There was once a devout monk, who was returning to his monastery on a hilltop after a quick trip to a small village in the valley, where he was regularly invited to conduct ritual for villagers.
The monk, who feared distractions by comforts and other worldly amusements of the village, in his spiritual quest, was always adamant on returning to his monastery soon after completing his business in the village. He usually reached the monastery by evening.
Along the lonely trail amid thickets, was a neglected hut. A young woman of a rather pleasant disposition lived there. She observed the monk’s occasional trips to the village and back and his absolute faith in the dharma.
That particular day, the woman decided to intercept the monk on his way to ask him to perform a ritual in her house. She waited by the trail the monk usually took, lit up a few crackling pine leaves for incense and carried a pot of goat milk to offer.
“Please bless my house in which I live alone and in fear most nights,” the woman said as the monk approached. Looking at the resigning sun, the monk thought he would briefly chant some mantras and be off.
As the monk was led into the house, he noticed a goat tied to a pillar by the door and a few slender bamboo receptacles.
No sooner than the monk sat and began chanting prayers, the woman brought him a cup of steaming liquor she brewed. The monk instantly refused, startled. She then brought him some old wine from the attic, which also he refused, this time more sternly. As he was about to finish, an hour or so later, the woman insisted that he ate dinner with her, which she claimed she had already begun making.
What alarmed him the most was when the woman threw herself at him, as he stood up, asking him to live with her. The monk humbly refused the proposition and began taking steps backward towards the door.
The woman in tears, apologised for her behaviour and led the monk back where she said she would serve him food. She brought in the live goat for him to slaughter so she would fix them dinner. He was gripped with fear and tried to flee.
“You neither want to kill the animal, nor marry me,” she said. “For your service, at least accept this cup of wine,” the woman cornered the monk and forced a cup into his mouth. That was all it took, a cup, before the monk held an entire bamboo receptacle of liquor.
The woman, it turned out, was a demon, who wished to test the monk’s faith and alcohol was what she used to break.
The monk later slaughtered the goat, together consumed it with the woman who prepared it and also married her, stripping him of all that he believed in and practiced for years.
This was a story taught to students in schools in the ‘80s to wean children away from alcohol that was steeped in the Bhutanese tradition, one available in variety with ease, and readily even to this day.
Religion, for a populace that had strong faith in it and continues to be, was pitched against alcohol to dissuade people from what is considered the cause of all social ills.
Alcohol abuse has been reported as one of the main causes of domestic violence in the country, where women are mostly the victims and rarely men in the hands of women. Its ease of availability and early inheritance as a tradition has been a reason often cited for Bhutanese youth graduating from it to other bigger psychotropic substances later.
For a nation that is highly dependent on financial assistance from other nations, it cost the state, which provides free healthcare to its citizens, including health referrals abroad, Nu 27M in 2016 in treating alcohol related diseases. Of course, the revenue from its production, statistics show, stands at about a billion.
It is a question of morals. Is that greater revenue more valuable than the lives it claims, social strains it causes and avertable burdens on the health systems that could be channeled elsewhere more critical.
As the country’s health minister pointed out, although revenue from sales of alcohol is substantial, it does not compensate for the losses in terms of alcohol-related harms, productivity and premature deaths.
Rules that weigh down on alcohol sales and its consumption have proven ineffective to bear expected results, dwindling consumption and sales patterns. A legislation to govern alcohol sales and consumption the country’s law-makers worked on in the past never made it for discussion on the parliamentary tables in the face of growing numbers of bars across the country.
Perhaps the issue begs attention. It is no longer a case of loosening up anymore.