Bhutan: Tradition Versus Change during a Spiritual Path

There are not many books written about Bhutan by a Bhutanese author translated to English. Technically Kunzang Choden’s The Circle of Karma does not fill these requirements either, since the book is written in English. It tells the story of Tsomo, who was born into a poor, rural,  and large family. All the boys will get a religious education, girls are supposed to become good wives. Tsomo wanted more for herself.

Her life, as expected, is not an easy journey. She loses her mother, her stillborn child, and her husband, to another woman. She takes off on a spiritual journey to find her brother, as well as herself. Tsomo leads a life filled with loss, poverty, and betrayal. The typical subjects of stealing a husband from someone else, and having your husband stolen from you, as well as the universal subject of women being inferior to men. It is not as sad of a story as I make it sound to be. It is however karma.

Tsomo does get a better quality of life, and she comes to terms with her life. After her second marriage fails, and the circle of karma keeps on getting back at her time after time, she finally gets on her religious path, and finds peace and harmony with the help of her guru. At this stage Tsomo is quite old, and she still can’t read or write, yet she can fill her spiritual need, and rid herself of bad karma.

It is not a fast-paced book, in fact it can be a bit dull from time to time, and literally speaking it is not a masterpiece. The book does have something though; something engaging in its simplicity, and even though the reader might not feel like the earth has moved after finishing the book, the changes that happened to Tsomo and her life, are in fact quite significant.  

The book gives a glimpse of life and attitude towards family, women, and religion in Bhutan. I would have liked to have more of this. Spirituality together with tradition carry many lives, even cultures. Some things change with time, others don’t.

It seems like there is a fairly well-known quotation in the book: “Our stories are so similar and yet so different. Everything happened because we are women. You loved a man and suffered. I hated the man and suffered.” I bet many women would agree with this, which makes it indeed true that ‘our stories are so similar’.

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