Recently some of the younger monks went into the hills behind Phajoding to collect juniper (Shup) and other plants used in incense making to burn during the pujas (prayers). The smell of juniper is said to be the incense of the heavenly realms and the monks burn the dried bundles of Shup in order to purify the air of any negativities ahead of a puja or arrival of an important guest. Shup is found in groves on the alpine slopes above Phajoding and its trunks, branches and leaves are all utilised. The monks also collected rhododendron species know as Yaksuma and Balu in addition to other incense plants such as Pangpoe and Sulu.
These plants are then dried and mixed manually and stored in sacks. These incense plants are normally collected after Thrue-bab (also known as ‘blessed rainy day’) which falls in September and marks the end of the monsoon season as these plants are said to be the most aromatic at this time. According to Bhutanese beliefs, bathing early in the morning on this day will also rid one’s self of disease, bad luck, and bad karma.
In the photo below the monks have laid out their vast collection of Shup and other plants to dry before bundling them all up and storing them for the wintertime and it looks like one of the younger monks has grabbed Lama Namgay’s mobile to take a photo of him taking a photo!
In Bhutan some of the commercially sold incense use recipes dating back over 700 years and incorporate flowers, bark, wood, leaves, fruit, and roots that are all collected within Bhutan. Some special ceremonial incenses use 108 natural ingredients that is an auspicious number in Buddhism. Many of the plants used in incense-making grow above 4000 meters – and that makes Phajoding perfectly situated for the growth of such plants. Apart from the monks, yak herders and families who live high in the hills behind Phajoding collect these plants to sell onto incense-makers in the towns, as a way of supplementing their income.
This obviously raises the conservation versus poverty reduction issue. There is a need to strike a balance between the two in order to sustainably manage Bhutan’s natural resources while at the same time supporting the livelihoods of those who depend on them for their economic survival.
The Royal Government of Bhutan in partnership with its development partners is actively encouraging the sustainable use of natural resources by the local people through many community-based initiatives throughout the country. The local people are taught to manage and thus benefit from the management and use of natural resources within a ‘rights-based’ framework.
This approach empowers local people by increasing their sense of ownership; while at the same time building their knowledge of sustainable resource management. The result is that the environment is preserved and the livelihood of the local community is secured.
To support and strengthen this approach, Lama Namgay and Khenpo Chimi Dorji are seeking ways of introducing an environmental awareness program into the curriculum at Phajoding Monastery.