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The Je Khenpo
Religion plays a vital part in the life of the country, and the senior religious figure, the Je Khenpo ( Head monastic Preceptor) is theoretically of equal rank with the King.

Lopen are the highest ranking lamas just under His Holiness Je Khenpo.

There are approximately 5,500 monks in Bhutan, half under the patronage of the Je Kenpo, the other half subsidised by private patronage. There are also approximately 15,000 lay monks called Ngakpa or Gomchen.

The religious communities are central to the lives of the Bhutanese, and Bhutanese life incorporates religion to an extent not seen in western Europe for hundreds of years. Central to this life is the idea of the accumulation of merit during ones life in order to aid the well being of this and the prospects for subsequent lives.

This spiritual health is aided by among other things daily devotions and prayers, pilgrimages, offerings, donations and sponsorship of ceremonies. Dzongs, or monastery fortresses/lamaseries have been at the centre of the political, intellectual and artistic life of the country, and, unlike post cultural revolution Tibet still maintain their role today.

The Dzongs are the focus for all religious celebrations, and house the historic, artistic and cultural wealth of the nation.

Religious affairs were charged to another leader, the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot of Bhutan). For two centuries following Zhabdrung's demise, civil wars intermittently broke out, and the regional Penlops (governors) became increasingly more powerful.

This ended when an assembly of representatives of the monastic community, civil servants and the people, elected the Penlop of Trongsa, Ugen Wangchuck, the First King of Bhutan in 1907.

The monarchy has thrived ever since, and the Fourth King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, commands the overwhelming support for his people.

Je Khenpo and the Central Monkbody, Punakha dzong

Commitment to promoting health care comes from the highest level in the clergy.

The country's spiritual leader, the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot), has publicly endorsed health messages such as family planning, and promoted the use of iodized salt to prevent goitre, mental retardation and other disorders due to iodine deficiency.

The Je Khenpo has also actively discouraged the consumption of tobacco and alcohol. All these initiatives have raised the awareness and the standards of health and hygiene within the religious community, starting with the young novitiates.

Je Khenpo
The Je Khenpo
Punakha dzong
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