One of my Tibetan friends once said that there are as many Jigmes in his hometown as there are Joes in my hometown. Jigme is a very common name for males from the area of Asia to the north of India, not only Tibet.
Some years ago I was stranded at Los Angeles International because of a postponed flight. While stewing in my impatience in the crowded waiting area, an elderly Asian man squeezed into the last empty seat next to mine. He tapped my elbow then asked about the status of our flight. After several minutes we introduced each other and found out we would also be seat mates on the flight to Vancouver, BC. It turned out that the old man was the first Jigme I ever met.
Jigme was on his way to visit his son who was enrolled in a college in Canada. The man said this was his first trip away from home in Bhutan. I noticed that Jigme constantly smiled. Even when we discussed serious topics, the smile never left his face. Eventually, I complimented him on his cheerful behavior. He answered that the people of Bhutan are the happiest people on Earth. Most people in his country smile most of the time.
Jigme mentioned that his son was a monk in the Vajrayana tradition. It’s the branch of Buddhism that westerners associate with Tibet. His son was part of a group of monks who were studying scientific subjects. Jigme said that curiosity about new things may be at the root of the happy disposition of his people.
Jigme went on to say that happiness is the official religion of Bhutan. It’s a small country with Chinese ruled Tibet to the North and India to the South. They have had to deal with tempermental regimes from both areas. Especially the British Indian Raj. Because of its small size, the land of the Thunder Dragon has needed to use cheerful diplomacy to remain independent. The treaties they sign usually have the idea of “perpetual peace and friendship” in them.
Bhutan was unified by a Tibetan high lama Zhahabdrung Rinpoche around 1616 CE. He oversaw a twin system of government headed by a spiritual leader and a civil leader. After the death of Zhahabdrung, the country fell into a long period of infighting and discord. Two major factions, the Penlops and the Dzongpens eventually fought each other by taking sides with invaders from Tibet and later the British.
In 1885, the Dzongpen faction led by the Wangchuck family, who was supported by the British Raj, prevailed. The head of the Wangchuck family, Ugyen, became the monarch. The Penlop clan lost all their power and influence. The Wangchucks continue to rule the nation. They have helped in the modernization of Bhutan from an isolated nation, like Tibet, into a progressive, democratic constitutional monarchy.
So why is Bhutan known as the land of the Thunder Dragon? Jigme said that various dragons represent different aspects of life. The Thunder Dragon is important because rainstorms are common to that part of the Himalayan mountains. Lightning and thunder are common there. Believers in the folk religions of Bhutan believe one of the sky dragons, the Thunder Dragon, shoots great sparks of fire out of his mouth.
The dragon culture is so deep that the monarch of Tibet has the formal title of “Druk Gyalpo” or “Dragon King”. His office is known as “Druk Desi”. The current Druk Gyalpo is the fifth in the lineage of the Wangchucks, Jigme Keshar Namgyal Wangchuck. Here again, we find another Jigme.