Dr Saamdu Chetri shares his Story

Balance, Bhutan, capitalism, Compassion, Consciousness, Deep Ecology, Dr Saamdu Chetri, ecological economics, ecological illiteracy, ecology, ecosystems, Empathy, Freedom, Future, GNH, Gross National Happiness, Happiness, Hope, Love, natural carrying capacity, Peace, Spiritual Ecology, Sustainability, Wholeness

Dr Saamdu Chetri​ who I am honoured to say endorsed my book, shares the story of his life and amazing work with the BBC.

Dr Saamdu Chetri

In the 1970s, the king of Bhutan announced that the happiness of the population was more important than Gross Domestic Product. Saamdu Chetri has been charged with overseeing Bhutan’s happiness – but his own life has had its share of suffering.

On the banks of a river in the remote Bumthang valley in the foothills of the Himalayas, Bhutan’s first happiness centre is under construction. Among the workers breaking stones is Saamdu Chetri, dressed in monks’ robes, wielding a pickaxe.

At first the workers were puzzled at his hands-on involvement, he says. “Then they realised it’s not just for them, I’m helping myself by being physically fit.”

Chetri chose this remote location because of its spiritual history and its beauty. “It’s one of the most beautiful valleys in the country,” he says. “This is a place of happiness for me where I find so much relation with nature – the place itself is so serene.”

stone works

For a man charged with bringing happiness to a nation, Chetri has suffered much in his life and comes from the most humble beginnings.

“I was born in a cowshed,” he says. “I was so attached to animals, plants – anything to do with nature.

“My parents never thought about schooling. We had seven brothers and four sisters, they were all working and I thought I would also be one of the working persons.”

To his surprise, when he was nine years old his brother took him to school – something that worried his father a great deal.

“I was the most loved child and they didn’t want me to leave the house,” Chetri says.

“My father was very worried that I would become weak, so he sent a cow with me to school.” He laughs at the memory.

“Of course the cow couldn’t stay long because it had to be fed and looked after, so he took back the cow and he started visiting me with a lot of butter, cheese and milk.”

He left school at the age of 14 because his brothers and sisters had left home and he felt a duty to help his parents. His day on the farm began at 04:00 when he would walk a kilometre to fetch water, after which he would feed the ox and begin to plough.


He decided to carry on his education, but his life changed dramatically when his parents took him on a pilgrimage to Nepal. There, they befriended another family who had their eyes on Chetri as a potential son-in-law.

He was only 15 at the time and knew nothing about it. Their intentions only became clear when one of the men from the Nepalese family invited them all to a family wedding.

“The man took me to town, then they started measuring my finger – I said, ‘What are you doing with my finger?'” The man explained that he was only trying the ring on because he was the same size as a boy who was going to get married the next day – the same happened with the wedding outfit.

The following day the wedding ceremony began. Two ceremonial places were built, and Chetri and another boy were placed next to two empty chairs. “Then suddenly there are two men carrying two girls on their backs, coming towards us. One girl sat beside that boy, the other girl sat beside me. I tried getting up and they pushed me down on the chair,” says Chetri.

“Then my mum came and said, ‘Sorry son, you have been duped.’

“I felt I was dead – I wanted to die that moment. I was not only angry, I was so hurt. I couldn’t do anything.”

Once the ceremony began, it was too late to escape. The couple were given a small hut to retire to, but Chetri was too upset to sleep.

“I wanted to jump into the well and die, because this was something that I never expected my parents to do,” he says.

Chetri was climbing up to the well to carry out his plan when his wife’s father caught him from behind, and broke into bitter tears. “Please don’t blame your parents, it’s me who has cheated everybody, because I found you would be a great husband for my daughter,” the father said.


He begged Chetri to think of his young bride. “If you die now, the repercussion that will happen on this little girl is that she will be widowed and nobody will marry her after that.”

Chetri and his wife had children, and she lived at home with her parents while he continued his education at college in India. However, traumatised by events in her own life, one day she disappeared, leaving Chetri with two young children. A female friend from college offered to help. Over time, their relationship grew, and they married.

After a while his first wife came home. Chetri was faced with a dilemma. His first wife offered to go and live with his parents, but soon disappeared again. It was 19 years before Chetri discovered where she was. Now she is back in her home country, Nepal, and lives with a mental illness. It’s something Chetri struggles with.

“I still think about her, in fact last night I was praying for her.”

Despite his own share of personal grief, nowadays Chetri always has a smile on his face. He says he’s a naturally happy person, but he never dreamt he would end up as the man responsible for Bhutan’s happiness.

His rise up through the ranks started when, freshly out of college, he was called on by government to bring about the the king’s wish to develop Bhutan’s newly emerging private sector. Working for the royal family wasn’t an easy task.

“For us, a king’s wish is a command,” he says. “You have to work very hard to meet their expectations.” He would often work until 03:00, catch a few hours’ sleep at home and be back at work promptly at 08:00.

If he made a mistake, he would be punished – on one occasion the king’s aunt called him and said, “Saamdu, I’m coming with a stick. Stand on the roadside.”

“If I got a scolding I would cry,” says Chetri. “I always tried to be very straightforward, working as sincerely and loyally as I could, and if some blame came to me I felt always hurt – so I cried often.”

After many years of working in the capital, he retired to his village in the south of Bhutan – he wanted to go back to living among nature, which he had loved as a boy. But it was not to be.

When Bhutan elected its first democratic government, he was summoned back to the capital, Thimphu, and asked to work for the cabinet office of Bhutan’s first, freshly elected democratic government.

Five years later he was the man chosen to head up Bhutan’s first Gross National Happiness Centre based in Thimpu.

Despite the focus on national wellbeing, Bhutan faces huge challenges. It remains one of the poorest nations on the planet.

A quarter of its 800,000 people survive on less than $1.25 a day, and 30% live without electricity. It is struggling with a rise in mental illness and divorce.

Chetri explained how Bhutan’s nationwide happiness surveys are used to improve people’s lives.

“The research could come out and say: women between the ages of 30 and 55 are unhappy. The reasons could be because they have very little education, because they lose a lot of time collecting water from distant places, they have to collect firewood, and they have no education, no time for themselves.”

The solutions might be to bring on formal education, pipe the water closer to their villages, and provide efficient cooking stoves.


Five years after it was first announced, Chetri is about to realise his dream of creating a centre in a beautiful natural setting where people from Bhutan and the rest of the world can come to learn how to lead happier lives.

Visitors to the GNH centre, finished this month but officially opening its doors to the public on 18 October, will learn three basic principles – to be part of nature, to serve others with kindness and compassion, and to discover their innate value.

Chetri starts every day meditating and it’s compulsory for everyone in his office to start the day this way too. “I wish I did not need to do anything but just to sit here and meditate,” he says.

“I would love that, but it’s difficult to be looking after a centre where you have to do a lot of planning, a lot of administrative work. It irritates me a lot.”

By Candida Beveridge

Source- http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-33617673

Saamdu Chetri appeared on Outlook on the BBC World Service. Listen again to the interview on iPlayer or get the Outlook podcast.


Happiness vs Capitalism- GNP or GNH?

Balance, Bhutan, Consciousness, Deep Ecology, ecology, ecosystems, Freedom, greed, natural carrying capacity, Sovereignity, species extinction, Spiritual Elders, Sustainability, Wholeness

Aspects of True Happiness

After working an the environmental field for almost several decades, one thing I am certain of is that the environmental crisis is a crisis of human consciousness. Nothing I or my fellow environmental conservationists do externally can be sustained for the long-term future. The problem will continue because the root of what is unfolding before us is a reflection of the corruption within governance, corporations and economy and a denial of our ecological relationship with the Earth. The root cause therefore, must be addressed in order to see any external transformation.

Environmental exploitation, human exploitation or war and violence cannot be solved by anything we do externally; the results will not be sustained long-term unless we fully understand that these issues reflect our misunderstanding of the world and ourselves in relation to it. War is an internal process associated with fear in the ego-mind that fuels greed and power and exploitation is an internal process arisen from delusions of superiority, dissatisfaction, separation, humiliation, anger and pain. Our state of internal being is somewhat fragmented as a result of humanity believing that we are separate or superior to nature, this in itself is an idea that carries violence to ourselves, to the Earth and to our fellow species.

We are nature, our human bodies are comprised of communities of individual cells working in harmony to make possible our functioning organs and human body. We can only live if our individual cells work in harmony to function as a whole. That is why we are nature and in that respect, as Cell Biologist, Bruce Lipton, always highlights in his work, we have a lot to learn from studying cells and how they function. When a single cell starts dysfunctional behaviour, it is usually when it operates only for the good of itself, rather than the good of the community of cells it is part of, this is when malfunctioning cells can become cancerous or create health problems.

We as human beings have become a threat to ourselves, one another, fellow species and the Earth because many of us are operating on self-serving values rather than values for the good of our communities, our fellow species or for the good of the planet. We are wonderful when we can defend and nurture our individuality, though if we become selfish and greedy at the expense and suffering of other species, the environment, and other people, we can only do harm to ourselves and others. We are a part of the macro-ecology (natural ecosystems and the grander scale of nature), if we continue to be irresponsible, not re-prioritising our values and neglecting internal awareness, this undoubtedly reflects as a manifestation on our external environment.

We are unified with the ecology of nature, we are part of its ecology, and we are not separate from our external environment. We are deeply connected to the external world by our inner thought processes, perceptions and emotions and ultimately by our actions. Everything that goes on internally is manifested externally through our concept of ourselves in relation to our environment and others. This is what current research in quantum physics and new advanced fields in biology are discovering. When we have become more aligned with our hearts and souls internally and taken responsibility of all aspects of these internal processes, only then will we achieve outward peace and harmony for the Earth, environment and humanity.

We cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well – for we will not fight to save what we do not love” Stephen Jay Gould (1991).

A new sustainable Earth requires a reboot of human consciousness from a corrupt hierarchical pyramid structure driven by greed, to a multi-dimensional holographic transformation that embraces our union with all life on Earth and in the Cosmos. We cannot categorise the healing work that is required for either healing nature or healing the human, the two cannot be separated. We are one, therefore we need to treat ourselves as one, the outer world is only a reflection of inner consciousness, there is much we need to re-address of ourselves, and this is one aspect of the values in deep ecology.

There is one country in the world that understands this spiritually and practically, Bhutan is leading humanity as the world’s first completely 100 percent organic country with its agricultural practices and instead of measuring the country’s Gross National Product, (GNP), it puts emphasis and value on Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) of its society, culture and people, you can even visit the Center for GNH to learn how to do this both spiritually, practically and ecologically. Now here is a shining example of the route humanity needs to take in order to step out of its self-destructive cycle.

Sustainability empowers the planet and people. That is the only way for humanity to have a chance of survival. This change can happen, if communities take it into their own hands to build new sustainability blueprints. We cannot wait any longer to make the choice or wait for governments to choose for us. They will never serve for humankind’s best interests.  The clock has stopped ticking and we need to choose which direction in the forked road to take, only one decision is going to help us survive and a sustainable economy that takes into account the Earth’s natural carrying capacity within the means of her natural resources is the only option from here on.

Gross National Happiness Centre Bhutan.
About the Centre: The purpose of the Centre is to offer space from where individuals leave refreshed, invigorated, and empowered with inspiration and understanding of how to bring GNH principles, values, and practices fully and meaningfully into their daily lives and work. Going back to their own communities, they will be enthused and empowered to serve their families, neighbors, country and the world with genuine purpose, compassion and effectiveness.

Dedicated to Dr Saamdu Chetri and the people of Bhutan

by Carlita Shaw author of The Silent Ecocide-The Environmental Crisis is a Crisis of Human Consciousness

Available on Amazon.com in Paperback

The Silent Ecocide – Amazon UK

Email Carlita at thesilentecocide at gmail.com
Follow on twitter @thesilentecocide

Carlita is an environmental scientist, teacher and writer, currently living in South America.