religionMajority of Bhutanese practise Drukpa Kagyud or Nyingma tradition of Buddhism, both of which belong to Mahayana Buddhism. The state religion is Drukpa Kagyud. The rest of the population practises Hinduism as well as other traditions of Buddhism. The two have co-existed in harmony through centuries. Buddha is worshiped widely by both Buddhists and Hindus. The constitution of Kingdom of Bhutan guarantees freedom of religion and citizens and visitors are free to practise any religion unless it infringes on the rights of others.
Until the Buddhism arrived in Bhutan, Bhutanese people practised Bonism, a form of religion that worshipped all forms of nature. Bonism is still practised in some remote villages. Buddhism arrived in Bhutan in the seventh century when Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo built Jampa Lhakhang (temple) in Bumthang and Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro. A century later, an Indian tantric master, Padmasambhava, who came to Bumthang to cure the ailing King, popularised it.
Later, numerous saints and lamas from Tibet propagated Buddhism among the agrarian population. Some of them even asserted political influence over their disciples.
Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, who fled Tibet and came to Bhutan, transformed the country into a nation state. Popularly known as Zhabdrung Rinpoche, he fled his ancestral home in Ralung following a feud with the ruler of Tsang. After reaching Bhutan, he swiftly expanded his religious and political influence over the rugged people. He consolidated most parts of the country by the time he passed away in 1651. Today, he is reverentially remembered as the founder of Bhutan.
Zhabdrung Rinpoche introduced Drukpa Kagyud tradition of Buddhism. Today, monks in all the dzongs, and religious institutions supported by the state practise this school of Buddhism.
Nyingma tradition, or old school of Buddhism, introduced by Guru Rinpoche, is equally popular in the country. There are hundreds of monasteries dedicated to this school of Buddhism. Although there is no formal state support for Nyingma practitioners for their daily upkeep, they receive state support in many other areas. Treasure discoverer, Terton Pema Lingpa (1450-1521) popularised this school of Buddhism and his descendents, who settled in different parts of the country, spread it. The ancestry of Bhutan’s Kings can be traced to one such family in Dungkar in Lhuntse District.
Hinduism is practised by most of the people of Nepali origin living in the southern districts. The people of Nepali origin comprise some 25 percent of the total population.
In Bhutan, religious persons are kept out of politics by law. The constitution considers religion “above politics”. Therefore, religious persons are required to keep themselves away from mundane political activities.