan.  However, he pointed out, that during the 1960s Dzongkha had been simpler.

Dr Imaeda said two of his associates, lopen Pemala and lam Nado, had been instructed by His Majesty the third King, Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, to create a Dzongkha script that was not like the classical Choekyi, but closer to the way it is spoken,

“Simple and made sense… rather easy to read,” said Dr Imaeda, referring to the Dzongkha that went by those guidelines.

“Then somehow, it went rather elaborate and complicated way.”  He added that he had observed that the past two-three generations of Bhutan can no more read Choekyi or Dzongkha. “Something should be done, but this is a national issue,” he said.

Dr Imaeda commended the Mountain Echoes literary festival for being a testament of great neighbourly relations between Bhutan and India.  He described it as remarkable and perhaps taken for granted by the participants as it was a “relaxed, friendly and frank atmosphere” at the festival, especially when compared to the tension of Sino-Japan relations.

Dr Imaeda thanked Bhutan and its people for playing a “very important” part in his life and for enrichment.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

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