Author Biography

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This paper examines the concept of tha damtshig (highest vow). Based on Buddhist teachings, the concept of tha damtshig plays an important part in Bhutanese society. After a brief discussion of Buddhist doctrines that shape the concept of tha damtshig, the paper considers how the concept shapes everyday understandings of moral values and conduct, its transmission and more recently the subtle political use of it to define loyalty to the state.


This paper is based on fieldwork undertaken in 1999-2001 for Whitecross (2002). In particular, it draws on material set out in Chapter Two of my thesis. Fieldwork was made possible by an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) PhD Research Studentship. Additional fieldwork was undertaken in 2003 and 2004 with support from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland (2002), an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship (2003), Society for South Asian Studies (UK) (2003), Frederick Williamson Memorial Trust, Cambridge (2003), and a University of Edinburgh Research Award (2004). My research on tha damtshig was supported by, and benefited from, discussions with too many Bhutanese to individual thank or acknowledge. I hope that should any of them read this paper that they will feel it reflects their views and understanding of tha damtshig. There are several people, without whose support and intellectual engagement with this subject, this paper would not have been written. Dr Françoise Pommaret who unfailingly encouraged my study and offered valuable comments during my doctoral defense. Professor Jonathan Spencer without whose support the research would not have been undertaken. Professor Thomas Hansen for his enthusiastic engagement with an early presentation on tha damtshig and other Bhutanese values. Finally, Karma Phuntsho, for his comments and our different approaches. To all of them – my thanks. The paper is dedicated to Shiona Whitecross and Alan Masson for their support over the years. All errors are, of course, my own.

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