Chapter 5 THE CLERGY
The Monastic Body Though the monastic establishment does not form part of the political structure of Bhutan, it has a vital role to play in the socio-cultural life of the people. The monastic community no longer remains within the confines of the Dzongs but actively participates in social work and in the improvement of the lives of the people. They have started attending various international religious conferences, seminars and workshops. Within the country, several workshops on religion and health have already been held with the direct involvement of the monks and other prominent religious figures in the villages. With the support from the government, the clergy comprises the Zhung Dratshang (central monastic body) and Dzongkhag Rabdey (district monastic bodies). The current strength of the monastic body is about 5,000 registered monks.
126 X FACTS ABOUT BHUTAN
The main shrine at Tashichhodzong, Thimphu
The central monastic body resides in Thimphu during summers and moves to Punakha in the winter. The monastic body is the sole arbiter on religious matters. The Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) is chosen from among the high-ranking monks. He is the head of the monastic body and is assisted by five highranking monks of the Central Monastic Body, called the Lopen Ngap (Five Masters). The Je Khenpo is also responsible for many important liturgical and religious duties across the country. According to the dual system of government established by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in the 17th century, the powers of the government of Bhutan were ideally split between the religious branch, headed by the Je Khenpo, and the administrative branch, headed by the Druk Desi. Since the establishment of the monarchy in 1907, the relative influence of the Je Khenpo has diminished. Nonetheless, the position remains a significant one.
The position of Je Khenpo is granted on merit, and typically is given to the most respected monk in the monastic body. The position of Je Khenpo is never held by a child but always by a seasoned monk. The present Je Khenpo,His Holiness Tulku Jigme Chhoeda is the 71st Je Khenpo.
A little monk in meditation
THE CLERGY X